Reviews for Normal People

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Top 20 Songs of the Month (April 2017) — May 7, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (April 2017)

April is the start of summer song season, so there was a lot of fodder for this month’s list. We got new songs from people like Katy Perry, Harry Styles, Paramore, Charlie Puth, Halsey, Lil Yachty, Sean Paul, and every other shlub with a top ten hit to their name. We also got a lot of great new music from old-timers like Blondie, Roger Waters, and members of Fleetwood Mac. Also, Migos. Lots and lots and lots of Migos. But still, not every song can make the list, and here are my top 20 favorite songs released (either as a single or otherwise in a separate capacity from their album) in the month of April.

20) KRYPTONITE – George Maple

George Maple has been bubbling under the surface for about three years now, making waves for her futuristic electropop sound and sultry hook-tipped vocals. This song is no exception. It has the feel of a classic ’90s R&B jam run through a newfangled bleep-bloop machine. It can be jarring at first, but once you really get into it, it’s catchy as hell.

19) GREED – Kemba

Kemba drew some minor buzz as YC the Cynic at the turn of the decade, but his major claim to fame in his current incarnation was being invited on stage and later commended by the best rapper alive, Kendrick Lamar. He’s lyrically dense with a great eye for imagery, though his lyrics occasionally veer towards Hopsin-level preachiness. Still, he’s much more endearing and hard-hitting than Hop’s ever been, and over this sparse, dramatic beat, it’s not hard to see why Kendrick told us to watch out for him.

18) S.H.C. – Foster the People

While Fall Out Boy releases a next-level headscratcher and Imagine Dragons grows increasingly disappointing on an exponential curve, there’s one pop rock act that won’t let us down: Foster the People. The indie rockers who became a phenomenon after the inexplicable success of their 2011 single “Pumped Up Kicks” came back in a major way this month with three new singles, the best of which (in my opinion) is “S.H.C.,” an ethereal funk number about God or a relationship or both. S.H.C. stands for “Sacred Hearts Club,” which doesn’t mean anything. I like all the weird shit going on, the robot choir over the bridge, the three or four different drum patterns on the hook, et cetera. The beat is transcendentally over-the-top, while the vocals are low-key in classic FtP fashion.

17) I’M THE ONE – DJ Khaled feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne

This song turned out to be pretty polarizing, as a lot of Khaled’s releases are, but after going back and forth for a bit, I’m fairly confident I like it. I think it expands on the minimal 2014-era DJ Mustard sound, adding in the pitched-up vocals of 2016 and a little Khaled flair. The hook isn’t particularly catchy, but it’s definitely fun. That’s how I’d describe the song as a whole: fun. It’s easy to get into and keeps you into it the whole way through, although it’s hard not to feel like it’s all downhill after Chance’s “Gucci belt” line.  Still, this is essentially what I expected out of a collaboration between these four, and I’m content with it. Everyone does a really solid job except for Wayne, who delivers the longest and most phoned-in verse at the very end.

16) WASTE OF TIME – Snow Tha Product

I’m a big fan of Mexican-American female rapper Snow Tha Product, but I’ve always found her singles hit-or-miss, which is why my appreciation for her is rarely reflected in these lists. Thankfully, “Waste of Time” is gold. It has the feel of a Drake song handled by a somewhat more adept MC. Snow’s flows are great as ever as she tears into the guy she’s currently breaking up with. The beat has a cool urgency to it, and the lyrics are vicious. Snow’s never been a great singer, but the point is more that she is a great rapper.

15) ME ENAMORE – Shakira

I’ve developed a real appreciation for Shakira in the last few weeks. She’s been at it for over 25 years and still manages to churn out great Latin pop on a fairly regular basis. She’s the only act to perform at the World Cup three times, “Hips Don’t Lie” was the most successful single of the decade, and she’s managed to stay relevant all this time and all over the world. “Me Enamore” is a great pop song. It’s got an irresistible hook, cool modern EDM-pop production with a little Latin spice thrown in, and it’s cheesy as all hell. Shakira’s one of the most accomplished musicians alive, and if this song’s any indication, she’s not going anywhere.

14) KILL JILL – Big Boi feat. Killer Mike and Jeezy

There’s this peculiar phenomenon where most rappers worth a damn are weeaboos. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s extremely true. Nicki Minaj nicknamed herself the Harajuku Barbie. Kanye West’s favorite movie is Akira. The Wu-Tang Clan’s entire collective persona is based on kung fu movies. And now Big Boi did a song with Hatsune Miku. Yes, it’s technically a sample, but Miku’s voice is simulated to begin with, so isn’t using a sample of it kind of the same as actually collaborating with her? So yeah, as far as I’m concerned, Big Boi’s working with vocaloids. And so is Killer Mike. And Jeezy. Jeezy only handles the chorus on this song, by the way, which is pretty odd, but since Big Boi and Mike are sort of on a wave here that Jeezy could very easily ruin, I’m good with it. Goddamn, these verses are great. It’s also a really cool beat. It’s interesting how as English speakers, we can filter Japanese vocals into noise and let the English rise to the top, even as two vocalists perform at once. I don’t know. It’s dope.

13) ONLY BROTHER (A SPECIAL REMIX) – Taylor Bennett

Chance the Rapper’s birthday was this month, and his brother got him an incredibly fire remix/tribute. Taylor Bennett seems okay with coming up as Chano’s sibling, but he has a great style all to his own. He’s a little lower, more introspective, with speedier pitter-patter flows. The song is incredibly sappy, aided by a soulful D.R.A.M. hook lifted directly from Acid Rap, and I absolutely love it.

12) WHO WANT IT – David Banner feat. Black Thought and WatchtheDuck

And now for something completely different. David Banner is always a treat, known for his in-your-face attitude and undistilled political raps. Black Thought is one of the best rappers of all time, known for intricate verbal patterns and thoughtful social and political messages. The two come together for a bombastic banger lambasting modern politics (especially Trump) and telling the universe to 1v1 them. If I was the universe, I’d be scared.

11) J-BOY – Phoenix

Phoenix is a French synth-pop band that I’m admittedly ill-acquainted with, but this song slaps. As I understand it, they’ve had a following in France since 2000 and their last album reached #4 on the Billboard 200. Their new track “J-Boy” is infectious and maximal, with great bittersweet lyrics and watery new wave vocals. It’s a song I could see myself coming back to in the future, which isn’t something I can always say about the songs on this list. I love this song a lot and I’m excited to see what else Phoenix has to offer.

10) I BELIEVE – T.I.

“I Believe” was the first track on T.I.’s phenomenal 2016 album Us or Else: Letter to the System (one of my favorites of last year, if you’ll recall) and now it’s out as a single, so I had to save a spot for it. The beat is urgent with a dirty South sound, much like the album itself. It gets you invested, but forces you to confront the powerful, deftly-delivered lyrics about institutional racism in all its forms. It’s the hip hop form of a well-reasoned debate, examining and picking apart arguments against itself and presenting indisputable facts as well as reasonable conjecture leading to its grand thesis. You can break it into a hundred pieces and extrapolate each point out into a research paper. Now that’s conscious rap.

9) TOY BOX – Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola) and the Soul Madonnas

Part 2 of season one of The Get Down dropped on Netflix this month, and it is wild. I personally love it, and I think “Gamble Everything” is the best episode of the whole season so far, though fans have pointed out a glaring issue: this is the least ’70s song ever made. Full of electronic honks and songs that sound overly sexual even to some modern listeners, it’s obvious that this was meant to serve symbolic and marketing purposes (they even had Sia write it) more so than to be authentic. But goddamn is it a banger. I love all of it. I love the wispy pillow talk vocals at the beginning, I love the hook, I love the other hook, I love the break, I love how many times she says “games begin,” the whole thing is a sexy club pop masterpiece.

8) YOUNG DUMB & BROKE – Khalid

In an age where so many young songstresses clamor to be the next Lorde, the artist who’s come closest to the essence of her debut album is actually Khalid. He’s got that unique vocal style, the sentimental Marxist cool kid vibe, the slight twinges of ’80s nostalgia, the works. And while we’re comparing, “Young Dumb & Broke” feels a lot like a more pessimistic version of “Team.” Its subject matter is best encapsulated by the title, but it has a really interesting feel to it, equal parts depressing and catchy as hell, with a sparse, gospel-infused beat. It paints such a gloomy picture that it really makes you cherish when the chorus kicks in and you have something fun to sing along/relate to: being young, dumb, and broke. If you’re not there now, you’ve been there before. Khalid appeals to a universal teen experience, allowing him to appeal to both current young’uns and jaded, nostalgic adults. American Teen represents the American teen.

7) BIKING – Frank Ocean feat. Jay Z and Tyler the Creator

Frank Ocean’s mythos is so grand that it feels like it’s Christmas every time he drops something, even now that we’ve fallen into a regular drop cycle for him. Then again, part of that has to do with the sheer quality of his music. He dropped three new pieces of music this month, and while there’s not a “Chanel” or “Slide” in the bunch, we did get this gem. It’s a viscerally enjoyable, thousand-layered song with the unlikely trio of Frank, Jay, and Tyler discussing, of all things, bicycles. Tyler’s verse is great. Frank’s is. Jay’s… isn’t. Give the old guy a break.

6) FRAGMENTS – Blondie

I’ve expressed a level of fondness for Blondie’s new music a few times now, but holy fuck, dude. This song is shattering. It’s a seven-minute epic of heartbreak and the search for meaning in a void. In researching for this list I discovered it’s a cover of a song by YouTube movie reviewer Adam Johnston (YourMovieSucks), which I had a hard time believing until I heard the original. Needless to say, Blondie improves upon it to a degree, but it sort of blows my mind to think about where this song comes from. It fits the album so well, feels so different and yet so uniquely Blondie. It’s a masterpiece. That’s all I can say.

5) IT’S ALL GOOD – Superorganism

Elusive electronic collective Superorganism garnered attention from Fader earlier this year with their captivating single “something for your M.I.N.D.” Now they’re back with another infectious loosie, just as brilliant and nebulous as ever. The pitch-shifted vocals woven into the tapestry of the production, the stuttering guitars, the tambourine, the alarm clock, the multiple separate ensembles that jump in and out at seemingly-random times, the surprising catchiness of it all; every element of this song is more interesting than the last. You could even say it’s all good.

4) HONOR – DJ Cassidy feat. Grace and Lil Yachty

As much as I admire Lil Yachty’s persona, I never expected him to end up so high on one of these lists. But this is an exceptional month, and “Honor” is an exceptional song. I recommend everyone listen to it; it has an undeniable classic pop feel. It’ll subversively get stuck in your head for days. The way Grace says “Who else is putting up with this?” feels too right to be new. And Yachty’s verse is actually good. It’s really heartfelt and well-written (if it is written, which it seems like it is. The sparse beat feels odd for a song with this much power, but it works a lot better than it should. That’s how I describe this song in general. It works way better than you’d expect.

3) HARD TIMES – Paramore

Another pop rock act who never disappoints: Paramore. For their new album After Laughter, they’re going full ’80s new wave, and I absolutely love it. “Hard Times” is one of those songs that revels in its simplicity, so I won’t have quite as much to say about it, but it’s fantastic. It’s so weird and different and Paramore, yet so classic at the same time. For a song about the worst days of one’s life, this song sure is a musical barrel of monkeys.

2) DNA. – Kendrick Lamar

I know, I’m a stan. I’m hard-line full-stop KenFolk who would sooner listen to Kendrick having sex with my significant other than a rapper of equal talent going HAM and eggs over a beat produced by God himself. But isn’t everyone these days? You can’t walk a meter without hearing a groundbreaking new thinkpiece about how Kendrick might be [gasp] an all-time great. DAMN. has an average critical score of 95%. He’s got two songs in the top 10 right now and at least a dozen more in the Hot 100. But “DNA.” is incredible. The lyrical content, the layers to it, how it functions as a song and in the context of the album, the beat switch. On lyrics alone, it’s some of Kendrick’s finest work. It’s simple and beautiful, irresistible and off-putting. When I listened to it for the first time, I really did say “Damn.” But it’s not #1.

1) SIGN OF THE TIMES – Harry Styles

This song dropped in the first week of April and instantly earned its spot on the top of this list. The music-listening community collectively nutted when it came out. Old heads, Directioners, and everyone in between raved about it. It’s a goddamn magnum opus that suddenly shot Harry Styles to the front of every face and the tip of every tongue. It has the timeless feel of a song that will live on for decades. It’s possible that this is the peak; that Harry will never get any higher than this. It’s certainly a tough act to follow, but for this one glimmering moment, Harry Styles became a legend. His newest single, “Sweet Creature,” is kind of trash, but listening to “Sign of the Times,” it still feels like he could ride this wave to the top of the world. Let’s see where he goes.

Review: Tarantino Theater with Brie Larson — April 23, 2017

Review: Tarantino Theater with Brie Larson

Free Fire is a film that asks the question “Remember the climax of Reservoir Dogs? What if just that?” It came out of nowhere with eye-popping promotional material, boasts a number of upper-B-list stars, and has the hottest indie production company on the block behind it, A24 (Moonlight, Green Room, The Lobster, every other movie your film buff friends busted a nut over last year). So, how’d it turn out?

Well, I definitely appreciate its premise. As I said earlier, it’s essentially one big climax: Shots are fired in the first half hour and the gunfight continues until the last minute of the film. It’s a great premise for a bottle film, dropping you into a scene and letting you explore the characters and their stories as you find them stuck in a high-intensity situation in an enclosed space. It also works really well as a general Quentin Tarantino send-up, borrowing elements from Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, and even Hateful Eight.

There’s just one problem: Ben Wheatley is not Quentin Tarantino. A big reason of why those films are all so iconic is because Tarantino is A) a brilliant writer and B) a master of suspense. There are a lot of great laughs in this movie, but the dialogue is just not as captivating as it needs to be to carry a 90-minute film that takes place in a single room. The gunfight too soon becomes a dull hum of gunfire when you don’t even know the characters yet.

Luckily, it gets better from there. This is one of the few action movies I’ve seen where the action wears thin at the beginning and then, very suddenly, becomes captivating. You start to get invested. You root for people. You’re excited by new developments. You laugh, harder and harder each time. One of the bigger surprises of this film is Armie Hammer, who plays by far his most endearing role to date. Brie Larson doesn’t get as much time as she needs, but you still find yourself rooting for her. Sharlto Copley is hilarious as always. It’s really a film that starts out disappointing and only gets better and better. It has perhaps the best ending in film so far this year.

It’s a very mathematical crime movie that also manages to emotionally invest its audience. It’s not perfect, but I still appreciate it a lot. I’ll give it an 87/100. I’m sorry I haven’t been doing as many reviews as I’d like. I have some rather potent thoughts on Power Rangers and Fate of the Furious (they’re both excellent films) but I couldn’t punch them out at the time. Hopefully I’ll be in a more prolific mood some time soon.

Top 20 Songs of the Month (March 2017) — April 7, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (March 2017)

Ah, March. It’s definitely been an eventful month for me, I don’t know about y’all. We’re just starting to see some of the Song of the Summer contenders seeping through, so we’re definitely seeing a lot of comebacks, with new music from the likes of Gorillaz, Lorde, Drake, Charli XCX, Calvin Harris, Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran, Frank Ocean, and plenty more. Even Chuck Berry put out a new single, and that guy died like, yesterday. But of course, some songs are always gonna stand out as the best, and here are my personal favorite tracks from the month of March. Note: I generally tend towards singles for these lists, so every song on here has been released in some capacity outside of an album, if not technically a single.

20) LOSE MY COOL – Amber Mark

The elusive Amber Mark has been on the come-up since her mysterious first single “S P A C E” dropped last year and caught the ear of heavyweights like Zane Lowe. Given that her new video seems to be literally comprised of home movies, I’d say her reputation as a recluse is probably an overstatement, but she still brings a unique Aaliyah sort of flavor to her music. “Lose My Cool” is sparse, nostalgic, deep, and enjoyable. She’s definitely got a pop sound, but her uniquely moody blend of popping pianos and tribal drums makes for some very interesting tracks. The kid’s going places. Check her out.

19) LONG TIME – Blondie

I’ve been really digging this new Blondie stuff, man. I haven’t listened to any of their more recent albums– apparently, they’re sort of divisive– but I’m definitely interested in their upcoming one, Pollinator. They’ve released three or four songs from it so far, and they’re all pretty good, but I think “Long Time” is the best one yet. It definitely has a timeless feel to it, and it’s written by the brilliant Dev Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange), who’s always a gem. It’s a fun-yet-melancholy track that may not stick with you, but won’t ever get old.

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Top 20 Best Songs of the Month (February 2017) — March 9, 2017

Top 20 Best Songs of the Month (February 2017)

Yes, yes, I know it’s late. There was a lot of music this month, and I’ve been having a busy March. But it’s here now and honestly, do you really care? Here’s your goddamned tunes.

20) GOOD DAY – Yellow Claw feat. DJ Snake and Elliphant

The writing on this song is… not great. It’s full of baffling metaphors and meandering storytelling. Really, this song isn’t on the list because of the contributions of Swedish singer Elliphant. It’s here because of the production. Yellow Claw and DJ Snake have both already proven themselves phenomenal at producing EDM-pop, but there’s something about the way they work together on this track. The build-up at the beginning. The hard-hitting grooves of the verses. The way Yellow Claw’s synths commingle with DJ Snake’s signature vocal samples. And the drop at the end is incredible. So yeah, it’s not a perfect song, but when you take a good look at it, it’s a great piece of EDM.

19) MACHINE – MisterWives

After two long years, MisterWives is gearing up to gift the world with their sophomore LP Connect the Dots. “Machine” is the first song we’ve heard from it, and it’s definitely promising. I’ve always found it hard to pinpoint exactly what MisterWives’ sound is; they’re definitely either power pop or indie rock, but they incorporate a lot of diverse elements into it. This song in particular really makes your head spin with the eclectic instrumentation it’s got going on. It’s also extremely catchy, empowering, and above all else it’s just really cool.

18) LIVING OUT LOUD – Brooke Candy feat. Sia

For a song about “living out loud,” “Living Out Loud” is actually pretty vanilla. Sia and Brooke Candy are both openly-queer female pop stars known for their larger-than-life presences. “Living Out Loud” contains a slight feminist message, but seems to go to great lengths to keep its status as a banger. What we’re left with is, yes, disappointingly plain, but still a banger. I like the urgency of the numbers counting down used in the verses. I just wish it had something to be urgent about.

17) THIEF – Ansel Elgort

If anything, “Thief” proves that a ridiculous, clumsy pop song can still work if you have enough confidence. Ansel Elgort is primarily known as the dough-faced heartthrob of films like The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent. Turns out, he’s also a fan of Nick Jonas. He’s got everything from the cool swagger to the cheesy, ridiculous, vaguely-threatening lyrics to the bizarre, unsettling vocal affect. And you know what? I like Nick Jonas. I support more people making Nick Jonas songs. This song is fun.

16) MAKE LOVE – Gucci Mane feat. Nicki Minaj

If I had to complain about one thing about this song, it would be that there’s way too much bass. It’s definitely the hardest song of 2017 so far, but Gucci winds up taking a backseat to Nicki’s methodical, devastating 2-minute verse aimed at Remy Ma and/or Azealia Banks. I could’ve put Remy’s equally hard-hitting 7-minute diss track “ShETHER” on this list, but I feel like that song drags (both kinds of dragging) where “Make Love” stays on topic and lays its disses out gracefully. Point Nicki.

15) GENIE – Busy P feat. Mayer Hawthorne

For the uninitiated, Busy P is the elusive founder of Ed Banger Records, a popular French electronic label home to acts like Justice, Breakbot, and Mr. Oizo. I’m not exactly a fanatic, but this is a phenomenal electro-funk track. It’s got really unique production, combining a classic ’70s sound with little modern flourishes like this cool distorted robot voice effect over the chorus. I previously knew the singer, Mayer Hawthorne, from his work with Jake One as Tuxedo, and while his voice is a pretty generic Ryan Tedder-type, he delivers a solid performance on this song.

14) LONDON – Maty Noyes

If you prefer your ridiculous, clumsy pure-pop tracks with a little international flair, I’ve got just the thing. I love how over-the-top this song is. It starts with this dramatic opener, Maty Noyes doing her best ’50s lounge singer voice, with this rattling piano building up as she does, and then all of a sudden you’re on some Spice Girls shit. That may be unfair, though. This song definitely has a distinct Maty Noyes feel to it, and it’s actually really well-written. It’s got a really fun James Bond feel to it. I highly dig it.

13) OUTLET – Desiigner

Yes, it’s our old buddy Desiigner back again with another pleasantly surprising trap banger. What strikes me most about “Outlet” is that Desiigner can no longer be considered a Future clone. “Panda” and “Tiimmy Turner” were unique tracks, but they still stunk of an artist stuck in Future’s shadow. “Outlet” is a 100% Desiigner original, and it makes the case for Desiigner as one of the most unique voices in the new school. The powerful trumpet beat is fantastic, and Desiigner’s ad-libs are as fun as ever, but more so than any song before it, “Outlet” also makes the case that he may be… a good rapper. At one point, the beat drops out entirely and we’re left with Desiigner by his lonesome, full of raw manic energy, spouting bars on bars on bars. The marble-mouthed maestro remains one to watch.

12) BAGBAK – Vince Staples

“BagBak” doesn’t have the focused concept of a typical Vince Staples song. I think that might be because it was made for a Def Jam compilation and not an actual album of his, but I think it’s still a great track. It’s got this really cool electro-trap Detroit sound to it, courtesy of producer Ray Brady, who’s best known for his myriad work with the Black Eyed Peas. Needless to say, Staples’ lyrics are probably on a higher level than those of the Peas. Even though “BagBak” is ostensibly a club song, he manages to get political and stay there the whole time without losing that banger quality. On the song’s bridge, he tells the one percent, the government, and the president to suck a dick. That’s Vince for ya.

11) CASINO – Daye Jack

Hip-hop/electro-funk hybrids will be the running theme of this month’s list. Rapper/singer Daye Jack delivers a cool suavity to that blending of genres, spitting a brief rapped intro before going full Jamiroquai on a song that’s equal parts hilarious, inspiring, and irresistibly wavy. There’s not very much to say about it. Just listen and feel it in your bones.

10) IT TAKES TWO – Mike WiLL Made-It feat. Lil Yachty and Carly Rae Jepsen

This song would probably be a few notches higher on the list if it weren’t technically A) a cover and B) a Target commercial. It’s the latest triumphant step in Mike WiLL Made-It’s redemption arc, taking an already-great pop rap classic and turning it into a fresh, fun remake that you can’t help but smile at. I feel like I appreciate Lil Yachty more and more with every new song he puts out. And of course, Carly’s as great as she always is. There’s about half a minute of great content left out of the music video, and you know it’s a great song when half a minute can be such a glaring loss.

9) IT’S NOT DESIGN – Lupe Fiasco feat. Salim

“It’s Not Design” isn’t a single, and therefore shouldn’t technically be on this list. But I felt a need to include it because it’s the best song on DROGAS Light, which is an album I may never get the chance to talk about again. Lupe tends to stumble a bit when trying to maintain his lyrical air without actually saying anything, but I think there are some moments on this song when he really pulls it off. It’s another hip-hop/electrofunk track, and one of the better ones I’ve ever heard, thanks in no small part to the mysterious Salim’s Charlie Wilson-esque crooning on the chorus. I have no idea what this song’s about and it’s probably better that way.

8) COOL YOUR HEART – Dirty Projectors feat. D∆WN

Dirty Projectors’ latest album can get pretty heavy, so it’s great that we have a song like “Cool Your Heart” in the mix. The beat is an incredible avant garde mix of tribal drum rhythms and futuristic bleep-bloops, but it somehow manages to still function perfectly well as a pop song. I’m a big fan of Dawn Richard, and increasingly, I realize, a big fan of Dave Longstreth, so this was really a no-brainer to include on the list.

7) WHITE MAN – Macy Gray

I am a 100% Macy Gray stan. Her voice (both her lyrical one and her actual one) is so powerful, so unique, so weathered and resilient and interesting. “White Man” is probably the poppiest song she’s put out in a while, but it’s still breathtakingly unique. It combines traditional African chants and drums with marks of the soul music she’s most known for, then throws in some EDM for good measure. Her message is bold and singular, not only preaching unity, but unity or else. It’s an urgent and fierce neo-soul masterpiece that proves we all need to stop sleeping on Macy Gray.

6) CHAINED TO THE RHYTHM – Katy Perry feat. Skip Marley

This… hmm. Look, I’m no fan of Katy Perry. I’ve liked maybe three or four of her songs, none of which have come out in the past four years. But this isn’t even like the other Katy Perry songs I like. It’s different. It’s got an unavoidable (if vague) political message to it, and it’s so clever and subtle in how it’s conveyed. It practically chastises you for listening to its lyrics, doubling down on Katy Perry cliches whenever it starts to get political until it finally wakes up the lions during Skip Marley’s verse. It has this really interesting disco/reggae/vaporwave sound, but it could be that Perry’s music is so homogeneous you can apply just about any label to it. It’s like the Katy Perry version of “Hey Ya.” Or something.

5) GROWN UP FAIRY TALES – Taylor Bennett feat. Chance the Rapper and Jeremih

Coloring Book is great, but if you miss the wavy, stream-of-consciousness, lyrically-dense style of Acid Rap, check out “Grown Up Fairy Tales.” Chance and his brother Taylor both deliver fascinating, incredible, beautifully-written bars about growing up. Jeremih handles the chorus, and does an admirable if forgettable job. Really, the headliner on this song is Taylor, who shows up almost two-thirds of the way through to deliver an incredible verse, taking his brother’s style and incorporating his own flair. The genes in this family, I swear.

4) JOHN WAYNE – Lady Gaga

Here’s a hot take for ya: “John Wayne” might be the best song on Joanne. On an album full of dramatic, overdone country flourishes, it delivers what we really wanted from the album all along: Fame Monster-era zany antics with a country twist. I love the intro. I love the verses. I love that little thing on the hook where they make her voice sound like a guitar. The production is fantastic in general. It’s just an immensely enjoyable, pure-Gaga track that I never get tired of.

3) THAT’S WHAT I LIKE – Bruno Mars

When Bruno Mars is brought up as an all-time great, a common strike against him is his ostensible lack of originality. “He hasn’t released an original single since 2013,” they’ll shout. Ignoring the fact that true originality doesn’t exist, if you were worried Bruno doesn’t have fresh cuts anymore, look no further than “That’s What I Like,” one of the more impressive songs on Mars’ latest masterpiece, 24K Magic. It has the same swag-dripping vibes of the rest of the tracks on that album, and even resurrects the character of “Julio” from “Uptown Funk!,” but in terms of music, concept, and all-around feel, it’s as original as they come. And it’s also just an excellent track. It perfectly balances the cheesy ’80s playa aesthetic of his newer tracks with the sappy romantic he played on his first album-and-a-half. It’s more purely, viscerally fun than any other single so far this year.

2) BAMBI – Jidenna

This song, on the other hand, is devastating. We’ve got Jidenna once again finding brand new genres to perfect (trap-calypso), as well as really poignant and interesting new things to sing about. In this one, Jidenna laments about how the womanizing nature of his family and the community that raised him prevents him from staying with the love of his life. Have you ever heard a song about that before? It’s also a really clever title, because there’s a running metaphor about how liars and cheaters (lions and cheetahs) run the jungle and she needs to leave to not be ensnared in it but he really loves her and can’t prove that he’s not the same as the rest of them because, on some level, he is. The reason for the name becomes explicitly clear in the outro, as a downtrodden Jidenna croons “I just wanna see my baby, that’s my Bambi, that’s my dear.” It’s a brilliant song that I just had to give props, even if there is one other track that comes out on top.

1) SLIDE – Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean and Migos

Really, it was no contest. Before this song even came out, I knew it was gonna be indomitable. From the lush pianos and high-pitched Frank Ocean glamour we get in the first couple seconds to the downright phenomenal Offset verse on the back end, it’s just non-stop excellence. I’d say without much hesitation that this is the best song Calvin Harris has ever made. I hope this is song of the summer. I hope it lands in early April and never leaves. I love every second of it. I see you, Calvin Harris. I see you.

Review: No Country For Old Mutants — March 5, 2017

Review: No Country For Old Mutants

The X-Men franchise is going through an interesting phase. On the one hand, their classic, monolithic main-series franchise is taking a morning dive into Shit Lagoon, with X-Men: Apocalypse performing underwhelmingly among critics, fans, and at the box office, along with no clear trajectory for the future. On the other hand, their solo films are all the rage, with Deadpool and now Logan making Disney-level money bins and already being considered among the best superhero films of all time. Deadpool has aged well so far, but is Logan up to snuff?

Well, it’s hard to say. It’s definitely an excellent film– in a filmic sense, it may be the greatest superhero movie of all time– but it also definitely has its flaws. It’s very long, and there are certain moments that could have been made a lot shorter without losing anything. The action, for all its intensity, gets reduced to lame slicing-and-dicing at times, an issue that also plagued the other two Wolverine movies. And even if she figured out how to drive, Laura’s eight years old. How can she reach the pedals?

Like so many great movies, Logan is hard to pin down. Wolverine being a superhero makes it easier, but he does a lot of things throughout the film that aren’t very heroic. He’s more of a Rooster Cogburn figure: ruthless, grizzled, and inscrutable. His Mattie Ross comes in the form of Laura, played brilliantly by newcomer Dafne Keen. So, is Logan a Western? Well, you can’t really say that either. It lifts a whole monologue from the Alan Ladd classic Shane, but it takes place in the future and spends as much time in the woods or the city as it does in the Western deserts. Is it dystopian sci-fi? Well, in a District 9 sense, perhaps. But its dystopian qualities and its sci-fi qualities are very subtle, spending much more times on the characters, their pasts, their futures, and their relationships than anything else. And to top it all off, it’s also a family drama, a road movie, a chase movie, and a neo-noir.

At the end of the day, the most true and poignant thing you can say about Logan is that it’s a film. In an age where so many action movies feel like properties, devoid of a beginning or end, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, the lesson we can learn from Deadpool and Logan and even Lego Batman is that a movie can take place in a grander universe, but it’s still best that they exist as self-contained stories. In this movie, there’s hope. There’s room for things to take place before and after it. But there’s no love interest, no resurrections and reintroductions, no winks or nudges, no reassuring “Spider-Man will return” to let the kids know their precious golden calfs are going to be okay. You never really know where it’s going to go because the next five movies haven’t been laid out for you in an itinerary. That’s what makes it great.

Overall, I’d give Logan a 98/100. It’s brilliantly written, performed, shot, directed, lit, and so many other things. Aside from a few scattered flaws, it’s practically perfect. I highly recommend you see it, even if you don’t like superhero movies.

Top 50 Best Albums of 2016 — February 26, 2017

Top 50 Best Albums of 2016

Yes, I’m a little bit behind on this one. I’m sorry that one person with school and extracurricular obligations can’t get an album of the year list out quite as fast as a staff of 50 people who do it for a living. Mine’s probably more thorough than Pitchfork’s anyway. I won’t do too much introduction since you already know what’s coming, but since this album is a reflection of my own music tastes, expect more pop and hip-hop than anything else. If you’re not into all that, maybe don’t bother.

50) DO WHAT THOU WILT. – Ab-Soul

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Kicking off the list, we’ve got the latest album from your current favorite rapper’s current favorite rapper, Ab-Soul. It has a bizarre, jumbled, pseudo-feminist message, but brings plenty of Soulo’s trademark lyrical gymnastics and kooky one-liners. It’s far from perfect, and might not even be good, but I still appreciated it.

Best tracks: “RAW (backwards)” feat. Zacari, “Huey Knew THEN” feat. Da$H, “INvocation ” feat. Kokane, “The Law” feat. Mac Miller and Rapsody

Worst track: “Womanogamy”

49) ANYTHING BUT WORDS – Banks & Steelz

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On the surface, RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan and Paul Banks from Interpol don’t exactly seem like an ideal match. And yeah, they kinda aren’t. But there’s still a lot of things I admire about this album. I really like the amount of sonic variety they were able to include while still keeping true to the marriage of their styles. This album covers everything from ’70s mafia movie soundtrack to Florence + the Machine over the course of its twelve tracks. And both artists are as talented as ever, even if their styles don’t always mesh.

Best: “Giant,” “Sword in the Stone” feat. Kool Keith, “Love + War” feat. Ghostface Killah, “Gonna Make It”

Worst: “Point of View” feat. Method Man and Masta Killa (this shouldn’t have been that hard, guys) Continue reading

Review: Every Important Movie Starts with a Black Screen — February 12, 2017

Review: Every Important Movie Starts with a Black Screen

The question has already started to come up: Is The Lego Batman Movie better than The Lego Movie? Obviously, we can’t find an answer until the former has had at least a few months to digest. By the time The Ninjago Movie comes out in September, we should have a pretty clear picture of which is superior (only to have it further complicated by throwing a third one into the fray). If I had to give my opinion right now, I’d say the original Lego Movie still reigns supreme, but I think there’s a more interesting question to start asking: Is The Lego Batman Movie the best Batman movie?

To be perfectly clear, I’m not trying to say Lego Batman is a better film than The Dark Knight or Batman Returns. Those two are among the best movies of all time and Lego Batman literally came out yesterday. But I really do think this movie is the best Batman movie: it handles the character and universe of Batman better than any of his other movies have.

See, superhero movies have a tendency to present their main characters, rather than looking at them. As a result, the heroes are hard to really see as people. They’re not characters, they’re brands. Icons. Silhouettes. What we see on-screen is closer to the Bat-Signal than Batman. And this issue is especially prevalent in Batman films, which is a shame because there’s so much to unpack with him.

Batman has probably been analyzed more than any other character in comics. His character and background make him the perfect candidate for psychoanalysis, feminist theory, queer theory, Marxist theory, you name it. And if you look into it, you’ll find thousands of articles on any of these lenses. So how come, in his films, does his psyche never get more complicated than “he hates crime because his parents are dead?”

The Lego Batman Movie tried to remedy this issue, and it succeeded so hard. Batman becomes so unlikeable in this movie that the computer running the Phantom Zone actually calls him a villain. He’s egotistical, a loner, a beacon of hypermasculinity who relies on the incompetence of the powers-that-be to let him live his heroic fantasy. But he’s still Batman. He still saves Gotham City constantly, he’s still incredibly strong and smart, and the film doesn’t fail to remind us of that. He’s a deeply imperfect character, and despite his arc, really only gets over one of his many obvious flaws by the end of the movie, but he’s still a hero.

Batman movies often dance with the question of “Which is really the alter ego?” This film doesn’t ask, but boldly insists that Batman is the real him and Bruce Wayne is 100% an alter ego. See, in this film, Batman represents the character, but also the franchise, and also also the audience. For him and, by extension, us, Batman  is an escape. He allows us to live out our basic, egotistical desires. We can save the day and still be loner shut-ins who take no responsibilities and eat lobster for every meal.

Look at Superman, voiced brilliantly by Channing Tatum. He’s everyone’s friend, always works in public and on behalf of the public, and effectively stops crime. It’s no coincidence that, even though the movie practically shoves in your face that Zod is in the Phantom Zone, when the Joker opens up the Zone during the climax and sets everyone free, there’s no sign of Zod anywhere. It’s to say that Superman, unlike Batman, is an effective crime fighter. And like Batman, we can’t stand that douchebag. We want Batman, the antihero, who revels in extreme, unhealthy, stoic masculinity and shirks all responsibility. Even at the very end of the movie, when he’s supposedly learned his lesson, he lets people change around him so he himself can get all the credit.

Of course, there’s a lot more to love about Lego Batman. It’s absolutely hilarious, the pacing is incredible, the animation is great (sometimes distractingly different from The Lego Movie, but from what I can tell this film is meant to take place in a different kid’s imagination, so I’ll excuse it). In addition to Batman, it brilliantly skewers the superhero movie in general. The other characters besides Batman (Joker, Barbara, Robin, Alfred) are also really in-depth and well-done. It’s probably the best film I’ve seen so far this year. I give it a 97/100.

Top 20 Best Songs of the Month (January 2017) — February 8, 2017

Top 20 Best Songs of the Month (January 2017)

So far, music-wise, 2017 is already off to a great start. We’ve seen a lot of older acts come back in a major way (Jamiroquai, Kenny Loggins, Bell Biv DeVoe), beloved bands who’ve fallen off the map in recent years make a resurgence (The xx, Gorillaz, Arcade Fire), and perennial favorites continuing to crank out the hits (Migos, Big Sean, Ariana Grande). But, at the end of the day, not every song can make this list. This one took me a while, as everything seems to these days, because of my busy schedule, but it’s here, so you’d better get used to it.

20) WE A FAMLY – The Flaming Lips feat. Miley Cyrus

Up first, we’ve got one of the standout tracks from the Flaming Lips’ bizarrely underhyped new record Oczy Mlody. It’s a heavy, synthesized, almost-mechanical track that still offers an interesting level of humanity. Miley tries her darnedest, and her voice still isn’t great, but the heavily-electronic sound helps deter that grating quality. It’s mesmerizing, well-written as always, and has a really unique atmosphere. Not for everyone, but I rather enjoyed it.

19) SHAPE OF YOU – Ed Sheeran

This one’s bound to be a controversial choice, to some degree. I’ve heard many people say that this song was a let-down and that Sheehan’s other new song, “Castle on the Hill,” is vastly superior. Well, yes, “Castle on the Hill” is good, but it’s the same corny milquetoast nostalgia-driven dreck that filled up a lot of Sheeran’s earlier discography. If you ask me, what Sheeran’s best at is making middle-of-the-road pop trash, and this is a stellar example of it. It’s simple, smart, smug, vulnerable, irresistible, and all while maintaining the same monotonous Drake-ian smolder for its entire four-and-a-half minutes, which isn’t nearly as tiresome as you’d imagine.

18) I GIVE YOU POWER – Arcade Fire feat. Mavis Staples

A lot of people don’t like “I Give You Power,” and with decent reason. It’s very simple. It feels more like something Win Butler made in his garage than the collective work of all 76 members of Arcade Fire. But there’s a neo-folk mystique to it. It gives all its elements time to simmer. The beat seems to shift constantly as the same 4-8 lines are repeated throughout the entire song, making you intimately familiar with each bell and whistle by the end of the slightly-overlong 4-minute track. There’s a lot going on here, even if there’s not much going on. Also, Mavis Staples is phenomenal.

17) DENT JUSAY – Matt Martians feat. Syd and Steve Lacy

Like a modern-day Bell Biv DeVoe in stylish orange hats, three members of neo-soul band The Internet unite for a track that’s simply delightful. The video perfectly encapsulates its distinct vibe: a sunny summertime jaunt in suburban LA. I’m not as big a fan of Syd as everyone else seems to be, but this song’s not about your opinions. All three artists become a unit, creating a microcosm of a song that exists in its own universe. A perfect distraction from the relentless shitpit of ice-cold discourse we live in.

16) SHOW YOU THE WAY – Thundercat feat. Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald

In a world where music is primarily a nostalgia-driven market, leave it to modern jazz’s great innovator, Thundercat, to bring something new to the equation: the ’70s soul slow-jam. It revels in the genre’s goofiness, while maintaining its syrupy charms. It’s well-written, immaculately produced as usual, and the return of yacht rock legends Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald is welcome. Probably the strangest collaboration this month, but a winning one nonetheless.

15) RUNNING BACK – Wale and Lil Wayne

Well, this is a match made in… somewhere. On the surface, it wouldn’t seem like Wale and Lil Wayne would mesh very well on a track together. Wale’s music is soft, reflective, flawed. Wayne’s is hard, dizzying, and untouchable. But while there’s little common ground between the two artists, by God, did they find it: a soft-spoken, goofy bop about sports and “these bitches.” Both rappers definitely deliver, and it’s about as good as a collaboration between these two could be expected to be.

14) DANCE – POWERS

Here’s some power pop gold from a duo I’ll admit I’d never really heard of before. They seem pretty cool, but this track could just be a particularly good example of their work. Contrary to “Dent Jusay,” “Dance” is steeply entrenched in real life. The message of the song is that the world is a shitstorm, everything’s falling apart, evil has taken over every facet of our society, but “all we wanna do is dance.” This seems like a nihilistic, needlessly-edgy message, but it’s worth noting that this doesn’t chastise the listener, but actually seems to make the case for just wanting to dance. When the world’s so fucked up, what can you do besides dance your anger out? And this is the perfect music to do it to.

13) THE RING – Wyclef Jean

Fugees member and general legend Wyclef Jean is gearing up for the release of Carnival Vol. III, his first full-length since 2010. What “The Ring” proves, probably better than anything else Wyclef’s put out recently, is that the dude can still rap his ass off. He was never the best rapper around, or even the best rapper in the Fugees, but he does some really impressive stuff on this song. You know those verses that cleverly run through the alphabet or some other long series of things? There’s one of those, and it’s incredible.

12) FUN – Blondie

So Blondie has a new song, and it sounds like MGMT for some reason. I can’t say I fully understand the move, but I do really like the song. It’s just extremely catchy, and well-produced, and the vocals are really interesting. It’s not some crazy out-there new shit and it’s not the shame shit they were doing 30 years ago [*cough* Depeche Mode *cough*]. It might be a cringeworthy move by a lesser band, but Blondie’s got the moxie to pull it off.

11) TEXT FROM YOUR EX – Tinie Tempah feat. Tinashe

I don’t know, man, this one’s just really fun. It’s not remarkable in pieces: the subject matter is standard, Tinashe and Tinie Tempah are both pretty mediocre artists, but when you put it all together with the dynamic ’80s beat, it just goes off. It’s an irresistible good time.

10) DREW BARRYMORE – SZA

“Drew Barrymore” isn’t as much of an irresistible good time. In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what emotion this song invokes. It’s got a melancholy feel to it, but it’s not downright sad. I think it’s just a really good song. SZA’s voice is as sharp as her pen, and the beat is really busy and solemn at the same time, combining everything from violin to tambourine to what appears to be a banjo. On first listen, it may feel sparse, but there’s much more to it than meets the eye.

9) MOVE YOUR BODY – Sia

Honestly? I’ve never been a big fan of Sia. I thought “Chandelier” was pretentious, and while I enjoyed “Cheap Thrills,” I expect that had more to do with Sean Paul than it did the leading act. So you can take it to the bank when I say that “Move Your Body” is incredible. What’s amazing about it is that I don’t like it because it’s different from Sia’s other stuff. It’s about the most typical Sia song I’ve ever heard, but it brings out the best elements of her discography. Her voice is so enjoyable on this song. The production is so good. The lyrics are so interesting. I don’t know if this is gonna be a big hit, but I really hope it is. It brings up what makes Sia stand out so much in the pop landscape: her unapologetic in-your-faceness. I know this was originally written as a Shakira song, and I can see the remnants of that sound, but I don’t think anyone other than Sia could do it justice.

8) WILD CHILD – Lupe Fiasco feat. Jake Torrey

After another session of shitty demo track fakeouts, Lupe Fiasco is back in full swing, gearing up for the release of his new album DROGAS Light. All three of the singles released so far off this record were good, but “Wild Child” definitely stands out as superior. It’s got the lickety-split lyricism of Lupe’s finest works, along with an irresistible funk pop beat and a solid (if forgettable) hook by Jake Torrey. Lupe proves once again that pop rap can be just as dense as conscious hip hop.

7) THIS IS WHAT IT COMES TOO – Raekwon

Raekwon’s been rapping for a long time. Over 25 years, in fact. And if this song is any indication, he’s still got it. It’s the exact kind of song that made him a legend in the first place: blistering, hard-hitting mafioso rap with master-class technical skill and overarching smoothness. “This Is What It Comes Too” proves that even without his Wu-Tang compatriots, Raekwon the Chef ain’t nothing to fuck wit.

6) KILLING A LITTLE TIME – David Bowie

A deleted cut off David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, “Killing a Little Time” shatters the visage of a graceful death and paints Bowie’s frustrations and uncertainties about his then-imminent demise. It’s depressing and hard-hitting and powerful and extremely fun all at once. It doesn’t deviate from Blackstar in terms of sound, but it adds interesting new layers to its themes.

5) EASY TARGET – John Mellencamp

Betcha weren’t expecting an appearance from ol’ John Cougar Mellencamp on this month’s list, were you? Well, what can I say? I’m human and “Easy Target” is a really powerful song. I’m always really moved by artists taking that old folk/country standard sound and applying it to present day issues. It speaks to the repetitive nature of a lot of aspects of history; in this song’s case, racial prejudice. It’s got the vibe of Leonard Cohen mixed with Johnny Cash, and that should be a good thing in anyone’s book.

4) LET’S TAKE THEM TO WAR (FREESTYLE) – Royce da 5’9″

For a bit over a decade, Royce da 5’9″ was known as “Eminem’s friend.” It wasn’t until he distanced himself from the Detroit legend, mixing the style he developed in tandem with Em with a new range of topics and ideas, Royce is finally being recognized as the great rapper he is. Case in point, “Let’s Take Them to War,” one of four or five fantastic freestyles released by Royce this past month. Over the beats to Big Sean’s “Moves” and Dave East’s “No Hook,” he unleashes a whiplash-inducing 6 minutes of bars on bars on bars. 5’9″ is on a quest to achieve legendary status, and he won’t take no for an answer. He’ll take it to war.

3) UP IN HUDSON – Dirty Projectors

Nostalgic. Triumphant. Sentimental. Sounds vaguely like a nightmare remix of a song from the Tarzan soundtrack. “Up in Hudson” is an eight-minute song, and a busy eight minutes at that, so there are a lot of things you could say about it. I don’t know much about the Dirty Projectors internal drama, but it’s making for some great music. It’s catchy and fun and breathtakingly different, the most interesting song I’ve heard in a while.

2) AUTOMATON – Jamiroquai

Alright, I’m a huge fan of Jamiroquai. I understand that a lot of Jamiroquai’s fanbase isn’t too thrilled with this new track. They say it’s too Daft Punk and doesn’t really reflect the band’s sound. I urge these people to give the song a closer listen, because it may be electrified, but it’s as groovy as they come. It’s a sprawling dystopian sci-fi epic, a claustrophobic tale of sheer emotional dissociation, and a classic Jamiroquai funk pop jam all rolled up into one. Rarely does a song accomplish this many things so well, but “Automaton” makes it look easy.

1) ALTERNATIVE FACTS – KXNG Crooked

There’s been a lot of hip-hop on this list. Legends, up-and-comers, in-betweeners, but I decided to give #1 to KXNG Crooked. Now, Crooked’s a rapper I think is super underrated, but that’s not why I put this song at #1. It’s goddamn hilarious. Lampooning one of this month’s most egregious moments, Kellyanne Conway’s touting “alternative facts,” this track offers the perfect combination of Crooked’s unique brand of verbal dexterity, immersive orchestral production that makes it feel like an infomercial shilling alternative facts, and raw, 24-karat comedy gold.

Review: 20th Century; Women — January 21, 2017

Review: 20th Century; Women

Recently, I’ve come to realize more and more that there’s an entire generation of filmmakers running around inspired by Wes Anderson. Yes, many of Anderson’s tics have become downright synonymous with the indie genre, but as ol’ Wes himself has crept into the mainstream, his flock of followers has grown. Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg would not be where they are today without him. It’s hard to look at indie darlings of the past year like Pablo Larraín’s Jackie or Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster without feeling Anderson’s frail, weathered mitts all over them. In a somewhat reductionist sense, 20th Century Women is no different.

The film follows a single mother (Annette Bening) who also rents out parts of her house to two adults (Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup). After multiple failed attempts at introducing father figures into her son Jamie’s life, Bening’s character Dorothea decides to turn to Abbie (Gerwig) and Julie (the boy’s friend, played by Elle Fanning), asking the two of them to help her raise him. It’s got all the stiffness, awkward dialogue, precocious youngsters, immaculate shots, and unconventional family dynamics that you’d expect from an Anderson picture, but writer/director Mike Mills also offers something a few steps deeper.

As unreal as the film feels at times, it also touches on some very real subjects. It’s interspersed with real moments from history. Abbie is recovering from cervical cancer and told she can’t have children. Julie believes she may be pregnant, but while her behavior through the film could easily be characterized as “sexual irresponsibility,” it’s actually a man’s irresponsibility that leads to this. Yes, the film also has very strong feminist themes. It doesn’t necessarily paint extreme feminism as the absolute right way, but it certainly encourages a feminist upbringing for young boys, especially straight, white boys. Mills has stated that the film is semi-autobiographical, being based on his own feminist upbringing.

In addition to all that, the film’s characters serve as potent metaphors for their respective generations. Dorothea, having been born in the early 1920s and eventually to die in 1999, is a literal 20th century woman. She represents the 1930s-40s, old-fashioned yet forward-thinking, feminist yet conservative. Hers is an era of depression and turmoil, but also discovery of both the self and the world. Abbie is a child of the 1960s, full of radical ideas and creativity, but also vulnerability and hubris. She takes every challenge as it comes, but falls to devastating lows in the process. Julie represents the kids of the 1970s, the same era as young Jamie. Infected with what Jimmy Carter elegantly dubbed a “crisis of confidence,” she goes to great lengths searching for an identity of her own, brought into a world of uncertainty, of unappreciated freedoms and unwelcome repressions. When she and Jamie go up north to find themselves, they lose each other, and need to look backward to Dorothea and Abbie to find their way. Crudup’s character is just sort of there. I think he’s supposed to be comic relief or something? He doesn’t add much.

20th Century Women is a great film. The silent moments of Bening’s incredible performance fill more space than most grand soliloquies, and Gerwig is practically unrecognizable as Abbie, a character I immediately fell in love with. I’d give it an A, but my general positivity has rendered my letter-grading system pretty much meaningless. From now on, I’ll try to grade things out of 100. In this case, 94/100. Also, proceeds from this film go to Planned Parenthood, so it may be worth seeing just for that.

My movie/album of the year lists are coming, so don’t worry.

Top Twenty Best Hit Songs of 2016 — December 29, 2016

Top Twenty Best Hit Songs of 2016

Overall, I think this was sort of a mediocre year for pop. Maybe we were a bit spoiled by 2015, but I think the real key issue is that we’re entering an experimental era for the genre. You listen to the new albums by Rihanna and Beyonce and Drake and it feels like stuff that would have been considered avant-garde not too long ago. But once everyone’s experimenting, the problem arises of people not knowing what to do with their ideas. Plenty of songs this year, like “Pillowtalk” or “Work,” wound up sounding half-baked because they utilize unfamiliar elements and are tracks designed for an album-oriented approach that were kind of forced to be singles. Still, there was plenty of good music to go around. Here’s my top 20. Note that “hit” refers to anything that made it into the top 40 at any point this year, though I mostly avoided tracks that made it there for other reasons, like a person’s death (“Lazarus”) or being on a popular album (“Reminder”). Alright, let’s kick it.

20) ALL IN MY HEAD (FLEX) – Fifth Harmony feat. Fetty Wap

“All in My Head” is weird because there’s a lot of reasons it should be terrible. The writing isn’t great. It’s gratingly un-catchy. An already-washed-up Fetty Wap doesn’t offer much.  But at the end of the day, it’s just a fun song. I think my main problem with “Work from Home,” Fifth Harmony’s other hit this year, is that it just wasn’t enjoyable. This song is a good time, and that’s all it needs to be.

19) OUI – Jeremih

As much as I love Jeremih’s miscellaneous mouth noises, what really makes this song is its thesis: “There’s no oui without u and i.” The nuanced goofiness of that line is as clear a representation of what this song’s about as I could ever come up with.

18) CAROLINE – Aminé

“Caroline” is like if J. Cole made a D.R.A.M. song. The fact that this song became a hit is a testament to the benefits of the combined influence of musical.ly and Billboard’s inclusion of streams in its charts. It’s goofy, it’s all kinds of weird, and unlike so many rappers today focused on image above all, Aminé isn’t afraid to portray himself as a cartoonish douchebag. It’s a little repetitive, but the beat is interesting enough to make up for it.

17) CONFIDENT – Demi Lovato

This song was more polarizing than I expected it to be. Personally, I think it’s awesome. It might even be my favorite Demi Lovato song, and that’s saying only a little bit. Yeah, it’s cheesy and over-the-top and parts of it sound like they were meant to be performed by a high school marching band, but it’s like a good action movie. It’s full of pulse-pounding in-your-face moments, but it knows when to calm down and leave a little levity. It’s like if a Mission: Impossible movie was a pop song. Mission: Impopsicle.

16) LET ME LOVE YOU – DJ Snake feat. Justin Bieber

Could you imagine being told in 2013 that DJ Snake and Justin Bieber would make a song together, and that it would be really good? “Let Me Love You” is DJ Snake’s latest foray into pop, although it may not be fair to call it a foray since he’s been producing Pitbull and Lady Gaga songs since 2009. This year, Snake and Major Lazer, who collaborated on “Lean On,” one of the best songs of 2015, split up to each make practically-identical songs with Justin Bieber. I gave the edge to this one, because I like the lyrics more and it’s substantially more memorable than “Cold Water,” although “Let Me Love You” has to contend with about a dozen other “let me love you” songs this year. Whatever, I’m rambling. It’s a good track.

15) NO LIMIT – Usher feat. Young Thug

Who’da thought Usher and Young Thug would jell so well together? I mean, there are brief moments on this song where you can’t tell one from the other. From what I gather, this is a song about having sex… with Master P? To Master P? While Master P watches? I don’t know. It’s full of really clever dual references to No Limit Records and sweet, sweet lovemaking, which I highly commend Usher for. Young Thug delivers one of his best verses of the year, his most stellar year to date. No one can tell me the line “MARTA outsmart the Rari-Rari / Fill the session with Bacardi Barbies” is anything other than brilliant.

14) GOLD – Kiiara

This song, admittedly, is probably more interesting than it is good. But goddamn, is it interesting. It combines the minimalist electropop sound of Marian Hill with that voice thing. You know the one. Incorporating segmented, indecipherable bits of the lyrics into the beat creates a really interesting, sort of creepy atmosphere. Above all else, this song is about atmosphere. I’ve never been able to pay attention to the lyrics, but I like the vibes.

13) ALL TIME LOW – Jon Bellion

This is an average dance pop “missing you” ballad with all the “average” taken out. It’s all run-of-the-mill elements, but done spectacularly. The lyrics are unique, rap-like, candid, vivid. The beat is intricate, flavorful, integral. The drop can also be the emotional climax of the song. Admittedly, it’s actually one of the weaker spots on Bellion’s new album, but that album’s great, so whatever. It’s cheesy and made of mainly familiar elements, but the way they come together is spectacular.

12) PURPLE LAMBORGHINI – Skrillex and Rick Ross

“Purple Lamborghini” is one of the best beats Skrillex has ever made. It’s brassy, distorted, in your face, irresistible. It manifest itself in brassy yellows, bright reds, broad silvers. And Rick Ross 100% sells it. He’s more enthusiastic about Suicide Squad than anyone else involved in the movie’s production. Lyrically, Ross flounders at times, but Skrillex’s insane production always has his back.

11) CLOSE – Nick Jonas feat. Tove Lo

Mewling synths punctuate this high-concept dark-electropop number by the best in the best high-concept dark-electropop singers in the biz, Tove Lo and Nick Jonas. The two work off of each other perfectly, and really sell the song’s admittedly confusing message. This song is so fucking weird.

10) NEEDED ME – Rihanna

ANTI is the best Rihanna album. By a long shot. And “Needed Me” is honestly a highlight. It’s got a great, defiant swagger about it. I’m tempted to say it’s the best beat DJ Mustard has ever made. It’s simple, yet it conveys so much. Everything from the lyrics to the vocals to the atmosphere is just about pitch perfect. And that’s just #10.

9) LOVE YOURSELF – Justin Bieber

“Love Yourself” is the most charming “fuck you” song on the radio in years. It sounds grown, which is something I never thought I’d say about a Justin Bieber song, especially one where the chorus is literally saying “go fuck yourself.” The trumpets breakdown at the end is really sweet. It’s as sincere a Justin Bieber song as I’ve ever heard. I don’t know, man. It’s a very simplistic song, I feel like it’s best left in few words.

8) CAKE BY THE OCEAN – DNCE

“Cake by the Ocean” was probably the most fun song on the radio this year. Joe Jonas’ funk-pop collective DNCE released this song just days after officially forming in September 2015. The jury’s still hung on whether or not their unabashedly ridiculous, funky style works in a longer form, but it definitely does wonders for this song. They’ve got the energy and craftsmanship of ’00s Maroon 5 with the irresistible catchiness and swaggery funk vibes of ’10s Maroon 5. You could even call them this generation’s Duran Duran. Whoever they are, this is their message: “Ah-ya-ya-ya-ya-ah, keep on hoping / We’ll eat cake by the ocean.” Just what we needed.

7) TIIMMY TURNER – Desiigner

And now for something completely different. “Tiimmy Turner” isn’t just a song; it’s a journey. From compelling XXL Freshman freestyle to Kanye West remix, it proved once and for all that Desiigner had more to offer than an above-average Future song. It’s a twisted tale of hood redemption, a fascinating new direction for an artist still finding his path, and an insanely catchy trap anthem. And it’s named after a goddamn cartoon character. This year, Kanye chronicled filth, devastation, retribution, and redemption over the course of a 20-song album. Desiigner did it in four minutes.

6) DANGEROUS WOMAN – Ariana Grande

Geopolitically speaking, this was a rough year, but if anyone had a great year, it was Ariana Grande. Her album Dangerous Woman received critical acclaim and spawned three huge hits. At the center of it all, we have the album’s title track: “Dangerous Woman.” It’s hard-hitting, empowering, and above all else, different. It stands out in Ariana’s discography, in the Billboard charts, and in the pop music world in general, with it’s slow-building electrosoul vibes.

5) ONE DANCE – Drake feat. Wizkid and Kyla

It’s sort of insane that the practically undisputed song of the summer 2016 doesn’t have a music video. But “One Dance” is almost a video in and of itself. Its atmosphere is palpable,  vividly painting its hazy dancehall setting with Kyla and Wizkid samples swimming in and out of the understated production. VIEWS isn’t a perfect album, or even really a good album, but this song sort of makes the whole thing worthwhile. Producer 40’s experimentation shines through and works in tandem with Drake’s subdued persona.

4) BLACK BEATLES – Rae Sremmurd feat. Gucci Mane

The genius of “Black Beatles” is in its defiance. It doesn’t matter if Rae Sremmurd are really the black Beatles. It’s about the brazen disregard for the Beatles. Looking at cultural icons like the Beatles and turning them into props for their fun little pop rap track is as rock and roll as it gets. Mike WiLL Made-It does an incredible job with the beat, and Gucci Mane fits the track well, even if he doesn’t add much to it. Its claim to being a genuine hit song is dubious, since it seems to have more to do with the Mannequin Challenge than people actually listening to it, but it’s been at #1 for weeks now, so at some point you’ve just got to stop worrying and accept the black Beatles.

3) FATHER STRETCH MY HANDS PT. 1 – Kanye West feat. Kid Cudi

Sure, you don’t really get the full “Father Stretch My Hands” experience just by listening to part 1. But truth be told, you don’t really get the full experience unless you also listen to “Ultralight Beam” before and “Famous” after. Still, even stripping away the full Pablo experience, even just taking this as two minutes of fleeting bliss, it still works. Kanye, Rick Rubin, and Metro Boomin do an incredible job with the production. I love the rattling drum line. I love the angelic choir segueing between the verse and the hook. AND THAT DROP! I don’t need to talk about the drop because it’s so perfect it’s become a meme unto itself, but holy shit. Say what you will about the verse (which I personally think is fine), but this song is an experience.

2) I FEEL IT COMING – The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk

This song is perfect. The lyrics are great. The production is incredible. The Weeknd and Daft Punk are both in rare form. The song’s placement as the last song on the Weeknd’s Starboy album is perfection: it encapsulates his artistic growth and illuminates the shift in sound throughout the album, while also shedding the artist’s brooding persona for a song that’s, above all else, truly fun. The title “I Feel It Coming” is also apt, as it finds itself at the end of the album and draws its elements from the sounds of the ’70s, while also portending and offering a bright future. George Michael is, tragically, dead, but if anyone can carry his torch, it’s the Weeknd and Daft Punk.

1) FREEDOM – Beyonce feat. Kendrick Lamar

LEMONADE starts out plain as day. Beyonce’s been cheated on. She’s upset. She’s emotional. She’s angry. She’s happy. But as the album goes on, she starts to clue you in on the idea that there’s more going on here than just relationship drama. This all comes to a head on “Freedom,” where we come to realize that this album isn’t necessarily about Beyonce, but meant to inspire black women the world over. True, the notion of “freedom” can be applied to relationship drama, but something about Bey portraying herself as an unstoppable force of nature and lines like “I break chains all by myself / Won’t let my freedom rot in hell / Hey! Imma keep running ’cause a winner don’t quit on themselves,” makes you think otherwise. By the time Kendrick’s showstopping verse comes around, there’s no question. “Seven misleading statements ’bout my persona / Six headlights waving in my direction / Five-O asking me what’s in my possession.” The production on this song is incredible. The drums, the southern rock organs, the background vocals, every last second of it. It’s inspiring, powerful, uplifting, extremely well-written, and one of the most important moments on one of the best albums of the decade.