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.