I’m currently reading book two of The Stormlight Archive, an exhilarating door-stopper fantasy series where ancient knights can breathe light that heals their wounds. (What, you thought I was, like, cool or something?) As hospitals fill right back up with anti-vaxxers who trust Facebook more than science books, these 10 songs have been my form of magical oxygen. Some are dance-floor-ready bangers; others are spacey instrumentals; all are imbued with the kind of positive vibes that make me feel like I can do impossible things. So go ahead. Breathe.
1. Queen Key – “What I Do”
After giving birth to triplets at the beginning of the pandemic, this Chicago rapper cannot be bothered to sound stressed, casually sharing her plans for world domination over sunny piano notes: “I want them to think that I’m slow / Think I’m a ho / So I can take their souls and put em in my fro.”
2. Sturgill Simpson – “Shamrock”
This usually idiosyncratic country star has given us three old-school bluegrass LPs in the last year, all of them barnburners. On “Shamrock,” he lets his band absolutely pop off, while managing to not drown out the mouth harp. The world needs more mouth harp!
3. Becky Hill (feat. Topic) – “My Heart Goes (La Di Da)”
A dance-pop anthem with a sound so convincingly ’90s, I coulda sworn CeCe Peniston had became a cardiologist.
4. Abstract Mindstate – “A Wise Tale”
Turns out there was a reason to celebrate Kanye West’s return this August – as the producer on this low-key comeback LP from a forgotten Windy City rap duo. This rich, playful, soul-sample-flipping beat might be old hat for Ye, but it’s perfect for slightly wistful late-summer barbecues, and better than anything on Donda.
5. Marisa Anderson & William Tyler – “News About Heaven”
From the first cascading guitar notes of this serene instrumental, you know this song title is perfect.
6. Caribou – “You Can Do It”
I hope Dan Snaith’s don’t-overthink-it lounge-house groove rips this phrase out of Rob Schneider’s big dumb mouth, once and for all.
7. Denzel Curry – “The Game”
This Florida rapper is capable of such exceptional acrobatics, his straightforward, martial approach on “The Game” hits even harder. Here’s to him and Kendrick coming to our rescue at the end of this fairly boring year in rap.
8. John Carroll Kirby – “Mystic Brine”
The soundtrack to the new psychedelic animated oddity Cryptozoo is an appropriately otherworldly stoner daydream – but it’s also undeniably real, man.
9. Tierra Whack – “Walk the Beat”
The first full embrace of club music from this Philadelphia rapper/singer/visionary is refreshingly blasé about haute couture: “Fashion shows, fancy clothes / That’s just the way it goes.”
10. Wanda Jackson (feat. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts) – “That’s What Love Is”
This is the last song on this 83-year-old country legend’s final album? Holy shit:
It isn’t just the way we felt that first day
It’s an ongoing thing, I fought more along the way
It’s knowing you’ll be there when I call your name
That’s what love is