Hey, y’all! Sorry if this article is later than usual; I had a stack of technological absurdities as soon as it came time to write it. I know it’s my M.O. to start off each list talking about what an amazing month it was, but honestly? This was one of the weaker months for music I’ve seen thus far. It felt like this month got the shorter end of the fall single stick, including tepid new tracks from the likes of Zayn, Kelly Clarkson, and Sam Smith. Still, I’ve managed to turn a pretty solid top 20 out of it, and you’re about to look at it! Right now! First, let me clarify as always that this list is for songs released outside of an album. This means that a song that’s been around for years as an album track, but only just now got released as a single, would be considered eligible, but plenty of songs that were released this month still aren’t eligible. The rules are arbitrary, but they make narrowing down a list easier. Now, let’s get down to business.
20) UP ALL NIGHT – Beck
Beck’s 2014 album Morning Phase was good. Certainly not Album of the Year cough cough, but a solid folk album, coming from a listener who’s not always down with that ethereal shit. That being said, I’m glad Beck decided to follow it up with a poppier album, because this shit slaps. “Up All Night” opens with a crunchy guitar reminiscent of the bridge from “Dreams,” the first (by a long shot) single from this same album, but things quickly move in a different direction as the beat flows magically between that ‘90s guitar sound and the wild electronic vocal samples of modern pop. All this sets the stage for a rousing banger that, sure, borrow a couple elements from the likes of The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” and Kesha’s “Die Young,” but I’m certainly not complaining.
19) SPENT THE DAY IN BED – Morrissey
Noted insufferable prick Morrissey returns after a few years of speaking out against whatever-the-fuck to bring us more unfortunately-good tunes. This one’s about how people use the endless corruption of politics/media as an excuse to ignore current events and “sleep on” the problems at hand. It also has a really neat keyboard riff going on, which is cool. Listen, I do like the song, but it feels weird to shower praise on the man whose autobiography has a Penguin Classics edition.
18) SWEET DREAMS – BØRNS
Indie pop artist and fellow Michigander BØRNS has been dropping some heat the past couple months, but this is the first to squeeze its way onto the list. Something about the ethereal chaos of the chorus, perfectly conjuring the blissful, dreamlike state the title implies, plus BØRNS’ silky androgynous pipes give this song a really unique feel that sets it apart from a lot of other music to come out this month. It’s hard to describe a song with such a vibe-based appeal, but trust me when I say you’ll be transported.
17) SOMETHING FOR YOUR M.I.N.D. – Superorganism
Superorganism is one of the most exciting bands on the come-up right now, and just like their previous singles, “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” feels breathtakingly new. It’s unmistakeably psychedelic, but outside of bulbous guitars, it has few of the hallmarks of psychedelia. I’m absolutely in love with the way it keeps rhythm in moments of complete silence, spacing the pause between “for your” and “MIND” just right so as to jar and mesmerize without losing a beat while also making the vocals seem so genuine, they sound like a dazzlingly well-integrated sample. Superorganism is the future, so get used to ‘em now.
16) THE LAST OF THE REAL ONES – Fall Out Boy
Fall Out Boy’s been rolling out their perpetually-forthcoming album M AN IA for a long while, and the first couple singles were uh… not great. “Young and Menace” just might be the worst song they’ve ever made, but to be fair, that’s what I say about every lead single from a Fall Out Boy album. It’s typically not until the second or third single that the band’s true potential shines through (see: “Uma Thurman,” “The Phoenix”). Enter “Last of the Real Ones,” a truly kickass pop rock jam that wins by not trying too hard. It’s fun, energetic as hell, and while the whole llama thing is a shitty gimmick, the video (a loving recreation of Kanye’s “Flashing Lights”) is super enjoyable too. Not everyone’s on board with this “rockstar” phase of Fall Out Boy’s career, but even detractors will admit this one’s a cut above the rest.
15) HOW CAN U SLEEP – Brain feat. Lil Dicky and The Game
Now that I think about it, thematically speaking, this song is upsettingly similar to that Morrissey song from earlier. Anyway, Lil Dicky put out his “I’m Brain” concept EP earlier this month, and it’s really bad. Brain was a character who wasn’t even funny or interesting to begin with, nothing more is really done with him on this project, and Dicky’s move towards being taken seriously has sapped much of the fun out of his music. Still, “How Can U Sleep” is fire. It’s funny, the best is great, the verses are great, it might’ve caught like wildfire if it weren’t a Lil Dicky song in 2017. Dicky’s verses are great, if cluttered with quite a bit of filler, and The Game delivers his best verse in years. I really like how Dicky delivers the “How can you sleep” line, as though he’s disgusted by the very thought of someone sleeping. It’s also really funny when Game says “I just brought six strippers from Vegas home with me” and Dicky responds with a genuinely taken-aback “Six?!” More this, less “Cocaine.”
14) WILLY WONKA – Macklemore feat. Offset
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ hiatus has swiftly and unsurprisingly proven that Lewis was the real heavy-hitter of the two. In the time since they’ve broken up, Macklemore delivered a lukewarm, derivative hip hop album, while Ryan Lewis delivered “Praying” by Kesha, which you already know my thoughts on. And while I wasn’t exactly Gemini’s biggest fan, one thing I must admit about the new Macklemore album is that “Willy Wonka” fucking slaps. Macklemore does some interesting stuff in his verse, revisiting the pitter-patter flow of “Can’t Hold Us,” but like “How Can U Sleep,” the real star of this track is the guest rapper. Offset imbues a weird dubstep-rap experiment with glorious purpose, giving it a much better hook and a really solid verse. One thing though: I’m a little upset about the line “Willy Wonka been had haters.” I mean, I guess people didn’t like him, but it wasn’t a defining character trait of Willy Wonka that he had haters. You could just as easily say “Richard Dreyfuss been had haters.” In fact, Richard Dreyfuss also lives on acres and has a lot of paper. Bottom line: great song, but should really be called “Richard Dreyfuss.”
13) MISTAKES – Tove Styrke
I’ve missed out on a few great songs in the process of making these lists. You can’t always tell what kind of staying power a song will have right off the bat. One such omission was Tove Styrke’s “Say My Name,” whose boisterous hook immediately embedded itself into my permanent memory. I hate to consider this a consolation prize, because “Mistakes” is good enough on its own to make the list, but it does sort of feel that way. I really admire Styrke’s particular breed of pop, which deconstructs elements of the genre without losing fun or functionality in a sea of half-baked downers (not naming names, but Billie Eilish). “Mistakes” has an almost maddeningly-simple hook:
You make me
You make me
You make me wanna make mistakes
Love how bittersweet it tastes
That’s it. But listening to the song, how the beat drops out and the robotic choir kicks in so subtly, it’s sort of divine. Tove Styrke stands alongside Julia Michaels as a breath of fresh air in pop who takes the genre in a new direction without losing its raw enjoyment.
12) THE SCHEME – Primus
This song is essentially a two-and-a-half-minute bass solo, and it’s the craziest shit I’ve ever heard. If you had any doubts about Primus’ place in the rock hall of fame, listen to this and tell me your fave would ever.
11) SHOCKANDAWE – Miguel
“Guess what this song is about?” Miguel deadpans at the start of this frenetic anti-war anthem that stands out for its bold stance against subtlety. Miguel gleefully invites you to marvel at his unfathomably obvious “I rock, I run” double entendre, playing the hits from “Satire for Dummies” over the modified sounds of Tyler the Creator’s “I Ain’t Got Time!” All of this sounds like mockery, but I genuinely love this song. It’s great to see Miguel, one of the most exciting acts in R&B, moving in all these new directions lately.
10) MISBEHAVING – Labrinth
“Misbehaving” and Labrinth made big waves this month after being featured in Apple’s new ad campaign. Since then, the neo-blues track has slowly etched its way into our daily lives, its synthetic moans and sporadic trumpets popping up wherever Apple promotional material can be heard, which is an increasingly wide area. And of course, it is an amazing song. It’s a pitch-perfect blend of old and new, combining ‘20s sensibilities with innovative sampling to create something purely enchanting and pretty damn fun. It’s a song that feels specially-designed to play over an Apple ad, but organic at the same time.
9) SEXY DIRTY LOVE – Demi Lovato
Tell Me You Love Me is Demi Lovato’s best album to date. Since her 2015 clunker Confident, she’s upped her writing game and harnessed her incredible vocals to create a great power pop album. “Sexy Dirty Love” feels like Lovato’s answer to Nick Jonas’ “Levels.” It’s powerful, catchy, it’s got an incredible beat, and it’s even got the same conceit, using literal height as a metaphor for proximity to climax. Fun stuff. It sucks that the pop machine is dead, because I would’ve loved to hear this on the radio.
8) GRĀ- KAMAU feat. Nkō Khelî
KAMAU’s been on my radar for a long while now. He’s one of the more exciting acts on the come-up in hip hop today, combining tribal elements and an a cappella vibe with the nasally sing-rap sensibilities of Anderson .Paak. “GRā,” like KAMAU’s typical fare, is idiosyncratic, exceptionally well-made, and meaningful. It also stands out with the likes of “BooDha” as one of his catchiest, cleverest tracks, opining on oppression and the lasting effects of slavery. It’s a delight.
7) HILLSIDE BOYS – Kim Petras
Kim Petras is quickly becoming one of my favorite pop starlets on the rise. She’s got a great voice and a penchant for delightful ‘80s-infused synth-pop. “Hillside Boys” calls on the spirit of Cyndi Lauper in her prime, and it’s a real treat. I talked about Kim quite a bit last month, but suffice it to say she’s one to watch.
6) POWER – Rapsody feat. Kendrick Lamar and LanceSkiiiwalker
Hey, here’s something new: Kendrick Lamar is on this month’s list. Yes, I’m a creature of habit, but when two of the best rappers alive join forces on a track, how can I not give it a mention? Rapsody delivers truth bombs with the poise of an elder statesman, while Kendrick throws the track for a curve, bouncing off the walls in full DAMN. mode, all over a phenomenal beat by 9th Wonder. What’s not to love?
5) HOMIE – Young Martha (Young Thug & Carnage) feat. Meek Mill
Truth be told, I considered giving this song the #1 spot more than a couple times as I was making the list. I’ve probably listened to it more and gotten more enjoyment out of it than any other song on this list. The beat is amazing. Young Thug’s untamed growl is wonderful. Meek delivers a potent if short verse. The video is purely mind-boggling. It’s an incredible song, but it’s not particularly accessible to those who aren’t already fans of Thug and/or Meek. Still, I absolutely love it, and there’s a good chance you will too.
4) LOS AGELESS – St. Vincent
When we last saw her, St. Vincent took the #1 spot on the list with a deeply affective piano ballad called “New York.” This time, she receives high marks again, but we’re not in New York anymore. Where her previous single was touching, powerful, and organic, this one’s rough, distorted, uncomfortable. They’re both extremely catchy, and there’s some serious underlying emotional depth to the dark electronica of “Los Ageless.” It’s not bad; in fact, it’s phenomenal. But it’s definitely different, both from “New York” and from much of St. Vincent’s back catalogue. There’s a reason she got to make an album with David Byrne.
3) SEE YOU AGAIN – Tyler, the Creator feat. Kali Uchis
“See You Again” is yet another phenomenal single off Tyler, the Creator’s phenomenal album Flower Boy. Admittedly, it doesn’t do much to distance itself musically from Tyler and Kali’s last collaboration, “Fucking Young/Perfect,” but it’s still a deeply moving, heartfelt track with a Stevie Wonder spirit and inescapable pull quotes like “I wonder if you look both ways when you cross my mind.” The production is amazing, too, fading seamlessly from starry-eyed pianos to crunchy hip hop noise. This is the most perfect version of Tyler’s artistic vision. Flower Boy is a true portrait of the artist’s soul.
2) HOMEMADE DYNAMITE (REMIX) – Lorde feat. Khalid, Post Malone, and SZA
Alright, listen: “Homemade Dynamite” was released as a single in August. How was I supposed to know that such a great remix was coming in September? I know it’ll look ridiculous to have the same song in the top five on two lists in a row, but hindsight is 20/20, and the “Homemade Dynamite” remix is a masterpiece. Lorde is joined by likeminded artist SZA, Post Malone, and Khalid, all of whom draw clear influence from her seminal 2013 album Pure Heroine, to create a vibrant exploration of the original track’s complex themes. It’s a track where each artist pulls their weight, bringing their own point of view and style to the table before joining everyone else for a stunning rendition of the chorus. It’s the best official remix to a pop song I’ve heard in years.
1) LOVE – ILoveMakonnen feat. Rae Sremmurd
“Trap is the new punk” takes are a bit tired at this point, especially given Rae Sremmurd already has their anti-establishment #1 single, but “Love” proves that pop punk is in these guys’ veins. The track is a happy marriage of Fall Out Boy and Soulja Boy, gleefully sloppy but never unenjoyable, and capturing an undeniable spirit that’ll resonate with anyone who’s ever been an angsty teen in the summertime. Makonnen and Rae Sremmurd are among a cabal of young artists touted as the wave of the future, and “Love” proves they’re far more than one-trick ponies. It’s simple, derivative, and not particularly well-made, but I love every second of it.