Well, this was certainly an interesting month. We saw plenty of comebacks, some by artists we haven’t heard from in years, many as a result of the “30 Days,
30 40 50 Songs” anti-Trump campaign. I was thinking of including some of those on this list, particularly the entries from Death Cab for Cutie, Franz Ferdinand, and clipping., but at the end of the day, I feel like YG’s “Fuck Donald Trump” is the only anti-Trump song we need. As per uzh, the list is meant to include songs that were released as singles, videos, or otherwise separate from an album in the past month, although I’ll admit I cheated a little bit this time around. Let’s get down to business.
20) AFTER THE AFTERPARTY – Charli XCX feat. Lil Yachty
[Warning: This video is pretty gross.] It’s been almost 2 years now since we’ve gotten a full-length project from Charli XCX, but her February EP Vroom Vroom seemed to signal a new, wonderful era of electronic experimentation for the English pop star. But after all that, “After the Afterparty” is a bit more simple than anticipated. While it doesn’t cover much new ground, it is the sort of defiant power-pop that drew people to Charli in the first place. Lil Yachty comes and goes without incident. It’s very catchy and the production is pretty cool, but it’s not as out-there as people were expecting.
19) TALK TO ME – Run the Jewels
You could’ve seen this one coming. Truth be told, any old Run the Jewels song is probably good enough to make a top 20 list. And this is definitely “any old Run the Jewels song.” Does it cover any new ground or make me more excited for RTJ3 than I was before? No, not really. But it is really fun, fast-paced, well-written, and immaculately produced. Isn’t that enough?
18) CAMPAIGN SPEECH – Eminem
The last two songs on this list were pretty run-of-the-mill (or run-of-the-jewels) for the artists that made them. This one, not so much. With its droning, industrial, ambient beat, it has the feel of a clipping. track more so than an Eminem one. But content-wise, it’s not too far-flung from the freestyles Em’s been putting out the past couple years. There’s definitely some interesting stuff going on here. I like when he starts sounding like a robot. The beat, while hardly visible, is definitely interesting. There’s some quality lines and clever rhymes in here. He also goes after some interesting targets at times. While there’s still some phoned-in misogyny, he lobs some attacks at Trump supporters, George Zimmerman, and Casey Anthony that make it seem like he may be inching towards another politically-charged Eminem Show-type record. It also has its fair share of problems, with a lot of poor lines thrown in the mix (e.g. rhyming “misogynistic” with “massagin’ this dick” with “Robin Thicke with a throbbin’ dick on some suave and slick shit,” as though anyone is thinking about Robin Thicke in 2016 haha wouldn’t that be crazy). All in all, it’s sort of tiresome because it lacks focus and devolves into Em rapping himself in circles, but it seems to portend an interesting future for his music.
17) I AM HER – Shea Diamond
Moving on from the artist who calls himself “ballsy” because he says “faggot” even though people tell him not to, let’s talk about someone truly bold: Shea Diamond, a trans woman from my home state of Michigan who wrote “I Am Her,” as a statement of rebellion towards a world that wouldn’t accept her, while filling out a ten-year prison sentence. It’s triumphant and mournful and relatable and sympathetic, beautifully written and extremely memorable. At the same time, we’re living in an age where there are a lot of songs like this. Sure, Shea isn’t in a position to just release a song whenever the markets are right, but it feels just the slightest bit unremarkable. It’s great, mind you. I just don’t think it’ll stand the test of time.
16) CHURCH / LIQUOR STORE – Saba feat. Noname
“Brilliant new rapper out of Chicago” is almost a stereotype at this point, to the extent that there are three or four archetypes for how these artists’ songs sound. Saba’s “Church / Liquor Store” fulfills the “introspective with ethereal synthetic piano and choir” trope nicely, but it definitely deserves to be considered for its own merits. Saba’s chill-yet-aggressive style feels like a cool middle ground between fellow B.N.R.O.O.C.’s Towkio and Mick Jenkins. Noname might just be one of the best rappers in the game right now. The hook paints a stark portrait of the forgotten slums left over by gentrification, using the juxtaposition of churches and liquor stores to portray the vicious cycle created by life in these streets. Still, Noname conveys these themes quite a bit better in a much shorter amount of time than Saba does.
15) WEAK – AJR
“Weak” is the latest single from eclectic indie pop band AJR. They are not to be confused with AJJ, another popular indie band who changed their name from “Andrew Jackson Jihad” after realizing that both of those things are bad. AJR, on the other hand, is named after the first initials of its three members: Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met. The trio adopts the philosophy of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” (and hopefully not his philosophy of second-degree murder) to create power pop jams that are equal parts vulnerable and headstrong. Nowhere is that exemplified further than in this song, where the hook says “I’m weak, and what’s wrong with that? Boy oh boy, I love it when I fall for that.” They bring in some trumpets at the end, but this is overall one of their more generic tracks. Still great, though.
14) DAN BILZERIAN – T-Pain feat. Lil Yachty
Yes, on some level, this song is definitely a shallow cash-in on the success of D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli.” But while it may be riding that wave, it’s become evident to me in recent years that T-Pain is doing whatever the fuck he wants, and he is having so much fun. You listen to songs like “Dan Bilzerian” and “Officially Yours” and “Laugh n Dab” and realize that he’s way better now than he was when he was a superstar, purely because of how little he takes himself seriously. “Dan Bilzerian” also has the advantage of being insanely catchy and featuring one of Lil Yachty’s better verses so far.
13) DEEP – Robin Thicke and Nas
Shit! I’m the one thinking about Robin Thicke in 2016! Well, to be fair, this song succeeds more so because of Nas, who delivers a stellar a cappella verse at the beginning of the song and another one towards the end. But as much as I’d like to, I can’t credit all this song’s wonders to Nas. No matter how hard I try to find someone to blame for giving Robin Thicke such a good song, all the signs point to the unfortunate conclusion that this whole thing was his idea. Sure, producer Rich Skillz contributes something to the song, but it was Robin who wanted the song to be about more than a relationship, it was Robin who wanted to talk about global sociopolitical crises in his goofy R&B song, and it was Robin who enlisted Nas. Damn you, Thicke, always on the verge of being likable.
12) TOO YOUNG – Zeds Dead feat. Rivers Cuomo and Pusha T
This song just kinda has everything going for it. Push has phoned in his fair share of pop guest verses, but he came through on this one. The beat is really well-made, and it’s irresistibly catchy. It’s also not nearly as creepy as a Rivers Cuomo song called “Too Young” could reasonably be anticipated to be. I really don’t have much to say about it, but it’s excellent.
11) ROCKABYE – Clean Bandit feat. Anne-Marie and Sean Paul
This new track by Clean Bandit finds them disappointingly entrenched in generic gentrified EDM dancehall, but sets itself apart in other ways. First of all, it’s good, which is more than I can say about a lot of other songs in that subgenre. Also, the hook is a nursery rhyme, which can go in a number of ways, but works in a way that’s equal parts goofy and powerful here. See, this isn’t a normal radio EDM song. It’s a radio EDM song about single mothers. And, in general, a really tasteful and empowering one. If I was a single mother, which is an admittedly unlikely scenario, I’d probably get a real kick out of this song. It’s also really funny to hear Sean Paul’s fun party jam ad-libs replaced with shouts like “Daily struggle!” and “Special bond of creation!” like some sort of hype man motivational speaker.
10) SWEET RELIEF – Kimbra
I never really got into Kimbra, even though she was my favorite part of “Somebody That I Used to Know.” I liked what I heard from her, but I didn’t hear all that much, and never made the time to actively seek it out. Which is a shame because damn, she’s phenomenal, right? This is some of the best production I’ve heard this year, period. Sure, it’s not all that catchy, which you could say is an integral part of pop music, but it’s still so pristine that I can’t fault her for it.
9) BLOWN – DNCE feat. Kent Jones
I’ve already sung the praises of JoBro funk powerhouse DNCE, so let me start by saying that Kent Jones is incredible. The DJ Khaled protege first became known for “Don’t Mind,” an earnest– if annoying– single about women across the world. Not the best first impression, but he really turned heads in the hip-hop world when he appeared on a Khaled track with Jadakiss, Fabolous, Fat Joe, and Busta Rhymes… and outperformed all of them. Anyway, “Blown” is really good.
8) HOME MOVIES – KAMI
KAMI, a.k.a. Kami de Chukwu, is a member of Chance the Rapper’s SAVEMONEY collective, but while he may be another B.N.R.O.O.C., this is by no means a hip-hop track. Rather, it’s a synth-infused ’80s throwback power pop track about amateur porn. The off-beat “say my name” gives it the feel that it was made in a garage, and with tinny drums and affected vocals, it demands to be played from a boombox. ’80s throwbacks aren’t uncommon in this day and age, but rarely are they done with this much sheer elegance.
7) VOWELS – Capital Cities
This song is absolutely ridiculous. Basically, the narrator wants to say something (ostensibly a confession of love), but can’t properly put it into words, so he vows to “speak in vowels from now on.” The chorus? “A-A / O-O / E-E / Oo-oo oo-oo oo-oo-oo.” Pure pop excellence, with the phenomenal production we’ve come to expect from Capital Cities (“Safe and Sound”).
6) RENEGADES – D∆WN (Dawn Richard)
This is another song without all that much to it. It’s just a really well-made dance pop track, with vaguely rebellious underpinnings. The chorus is “run a-run away with you, rene-renegade” and it doesn’t need to be more elaborate than that. It is, I should point out, a very well-written song, but that’s not why it’s great. It’s just that mix of a bunch of perfect elements, from Dawn’s voice to the parts of the beat and how they mesh together to the lyrics. I can’t describe it, but I can feel it.
5) HOME – Common feat. Bilal
If you want an impression of what you’ll get from Common’s new album Black America Again, this is about it. A beautiful jazz beat by Karriem Riggins, powerful lyrics in Common’s trademark spoken-word style, a whole lot of Biblical social commentary, and, as an overarching theme, good shit. Common’s still one of the best poets alive and Bilal’s voice never ceases to amaze. I probably could have put any of BAA‘s singles in this slot, which is actually one of my main complaints about the album. But if the songs are this good, uniformity isn’t the worst that can happen.
4) MAKE HAY – Joanna Newsom
Speaking of the best poets alive, who gave Joanna Newsom the right to be such a good writer? This is a throwaway track from her last album Divers, but it could just as easily have been its lead single, because it’s great. Even the YouTube description of the song is frustratingly good: “The standard gift for the occasion is a timepiece, but watch out – here’s a piece of time out of time that you’ll never not have back again!” What the fuck? What the fuck, Joanna Newsom?
3) GET BIGGER – NxWorries (Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge)
NxWorries’ new album Yes Lawd! proves that Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge are a match made in hip-hop/soul fusion heaven. “Get Bigger” is one of the more introspective and purely hip-hop tracks on the record, but it’s still as soulful as they come. Anderson has this crazy ability to appear both effortless and painstaking, radiating natural coolness in two perfectly-constructed and thickly-woven verses. .Paak was already an unstoppable force in hip-hop this year, and now he’s notched a second album-of-the-year contender into his belt.
2) MAN ON THE MOON – Zella Day
Is Zella Day one of modern music’s biggest visionaries? I don’t know, I haven’t given her a good listen. But if this song is any indication, she definitely is. It’s really an otherworldly experience, immediately putting her in a whole different class from her folksy electropop contemporaries (Halsey, et al.) with an incredible blend of heavenly vocals, synthetic harmonicas and banjos, and Francis and the Lights-esque vocal effects. I don’t know what I expected Zella Day to sound like, but this goes above and beyond anything I could have hoped for.
1) MISUNDERSTOOD – D.R.A.M. feat. Young Thug
This is where I cheated a little. See, this song isn’t a single. It’s just a song off of D.R.A.M.’s album which, in fairness, came out this month. Still, putting it on this list, let alone at #1, is sort of breaking my only rule for these. But I’m sorry, it needed to be pointed out. This is the best song of the month. Easily. It starts with D.R.A.M. singing about how people don’t understand his music and call him childish while they don’t even understand what he’s trying to do. And he’s like, crooning over this Bon Jovi-ass beat. He’s not even rapping. There’s no hook, either; there’s just a sorta-refrain where the electric guitar kicks in and he says something like “But what’s there to figure, when you speak to that n***a that you don’t understand?” Then, after a minute of that, Young Thug comes in, and holy shit dude. He’s sing-rapping under really heavy AutoTune, to the extent that it feels like he’s just fading into the song through it over the first few lines of his verse. It’s also a really solid verse, but it shows us a side of Thug that we haven’t seen in a minute. After that, D.R.A.M. starts full-on rapping and it’s more of that cuddly sing-song “Broccoli” shit that I love him for, except this time it’s coated in the thick goo of disdain, just as the whole song is, for haters, confused critics, crooked cops, and saboteurs. It’s just… so good.