I know I should post other stuff here once in a while. I might take a break from these lists to make that happen, but I also do really appreciate the wealth of music experience I gain from making them, so I’d like to continue in some form. Anyway, September, right? A bit of a cooldown from the summer release schedule, but there were a few very significant releases, which we’re gonna get to right now.
30) MAKE BELIEVE – Kero Kero Bonito
I’ll admit that I wasn’t quite as charmed by Kero Kero Bonito as everyone else seemed to be when the British pseudo-J-pop group hit the scene with Bonito Generation in 2016. They’re fun, sure, but something just felt kind of off about their sound to me. There’s definitely something to this one, though. The nostalgic fuzziness, the underlying intensity that builds only to drop into the bubbly hook, I don’t know what. I just know it’s one of the most interesting, enjoyable KKB songs I’ve heard thus far.
29) BLACKLIGHT – The Ting Tings
Remember The Ting Tings? English dance-pop group, had a couple crossover hits in the US around 2008? Yeah, well, they’re back with a new single, and it’s weird. I don’t know the first thing about drum & bass, but the fact that the funky indie pop group we all got into for a minute a decade ago decided to come back with a drum & bass song is enough cause for confusion. Still, I think it’s good? It’s catchy, memorable, it’s got some interesting stuff going on with the lyrics. I certainly enjoy it. But like, huh?
28) ELECTRICITY – Silk City feat. Dua Lipa
A couple months ago, Diplo and Mark Ronson announced they were joining forces to release music as Silk City, and I was immediately on board. But if I can be honest, a lot of what they’ve put out so far just hasn’t lived up to my expectations. I get that they’re doing old-school EDM stuff, throwing back to the ’80s and ’90s with what they’re doing, but I just feel like the two of them are capable of so much more. Perhaps the surest sign of promise has been “Electricity,” their single with Dua Lipa that’s already been making serious waves (Dua Lipa seems to be pop’s golden child all of a sudden). It still reads as a simple dance pop track with ’90s elements, but the layers of production reveal themselves upon repeat listens. This is the kind of immaculate production I expect from two of the biggest, most talented hitmakers of the past decade coming together. It’s polished, it’s layered, and it’s fun.
27) SIREN CALL – Hanson
For those of you who haven’t been informed, the sibling triad behind “MMMBop” is all grown up now, and they kick ass. Hanson has quietly been releasing one great record after another since their brief brush with success, and now they’re on to another absurdly impressive venture: teaming up with Oscar-winning composer (and Beck’s dad) David Campbell for an album backed by an entire symphony orchestra. The first single off this fascinating experiment, “Siren Call,” proves just how worthy a marriage this is, with the band’s vocal range and harmonies, as well as their lyrical dexterity, on full display while the accompanying orchestra lends a profound gravitas to the intensity of the song.
26) JEFE – T.I. feat. Meek Mill
T.I. and Meek Mill trade braggadocio bars over a hard trap-trumpet instrumental. Sometimes that’s all you need.
25) SOLITA – PRETTYMUCH feat. Rich the Kid
PRETTYMUCH and Rich the Kid, despite being from disparate realms of the music world, occupy pretty similar places in my mind: I certainly don’t consider myself a fan of either of them, but I’ve liked a lot of their stuff, and I keep an open ear whenever they put something new out. “Solita” finds the rapper and boy band coming together for a Spanish-infused sex track with a deceptively infectious hook. It’s really just a fun song, but I enjoy it.
24) LMK_WHAT’S REALLY GOOD REMIX – Kelela feat. Junglepussy, Princess Nokia, cupcakKe, and Ms. Boogie
You may remember me singing the praises of Kelela’s debut LP Take Me Apart on last year’s AOTY list, but now that album’s got a whole remix album of its own, released Oct. 5th and led by a remix to “LMK” with a veritable who’s who of cult favorite up-and-coming female MC’s. Admittedly, the muted R&B beat doesn’t quite hold up to the glory of the original, but the twin verses of Junglepussy and CupcakKe alone make it more than worthwhile.
23) REEL IT IN – Aminé
As time goes on, I find myself becoming a little bit of an Aminé stan. The Portland rapper returned this month with a new mixtape, ONEPOINTFIVE, along with its lead single “REEL IT IN.” a bouncy banger with a flute-laden trap beat bursting with Aminé’s signature wit and force of personality. The video’s also a phenomenal send-up to the early ’00s summery hip hop video. Check out the Genius video with him and the video director. It’s an interesting one.
22) MONEY RIGHT – Dizzee Rascal feat. Skepta
At long last, two kings of the UK grime scene, the O.G. Dizzee Rascal crossover superstar Skepta, join forces on wax for “Money Right.” It’s bursting at the seams with bars, the two artists’ expansive personalities in full force, melding for what turns out to be a thoroughly undeniable track.
21) LAY WITH ME – Phantoms feat. Vanessa Hudgens
In general, 2018 has suffered from a profound lack of Carly Rae Jepsen. Where last year gave us “Cut to the Feeling” and her Yachty-assisted “It Takes Two” remake, the cult pop icon has been noticeably absent as she gears up for her long-awaited follow-up to E•MO•TION. In the meantime, if you’re looking for some toothy ’80s-infused electro-pop, look no further than “Lay With Me,” the unlikely new single from High School Musical alum Vanessa Hudgens. With a soaring hook, sunny instrumentation, and lots of “ahh-ahh-ahhh”‘s, it’s got everything you could ask for from a Jepsen single, minus Jepsen herself.
20) A BLOOMING BLOODFRUIT IN A HOODIE – Ambrose Akinmusire
“a blooming bloodfruit in a hoodie” is a sprawling 13-minute track from jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, but if you start listening and find a voice that sure doesn’t sound like a trumpet, don’t be alarmed: the track is assisted by Das Racist’s Kool A.D., who provides intricate stream-of-social-consciousness raps over the simmering jazz instrumental. There’s some powerful stuff in here, and it’s just an overall captivating experience.
19) UP – EarthGang
If you haven’t been paying attention to EarthGang, the Atlanta hip-hop duo from J.Cole’s Dreamville camp, you should be, because they kick ass. That is all.
18) GIRL BLUNT – Leikeli47
Even as a class of diverse, raw female rappers is taking the game by storm, Leikeli47 remains a black sheep. The mask-clad MC returns with “Girl Blunt,” a single from the latest season of Issa Rae’s Insecure, and also a song that serves lyrics, personality, and serious bass. It’s a bit of a grower, but give it time and you’ll come to appreciate its greatness.
17) HEAD ABOVE WATER – Avril Lavigne
In one of the month’s biggest surprises, Avril Lavigne returns with “Head Above Water,” a heartfelt song about faith in the face of adversity and her surest sign of musical promise in nearly a decade. Oddly religious? Perhaps, but give the woman a break; she almost died. After an infamously-panned single a few years ago and subsequent nasty scrap with Lyme disease, Avril knew she had to come hard, and come hard she did, with a cinematic declaration of triumph that certainly seems to take pages from Kesha’s “Praying” playbook, but I wouldn’t complain if every pop star had a “Praying” in their catalogue.
16) RELATABLE (PEAK OME) – Open Mike Eagle
Open Mike Eagle is another artist I’ll admit I haven’t gotten into as much as everyone else seems to, but I get it. The guy’s got his own unique personality, biting wit and a great style. His latest, “Relatable,” is a floaty, ironic, jarring song that flits between grand metaphor and stark literalism as Mike delves into the pressures of maintaining an appearance, of being “relatable” in the age of quantifiable social capital.
15) GTFO – Mariah Carey
14) TOOGOODTOBETRUE – Gallant feat. Sufjan Stevens and Rebecca Sugar
You’ll remember Gallant, the R&B weirdo who popped up on last month’s list with “Haha No One Can Hear You!” He brings plenty of that talent, emotion, and energy to his new single “TOOGOODTOBETRUE,” but what really pushes the song over the top is its blindsiding features: Sufjan Stevens, the multi-talented indie singer-songwriter nominated for an Oscar for his contributions to the Call Me by Your Name soundtrack, and Rebecca Sugar, the animator/songwriter nominated for multiple Emmys for her work as the creator of Steven Universe. Fuckin’ weird, right? Anyway, it’s a powerful ballad with emotional depth and surprising chemistry.
13) PUT YOU ON – Amber Mark feat. DRAM
“Put You On” is an expertly-crafted ’90s R&B throwback jam from indie R&B artist Amber Mark and perennial favorite of the blog DRAM, and I didn’t know I needed this so bad until now. Amber’s energy perfectly complements the lo-fi, summery ’90s sound, and DRAM’s imitation of a ’90s rap guest verse is so spot-on you’ll wish he just rapped like that all the time. It’s an irresistible jam and a perfect song for any summer playlist. Pay attention to Amber Mark, man.
12) BEACH – Petite Noir feat. Danny Brown and Nukubi Nukubi
Combine baroque R&B vocals in the style of Benjamin Clementine with psychedelic instrumentation and the unparalleled weirdness of Danny Brown and you’ve got “Beach,” the new single from South Africa’s Petite Noir. Brown is as clever as ever, but Noir himself leaves a considerable impression on the track. It’s the first song I’ve heard from him, and it makes me eager to see what else he has in store. It’s just the right amount of weird.
11) 151 RUM – J.I.D
J.I.D made waves earlier this year when he proved himself as, frankly, the only real standout of the 2018 XXL Freshman class. His nimble flows, intricate lyrics, and captivating presence immediately set himself apart from his peers, and he continues that spirit of head-spinning on “151 Rum,” a rapid-fire banger that has to be heard to be believed. Time will tell if J.I.D is a captain of his generation, but he certainly has the commanding talent to take the lead.
10) IMMATURE COUTURE – Poppy
This month, I was able to almost restrain myself from putting a Poppy song in the top ten. Baby steps, people. Still, “Immature Couture” is a pretty great song. Built around an ’80s techno-pop beat, the song finds the enigmatic pop star celebrating gaudy, camp fashion with reckless abandon, leading to a soaring chorus and iconic lines like “If your parents think you’re gay, then you’re doing it right.” Poppy continues to step up her game, and if her previous singles are any indication, humanity better watch out.
9) HERE I AM – Dolly Parton and Sia
In one of the month’s unlikeliest pairings (just you wait), legendary artist Dolly Parton teams up with Sia for “Here I Am,” the lead single of Parton’s soundtrack to the forthcoming Netflix film Dumplin’. Astute fans will note that this is actually a dramatized remake of a cut off Dolly’s 1971 album Coat of Many Colors, one of the most acclaimed country albums of all time. While the original speaks for itself, this new version adds some welcome new layers: the dramatic pianos and desperate, almost wailing vocals of a more experienced Dolly lend the track a cinematic gravitas that almost feels too expansive for the teen comedy it soundtracks. And of course, the unmistakeable pipes of Sia turn the song into a duet, which brings some great weight to its lyrics.
8) BODY AND SOUL – teddy<3
I’m really liking the direction Teddy Geiger has been moving in. The former teen heartthrob and current Shawn Mendes best friend has begun to come out with her own set of singles for the first time since announcing her transition, first with last month’s “I Was in a Cult” and now with “Body and Soul,” and infectious, stomping, White Stripes-y track that’ll sneak up on you when you least expect it. She’s got talent, she’s got connections, and she’s got a unique, largely-absent, bankable sound. She’s gonna do big things, folks.
7) DOSE – Ciara
I’m like, really into Ciara all of a sudden. I don’t know if I just never gave her the time of day before, but her most recent crop of singles has been one hit after another. The latest, “Dose,” is a barn-burner of a mid-’00s R&B/pop throwback built around a stomping marching band instrumental, with killer hooks and a delightfully confident energy. Combined with her last couple singles, this is really making me want to dig deeper into Ciara’s discography. Has she always been this good?
6) OFFENCE – Little Simz
English rapper Little Simz returned this month with “Offence,” a cocky comeback single built around hard drum-and-bass instrumentation (with tasteful drops of jazz flute) and her own deft lyricism. Little Simz can do “conscious” rap, and brilliantly at that, but her attitude and skill to match make it a real treat whenever she lets her braggadocio loose on a track like this.
5) SUNLIGHT ON YOUR SKIN – Lil Peep and iLoveMakonnen
Lil Peep’s label released two versions of this song as separate singles this month: “Falling Down,” which features controversial deceased rapper XXXTentacion, and “Sunlight on Your Skin,” which features the late Peep’s close friend and rumored partner iLoveMakonnen. Without getting too deep into it, suffice it to say that the Makonnen version is significantly better. While the infectious, poppy hook is definitely a part of the song’s charm, but it also helps a lot that Makonnen and Peep had a close personal relationship, giving the song some serious emotional weight where “Falling Down” sounds like the work of two people who never met talking at each other, about other people. And there’s serious bittersweet emotion to “Sunlight on Your Skin.” It’ll hit you if you pay attention.
4) KEEP REACHIN’ – Quincy Jones and Mark Ronson feat. Chaka Khan
Who knew 2018 would usher in the Chaka Khan renaissance? After releasing a single of her own a scant few months ago (“Like Sugar,” her first in at least five years), the funk icon returned this month with “Keep Reachin’,” an irresistibly funky track off the soundtrack to Quincy Jones’ Netflix documentary Quincy: A Life Beyond Measure. The song is produced by Quincy himself and Mark Ronson, an ingenious melding of minds I can only imagine was brought together by fate itself to bestow a pitch-perfect funk track onto the world. “Keep Reachin'” is just that, a delightful mixing of three of the biggest talents in funk past and present. What more could you ask for?
3) BARBIE DREAMS – Nicki Minaj
Only time will tell if history sets Nicki Minaj’s Queen album as the dawning of an era or another disappointment from a consistently-promising artist, but one thing remains certain: “Barbie Dreams” has placed itself as the album’s true standout track. A send-up both to Biggie’s original “Dreams” and to all of Nicki’s friends in the rap game, “Barbie Dreams” is a dazzling glimmer of the potential that’s been with Nicki all along. It’s a fiery, no-holds-barred declaration in the competitive vein of a ’90s classic bookended by a surprise final verse that brings everything to the table, including the long-dormant Roman character. Nicki Minaj needed to remind people of what made her such a star, and “Barbie Dreams” tells us just that: raw talent and energy (although the friends in high places don’t hurt).
2) NINA CRIED POWER – Hozier feat. Mavis Staples
If there was a truly triumphant comeback this month (other than, y’know, Lil Wayne), it was Hozier, who gave fans their first taste of new music since his meteoric 2014 debut with the new EP Nina Cried Power, a precursor to his still-unreleased new album. Its title single, featuring the incomparable Mavis Staples, is a full-throated send-up to the artists that paved the road for Hozier to be where he is today. In a world where the spirit of soul is placed in the hands of white artists like Adele and Sam Smith, it’s a particularly poignant statement for Hozier to shout out the genre’s black roots, both in the inclusion of Staples herself and in his direct shout-outs to black artists in the song’s chorus, including the titular Nina Simone.
That being said, there was another long-awaited, soulful, nostalgic single from a beloved young artist featuring a living legend, and in the end, I had to give the #1 spot to:
1) HIGH – Young Thug feat. Elton John
It’s a collaboration more than two years in the making. Elton John. Young Thug. After so many months of talks about Thug meeting up with Elton, working on a track together, Thug making a “Rocket Man” remix, we finally have it, and it’s even more glorious than you could imagine. On one of the most inspirational tracks of 2018, Young Thug is at the height of his powers: we don’t know how long he worked on his contributions to the song, but he sounds focused, eager, energized, even more so than he typically is. Following three underwhelming projects in a row (the stagnant Future collab Super Slimey, the three-track EP Hear No Evil, and the tepid YSL compilation Slime Language), this (along with the EP it came as a part of) is exactly what the Young Thug fans needed: more proof that Young Thug is doing shit no one else would.