Woah, It’s been a while since I used this blog, which is a real shame given how much great music has been released since. Final year uni stress has forced me into a black hole of deadlines and despair but fear not – there are tunes to get us through. I’m grateful to have a bit of time to be writing again, and there’s no better way to gorge on music than LIST WEEK.* In a few days I’ll be posting my best album and video lists, but for now, it’s all about the single. From grime, to folk, to spooky techno and cheesy ass pop, 2016 delivered in a way that felt wholly needed given how abysmal just about every other aspect of the year had been. These are the singles that got me though. Hopefully there will be a few you love too or haven’t heard yet! House rules first – the list must have no more than one song by the same artist, and every song must have been a single or promotional track released this year. I’ll be updating the list if any songs from December catch my attention too, but I’m excited and have no integrity so I’m posting it now.
Let me know your favourite singles below, and give a listen to the full songs through the playlist at the end of this gargantuan post. *I say ‘week’ but with exams there’s no way to know when the next video will be out. Sorry for being a wee tease
Rihanna – Kiss it Better
Moomin – Woman to Woman
Show me the body – Tight SWAT
Kate Tempest – Dont Fall In
A.K Paul – Landcruisin’
Death Grips – Giving Bad People Good Ideas
Nathan Fake + Prurient – DEGREELESSNESS
AJ Tracey – Buster Cannon
Bat For Lashes – Sunday Love
Anna Meredith – Nautilus
Mai Lan – Technique ( A.K.A. MOISTURISE. TAKE BREAKS. MOISTURISE. TAKE COMPUTER BREAKS)
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
Gold Panda – Time Eater
75. The Comet is Coming – Final Eclipse
This Hotline Miami-channeling groove feels like a cosmic exorcism – sweaty, alien and cathartic. Sax for DAYS.
74. Jessy Lanza – It Means I Love You
Jessy Lanza’s hyperactive rave is a decrepit fusion of electronic styles that sounds like Grimes and Chance the Rapper’s ‘Good Ass Intro’ raised a very troubled child.
73. Julie Byrne – Natural Blue
Julie Byrne makes excellent comfort music. It’s the kind of nourishing folk that will bring you to tears when a lyric connects, or a reflection on her experience feels too real. But you can also let that weight drift away by focusing on just how gorgeous everything sounds. “When I first saw you/ the sky, it was such a natural blue.” – the repeated refrain from her latest single is a prime example. There’s a heaviness to these words, but you can’t help but gasp at the line’s delivery. ‘Natural Blue’ embraces revelling in prettiness when you find it.
72. Mura Masa – What if I Go?
Mura Masa’s streak of excellent singles has worked up to this – a bright, bubbly gem of a pop song that gives Clean Bandit’s best a run for their money.
71. Kero Kero Bonito – Trampoline
Aqua and S Club Seven aren’t exactly groups you’d expect to be shining influences in 2016, but a wave of groups have been embracing the most sickly sweet of sounds. None do it with as much glee as Kero Kero Bonito does with this single. I miss my trampoline 😥
70. PWR BTTM – I Wanna Boi
This is a prime of example of what’s so great about PWR BTTM. The swagger in Liz’s performance is as romantic as it is raunchy.
69. Lucy Dacus – I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore
“I’ll play guitar and I’ll be the artist” Lucy Dacus sings in a deadpan on her breakout single. Confident and crumbling in the same breath, she proves that she’s not just the funny one anymore.
68. Koi Child – 1-5-9
Koi Child’s shimmering jazz-rap blend is at its slickest on ‘1-5-9’. It’s a pure slice of sunshine.
67. Jeff Rosenstock – Festival Song
Jeff Rosenstock has made a career out of poking fun at himself. On ‘Festival Song’, he pokes fun at the culture that raised him. Turning the tables on his audience could come across as sneering for a lesser artist, but Rosenstock’s skill as a writer shows how deeply he cares about the bastardising of his deepest love. It doesn’t hurt that he can write a belter of a tune, either.
66. Booka Shade – Night Falls – Nils Frahm Rework
10 years on, Booka Shade’s Movements is as fresh as the day it was released. Nils Frahm’s reimagining of its standout track breathes even more life into a true classic.
65. slowthai – Jiggle
There were a ton of great grime bangers this year, but slowthai’s breakthrough is among the best. ‘Jiggle’ shows his skill of opening a beat up with a slick flow that works its way into your skull as it flits in and out of focus. The ominous, amorphous beat beneath him is just as impressive. Grime MC’s NEED to stop using Lidl as a punchline tho. We get it. It’s cheap.
64. C Duncan – The Other Side
C Duncan continues to impress while disappearing into chillier territories. I want to bottle those harmonies and rub them all over my body.
63. Illum Sphere – Fall into Water
Illum Sphere’s latest stunning batch of tracks shift between gorgeous, eerie, and gorgeously eerie. Fall into Water is anxious, haunting, relaxing and utterly propulsive as it unfurls over its near seven minutes
62. YG – Twist My Fingaz
YG’s G-funk throwback does its influences justice, with confident verses and funk-soaked synths. The single was a sign of things to come, and he’s come into his own ever since.
61. Cate Le Bon – Love is Not Love
Cate Le Bon’s lilting melody and withered guitar lines are pretty enough on their own, but the waves of saxophones bring the tune into in a Ziggy-fuelled dreamland.
60. Underworld – I Exhale
Over twenty years after Renton chose life, and the clattering drums of ‘Born Slippy.NUXX’ swallowed his words whole, Underworld are still crafting stunning tracks. The rants are just as powerful, and the beats are just as enormous.
59. White Lung – Kiss Me When I Bleed
White Lung marry stomach-churning punk lyrisim with sharp blasts of guitar and bright, blinding production. It’s glorious.
58. Jagwuar Ma – OB1
The Australian psych/dance hybrid reimagine Stone Roses with a peppy melody and a slinky groove.
57. 1975 – the Sound
“It’s not about reciprocation, it’s just all about me/ A sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe”; Matthew Healy doesn’t want us to like him, which is just as well because he seems like a pretentious tit. Still, he and his band have a knack for writing pop gems that are as ugly and honest as they are blissful.
56. the Weeknd – Starboy
55. Clams Casino feat. Vince Staples – All Nite
Vince Staples’ hard-nosed snarky bars have always been a perfect fit for the grimey production of Clams Casino, but All Nite might be theier sharpest song together yet.
54. Ka – 30 Keys
Rap tracks about selling cocaine aren’t usually known for their subtlety, but most rappers aren’t Ka. He brings nuance and deeply affecting lyricism to a familiar subject with little more than a whisper, as a piano loops into oblivion.
53. AlunaGeorge – Mean What I Mean
You can always count on AlunaGeorge for an immaculate pop anthem, and ‘Mean What I Mean’ is exactly that. With its buzzing horns, Aluna’s swaggering chorus and TWO badass verses about guys being the worst, it’s a club-ready smash that deserves every play it gets.
52. Arab Strap – The First Big Weekend of 2016
Twenty years on, and this story of a messy weekend in Glasgow is still real. The only differences are that the Simpsons isn’t at its best, and the Arches has been shut down, which is depressing. The crisper production does this tale of aimless nightlife wonders.
51. ABRA – CRYBABY
‘CRYBABY’ is Whitney Houston luring you down a dark alley and posessing you. ABRA’s rough, minimal style of R&B is consistently satisfying, but ‘CRYBABY’ takes it to rich new heights without sacrificing the dark charm.
50. Carly Rae Jepsen – Higher
Even Carly’s B sides are better than ur fave’s singles. (8) #PopQueen #SeriouslyThoughThisSongIsVeryWellWrittenWithAGoodAmountOfDetailThatDoesn’tGetInTheWayOfItsPureAndSimplePleasures
49. Japanese Breakfast – Everybody Wants to Love You
‘Everybody Wants to Love You’ feels like this years ‘Archie, Marry Me’ – a song you know you’ve heard a thousand times, but performed with a wide-eyed naivety that means you can’t help but beam.
48. Sporting Life – Court Vision
After the shrill bombast of his first EP, it was disarming to find Sporting Life Vol II open up with a piece of vivid R&B. Evy Jane’s charming performance is carried by effervescent beatwork and gooey nostalgia that makes for a sweet song I keep coming back to.
47. Childish Gambino – Me and Your Mama
‘Me and Your Mama’ is a trippy journey from trap daydream to buzzing Parliament catharsis through to a peaceful Maggot Brain-channeling climax. Donald Glover’s new direction is stunning and breathless. Who knew he had pipes like this?!
46. Clarence Clarity – Splitting Hairs
After a brilliantly chaotic debut, there’s no way to know where Clarence Clarity will end up with his next release, but ‘Splitting Hairs’ sees him focusing in on the snarky tone and earworm hooks that have become his trademark. The noise has dissipated, but the hooks are stronger.
45. D.R.A.M – Cash Machine
D.R.A.M does his thing over a genius Ray Charles sample and cash machine noises. Look at this man’s smile. What is not to like?
44. Chance the Rapper – No Problem (feat. Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz)
Chance has long been making some of the most joyous hip-hop around. Here, he morphs his vocal to better suit the mumbled, intoxicating delivery of his hero, Lil Wayne, in an anthem for independence and self-reliance.
43. Clipping – Wriggle
Daveed Diggs is a chameleon. He can convincingly rap for a broadway musical AND for an industrial hip hop group. Here, he’s at his most unrelenting and abrasive since the band’s Midcity days. The Whitehouse-sampling beat moves like symbiote. Over it, Daveed narrates a nasty tale of a night locked in a sex dungeon. It makes the Fifty Shades soundtrack sound like the weak-ass vanilla sh** it was.
42. Massive Attack – the Spoils
Massive Attack return with 2 EPs, both of which deliver textured, moody and introspective songs worthy of any of their former material. Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star features on ‘The Spoils’, a long look at a relationship as it crumbles away. It’s downright chilling.
41. Charlie XCX + SOPHIE – Vroom Vroom
SOPHIE continues to blur the lines between irony, sincerity and pure f**kery, with a completely ridiculous collaboration that succeeds thanks to its crassness. The production stays wholly impressive and Charlie XCX owns the deadpan swagger completely (Her delivery of ‘Cute, sexy and my ride sporty’ is just the right level of cringe). LETS RIDE.
40. Xenia Rubinos – Mexican Chef
Ms Rubinos isn’t pulling any punches on ‘Mexican Chef’, a sharp piece of satire about the divide between POC’s and white America, set to a punchy groove that’s among her most. The biting chorus makes such a tense dynamic singalong worthy.
39. Noname – Diddy Bop
Noname’s verses are smoother than a litre of cocoa butter, as standard, but now she’s got an instrumental to match her, with sweet analog keys that bring you into the wistful tone of her reflections. She brings us into the intimate space of her upbringing with a warm embrace.
38. Slugabed – i luv u I miss u
True artistic skill is building a song on a meme-fuelled punchline, while still crafting something beautiful and completely worthy in its own right. There are a lot of great nerdy electronic producers, but Slugabed’s vibrant tones and fluid song structures put him far above most.
37. Cakes Da Killa – Up Out My Face
THIS BEAT. THAT CHORUS. THE BUILD. THE CONSTANT PUNCHLINES. HIS VOICE WHEW
Cakes delivers yet another off-kilter banger complete with an elegant classic house beat, an elastic flow and bars, bars, bars. Sorry I’ve calmed down.
36. Solange – Cranes in the Sky
This year has been devastating for many, especially within communities of colour. Solange’s proximity to this now-highly-visable suffering influenced her stellar new album, which finds solace in music, because where else do we go when we’re lost? ‘Cranes in the Sky’ is a gorgeous capturing of this notion. It’s her most captivating vocal performance, with a delicate falsetto that builds upon itself as she escapes the darkness for just a little while.
35. Drive-by Truckers – Filthy and Fried
Drive-by Truckers have spent their career wrestling with country stereotypes, taking cliches and making them work by their rules. On ‘American Band’, they take a cynical view of current American nationalism, while still retaining the feelings of warm nostalgia embedded within the genre. ‘Filthy and Fried ‘is a prime example. The band’s performance is so raw in feeling that it could be blasting out of a Southern bar on open mike night. The lyrics are expectedly poignant and interesting too, taking a look at gender dynamics in the modern age without losing the focus of folk realism.
34. Nao – Bad Blood
Nao’s latest batch of singles have been dowsed in vintage soul, with a vibrant post-FKA Twigs approach to production. ‘Bad Blood’ is her most bombastic, with a killer vocal performance that sees her improvising over her whole vocal range without skipping a beat. The way she digs into her husky low end on the word ‘lemonade’ is this gif embodied
33. Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
Bruno Mars is at his best when in goofy nostalgia mode. He’s got a knack for patstiche that’s skilled as well as silly. That’s exactly what ’24K Magic’ is, a James Brown synth-funk jam with a butt load of charisma and heavenly layers of vocoder cheese.
32. Schoolboy Q – Groovy Tony
‘Groovy Tony’ makes the case for Schoolboy Q the supervillain. He snarls over a lumbering beat that only grows nastier with each verse. It’s eerie hook keeps things steady as our anti-hero bares more teeth.
31. Jerkcurb – Night On Earth
‘Night on Earth’ is a moody heartbreaker of a song, drums and airy guitars moving like treacle as it bubbles out of its dreary opening into hot blooded rage. King Krule has got some sturdy competition.
30. KAYTRANADA – LITE SPOTS
KATRANADA gives us the entirety of an esctatic, jazzed-out sample before twisting it into his own with giddy loops and tight claps and synth splashes. It’s as playful as house gets.
29. King Creosote – You Just Want
Forty plus albums in, King Creosote must be getting sick of writing excellent songs. You’d think he’d throw us a dud at some point. ‘You Just Want’ shows no sighs of stagnation, with ambitious folk builds and a deceptively simple melody that grows sadder as it drones on.
28. Lambchop – The Hustle
We spend the great majority of Lambchop’s latest album hearing Kurt Wagner’s voice obscured by autotune – emotional, but at a distance. Five minutes into the ‘The Hustle’, he breaks through untainted, around delicate techno bleeps, a wave of organs and stuttering drums. “I don’t want to leave you ever / And that’s a long long time” he sighs patiently. He disappears soon after, as horns take over the melody. At eighteen minutes, the song is longer than some albums, but it uses every moment to reflect on what’s already come. It’s true romance – more than saying ‘I love you’, instead conveying the feeling of comfort.
27. Bon Iver – 33 “GOD”
Paolo Nutini’s voice breaks through as the fragments of other voices melt away and rumbling percussion takes over. It’s a moment of stillness on a restless, chaotic piece of work that blends folk, electronics, darkness and light. Then the song shifts into another beast entirely, dense vocals filling the mix as Vernon careens forward. ’33 “GOD”‘ is 22, A Million’s true centrepiece, blending every mood at once, and dropping the floor out from beneath the listener with its collage of voices, some alien and some painfully familiar.
26. Moses Sumney – Lonely World
Moses Sumney enlists Thundercat’s sun-soaked bass and a drum circle of percussion on ‘Lonely World’, but all he really needs is that falsetto, soft and piercing. Still, he makes the most of his new musical weaponry, with a jarring build that doesn’t feel quite as lonely as the title would suggest. Simone’s ‘Sinnerman’ bleeds through the stark passion in his voice.
25. Skepta – Lyrics
Skepta has mastered hooks, each one burying under your skin as he twists his words around a beat. I’m certain he could rap “ravioli ravioli give me the formuoli” and still make it a hit. ‘Lyrics ‘is a prime example; its chopped and skrewed verse vocals spar with the chorus for catchiest section. But then there are the lyrics themselves – blunt, braggadocios and delivered with machine gun precision. Skepta refines grime down to it’s purest elements – slapping beats and quoatables.
24. BADBADNOTGOOD – Time Moves Slow
Sam Herring tames his ragged vocal to deliver a tender slowjam for the ages. The band’s elegant musicianship makes the song feel like waking up to watch the sunrise without any of the grogginess. Not that i’ve ever done that. I throw up in the shower if I wake before eight.
23. King Gizzard and the Lizzard Wizard – Robot Stop
Australia’s most prolific band come through with yet another excellent psych freakout. The band are a well oiled machine on this relentless flurry of yelps and shrill guitars.
22. Car Seat Headrest – Fill in the Blank
Car Seat Headrest writes the best song the Strokes never wrote, with snarky, relatable lyrics that feel completely his own. It’s a wonderful transition from his older low-fi sound into the bright full band he’s working with now, complete with the messy emotions you’d expect.
21. Glass Animals – Season 2 Episode 3
Glass Animals are the band you dream of being in with your friends. You can hear how much fun they’re having as they dismantle boundaries of genre and taste. They play with goofy sounds and daft lyrics, and tinker them to perfection. Their spirit rubs off, and makes you wish you thought of it first.
20. FKA Twigs – Good to Love
‘Good To Love’ might be the most straightforward song FKA Twigs has written. It’s a simple piano ballad fleshed out with airy synths and moody ambience. All focus is on the vocalist herself, as she revisits the theme of sexual and emotional frustration melding together. “If only a prayer would make your touch so I’d feel it. But I’d be wasting time”. With a hushed falsetto, she lifts primal emotions to their most gargantuan. Without the vivid, twitchy production to mask her message, her excellency as a performer still rings true
19. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – 1000 Times
Try singing along with ‘1000 times’. It’s impossible. You’d sound like a yapping dog. But HamStam make it work, looping the same pretty melody for four minutes, hardly shifting around a simple five note pattern, and to beautiful effect. Rostam moves from piano to acoustic guitar, to organ to an electric to keep things fresh, while Leithauser gives his absolute all, straining his vocal and totally selling what not many pop artists could: an incessantly repetitive song that’s all the better because of it.
18. Sampha – Timmy’s Prayer
Timmy’s Prayer is a harrowing lamentation, a sexy slowjam and an anxious feverdream rolled into one, and Sampha kills all of it. It should have been a smash. For shame, Britain. First Brexit then this. FOR SHAME.
17. Anohni – Drone Bomb Me
I went to see Anohni when she toured HOPELESSNESS earlier this year. I knew how good this song was, but it still caught me off guard. When Naomi Campbell’s face lit up the Playhouse and those sharp synth stabs came through, I could have cried. I didn’t, I started busting moves like the boob I am. Anohni and co. twist pop music into a visceral, tragic act of catharsis in this story of a girl caught up in the devastation left behind by drone bombs, She finds death as her only solace. It’s an unsettling warped vision of the love song that highlights our willingness to block out tragedy. It easily could have come across as too preachy and self-satisfied (as much of the album it comes from does, sadly), but the power of the songwriting towers above any skepticism.
16. A Tribe Called Quest – We the people….
It’s a testament to Tribe’s legacy just how well their 90’s sound holds up. ‘We the People….’ is a true throwback to their classic sound, that takes their message of communal identity and branches it out to other communities also under the threat of harm thanks to the president elect. “All you black folks you must go. / All you Mexicans you must go. / All you poor folks you must go. / Muslims and Gays, boy we hate your ways.” Q-Tip mocks on the chorus, sung with the grief of someone surprised by the words he has to speak. This message of unity is propelled by a crunchy beat and simple, rustic piano stabs to leave room for the trio to spit fire over. Tribe’s final project is as essential as any of their legendary work.
15. Blood Orange – Best to You
Devonte Hynes’s xylophone bashing, eighties-dueting, gushing single is a pure slice of sunshine in a year dominated by powerful political works and a seriousness that rightly permeated most celebrated albums, even much of his own. ‘Best to You’ gives his a listener a chance to just dance like an idiot.
14. PUP – If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You I will / DVP
These two singles careen into each other in a clash between the hatred of the world and good old self-hatred. The first is built upon a barrage of insults, each more brutal than the last (a choice favourite being “I’m trying not to let you get in my head but every line and every goddamn syllable/ makes me wanna gouge out my eyes with a powerdrill”). Such an ugly song is performed with passion that borders on gleeful. And that’s before we get to ‘DVP’, an ode to self-destruction that’s just as catchy. Let’s be real, it’s a pretty dour duo of songs, but as long as angry teenagers exist, great bands like PUP will be there to provide a bracing soundtrack.
13. Kendrick Lamar – Untitled 2 06.23.2014
I’d already heard a verse from Untitled 2 on Lamar’s stunning Fallon performance, so I thought I knew what to expect, but, as now standard for King Kendrick, he pulls the floor out from under us completely by revealing the track as a free-jazz trap-injected exorcism of excess. The beat rattles and writhes beneath him as he contemplates his new wealth wealth status shifting inflections, flows and moods across lines. When that familiar verse comes back at the end of the song, I was floored and how Lamar could alter the meaning of his own bars by performing them in such a different way. To think this was a leftover is even more shocking.
12. the Avalanches – Because I’m Me
I REALLY didn’t want to listen to the new album when it came out. The Avalanches’ debut is an untouchable feature of my musical upbringing, as it will be for many others, but fifteen years it a long time. I had built the band’s mythical status up to a point that couldn’t possibly be matched. To hear an new Avalanches record would be like going to Hogwarts and finding out that Chocolate frogs taste a bit like really old Milka. Curiousity eventually got the better of me. As soon as the horns on ‘Because I’m Me’ opened up, all my fears vanished. Time didn’t matter. It could be any decade. Avalanches still had it. The natural “which record is better” argument will happen on the internet for the next fifteen years, but the pure joy of songs like this will make everything okay.
11. Laura Mvula – Phenomenal Woman
Laura Mvula’s shimmering girl power anthem is pure pop optimism, held up by a stomping bass riff and a springy organ that bounces around it. The backing vocals are sweeter than Kurt Hummel’s in Glee.
10. Angel Olsen – Shut up Kiss Me
‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ is about desire, but not the romantic kind. It’s more the burning, all-consuming, rabid, murder-him-in-his-sleep-if-he-rejects-me kind of desire. And Angel totally sells it. Sick of being viewed as an doe-eyed elven folk creature who plays twee tunes in a forest, she rejects sentimentality completely on this ragged story of twisted love, armed with a hook that’ll cut you deep and never let go.
9. Kanye West – Ultralight Beam
I’m not religious in the slightest, but ‘Ultralight Beam’ is enough to make anyone cry out holy exhalations. I’ve listened to it countless times when I’ve been feeling down. I almost cried in Lidl, and that wasn’t just because they had Captain Rondo biscuits in stock (sidenote: if it counted as a type of music, that biscuit would be on all of these lists). The song just builds higher and higher. Its choir arrangement is elevated by each new vocalist. Chance the Rapper delivers one of the best verses of his career, lifting momentum with a beat barely beneath him, each punchline and mesh of biblical references joyous, uplifting and poigniant. Praise lord Rondo!
8. David Bowie – I Can’t Give Everything Away
David Bowie’s swan song reads like an apology, an intense portrayal of vulnerability from a man whose image was larger than any man could think of themselves. It’s a bittersweet sendoff that has the late artist fighting for more life in his final moments. Listening to Blackstar is too intimate to do regularly, but I find myself returning to its final offering the most, for its disarming beauty and human touch from a man seen as god to many. Speaking of such a huge record in the wake of Bowie’s death feels callous no matter how it is approached, given the pain embedded in the work, but shared grief with his listeners is the theme that most comes through on his final self-penned eulogy.
7. Big Thief – Real Love
Vulnerablity, beauty and viscera go hand in hand on a Big Thief song. ‘Real Love’ is all three turned to the max. Adrianne Lenker’s delicate melody sways into shambling bass and drums while the guitars follow behind her, before they disintegrate after a painfully pretty chorus: “Real Love makes your lungs black. / Real love is a heart attack”, she says, with enough bite to make you believe her. Buck Meek’s expressive soloing captures this sentiment fully, though the whole band take the off-kilter folk sway and make it dangerous in its intimacy.
6. Frank Ocean – Self Control
Frank Ocean keeps his feelings hidden and elusive on Blonde, obscuring his voice with effects, speaking in codes and revisiting the past with brittle introspection. There’s none of the extravagance of Channel Orange to be found. The stripped-back balladry allows the meanings of songs to bleed out slowly as a larger emotional picture begins to form. But then there are points where Ocean allows raw emotion to seep through, with blossoming instrumentals and passionate vocals. ‘Self Control’ is one of these moments. The yearning for passed love and intense lonliness come through on the hushed chorus (“Keep a place for me / I’ll sleep between y’all, it’s nothing, it’s nothing”), before the song opens up with its cleansing outro, the emotional highpoint of the album . The grand presentation creeps up so subtlety that its largeness isn’t even apparent until you’re fully inside of it. It’s a purgative moment and a gorgeous portrayal of exposed insecurities after a relationship crumbles.
5. Radiohead – Daydreaming
Daydreaming has been said to have been influenced by Thom Yorke’s separation from his partner of 23 years. For others, it’s a haunting reflection on political complacency, or an impending ice age, or the failure to connect. Or maybe just about, like, life, maaan. This is the power of Radiohead. A collection of cryptic lyrics are lifted by an aching musical experience to connect with whoever listens, and to allow the listener to pull their own meanings from it.
4. Beyoncé – Formation
Beyonce has spent a lifetime grafting within an industry built on the exploitation of its performers, and she came out on top. With that success, she could just run away with her millions, buy an island and never hear from a label exec again. Instead, she takes her success to create music that subverts all expectations for what is possible for a pop star. On ‘Formation’, the most overtly political offering from her stunning visual album, Lemonade, she demonstrates pride and ownership over her black female identity. She praises ‘nappy hair’ and ‘Jackson 5 nostrils’, and urges for those suffering to come together and rise up. Many have criticised this move as a disingenuous appropriation of protest music by mass corporations, now that artists like Kendrick have proved to be profitable. ‘Formation’ is so much more than that. Beyonce finds a way to make the pop industry work for her; as she tells us, “The best revenge is your paper”. The music here is rebellious, uplifting and drove public musical conversation for weeks after its release. It’s playfully eccentric too, Knowles opting for an uncharacteristically snarled delivery, over an eccentric, vibrant instrumental with more artistic finesse than the majority of the Top 40. And still, it’s an incredibly memorable pop song, the layered vocals on its chorus light and airy, pulling listeners in and forcing them to take notice. ‘Formation’ shows the ultimate potential for pop music, by a woman who has been raised by the music industry only to bend its limitations to her will, and to the will of her listeners.
3. Danny Brown – Ain’t it Funny
Who else could rap over this? Danny Brown makes this warped, Willy Wonka drug-addled nightmare sound like it’s a smooth DJ Premier beat, with a manic, dextrous flow that highlights his downward spiral gloriously. A soup of squelching horns and relentless thumping drums soundtrack one of many tales of debauchery. But this is not the fun kind of intoxication Brown raps about on ‘Dip’ or many of his features. Instead, Brown is stuck in a loop of depression and substance abuse. “Staring in the devil face / But ya can’t stop laughing / Staring in the devil face / But ya can’t stop laughing / It’s a living nightmare / that most of us might share / Inherited in our blood / It’s why we stuck in the mud / Can’t quit the drug use / Or the alcohol abuse /Even if I wanted to” – Brown makes these painful lines of familial self-destruction sound both crushingly real and weirdly fun, with a cackling hook that feels less like a rhetorical question as the track careens forward. Ain’t It funny how it happens? AIN’T IT?!
2. James Blake + Bon Iver – I Need a Forest Fire
This single could just be that moment Justin Vernon lets out a “HOOOOOH”, and it would still be on the list. The pure joy of that noise is life-giving.
But there’s a whole song! A whole, spine-tinglingly good song! Vernon and Blake produce a duet that blends both of their styles into a dreamy boyband haven.
1. Mitski – Your Best American Girl
Mitski isn’t usually one for writing big, indie rock anthems. Her winding melodies are usually more suited to the sparse, subtle instrumentation that compliments her lonely subject matters. But here, she steps out of her comfort zone and embraces brash Americanisms in an ironic subversion that cuts to the core of the muddled identity she writes of on the song. She relies on the classic soft/loud dynamic, but there isn’t anything basic about the way Mitski writes. ‘Your Best American Girl’ is a song about cultural identity so intensely personal that it should make those outside of her experience wince, but her writing makes such a subject painful and cathartic for anyone who’s felt like an outsider, even for just a second. She’s still unsure as the notes ring out, but she touches those who feel unsure with her.
Listen to all of these singles below