Reviews for Normal People

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Top 20 Songs of the Month (December 2017) — January 4, 2018

Top 20 Songs of the Month (December 2017)

While I’m working on more end-of-the-year lists, help yourself to some of my favorite tunes from the month of December. This list didn’t take nearly as long to narrow down (not a lot of people put out music in the last week or two of December), but I have to say I’m more satisfied with this one than the past few I’ve done. It’s easily one of the most varied lists I’ve ever done (though a couple artists show up more than once), and I was able to get it out earlier than I have in over a year. Will any of these songs be making my eventual “best songs of 2017” list? We’ll see, but they’ve made it this far, so give ’em a listen.

20) LUCKY PEOPLE – Waterparks

I was first put onto Waterparks a month or two ago when they released “Blonde,” a fun ’90s throwback pop-punk number bolstered by some impressive instrumentation and a memorable vocal performance by lead singer Awsten Knight (“Is Awsten Knight gay?” has been added to my search history; the results were inconclusive). “Lucky People” is… different. Knight himself described it as “the most happy Jason Mraz-ass song you ever saw,” and I’m inclined to agree. It’s charming at first, but it hooks you after a few listens and sets it apart from your standard “white guy with acoustic guitar” fare with a great pop hook.

19) BEN FRANKLIN’S SONG – The Decemberists

“Ben Franklin’s Song” is the first of a series called “Hamildrops,” in which Lin-Manuel Miranda plans to put out unreleased content written for Hamilton every month of 2018. Of course, that’s exciting, to hear new songs from Hamilton performed by beloved musicians. And based on Lin’s brilliant decision to give this one over to the Decemberists, the songs are definitely in capable hands. I’ll admit I’ve never been way into the Decemberists, but I’ve heard enough to know that their folky sound perfectly complements the brash, cocky Franklin represented in the lyrics. Every “Do you know who the fuck I am?” lands with impeccable timing, and it all builds to a surprising theatrical climax. It’s easy to see how this would fit in to some version of Hamilton, but framing it as a Decemberists song makes it all the better.

18) GO DUNG – Major Lazer feat. Kes

Major Lazer first came across my radar with their global smash hit “Lean On” back in 2015, and I’ve kinda been a fan ever since. They’ve really perfected their electro-dancehall fusion sound to a science, and I haven’t liked everything I’ve heard, but when they get it right, they get it right. Like “Go Dung,” their latest single featuring the soca band Kes, ostensibly from Lazer’s forthcoming album Music Is the Weapon. It starts off with a classic reggae/pop hook, then morphs into a club banger and rests itself squarely in both categories. It’s fun, simple, and catchy, but still carries the hallmarks of Diplo, Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire’s intricate production.

17) DANGER – Migos and Marshmello

In the last few days of 2017, Will Smith’s Netflix fantasy action blockbuster Bright got absolutely clowned for piss-poor attempts at social commentary and that bland film of David Ayer grime. Like Ayer’s previous work, Suicide Squad, it’s maybe not as bad as people make it out to be, but definitely pretty fucking bad. Also like Suicide Squad, it’s actually got a really solid soundtrack. I wasn’t expecting too much from a collaboration between Migos and Marshmello, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Marshmello’s sometimes-dated EDM-pop production lends itself well to Quavo’s vocals. Takeoff’s verse is really good, and the hook is one of the best we’ve heard from Migos in some time. Will it have the staying power of “Purple Lamborghini?” I don’t know about that, but it’s a solid track.

16) THIS IS ME – Kesha

Here’s another soundtrack song, this one from the bizarre-in-the-blandest-way-possible P.T. Barnum musical The Greatest Showman. Like any other song on this album, it’s schmaltzy, corny, and weirdly pre-9/11 in it’s doe-eyed optimism, but what really makes it is Kesha’s voice. It’s so interesting how in such a short time, Kesha’s gone from an Auto-Tuned has-been to one of the most powerful voices in pop music, but she fucking belts on this track. It’s time to start a petition to put Kesha in a musical already, or at least put her on every soundtrack album.

15) CAKIN’ – Yogi, DRAM, and Lady Leshurr

DRAM has quickly become one of my favorite artists of his class. I’m always eager to hear whatever new stuff he puts out, and this month was a bountiful one. In addition to a deluxe edition of his phenomenal debut album Big Baby DRAM, we got this new collaboration with British producer Yogi and British rapper Lady Leshurr. DRAM’s hook really ties the whole thing together, although the production is also unique and interesting and Leshurr serves up a pretty solid verse (though if you’re looking for a taste of her capabilities, check out her “Queen’s Speech” freestyles). Fun, solid song all around.

14) LAST WAVE – They Might Be Giants

Ya gotta love They Might Be Giants. Between their appearances on kids’ shows and the theme from Malcolm in the Middle, they were one of the first bands I was exposed to, period, and they’ve only gotten better with age. They’ve streamlined their weirdness to a science, with their idiosyncratic vocals, ear for hooks, and great instrumentation. I’m not sure I could pin down why I like this song a lot, but it’s definitely a prime example of just a few of the many thing TMBG has to offer. Looking forward to that new album, guys.

13) STICKY – Ravyn Lenae

With the help of rising multi-instrumentalist Steve Lacy, Ravyn Lenae pushes R&B in bold new directions with “Sticky.” It’s sublimely strange, equal parts macabre and mellifluous, some kooky hybrid of Janelle Monae and Solange with a dash of Aaliyah. Steve Lacy is quickly becoming one of the most important musicians on the scene, pushing R&B and hip hop into psychedelic new territory while working with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Tyler, the Creator. “Sticky” isn’t perfect– it’s a little too brash, a little too jagged– but it’s a sign of great things to come for Ravyn Lenae.

12) STIR FRY – Migos

What’s especially exciting about Migos’ recent output is that it finds them branching out from their trademark trap stylings while still maintaining the hallmarks of their unique sound. On “Stir Fry,” they team with Pharrell for an interesting melding of styles: Pharrell’s jaunty schoolyard mid-’00s pop rap melds with Migos’ signature cadences to create something starkly new and refreshing while still being undeniably Migos. It takes a moment to get used to, but by the time you get to Offset’s (phenomenal) verse, you’re hooked. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how Migos’ sound has evolved on Culture II.

11) GROWN – Chloe x Halle

For a moment in 2016, everyone was going nuts over Chloe x Halle. The sister R&B duo went from YouTube sensation to award shows, working with the likes of Missy Elliott and Beyonce, and being at the center of every music blog’s radar in a short span of a few months. And yet, where are all those critics now? These two are better than ever, as evidenced by this single and their phenomenal mixtape earlier this year, but the music community seems to have already moved on to the next obsession (Brockhampton, who we’ll get to in a bit). It’s a shame, because this song definitely deserves attention. It’s got an overwhelmingly beautiful hook, great vocal performances as always, and an interesting sort of Disney vibe to it that makes it feel really urgent and captivating. I don’t know. Don’t sleep on these gals.

10) HO HO HO – Sia

Sia’s Everyday Is Christmas album dropped last month to decent fanfare. It’s got a lot of holiday bops, but most of them ended up being sort of forgettable. Of course, the stand-out track is “Ho Ho Ho,” a simple, jaunty pseudo-shanty that builds to a thoroughly enjoyable and perfectly complements Sia’s idiosyncratic vocals. There’s a delightful instrumental break towards the end that feels like something straight out of a Rankin/Bass special. If any Everyday Is Christmas song has the makings of a holiday staple, it’s “Ho Ho Ho.”

9) FREEDOM IS A WORD – Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah feat. Vic Mensa

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is a jazz trumpeter who released a thoroughly slept-on trio of albums in 2017, capped off with this month’s The Emancipation Procrastination. For “Freedom Is a Word,” he teams up with Vic Mensa to create a soulful jazz/rap hybrid that features some of Vic’s best bars in recent memory. I’ve been underwhelmed by some of the stuff I’ve heard from Mensa recently, so I appreciated this song on that level, and it’s also good to see major artists working with Christian, who I’m hoping to see join the ranks of folks like Steve Lacy and Thundercat in this new wave of jazzy rap.

8) ABC 123 – Tune-Yards

This is only like, the third Tune-Yards song I’ve ever heard, but clearly I’ve been missing out. “ABC 123” is a kooky electro-indie track imbued with sharp lyrics and Merrill Garbus’ uniquely ambiguous pipes. It’s excitingly weird, but still purely enjoyable, with intricate, bleak lyrics layered with pulsating, off-kilter synths and a delightfully dramatic vocal performance. It makes me eager to check out some of their older stuff, as well as eagerly anticipate their forthcoming album.

7) TAKE ME – Brasko

I’ve never heard of Brasko, I can’t seem to find much on him anywhere, and I’m quickly discovering this song didn’t technically come out in December. Still, given his relative obscurity and the fact that this song barely has 2,000 plays on SoundCloud, I felt the need to share it, because this guy is phenomenal. The song is pure Prince brilliance, slathered in synthesized guitar and ’80s drums, with Brasko’s nasally voice delivering unapologetically sexual pop reflections. I really hope to see more of this guy in the future, but regardless, it’s quite a first impression.

6) NEVER FELT LIKE CHRISTMAS – Lizzo

I swear, this is the last Christmas song. I honestly feel that I haven’t given Lizzo her fair shake on these lists in the past; she’s one of the most versatile, exciting voices on the rise in R&B today. “Never Felt Like Christmas” has all the makings of a holiday classic; it’s sentimental, thoroughly catchy, it’s got immaculate instrumentation and exquisite crooning by Lizzo herself. My only wish is that Lizzo could be the star Mariah Carey was in the early ’90s, to elevate this from a hidden gem to a phenomenon. It’s that good.

5) CAMPFIRE – DRAM and Neil Young

Hello again, DRAM. When it was announced that DRAM and Neil Young were working on some music together, I don’t think anyone really knew what to expect. Both artists are multifaceted auteurs, but it’s hard to see where the common ground between them would be. Young chiefly traffics in degrees of folk and rock, whereas DRAM fluctuates between psychedelic R&B and goofy rap tunes. Somehow, they found their mojo in “Campfire,” a groovy reggae-esque track merging DRAM’s free-form vocals and Neil Young’s artful storytelling. The result is more captivating than anything else, not particularly catchy or clever, but beautiful in its ambition. It certainly makes me want to hear more from these two together. Who would’ve thought?

4) NEVER BE THE SAME – Camila Cabello

Man, I’ve been really digging Camila Cabello lately. “Havana” was one of my favorite pop songs this year, and looking back at it, I kinda dug “Crying in the Club” too. “Never Be the Same” is stellar in a whole different way. It’s a full-on ballad, the kinda shit drunk people ruin in karaoke, an unmitigated display of range and talent that proves Camila’s got great things ahead of her, and it’s also really catchy. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were as big a hit as “Havana” in the next month or so, given the relatively lackluster crop of pop tunes coming out right now (although, Bruno Mars’ “Finesse” and whatever Timberlake’s working on are sure to draw crowds). But what’s important is, it’s a great, superbly memorable pop song that you definitely shouldn’t sleep on.

3) DON’T DON’T DO IT! – N.E.R.D feat. Kendrick Lamar

After all these years, Pharrell’s seminal alternative rap rock group N.E.R.D returned this month with a phenomenal album of apocalyptic bangers featuring a who’s who of guests (not to be confused with Gorillaz, the seminal alt group who returned in April with a phenomenal album of apocalyptic bangers featuring a who’s who of guests). I already gave props to “Lemon” last month, but “Don’t Don’t Do It!,” their new single with Kendrick Lamar might be even better. It’s got a smooth, funky intro written by Frank Ocean (!!) that flows into a frenetic, surprisingly memorable hook of “Don’t do it! Don’t don’t do it!” Kendrick’s rapid-fire verse (potentially one of the best verses of 2017) brings home the song’s themes of police violence and discrimination, creating an urgent, inescapable track built on Pharrell’s sharp-as-ever production abilities.

2) BOOGIE – Brockhampton

Oh, you thought that Brockhampton comment earlier was negative? Nah, I love these guys. “Boogie,” the lead single off this month’s Saturation III, is easily one of the hip hop boy band’s best songs to date. It features arguably the best beat they’ve ever worked with: a beautiful cacophony of blaring horns and sirens over a Pharrell-inspired drum beat that allows each member of the group to showcase their unique talent and personality in the form of a seemingly never-ending series of hooks. If you haven’t checked out any of Brockhampton’s music yet, definitely start with this one.

1) #FREESTYLE087 – Black Thought

Alright, so technically, this might not qualify as a song, but I just couldn’t resist giving it top honors. Freestyles that leave this much impact don’t come around every day, and Black Thought’s blistering ten minutes of fury over Mobb Deep’s “The Learning” instrumental is definitely one for the books. In one take, Black Thought touches on history, sociology, religion, literature, and of course his extensive back catalogue of music knowledge, including references to everyone from Kafka to Buzz Bissinger to Kanye West to Padma Lakshmi. It’s an absolutely stellar display of lyrical craftsmanship and presence, completely captivating from beginning to end in spite of its daunting length. For a long time, I’ve considered Black Thought one of the top five best rappers of all time. This just serves as further proof.

I’ve got a lot of year-end lists coming soon, including album of the year, movie of the year, verse of the year, potentially song of the year, and probably a few others, so stay tuned.

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Top 20 Best Hit Songs of 2017 — December 28, 2017

Top 20 Best Hit Songs of 2017

Yes, with the worst out of the way, it’s time to count down the best. In a lot of ways, this year was a mixed bag. A lot of pop was very formulaic, but “pop” as a genre was much less prominent on the charts than in previous years, allowing pop artists like Lady Gaga, Kesha, and Calvin Harris to branch out in exciting new directions while non-pop artists like Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino found their way into the mainstream ear. So there was a lot of middling shit, but an above-average amount of great shit as well. Here are my personal favorites. Note: for the purposes of these lists “hit” refers to any song that made its way onto Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 or into the top 20 at any point this year.

20) MOTORSPORT – Migos, Cardi B, and Nicki Minaj

In a way, this song acted as a bookend for the year in pop rap. It acts as the first single off Migos’ upcoming Culture II, the follow-up to their January Culture album which dominated the culture for much of 2017. It features Cardi B, who made waves this year with her smash hit “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” and became the first solo female rapper to earn a #1 single this century. Nicki Minaj had a busy year herself, including high-profile beefs, a few talked-about verses, and a top-ten hit with Yo Gotti’s “Rake It Up.” In October, these five titans came together for “MotorSport,” a surprisingly-lowkey but still undeniably catchy track featuring outstanding verses by the two female MC’s and solid work from Migos. A bit overlong, perhaps, but I don’t think there’s anything I’d take out (except maybe Quavo’s verse).

19) LOVE GALORE – SZA feat. Travis Scott

“Love Galore” is the lead single off SZA’s earth-shattering debut Ctrl, and it gave mainstream audiences the first taste of the R&B songstress’ unique vocals and penmanship with a distorted, deep-groove sex song. The marriage of styles between SZA and Travis Scott goes as wonderfully as you’d expect, with Travis’ woozy psychedelic rap juxtaposed against SZA’s syrupy pipes to create something strange, but undeniably enjoyable.

18) FRIENDS – Justin Bieber feat. BloodPop®

There’s something about that big ’80s synth sound I just can’t get enough of. On “Friends,” Justin Bieber reunites with producer BloodPop, who worked on five songs from Bieber’s last album Purpose, including the smash hit “Sorry.” You can definitely hear the “Sorry” in this track, an upbeat-yet-forlorn plea to an ex-lover punctuated by weird EDM sounds and a deep, driving groove on the verses. It’s simple, but not to the point of being cut-and-dry; it still feels real in spite of its universal “Can we still be friends?” conceit.

17) BODAK YELLOW (MONEY MOVES) – Cardi B

Not since Bobby Shmurda has an up-and-coming rapper made this much of an impression with a solo single. For the latter half of 2017, “Bodak Yellow” was inescapable.  People who’d never listened to it knew half the words. There’s the famous video of an entire subway station gathering together to turn up to it. And it’s not a bad song, either. It’s simple, sure, but there’s a power in it; an infectious quality that can’t be understated. It’s a common concept (“I didn’t have money, but now I do”) handled elegantly by a rapper with a lot of potential. A lot of big singles by new rappers turn out to be flukes. I don’t think Cardi B is going anywhere.

16) MILLION REASONS – Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga’s pivot towards country was met with mixed reception. You’ll recall I rather dug the album, putting Joanne somewhere in the upper twenties on my 2016 Album of the Year list. A lot of people hated that album, most agreed it could’ve used an edit. One thing less polarizing than the album: the hit single, “Million Reasons,” which enchanted fans and critics alike by taking Gaga’s commitment to country and going all the way with it. Like “Bodak Yellow,” it’s simple: a wistful guitar-and-piano tune with pretty repetitive lyrics, but it’s Gaga’s vocal performance (one of the best of her career) that really makes the song. Of course, the simplistic folky concept does have a certain Paul Simon quality to it. It’s a perfectly timeless song, a sandbox that could be covered and transformed a million different ways. But I just need one good one to stay.

15) DESPACITO – Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber

Hello again, Bieber. Look, what do you want from me? Justin Bieber had like, a half dozen hit singles this year. He’s gonna have to show up on the list. You’re lucky I didn’t also throw in “Let Me Love You.” Anyway, it was a weirdly brilliant idea to throw Bieber on this track. He complements the Latin guitar surprisingly well, he gave the song the crossover appeal it needed to top the charts in the US for a billion weeks, and the way he says “despacito” is just honey on the ‘drums. Also, say what you will about Luis Fonsi, but the dude’s got hooks on hooks. In a year of hit-free hits, “Despacito” was refreshing not only for its language, but because it was an actual summer song. With how absurdly overplayed it was, it may take a few years to appreciate in quality, but I think history will be kind to “Despacito.”

14) PASSIONFRUIT – Drake

Is Drake any good? The question’s haunted me for quite some time. On the one hand, you’ll recall how “Both” made my worst list, and I put “Fake Love” and “Free Smoke” in the running as well. He’s definitely not putting very much effort into some of his music these days. More Life is a fine not-album, but there are a lot of songs on it that were pretty clearly made not out of inspiration, but out of a commercial need to put something out. On the other hand, there’s “Passionfruit.” I don’t know whether or not Drake uses ghostwriters, but assuming he doesn’t, this is probably his most impressive song to date. It’s got a brilliant, poetic structure to it; it almost feels like a St. Vincent-type art-pop song, but with a lo-fi Caribbean flair. I don’t think anyone would be doubting Drake if he put out more tracks like this.

13) FEEL IT STILL – Portugal. The Man

There’s no surer sign that the pop machine is dying than the fact that, for the better half of 2017, Portugal. The Man had a top ten hit. Yes, the indiest of indie bands finally found its way onto pop radio with “Feel It Still,” an undeniably catchy send-up to ’60s protest culture. How did these oddballs score a hit? Well, the short answer is commercials. As it’s become harder for lesser-known artists to make a living in the age of streaming, bands have started turning to advertising companies, who have been working for years to make indie rock synonymous with cars and Vitamin Water. Most heard “Feel It Still” for the first time in a commercial featuring Aaron Paul dancing on a treadmill. It picked up steam from there, thanks to its unshakable groove built around a sample of the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman,” and the rest is history.

12) ROCKABYE – Clean Bandit feat. Anne-Marie and Sean Paul

Yeah, I still love this song. I know I’ve written about four different blurbs on it already, but what can I say? It’s such a bizarre concept, handled by the most extra name in EDM, featuring conscious raps from Sean Paul. From Paul’s opening ad-libs “All the love and devotion / Calling the moms, adoration / Foundation / A special bond of creation” to the melodramatic violin outro (represented in the video by a woman in her underwear solemnly pole dancing), it’s the most bizarre EDM-pop track to find its way onto the radio this year, and I love it dearly.

11) LOCATION – Khalid

This is another song that could be described as “weird,” but less in a cornball way and more in a “this guy’s gonna be huge” way. It’s simple, layered, and completely unforgettable. Khalid’s voice is soft, weary, but unique, and works perfectly in tandem with the desperate lyrics. And the beat is unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. bubbly synths create the illusion of a somber acoustic guitar while barely-there vocal samples give the track an otherworldly feeling. This song transports you to a strange, liminal space, and it’s easily one of the most moving songs on the radio this year.

10) ATTENTION – Charlie Puth

After a couple years of sappy, schlocky, insipid piano pop, Charlie Puth finally gave the gays what we want with “Attention.” Granted, this could’ve easily been another stupid piano ballad, and it would have been only slightly less shitty than the rest. But that groove, man. Who would’ve thought funk and Charlie Puth go so well together? Hopefully Charlie’s learned his lesson now: if your song’s gonna be stupid, it at least has to be fun. “Attention” is fun.

9) I FEEL IT COMING – The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk

If I recall correctly, this song was rather high on last year’s list, but in fairness, my standards for last year’s list were ridiculous. This year, “I Feel It Coming” was actually a hit, and I’m glad too, because it’s still an amazing song. That ’70s groove is Daft Punk at their finest, and The Weeknd’s mellifluous crooning brings it to another level. It’s pure campy disco bliss.

8) 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars

Hey, speaking of camp. An earlier version of this list had “That’s What I Like” in the top ten, but upon further consideration, I’m ready to say definitively that “24K Magic” is a better song. It’s a brilliant send-up to the entire history of R&B, and a perfect intro to Bruno Mars’ delightful 2016 album of the same name. Sure, it’s not the type of doe-eyed piano ballad that made him big, nor is it a bold new direction, but if Bruno Mars just kept remaking “Uptown Funk” in slightly different genres for the rest of his career, I would not complain.

7) BAD LIAR – Selena Gomez

I was a fool for sleeping on this song when it came out. I let the fact that Selena Gomez has literally never made a good song before get the better of me and failed to see how absolutely brilliant this track is. It’s catchy, it’s funny, it’s relatable, and above all else, it’s super fucking weird. Selena murmurs through gonzo verses over a classic Talking Heads bass line leading up to a hook that doesn’t have any right to be as catchy as it is. One can only hope we get to see more delightfully weird shit from Selena Gomez in the future.

6) HAVANA – Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug

It took the combined star power of Young Thug, Pharrell, and Starrah, but I’m finally a Camila Cabello fan. It’s not that I hated her or anything, but between her shitty collaboration with Machine Gun Kelly, her unremarkable work with Shawn Mendes, and “Crying in the Club,” which is fine, I just kinda didn’t see what she had going for her. It turned out, all she needed was to get on a Pharrell beat. I probably listened to “Havana” more than almost any other song this year. I instantly loved it. And it’s not just the Pharrell production, or Starrah’s pen, or Young Thug’s idiosyncratic warble; I love Camila on this song. I love her voice, I love the lyrics, I love how she fits with the beat. To me, this proved that Camila is more than just a bland pop star, and I’m excited to hear what she comes out with next.

5) SIGN OF THE TIMES – Harry Styles

Here’s another song I’ve already gushed to death about. We were all ready to be excited about Harry Styles, just waiting for him to come out with something worth talking about, and by god, he delivered. Once his debut album finally dropped, some folks didn’t love it, but this song’s still pretty great, right? It’s a meticulously-paced, gorgeously-produced glam rock ballad, the sort of thing that elevates the standard for a post-boy-band debut to live up to. “Cry Me a River?” Please.

4) HUMBLE. – Kendrick Lamar

With other folks’ end-of-the-year lists coming out, it’s clear that fans and critics alike just can’t get enough of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. While I hear a lot of praise dumped on that album and think “Well, I don’t know about that,” I will say this: “HUMBLE.” is an amazing song. That dirty piano beat, the endless quotables, the sheer swagger of it all. Kendrick’s always been a pretty vulnerable, introspective artist, so to hear him come for rappers’ necks like this is really refreshing. When you’re the king, you get to gloat, and “HUMBLE.” revels in that glory to delightful returns.

3) SLIDE – Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean and Migos

“Slide” was one of the earliest contenders for song of the year, dropping in late February and staying true all the way through December. It’s an absolute powerhouse of a song, the type of space-age summer jam to be remembered for generations to come. Calvin Harris and Frank Ocean is a fever dream collaboration that has absolutely no business working as well as it does. Frank’s vocals are heavenly as always, Quavo and Offset put in some really solid work (this is actually the song that put me onto Offset as a rapper), and the production just might be Calvin Harris’ finest work to date. It’s almost too perfect, but it’s too much fun to ignore.

2) PRAYING – Kesha

I’ve remarked several times that this song is far too powerful to play on the radio. Whenever I hear it in the car or a cafe or my school’s dining hall, I lose 80% of my brain functionality to absorb its majesty. Ryan Lewis is the best thing to happen to pop music in a long time, and he does his magic on this track to create something baroque and beautiful without falling into cliche or inaccessibility. But of course, the star of the track is Kesha herself, who sets herself apart as one of the best pop vocalists alive in one fell swoop while baring her soul on this intense five-minute track. It feels like a song that should’ve gotten old months ago, but every time I listen to it, really listen to it, it still jerks a few tears out of me.

1) REDBONE – Childish Gambino

In a scant two years, we’re going to start discussing the best songs of the decade. Music journalists will begin the process of throwing together “decade in review” lists, picking out the most impactful, inspired, and enjoyable music of the 2010’s. And at this point, one of the strongest contenders is “Redbone.” It was an instant critical smash when it dropped late last year, and after appearing in two of the best films of the decade (Moonlight and Get Out), it creeped its way onto the pop charts. Now, looking at its impact, the countless memes it spawned, Gambino’s ethereal vocals, the inspired production, and everything else, it’s hard to argue “Redbone” isn’t one for the ages. Our kids will know “Redbone.” Musicologists in the next century will know “Redbone.” Donald Glover has been cementing his place as a pop culture icon for a few years now, but with “Redbone,” we start to see him carve his place into history.

Top 15 Worst Hit Songs of 2017 — December 26, 2017

Top 15 Worst Hit Songs of 2017

Yes, 2017 has finally come to an end, which means it’s time to start looking back at this most recent year in the form of oversaturated listicles. The more positive lists will be out shortly, but we’re starting on a brown note with my personal picks for the top 15 worst hit songs of the year. To be clear, my definition of “hit” includes any song that made it onto Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 or placed in the top 20 at any point this year. In spite of this being an especially mediocre year for pop music, it was kind of hard to pick out songs for this list. It wasn’t too hard to pick out the best, but with so many floating towards the middle, there wasn’t as much fodder to mock for the worst. As a result, I was pretty damn close to including three different songs that were also on last year’s list, but I managed to restrain myself. Anyway, here’s your fucking list.

15) BOTH – Gucci Mane feat. Drake

Now, this song isn’t too bad from the start. Half-decent, innocuous trap beat. Some pretty fun bars from Gucci, an artist who had a particularly massive year. It’s hard to get upset about this song. But then Drake comes in and… oh boy. Oh, buddy. How the mighty who once rapped “I love you like the Ninja Turtles love pizza” have fallen. It’s a grating, unpleasant chorus, already a surefire sign that Drizzy’s not on his best behavior, but it’s only accentuated by one of the worst verses of his entire career. I don’t know if Drake is just so inundated with wealth that he doesn’t know how to properly rap about it anymore, but “used to get leftovers out the fridge” is not it.

14) 2U – David Guetta feat. Justin Bieber

Now, before you write this off as tedious Bieber hate, let me just say you can expect to see Bieber on my best songs of the year list more than once. In fact, this is actually tedious David Guetta hate. Of course, I admire Guetta for a lot of things. As an artist sometimes credited as the “grandfather of EDM,” he’s had a long and illustrious career, and for a time, defined the soundscape of pop radio. The only thing is, now cats like Diplo and Rihanna have started defining the soundscape and your boy David Guetta is having some trouble adjusting. It opens with some downright bizarre lost-in-translation lyrics, but the wobbly, overblown drop really seals the track’s fate. In the age of EDM, a lot of popular songs don’t really have hooks, but they’re written around not having hooks. You can’t build up to a huge hook and then give us nothing. There’s the beginnings of a good song here, but a depressing amount of wasted potential.

13) COLD – Maroon 5 feat. Future

Count on Maroon 5 to always find new and interesting ways to suck. They almost had me going there, between “Sugar” and “This Summer’s Gonna Hurt Like a Motherfucker.” Even that weak song with Kendrick Lamar seemed like it could have been a step in the right direction. But then we got “Cold.” It’s not uncommon for a pop song to come around that’s not catchy. But rarely do we get one so impossible to get into. There’s nothing; no beat, no hook, nothing to say, nothing to do, just four absurdly long minutes of wallowing. Future gives it his all, but the track ultimately drags him down with it.

12) IN CASE YOU DIDN’T KNOW – Brett Young

I’ll be brief with this one because country’s not really my thing and if you’re reading this, there’s a solid chance it isn’t yours either. I don’t want to comment too much on a genre I have no expertise in, but listen to this song for a quick sec. Just like, 20 seconds, long enough to hear Brett Young sing. Okay, now what the fuck? Why does he sound like that? This isn’t a joke or anything. It’s clearly meant to be a serious, romantic type of thing. I just don’t know how anyone could suspend their disbelief that someone who talks like that could be sexy for a full three minutes. Okay, I’m done. Back to my comfort zone.

11) GUCCI GANG – Lil Pump

To be clear, I understand why people like this song. I understand that it’s supposed to be low-effort, and it’s supposed to provoke your standards for what constitutes a good song. The only thing is it’s also, y’know, a bad song. I don’t need hot lyrics from every song I hear, but it’s not like, catchy or anything either. It’s a bad beat. Bad hook. Bad bars. It’s just a purely unenjoyable song.

10) LET YOU DOWN – NF

You know what’s worse than bad turn-up rap? Bad conscious rap. Purported Christian rapper NF has been building up steam over the past couple years as a sort of Eminem-lite, and he made a bid for the mainstream late this year with a #1 album and a bit of a hit single in “Let You Down.” Now all he needs is a point. For now, he’s content to wallow in pitter-patter platitudes, apologizing to… someone? His dad, I guess? There’s also the shitty, melodramatic EDM beat/hook, and the ingenious rhymes like “disappointment” and “disappointed.” If you thought Eminem was washed up, wait ’til you hear what his successors are peddling.

9) ROCKSTAR – Post Malone feat. 21 Savage

At first glance, this song’s pretty inoffensive. Forgettable, decent beat, pretty solid 21 Savage verse, certainly not Post Malone’s worst. The only thing is, this was the #1 song in the country for eight weeks. What the fuck? How did this cheesy, phoned-in, lame little tune keep audiences coming for so long? The answer seems to be Post Malone’s rabid fanbase, who must have been really clamoring for him to collaborate with lo-fi gangsta rapper 21 Savage, because goddamn. How else do you explain a song with no beat, no hook, that wasn’t even played on the radio, becoming the #1 song in the country? For two months?

8) ROLEX – Ayo and Teo

Shitty Rae Sremmurd impersonators gonna shitty Rae Sremmurd impersonate. Admittedly, this song has a fun beat, and a more tactful rapper (DRAM? Drake? Rae Sremmurd?) could’ve done good things with it. But as it stands, the song itself is annoying, unpleasant, and clumsy. It’s Rae Sremmurd’s ear for hooks and rockstar attitude that makes them so enjoyable; take away the skill and the charisma and you’re left with a bad one-hit wonder meme song like “Rolex.”

7) NOW OR NEVER – Halsey

I like Halsey. She’s got an interesting sound, she’s a solid writer, I like her albums. But man, someone’s gotta help her pick out singles, because she sucks at it. Her previous album Badlands went all in on “New Americana,” arguably the worst song she’s ever released, and the charmingly-baroque follow-up hopeless fountain kingdom staked its bet on “Now or Never,” an obvious rehash of Rihanna’s “Needed Me.” I mean, I’m not crazy, right? It’s literally a beat-for-beat copy. It has the same hook. Fundamentally, it has the same beat. As a fan of a lot of Halsey’s work, I kind of expect more from her.

6) WHAT LOVERS DO – Maroon 5 feat. SZA

That’s right, Maroon 5’s doing double duty this year. In some ways, this song is worse than “Cold,” but my main reason for putting it this much higher is that they had to drag SZA into it. One of 2017’s biggest breakthrough artists, one of the most exciting voices in R&B today, and she still couldn’t escape Maroon 5’s creative black hole. That tragedy aside, it’s also an insipid, unpleasant song that takes it a step further than “Cold” through A) gratingly repetitive lyrics and B) a beat that’s actually kinda good. It’s nothing special, but they could’ve put Khalid or Sia on this and made a really solid summer jam. Instead, we got “Say say say, hey hey now baby.”

5) HEATHENS – Twenty One Pilots

What? I didn’t say there weren’t any songs from last year’s list making a comeback; I just said I restrained myself. For a song like “Heathens,” I just couldn’t resist. I think I already thoroughly dug into this one on last year’s list, so I’ll keep it short, but this is really a phenomenally bad song. If it hadn’t been #1 last year, there’s a good chance it would be #1 this year. Then again, I’m not necessarily ready to say that any of the songs below are any better. Eh, they probably are. This songs so sloppy, so unfinished, so up its own ass that few can compare. Although, truth be told, it’s a little easier to stomach now that it’s not quite as ubiquitous. Still, they didn’t need to layer fucking chipmunk vocals over everything. Come on, guys.

4) GUMMO – 6ix9ine

This is another ugly, annoying meme song that just barely managed to crack the charts because people were quoting it on Twitter. The only difference is that 6ix9ine, the performer behind it, pled guilty to three felony charges of “use of a child in a sexual performance” in 2015. Earlier that year, when he was 18, he and his friend made a video of them engaging in sexual acts with a then-fourteen-year-old. So that’s, uh, pretty bad.

3) THUNDER – Imagine Dragons

Listening to all of Imagine Dragons’ recent singles, the same thought seems to cross my mind: “How am I supposed to feel about this?” The once-exciting pop rock band has been failing lately at one of the most fundamental, unappreciated aspects of making music: eliciting a specific emotional response. In that sense, “Thunder” may be the worst hit song of 2017. Yes, it’s got that annoying “thun-DAH” thing, a weirdly incongruous tone, and uncharacteristically basic lyrics, but its greatest failure is not nearly as concrete as that. It fails to make the listener feel anything.

2) BODY LIKE A BACK ROAD – Sam Hunt

Now, this song’s problems are a bit more obvious. You’re comparing a woman to a dirt road, jackass! I could cap it off there, because that’s already enough for high honors, but there’s even more to hate about this song. Namely, the track is a particularly insipid instance of “bro country,” the blight that’s been infecting mainstream country for a few years now. The beat is more DJ Mustard than Dolly Parton, complete with 1-2-snaps and “Ay! Ay! Ay!”‘s. At its core, this song is basically a hybrid of Liam Payne’s “Strip That Down” and Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands,” and while I actually like both of those songs, I don’t think “half as good as One Direction” is something your typical country singer would consider high praise. Still, this song was doomed from the start. “Body Like a Back Road.” Are you fucking serious?

1) 1-800-273-8255 – Logic feat. Alessia Cara and Khalid

Hoo boy. Get your crucifixes ready. Alright, obviously this isn’t actually the worst song of the year, in the sense that on its own, it’s probably less bad than more than a few of the songs preceding it. So if it’s not the worst, why is it at the top of the list? Well, a few reasons. First of all, it should be noted that it is pretty bad. It fails as a serious song because it’s trying too hard to be a radio single, from the Chainsmokers chords to the cheesy ad-libs to the bankable guest appearances. It also fails as a pop song because it’s super depressing and melodramatic. I get that it’s about a really serious topic, but when you hit the point of literally having a dude crying in the background for the last minute and a half, you might be going overboard. Couple that with some pretty poor lyrics (the song’s cowritten by the Chainsmokers, if you can believe it) and a few other very questionable choices (Who can relate? Woo!), and it’s obvious this song isn’t the masterpiece we’re socially obligated to pretend that it is. That’s a huge part of the problem, too: it’s taboo to not like this song. Logic suckered us into bringing his grating, nasally pipes, middle school bars, and masturbatory social commentary to number 3 on the Hot 100. Like with “Heathens,” this song’s baffling ubiquity is a big part of the reason it’s so unpleasant. If it had come and gone, peaked at #8 and raised money for a good cause, the thought to put it on this list at all wouldn’t have crossed my mind. But for the past few months, this syrupy drivel has been inescapable. That’s why it’s the worst song of 2017. Don’t @ me.

Best Songs of the Month (November 2017) — December 13, 2017

Best Songs of the Month (November 2017)

Sorry I’m a little late on this one. Finals and whatnot. This was a pretty solid month for music. Not much in the way of earth-shattering singles, but we did get some hotly-anticipated returns by the likes of Eminem, Beyonce, Rihanna, N.E.R.D., Natasha Bedingfield, Ashanti, and many more. At least three members of One Direction put out new music (plus one Big Time Rush member and one Jonas Brother), Sia dropped a surprise Christmas album, and a ton of other artists were putting out great new music throughout the month, though things seemed to quiet down a bit towards the end. Still, only twenty singles made the list, and to kick things off, here’s a long-awaited release by DMX.

20) RUDOLPH THE REDNOSE REINDEER – DMX

Back in 2012, DMX did a radio interview where he performed a live cover of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” That video went viral, five years passed, and now here we are. I’m not the type to put a ton of stock in novelty, but this is actually a really good cover. DMX’s off-the-wall energy brings sheer fun to a Christmas classic, aided by a really solid hip hop-infused instrumental. I was genuinely surprised by how good this turned out to be, and I like DMX.

19) TRAVELING LIGHT – Talib Kweli feat. Anderson .Paak

When he’s not engaging in pipin’ hot discourse on the world wide web, Talib Kweli still puts out music. Back in April, he dropped a solid EP with Styles P, and he’s already back with a full-length this month. The first single off that new album, “Traveling Light,” is a frenetic five-minute display of charisma and penmanship, slathered liberally with silky Anderson .Paak vocals. 20+ years into his career, Kweli’s as sharp as ever, and if you’re looking for bars, he’s got ’em in droves.

18) SOMETHING FOREIGN – SiR feat. ScHoolboy Q

SiR is the latest signee to Top Dawg Entertainment, and “Something Foreign” is his silky-smooth new single with fellow unconventionally-capitalized TDE crew member ScHoolboy Q. It’s got a cool, old-fashioned soul beat, with a late-night jazz club piano backing and rainy day drums. SiR’s unassuming voice carries free-flowing, flirty vocals, leading up to ScHoolboy’s show-stopping verse. Q doesn’t give out guest verses to just anyone, but when he comes through, he comes hard. 

17) PIÑATA – Vice feat. Bia, Kap G, and Justin Quiles

This was the last song I decided to put in the top 20. It was between this, Louis Tomlinson’s new song, and a couple others. I ultimately chose “Piñata” because it was the one I was thinking about the most. It’s not perfect. It’s a little simple, it feels like it could’ve come out in 2014 or 2011 or maybe even 2009. The hook is pretty ridiculous. There’s a buildup, but no real drop, which can be irritating a lot of the time. But it’s just… fun. I love the hook, I love that ludicrous suh-winnng! sound effect, it’s just a really enjoyable, memorable song. I’ve also been meaning to put something by Kap G on one of these lists for a while. Mostly the other stuff, though.

16) CARTOONS – CupcakKe

“Cartoons” is exactly the kind of song CupcakKe shines on: a dizzying two-and-a-half-minutes of raw energy, lyricism, and unfettered personality. Everything about her is over the top, from her image to her raunchy lyrics to her indulgent beats. There’s lots of wonderful wordplay all over this track, but my personal favorite is probably “I’m a snack, so I attract Scooby Doos.” CupcakKe was one of the rap game’s biggest revelations this year, and I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.

15) PINEAPPLE SKIES – Miguel

Miguel came back in a major way this month with a summery, idiosyncratic record full of soaring vocals, glitchy pop beats, and metaphorical critiques of American imperialism.  “Pineapple Skies” is one of the sunnier tracks on the record, with beachy synths and assurances that “everything’s gonna be alright.” It’s a four-and-a-half-minute journey of ecstasy, one of the most blissfully enjoyable R&B songs to come out this year. After his 2015 album Wildheart was seen as a stagnation of sorts, “Pineapple Skies” is a welcome reinvention of Miguel.

14) FAKE HAPPY – Paramore

Speaking of new directions, Paramore traffics in depressing ’80s-infused pop jams now. “Fake Happy” runs in the same vein as “Hard Times” and many of the other tracks off After Laughter, one of the best albums of the pop punk band’s illustrious career to date. Conceptually, you get a lot of what “Fake Happy” is about from the title: the narrator is fake happy, and she’s trying not to confront her reality, noting “I bet everybody here is fake happy, too.” Hayley Williams delivers an excellent vocal performance, which I suppose is to be expected, but it comes out especially on this song in particular.

13) RODNEY, LEHMAN BROTHERS PROFITED FROM SLAVERY AND OTHER TALES – Lupe Fiasco

This is another track released via Twitter by Lupe Fiasco, featuring a handful of lyrics from the previous set. It’s also another eight-minute lyrical tirade by Lupe Fiasco, swimming from topic to topic effortlessly with legendary lyrical skill. You can also barely hear it. As the song opens, you listen and think “Oh, he must have recorded this on his phone, since he’s releasing it on Twitter and everything.” But as the song wears on, you notice some samples standing out in front of others, the beat becoming clearer, deeper, while Lupe’s voice fades into the background. I have no idea what he was going for with this, but it’s mesmerizing regardless.

12) OBSESSION – OK Go

The trouble with OK Go, or perhaps their entire strategy, is that they put so much time, money, and energy into their videos that the music often gets lost in the fray. Outside of “Here It Goes Again,” their biggest hit and potentially their best song, I can’t say I remember many of their songs. It’s hard to even get an idea of how I feel about them as a bad when the videos themselves are so dazzling. I like this one, though. Lyrically, it’s not the most revelatory stuff I’ve ever heard, but there’s something about the instrumental. Something about those space-age synths, the sparse use of hard rock guitar and cowbell. It’s simplistic in a lot of ways, but deceptively complex, and it’s as tightly-produced as we’ve come to expect from the band. This is one OK Go song I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

11) SOMETHING BOUT OUR LOVE – JONES

JONES is a British alt-pop artist whose first album came out late last year. I had never heard of her before this month. But if this song is any indication, she’s found a new fan. “Something Bout Our Love” is a sparkling disco-infused electropop track with an absolutely killer beat and a pretty solid hook. I don’t have too much to say about it, it’s just a great tune by an artist with tons of potential. Check it out, why dontcha?

10) STRANGERS – Sigrid

Speaking of big tunes, I’m really digging this song. I’ve heard Sigrid a few times before, and I always felt she had a certain je ne sais quoi that I admired. This song immediately stood apart from the pack, though. Its most obvious inspiration is 1989-era Taylor Swift: introspective lyrics, hard-hitting ’80s synths, that one “hey!” sound effect in the background, you get the idea. Still, Sigrid expands on Swift’s ideas, creating someone that sounds particularly modern while still wearing its influences on its sleeve. And what a hook. It stands about halfway between Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me,” and that’s high praise.

9) TISK – MellowHype

After being declared dead in January 2015, cult favorite hip-hop duo MellowHype (consisting of Odd Future’s Hodgy and Left Brain) return, sounding fresher than ever on “Tisk.” The track serves as a five-minute show of lyrical strength by Hodgy, who swims through complex wordplay and elongated syllables over the simple, mesmerizing Left Brain beat. I was impressed with a lot of the stuff on Hodgy’s most recent solo effort, but he’s really stepped up to the plate on this track. At one point, he uses the word “Lincoln” about six different ways in the span of a few seconds. I’ll admit I never listened to MellowHype in their heyday, but after this onslaught, I’ll be sure to keep my ears peeled.

8) SAY LESS – Ashanti feat. Ty Dolla $ign

After a few years of dormancy, early-’00s R&B it girl Ashanti is back on a new track with Ty Dolla $ign, produced by DJ Mustard, and it absolutely slaps. Musically, the beat is a slight step backwards for Mustard, who proved his prowess with Rihanna’s “Needed Me” last year, but despite him playing his old tricks, he’s clearly harnessed their power in a major way. The beat is infectious from start to finish, as Ashanti and Ty$ glide from hook to hook with no end in sight. I don’t want to jump the gun and say this is another hit for Ashanti, but with the right team behind her, it certainly has it.

7) JUICE – Chromeo

Chromeo is a group known for bringing an ’80s flair to their electropop bangers, and “Juice” might be their freshest yet. It’s delightfully corny, incessantly catchy, and it’s got a talkbox solo. What more could you want? The hook (“You got the juice / That’s why I keep pressing ya, pressing ya”) is pure camp brilliance. Earlier this month, I revisited Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic after it was nominated for Album of the Year. “Juice” embodies a similar spirit, and its swagger can’t be tamed.

6) LEMON – N.E.R.D. and Rihanna

Yes, after years of silence (SpongeBob soundtrack album notwithstanding), N.E.R.D. is back and as ahead of its time as ever. “Lemon” is an acquired taste; its pulsating beat feels a little too fast, and Pharrell’s whiny, repetitive vocals are just barely tolerable. But once Rihanna starts rapping, there’s no turning back. You’re hooked. Rihanna’s always carried the swagger of a rapper, and this song is all the evidence we need that she should pursue rapping on a larger scale. The world needs a Rihanna rap album, that’s all I’m gonna say.

5) HEY BOY – Natasha Bedingfield

You might remember Natasha Bedingfield from her two smash hit pop masterpieces, “Unwritten” and “Pocketful of Sunshine.” Those two songs remain ingrained in the psyches of Generation Z, but little was heard of her since then, and she hasn’t released a full-length album since 2010. Now, the voice of a generation is back with “Hey Boy,” a swinging retro pop song taunting immature men in power. It’s iconic, it’s powerful, and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, when the world is in desperate need of A) shitty men to be taken down a few pegs and B) more Natasha Bedingfield. Also, apparently this song was co-written by Linda Perry? That’s fucking wild.

4) FINALLY IT’S CHRISTMAS – Hanson

For those of you not “in the know” who only faintly recall Hanson as mildly irritating ’90s teenyboppers, please be advised that they’ve since become the greatest Christian rock band of all time. Okay, it’s debatable whether they’re the greatest, or especially Christian, or rock, but they are a phenomenal pop rock group, and “Finally It’s Christmas” is a fine introduction to their many charms. It knows what it is, it gets you in the Christmas spirit, and it absolutely kicks ass in the process. As previously mentioned, Sia put out a Christmas album this month, and it had a few singles I seriously considered putting on the list, but at the end of the day, I haven’t heard a new Christmas song that works as well as “Finally It’s Christmas” in ages.

3) CHECK YA FABRICS – DRAM

DRAM has quickly set himself apart as an artist for whom I’ll drop everything to listen when he puts out a new single. “Check Ya Fabrics,” produced by the incomparable Rick Rubin, is one of his best songs to date. It’s a simmering slow-burn full of dizzying observations on DRAM’s own obsession with clothing. The chipmunk vocals deterred many fans, but I think they suit the song perfectly and make for a delightfully weird experience, which is what all the best DRAM songs deliver. There’s something so perfect about how it all comes together. I don’t know who it’s for, or why it was made, or what mood it’s trying to convey, but I love it all the same.

2) PUT JEWELS ON IT – Statik Selektah feat. Run the Jewels

I sort of surprised myself with how high I ended up putting this on the list. I love Statik, and I love RTJ, but it’s not like I was clamoring to see these two forces collide. There’s just something about the way they work together on this track. It’s rare to hear an RTJ track without El-P producing, but the duo’s lyrical stylings suit Statik Selektah’s refined old-school sound effortlessly. This is also one of the more impressive lyrical displays by RTJ to date. It most reminds me of the song they did with DJ Shadow last year, “Nobody Speak,” and as much as I love that song, I’m tempted to say this one outdoes it. I may come to regret putting this so high up on the list, but I’m certainly not there yet, so enjoy it!

1) KIWI – Harry Styles

November is the month Harry Styles got absolutely robbed by the Grammys, receiving a resounding zero nominations for his beloved debut Harry Styles or its lauded lead single “Sign of the Times.” November was also the month that the album’s latest single “Kiwi” was released, and it proves why Harry deserved better. I’ve probably listened to “Kiwi” more than any other song on the album, including “Sign of the Times.” It’s just so infectious, so fun, so raw. In it, Harry plays around with vintage punk aesthetics to describe a debauched encounter with an anonymous woman (ostensibly a Kiwi). If anything, it’s a show of Harry’s sheer artistic range, transitioning seamlessly from boy band fluff to glammy, indulgent ballads to this fuzzy, unfiltered rock. There’s some great lyrical moments (“It’s New York baby, always jacked up / Holland Tunnel for a nose, it’s always backed up”), but what drives the song is Harry’s sheer energy, hollering classic rhythms with a delightful intensity. It kicks ass.

Top 20 Songs of the Month (October 2017) — November 11, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (October 2017)

To be honest, I’ve been putting off this list for a couple days. I definitely really like all these songs, but something about the compiled list feels a little lackluster. I just couldn’t put them in a ranking order that satisfied me. So, this month’s list is actually not going to be in order, but just a collection of my 20 favorite songs to have been released (not including album tracks) in the month of October. There’ll also be a Spotify playlist of all of them at the end, and songs near the bottom of the article will generally, though not necessarily, be the ones I appreciate most. Still, these are just twenty of the many, many songs that came out this month, so if you had any favorites you wanted to bring up, let me know in the comments.

SHOW LOVE – Everything Is Recorded feat. Sampha and Syd

“Show Love” is a threefold collaboration: The Internet lead singer and queer R&B up-and-comer Syd, British soul singer and Kanye West collaborator Sampha, and XL Recordings president and influential dance producer Richard Russell, as Everything Is Recorded. Of course, Russell and Sampha have worked together a few times already, so the real takeaway from this track is the magnetic chemistry of Sampha and Syd. Both artists dropped phenomenal debut albums earlier this year, and despite their soulful styles and similar writing chops, somehow, no one’s ever thought to bring them together on a track. It’s beautiful, catchy, and at times fun in its own way. It’s perfect rainy day music, and it shows that these two artists are likely to be here to stay.

HEADPHONES – Walk the Moon

Walk the Moon garnered the public’s attention with their 2015 hit “Shut Up and Dance,” one of the biggest hit songs of that year. With their new album What If Nothing, they seem to be out to prove they’re not a one-trick pony. While some of their new singles got a bit too far into Maroon 5 territory for my tastes, “Headphones” is quite the opposite. It’s a thrashing, electric rock track built around exhilarating guitars and witty, referential lyrics about bitter jealousy. It’s a relentlessly fun track that definitely shows a side of Walk the Moon we haven’t really seen before.

ONE CHANCE TO DANCE – Naughty Boy feat. Joe Jonas

Being an electropop song built around a shamisen sample is interesting enough to warrant a mention, but “One Chance to Dance” has a surprising amount of history to it. Naughty Boy first announced the song in 2014 as the next hit single from… One Direction.  The song was apparently cowritten by Zayn Malik and Emeli Sande, and Naughty Boy announced it just as 1D was rolling out their album Four. Of course, “One Chance to Dance” didn’t make the album, and if a 1D version of the song was ever recorded, we haven’t heard it. Things took more interesting turns after that, when Zayn left the band just six months later and immediately linked up with Naughty Boy, drawing ire from 1D’s remaining members and fans. Zayn said they were best friends, then that they weren’t friends, and things generally took a lot of weird turns, but now, all of three years later, we have “One Chance to Dance.” Frankly, the song works much better as a Jonas Brothers song than a One Direction song, even if only one JoBro appears. It’s a neat, inspirational pop jam with (as previously mentioned) a really cool beat. It’s also got a catchy hook, and Joe’s really flexing his range, where most of what we’ve heard from him recently is in his goofy DNCE falsetto. I’m glad the song came to see the light of day, even if it wasn’t necessarily worth all the drama.

LOOK AT YOUR HANDS – Tune-Yards

Honestly, I haven’t had a chance to check out Tune-Yards yet. As I understand, this eclectic mix of rudimentary electronic sounds is generally what I can expect from them, with some occasional ukulele. I gotta say, I do like the song. In spite of its apparent messiness, it’s earnestly catchy at times, and I really like the way it plays around with Merrill Garbus’ distinctive vocals. It has a very retro-techno feel, but still feels decidedly new. And Garbus’ vocals are great, by the way. She’s got a uniquely androgynous voice that seems to transition seamlessly between mellifluous and shrill, and helps convey the really interesting lyrical content in a fitting way.

ANITA (REMIX) – Smino feat. T-Pain

Anyone who knows me IRL or has been with this blog for long enough knows I’m an absolute thot for the soulful sounds of T-Pain. Here, his bombastic Autotuned crooning is paired with the soulful Chicago instrumental of Smino’s “Anita.” Smino delivers some brand-new bars of his own, more of the wry flirting that made the original track so charming. Of course, T-Pain’s presence adds a lot, giving the song a certain aged gravitas, a worldliness that sort of takes its concept to a new level. It also gives T-Pain a chance to show off his long-underappreciated rapping skills.

COLORS – Beck

I really dig Beck’s new album. Some feel it’s a shallow step towards soullessness relative to his previous (unjustly) Grammy-winning album, but I think Beck’s sheer pop craftsmanship shouldn’t go unrecognized. “Colors,” the album’s title track, is a great example of Beck’s ability to tie his quirky songwriting and unique instrumental ear into a polished, perfectly danceable pop package. It’s catchy, interesting, and magnificently weird, all the things I want to hear from a Beck song.

MAN LISTEN – Belly

Criminally-underrated Weeknd signee Belly is back with another phenomenal album that you probably haven’t listened to. If you haven’t heard what he has to offer, or you’re not quite convinced yet, check out “Man Listen.” It’s got a catchy hook, a great MMG-type beat, and clever, layered lyricism, all delivered with Belly’s signature swagger. It’s a pitch-perfect brag rap track: you can play it in the clubs, you can play at the gym, you can play it at home, it’s got a great beat and dazzling poetics that’ll keep you on your toes. It showcases Belly’s many talents in a concise package.

MOTOR SPORT – Migos feat. Cardi B and Nicki Minaj

One of the biggest acts of 2017, Migos, are back yet again with the first single off their anticipated album Culture 2, “Motor Sport.” Or “MotorSport.” It has many of the same charms as “Bad and Boujee,” the smash hit that catapulted them to superstardom, with some added elements to push it even further (Takeoff has a verse! And a good one!). All three members come through, though Quavo’s verse is pretty lackluster. And then there’s the featured artists. You’ve got Cardi B, the biggest breakout rapper of 2017, Offset’s fiancee, the hottest newcomer on the scene with one of the bestselling singles ever released by a female rapper. Then you’ve got Nicki Minaj, the queen of the game for the better part of this decade, an artist whose monumental celebrity has allowed her to go two whole years without a hit single and still be relevant. After a lot of speculation about them possibly feuding, they came together on a track, and it is divine. Both artists come through, with Cardi B showcasing some new flows and witty punchlines while Nicki effortlessly slips from deliberate to rapid-fire in an exhilarating 24 bars.

FAKING IT – Calvin Harris feat. Kehlani and Lil Yachty

“Faking It” is the latest single off Calvin Harris’ veritable single goldmine Funk Wav Bounces, Vol. 1 (“Cash Out,” one of the best songs on the album, still hasn’t been made a single yet). It features the dulcet tones of Kehlani, a surprisingly sweet verse from Lil Yachty, and an introspective funk beat with elements of ’80s techno, courtesy of Harris. It’s actually really similar to “Honor” by DJ Cassidy, another funky retro dance jam about relationship woes featuring a DJ, an R&B songstress, and Lil Yachty. That song remains one of my favorite songs of the year, and this song, while maybe not quite as catchy, has many of the same elements that make that song great, plus some elements that are done even better (Kehlani is probably a better singer than Grace, and Harris is probably a better producer). Still, I’m basically just trying to put “Honor” on the list again.

FEELINGS – Hayley Kiyoko

I know this makes me a homophobe, but I’ve never been particularly into Hayley Kiyoko. She was great in Lemonade Mouth, but her music’s always seemed a bit… dry. I’ve come to appreciate “Girls Like Girls” a lot more than I did when I first heard it, but it doesn’t really fit her voice. It’d do better in the hands with someone a little more dynamic, like Sia or even Halsey. “Feelings” feels much more within Hayley’s zone, and it’s phenomenal. She sounds so fucking cool on this song. She’s got an incomparable swagger that works in tandem with the dynamic electropop beat. On songs like “Gravel to Tempo,” it sometimes feels like Hayley drains the energy from the song. On “Feelings,” someone else could’ve done it, but no one else would’ve sounded so awesome doing it.

MEDICATION – Nick Murphy

I never listened to Nick Murphy when he was Chet Faker. I guess I don’t really “listen to him” now. This was a bad way to start this entry. “Medication” is a great song. It’s sort of reminiscent of Superorganism’s “Something for Your M.I.N.D.,” which I believe was on last month’s list, in that it’s experimental and kooky and sometimes the music cuts out entirely right in the middle, but somehow it’s still really catchy. Structurally and lyrically, there’s no reason this can’t be classified as a pop song, but the shapeless electronic beat, varying vocal distortions, and aforementioned instrumental disappearances say otherwise. It’s still got a great hook, and as heavy as it sounds at times, it’s generally a pretty fun song. Maybe I should start listening to Nick Murphy. Or Chet Faker.

ACHOO! – Keith Ape and Ski Mask the Slump God

South Florida weirdo Ski Mask the Slump God has quickly become one of my favorite new rappers of 2017. He’s funny, endearing, relentlessly fun, he has a really interesting voice and always pulls through with excellent, unique flows. On “Achoo!,” he’s joined by Korean rapper Keith Ape to teach you how to be sick, like a sneeze. Ski Mask spits rapid-fire references to R. Kelly and Reese’s Pieces, Keith Ape says some things I’m sure are also cool, and along the way, bass is served and the word “sick” is said 104 times. This club has everything.

ALMOST LIKE PRAYING – Lin-Manuel Miranda and Artists for Puerto Rico

Sure, it’s for a great cause, but this is also just a really solid song. LMM is a master producer, flipping West Side Story into a fun-yet-urgent Latin pop bop, joined by Latinx artists ranging from Fat Joe to Gloria Estefan. There’s a chance it’ll get caught in your head, which isn’t something you can say about a lot of benefit songs. I mean, who would’ve thought that a song that, for all intents and purposes, is just a list of places in Puerto Rico would be so darn catchy?

ALL WHILE DOING A RUBIK’S CUBE ONE-HANDED – Lupe Fiasco

Releasing two-minute singles on Twitter is a move so disastrous from a business standpoint that only Lupe Fiasco could be behind it. The rap legend returns with some of his finest bars in a long while, delivered over an excellently mellow soul beat. Highlights include the brilliant “Trust all these Einsteins if you want the facts / Fuck Harvey Weinstein if you want to act.” These new songs are likely standalone projects to hold us over while we await the release of Lupe’s next album, DROGAS Wave, and they’re solid enough content to last us a while, as short as they may be.

HOW LONG – Charlie Puth

I’ve joked that Charlie Puth’s hit single this year, “Attention,” was his “one for the gays,” but he really seems to be keeping this funk train rolling. “How Long” is arguably an even better single than “Attention,” with a swagger and ear for hooks that recalls Timberlake in his prime. I never thought I’d be so into Charlie Puth, especially after “Marvin Gaye,” but I’m rooting for the guy at this point. In my opinion, you can never have too much funk on the radio, and I’m glad Puth’s keeping the spirit alive while Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake are between albums.

WALLOWA LAKE MONSTER – Sufjan Stevens

I’ve had some out-of-character artists make it onto these lists, but Sufjan Stevens may just be my biggest leap yet. I am actually a fan of the guy, though I didn’t love Carrie and Lowell, the album this song seems to be a reject from. If I was a little bit more of a dick, I would say it was left off the album for being too interesting. But anyway, this is the type of shit I like to hear from ol’ Suf-Jan. It’s got his soft, folky elf boy vocals, but it’s also just fucking bonkers conceptually and lyrically, with inspiring instrumentation that lends to an overall feeling of epicness.

DIANE – Cam

As a young country singer, it takes some serious guts to make a response record to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” one of the best country songs of all time. But Cam’s got guts, and the sheer power to pull it off. “Diane” is certainly different from “Jolene,” but at its best moments it carries the same immense weight as the original. It’s hard to imagine a “Jolene” response record coming terribly close to the original, but this comes closer than anything else I’ve heard. Suffice it to say, have you ever seen a country song so high up on one of these lists before?

ALWAYS ASCENDING – Franz Ferdinand

It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from Franz Ferdinand in the form of a proper single, but they did an anti-Trump thing last year, and a collaboration with Sparks the year before that, and brought back the Sparks collaboration this year, so they’ve certainly been keeping busy. Now, they’re back full-force with “Always Ascending,” an epic art rock track where the “Always Ascending” referenced in the title, in addition to its lyrical meaning, also refers to the rising sound effect perpetually happening in the background for the entire song. It’s also got layered electronic drums, real guitars, and Alex Kapranos’ weirdly deep-high voice. It’s not the kind of music I’m best at describing, but it is a really good song.

SPICE GIRL – Aminé

This song will be stuck in your head for days. I’ve already talked a bit about Aminé, the Portland rapper who sprung into stardom this year, developing a sound that’s uniquely his own and releasing a number of charming, relentlessly catchy, goofy hip-hop jams. “Spice Girl” is one of the finest of the bunch, a delightful little tune that’s an even better showcase of Aminé’s charms than his big debut single, “Caroline.” I don’t want to give too much away, but just listen to the song. At least the first ten seconds. You won’t regret it, if you don’t mind an earworm.

PILLS – St. Vincent

It’s possible that “Pills” isn’t that good a song. It overwhelms me every time I listen to it, from its electro-clusterfuck production to its sunny ’50s soap jingle hook to its strangely hopeful, cinematic outro, it’s got enough song in it that it could’ve taken up this entire list. It works really well in the context of St. Vincent’s (fucking amazing) new album MASSEDUCTION, but it’s sort of a concise narrative on its own. It’s got dystopian and sci-fi elements, personal exploration, a beginning, middle, and end, and sexual moaning. It’s a trip, for sure, but I’m glad I took it a few times.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of all the songs on the list (except Lupe’s, which as I said, was released on Twitter), in case you’d like to listen to all the songs on the go.

Top 20 Songs of the Month (August 2017) — September 12, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (August 2017)

This one’s super late. Starting college, all that. It didn’t help that it wasn’t a particularly easy list to narrow down. The initial shortlist was over five pages, including four songs apiece by Brockhampton, Leikeli47, and Migos, all but one of which were knocked off the list. It seemed like practically everyone released music this month, including notorious recluses like MF Doom and wild cards like Lil Wayne. As a result, even though all the people I’ve mentioned so far have been rappers, this is perhaps the most sonically diverse of these lists I’ve done to date. For those of you who don’t know, this list doesn’t necessarily include the best songs that were released this month, but the ones that were released separate from an album (typically as a single). This means that a song that’s been out for over a year could still be eligible while many songs released during the month would be ineligible. It’s complicated, but it works. Let’s get it underway.

20) RIGHT NOW – PHresher feat. Cardi B

Against all odds, stripper-turned-reality-star-turned-rapper Cardi B is on her way to becoming a megastar. Her single “Bodak Yellow” is the #3 song in the country right now, she’s all over the news, and she’s working with some of the biggest names in hip hop today. Of course, PHresher isn’t one of those people. He’s an off-the-wall, erratic underground MC who had a song with Desiigner in 2014 (it was called “Danny Devito”). But like Cardi B, PHresher is a force of personality, and the two of them coming together on a track creates a menacing romp reminiscent of B.o.B and Nicki Minaj’s “Out of My Mind.”

19) CAROLINE – Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

If there’s anything that doesn’t need to be said, it’s that Steve Martin is a master wordsmith. We’ve seen him bring his one-of-a-kind wit to the screen, stage, and page, and also to folk music work with the Steep Canyon Rangers. “Caroline” is sort of the folk tune equivalent of a Judd Apatow movie (right down to the casting). It’s goofy, with an askew worldview and sharp sense of humor. It’s a tale of lower-upper-class white people falling in and out of love. And it’s pretty damn emotionally affecting if you let it be.

18) WATER ME – Lizzo

It’s become increasingly apparent that Lizzo is a star in the making. She’s already won over a devoted base of listeners with her empowering ’60s soul-infused hip-pop stylings, and now that she’s signed to Atlantic Records, it seems like she’s not going anywhere. “Water Me” is more of what we’ve come to expect from Lizzo, but it packs a hard EDM punch that makes it stand apart amongst the rest of her discography. You might not hear this one on the radio, but you’ll be hearing from her sooner rather than later.

17) COCAINA – Captain Cuts feat. Rich the Kid and Daniels

Rich the Kid is a trap artist of the new school who’s got a nice energy but doesn’t quite stand out among the crowd. Daniels is another rapper that, as far as my research seems to indicate, only existed for the three minutes it took to record this song. Captain Cuts is the production team behind “Shut Up and Dance.” What do you get when you put them all together? A potential pop hit, believe it or not. I don’t know how comfortable the radio companies will be with a song very explicitly named after cocaine being played on their stations, but the Weeknd made a song about coke that won a Kids’ Choice Award, so who knows? And this song fucking slaps. It’s sort of got that island flair that’s been all the rage this past year and a half, but it’s a bit less dancehall and a little more reggae. The rappers are fun, and the chorus is super catchy, but Captain Cuts are the stars of the show.

16) STROBELITE – Gorillaz feat. Peven Everett

The latest single off Gorillaz’s surprisingly bounteous latest album Humanz was criticized by some for really just being a Peven Everett song. And while that may be true, it’s still an absolute banger. The electro-disco groove is some of the finest, most danceable production work to come out this year. And Everett’s vocals are nothing to sneeze at. He carries a certain passion that drives the surprisingly-complex lyrics home.

15) MY STYLE – Poppy feat. Charlotte

If you’ve been reading this blog, then I don’t need to tell you who Poppy is. That being said, this song carries a whole different energy from most of her other work. Usually, the menace of her music is subdermal, obscured under layers of bubblegum. This one’s lowkey frightening from the get-go. A simplistic, droning beat accompanies equally repetitive lyrics and a creepy, hypnotic video aesthetic. The lyrics mostly seem like nonsense, until the chorus kicks in. “Poppy is an object / Poppy is your best friend / Poppy will break your neck / Poppy will be your pet.” The computerized voice (“Charlotte”) only makes the song more skin-crawling, and seems to point towards Poppy’s narrative going in some bizarre new directions.

14) FLOOD WATCH – Juicy J feat. Offset

Even in his Three 6 Mafia days, I never really thought of Juicy J and friends as anything more than “okay.” That being said, I seem to find myself getting into just about every song he puts out. “Flood Watch” is decadent right from the start. Inspirational, almost cinematic pianos accompany J’s muffled chants of “Get up, bitch, get up.” It approached heavenly levels when the drums subtly kick in. Juicy J and Offset are both pretty average rappers, and their verses on this track are not their best by any means, but it all comes together in a really enjoyable way.

13) LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO – Taylor Swift

Yes, I know. I love joking about how bad this song is as much as the next person. Whose idea was it to turn “I’m Too Sexy” into a Disney villain song? What did we make her do? She doesn’t like my keys? But in the end, I gotta come clean: this song also slaps. Taylor Swift always comes through with great pop music, and when you pair her with Jack Antonoff and a newfound acceptance of her role as the villain, the results are a fun techno-pop track perfect for when you want to feel like that bitch.

12) ACROSS THE MULTIVERSE – Dent May feat. Frankie Cosmos

This one’s so out of my comfort zone that I’m not sure I’ll be able to describe it, but I liked it enough to put it on the list so I guess I’ll hope for the best. I’d describe it as a psychedelic indie pop track with airy sci-fi disco vibes, like “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” with an Angel Olsen twist. The mix of funk guitars, space-age synths, and big band disco horns really does it for me, y’know?

11) BABY SCALE – IDK feat. Yung Gleesh

When we last saw the artist formerly known as Jay IDK, he was treating us to The Empty Bank, one of the finest self-released hip-hop records of 2016. His star quality shines even harder on “Baby Scale,” a jazz-infused track that mixes equal parts introspection and braggadocio to create an intricate piece of work. IDK’s flow has progressed a ton in just the past year, and his lyrical prowess is as high as ever. Yung Gleesh’s part is fine.

10) FRIENDS – Justin Bieber and BLOODPOP®

At the end of the day, is “Friends” just a harder version of “Sorry”? Absolutely. But “Sorry” is great, and that ’80s driving synth is great, so what’s not to like? The Biebs’ transition from punching bag to heavy-hitter seemed to come in a flash, but looking back on it now, it seems like we just got tired of hating him. After a few years of near-constant radio play, some people have changed their tunes once again, but there’s still comfort in knowing you’ll no longer be mocked mercilessly for liking a Justin Bieber song, or forced to pick apart things you hate in something as purely and genuinely good as “Friends.” So that’s nice.

9) PEOPLE SAY – Wu-Tang Clan feat. Redman

Of course I had to make room for the Wu. In their first public outing since their 2014 album “A Better Tomorrow,” the Staten Island MC’s are as sharp as they’ve ever been. The beat by Mathematics is some classic New York shit, and all five rappers featured on the track are spitting, though I think my favorite verse is Inspectah Deck’s. Wu-Tang forever, indeed.

8) THE SEVEN – Primus

Bieber to Wu-Tang to Primus; how’s that for diversity? I’ve always appreciated Primus and their uncanny ability to just do the weirdest shit 24/7. “The Seven” is no exception. I honestly have no idea what this song is getting at, or if there are any layers of meaning to it, but on the surface it seems to be about seven malevolent creatures, representing the colors of the rainbow, that just go around ruining things for everyone. It’s hard to describe it any further, but if you’ve listened to Primus, you know what you’re in for, and if not, let this be your introduction.

7) LIKE A MAN – ONHEL feat. Lil Wayne

I was wary about considering this one for the list, because I first encountered it in an article saying it was a leak from one of the Carter albums. However, everything I can find about it now says that it’s just a brand new single from Lil Wayne (and longtime engineer ONHEL). That’s pretty exciting just on its own, but it also finds Tunechi in rare form, spazzing about sex, drugs, and skateboarding with a craftsman’s precision and an artist’s spirit. He’s got crazy rhyme schemes, bizarre imagery, killer puns, and everything else that once had legions of fans calling him the best rapper alive. It’s hard to call it the second coming of Wayne, especially since he drops a song of this caliber about every two years, but it’s still a rare treat.

6) I DON’T WANT IT AT ALL – Kim Petras

People who know what they’re talking about have called Kim Petras the next Britney Spears. We’ll have to wait and see where her career goes from here, but “I Don’t Want It At All” showcases a star power that’s rare for an artist as new as she is. After first making headlines for transitioning at an unusually young age (Remember when that was enough to make headlines?), she started releasing music and this song, her major label debut, is already blowing up on Spotify. This is another one that might make big waves on the radio this fall, and it’s perhaps the most delightful of any of them. It’s schlocky pop perfection, reveling in vanity and hedonism over sunny synths. It’s an absolute joy from start to finish.

5) TRUE LIGHTYEARS – KMD feat. Jay Electronica

Hmm, how do you top entries from legendary rappers like Lil Wayne and the Wu-Tang Clan? I know, how about the new song from MF fucking DOOM. If you don’t mind the high-pitched flute sample, you’re treated to an otherworldly lyrical onslaught by two unparalleled MCs. Jay Electronica might have been a rarer treat a couple years ago, but he’s still much appreciated. And Doom’s as marvelous as ever, mixing layered intellectual poetics with unapologetically goofy punchlines to create something beautiful.

4) HOMEMADE DYNAMITE – Lorde

Not to give away any spoilers, but Lorde’s Melodrama is a strong contender for album of the year. It’s just so distinct, so raw, so layered, so enjoyable and thought-provoking and troubling all at once. “Homemade Dynamite” is, in some senses, the cornerstone of the album. It’s certainly the song that feels most radically different, from production to vocals to content. It brings home the album’s themes of, well, melodrama, taking the teen spirit that was idealized on Pure Heroine and showing the darker side of it. It’s a magical moment when a song as weird and sad as this one still works as a pop song, but here we are.

3) HAVANA – Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug

This song is so goddamn good. Camila Cabello’s output since leaving Fifth Harmony has ranged from interesting (“Crying in the Club”) to atrocious (“Bad Things”), but “Havana” is in a whole other boat. I want this to be all over the radio. I want it to shatter records. And here’s the thing: everyone knows I’m a Young Thug stan. I rave about Young Thug all the time. But my appreciation for this song has nothing to do with him. If he wasn’t on the song at all, it’d probably still be right here. What makes this song is some phenomenal production work by Pharrell, an insanely catchy hook, and Camila’s lovelorn vocals painting a picture of regret that’s so enjoyable and relatable and just great. But for what it’s worth, Young Thug’s verse is really good too.

2) THE NO PANTS DANCE – TWRP feat. Ninja Sex Party

“The No Pants Dance” just might be a masterpiece. It features the goofy, hypersexual lyrics of NSP, the killer electro grooves of TWRP, and it’s called “The No Pants Dance,” for god’s sake. If you can’t appreciate a song about dancing with your pants off, I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve always found Danny Sexbang’s vocals to be a bit jarring on some of the songs NSP chooses to make, but it fits so perfectly with the vibe of this one. It just works on so many levels. But it’s not song of the month.

1) TAKE ME – Aly & AJ

Aly and AJ Michalka were true rock stars of the Disney Channel age, winning over a generations of kids and teens with their 2007 classic hit “Potential Breakup Song.” But soon after, they split from Hollywood Records, did some solo acting projects, and took a strange turn towards indie rock under the name 78violet. Now, finally, they’re back as Aly & AJ, and so we enter “Take Me.” The song starts slow, but immediately attention-grabbing, with muffled drums and synths that seem to have been recorded via VHS. Aly materializes, wisping wistfully about the trappings of dating in the modern world. Suddenly, things start building up, and like “In the Air Tonight” for the girl power pop set, drums pummel us into another dimension as AJ cries “When you gonna take me out?” The song is pure bliss, a perfect union of Carly Rae Jepsen and The 1975 that stands out as one of the finest pieces of pop music to be released in 2017. I think we all needed a little more Aly & AJ in our lives.

Top 20 Songs of the Month (July 2017) — August 9, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (July 2017)

What a month. I know I say something to that effect every month, since there’s more good music being put out than there’s ever been before, and in all honesty, my shortlist this month was actually shorter than usual, but still. We got great new music from the likes of Capital Cities, Kamaiyah, The All-American Rejects, Jennifer Lopez, Nine Inch Nails, Mystery Skulls, Shania Twain, Wyclef Jean, Demi Lovato, The Darkness, BØRNS, Mick Jagger, and those are just the ones that didn’t make the list. This month, we’ve got some triumphant comebacks, some steady mainstays, and a few impressive newcomers. Let’s get things underway. Remember: for the purposes of making these lists easier to make, I generally only include songs that were released in some form outside of an album. That can be in the form of a single, a video, or a few other things, but it generally can’t be something I put or almost put on a previous list. This means that a song could have come out on an album years ago and still make the list if it was just released as a single or video this month. I also try to avoid having more than one song to an artist on each list, but there’s one notable exception to that this time ’round.

20) RUN FOR COVER – The Killers

The Killers are a bit hard to get a read on, in terms of public opinion. Most, I think, became infatuated with them for a glimmering moment in the mid-2000’s and then came to be annoyed by them. Still, they have a rock-solid fanbase, and at least one of the best songs of all time (“Mr. Brightside,” naturally). Last month, they put out a single called “The Man,” the first off their forthcoming fifth album. That song is, uh, not good. It showcases everything that caused the general populace to quickly grow tired with the Killers, a song that’s equal parts generic and trying too hard. “Run for Cover,” I think, does a better job showcasing what many people (myself included) still admire about the band. Brandon Flowers’ Modest Mouse-lite crooning is a bit more subdued, leaving room for a song that’s goofy, but still enjoyable on a base level.

19) RAGE – Vic Mensa

“Rage” is arguably Vic Mensa’s most self-indulgent song to date. There’s nothing wrong with that; self-indulgence is a staple of hip-hop and music in general. But for some, this song could definitely be a bit overwhelming. It opens with Vic singing about planes crashing, at first alone with a bit of reverb, then with a passionate, almost theatrical piano accompaniment. The refrain of the song is “I want you to rage into the night,” and the beat consists of Mike Dean and Om’mas Keith doing their finest Alex da Kid imitation, with the usual rocky drums, important-sounding synths, a barely-noticeable choral backing, a much more noticeable “aaaaaayyy” backing, and ranch on the side. Still, it’s an effective and at times moving ballad with some solid wordplay and an interesting metaphorical conceit.

18) I AIN’T GOT TIME! – Tyler, the Creator

Sure, it’s one of the less resonant cuts on Tyler’s brilliant new album Flower Boy. It’s not nearly as introspective and syrupy as, say, “911” or “Glitter.” But it’s a damn good track. It’s hard to even describe the instrumental, but it’s a noisy Middle Eastern-sounding beat with obvious Pharrell influence that perfectly matches Tyler’s gravelly tones. And of course, nestled between cheesy boasts is the most buzzworthy revelation on an album full of them: the already-famous “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004” line. Way to go, Tyler.

17) LET’S MAKE A VIDEO – Poppy

I feel like I’ve already said more than enough about Poppy in recent articles, so I’ll keep it brief. Poppy’s great. This song is great. I love the bubbly synths. I love the corny pop lyrics. I adore the hook, especially the non sequitur “I love you when you’re happy, I love you when you’re down.” It’s just great.

16) P.O.P. – Belly

After presenting it at multiple stops on The Weeknd’s Starboy tour, Palestinian-Canadian rapper Belly bookended the month of July by releasing his latest single, “P.O.P.” The title, of course, stands for “power of pussy,” and the song follows various men, Belly himself included, being ensnared by greedy women. It’s sort of like an even more misogynistic version of “Gold Digger,” but like “Gold Digger,” it’s also really funny and well-written, so we’ll give it a tentative pass.

15) BIG B’S – Chance the Rapper and Young Thug

After apparently saving SoundCloud from the brink of collapse, Chance the Rapper celebrated with a new loosie, joined by Young Thug. Both rappers have sort of become recurring characters on these lists, and on this track, you can see why. Despite representing different cities and different factions of the rap game, both rappers have an unshakeable charisma and off-the-wall energy that makes them irresistible, and an absorbing way with words to sweeten the deal. “B’s” means “business,” by the way.

14) THE PAIN – Rapsody

Having come around at the turn of the decade, Rapsody’s already built a reputation as one of the finest conscious MC’s working today, and one of the great female rappers of all time. Her latest single, “The Pain,” showcases the subdued wisdom and intricate wordsmithing that gave her that reputation. Over Nottz’s urgent production, Rap describes “the pain,” in order, “of watching us kill each other,” “of black men/women disrespected by the world,” “of a man who never knew the man that made him,” “of a daddy’s girl without a daddy,” “of a mother who went half on a baby and got a whole lot to deal with,” and “of a man that wanna raise his child, love his child / Baby mama crazy, she don’t ever let him see his child.” It’s the exact kind of deep, powerful bars we’ve come to expect from the brilliant mind of Rapsody.

13) WEDDING CRASHERS – Aminé feat. Offset

Aminé dropped his debut album Good For You this month, and on a preliminary listen, I thought it was really good. Still, a solid contender for best track is the single he released the week before the album, “Wedding Crashers.” It’s a cheeky ode to old flames centered around weddings that features a goofy Rugrats beat and a solid if forgettable Offset verse. Aminé’s verse is packed with dense wordplay and references, some of which appear to be inside jokes with himself. Still, the highlight of the song is the irresistible hook. It’s fun enough to be enjoyable while still delivering the bite its subject matter deserves.

12) MIDNIGHT – Jessie Ware

English singer/songwriter Jessie Ware’s throaty, soulful pop tunes have led to the respect of some of pop’s heavy-hitters, and a fair amount of being mistaken for Jess Glynne. “Midnight” is one of the best songs I’ve heard from her to date. I love how the beat builds itself around her devastated vocals, taking the tone from mournful to triumphant without skipping a beat. I love it for its bouncy R&B refrain, but the more tender parts of it are still captivating.

11) CATCH ME OUTSIDE – Ski Mask the Slump God

BIG shoutout to Ski Mask the Slump God, an artist I hadn’t even considered considering at the start of this month. After some solid work with XXXTentacion, “Catch Me Outside” is the song that made me realize just how brilliant this guy actually is. Over Timbaland’s classic Missy Elliott “She’s a Bitch” beat, Ski Mask fires off wild wordplay reminiscent of Missy herself. Before the song even begins, he’s bringing out killer wordplay. “Shoutout my mucus, ’cause you know that be my slime,” he announces just as the beat kicks in. From there, it’s a two-and-a-half-minute whirlwind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it wordplay and references. Congrats, Ski Mask. You have my attention.

10) WOULD YOU MIND – PRETTYMUCH

PRETTYMUCH is Simon Cowell’s latest boy band find. Based off this one single, it’s hard to say if they have any staying power, but they certainly can crank out a great pop tune. “Would You Mind” pays homage to more than one of history’s great boy bands, borrowing the a cappella harmony intro from the Beach Boys, the new jack swing sound of Boyz II Men, the futuristic breakdowns of *NSYNC, and One Direction vocals to create a wholly enjoyable earworm with a little something for every pop listener.

9) MISS ME – Leikeli47

Leikeli47’s been a long time coming for this list. Ever since a surprise endorsement by Skrillex and Diplo back in 2015, the masked MC has been one of the most compelling new rappers on my radar. “Miss Me” is laced with unflappable confidence and a killer beat, again reminiscent of Timbaland’s seminal turn-of-the-century production. It simply oozes swagger.

8) DON’T GET CAPTURED – Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels is another act I’ve already covered extensively on this blog, but I’ll go into it again. El-P’s dystopian electronic production is as strong as ever on the latest single from Run the Jewels 3, “Don’t Get Captured,” which explores racial injustice from two different perspectives. Killer Mike takes a more typical angle, examining class struggle and corruption as someone who came from a poor neighborhood watching gentrification sweep through. El-P takes on the role of a ruthless, crooked cop delighting in his ability to oppress and murder with no repercussions. It’s a message that could’ve been delivered in a simple, straightforward manner and served just fine, but leave it to RTJ to go above and beyond.

7) ONE NIGHT ONLY – The Struts

The Struts are a newer English glam rock band, and like many modern glam acts, it can be hard to tell to what extent they’re being serious and to what extent they’re joking. What I can say, for sure, is that this song is epic. It’s got an overpowering stadium hook, some really solid guitar work, and it’s packed to the gills with flair. My favorite moments include the guitar solo and when he rolls the R in “riding.”

6) BOYS – Charli XCX

One of the biggest surprises in music this month was the release of Charli XCX’s “Boys” video. After her excellent Number 1 Angel mixtape, Charli could’ve easily taken the rest of the year off, but she decided to grace us with a phenomenal pop track and one of the best music videos of 2017. The song and video flip the music industry’s objectification of women on its head, with the help of over 50 male celebrities in varying degrees of undress. It’s also a great pop tune, with a really cool electronic beat and potential to become another sleeper hit for Charli in the coming months.

5) NEW YORK – St. Vincent

This is another song that pop heavyweights like Lorde lost their shit over this month. And with good reason, quite frankly. St. Vincent’s been winning over critics and other listeners for a full decade, and her last album left a huge impression. While “New York” is generally much more straightforward than what we’re used to hearing from Annie Clark, her bitter lyricism is as sharp as ever. The sheer emotional buildup in this song is amazing. It’s St. Vincent’s answer to “Green Light” by Lorde, and that’s a good thing.

4) THE STORY OF O.J. – Jay-Z

One of music’s most major events this month was the release of Jay-Z’s acclaimed 13th album 4:44. The album’s first “single,” if it’s even worth calling it that (they can’t exactly play this one on the radio), is “The Story of O.J.,” one of the album’s crowning artistic achievements. Over a beat that feels refreshing and ancient all at once, Hova implores his community to use their money wisely, if they want to escape the cycle of poverty and failure that white people set them up for. There’s an exhausted quality to Jay’s vocals that gives the track’s devastating truth bombs a sizable punch. One bizarre antisemitic line aside, this could turn out to be one of Jay-Z’s defining tracks.

3) WOMAN – Kesha feat. The Dap-Kings Horns

Here’s this month’s leading music story: Kesha pulled off the most magnificent comeback in recent memory. After a years-long battle for artistic freedom from her abuser, the pop star rose like a phoenix to grace us with three phenomenal pop songs and counting. “Woman” is a goddamn masterpiece. I could make a whole different top ten list of all my favorite moments in this song alone. At one point, she’s laughing too hard to finish the verse, and then it just cuts to the chorus! That’s incredible! This is one of the greatest pop songs I’ve heard in a while, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it places highly on my end-of-the-year list. But for now, there are two songs I thought were better.

2) IT AIN’T FAIR – The Roots feat. Bilal

Bilal is one of the greatest singers alive. Black Thought is one of the best rappers of all time. The Roots is quite possibly the best band in the world. And when you put them all together, you get “It Ain’t Fair.” I’d say the song is this year’s answer to last year’s “This Bitter Land” (Nas & Erykah Badu). It was a relatively quiet release for a soundtrack single that’s political, powerful, and beautiful. It starts very slowly, with about a minute of Bilal singing unaccompanied, followed by some more crooning over a jazzy piano riff. But when it kicks in, by god does it kick in. By the end of the hook, it bursts with glorious color as guitar, drums, bass, brass, keyboards, everything but the kitchen sink comes together beautifully to punctuate Black Thought’s frenetic flows and mature, emotionally-vulnerable bars. This is what world-class talent sounds like.

1) PRAYING – Kesha

Now, this is highly unorthodox for me. I don’t think I’ve ever put two songs by the same lead artist on one of these lists, let alone at numbers 1 and 3. But Kesha isn’t your everyday musical talent, and I truly couldn’t see myself parting with either of the two songs. “Praying” is a thing of beauty. It’s an expertly-crafted pop masterstroke that turned Kesha’s narrative from victim to hero, suddenly becoming one of the most respected figures in music. The lyrics are simple, powerful, and even catchy. The production by Ryan Lewis is phenomenal (proving that Macklemore was actually second banana and Ryan Lewis was the star all along). Kesha’s vocals are jaw-dropping. The sheer freedom encapsulated in this scant four minutes of music is more moving than the fogies who derided Kesha in her heyday could ever hope to be. Dr. Luke may still have a contract, but the world is on Kesha’s side.

The 25 Best Songs of 2017 (So Far) — June 23, 2017

The 25 Best Songs of 2017 (So Far)

I mainly made this list because I saw that a lot of other music reviewers were doing it and I didn’t have much else going on. I’m not sure if 2017’s been an especially good year for music or if this is just how music is now. Anyway, there’s tons of good stuff to get through, so I won’t waste much time. This list is primarily based on personal preference, though in some cases I account for other factors like impact. I tried to limit it to one song per artist, but there are a few minor infractions. Let’s kick it.

25) COMPUTER BOY – Poppy

Poppy’s been bubbling up for a couple of years now, and she’s developed somewhat of a cult following, for lack of a better term. Her brand of bubblegum pop with a sinister twist has attracted many and led to countless conspiracy theories and Reddit threads breaking down her extensive lore. I’ve enjoyed her music and all this… other stuff she’s doing for quite some time, but “Computer Boy” might be her best song yet. Commenting on a recent trend towards technology fetishism, the song is about Poppy falling in love with her laptop. It’s got an amazing hook and really solid production. In an age where a lot of Top 40 music has gone flaccid, it’s nice to hear some pop that packs a punch.

24) PASSIONFRUIT – Drake

Drake’s latest not-album finds him comfortably within his zone, taking elements from all over the world to create the truest reflection of himself that we’ve heard to date. Nowhere is this more evident than on the “playlist”‘s biggest single, “Passionfruit,” one of the few songs on the album that lists Drake as the only writer (other than its producer, Nana Rogues). Drake’s wrote a lot of mopey breakup songs, but none as complete as “Passionfruit.” The soft, tropical riddim perfectly complements Drake’s mature, resigned voice. It’s also extremely well-written. Genius did an article about how the emphasized words in the chorus (“passionate,” “passive,” and “passing”) as well as the titular passionfruit, all come from the same Old French and Latin roots referring to the suffering of Christ. The passion fruit, and passion flower, are particularly common in tropical regions, and missionaries in Brazil called them “the flower of five wounds” in reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. So that’s pretty cool, huh?

23) DOVES IN THE WIND – SZA feat. Kendrick Lamar

This song is about pussy. That’s not an oversimplification: the word “pussy” is said no less than 23 times throughout the song. SZA’s new album Ctrl immediately took the music world by storm. Fans and critics swooned over her nimble pipes, warped beats, and sheer differentness. To me, “Doves in the Wind” is the best representation of what SZA has to offer. It’s a moody, noir outlet for her and TDE labelmate Kendrick Lamar to wax philosophical about vaginas for four-and-a-half minutes. Not every artist could’ve pulled this off, but these two ran with it and stuck the landing.

22) DESPACITO (REMIX) – Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber

This song basically came out of nowhere and is quickly becoming inescapable. After spending six weeks on top of the Hot 100, the radio finally caught wind, and just this Saturday (June 17) alone, the song was played over 10 million times on iHeartRadio stations. The video for the original racked up over 2 billion YouTube views and is now the eighth-most-watched video of all time, but I’m a filthy American and I like the Bieber version better. I just really love how Justin Bieber has the clout to take some random-ass Latin pop hit and get Americans to bump it. Bieber’s contributions to the song are much appreciated, but of course Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee deserve some recognition, too. It’s just a really solid pop song. I’m sure it’ll be overplayed in a matter of days, but I can appreciate it for now.

21) GALWAY GIRL – Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran put out his third studio album, ÷, this year, and reception was… mixed. It’s an okay album, but I can’t say I remember much from it. But there was this one song. You see, Sheeran’s been moving in two wildly disparate directions, and the clash between them is what made this album fall flat. He’s brought in more folk influences and more hip-hop flair, creating a jarring, dissatisfying listening experience. But then there’s “Galway Girl,” the perfect hybrid of Irish folk and mid-’00s hip hop. it’s catchy, sweet, simple, and fun without being too full of itself. One of Sheeran’s biggest weaknesses is over-writing songs meant to be heartfelt. “Galway Girl” is sloppy. It’s off-beat. It’s goofy. And that’s who Ed Sheeran really is. That’s why the song works so well.

20) ME ENAMORÉ – Shakira

Where’s the love for Shakira? Eleven albums and 27 years into her career, she’s still pulling in solid numbers and making one great pop album after another, but living in the US, a lot of people wouldn’t know that. One of her most recent singles, “Me Enamoré,” features elements of her typical Latin singer-songwriter sound, reggaeton, and EDM pop. On it, the 40-year-old Shakira flips the conventional fetishization of young girls by older singers in Latin pop and music in general, telling the love story between her and a man noticeably younger than her (Gerard Piqué, the Spanish footballer ten years Shakira’s junior who she’s been dating since 2010). It’s fun, absurdly catchy, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. What more could you ask for?

19) DREAMER – Charli XCX feat. Starrah and Raye

After going from rising pop superstar to cult icon with a single four-song EP last year, Charli XCX returned this year with Number 1 Angel, a mixtape full of the same menacing, devil-may-care electro-pop that we know and love. “Dreamer” is pop with a hip hop attitude, and it features the rap game’s most-sought-after songwriter, Starrah, who delivers a sung rap verse that could equally pass as a hook. Honestly, genres don’t even mean anything anymore. It’s just an empowering song.

18) UP IN HUDSON – Dirty Projectors

This nearly-8-minute track off Dirty Projectors’ self-titled seventh album finds the band’s lead singer (and only current member) Dave Longstreth in full Phil Collins swag. Jazzy brass and tribal drums punctuate breezy, lovelorn melodies, making for the shortest eight minutes of my life. This song isn’t great in concept, but the extent to which it works amazes me. It’s downtrodden and hopeful, juxtaposed against some of the gloomier tracks on this album. It’s just really nice to listen to, in a way that Dirty Projectors, even at their best, rarely is.

17) DENT JUSAY – Matt Martians feat. Syd and Steve Lacy

This song’s just an absolute pleasure to listen to. There’s really not that much to say about it. It’s just three members of alternative R&B band The Internet coming together for a scientifically-perfect feel-good bop. That’s enough for me.

16) FRAGMENTS – Blondie

This song, on the other hand, is devastating. It’s the final track on Blondie’s underrated eleventh album Pollinator, and a cover of a 2011 song by alt-rock project and YouTube film reviewer An Unkindness, a.k.a. YourMovieSucks, a.k.a. Adam Johnston. It starts out depressing and slow, but when it picks up, it fucking picks up. It’s actually a really unique choice for Blondie and it’s neat to see that even 50+ years into her music career, Debbie Harry’s still genre-hopping as effortlessly as ever.

15) HARD TIMES – Paramore

From one generation’s genre-defying blonde pop rock queen to another. Hayley Williams and Paramore are back and better than ever with a disco-infused electro-pop record hearkening back to the likes of Blondie, No Doubt, and even Talking Heads. And that’s just on this one song. The catchy tropical riff and goofy “Weird Science” backup vocals mask some pretty depressing lyrical content. It’s a really fun and infectious song on the surface, but it can be appreciated on just about every level. It’s a solidly great song.

14) WHITE MAN – Macy Gray

I’ve always been a little bit baffled by Macy Gray’s lack of broad appeal. She’s got a really unique voice, she’s been consistently dropping great music since the ’90s, she’s a good writer, good singer, she can do R&B, she can do soul, she can do pop, what’s missing? Her latest single, “White Man,” is an EDM pop track infused with tribal drums and chants addressing the racial climate in the world today and calling for forward motion and unity. It’s a quality banger with insightful commentary and a really cool video. I don’t know what more you people want.

13) BAMBI – Jidenna

Jidenna dropped one of the most breathtakingly unique albums of 2017, and “Bambi” is the standout track. It captures such a particular sense of wistfulness, it’s catchy and enjoyable yet still devastating. There’s no other song like it. Jidenna addresses the woman he’s singing to as “Bambi” not only as a “dear/deer” pun, but to illustrate the feeling of protectiveness he has for her, and the feeling that he’s left her alone in a harsh world, a victim of cruel circumstance. He’s become a womanizer because society compels him to be one, but only realizes in retrospect that he lost his true love in the process (“Bambi”), who is now getting married and leaving him in a web of unfulfilling, problematic relationships. As the doo-wop/nursery rhyme beat fades into the abyss, Jidenna’s defeated voice quiets to a whine as he sings “I just wanna see my baby, that’s my Bambi, that’s my dear.” Is Bambi true love or an obsession? We’ll never know, and neither will he.

12) MOMENTZ – Gorillaz feat. De La Soul

Here’s a hot take for you: “Momentz” is the best song on Humanz. Granted, it’s not an easy decision to make. Gorillaz’s fifth album took the music world by storm, and remains one of the more talked-about albums this year. I first heard “Momentz” in my friend’s car, a day or two before I listened to the rest of the album. The way I see it, every great Gorillaz song has three things: a killer hook, something about the apocalypse, and weird shit. This song packs all of that in spades. I love the “moments” clip. The beat is fantastic. The verses are great. The hook might be the best on the whole album. It’s a phenomenal, breakneck party track that sounds like the Black Eyed Peas on more coke than usual.

11) CUT TO THE FEELING – Carly Rae Jepsen

Yes, I’m one of those music critics. CRJ could release a track of herself having a sneezing fit over a Lil Jon beat from 2002 and I’d probably give it an honorable mention. That being said, “Cut to the Feeling” is actually a great song. The beat is quintessential power pop, aided by Carly Rae’s starry-eyed vocals and rising “ahhh”s leading up to the euphoric chorus. But when you look at the themes of the song, it’s pretty funny, too. Carly’s going steady with this guy and he’s trying to be all romantic and she’s being like “Yeah yeah, let’s get on with it already.” She wants to live out only the transcendent experiences, the fairy tale romance. That’s kind of what this song feels like. It doesn’t waste time with soulful melodies and slow builds. It cuts right to the feeling.

10) HONOR – DJ Cassidy feat. Grace and Lil Yachty

I feel like this song should have been a lot bigger than it was. It works as a dance track, it’s extremely catchy, and it’s got Lil Yachty, who can give any schmuck a Top 10 hit these days. This is actually the best Yachty verse I’ve ever heard. Usually, he sounds like an emotional teen, figuring things out, still not quite sure how the ins and outs of music work but just happy to be there. Here, he gives off an air of wisdom, someone who’s been through the wringer a few times and can look back on it all now, offering advice and warning with a resigned chuckle. The rumbling electronic beat provides the perfect accompaniment for his verse, as well as Grace’s nasally vintage pipes on the sneakily enticing hook.

9) FAMILY DON’T MATTER – Young Thug feat. Millie Go Lightly

Young Thug is the future. “Family Don’t Matter,” the first song off his critically-acclaimed debut studio album Beautiful Thugger Girls, opens with Thug in a space we’ve rarely seen him in before. Over the course of his already-storied career, he’s found a chaotic, unique voice and transitioned from straightforward trap into something completely new. As the song begins, we get Thug’s lone voice, accompanied only by an echo and the jangling of his chains. Then in a flash, the song goes from nothing to everything. Tranquil, country-inspired acoustic guitar, then the soothing tones of British songstress Millie Go Lightly, then a sweeping, cinematic backdrop for Thug’s erratic bars and melodies. Then he says “Yeehaw.” Perfection.

8) CHANEL – Frank Ocean

“Chanel” took the world by storm when Frank Ocean first premiered it on his Beats 1 show “blonded RADIO.” The song’s opening lines, “My guy pretty like a girl / And he got fight stories to tell / I see both sides like Chanel, C on both sides like Chanel” quickly became a queer rallying cry, and the song stays pretty consistently brilliant from there. Ocean effortlessly swims in the song’s moody piano beat, going from high to low, singing to rapping, heady to mundane, and all without breaking a sweat. There’s also a version with a phenomenal A$AP Rocky verse at the end, but good luck finding it.

7) DUCKWORTH. – Kendrick Lamar

Another scalding hot take: “DUCKWORTH.” is the best song on DAMN. The last (or first) track on Kendrick Lamar’s latest instant classic features incredible production, rapid-fire flows and lyrical dexterity, along with one of the best twists in music history. It’s not as radio-ready as other album favorites like “DNA.,” “LOYALTY.,” and “HUMBLE.,” but it’s a stark and compelling hood cautionary tale telling the incredible true story of Kendrick’s mentor and his father. I’d argue it’s one of the best songs on the album from a lyrical standpoint, and it definitely boasts one of the record’s best beats, courtesy of the legendary 9th Wonder.

6) CHASE ME – Danger Mouse feat. Big Boi and Run the Jewels

“Chase Me” is the lead single off the soundtrack to one of the most acclaimed movies of 2017, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. RTJ and Big Boi both put out albums this year (or in RTJ’s case, last year, depending on who you ask), and even worked together a few times, but their standout collaboration, at least in my opinion, is “Chase Me.” It’s undeniably cool, fun, and fast-paced, presenting a happy marriage of all three rappers’ styles and immaculate production by Danger Mouse. It’s the kind of song that feels like an event, even if it’s not. It feels like something that only comes once in a blue moon.

5) PERFECT PLACES – Lorde

In an era where every pop starlet has a little bit of Lorde in them, some wondered if the OG Lorde would feel as fresh as she did in 2011. Those fears were put to rest as the New Zealand wunderkind dropped one remarkable single after another, culminating in “Perfect Places,” the final song on her fantastic new album Melodrama. It sprinkles elements of “Royals” and “Team,” her two huge hits, but it showcases an older, reflective Lorde. It’s a commentary on the unhealthy and dangerous underpinnings of euphoric escapism. Where Pure Herione Lorde was enveloped in the celebration of her generation and their idle victories, Melodrama Lorde perceives it all as evasion, and ponders the consequences of running away from life’s woes. It also absolutely slaps. 

4) AUTOMATON – Jamiroquai

FACT magazine broke the news: “Jamiroquai is back, and they sound like TRON now!” Of course, when their first album in seven years finally did drop, it was actually not all that different from the classic Jamiroquai (not that I’m complaining). Still, I find myself most drawn to “Automaton,” the cacophonous sci-fi funk track that ponders what humans will do with the power of unlimited automation. Everything from the random clicks and whirrs to the expertly-maneuvered vocal effects to the Grandmaster Flash rap breakdown is absolutely divine. Some Jamiroquai fans were upset by how different this song sounded, but I wish more people had given it a chance, because it’s honestly incredible.

3) SIGN OF THE TIMES – Harry Styles

Mark 2017 on your calendar as the year Harry Styles suddenly became his generation’s greatest rock star. Decide for yourself if that image is built to last, but in the moment you first heard this song, it was true. But what’s it about? It’s interesting how few people have really asked this question. Styles said it’s from the perspective of a pregnant woman to her unborn child, after being told that the child would survive but she wouldn’t. In that same interview, he also said that the song has a political meaning, specifically about the cyclical nature of political strife and dire situations. People have also interpreted the song as a tribute to David Bowie, or to Harry’s close friend Matt Irwin. No matter how you slice it, it’s a transcendent experience.

2) QUICK – Tank and the Bangas

Tank and the Bangas got their first whiff of fame earlier this year after winning a contest to appear on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. The New Orleans funk-soul group has a sound unlike any other, an unparalleled style exemplified by the very song that got them on NPR, “Quick.” It’s a space-age neo-jazz soap opera that’s supremely enjoyable on every level. At seven minutes long, it effortlessly bounces between four or five different genres, spinning a vivid and complete tale of high adventure. What could be better?

1) SLIDE – Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean and Migos

Do you slide on all your nights like this? Yes, “Slide” is the best song of 2017, just like how “Uptown Funk!” was the best song of 2014 and “Get Lucky” was the best song of 2013. Am I just funk-biased? Perhaps, but all three of those songs are brilliant in their own way. “Slide,” for instance, finds two of the most-buzzed-about acts in hip-hop, brought together by a notorious EDM hit-machine, for a song that’s outside any of their comfort zones. It’s futuristic, yet timeless. Brilliant, yet effortless. Breezy, yet captivating. There’s not a wasted second on the song’s four minutes of funk, from the immediately-recognizable piano opener to the offbeat-yet-catchy hook, from Frank’s masterfully-written ramblings to Quavo’s melodic pop rap to Offset’s smooth, rapid-fire flow. It’s the perfect summer jam.

So, those are the best songs of 2017 so far. Of course, these are all just based on my fickle opinion, so I can’t promise that the end-of-the-year list won’t look totally different. I’ll try and post a few more lists like these in the coming days, since we’re halfway through the year. Let me know some of your favorite songs this year in the comments.

Top 20 Songs of the Month (May 2017) — June 10, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (May 2017)

May’s a big month for a lot of reasons. Coming right at the start of the summer season, any act who wants a fighting chance at the Song of the Summer crown is gonna drop something this month. As a result, a lot of pop tends to drop in May, but it’s also a month where weirder, more niche artists come out of the woodwork. Critic-pleasing releases tend towards the later end of the year, but May is the ideal month to release a single. This time around, it was also a pretty big month for Migos. They’ve been riding that “Bad and Boujee” mainstream wave for quite some time now, and no less than 12 songs on my shortlist for this month featured at least one member of the trap trio. Still, I managed to narrow it down to 20 singles, ranked for your listening convenience. The lower half of this month’s list is pretty hip-hop-heavy, but it gets more varied as it goes on.

20) BIG FISH – Vince Staples

Kicking off this month’s list, we’ve got critically acclaimed rapper Vince Staples. “Big Fish” is the first release off his forthcoming album Big Fish Theory, and it has all the philosophical flexing, nasal Long Beach twang, and fun-yet-unsettling vibes we’ve come to expect from him. Frankly, the beat’s pretty stale, but Vince’s lyrical chops are as prime as ever and Juicy J lends a welcoming club chorus. A lesser Vince Staples track is still worthy of a mention.

19) PAPER OVA HERE – Quavo

In an interesting change of pace, all three members of Migos each released a solo single this past month. Quavo’s is the weirdest, most memorable, and probably best of the three, but the exercise allowed all three of them to showcase what they all bring to the table as artists, lending a little more appreciation to their combined efforts. “Paper Ova Here” shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. It’s only two minutes long, sounds like a Napster track from 2006, and it sounds like Quavo and producer OG Parker are fumbling over each other to get the song to function. But somehow, it all comes together. This song probably got stuck in my head more than any other song on this list. I contemplated replacing it with Migos’ “To Hotty,” but there’s something about that hook that just works better than it has any right to.

18) F.B.G.M. – T-Pain feat. Young M.A

The King of Autotune returns with another romantic banger that feels like 2008 all over again. T-Pain sings the praises of an open relationship with an hustling, independent, bisexual woman, The classic “fuck bitches, get money” credo feels as fresh as it ever has, and lesbian gangsta rapper of the hour Young M.A stops by for a really solid guest verse. There’s something about that acoustically-minded ’00s R&B beat that always hooks me.

17) MASK ON – Joyner Lucas

This one’s lower on the list because it’s actually a freestyle over Future’s “Mask Off” and not necessarily a single in its own right, but Joyner fucking snaps as always. Hip hop’s got a lot of different facets and new directions it’s headed in, but I think Joyner’s the next super talented rapper that pretentious white dudes want you to listen to. He’s got an incredible ear for flow, able to spit at a speed that only a handful of rappers can achieve and still maintain unbelievable rhythm. Is it at the expense of content? One could argue that. He definitely does have more to say on his slower tracks. One moment that sticks out on this song, even though he alleges he isn’t calling out anyone with it, is the part where he very clearly and explicitly calls out Logic, another speedy biracial MC that boring white people like. Apparently, Logic took about six months to submit his verse for Tech N9ne’s track “Sriracha” and the verse he did send in was trash. Aside from that chestnut, the song’s mainly notable for technical reasons, but no one handles that better than Joyner.

16) CRYING IN THE CLUB – Camila Cabello

After that whole Machine Gun Kelly fiasco, I sort of tuned out Camila Cabello for a while. I like Fifth Harmony, and she’s partly responsible for arguably the best Shawn Mendes song, but I didn’t see much potential in her as a solo artist. “Crying in the Club” convinced me otherwise. Of course, it later turned out that the first half of the video is actually “Questions,” a totally different and probably better song that she hasn’t released yet, but still. It’s good. Maybe I just really like the title and the image it conjures, but it also feels like a really good song to cry in the club to (you can thank cowriter Sia for that). I am definitely more invested in Camila Cabello’s music than I ever have been before (that new song she did with Major Lazer is good too).

15) RAF – A$AP Mob feat. A$AP Rocky, Quavo, Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, and Frank Ocean

From the start, this song has a fair amount going for it. An interesting blend of artists from different realms of hip hop, a mesmerizing, sparse trap beat, a funny enough concept. But as one could probably expect, it’s Frank Ocean’s verse that really pushes it over the edge. We start with Rocky, who’s actually been on fire lately. I really hope he has a project on the way, because all his most recent verses have been great. This one’s no exception, as he pitter-patters about fashion while Playboi Carti delivers ad-libs. Rocky’s verse flows nicely into our old friend Quavo’s. His verse is really solid; Uzi’s is not. Maybe some people would appreciate it, but for me, his appeal doesn’t extend any further than 16 bars. It’s Frank’s disjointed, layered bars that bring the track to new heights. Bars like “Sterling silver lasers / Rubies red, my skin too black to blush / This bitch too rare to bust / Seen her in the iPhone pages” feel like they require a whole dissertation to unspool. All in all, the song comes together really well, even though it hits a lull somewhere around the third verse.

14) GOLD – Brockhampton

Brockhampton is a goofy, grimy hip-hop collective from California, sort of like a more versatile Odd Future. They put out a lot of singles this month, and they’re all really good, but when it came down to it, I went with “Gold” for this list. A big part of that has to do with the infectious chorus: “Keep a gold chain on my neck / Fly as a jet / Boy better treat me with respect.” Everyone brings something unique to the table and it’s a really fun time.

13) WANT YOU BACK – Haim

Pop rock band Haim came back in a major way this month with “Want You Back,” a shimmering, regretful track off their forthcoming album Something to Tell You. What I like about this song is that there’s a novelty to it but it still feels distinctly timeless. It seems like the kind of song I’ll be hearing in movies for years to come. They released a slower acoustic track called “Right Now” back at the end of April and I was kind of disappointed, but this is definitely a song I can get behind.

12) YOUTH IN REVOLT – Brady Watt feat. Michael Christmas

If you’re a fan of “B.O.B.” by OutKast (i.e. a human being), check out “Youth in Revolt.” Brady Watt’s a producer and bass player who’s worked with the likes of Talib Kweli, Curren$y, Jean Grae, and Joey Bada$$, and he definitely brings that frenetic, immersive sound to the table. Boston backpack rapper Michael Christmas is more than happy to take on the lyrical challenge, showing out with his typical dextrous flows and referential, earnestly boastful lyrics. It doesn’t have a strong hook, per se, but it’s an impressive track that gets the blood pumping right from the start.

11) SWISH SWISH – Katy Perry feat. Nicki Minaj

Katy Perry’s been drawing a lot of attention lately, for better or for worse. People have definitely remarked at her onstage antics and bizarre musical direction, and many feel she’s stealing aspects of marginalized cultures without properly crediting/regarding their originators (known in the pop community as a “Madonna move”). But here’s the thing: her music is better than it’s ever been before. She hasn’t had as strong a string of singles as “Chained to the Rhythm,” “Bon Appetit,” and “Swish Swish” in over half a decade. Of all the people I expected to be in the minority rooting for, I was not expecting Katy Perry. Anyway, “Swish Swish” is a fantastic song. It’s a savage diss track that refashions club tropes into an anthem of self-empowerment. Nicki’s verse is great. “Swish swish, bish / Another one in the basket” is a great hook.

10) HEEBIEJEEBIES – Aminé feat. Kehlani

What can I say? I’m a sucker for earnestly corny choruses. Like “Swish Swish,” “Heebiejeebies” is goofy to the core, as is typical for Portland rapper Aminé. On the chorus, he and Kehlani croon “I’ve never seen your type of species / Give me heebie-jeebies.” I like this song because the phrase “heebie-jeebies” hits me in a way that’s really similar to how I process Aminé. It’s always fascinated me, just how honest about its own cheesiness is. It’s sort of mesmerizing. Aminé’s no master wordsmith, but the inclusion of Kehlani’s nasal pipes and that “heebie-jeebies” refrain make this song feel more sincere and heartfelt.

9) STRANGERS – Halsey feat. Lauren Jauregui

If you’re looking for a powerful, emotional banger for Pride Month, I highly recommend “Strangers.” The two rising pop stars, both bisexual women, sing from the perspective of two lovers (er, strangers), each unsure about where their relationship stands, each craving something deeper and not knowing if their significant other feels the same way. I’m not a huge Halsey fan, and the song sort of takes on a pretentious tone when you put it into the context of the album’s grand Romeo and Juliet metaphor, but on its own, that wistful ’80s-inspired beat and those hopeless-romantic lyrics really hit you.

8) WHAT THE HELL IS IT THIS TIME? – Sparks

Sparks is an art rock duo started in 1968 that’s been trafficking in weird shit™ pretty consistently ever since. I’m surprised I didn’t get into these guys before; apparently, they’ve been cited as an influence by the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Kurt Cobain, Morrissey, Arcade Fire, Depeche Mode, ABBA, and Paul McCartney. Their latest single is “What the Hell Is It This Time?” It lives up to its title. It’s anthemic, timeless, musically- and lyrically-dense, and just absolutely bonkers. I’m gonna have to listen to more of these guys.

7) COMPUTER BOY – Poppy

Is it disrespectful to put an intentionally-vapid bubblegum pop song right ahead of two guys who’ve been on their grind for half a century? Perhaps. But also, “Computer Boy” might be the best song Poppy’s ever made. It’s unbelievably catchy, viscerally enjoyable while also being just creepy enough to drive the point home. This is a song about falling in love with a laptop and you won’t even care. It has all the makings of a pop classic, which makes that menacing film of technology fetishism and demonic undertones all the more tantalizing. It tells so much of a story while leaving so much to the imagination, and I know I’ve said this already but it’s so goddamn catchy.

6) STOP ME – Andreas Moss

This is possibly the most memorable song I’ve heard this month. It has a really unique, sparse electronic beat, and Swedish singer Andreas Moss blends a lot of different genres to breathe a unique life into the song. I’ve heard it described as nu-R&B, and Moss definitely has a voice for nu metal, but there are also elements of pop, electronica, and soul in there. The lyrics are reference-heavy and blunt, and the part where he randomly starts singing in Swedish is delightfully pretentious. Maybe not catchy, per se, but it will definitely stick in your head.

5) FAKE MAGIC – Peking Duk and AlunaGeorge

One group that I don’t feel has gotten the attention they deserve, both on these lists and in the public eye, is AlunaGeorge. Sure, they’re decently big in the UK, and they had that one song with DJ Snake, but they’re so good. Aluna Francis has a really nice voice, they do great production work, and they’re really good songwriters. On “Fake Magic,” they team up with Australian house duo Peking Duk (they’re big in Australia) for an infectious funk track that sort of snuck up on me. I put it on the list when I first heard it, but it took a few days for it to creep into heavy rotation. It’s not the best song on the surface, but it’s the kind of song you never get tired of. And every once in a while, you need a song like that.

4) PHANTOM OF ALEPPOVILLE – Benjamin Clementine

Hey, what the fuck?

3) CHASE ME – Danger Mouse feat. Run the Jewels and Big Boi

I was already excited for Baby Driver, the next film by one of my favorite directors, Edgar Wright, but “Chase Me” may have pushed me over the edge. The song teams up Danger Mouse, one of the greatest producers alive, with the most acclaimed duo in hip-hop today (Run the Jewels) and a Southern rap icon (Big Boi). The result is quite possibly the coolest song of 2017. The beat is an instant classic, and all three rappers throw down insane verses. What’s not to love?

2) CUT TO THE FEELING – Carly Rae Jepsen

The rightful queen of pop, Carly Rae Jepsen, returns with another pitch-perfect power ballad, one of over 200 outtakes from her 2015 critical darling E•MO•TION. It’s hard to even break into a piece of pop as immaculate as “Cut to the Feeling.” First of all, that titular refrain: “I wanna cut to the feeling.” It’s a sentiment that’s certainly been expressed in pop before, even by Jepsen herself, but the breathless holler with which she delivers it is unforgettable. It’s inspiring, empowering, and downright delightful.

1) QUICK – Tank and the Bangas

I saw Tank and the Bangas’ performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series and instantly fell in love. The New Orleans funk-soul collective is unpredictable, brimming with creativity, and endlessly energetic. They’ve performed “Quick” in a number of settings before, but only released it as an official single this month, and I’m so glad. The frenetic, off-the-wall soap opera of a song is absolutely irresistible. Tank and the Bangas is on the fast track to becoming one of my favorite bands if all their songs are as much boundless, mind-bending fun as this one is.