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.

13 January 2017

Ten Teenage Albums

This list is in no particular order. These are 10 albums from which I was inseparable in my middle and high school years. They shaped my taste in music and I still love them to this day.

  • Scritti Politti - Cupid & Psyche '85

  • This was my introduction to synthpop and it's still my favorite synthpop album of all time, as well as my favorite album of the entire 1980s. It is absolute perfection.

    Best song: "Perfect Way"

  • The Breakfast Club - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

  • I first saw The Breakfast Club when I was 12 or 13 and I was entranced not by the famous title theme, but by Karla Devito's "We Are Not Alone," which plays during the penultimate scene in which the five have lowered all their barriers and let out all the emotions that have arisen by dancing around the library. It's about as perfect as a powerpop song can get. The rest of the album is high-quality synthpop and some solid instrumentals.

    Best song: Karla Devito - "We Are Not Alone"

  • Bangles - Different Light

  • It was the first cassette ALBUM I ever owned (the first cassette I ever owned was the cassingle of Corona's brilliant "The Rhythm Of The Night", which I thank largely for making me the fabulous person I am today). It also happens to contain my favorite song of all time, the universally loved "Walk Like An Egyptian," written by a guy who just thought people looked funny trying to keep their balance on a ferry as it drifted across a turbulent river. The rest of album is packed with singable, danceable jangle pop rock.

    Best song: "Walk Like An Egyptian"

  • Rick Astley - Whenever You Need Somebody

  • Long before Rick was a meme, he was just a happy little '80s weirdo that lived in my knockoff cassette walkman. This is one of the tapes I used to play while I threw down Super Nintendo games with the sound off. I have no idea why I preferred Rick's soulful voice and K-Mart drum machines over the sounds of the X-Men and Scorpion and Sub-Zero, but I did. There's something magical about kicking a bad guy's ass to "Whenever You Need Somebody."

    Best song: - "Together Forever"

  • VH1's The Big '80s

  • This is one of the first tapes my parents bought me when it was apparent that '80s music was becoming my thing. I was obsessed with all the retro shows on VH1 and any radio station that was playing the hits of that decade, but having this tape finally let me listen to some of these tracks on my time and feel what it felt like to own and collect music.

    Best song: Nena - "99 Red Balloons"

  • Janet Jackson - Design Of A Decade

  • Technically a greatest hits compilation, but it undoubtedly cemented Janet as one of my all-time favorite artists. My dad bought this for me when my 14-year-old self asked for her then-new album All For You. Good thing he did, because I got acquainted with some of her lesser-known (to me) singles and discovered the dancepop revolution that was her first few albums.

    Best song: "The Pleasure Principle"

  • Gold & Platinum Vol. 2

  • Probably the earliest-acquired item on this list, and technically it was my dad's before it was mine, but this is one of the earliest albums I ever remember intently playing myself and being into. Some of these songs are nowhere to be found on classic playlists and radio now, and funny enough those were the ones I listened to least. Even 8-year-old me knew what that Cyndi Lauper song was about.

    Best song: Cyndi Lauper - "She Bop"

  • The Goonies - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

  • Still my favorite soundtrack of all time. It just oozes mid-'80s pop. The work I put into tracking down a copy of this is what led to my discovery of eBay, and when I finally landed my cassette of it, it was the first time I experienced the feeling of holding a rarity and adding it to my collection. "Holy crap," I remember thinking, "I finally get to hear the song from the famous octopus scene!"

    Best song: Goon Squad - "Eight Arms To Hold You

  • Beverly Hills Cop - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

  • Another one that was an early cassette in my collection when I started digging into more offbeat '80s stuff. There are a few recognizable names on the track list, but about half of it is lesser-known artists that happened to be on MCA Records and got to record a cut for this album in an effort at name recognition. I made "Axel F" the (un)official closing music of our morning announcements at Meyzeek Middle School, played each day over the end credits from a CD jukebox and with the track skipped up to 33 seconds in. This was a favorite to play in the mornings while I got ready for school. My friend Campbell taught a group of us this coordinated dance once in the parking lot after school, and after we ran through it a few times, I turned on "Neutron Dance" and it became the official soundtrack for our future parking lot performances.

    Best song: Harold Faltermeyer - "Axel F"

  • Once Bitten - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

  • The first ACTUAL (not just perceived) rarity that I added to my collection. After seeing this movie around age 15 or 16, I knew I needed this soundtrack in all it's crunchy '80s goodness, but cursory searches indicated that it was quite rare and expensive. Fate smiled on me not long after that one day when I was with my mom in the now-closed Unique Thrift Store in Louisville's Portland neighborhood, and I found it among the cassettes for the price of one whole dollar. The image you see next to this text is a scan of that exact copy, which I of course still have.

    Best song: 3-Speed - "Once Bitten"

29 December 2016

top 50 of 2016 | 10-1

10. Nina Nesbitt - "Chewing Gum"

Raging synths and big walls of drums fuel this powerhouse production, a track that somehow manages to exude confidence and self-deprecation at once. She's warning someone that she is a mess, and also that they don't mean shit to her. Really makes you think twice about the line "I'm just chewing gum," doesn't it?

9. Lady Gaga - "Perfect Illusion"

Though released with significantly less pageantry than past first-of-a-new-album-era singles, the impact of this track on Gaga's Little Monster fanbase was undeniable. She's on top of her songwriting game as she's ever been.

8. Troye Sivan - "Youth"

It's a very cool thing to watch someone find the right platform to express themselves. I remember looking up his performance of this track on The Tonight Show and seeing a comment that said "I remember when Troye wouldn't leave his room lol." That's the amazing thing about the era in which we live; many people have watched this guy go from a shy boy making YouTube videos for no one but himself to an internationally touring pop singer. The whole album is great, but this first single is just so perfectly Troye that it was hard not to pick it for the list.

7. Tegan & Sara - "U-Turn"

I saw Tegan & Sara live a couple months ago, and midway through their set, the other members of their band left the stage so that they could begrudgingly perform a few songs from their older albums. "I don't know about you guys," Sara said before they began this portion, "But our old stuff didn't make me want to dance." Truly creative artists evolve, and the resulting relationships it creates with both their fans and their art are interesting to watch, especially as an outsider. I'm just here to dance, ladies. Keep it up.

6. Absinth3 ft. Chelsea Owen - "Trust Is A Curious Word"

If you had played this song for me with no explanation or context, I'd have assumed it was an album cut from some one-named, one-album dancepop wonder from 1988 that I'd somehow missed in all my years of digging through record store bins and scouring Discogs, YouTube, and various retro message boards. That's how carefully 16-year-old Absinth3 has studied this aesthetic and perfected his ability to create faithfully in its image. Perfect use of a syncopated rhythm and marimba-like synth voices. (Full disclosure: He was cool enough to produce and publish a version of one of his songs with a vocal track that I wrote and performed and we're now friends and you should check it out too, but this song would have made the list even if he hadn't been so nice.)

5. Highasakite - "Deep Sea Diver"

They're like a really eccentric modern version of a-ha, kind of. This song makes me feel like I'm riding a jetski over increasingly tall waves, crashing down further each time but not caring because I'm having so much fun. Unfortunately, the studio version of the track is nowhere to be found on YouTube for quick listening, but you can listen to it on Spotify or roughly the first minute of it in this "behind the scenes" clip of a music video that I guess no longer exists.

4. FM-84 ft. Timecop1983 & Josh Dally - "Let's Talk"

Originally released last year by Timecop1983 ft. Josh Dally on their Reflections album, FM-84's mix of this track (which is included on his brilliant album Atlas) took it to the place that it really needed to be. The vocals are so incredibly powerful, and juxtaposed against this tall snare drum they create a tidalwave of sound that crashes right down on you.

3. Rihanna - "Kiss It Better"

I knew three tracks into Rihanna's 2016 release Anti that I'd just heard one of the years most brilliant songs. It starts with a bossa nova beat from what sounds like the drum machine that came with a 1970s home organ and very soon crashes into a sexy modern pop slow jam. The drums are rather minimal, but they flawlessly tie together razzy synth bass riffs and distorted electric guitar motifs. This is my favorite song she's done since "Umbrella," and kind of feels like a half-speed callback to another of my favorites, "Shut Up And Drive."

2. DownVega - "Give You My Love"

This track became my walking theme this year. Any time I had to march somewhere, especially with any kind of confidence or determination, it played in my head. This makes absolutely no sense in regard to the song's lyrical content, but the driving drum track is a hell of a march time keeper. I just really love this front to back, from its rhythmic opening to its very synthy ending.

1. Abra - "Crybaby"

Absolute dancepop perfection. Atlanta's Abra created this sleek, sexy jam about gaslighting that changes gears enough times to keep it from ever feeling its nearly six-minute duration. It recalls the 1990 sound of Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson, but avoids the clichés of something that is trying intentionally to sound retro. Her soft - yet at times, almost wailed - delivery gives the song an appropriate tone of vulnerability, switching to a more confident, leering sneer in the bridge as the lyrics shift in tone too. It's a shame people seem to be sleeping on her; this would sell out arenas.

28 December 2016

top 50 of 2016 | 20-11

20. Mitch Murder - "Call Waiting"

The intersection I've been waiting for between two of my favorite nascent genres: synthwave and vaporwave. Sweden's Mitch Murder found (what is to me) their crosspoint, and it is this song. It works as well for a montage as it does putting on makeup as it does over an educational video of how fruit roll-ups are made. It is everything warm and comforting.

19. Sunflower Bean - "Easier Said"

There isn't much rock music that's doing it for me these days, but every now and then something like this comes along and perfectly scratches the itch. The layered vocals are so beautiful, and that guitar is just deliciously '90s alt-rock.

18. D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty - "Broccoli"

Is there any more appropriate way to describe how so many of us are feeling these days than "beyond all that fuck shit"? I'm willing to look the other way on so many other terrible lyrics (such as rhyming "slogan" with "Hulk Hogan") because it's just too goofy not to love. I can't not love a mindless party jam, and that's exactly what this is. The recorder motif might as well be straight out of EarthBound.

17. Carly Rae Jepsen - "First Time"

With the release of last year's Emotion, Jepsen solidified her spot as the queen of modern mall-pop. (Malls aren't much of a thing anymore though; Amazon-pop just doesn't have the same ring.) This year, Carly (in true mall-popper fashion) gave us an album of b-sides (!), headed by this brilliant saccharine romp.

16. Mike Posner - "I Took A Pill In Ibiza (SeeB Remix)"

Genuine vulnerability is hard to pull off when you're a famous person, especially if you haven't earned it through some sort of publicity crisis. Posner hasn't had one of those, but he comes across in this track like a friend you haven't seen in a few years who's sitting on your couch and telling you what he's been going through and why he hasn't been around. It moved me because I can't recall the last time I saw this kind of humanity lain on the table so voluntarily and so thoughtfully.

15. Daya - "Sit Still Look Pretty"

The "I'm (not) gonna be a good girl" song is not a new thing, but previously it's been generally presented as a way to please a man, usually a boyfriend or a dad. Not Daya though, she's not here for anyone but herself, and I like that girls of this generation are growing up hearing what she's saying. Killer production

14. Oshwa - "Ultraflourescent"

I go absolutely gaga for that warm 1988 garage rock / 2005 indie rock distorted guitar sound. Chicago's Oshwa nails this ode to loving everything about yourself with a quiet, confident coolness that's impossible not to smile at.

13. Adele - "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)"

Though her very devoted fanbase seems to feel differently, to me, this is the most interesting single Adele has ever released. The snappy production is uncharacteristically sleek, despite the percussion coming from little more than a drum machine's kick and what sounds like a fist pounding on an acoustic guitar, with some claps peppered into the choruses and bridge. It relies on this push-pull mixing rather than her powerful voice to drive the song; the fact that she sings with noticeable restraint shows that she knows this and truly has the mind of a producer.

12. FM-84 ft. Ollie Wride - "Running In The Night"

This is such a flawless pop song on so many levels. The hook is instantly singable, the drums make it a toe-tapper throughout, and the vocal performance is spot on. Check out this random YouTuber's addition of a guitar track -- good stuff.

11. Fifth Harmony ft. Ty Dolla $ign - "Work From Home"

It would be hard to argue anything else as the Top 40 jam of the year. I don't know anyone who didn't immediately dance and/or sing along when this came on at the bars. Seriously though, what the hell is that weird toddler whine / dog squeak thing we start hearing in the second verse?