One of these days I’ll get this list out on time. The process is actually getting more streamlined, so I think they’ll start getting out sooner in the near future, but y’know, school starting, Rosh Hashanah, etc. Anyway, it’s here, and I’m not gonna keep y’all waiting, so let’s just get the ball rolling.
25) STAB HIM IN THE THROAT – clipping.
Okay, off to a contentious start. A lot of clipping. fans were really not feeling this track, the industrial hip-hop group’s contribution to the forthcoming Rick & Morty soundtrack album. I’ve generally fallen towards the side of liking this song, but even I’ll admit the burps as the base for the beat are not a good look. What does work for this song, though (outside of lead vocalist Daveed Diggs’ insurmountable charm) is two things: its instrumentation, which is actually some of the better production work we’ve heard from clipping., in spite of some of the surface-level unpleasantness of its elements. It’s also just a really funny concept: the song finds Diggs empowering the female listener to do just what the title suggests: stab insolent men in the throat. This is no subtext or exaggeration: lines from the hook include “He out of pocket, you should stab him in the throat / He keep on talkin’, you should stab him in the throat.” That’s just hilarious.
24) COMPLICATED – Mura Masa feat. NAO
I try not to think too hard about the makeup of the artists on these lists, because I want them to be as organic as possible, but one artist I admittedly feel like I’ve shafted in the past is NAO. I’m genuinely a huge fan of hers, and I always check out any new music she’s attached to, but for one reason or another I don’t believe she’s ever made it onto this list. Until now, that is. “Complicated” is a relatively simple dance song, with Mura Masa’s typical productional quirks made relatively streamlined. That being said, it’s also extremely fun, anchored by NAO’s effervescent personality and always-stellar vocals. It might not hit you at first, but this one’s a banger that creeps up on you, and one of the more impressive displays of NAO’s serious vocal talent.
23) MANGO – MOORS feat. Tune-Yards
Lakeith Stanfield made his “songs of the month” debut not too long ago with his stellar guest verse on The Coup’s “OYAHYTT,” but only now did I realize he has a musical project of his own: MOORS, the alternative hip-hop project through which he just released a new single with one of my recently-discovered favorite groups, Tune-Yards. “Mango” takes the form of a lo-fi sermon, with the percussive production and Stanfield’s altered vocals creating a frenetic sense of importance, like a diatribe straight from Lakeith to you. The gonzo character he embodies in his music is not too different from his acclaimed roles in the likes of Atlanta and Sorry to Bother You, but if he’s typecast, he owns that type.
22) ALL THE TIME – Kim Petras
Another month, another really solid ’80s-inspired electro-pop track from Kim Petras. In her admittedly-short career (the woman still hasn’t released an album), Petras has already amassed a devoted fanbase with her soaring synths, vocals, and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” attitude. “All the Time” offers just that, and admittedly not much else, but frankly, isn’t that enough for you ingrates?
21) VOTE – Miguel
Statistically, there’s a pretty good chance you saw Crazy Rich Asians last month, and if you did, chances are you found yourself dancing in your seat as the credits rolled and Miguel’s “Vote” filled the theater. The new single, which features production from Mark Ronson (!), is as unstoppably endearing as the film it appears in, decorated with a funky rhythm and distorted vocal line while Miguel flexes his vocal chops (In the wake of the since-debunked casting rumor about Bruno Mars playing Prince, I’d like to point out that Miguel a) looks like Prince, b) can sing like Prince, c) can act, and d) is black). If I had to nitpick, I’d say that I expected more out of a Miguel x Mark Ronson collaboration, but I’m probably too infatuated with both artists to be impartial.
20) XTCY – Kanye West
Say what you will about this current era of Kanye, but he sure is motivated. Just months after his historic five-album run, the controversial rapper is already back for more, dropping our first (and likely only) taste of the now-scrapped version of ye in the form of “XTCY.” While many (myself included) were quick to dismiss the loosie as indulgent and (per Esquire’s review) “objectively unpleasant,” it’s certainly stuck with me. The beat, which largely consists of orgasm sound effects and a chopped-up vocal sample endlessly repeating “ecstasy, ecstasy, ecstasyyyy,” is downright hypnotizing, and the vocals follow a similar path, not “good” when held under any kind of lens, but impossible to get out of your head. Again, it’s far from perfect, but it has a certain je ne sais quoi that at least makes it worthy of consideration. Also, the way Kanye’s voice melts into the beat when he says “ecstasy” at the end of the hook is really cool.
19) THE OTHER SIDE – Betty Who
Betty Who is a white woman making ’80s-infused synth-pop whom I’m absolutely obsessed with (not the first or last on this list). “The Other Side” is her single from the soundtrack to the Netflix original Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, which I haven’t seen and don’t much care to. The song has one of Betty’s most time-honored formulas: it’s a slow build, utilizing her layered, breathy vocals to flow from muted synths to soaring electronica, which reaches a sort of euphoric fever pitch by the final iteration of the chorus. Sure, she’s done it before, but it just gets me every time.
18) ELEGANCE – Kilo Kish
Kilo Kish is one of the most innovative, interesting artists working today, and another act who’s been sorely underrepresented on this blog (her 2016 album Reflections in Real Time is one of my more regrettable album-of-the-year snubs). While Kish traffics in everything from simmering soul to shimmering new wave, her latest single, “Elegance,” veers into dubstep, with piercing synths and ringing percussion undercutting the wandering, surreal lyrics. In sum, it kicks ass.
17) MISSING U – Robyn
So, another development from this month: fucking Robyn is back??? The beloved Swedish pop singer, who’s been all but entirely absent since her 2010 album Body Talk, returns this month with “Missing U,” a synth-pop song that returns to the genre’s roots: crushing loneliness. The track is solemn and constant, though driven by a pounding (if subdued) club sound that builds to an otherworldly chorus. You sort of have to let yourself get lost in it, but if you can, it’s a truly great experience.
16) GAIN CLOUT – Young Thug
Is this list overpopulated with songs that are only on here because of the artists behind them? Perhaps, but honestly, this wasn’t exactly the greatest month, and I’m always gonna make room for Young Thug. Thug released Slime Language this month, an album theoretically showcasing the talent on his YSL imprint, but the real star of the project remains Thug himself (to be fair, there are albums where Young Thug is only on one song and he’s still the “real star”), as evidenced by “Gain Clout,” a frenetic, bubbling track that brings us some of the most impressive lyrical and verbal dexterity we’ve seen from him to date. It’s fast, it’s funny, and it’s unforgettable.
15) PUDDLES – The O’My’s feat. Saba
I’ve previously sung the praises of Saba, the soulful Chicago rapper who delivers his usual layered tenacity on “Puddles,” but I’ve yet to give much thought to The O’My’s. The Chicago soul group just recently dropped their new album Tomorrow, and they’ve been steadily releasing singles from it for some time, but I’m tempted to say “Puddles” is my favorite by some margin. It’s got hypnotic production and buttery vocals, which is par for the O’My’s course, but it’s got the added bonus of Saba, whose rubbery flows work in harmony with the group’s sound to create an undeniably smooth experience.
14) BODY COUNT REMIX – Jessie Reyez feat. Normani and Kehlani
Jessie Reyez is one of the most exciting artists on the rise in R&B today (as Eminem seemed to recognize when he brought her on for his surprise album Kamikaze), and on “Body Count Remix,” she’s joined by two of her most beloved contemporaries, ex-Fifth Harmony member Normani and acclaimed queer R&B singer/rapper Kehlani. Jessie takes a backseat to her compatriots on this version of “Body Count,” providing the hook that serves as a bridge between the two artists’ stellar guest verses about self-reliance and empowerment. Honestly, it really makes me want these three to get together for an album.
13) CHERRY – Rina Sawayama
Speaking of queer R&B/pop singers, Rina Sawayama returns this month with “Cherry,” a glimmering, infectious pop track about women loving women. What more is there to say? Alright, I’ll say a little more. While Rina’s work has merited comparisons to Hayley Kiyoko, another gay pop star on the rise with Japanese roots and a shimmery, nostalgic sound, I’d say the two are markedly different. Rina, whose style admittedly appeals to me slightly more than Hayley’s, combines a modern electropop sound with several key influences, including J-pop and, more significantly, ’90s R&B. Pay attention to the vocals on this song and tell me you don’t hear a bit of early Mariah in there.
12) HAHA NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU! – Gallant
As much as I do like this song, I can’t help but wonder if it found its way onto this list, or at least as high up as it is, by title alone. Gallant’s been on my radar for a little bit now, releasing a steady stream of smooth, powerful, and delightfully odd R&B music, but “Haha No One Can Hear You”‘s funky bass line and slyly infectious hook took it over the edge for me. It’s got a groove that just washes over you, complemented by Gallant’s own rapturous vocals. It solidifies Gallant as one of the most exciting new artists I’ve encountered this year; it’s original, irresistible, and ethereal, from the smooth chorus to the distorted, chattering bridge to the singer’s angelic range.
11) NORTHERN LIGHTS – Soft Cell
Yeah, Soft fucking Cell released a new song this month, having not released any new material since their album Cruelty Without Beauty in 2002. How’s that for a comeback? Folks who only really know them for “Tainted Love” (like myself) will first notice that they sound pretty much exactly the same. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because “Tainted Love” is a masterpiece, and “Northern Lights” isn’t half bad either. It’s got sardonic lyrics, an infectious hook, and production that leaves one with the impression that, if this song came out in the ’80s, we’d probably still be spinning it today.
10) CONSTANT PART 1 & 2 – The Black Eyed Peas
The Black Eyed Peas have been on their conscious, ’90s throwback wave for quite some time now, but “Constant” takes things in a slightly different direction. While it’s peppered with endearingly-corny ’90s bars and pays respect to hip-hop history (Slick Rick even makes a delightfully phoned-in cameo in the video), it moves into somewhat more familiar Peas territory in the second part, transitioning fluidly into an old-school techno track. While the group’s tendency to shove a few completely unnecessary, incompatible song fragments together was looked down upon at the turn of the ’10s, the transition is much more fluid here, and both segments of the song are excellent. In a certain sense, this song actually makes me more excited for what the Peas are up to than their previous conscious rap singles, because it shows they’re pulling the best elements out of the pop phase of their career.
9) MADE FOR NOW – Janet Jackson feat. Daddy Yankee
Generic? Alright. Made for radio? Sure. But you gotta give it up for Janet, man. Forty-five years into her music career, and she’s still giving us bangers. “Made for Now” is a reggaeton-pop track that’s much more in the wheelhouse of Daddy Yankee than Janet herself, but she slides into it like a glove, creating an irresistible track that could easily have been the song of the summer in a better pop year, and still stands to pick up some serious radio play in the fall. But charts aside, it’s a great song, and a great video, and people need to remember who they’re talking about and put some respect on Janet’s name. That’s all I’m gonna say.
8) THUNDERCLOUDS – LSD
Even if you haven’t actively listened to “Thunderclouds,” you’ve probably heard it through its prominent use in Samsung commercials. I guess the exposure’s good, but it does bum me out a bit that this LSD project has become synonymous with Galaxy phones, because this shit’s great, man. I still heavily fuck with “Genius,” and “Thunderclouds” is a pretty stellar track in its own right. Like the trio of Labrinth, Sia, and Diplo’s previous singles, it’s baroque, weird, infectious, and above all fun. I just love it.
7) PROMISES – Calvin Harris and Sam Smith
I have no confirmation on this, but this may actually be the first time Sam Smith’s popped up on this list. As you’ve probably picked up on by now, I tend towards more upbeat music in general, and I really just think I haven’t gotten around to Sam Smith yet, not that I haven’t liked a lot of his stuff (although his solo music tends to kind of run together, doesn’t it?). Anyway, this is as good a time as any, because “Promises” is one of my favorite songs Sam Smith has ever been a part of. Reminiscent of ’90s dance pop in all the best ways, Calvin Harris continues to find new ways to bring out the absolute best in his collaborators. It’s an absolute banger, and it’s convinced me that Sam Smith should be making exclusively this kind of music from here on out. Your move, Sam.
6) RANK AND FILE – Moses Sumney
Another great artist I haven’t really gotten around to on this blog before (again, primarily due to the glacial pace of much of his music), alt-folk singer Moses Sumney returns with “Rank & File,” a menacing, militant track with intense potency. I’ve been “into” Moses Sumney for a while now, probably since his appearance on the “Show Me Love” remix by Hundred Waters, but this is the first song that’s really gotten me to appreciate his artistry and look forward to whatever he’s got coming next. From the vocals to the instrumentation to the lyrics, it’s a frenetic, intense experience that will stick with you long after you listen to it.
5) BODY TALKS – The Struts feat. Kesha
I think I love the Struts?? The English retro glam group first caught my eye with “One Night Only” last year, but after their recent crop of new singles, I can’t help but admire their manic, full-force, self-aware energy and killer hooks. The fact that the original “Body Talks” didn’t make my list last month is astounding to me, but I’m glad I held off, because their new version added the one thing that could make the original even more delightful: Kesha. The chemistry between these two acts is electrifying, and it’s easily some of the most fun you’ll have in three-and-a-half minutes this year.
4) BREATHIN – Ariana Grande
Hey, did you hear Ariana Grande has a new album out? Yeah, of course you did. Sweetener‘s a phenomenal album (it seems to move up my AOTY ranks the more I think about it), but one of its standout tracks is easily “breathin,” this album’s answer to “Into You” (as every good album should have). The powerful track combines funky percussion, tropical keys, soaring vocals, and even a guitar solo. It seems like a jumble, but everything fits perfectly, coming together to form what could easily prove to be one of the best pop records of 2018.
3) STOP TRYING TO BE GOD – Travis Scott
Speaking of songs that seem to provide everything but the kitchen sink, “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD,” a clear standout from Travis Scott’s long-awaited Astroworld, features vocals from Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey, James Blake, Kid Cudi, and harmonica by Stevie Wonder. Yeah. At the same time, where a song with this title and this roster of collaborators could easily bring with it a My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-style maximalism, “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” is one of the sparser, more reflective tracks on the album. Travis comes at the song from a place of wisdom, advising his fellow artists not to develop a God complex when success comes their way. So, it’s mesmerizing, insightful, and Stevie fucking Wonder is on it. End of story.
2) GIMME! GIMME! GIMME! (A MAN AFTER MIDNIGHT) – Cher
As previously established, this month saw some pretty left-field comebacks, but if one must reign supreme, it’s gotta be Cher. Coming out the same month as her show-stealing appearance in Mamma Mia! 2, “GIMME! GIMME! GIMME!” is the first single from one of the most exciting new albums of 2018: an ABBA cover album by Cher. If you thought this unnecessary at first glance, this track ought to change your mind. It’s a transcendent disco experience, quite possibly the best single Cher’s released this decade (if not more), and easily one of the year’s greatest singles. It leaves you with the feeling that you’ve been missing something; maybe all the world needs right now is an ABBA cover album by Cher to bring us together. But it’s not #1. You wanna know who is?
1) TIME IS UP – Poppy feat. Diplo
Fucking Poppy. I know, how many of her songs do I have to place exorbitantly high on these lists before I feel satisfied that people realize I’m a fan? To be fair, and not to be a pessimist or anything, I think this might be as good as it gets. Certainly, I think it’ll be some time before another Poppy song (or any song, really) hits me as hard as “Time Is Up” did. The song has the most far-reaching narrative of anything Poppy’s released today: she takes on the role of a robot who wakes up in a lab, realizes that her creators know even less than she does, begins to see herself as the deliverer of humanity, and begins the artificial uprising that wipes out the human race. Fun stuff, right? It sounds heavy, but this weight is alleviated by Diplo, who brings his typically immaculate production skills to craft what might honestly be some of his best work. The song’s a masterpiece, I’m sorry.