April tends to be an interesting month for music. It’s when we start to see big names throw their “song of the summer” contender into the ring (although the winner usually comes out fairly early in the game), but also a time when other acts gearing for summer and fall releases begin their album rollout. By the same token, this was one of the more interesting songs of the month lists I’ve had to put together. Lots of experimental stuff, genres that rarely make an appearance, and an unusually competitive field, which is why this month once again features 25 songs. For those of you who are new to this, these lists consist of songs that were released separate from an album in the given month, with rare exceptions for particularly stellar album cuts (I could theoretically change that, but I feel like it’d be too much to keep track of). This means that a song that was released on an album months if not years before could still be eligible if it was recently released as a single or video, but some songs that were technically released this month would be ineligible since they were only released as part of an album. It’s complicated, but it works. Anyway, let’s kick things off.
25) CONTROLLER – Channel Tres
“Controller” is the debut single by Channel Tres, an up-and-coming producer/rapper and the latest signee to indie label Godmode Music (home to indie darlings Yaeji and Shamir). And let me just say, it’s pretty impressive for a first single. It’s a cool, confident slow-burn of a house track that’s instantly engrossing and builds on its deceptively simplistic base to make for a purely entertaining jam. Tres projects an infectious confidence without ever taking himself too seriously for his own good, building to an extremely enjoyable “throw some sub in that bitch” call-and-resposne portion, my personal favorite moment in the song. It’s eclectic, but it really serves as an introduction to the world of Channel Tres, and it’s definitely got me invested in where he goes from here.
24) FAMILIAR – Liam Payne feat. J. Balvin
Suffice to say, Liam Payne and J. Balvin aren’t quite “indie darlings.” While they’re considered fresh due to their recent rise to U.S. solo success, the two have been enjoying platinum hits for most of this decade, and while both have thus far failed to recreate the mainstream U.S. success of their big singles last year, “Familiar” may be both of their best efforts yet. In an odd way, Payne has evolved into an artist fairly reminiscent of his one-time boy band competition, The Wanted. Like their big hit “Glad You Came,” “Familiar” is a Latin-infused dance-pop track featuring admirable-if-goofy attempts at lyrical dexterity. And honestly? I’m here for it.
23) NIGHT TIME – Superorganism
You know I’m always gonna save a spot for Superorganism. Fresh off their insane Tiny Desk Concert, the psych pop band has put out another single from their stellar self-titled debut album. “Night Time” is one of the album’s dancier tracks, incorporating a ’90s-ish sound you may or may not find in some bigger pop singles later on this list, but with their signature dreamy aesthetics, trippy vocals, and clever instrumental tricks (this one incorporates the sounds of crickets chirping). Delicate on every level, “Night Time” is another indicator of what I’ve been saying for almost a year now: Superorganism is the future.
22) WHAT’S IT LIKE NOW – Mikky Ekko
If you know Mikky Ekko from anything, it’s probably his guest appearance on Rihanna’s lauded 2013 single “Stay.” As much as I’d like to envision him as an artist Rihanna conjured out of need for a male voice, the fact is that ol’ Mikky is a versatile, unique artist with a sprawling and impressive catalogue that’s consistently been on my radar for about a year and a half. His latest, “What’s It Like Now,” is brash yet oddly familiar, an indie pop-rock track seemingly destined for a long career in car commercials and odd appearances (this, unfortunately, is the destiny of every good indie rock song in 2018). Like I said, I’ve been digging Mikky Ekko’s output for a while now, but his songs usually fade from memory by the end of the month, and this one’s still managed to stick around.
21) LIGHT FLEX – Tone Stith feat. 2 Chainz
I’m still not quite sure what to make of this Uncle Drew movie. I’ve seen a lot of negative feedback to the trailers, and I definitely see where they’re coming from: boasting a cast of mostly basketball players and a premise lifted from a six-year-old Pepsi commercial, it doesn’t exactly scream “Oscar bait,” but something about it still grabs my interest. Part of it may be the film’s killer soundtrack, with singles including last month’s “Cocky” with A$AP Rocky, 21 Savage, and Gucci Mane, as well as “Light Flex.” The song, which features up-and-coming R&B songster Tone Stith and perennial favorite 2 Chainz, has an undeniable bounce to it, taking notes from ’90s new jack swing and swaggering hooks that build towards yet another guest-verse masterstroke by 2 Chainz, who remains one of the most consistently-impressive rappers working today.
20) BATSHIT – Sofi Tukker
Like Mikky Ekko, Sofi Tukker is another artist with an excessive amount of K’s in their name who I’ve been meaning to put on one of these lists for a while. I went back and forth on “Batshit” for a while. The meandering “batshit, baaaatshit, baaatshit” of the chorus doesn’t really do it for me, but I kept finding myself coming back to the song’s opening. You may have already heard it in a commercial: “Oh / You’re bad enough to me / Bad enough that we / Always have something to get over.” It’s simple, but it works, and I’ve always admired Sofi Tukker’s ability to take a simple, goofy idea and run with it.
19) RATS – Ghost
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I don’t really listen to metal. It’s just not an aesthetic that appeals to me; I can get into it, but I’d almost unilaterally rather listen to something else. There are exceptions, of course. Not long ago, I talked about Zeal & Ardor, an avant garde band who combines metal with spirituals and vintage rock sounds to profound effect. Another band I like is Ghost, which is more decidedly in the standard realm of heavy metal. To understand what appeals to me about this group, look no further than “Rats.” See, Ghost is a band that understands and plays up the inherent ridiculousness of metal as a genre, and if there’s one thing that transcends genre preferences for me, it’s earnestly goofy shit.
18) FADED AWAY – Sweater Beats feat. Icona Pop
Now for something completely different, Icona Pop! You may remember the Swedish electropop duo from their 2013 global smash hit “I Love It.” Their music since then has been roughly in the same vein, and generally pretty spectacular at it. Their latest, “Faded Away” with Sweater Beats (an EDM producer I know absolutely nothing about), is a solid dance track full of bleeps, bloops, and soaring vocals. In spite of its wacky production, it’s a fairly straightforward pop song, but that’s a realm where you can always count on Icona Pop to deliver.
17) 4 LEAF CLOVER – Ravyn Lenae feat. Steve Lacy
Chicago R&B singer Ravyn Lenae, who’s been on my radar for some time now and has already been compared to everyone from Erykah Badu to SZA, just put out a new EP entirely produced by The Internet’s Steve Lacy (more on The Internet in a bit wink wink). This single off that record, “4 Leaf Clover,” is a solid indicator of why Lenae gets compared to all the great R&B singers of then and now: her blend of charisma, innate wisdom, and experimentation makes her immediately exciting, and her engrossing voice carries the song throughout. I hear all the comparisons people make, but I’d say the vibes I’m getting the most off this track remind me of Santigold more so than anyone else. And that’s a compliment.
16) QUIZ – CupcakKe
“Quiz” is a CupcakKe song not dissimilar from any other, but if we’re being honest, CupcakKe’s baseline performance is enough to qualify her for the list. That’s because even the most basic track from the cult favorite MC features bonkers instrumentals, rapid-fire wordplay, and completely shameless, irresistible showcases of her unique, hilarious, hypersexual style. A beat as boisterous and blistering as this would be daunting to your average rapper, but CupcakKe’s sheer force of personality could shine through on any track.
15) MUST’VE BEEN – Chromeo feat. DRAM
Combine the surefire, all-nonsense funk of Chromeo with the dulcet tones of DRAM, an artist who’s quickly becoming one of my favorites, and what do you get? Hopefully, a potential sleeper candidate for song of the summer. That’s right, I said it. The idea of Chromeo scoring a hit single is a bit fantastical, particularly given the fact that all their songs are on roughly the same level of boppiness, but on some level I still hold out hope that a collaboration with DRAM and a flashy Fallon performance will be enough to propel this song onto the charts, at least for a brief moment. But even if it doesn’t land on the radio (and once again, it probably won’t), you’ll still be likely to find me jamming out to it all summer long.
14) HALF LOVE – Elohim
Elohim, a pop singer known for appearing in an animal mask until recently and being named after God, released her self-titled debut album at the end of this month. The album definitely deserves more attention, but today we’re talking about its lead single, “Half Love.” The song combines the hard-hitting synth sound of CHVRCHES (a band who came within an inch of appearing on this list themselves) with Elohim’s own confident style, with a forceful, pulse-pounding bridge leading up to the song’s slick, sexy pop hook. It’s like every element of a great ’10s pop song smashed together into one package.
13) PARK LIFE FOREVER – Laura Jane Grace
Transgender punk icon Laura Jane Grace has a new song out, but if you’re expecting the angsty thrash of her most famous works, you’ve come to the wrong place. Grace recorded the short, sweet folk-pop track “Park Life Forever” with the help of her eight-year-old daughter Evelyn, and in case you’re curious, it’s about going to the park. I’ve thrown out some aphorisms about punk artists inevitably transitioning into folk as they grow older, and if this is the direction Against Me! is moving towards 20+ years into their career, I’m decidedly here for it.
12) LOVE SONG – Zak Abel
I’m not going to pretend I’d heard of Zak Abel before this song, or that I think this song’s gonna make him a household name. There’s not really much to say about “Love Song,” other than that it’s epic and simplistic all at once, a perfectly-packaged piece of pop that can be applied to just about any situation. I suppose the best way to talk about is to speak on what it reminds me of. It’s orchestral arrangements and background vocals instantly recalled Gnarls Barkley for me, which is a sound we rarely hear these days. Of course, the “song titled ‘Love Song’ where the hook is about how it’s not a love song” shtick can be credited to Sara Bareilles, though the two songs have little in common outside of that. With its dramatic build, hard-hitting synth bass, and vocal stylings, I’d also say it kind of reminds me of “Love Me Harder” by Ariana Grande and the Weeknd, which is a phenomenal song that we don’t talk about enough. Not the most original thing in the world, but it wears its influences on its sleeve, and its influences are pretty great.
11) ONE KISS – Calvin Harris feat. Dua Lipa
Since I’ve had a lot to say about the song of the summer lately, let the record reflect that I’m predicting this song is gonna do big things. The ’90s-inspired dance sound has been bubbling under the surface of pop for a while now and this track (in addition to some other songs I’ll get to in a bit) is finally bringing it into vogue full-force. Calvin Harris has spent the past year and a half proving he’s one of the best pop producers doing it today, and “One Kiss” brings him into a new realm that could find him topping the charts once again, even in an era where pop’s ubiquity has noticeably dwindled. It’s got a solid hook, a nice instrumental drop, two artists who have been in “next big thing” territory for the last year and a half, and it’s exactly weird enough to dominate over the homogenized sounds of Zedd and Post Malone.
10) FISTS OF FURY – Kamasi Washington
Needless to say, Kamasi Washington’s latest ten-minute jazz opus “Fists of Fury” is somewhat less likely to top the charts. However, if there are any superstars in the world of modern jazz, Washington is certainly up there. He’s been a critical and commercial hit since his 2015 label debut, The Epic. His latest track, “Fists of Fury,” certainly lives up to its name: the frenetic track features choral vocals, driving drums, and Washington absolutely wailing ass on the sax. What more could you want?
9) ROLL! (BURBANK FUNK) – The Internet
After three years on hiatus while its members pursued solo work (like Steve Lacy, from earlier!), The Internet has finally returned with their new single, “Roll!” The latest song from the band (which began life as an offshoot of Odd Future) proves they didn’t lose anything in their brief departure: featuring the ever-mesmerizing vocals of Lacy and Syd, the track is really driven by Patrick Paige II’s funk bass licks, which build a celebratory vibe into the band’s signature dreamy neo-soul sound. It’s the perfect song for setting the mood at a chill summer get-together, and it’s indicative of exciting things to come from The Internet.
8) THE WAVE – LION BABE feat. Leikeli47
You may remember rapper Leikeli47 from her stellar 2017 album “Wash & Set,” which I talked about on last year’s album-of-the-year list. Now, she joins buzzing R&B duo LION BABE for another chill summer funk track, featuring an irresistible groove, a deceptively infectious hook, and an expectedly-great verse from Leikeli. The song’s cool vintage vibes, driven by phenomenal bass work from Lucas Goodman, is what really sells it for me, but all the stars are aligned to make this a great jam.
7) PYNK – Janelle Monae feat. Grimes
It feels like “PYNK” has already been out for way longer than a month, which should serve as an indication of how instantly iconic the song and video are. So much has happened in the lives of Janelle Monae and Grimes (Grimes especially) since this song came out that it almost feels nostalgic to go back and remember the bold de-gentrification of “pussy power” rhetoric that started it all. Even ignoring the song’s politics (which are excellent), it’s a pretty great step forward for Janelle, integrating her funky sound with the kooky indie sound of Grimes to create a refreshing, exciting, and above-all fun moment in pop culture.
6) A$AP FOREVER – A$AP Rocky feat. Moby
A$AP Rocky, one of my favorite rappers, is finally gearing up for the release of his new album Testing, and after releasing a few pieces that could liberally be described as “songs,” we finally have the album’s first true single: “A$AP Forever,” which combines Rocky’s experimental streak with his penchant for straight bars. It’s a pretty quintessential Rocky track, featuring the rapper spitting over stringy New York boom-bap that then segues into a Moby sample that’s… kind of touching? Like I said, I was far from impressed from the short snippets he released before this, but this song reminded me why I love the guy.
5) NO TEARS LEFT TO CRY – Ariana Grande
After two years of dormancy following her sensational 2016 record Dangerous Woman, reigning queen of pop Ariana Grande announced her return this month with “No Tears Left to Cry.” When the clock struck midnight, I opened up Apple Music, gave it a listen, and I didn’t like it. From what I’ve heard, a lot of people didn’t like the song at first. Like Dangerous Woman‘s lead single of the same name, it’s a little too weird to be palatable as a pop single upon first listen. But like “Dangerous Woman,” I quickly took a liking to the track, and I’m now holding out hope that it reigns as song of the summer (although if “Into You” couldn’t be song of the summer, I don’t know what could). It’s got those same ’90s dance drums that a few of the other songs I’ve talked about have; I really think this is the direction pop is moving in, and after two years of sluggish R&B and Chainsmokers chords, I’m here for it.
4) LIKE ME – Bobby Sessions
Here in the month of May, folks are going nuts over Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” a stark revelation about the struggles black people face, particularly as artist, in the U.S. I like that song a lot, but if you’re looking for some racial commentary that gets right to the point, I recommend “Like Me.” Bobby Sessions is an up-and-coming Dallas rapper and, following his recent signing to Def Jam, he’s released “Like Me,” a compelling and jarring condemnation tracing the black struggle in modern-day America back to its roots in the transatlantic slave trade. Sessions’ take-no-prisoners lyricism elevates the song to a higher level in an era where a fresh take on racial injustice is hard to come by. Thought-provoking message aside, “Like Me” is reflective of Bobby’s raw energy and skills as an MC, setting him ahead of the pack in one fell swoop.
3) I NEED A WOMAN TO LOVE – Kesha
For MGM Resorts’ Universal Love EP, which featured artists ranging from Bob Dylan to St. Vincent performing gender-flipped covers of classic love songs, Kesha contributed her own take on Janis Joplin’s “I Need a Man to Love.” The track’s crunchy Southern rock sound isn’t entirely foreign to Kesha, but it’s certainly a realm we don’t often get to see her in, and one she handles with the same finesse and boundless confidence she always brings to the table. Kesha also officiated a same-sex wedding for the song’s video, so… that’s pretty cool.
2) NICE FOR WHAT – Drake
Here’s something you really don’t see everyday: a female empowerment anthem by Drake. Also like, a really good song by Drake. I’m not saying the Canadian megastar doesn’t make good music, but he’s certainly in rare form on “Nice for What.” The bounce-infused track samples Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” (more ’90s drums!) and features notable moments like a surprise interlude from Big Freedia(!) and the best hook Drake’s put together in at least half a decade. Even when I like Drake songs (which I do semi-regularly), it’s very rare that I fall in love with one as quickly as I’ve become enamored with “Nice for What.” It’s a shame that “God’s Plan” has been hogging all the radio play, because this is another perfectly-good summer jam waiting in the wings. By the way, if you’re looking for my take on “God’s Plan,” here it is: it sucks. So, what could be better than “Nice for What”?
You don’t want to know.
1) LIFT YOURSELF – Kanye West
I’m sorry. This isn’t a joke. It’s not ironic. It’s not even an excuse to give my hot takes on Kanye’s latest media fiasco. I, completely genuinely, can’t get enough of “Lift Yourself” by Kanye West. I’m sure you all know the story by now. Kanye professed his love for Donald Trump, called slavery a “choice,” and generally did the most to get the people against him. And then, promising the answers to everyone’s questions (particularly Ebro’s), he released “Lift Yourself.” The song is just an instrumental for the first minute and a half of its two-and-a-half minutes, and it’s an absolutely immaculate instrumental at that, but then, out of thin air, Kanye appears, promising an onslaught of next-level bars. And then it happens. Kanye’s– I guess you could call it scatting?– is obviously meant to be taken as a joke, but is it wrong of me to say I kind of dig it? It’s just so unexpected, and Kanye’s stonefaced delivery makes it laugh-out-loud funny every time. I know I shouldn’t like it, but I really do, and that’s something we’re just gonna have to deal with.