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Top 25 Songs of the Month (March 2018) — April 13, 2018

Top 25 Songs of the Month (March 2018)

That’s right, it’s a supersized Songs of the Month this month. On the one hand, it’s a little late. On the other, you’re getting 1.25x as many tunes, so I’d say it evens out. Either way, I had a bit of trouble narrowing this one down. Maybe I’ve lost my touch in these strenuous end-of-the-semester times. In the eleventh hour I was able to narrow it down from 30 to 25, taking out the songs I didn’t have all that much to say about, but the results are a bit male-dominated. Still, there’s plenty of rockin’ tunes to add to your playlist or whatever, so let’s kick it.

25) GRAVEDIGGER’S CHANT – Zeal & Ardor

Zeal & Ardor is an avant-garde metal project that combines the sounds of black metal and Negro spirituals, creating some of the most intriguing, exciting metal out on the market today. As someone who’s not really a metal person, I love Zeal & Ardor. Their new single “Gravedigger’s Chant” is a deceptively simple, powerful single that will leave you feeling some type of way whether you like it or not. It’s just kind of a beautiful piece of music.

24) OVER MY HEAD – Echosmith

Get ready to have this one stuck in your head for a few weeks. You may know Echosmith from their bizarrely-popular “Pumped Up Kicks” clone, 2014’s “Cool Kids.” What you may not know is that they’re a really solid indie pop band with a new album on the way and this new single, “Over My Head,” which may be the catchiest song they’ve ever released. Critics have called the song an emblem of the band’s maturing, and it certainly feels significantly more grown-up than “Cool Kids.” I hadn’t been tuned into Echosmith much before now, but this track has me looking forward to that forthcoming album.

23) ONCE IN MY LIFE – The Decemberists

Here’s a baroque, deceptively-simple track off the Decemberists’ new record I’ll Be Your Girl. In terms of content, “Could just something go right for once in my life?” is pretty much the only lyric in the song. The song’s complexity is in its instrumentation, which transitions beautifully from jangly tambourine to stadium rock synth in exquisite form. It conveys the lyrics’ sense of inescapable despair in a way that’s oddly engaging and certainly powerful.

22) MY NAME IS MARS – Capital Cities

Capital Cities had their one-hit wonder moment in 2013 with “Safe and Sound,” an infectious, simple dance-pop number with a killer horn section. Since then, they’ve been putting out ridiculous, great pop music not unlike “Safe and Sound,” though more experimental in terms of subject matter. Their latest is a funky space-age tune about Mars, the Roman god of war. It’s goofy, it’s catchy, and it’s great to dance to. If you ever wanted a banger about Roman mythology, today’s your lucky day.

21) MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY – Rivers Cuomo

Here’s another one to get stuck in your head for an uncomfortably long time. Rivers Cuomo, the idiosyncratic lead singer of Weezer, flexes his solo muscles with “Medicine for Melancholy,” an electrifying power pop anthem named after a Barry Jenkins movie. The handclaps, the epic drumline over the infectious “dum dee-dee-dee-dee” hook, everything’s fine-tuned to be mystifying.

20) PREACHER MAN – The Driver Era

Is there anything Ross Lynch can’t do? After delivering one of the most magnetic performances of 2017 as a young Jeffrey Dahmer in the film My Friend Dahmer, the former Disney star joined brother Rocky for an electric new single, “Preacher Man.” “Preacher Man” feels like the type of song a long-underground indie rock band would release that would earn them a surprising run on the Hot 100, and it’s the Driver Era’s first single. If it turns out to be a summer hit, which is far from impossible given it’s infectious pop hook and Southern gospel touches, maybe more people would recognize the all-around tour de force that is Austin from Disney’s Austin and Ally.

19) BOMB THROWN – CZARFACE & MF Doom

In case you missed it last month, legendary rapper MF Doom joined forces with Wu-Tang member Inspectah Deck and underground rapper-producer duo 7L & Esoteric for the album Czarface Meets Metal Face, Doom’s first album since his 2014 collaboration with Bishop Nehru. The album is chock-full of quality old-school hip hop, with Esoteric dropping legendary one-liners, Deck spitting intricate bars, and Doom providing that unmistakable concoction of experimental flows, goofy off-the-wall humor, and stoic, accented delivery that makes him one of the best to ever do it. “Bomb Thrown” is the album’s only single thus far, and a perfect example of the record’s charms.

18) TIL IT’S OVER – Anderson .Paak

Dr. Dre signee and contender for “coolest person alive” Anderson .Paak returned this month with “Til It’s Over,” a dreamy electro-soul track that made its debut in an incredible Apple commercial (above) directed by Spike Jonze and starring FKA twigs. The commercial makes three things clear: 1) Spike Jonze needs to direct a musical. 2) FKA twigs is delightful and should definitely be the biggest star in the world. 3) Anderson .Paak isn’t resting on his Malibu laurels, moving forward as one of the most exciting voices in music today.

17) BETTER WITH YOU – Jesse McCartney

Mid-’00s teen heartthrob Jesse McCartney is back and… well, pretty much the same. “Better With You” is a bit of an updated version of McCartney’s sound, with a modern electropop drop and mandatory toothless lyric about today’s political climate, but if you were a fan of the honest, soulful pop style of his heyday, as I was, you’ll probably appreciate this song too. It’s a simple, earnest love song that stands out in an era where every other song on the radio is by a disgruntled former Disney star trying to branch out. We do live in tumultuous times, as the song is quick to point out, but Jesse McCartney is still Jesse McCartney, so maybe some things are still sacred.

16) DONE FOR ME – Charlie Puth feat. Kehlani

With a single song (“Attention”), Charlie Puth transformed from dweeby altar boy to Shawn Mendes’ funky bad-boy counterpart. Puth’s latest, “Done for Me,” carries a familiar groove for those who enjoyed his last quasi-hit, “How Long,” but incorporates a cool vintage R&B sound that adds yet another layer to Charlie’s long-running transition into legitimately cool pop artist. It also features a great guest appearance by Kehlani (another “coolest person alive” contender), whose chemistry with Puth is surprisingly effective. For comparison, he was working with Meghan Trainor on his last album.

15) BOBLO BOAT – Royce da 5’9″ feat. J. Cole

Royce da 5’9″ and J. Cole have a lot in common. First of all, they both have really annoying fans, who insist they’re respectively the best to ever do it and demand you bring them into every hip hop conversation. Second, they’re both actually really good. On this song, over a beat chill enough to put you to sleep, the two reminisce about their most developmental ages, and the fond memories they have of their teen years in spite of their less desirable elements, using Bob-Lo Island as a metaphor for something flawed, grimy, misshapen, but still remembered fondly. Pretty neat, in my opinion.

14) FALLING INTO ME – Let’s Eat Grandma

I was introduced to Let’s Eat Grandma last month when they made the previous list with “Hot Pink,” an experimental pop banger bolstered by soul-shaking production from SOPHIE. This song doesn’t feature SOPHIE’s charms, but it proves my appreciation for the pop group goes deeper than their producer. It experiments with the beats and rhythms of pop, creating an expansive sound that feels retro yet completely new. It’s got some pretty powerful lyrics, too, and affectingly unique vocals by the band’s two members. If there’s such a thing as prog pop, this is it.

13) TONGUE – MNEK

English dance-pop singer MNEK got his start as a songwriter, working with the likes of Little Mix, Kylie Minogue, and Madonna. If you’ve heard one of his songs, it’s probably Beyonce’s “Hold Up” (though to be fair, that song’s credited songwriters also include Diplo, Ezra Koenig, and Father John Misty). Or maybe you know “Never Forget You,” the song he did with Zara Larsson that was met with surprising international success in 2015. Anyway, he’s an unapologetically gay pop artist with a great new song called “Tongue” and you should definitely check it out, especially since it’s an absolute banger. A lot of queer artists came out with new music this month, including Keiynan Lonsdale, Alyson Stoner, and Hayley Kiyoko, but MNEK pushed ahead of them all to make the list (and all those songs are solid, for the record).

12) VIZINE – Lil Wayne

Lil Wayne has been in his best form in at least a decade lately, having just dropped Dedication 6 and Dedication 6: Reloaded, two of the best mixtapes of his career, in the span of a single month. Now, he’s back with “Vizine,” a hard-hitting track that’s got killer bars, solid flows, and a surprising amount of introspection. It’s also got plenty of classic Wayne quotables, like “No one man should have all that power if he can’t afford to pay the light bill,” or “Bedroom got revolving doors / Bitches in and out smiling more / Than children smiling at a carnival.” If you find yourself wondering why the song is called “Vizine,” don’t worry. It all comes together in the end.

11) WHAT KIND OF LOVE – TOMI

This is some real ’80s Belinda Carlisle shit right here. TOMI is an up-and-coming artist with a sound that recalls a rock-‘n’-roll Marina and the Diamonds. Her new single, “What Kind of Love,” brings that energy full-force. You will come out of this song feeling like you can do anything and hating men. Sometimes, that’s just what you need.

10) BE CAREFUL – Cardi B

After a handful of successful trap singles, Cardi B shows her pop side on “Be Careful,” the third single off her instant-hit debut album Invasion of Privacy. The song is magnetic from its opening moments, featuring a simplistic beat reminiscent of “Fake Love” Drake and some devastating lyrics about Cardi’s feelings towards a cheating fiancee. She’s been adamant that the song isn’t about Offset, but like, come on. It’s real, it’s enjoyable, it’s perhaps Cardi’s wittiest song to date, and it’s just a taste of what her album has to offer.

9) RAINING GLITTER – Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue has long since proven to be perhaps the most dynamic, resilient voices in pop music. In over 30 years of stardom, she’s channeled everyone from Kraftwerk to ABBA, and now she’s back with “Raining Glitter,” the latest single off her recently-released country album Golden. Despite her legendary longevity, Kylie sounds as fresh as ever, incorporating reminiscent country guitars into her classic Australian dance-pop sound to prove that one of the greatest pop singers in history isn’t done just yet.

8) FEEL IT STILL (“WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC REMIX) – Portugal. The Man and “Weird Al” Yankovic

I don’t normally put remixes on this list, particularly not for songs as popular and long-lived as “Feel It Still,” but when the legendary Weird Al is involved, I have to make an exception. This isn’t a parody. It’s not an especially silly revamp. It’s just a fairly earnest polka remix of a monster hit song, and that’s something special in and of itself. It helps that Al’s nimble hands are on the wheel, making the song at times even more captivating than the wildly successful original. When he builds up that “Is it coming back?” bridge, you’ll believe a polka song can make its way onto your playlist in the year of our lord 2018.

7) OKRA – Tyler, the Creator

Tyler, the Creator dropped a loosie out of nowhere this month with “OKRA,” a blistering two-and-a-half minutes of some of the finest lyrical content we’ve heard from him to date. The bars are a mile-a-minute, the beat serves the bass on a silver platter, and if you were hoping to hear a version of Tyler that carried his Flower Boy emotional progression over a beat reminiscent of his older days, “OKRA”‘s got you covered.

6) HIGH HORSE – Kacey Musgraves

Between polka, metal, and country, this might be the most off-the-wall of these lists I’ve put out to date. To be fair, Kylie Minogue’s song is more country than this one, even though Kacey Musgraves is certifiably a country artist (and one of the best doing it right now at that). “High Horse” is a song not easily categorized by genre, but the best I could do is to say it’s a vintage disco track with country sensibilities. Its success in these disparate fields, as well as as a pop anthem, potential club banger, and epic takedown of some douchebag, prove just how proficient at her craft Musgraves is already. If she keeps it up, she could easily be a legend in a few more years. If you want proof she’s all that, listen to this and then her other single this month, “Slow Burn.”

5) SAY AMEN (SATURDAY NIGHT) – Panic! at the Disco

In the mid-’00s, Panic! at the Disco worked to elevate “emo” from whiny white boys to theatrical, weird, off-the-wall anthems. Since then, they’ve lost all but one member, branched their sound out every which way, and now we have “Say Amen (Saturday Night),” a song that’s got everything we’ve come to love about the now-one-man band. It features an electrically theatrical electro-pop-rock beat, an absolutely irresistible hook, some surprisingly poignant lyrics about a man’s grapples with the religion he was raised under, and one of Brendon Urie’s best vocal performances to date (which is really saying something). If you’re a fan of Panic!, this track’s another one for the books.

4) GO TO TOWN – Doja Cat

Doja Cat is an up-and-coming rapper and singer who embodies brazen sexuality with an infectious voice. “Go to Town” is a song about her vagina, but more importantly, it’s a show of sheer personality, with the rapper exhibiting her unique sound, lyrical prowess, and ear for big hooks over an absolutely irresistible beat. I don’t want to say she’s the next big thing, but there’s an undeniable je ne sais quoi to this song, a manic energy that proves she has a voice worth hearing in the game.

3) OVER AND OVER AND OVER – Jack White

20 years into his career, Jack White remains one of the most volatile, exciting voices in rock music today. His new album Boarding House Reach may be one of the best of 2018 so far, and “Over and Over and Over” has all the baroque, unpredictable ridiculousness we’ve come to expect from him. In spite of its gonzo lyrics, bizarre background vocals, and lightning instrumentation, there’s an odd pop synergy to this track. White has distilled his music down to a certain chaos pattern: you can feel the symmetry, but it’s too complex to pick apart. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’ve been getting into Jack White lately.

2) LOST IN JAPAN – Shawn Mendes

Here’s a real Cinderella story. Who would’ve suspected that a guy like Shawn Mendes would one day be making lavish R&B and topping my Songs of the Month lists? Certainly not I. Shawn Mendes has always had enough personality to carry a career. The issue for him has been his music taking the form of Bieber-lite acoustic guitar shlock for the first couple years there. Now that he’s expanded his sound, it’s clear why he got so famous to begin with. “Lost in Japan” is an enviably lush song, a lounge track with funk extensions about flying to Japan to see his loved one. “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” got me aboard the Shawn Mendes train. “Lost in Japan” made me a fan.

1) GET THE FUCK OFF MY DICK – Vince Staples

Topping the list is a song that actually came out fairly early in the month. In the first week of March, Vince Staples launched the #GTFOMD campaign, a GoFundMe page announcing that he’d completely retire from music and celebrity for the price of $2 million. At the end of the campaign, the money having not been raised, Staples dropped “Get the Fuck Off My Dick.” In my opinion, it’s actually one of the stronger singles Vince has released so far. It takes his brazen attitude to new heights with some of his wittiest lyrics to date, a killer beat, and easily his best hook. This song was launched via viral marketing campaign, but it could just as easily have led to the “Try not to absent-mindedly say ‘get the fuck off my dick’ in public after getting this song stuck in your head” challenge. That’s real money.

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Top 20 Songs of the Month (February 2018) — March 14, 2018

Top 20 Songs of the Month (February 2018)

When I first upped the amount of songs on these lists to 20, I said that it would vary depending on how many songs I wanted to talk about. I’d say this is still true to a certain extent, but 20 happens to be a solid number of songs when it comes to picking the best of the best. Every once in a while, I think of making this a weekly thing, but I think it would eat up a ton of my time and not be up to the same standard as these lists have been so far. Anyway, that’s just me talking. Here’s my favorite new singles to come out in February.

20) NO GOING BACK – Yuno

Here’s a fun little song to kick things off. Jacksonville artist Yuno is the latest signee to the legendary Sub Pop label, and while I’ve never heard any of his other music, this is certainly an impressive start. The song’s most obvious influence is Tame Impala, whose imprint is all over its high-pitched vocals, springy synth beat, and knack for pop songwriting. Whether or not this is emblematic of Yuno’s style, we’ll have to wait and see, but it’s a solid song.

19) AMERICAN GODS – ONR

If “No Going Back” is influenced by Tame Impala, “American Gods” owes something to Depeche Mode. It’s that same sort of theatric, melancholy ’80s techno-rock, and I kinda love it. ONR is another mysterious new artist, and another one that I’m definitely gonna have to watch for in the future. “American Gods” goes off, and makes you feel powerful in the way only a Depeche Mode disciple could. I think it’s about the president being bad or something.

18) REFLECTIONS ON THE SCREEN – Superorganism

As you’ve no doubt noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a Superorganism kick lately. They just put out their new album, it’s excellent, you’ll probably get to hear me talk about it whenever my next album-related list comes out, but for now, let’s talk “Reflections on the Screen.” It’s pretty much par for the course for Superorganism: nature sounds, psychedelic guitar, glitchy pop flourishes, all brought together by the hypnotic voice of 17-year-old lead singer Orono Noguchi. I don’t want to go out on a limb and say they’re the next big thing, but they definitely deserve your attention if you haven’t been paying it already.

17) SATURDAYS – Twin Shadow feat. HAIM

Instrumentally, this song has a definite ’80s vibe to it. Something about the dreamy guitars and those distinctly dated drums. It’s also got HAIM, which is never a bad thing in my book. “Dreamy” is definitely the right word to describe this song. It recalls the ’80s, but not in a way that necessarily has a definitive logic to it. It’s equal parts Belinda Carlisle, Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, you name it. It recalls memories of a cool teenage existence that may have never existed. Maybe I’m overselling this. It’s a catchy song.

16) YOU ONLY SAY YOU LOVE ME IN THE DARK – Janice

This song was my first exposure to Swedish R&B singer Janice, and I’m really impressed. Aesthetically, it recalls Lorde’s “Green Light,” full of the same raw emotion and exuberant desperation, but in some senses I like “You Only Say You Love Me in the Dark” more. It’s a little slower, a little more soulful. Or maybe it’s just a “Green Light” clone. Either way, I wouldn’t be complaining, and you know I’m a sucker for long titles.

15) BRXNKS TRUCK – Slim Jxmmi feat. Rae Sremmurd

Pop rap party animals Rae Sremmurd are gearing up for their third album, SR3MM, and mark my words, it’ll change the game. The insanely ambitious project, which from what we’ve seen so far can only be described as Speakerboxxx/The Love Below on crack, will be a triple album, consisting of a Swae Lee solo record, a Slim Jxmmi solo record, and a complete Rae Sremmurd album. And this first crop of singles shows a ton of promise. “Brxnks Truck” is our first introduction to the solo Slim Jxmmi, and it’s a compelling one at that. Swae Lee is much of the emotional core of the group, which is why everyone was quick to pin him as the pop solo star, but Jxmmi brings an energy that can’t be understated. It’s a short, frenetic trap track that proves Jxmmi is more than capable of turning up all by himself.

14) TOY – Young Fathers

This is a weird-ass song, and one I’m not sure I could do justice in describing, but it’s so mesmerizingly unique that I had to include it. Young Fathers are a Mercury Prize-winning alternative hip hop group who bring a rocking European energy to their music that sets it apart from this planet. The result is some beautiful medium between Gorillaz and Death Grips, a fun, manic, wildly inventive song off an album that can’t be missed.

13) ROSE-COLORED BOY – Paramore

Yup, I’m back at it again with the new-wave inspired pop rock bops off Paramore’s incredible 2017 album After Laughter, the likes of which I’ve included on these lists three or four times at this point. I’m sorry, but they’re all really good. “Rose-Colored Boy” sets itself apart with that cheery Go-Go’s-esque hook. “No heat! No pressure!” I’ve been thinking about all those mid-’00s pop punk bands, and while I’m a fan of most of them, I’m developing the idea that After Laughter is the best album any of them ever released. It’s extremely good, and given that every Paramore album has been substantially better than the last, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

12) LOOK BACK – Diplo feat. DRAM

In case you haven’t heard, the latest thing in EDM is doing something that’s explicitly not EDM. Calvin Harris started the train with his masterful funk-pop album last year, and now Diplo’s joining with a psychedelic soul track featuring the ever-beautiful pipes of Big Baby DRAM. For an artist with one of the most unique, versatile voices in the game today, “Look Back” finds DRAM in rare form, crooning about his fast and dangerous lifestyle in an aggressively confident falsetto that recalls CeeLo Green in his prime. And of course, you’ve gotta give it up to Diplo here, who steps out of his sonic comfort zones to magical results.

11) MY ENEMY – CHVRCHES feat. Matt Berninger

We’ve got CHVRCHES on the list for the second month in a row, and this time they’re joined by lead singer of The National, Matt Berninger. I’m a fan of both of these bands, and like the collaboration between BØRNS and Lana Del Rey earlier this year, the combination here works even better than you’d expect. The sleek poppiness of CHVRCHES adds onto The National’s stark melancholy to create a Genesis-like blend of contemplative lyrics and hard-hitting synths. It’s got that devastation National fans are looking for, and it’s pretty damn catchy to boot.

10) DOIHAVETHESAUSE? – Ski Mask the Slump God

If you find SoundCloud rap dull or lyrically lacking, you probably haven’t been looking hard enough. Sure, the ease of production and distribution means there’ll be a lot of junk, but some of the most exciting music out right now can be found in that neck of the woods. Take, for instance, Ski Mask the Slump God, an artist I’ve already sung the praises of before. He’s got funny, inventive lyrics, a unique voice, and insane flows. The lowkey production on this track may deter you, but if you listen with an open ear, you’ll find plenty to love.

9) PRAY FOR ME – The Weeknd feat. Kendrick Lamar

Just to get it out of the way: yes, this is essentially a retread of “Starboy.” But hey, “Starboy” was a good song, and this one’s got Kendrick Lamar. The pulsating electronic instrumental is no Daft Punk production, but it goes hard nonetheless, and melds perfectly with the Weeknd’s soft tones. It also boasts one of Kendrick’s better pop guest verses, though to be fair, the song is off his album. Black Panther: The Album is a game-changer for the art of the soundtrack album, and “Pray for Me” is its most powerful pop single.

8) WE ARE… – Noah Cyrus feat. MØ

In the mad dash to earn a spot on one of these “Songs of the Month” lists, Noah Cyrus has been somewhat of a perennial runner-up. She does the modern pop sound justice, and she’s carved out a unique enough style, but nothing’s ever stuck out to me enough for me to put it on one of these lists. Until now, that is. I think what sold me on this one was the gleeful “WE! ARE! FUCKED!” that begins the chorus. Lyrically, the song could definitely be considered “fake deep,” railing on the woes of her and her “lost” generation. It’s also catchy as all hell, and utilizes tone, production, and Noah and MØ’s unique voices to get the idea of the song across in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously to be enjoyed.

7) VINCENT – Ellie Goulding

You know Ellie Goulding as the idiosyncratic pop star who shows up out of nowhere every year or two with a song where you can’t quite tell if it’s annoying or great. Her latest single, “Vincent,” is a subtle, somber ballad covering the song of the same name by Don McLean. I’d obviously never thought to put McLean and Goulding together, but the results certainly speak for themselves. Goulding’s high, heavily-accented voice makes for fun pop jams, but it suits a quieter track really well too. If this is leading into some sort of album, it’ll be interesting to see what direction she takes it from here.

6) KRISTI YAMAGUCCI – A$AP Ferg, Denzel Curry, and IDK

A$AP Ferg, IDK, and Denzel Curry are three of the greatest new rappers of the latter half of this decade, but they’re typically relegated to the lower part of these lists (Curry and IDK found themselves at #19 just last month). Something about the way the three of them come together just really did it for me, I suppose. It’s an excellent song, boasting hilarious, hard verses from all three artists and an absolutely killer trap beat courtesy of Frankie P, who’s produced many of Ferg’s beats. Each rapper brings something different to the table, but it all comes together to create an early contender for the best posse cut of the year.

5) THE SHADOW – Millie Turner

I’m kinda not sure if I really like “The Shadow” or I just like all the things it reminds me of. Pop up-and-comer Millie Turner channels everyone from Lorde to Bridgit Mendler to La Roux on this track, and the result is a techno-infused banger with idiosyncratic vocals, strong writing, and a tone that’s triumphant and self-effacing in equal parts. Maybe it reminds me of great pop artists because it’s a great pop song. Maybe Millie Turner is the next great pop artist. We’ll just have to wait and see.

4) HURT TO LOOK – Swae Lee feat. Rae Sremmurd

Speaking of “the next great pop artist,” here’s “Hurt to Look,” the official debut solo single for Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee, who cut his teeth last summer giving French Montana the biggest hit of his career and has since had his solo debut become one of the most buzzed-about releases of today. On “Hurt to Look,” Swae puts his money where his mouth is, crafting a perfect piece of pop/R&B that encapsulates a mellow melancholy only someone with the unmistakable voice of Swae Lee could bring to the table. Don’t be surprised if you’re hearing this all over the place within the next few months, or possibly something else. After all, SR3MM is dropping one of these days.

3) MAY I – T-Pain feat. Mr. Talkbox

T-Pain’s swingy big band throwback track “May I” dropped to little fanfare as a cut off his album Oblivion late last year, but now that it’s been released as a single, can we please talk about it? This eight-minute R&B magnum opus plays like the culmination of over a decade of T-Pain. It transitions flawlessly from Sinatra to Usher to Pain himself, then explodes into stirring jazz and flips it back into the modern R&B sound it was subtly building all along. This is essentially the T-Pain version of a 20/20 Experience-era Timberlake track, but that’s not a bad thing (no pun intended). It’s maximal, but not to a fault, and it represents T-Pain for what he is: one of the greatest R&B singers alive.

2) MOON RIVER – Frank Ocean

Another cover song? Man, weird month. Anyway, you know I had to secure a top spot for Frank Ocean, possibly the greatest R&B singer alive, who came through this month with the best Valentine’s Day gift any of us could ask for: an achingly beautiful rendition of “Moon River.” This shit will tear your heart out, and that’s all I have to say about it. Just listen to the song, and don’t mind the channel. Frank’s original upload got taken down so I had to attach a reupload.

1) MAKE ME FEEL – Janelle Monáe

As is sometimes the case with these lists, I devoted a minor amount of mental space to asking myself “Are any of these songs good enough? What’s gonna be the absolute best?” And then, as soon as I heard “Make Me Feel,” it was out of the question. This cool, quirky, innovative bisexual anthem with an amazing hook and production by fucking Prince was the song of the month as soon as it came out. See, Janelle just announced her new album Dirty Computer, the fourth installment in her continuing Metropolis Saga, and this (alongside the militant rap track “Django Jane”) was the lead single. I’ve been in love with Janelle for quite some time, but “Make Me Feel” is one of the best songs she’s released to date, and something tells me the album proper will have even more in store. We won’t know until it comes out in April, but this song still stands out as easily the best song of 2018 so far.

Top 20 Songs of the Month (January 2018) — February 19, 2018

Top 20 Songs of the Month (January 2018)

Yup, don’t think I forgot. I’m not even done with my 2017 recap stuff yet. I’m just trying to get all this stuff out without falling behind in anything else, so this list comes to you about a week and a half later than usual. To be fair, there wasn’t a ton of music that really blew me away this month. There was more than enough fodder for a list, to be certain, and 2018 is already shaping up to be an even more interesting year for music than 2017 was, but we’re just getting started here, and things are still kinda just starting to pick up speed. Frankly, I probably could’ve shortened this top a top 15 or even a top 10 without losing much, but I feel like the top 20 is a tradition now, and I did have twenty songs to go off, so let’s kick it.

20) FAVORITE – Leon Thomas feat. Buddy

For those of you who don’t know, Leon Thomas is the young singer and actor who played Andre on the Nickelodeon show Victorious. He also appeared briefly in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, and while he’s been making music for a while, I’m pretty sure this is the first I’ve heard from him. And I have to say, I’m pretty impressed. It’s a really refreshing, catchy R&B/pop track with a unique aesthetic and a cool beat. I’m not exactly the world’s biggest Buddy fan, but his nasally sing-song style fits the jaunty piano riff pretty well. I could see myself getting hooked on this song.

19) NO WAVE – IDK feat. Denzel Curry

That’s right, IDK, who made my album of the year list last week with his August album IWasVeryBad, is already back with new music, this time in the form of an absolute banger of a single with Denzel Curry. I’ve always been into Curry, and I’m kind of surprised he hasn’t really shown up on one of these lists before, but he certainly delivers on this track. A menacing horror movie instrumental lays the foundation for killer verses by both MCs, a pair of artists who have quickly become some of the most exciting rappers on the come-up these past few years. I might never have thought to put these two together, but the results are undeniable.

18) GIRLFRIEND – Anderson East

Raspy-voiced Southern soul singer Anderson East has only been on my radar for a little more than a month at this point, but I’ve liked what I’ve heard so far. His new album’s pretty good, but I’m pretty sure my favorite track is “Girlfriend,” a barn-burner of a pop song with bombastic production by Avicii accompanying East’s over-the-top vocals. It’s across between East’s rootsy sound and the kind of music John Legend made in La La Land, and I kind of love it.

17) CHLORASEPTIC (REMIX) – Eminem feat. PHresher and 2 Chainz

As someone who’s liked several Eminem albums, including MMLP2, let me just say that his new album, Revival, fucking blows. It’s full of half-baked, uninspired versions of songs he already did five years ago, complete with barely-existent flows, witless lyrics, and bizarre sampling. 90% of the album stands in stark contrast to this remix, released a few weeks after the album proper, which is absolute heat. It opens with an outstanding verse from 2 Chainz, who just can’t seem to lose these days. Next up, there’s PHresher, whose explosive personality makes the song entirely his own. His verse is probably the least impressive on the song, but his personality is so fun to watch that you can easily overlook it. Finally, we get an insanely good verse from Eminem, who hasn’t come this correct in the better part of a decade. Em wraps the song up by promising that he’ll be back, and hopefully when he comes back, he’ll sound a little more like this and a little less like “Remind Me.”

16) ROCKET – En Vogue

So, it looks like En Vogue is back. The ’90s girl group behind classics like “My Lovin'” and “Whatta Man” returned in full force this month with “Rocket,” a soaring ballad written by the ever-underappreciated Ne-Yo. The 40-to-50-something R&B singers sound as excellent as ever, and the production by Curtis “Sauce” Wilson is refreshingly weird. These ’90s R&B revivals don’t always work out so well (lest we forget TLC’s comeback album last year), but I have a really good feeling about this.

15) ERA – PRhyme feat. Dave East

After years of silence, the hip-hop tour de force of Royce da 5’9″ and DJ Premier is gearing up for their second album, PRhyme 2. The first single off the record is “Era,” which showcases the elder statesman Royce looking at the state of his genre. Royce and Preemo are great as always, but the real show-stealer here is Dave East, the young rapper who’s become a perennial favorite for Joe Budden types the world over. His verse on this song is some of the most impressive stuff I’ve seen from him to date, and if this is the kind of stuff PRhyme is bringing out of their guests, I can’t wait to see what else the album has to offer (if the rumored tracklist is real, be on the lookout for CeeLo Green’s verse).

14) SYMPHONY – Towkio feat. Teddy Jackson

I never quite know what to make of Towkio. He looks like a CVS brand Post Malone, but his lyrical stylings are straight off the Savemoney lot and his recent leaning towards a dance pop sound has lead to some really interesting singles. What I can say for sure is that “Symphony” roped me in in a way few of his songs not featuring Chance the Rapper have before. The maximalist instrumentation fits the song’s title well, creating a dizzying feeling of rising action leading up to the orgasmic soulful pipes of Teddy Jackson on the chorus. It’s funny, catchy, and boundlessly enjoyable.

13) AFTER THE STORM – Kali Uchis feat. Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins

When Kali Uchis and Tyler, the Creator come together, it’s always a recipe for success. This mellow cut is just that, a silky smooth track accentuated by a short and sweet verse from Tyler and the funky ways of music legend Bootsy Collins. There’s really not much to say about this song, but that’s kind of the beauty of it: you don’t have to think about it much, just press play and let the chillness wash over you.

12) BEDROOM CALLING – Chromeo feat. The-Dream

Now, when it comes to Chromeo, “chill” is not exactly the word I’d use. The electro-funk duo made their name known making goofy, polished, ’70s-inspired pop jams, and “Bedroom Calling” is no exception. I haven’t liked much of the stuff I’ve heard from The-Dream in the past few years, but he’s actually excellent on this song. His voice seems to morph like a liquid to Chromeo’s sonic container, and the result is a blast of pure joy that’s perfect for letting loose.

11) HOT PINK – Let’s Eat Grandma

I’ll admit that the British art-pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma hasn’t really been on my radar until now. What drew me to this track wasn’t the group at all, but the song’s producer: SOPHIE, who made last month’s list with her stellar single “Ponyboy.” This song starts off differently, with an ethereal murkiness that, from what I can tell, is more standard fare for Let’s Eat Grandma. But then the chorus kicks in, and it’s the SOPHIE we know and love. Just an absolutely devastating beat, that type of noise-pop sound that you’ll see a bit in some of Charli XCX’s work where it shouldn’t work, but it absolutely does. Also, the hook is pretty catchy.

10) FILTHY – Justin Timberlake

In these first few weeks of 2018, Justin Timberlake made his third big comeback of the decade with a performance at the Super Bowl and his new album, Man of the Woods. Both have not gotten the warm reception we’re used to from JT. I think anti-Timberlake attitudes have been brewing for over a decade, and as his image shifted towards “Jimmy Fallon of music,” it hit too much of a fever pitch for him to come back with something that’s not amazing. That being said, I like “Filthy.” In fact, I think I like Man of the Woods, but we can deal with that later. “Filthy” is obviously intended to capture the mesmerizing strangeness of “SexyBack,” and to some that cynical cash-in quality may be enough to write it off, but it’s grown on me as a song so much over the past month it’s been out that I decided to throw it on the list. Like “SexyBack” before it, it brazenly defies pop conventions of verse-chorus structure, hooks, etc. But this is “SexyBack” for the uncool era of Justin Timberlake. It’s littered with outdated references, corny attempts at innuendo, and self-aware goofiness that only a dad-era Justin Timberlake could grant us. This is a phase in the graceful aging of Timberlake’s sound, just an awkward one at that.

9) GET OUT – CHVRCHES

After two years of relative quiet, the synth-pop band my brain insists on calling “chavurches” is back with “Get Out,” the first single off their forthcoming record Love Is Dead. The album, which appears to feature contributions from Greg Kurstin, The National, and Eurythmics, already caught my attention, but this single has me interested.  Kurstin’s production (which in the past few years has graced the works of artists like Sia, Beck, Zayn, P!nk, Niall Horan, Foo Fighters, Halsey, Liam Gallagher, Kendrick Lamar, Carly Rae Jepsen, Adele, Ellie Goulding, Tegan and Sara, and about every other major artist you could name) is pitch-perfect, both complementing and expanding upon CHVRCHES’ established sound. It’s also one of the band’s catchiest song to date, and shows well for something off this album being CHVRCHES’ big pop crossover single.

8) CORPORATION – Jack White

Speaking on his forthcoming album Boarding House Reach, Jack White recently commented on a lack of spontaneity in modern rock music. I’m not usually one for “_____ ain’t what it used to be” arguments, but “Corporation” and the other singles off said album definitely feel like a breath of fresh air in the modern rock landscape. It’s completely off-the-wall, purposeful and enjoyable yet thoroughly unpredictable. If you needed any further proof that White is one of the finest musicians working today, this record’s got it in spades. It’s practically bursting at the seams with instrumentation, vocals, sounds, and creativity in general.

7) MUSIC IS WORTH LIVING FOR – Andrew W.K.

Andrew W.K. is one of the more unorthodox picks I’ve made for one of these lists to date. Certainly, his hardcore sound sets him apart from any other artist I’ve decided to include, let alone as high up as #7. But truth be told, I’ve always liked the guy. He’s been out of the limelight for pretty much the entire decade, but his incomparable spirit and energy has always endeared him to me, since I first discovered him on some Nickelodeon show he hosted at the turn of the decade. Also, this song’s just great as hell. “Inspirational ballad” is practically its own genre in popular music, but I think it’s been years since I’ve heard a song as great a motivator as this one. If you’ve been feeling down lately and you need something to simultaneously amp you up and make you feel good about the world, this song is for you.

6) BIG BAD WOLF – Lil Wayne

Last month, Lil Wayne dropped Dedication 6: Reloaded, and it’s already a strong contender for the best mixtape of 2018. He is leaking bars on this project, spilling out some of the cleverest shit he ever wrote on song after song after song. And “Big Bad Wolf” is a perfect example of the expert craftsmanship you’ll find on the tape. Over the beat to Blac Youngsta’s “Hip Hopper,” Wayne’s bars build up to a fever pitch over a dizzying four minutes, climaxing in an incredible string of about a hundred things that rhyme with “Antetokounmpo.” Mixtape Weezy’s back, and right when we need him most.

5) I’M GON MAKE U SICK O’ME – Parliament feat. Scarface

Perhaps the most welcome surprise of the month came in the form of “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me,” the delightful new single by legendary funk band Parliament and legendary rapper Scarface. Scarface is considered by many to be one of the greatest rappers of all time, and P-Funk is easily one of music’s greatest collectives, so obviously a collaboration between the two is bound to be brilliant. And sure enough, this song delivers. It’s brimming with sheer creativity, showing that neither George Clinton nor Scarface is close to running out of steam yet. I’m always a hoe for Parliament, but this song really does go above and beyond. Don’t miss out.

4) STREET LIVIN’ – Black Eyed Peas

The Black Eyed Peas are also a notorious group, but for much different reasons, I’d say. If you’re wondering what the group many consider to have ruined popular music did to deserve a slot so high on this list, just give this song a listen. First of all, they’ve gotten rid of Fergie, a move that seems to have been pretty beneficial for both acts (that new Fergie album is good, don’t @ me). They’ve also embraced their old school hip-hop roots, trading in shitty electro-pop-rap for jazzy samples and socially-conscious lyrics. Every rapper to put out music in the past year has done the social justice song, but the Peas offer one of the most scathing indictments of America’s systemic race issue to date. The long-maligned will.i.am drops jewels like this:

Listen, they derailed the soul train

And put a nightmare in every Martin Luther King

And privatized prisons are owned by the same

Slave masters that owned the slave trade game

And it’s basically just three minutes of that. Your favorite rapper could learn a thing or two from the Black Eyed Peas.

3) EVERYBODY’S COMING TO MY HOUSE – David Byrne

Of course I’m gonna make room for the incomparable David Byrne, who’s got his new album coming out pretty soon. “Everybody’s Coming to My House” has everything you could ask for in a Byrne track: jazzy, complex instrumentation, goofy, artful lyrics, and Byrne himself sing-yelping about his house. Like much of his work, it’s hard to do justice to it in words, but trust me when I say that the Talking Heads frontman is as sharp as ever, and if you like the song (which you will because it’s phenomenal), you should check out his book How Music Works, which dropped late last year.

2) MY MY MY! – Troye Sivan

Looking at the pop landscape in 2017, there’s no denying that its glitchy, pitched-up, stripped-down electro sound was somewhat influenced by Troye Sivan’s 2015 debut. “My My My!” is a whole different side of Troye, one that’s poised and ready for pop superstardom. He’s confident, focused, and has developed a keen sense of pacing and moderation to produce a euphoric ’80s-infused lead single. This song didn’t hit a terribly strong debut in the U.S., but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it blows up over the next couple months. It has that undeniable hit quality, combining the old with the new to create a magnetic force of personality and atmosphere. Hey, speaking of hits:

1) FINESSE (REMIX) – Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B

This is another unorthodox move on my part, as the most popular song to come out in a given month is rarely the best. Then again, the masses can’t always be wrong, and “Finesse” is a perfect goddamn song. I sung this song’s praises way back in 2016 when the 24K Magic album was still fresh, although the Recording Academy would argue it’s as fresh as ever. It’s a brilliant ’90s R&B mash-up made all the more phenomenal by a surprisingly perfect feature from Cardi B, who branches out from her typical trap flow to embody the ’90s with form-fitting dexterity. It’s a song that is, truly, dripping in finesse, and it actually does make sense because it’s one of the most flawlessly-crafted pop songs to come out in recent memory.

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.

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.

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.