When I first upped the amount of songs on these lists to 20, I said that it would vary depending on how many songs I wanted to talk about. I’d say this is still true to a certain extent, but 20 happens to be a solid number of songs when it comes to picking the best of the best. Every once in a while, I think of making this a weekly thing, but I think it would eat up a ton of my time and not be up to the same standard as these lists have been so far. Anyway, that’s just me talking. Here’s my favorite new singles to come out in February.
20) NO GOING BACK – Yuno
Here’s a fun little song to kick things off. Jacksonville artist Yuno is the latest signee to the legendary Sub Pop label, and while I’ve never heard any of his other music, this is certainly an impressive start. The song’s most obvious influence is Tame Impala, whose imprint is all over its high-pitched vocals, springy synth beat, and knack for pop songwriting. Whether or not this is emblematic of Yuno’s style, we’ll have to wait and see, but it’s a solid song.
19) AMERICAN GODS – ONR
If “No Going Back” is influenced by Tame Impala, “American Gods” owes something to Depeche Mode. It’s that same sort of theatric, melancholy ’80s techno-rock, and I kinda love it. ONR is another mysterious new artist, and another one that I’m definitely gonna have to watch for in the future. “American Gods” goes off, and makes you feel powerful in the way only a Depeche Mode disciple could. I think it’s about the president being bad or something.
18) REFLECTIONS ON THE SCREEN – Superorganism
As you’ve no doubt noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a Superorganism kick lately. They just put out their new album, it’s excellent, you’ll probably get to hear me talk about it whenever my next album-related list comes out, but for now, let’s talk “Reflections on the Screen.” It’s pretty much par for the course for Superorganism: nature sounds, psychedelic guitar, glitchy pop flourishes, all brought together by the hypnotic voice of 17-year-old lead singer Orono Noguchi. I don’t want to go out on a limb and say they’re the next big thing, but they definitely deserve your attention if you haven’t been paying it already.
17) SATURDAYS – Twin Shadow feat. HAIM
Instrumentally, this song has a definite ’80s vibe to it. Something about the dreamy guitars and those distinctly dated drums. It’s also got HAIM, which is never a bad thing in my book. “Dreamy” is definitely the right word to describe this song. It recalls the ’80s, but not in a way that necessarily has a definitive logic to it. It’s equal parts Belinda Carlisle, Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, you name it. It recalls memories of a cool teenage existence that may have never existed. Maybe I’m overselling this. It’s a catchy song.
16) YOU ONLY SAY YOU LOVE ME IN THE DARK – Janice
This song was my first exposure to Swedish R&B singer Janice, and I’m really impressed. Aesthetically, it recalls Lorde’s “Green Light,” full of the same raw emotion and exuberant desperation, but in some senses I like “You Only Say You Love Me in the Dark” more. It’s a little slower, a little more soulful. Or maybe it’s just a “Green Light” clone. Either way, I wouldn’t be complaining, and you know I’m a sucker for long titles.
15) BRXNKS TRUCK – Slim Jxmmi feat. Rae Sremmurd
Pop rap party animals Rae Sremmurd are gearing up for their third album, SR3MM, and mark my words, it’ll change the game. The insanely ambitious project, which from what we’ve seen so far can only be described as Speakerboxxx/The Love Below on crack, will be a triple album, consisting of a Swae Lee solo record, a Slim Jxmmi solo record, and a complete Rae Sremmurd album. And this first crop of singles shows a ton of promise. “Brxnks Truck” is our first introduction to the solo Slim Jxmmi, and it’s a compelling one at that. Swae Lee is much of the emotional core of the group, which is why everyone was quick to pin him as the pop solo star, but Jxmmi brings an energy that can’t be understated. It’s a short, frenetic trap track that proves Jxmmi is more than capable of turning up all by himself.
14) TOY – Young Fathers
This is a weird-ass song, and one I’m not sure I could do justice in describing, but it’s so mesmerizingly unique that I had to include it. Young Fathers are a Mercury Prize-winning alternative hip hop group who bring a rocking European energy to their music that sets it apart from this planet. The result is some beautiful medium between Gorillaz and Death Grips, a fun, manic, wildly inventive song off an album that can’t be missed.
13) ROSE-COLORED BOY – Paramore
Yup, I’m back at it again with the new-wave inspired pop rock bops off Paramore’s incredible 2017 album After Laughter, the likes of which I’ve included on these lists three or four times at this point. I’m sorry, but they’re all really good. “Rose-Colored Boy” sets itself apart with that cheery Go-Go’s-esque hook. “No heat! No pressure!” I’ve been thinking about all those mid-’00s pop punk bands, and while I’m a fan of most of them, I’m developing the idea that After Laughter is the best album any of them ever released. It’s extremely good, and given that every Paramore album has been substantially better than the last, I can’t wait to see what comes next.
12) LOOK BACK – Diplo feat. DRAM
In case you haven’t heard, the latest thing in EDM is doing something that’s explicitly not EDM. Calvin Harris started the train with his masterful funk-pop album last year, and now Diplo’s joining with a psychedelic soul track featuring the ever-beautiful pipes of Big Baby DRAM. For an artist with one of the most unique, versatile voices in the game today, “Look Back” finds DRAM in rare form, crooning about his fast and dangerous lifestyle in an aggressively confident falsetto that recalls CeeLo Green in his prime. And of course, you’ve gotta give it up to Diplo here, who steps out of his sonic comfort zones to magical results.
11) MY ENEMY – CHVRCHES feat. Matt Berninger
We’ve got CHVRCHES on the list for the second month in a row, and this time they’re joined by lead singer of The National, Matt Berninger. I’m a fan of both of these bands, and like the collaboration between BØRNS and Lana Del Rey earlier this year, the combination here works even better than you’d expect. The sleek poppiness of CHVRCHES adds onto The National’s stark melancholy to create a Genesis-like blend of contemplative lyrics and hard-hitting synths. It’s got that devastation National fans are looking for, and it’s pretty damn catchy to boot.
10) DOIHAVETHESAUSE? – Ski Mask the Slump God
If you find SoundCloud rap dull or lyrically lacking, you probably haven’t been looking hard enough. Sure, the ease of production and distribution means there’ll be a lot of junk, but some of the most exciting music out right now can be found in that neck of the woods. Take, for instance, Ski Mask the Slump God, an artist I’ve already sung the praises of before. He’s got funny, inventive lyrics, a unique voice, and insane flows. The lowkey production on this track may deter you, but if you listen with an open ear, you’ll find plenty to love.
9) PRAY FOR ME – The Weeknd feat. Kendrick Lamar
Just to get it out of the way: yes, this is essentially a retread of “Starboy.” But hey, “Starboy” was a good song, and this one’s got Kendrick Lamar. The pulsating electronic instrumental is no Daft Punk production, but it goes hard nonetheless, and melds perfectly with the Weeknd’s soft tones. It also boasts one of Kendrick’s better pop guest verses, though to be fair, the song is off his album. Black Panther: The Album is a game-changer for the art of the soundtrack album, and “Pray for Me” is its most powerful pop single.
8) WE ARE… – Noah Cyrus feat. MØ
In the mad dash to earn a spot on one of these “Songs of the Month” lists, Noah Cyrus has been somewhat of a perennial runner-up. She does the modern pop sound justice, and she’s carved out a unique enough style, but nothing’s ever stuck out to me enough for me to put it on one of these lists. Until now, that is. I think what sold me on this one was the gleeful “WE! ARE! FUCKED!” that begins the chorus. Lyrically, the song could definitely be considered “fake deep,” railing on the woes of her and her “lost” generation. It’s also catchy as all hell, and utilizes tone, production, and Noah and MØ’s unique voices to get the idea of the song across in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously to be enjoyed.
7) VINCENT – Ellie Goulding
You know Ellie Goulding as the idiosyncratic pop star who shows up out of nowhere every year or two with a song where you can’t quite tell if it’s annoying or great. Her latest single, “Vincent,” is a subtle, somber ballad covering the song of the same name by Don McLean. I’d obviously never thought to put McLean and Goulding together, but the results certainly speak for themselves. Goulding’s high, heavily-accented voice makes for fun pop jams, but it suits a quieter track really well too. If this is leading into some sort of album, it’ll be interesting to see what direction she takes it from here.
6) KRISTI YAMAGUCCI – A$AP Ferg, Denzel Curry, and IDK
A$AP Ferg, IDK, and Denzel Curry are three of the greatest new rappers of the latter half of this decade, but they’re typically relegated to the lower part of these lists (Curry and IDK found themselves at #19 just last month). Something about the way the three of them come together just really did it for me, I suppose. It’s an excellent song, boasting hilarious, hard verses from all three artists and an absolutely killer trap beat courtesy of Frankie P, who’s produced many of Ferg’s beats. Each rapper brings something different to the table, but it all comes together to create an early contender for the best posse cut of the year.
5) THE SHADOW – Millie Turner
I’m kinda not sure if I really like “The Shadow” or I just like all the things it reminds me of. Pop up-and-comer Millie Turner channels everyone from Lorde to Bridgit Mendler to La Roux on this track, and the result is a techno-infused banger with idiosyncratic vocals, strong writing, and a tone that’s triumphant and self-effacing in equal parts. Maybe it reminds me of great pop artists because it’s a great pop song. Maybe Millie Turner is the next great pop artist. We’ll just have to wait and see.
4) HURT TO LOOK – Swae Lee feat. Rae Sremmurd
Speaking of “the next great pop artist,” here’s “Hurt to Look,” the official debut solo single for Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee, who cut his teeth last summer giving French Montana the biggest hit of his career and has since had his solo debut become one of the most buzzed-about releases of today. On “Hurt to Look,” Swae puts his money where his mouth is, crafting a perfect piece of pop/R&B that encapsulates a mellow melancholy only someone with the unmistakable voice of Swae Lee could bring to the table. Don’t be surprised if you’re hearing this all over the place within the next few months, or possibly something else. After all, SR3MM is dropping one of these days.
3) MAY I – T-Pain feat. Mr. Talkbox
T-Pain’s swingy big band throwback track “May I” dropped to little fanfare as a cut off his album Oblivion late last year, but now that it’s been released as a single, can we please talk about it? This eight-minute R&B magnum opus plays like the culmination of over a decade of T-Pain. It transitions flawlessly from Sinatra to Usher to Pain himself, then explodes into stirring jazz and flips it back into the modern R&B sound it was subtly building all along. This is essentially the T-Pain version of a 20/20 Experience-era Timberlake track, but that’s not a bad thing (no pun intended). It’s maximal, but not to a fault, and it represents T-Pain for what he is: one of the greatest R&B singers alive.
2) MOON RIVER – Frank Ocean
Another cover song? Man, weird month. Anyway, you know I had to secure a top spot for Frank Ocean, possibly the greatest R&B singer alive, who came through this month with the best Valentine’s Day gift any of us could ask for: an achingly beautiful rendition of “Moon River.” This shit will tear your heart out, and that’s all I have to say about it. Just listen to the song, and don’t mind the channel. Frank’s original upload got taken down so I had to attach a reupload.
1) MAKE ME FEEL – Janelle Monáe
As is sometimes the case with these lists, I devoted a minor amount of mental space to asking myself “Are any of these songs good enough? What’s gonna be the absolute best?” And then, as soon as I heard “Make Me Feel,” it was out of the question. This cool, quirky, innovative bisexual anthem with an amazing hook and production by fucking Prince was the song of the month as soon as it came out. See, Janelle just announced her new album Dirty Computer, the fourth installment in her continuing Metropolis Saga, and this (alongside the militant rap track “Django Jane”) was the lead single. I’ve been in love with Janelle for quite some time, but “Make Me Feel” is one of the best songs she’s released to date, and something tells me the album proper will have even more in store. We won’t know until it comes out in April, but this song still stands out as easily the best song of 2018 so far.