22 December 2017

top 40 of 2017 | 10-1

Honorable Mention: Louis Cole - "Bank Account"

Including this in the main list didn't feel quite right, but my goodness did it ever deserve a mention. In addition to being hilarious and relatable, it's a fucking jam, okay?!

Fun side note: The MP3 version that you receive of this upon digital purchase is a perfect loop. I played it through four times because I didn't realize my phone was set to repeat, and I just thought it was an extended mix of the song. Oops.

10. Soft Self Portraits - "Departures"

Soft Self Portraits is Louisville musician Cody Johnson, who loves keyboards, drum machines, and introspective lyrics. His performer name couldn't possibly be a more perfect representation of his sound. This track is a serious earworm; I'm fairly certain I've caught myself humming it more than any other melody this year.

9. Logic ft. Alessia Cara & Khalid - "1-800-273-8255"

If not my favorite song this year, it was certainly the most important. This generation has more emotional issues than we know how to handle, and depression, alcoholism, addiction, and self-esteem issues are all front-and-center to us. It's only logical that a song like this would be such a hit. The decision to just make the title the phone number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline was great because not only did it probably make a lot of people commit it to memory, it probably alerted a lot of people to its very existence.

It's weird to think that a lyric like "I just want to die today" would resonate so well with so many people, but here we are. Depression is real, and folks are talking about it.

8. Miguel - "Told You So"

Have I been sleeping on Miguel?!? I thought he just made vagina-moistening slow jams, but this slaps! How do you not instantly start breaking it the fuck down when you hear this? C'mon Miguel!!

7. Manel Navarro - "Do It For Your Lover"

This is the first year I've ever really paid attention to the Eurovision Song Contest, due mostly to us doing an Offbeat Tracks episode about it. This entry was far and away my favorite, because not only is it a bop, but Manel is a stone cold hottie. Bless his heart, though, Europe hated this song and it placed close to the bottom. It's ok Manel, I still love you and will make out with you to your own song.

6. Cardi B - "Bodak Yellow"

Not since Azealia Banks' "212" has a song peacocked so hard. Cardi is not here to suffer fools, and she doesn't give a shit what you have to say about that. Bonus points for inspiring a hilarious meme wherein people leave comments on the video like "This song makes me wanna wash the sink with the dishes" or "This song makes me wanna give my teacher homework" or "I showed this video to Young Anakin, now he's Darth Vader."

5. Kelela - "LMK"

Not since the absolutely perfect 2015 release Miss Ester Dean have we heard such flawless future-pop. Kelela's silky kiss-off to a guy who mistakenly thinks she's melting in his hand is a delicious banger that's also weird enough to be brain peanut butter.

4. Shawn Wasabi - "Spicy Boyfriend"

Five words and a small collection of samples are the only building blocks used by Wasabi to concoct the year's sweetest pop song. Guaranteed to warm even the chilliest of hearts.

3. Lady Gaga - "The Cure"

There is perhaps no pop star with a more fickle fan base than Lady Gaga. It was zero surprise to me (and probably her, too) that her introspective, soft rock release Joanne sent the casual fans running to their phones with snarky misspelled tweets. It was a total surprise, however, when she dropped this brand new stopgap single - now among the best she's ever released - at the Coachella festival, half a peace offering and half a middle finger with "you should have trusted Mama Monster" on it.

2. SZA - "Prom"

Imagine having this big a year and so many people still having no idea how in the hell to pronounce your name. After a few years of singles and EPs, SZA dropped her debut LP CTRL this year, and to say it resonated is an understatement. Millennial popheads and lifelong R&B fans alike can't seem to get enough like her, and songs like this beautiful midtempo pop romp are very much the reason. The way she glides through the line "please don't take it personal" is enough to make a double-decker bus fly.

1. MUNA - "I Know A Place

For a few months this year, this was literally the only song that mattered to me. It's absolute pop perfection wrapped around lyrics that describe what it's like to be young and feel scared and wish that the world wasn't so hateful, even in circles where you should feel safe. This is a call for everyone to look out for each other, to always consider that you don't know what someone is dealing with privately, and to go out of your way to make sure everyone around you feels safe, loved, wanted, and welcome.

Best live music moment of the year: Them singing this on Kimmel and changing the lyrics in the bridge.

21 December 2017

top 40 of 2017 | 20-11

20. Sam Padrul & Megan Vice - "Waves Break"

I'm so annoyed that I only discovered Megan Vice earlier this year, despite her apparently having been dropping totally killer dancepop tunes for the last few years. She's the perfect blend of inviting, adorable, and sultry; the kind of person who invites you to a party and you go because you know there's lowkey a chance that skinny dipping is gonna go down. With the right producers, I think she could be this generation's Vanity, just saying.

Also worth noting: Producer Sam Padrul's bio on his record label's website describes him as having "emerged from his mother's womb with a keyboard already in clutch."

19. Rita Ora - "Your Song"

Rita Ora deserves more respect than she gets in the US. A great way for her to make that happen, though, would be to drop an album! We're all waiting, girl!! (In the meantime, though, if you keep dropping bops like this, we're cool.)

18. Katy Perry - "Swish Swish"

Ugh, Katy. Coasts along as a "gay icon" despite her early music being problematic as fuck, is just so generally blah, can't find an identity, not even a very good voice and OH MY GOD IS THAT NICKI MINAJ RAPPING OVER KORG M1 ORGANS??! END MY LIFE, WHY DON'T YOU?!?

17. Afrojack ft. David Guetta & Ester Dean - "Another Life"

I have no idea who Afrojack is, but if there's one person whose career I watch like a hawk, it's Ester Dean. After years of incredible songs sent up the charts by numerous pop artists, Ester graced this Earth with her flawless Miss Ester Dean EP back in 2015. I've been waiting for even just another single since then, but I guess genius is rushed for no one. She was gracious enough to lend her beautiful voice to this weirdo's semi-interesting EDM-pop thingy this year, though, so all is not lost.

16. Morrissey - "Spent The Day In Bed"

I purchased Morrissey's album a few months ago to get early access tickets to his show in Chicago, a birthday gift for my girlfriend. Upon doing so, I was given access to the only song out at the time, the album's lead single. I'm willing to look the other way on the eyeroll-inducing lyrics about the dang ol' big bad media (although it doesn't take much googling to see why he has a less-than-nuanced opinion of "the media") because the track starts with these absolutely flawless Rhodes piano notes that I spent the next few months walking around humming. You also have to love the dude's turn of a phrase; "I'm not my type" and "Life ends in death/So, there's nothing wrong with being good to yourself" are reminders that he's nothing if not relatable.

15. Litany - "Flaws"

If singer Beth Cornell's perfectly saccharine, breathy vocals aren't enough to make you love Litany, then relatable, straightforward lyrics like those in this song's chorus should do the trick. Currently all these folks have is an EP, but it was assembled with care, featuring interludes and a consistent theme and sound.

14. DMX - "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer"

What do I even need to say about this? It barks for itself.

13. Dua Lipa - "New Rules"

It's been a great year for 22-year-old British(!) songstress Dua Lipa. She's had several hits in her her native UK over the last two years, but she finally broke into the US Top 40 this year with her fifth(!) single from her debut (and currently, only) album. It's a lovely midtempo number that turns a tropical spin on the typical dance-four-on-the-floor.

12. Lorde - "Green Light"

Lorde's lyrics don't make a lot of sense to me, and I'm betting they don't to most of her listeners either, which leads me to conclude that everyone is either having more grungy house party relationship drama than I think they are, or they've all subconsciously agreed to just pretend like they understand what the hell she's talking about. Either way, I'm here for the production and for her unique voice. She's clearly struck a chord with this generation, so I guess just keep doing whatever the hell you're doing, honey. I'll keep dancing.

11. Shawn Wasabi ft. Hollis - "Otter Pop"

There's a new class of electronic musicians emerging. They are excited about hardware in a way that folks of that genre haven't been since the early 1980s when new toys like the Fairlight CMI and the Roland line of drum machines entered the scene. Their exciting toys come in many exciting forms, but Wasabi's weapon of choice is the Midi Fighter 64 - A controller that he actually had commissioned and is now sold commercially. Watching him play it is fascinating for many reasons, but perhaps most of all the realization that he has to remember how he has lain out 64 different bleeps, bloops, drum hits, and vocal samples, and that one wrong button push would mean restarting the song (hence the excitement at the end of this video).

20 December 2017

top 40 of 2017 | 30-21

30. Perfume Genius - "Slip Away"

Perfume Genius is the one queer kid in every high school in Smalltown USA. His music comes from pain and feeling misunderstood, so it's no surprise to me than many young queer folks connect with it. As I mentioned in yesterday's entry, I'm always here for unabashed, unashamed queerness, and hearing it paired with his '70s rock voice is really fascinating.

Also worth noting: This song and Lady Gaga's "Grigio Girls" sound identical at their starts.

29. Yo Gotti ft. Nicki Minaj - "Rake It Up"

The lead single from his ninth(!!) studio album, Yo Gotti is just as himself as ever on this downtempo floorfiller. Adding Nicki is basically a surefire way to make me love your song. And holy cow, what a video!!

28. GRLwood - "Nice Guy"

The first of two tracks on this year's list by a Louisville artist, "screampoppers" (their word!) GRLwood - featuring vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Rej Forester and drummer Karen Ledford - have a really fascinating origin story that begins not in Kentucky, but on the streets of Stockholm. Read all about it on their Facebook page. I saw them live by chance a couple months ago when I went to a show to see a friend's band, and they were the openers. I was locked in throughout their set and immediately ran to buy a CD afterwards (which they were both cool enough to sign, lol). The track I've chosen embodies both the increasingly loud cries of frustration of the women of the world against the archetypal "NICE GUY" and the push-pull/whisper-scream nature of their fabulous music.

27. Future Islands - "Ran

Honestly, my favorite thing about Future Islands is the totally unconventional-for-a-pop-group look of frontman Gerrit Welmers. Their music is soft and inviting, but his voice is raspy, gritty, and gnashing, yet it somehow works. This is the kind of music I'd turn on for a pleasant summer backyard gathering at dusk.

26. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee ft. Justin Bieber - "Despacito (Remix)"

C'mon, you knew this was coming. This song was simply inescapable this year. As I mentioned in yesterday's entry, I hope we start seeing more English artists recording in other languages, especially with native speakers of those languages. When it works, it works, and my goodness did this work.

25. Armand Van Helden & Komes - "Fried Chicken"

Ok, so not every single song on my list this year is of great social and/or political import. I think Van Helden is serving us some leftovers from the absolutely incredible "Duck Sauce" project from a few years ago, which is fine with me. This slaps.

24. The Killers - "The Man"

After one big old flop-arino of a previous album, The Killers are back and they appear to mean business. This anthem of self-confidence didn't chart on the Hot 100, but it did top the Alternative Songs chart, the first to do so since 2007's "When You Were Young," which gives me hope that they're remembering who their fan base is.

23. The Night Game - "The Outfield"

Methinks the title of The Night Game's debut single was chosen quite deliberately, as their sound absolutely recalls the '80s group of that name. They're more or less the solo project of Boys Like Girls vocalist Martin Johnson, but it really does work nicely. These new-new wave artists are figuring out how to kiss retro without making out with it. Bonus trivia: Gotye does backing vocals on this track.

22. Leon Else - "The City Don't Care"

Another player in the aforementioned game of New-New Wave, Leon Else is a Brit who only has a handful of singles but clearly knows what he's doing. The bridge of this song (beginning "I am an island") is nearly the most flawless bridge in any song of the year (behind only the song that will be revealed as #1 on this list).

21. Paramore - "Hard Times"

Perhaps the most direct example on this list of millennial ennui manifesting as pop music, Paramore continues their move toward upbeat jangle rhythms and cute keyboard motifs. The first time I heard this, my immediate comparison was to Miami Sound Machine, and all these months later, I still think that's pretty fair.

19 December 2017

top 40 of 2017 | 40-31

What a year it's been. It should be no surprise to anyone that so many songs released this year deal with themes of disenfranchisement, economic struggle, depression, and general ennui. Generation Y continues getting louder as time passes, because it's clear that the older folks aren't listening. In 2017, sometimes all we could do was either cry or dance, and this collection of songs is - I think - a pretty solid representation of that reality.

Yes, after expanding to 25 in 2013 and then again to 50 in 2014, I've shrunk this list back to 40 this year. Perhaps if 2018 steps its game up, I'll bump it back up next year. Frankly, I just wasn't very impressed overall with this year's musical selections, which really bums me out. I think pop music (my lifeblood) is in an EDM rut, and I can't listen to any more wailing, mispronounced vowels in oversung hooks over predicable "drops" (cringe). Long story short: Get your shit together, pop producers.

Having said all that, there still were enough great songs this year for me to make a list, so I'm gonna be thankful for that and move on. Also, there are two songs by local Louisville artists on this year's list - a first for me, and a trend that I hope continues!

40. Gorillaz ft. Peven Everett - "Strobelite"

It's really nice to see the Gorillaz back, even if this material is a little "blah" for them. It's still a lovely little disco tune that's a banger if dropped at the party at the right moment. Plus, isn't "Peven Everett" just so fun to say?

39. Bakermat ft. Kiesza - "Don't Want You Back"

Kiesza, Kiesza, Kiesza. Where you been, girl? You were supposed to be the savior of dancepop! This is a pretty low-effort entry from you, but I'll take it cause those Korg M1 pianos slap. Also, that disco ball dress would make Gaga covet.

38. Adia Victoria - "Laissez Tomber Les Filles"

Covers are a rare occurrence on my list, but if it bangs and it came out this year, I consider it. I thought this dark, brooding take on France Gall's jangle-poppy 1964 original was just such a cool idea. It's also super cool to me that Victoria isn't a native French speaker; she's a South Carolina native based in Nashville. (And as a student of French and someone who speaks it more or less fluently, I must say her pronunciation is quite good, which is generally the hardest part of the language for native English speakers.) I hope more English-speaking singers continue this recent trend of recording in other languages.

37. Thundercat ft. Kenny Loggins & Michael McDonald - "Show You The Way"

I mean, how have Loggins and McDonald not done a song together before now? Who better to bring them together, though, than Thundercat: A socks-with-sandals wearing, silky-voiced multi-instrumentalist and singer whose music videos make David Lynch look like Michael Bay and whose album this year was called, of course, Drunk. This song sounds exactly like you think it will, and that's a very, very good thing. Especially cool to see all three of them on the Late-Night stage together.

36. Carly Rae Jepsen - "Cut To The Feeling"

After a totally bizarre, unnecessary misstep at the start of the year that someone apparently came to their senses about such that the official video has since been deleted, Carly came right back with this single from last year's Emotion: Side B. Let's be honest though: She never left the hearts of every gay guy in North America. Really hoping 2018 brings another album of dancepop perfection from her.

35. Little Big Town - "Better Man"

From the perspective of raw vocal talent, Little Big Town are still some of the strongest players in the game. They've been around (with the same lineup!) for 19 years, and in that time they've remained consistent and consistently fascinating. This single's lyrics, though clearly written about frustration after a failed relationship, may also mirror the feelings of many about their favorite celebrities this year. It was written by Taylor Swift, and though I find her output uninteresting, I have always found her to be a compelling songwriter.

34. Arlie - "Big Fat Mouth"

Another Nashville entry on this year's list, but this time from the alt-pop side of things. Serving almost as a perfect yang to Little Big Town's above yin, this one is apologizing for either a misfired joke or spit-too-fast jab that caused the speaker's lover to bolt. We've all been there.

33. Dagny - "Love You Like That"

It's refreshing that the Scandanavian nations still do pop music better than basically anywhere else on Earth. Dagny is Norwegian, but she got her breakthrough last year thanks to American TV when an acoustic version of one of her songs was used on Grey's Anatomy. This single doesn't seem to be part of a planned album at this time, which is a shame, but for now, I'll take it. At first, the lack of melodic variance in her delivery in the chorus bothered me, but every time I listen I'm into it by the end of the song.

32. Halsey & Lauren Jauregui - "Strangers"

I was really not into Halsey when she stepped on the scene a couple years ago, but I'm into this. Making it a duet was an odd choice since their voices are more or less indistinguishable, but I am 100% here for pockets of queerness in the overwhelmingly heteronormative arena of pop music.

31. LOOΠΔ/Kim Lip - "Eclipse"

LOOΠΔ is an extremely ambitious pop music project out of South Korea: Beginning in October 2016, every month for the next 18 months, one new member of the group is revealed and simultaneously releases a single. In 2018, the entire 12-member group and all their backing players will finally be revealed as a group and perform together. This track was the May 2017 entry in the project by member "Kim Lip," a seductive midtempo bop.