New Songs to Quarantine To, June Edition

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Some incredible things happened in June 2020. Protests against government-sanctioned hate swelled to unforeseen global heights, raising awareness of insidious systemic racism in the minds of the privileged. City councils voted to defund police departments. Statues honoring racists were torn down.

Also in June, fiery antiracist poetry entered our lives at just the right time. Songwriting legends reflected on love and marriage and divorce. And a resurgent diva reminded us that disco will never die. These songs might not change the world, but they’ll make a pretty good soundtrack for this harrowing, electrifying, emotional summer.

1. Coco – “I Love It (Black)”

This purposeful, pride-drenched blast of UK grime is as exhilarating as seeing Black Lives Matter protests go global.

2. Run the Jewels ft. Gangsta Boo – “Walking in the Snow”

Black people are murdered by police so often, a rapper can write lyrics about a specific atrocity and chances are it’ll apply to others by the time the track drops. Like Killer Mike’s explosive verse on “Walking in the Snow,” written before George Floyd’s death:

And everyday on evening news they feed you fear for free
And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me
And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, “I can’t breathe”

3. Bully – “Where to Start”

If you’re a fan of cheerful, high-energy grunge hooks, well then Bully for you.

4. Jessie Ware – “Soul Control” 

An undeniable “Two of Hearts” synth line brings us behind the velvet rope at an ’80s discotheque, where the chorus froths over like champagne.

5. Bob Dylan – “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You”

“Lot of people gone / Lot of people I knew,” admits a 79-year-old legend over the low, reassuring hum of his backup singers, who coax him to admit that he’s in love, even now, at the end of the road.

6. Dua Selah – “Cat Scratch”

“Posture of a pastor with his sheep / Planting hella seeds,” spits this Sudanese-American emcee over a mournful, trance-inducing guitar loop. So grateful to be in the congregation.

7. Spillage Village – “End of Daze”

A scathingly funky rap crew track about our American apocalypse: “God packed her bags and said ‘Bye bye.'”

8. Bill Callahan – “Pigeons”

A year after crafting the best album of 2019, Bill Callahan is unexpectedly back: driving newlyweds around in his limo, reflecting on the universality of marriage, and doing his best Johnny Cash impression. We do not deserve this.

9. Dessiderium – “Cosmic Limbs”

A brain-liquefying display of technical death metal riffage, with rapid-fire note clusters that scamper down your ear canals like gremlins infiltrating a spaceship.

10. Saint Jhn – “Trap (Rompasso Remix)”

Burbling, chart-baiting dance-pop with a chorus that gives a middle finger to the police.

11. Neil Young – “Separate Ways”

Can a break-up song be romantic? The opener of Neil Young’s long-lost, finally released 1974 LP Homegrown certainly comes close. Over a trademark guitar and harmonica arrangement, Young celebrates a love gone by with stark, open-hearted tenderness.

12. Teyana Taylor ft. Lauryn Hill – “We Got Love”

“Love is the new money / I’m mentally wealthy,” posits Teyana Taylor on this buoyant R&B singalong about what really matters. When Lauryn Hill appears to share her own hard-won perspective on the emptiness of financial success, it feels like a torch being passed.

New Songs to Quarantine To, April Edition

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In April 2020, I was in my car only a handful of times. This honestly made me worried that I would have nothing to share in this monthly round-up of my favorite new tracks. (This was not my primary worry in the midst of a pandemic. I’m not a sociopath. But it did crack the top 20.) Because like a lot of adults with jobs and responsibilities, my commutes are the ultimate moments to be able to focus on a song, to give it the best chance to get its hooks in me. Alas, I worried for no reason. Great artists still managed to worm their way into my workdays, providing an outlet for feelings of stress and disorientation, and giving voice to the joy I feel when realize I can stop and kiss my wife in-between meetings. No matter what is happening in the world, music will always have the power to do that. Which is an encouraging thought.


1. NNAMDI – “Gimme Gimme”

On this song about unrepentant greed, an insanely catchy dive-bomb bass line leaves me wanting more.

2. Charli XCX – “Claws”

If this frayed electro-pop love song is any indication, Charli’s imminent recorded-at-home album is going to make us all dance in our living rooms with tears in our eyes.

3. Jean Deaux (ft. Saba) – “Moody!”

Two Chicago rappers melting the lingering snow with their flows.

4. Laura Marling – “Fortune”

An almost unbearably beautiful breakup song.

5. Thundercat (ft. Zach Fox) – “Overseas”

Another delightful, international travel-based ditty from our planet’s resident jazz-pop goofball/genius.

6. Rina Sawayama – “XS”

If Destiny’s Child and Korn had teamed up on a single back in 1999, it would’ve broken TRL records. And, as this Japanese-British pop craftsman posits here, it would have also supersonically slapped.

7. Jessie Ware – “Spotlight”

Jessie Ware brings Sade to the club: “A dream is just a dream / And I don’t wanna sleep tonight.”

8. Duck Sauce – “Captain Duck”

The DJs responsible for the playful, unpretentious early-’10s jams “It’s You” and “Barbara Streisand” return, reminding us that the bass line to Chic’s “Good Times” is anything but a misty watercolored memory.

9. Khruangbin – “Time (You and I)”

Even when they employ vocals, as they do here, this Houston psych-funk trio uses them as mantras, ushering the groove even more expeditiously into our souls.

10. Yaeji – “When I Grow Up”

Over a skittering, hi-hat-strewn backdrop, Yaeji whispers about the intimidating permanence of adulthood: “You feel crazy / You’re hurt maybe / You don’t have room to say maybe no more.”

11. Bob Dylan – “I Contain Multitudes”

So many things are comforting about Bob Dylan’s new ballad.

1. A legendary lyricist scratching his name-dropping itch for the thousandth time, borrowing the song title from Whitman and referencing Indiana Jones, Chopin, Poe, etc.

2. A percussionless arrangement of acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitars that is the sonic equivalent of organic honey.

3. A message that we’re all complicated beings, who can be expected to do unexpected things – like, perhaps, vote for a Republican president in 2016 and then turn on him in 2020.

The Bestest Songs of 2019

In the grand scheme of things, 2019 was a year with precious few bright spots. Fortunately for this column, music was one of them. Artists from the worlds of rap, metal, punk, folk, calypso, dance, R&B and pop all gave me that most precious of cultural gifts – a few minutes to focus on something beautiful. Here are my top 25 songs of 2019.

 

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25. Steve Gunn – “Vagabond”

This swirling acoustic ramble feels like it could go on forever. It’s almost disappointing when it doesn’t.

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24. Charly Bliss – “Under You”

“Every time you say my name I think it’s a mistake,” marvels Eva Hendricks on this absolute sugar rush of a pop-punk love song.

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23. Moon Tooth – “Awe At All Angles”

As singer John Carbone compares himself to whitewater rapids, the rest of this Long Island prog-metal quartet takes us on one hell of a ride.

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22. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib (ft. Anderson .Paak) – “Giannis”

Anderson .Paak’s gliding croon and formidable bars are perfectly suited to this twinkling groove from Madlib. But that doesn’t stop Freddie from outshining them both.

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21. Goldlink (feat. Maleek Berry & Bibi Bourelly) – “Zulu Screams”

Over an unrelenting, percussive Afropop beat, GoldLink doesn’t drop rhymes. He pours them, his preternatural flow a tributary to oceans of hooks, rhythms, and overwhelmingly good vibes.

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20. Normani – “Motivation”

If an early-’00s R&B revival is upon us, I am here for it.

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19. Jessie Ware – “Mirage (Don’t Stop)”

Club music tends to bludgeon. But in Jessie Ware’s hands, it caresses. “Last night we danced / And I thought you were saving my life,” she sings with gentle confidence on “Mirage,” as the irrepressible bass line whisks our inhibitions away.

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18. Ozzy Osbourne – “Under the Graveyard”

Ozzy Osbourne’s voice has a troubled, mournful quality that has elevated even the dopiest of lyrics. And on this impeccably produced power ballad – his first single in nine years – our 70-year-old Prince of Darkness shows us he’s absolutely still got it. Pondering the finality of death, in a voice that can still sound stunningly forlorn.

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17. Otoboke Beaver – “datsu . hikage no onna”

This Kyoto punk quartet has tapped into a reservoir of adrenaline potent enough to reanimate a long-dead heart.

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16. Purple Mountains – “Maybe I’m the Only One for Me”

This sad-sack country jaunt will have you LOLAL-ing (laughing out loud about loneliness): “If no one’s fond of fucking me / Maybe no one’s fucking fond of me.”

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15. Idle Hands – “Nightfall”

If you like your Satan worshipping with a spoonful of sugar, don’t sleep on these Portland, OR, occult rockers. “Nightfall” has hooks to rival The Cure and Blue Oyster Cult, along with an irresistible dark energy all its own. So grab your sacrificial daggers – and dance!

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14. Rico Nasty – “Hatin”

Rico made a Neptunes beat her own in 2018. In 2019, it was Jay-Z’s turn.

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13. Weyes Blood – “Everyday”

The Beatles made it sound easy, but “I need love” can be a pretty terrifying thing to say out loud. Weyes Blood makes this admission, over and over again, wisely bringing a soothing, 1970s soft rock orchestra along for the ride.

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12. Little Simz – “Boss”

Take a goddamn seat, Bruce Springsteen.

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11. Helado Negro – “Imagining What To Do”

Calypso Nick Drake.

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10. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Too Much”

One of our finest pop alchemists applies her singular lovestruck energy to Mae West’s famous adage, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”

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9. Megan Thee Stallion – “Realer”

Right now, nobody on earth is rapping with more authority than Houston emcee Megan Thee Stallion. On “Realer,” she wields syllables like free weights, knocking us out at the end of every couplet, while only getting stronger for the next one.

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8. Angel Du$t – “Big Ass Love”

This supergroup of moonlighting hardcore screamers happens to be incredibly good at writing catchy power-pop love songs.

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7. Brutus – “War”

This Belgian trio delivers a post-metal ballad that has a lot in common with Metallica’s “One” – a simple title; martial lyrics; an extended dramatic intro; a thrilling, headbanging flashpoint. But Stefanie Mannaerts is a better singer than James Hetfield, and a better drummer than Lars Ulrich. “One” was a ground battle. This is an airstrike.

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6. Annika Norlin – “Showering in Public”

A staggeringly beautiful folk song about locker room anxiety.

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5. Maxo Kream – “Meet Again”

This gifted Houston rapper pairs heartbreaking rhymes about an imprisoned friend with a beat that’s as smooth as a summer cocktail. This dissonance is brilliance.

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4. Bill Callahan – “What Comes After Certainty”

Magic is for rom-coms. The real shit, the chills-up-your-spine shit, is knowing, without a doubt, that you have found your person.

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3. Charli XCX – “Official”

“You know the words to my mistakes / You understand because you made ’em too,” sings Charli XCX on this jaw-dropping ode to the interlocking connections and somehow-perfect imperfections of a loving relationship.

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2. Denzel Curry – “Speedboat”

As partly-cloudy piano notes do their best to dampen the mood, this gifted Florida emcee clusters his syllables in irresistible ways, all while completely subverting what most of us would expect from a Miami rap song about an expensive sea vessel.

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1. Lizzo – “Cuz I Love You”

Lizzo reminds us that love is the best kind of devastating, singing with real, visceral, mascara-streaked joy. An instant classic.

Honorable Mentions: 2 Chainz (ft. Lil Wayne & E-40) – “2 Dollar Bill”; Anderson .Paak (ft. Brandy) – “Jet Black”; Bleached – “Hard to Kill”; Caribou – “Home”; Carly Rae Jepsen – “Everything He Needs”; Charli XCX (ft. Christine and the Queens) – “Gone”; Coldplay – “Cry Cry Cry”; Cupcakke – “Squidward Nose”; Czarface – “Call Me”; Danny Brown – “Theme Song”; Donny Benét – “Second Dinner”; Gang Starr – “Bad Name”; Haim – “Summer Girl”; Hatchie – “Obsessed”; Iggy Pop – “James Bond”; James Blake – “I’ll Come Too”; Jamila Woods – “Muddy”; Lana Del Rey – “Love Song”; Lil Nas X (ft. Billy Ray Cyrus) – “Old Town Road (Remix)”; Maren Morris – “The Bones”; The Mountain Goats – “Clemency for the Wizard King”; Neil Young – “Eternity”; Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Waiting for You”; Nicki Minaj – “Megatron”; Sudan Archives – “Glorious”; Tanya Tucker – “I Don’t Owe You Anything”; Tyler, the Creator – “Earfquake”; Vampire Weekend – “Sympathy”; Van Morrison – “Dark Night of the Soul”; Wiki – “Fee Fi Fo Fum”; YBN Cordae (feat. Anderson .Paak) – “RNP”; Young Thug (ft. Lil Baby) – “Bad Bad Bad”

November’s Bestest Songs

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Here are my favorite tracks from November 2019. This Thanksgiving, my wife and I watched the Dennis Quaid home invasion thriller The Intruder (5 stars) while the bird was in the oven. I referred to it as The Hand that Rocks the Quaid-le, and she laughed. I am so thankful for her. I can’t fathom my luck.

1. Jessie Ware – “Mirage (Don’t Stop)”

Club music tends to bludgeon. But in Jessie Ware’s hands, it caresses. “Last night we danced / And I thought you were saving my life,” she sings with gentle confidence on “Mirage,” as the irrepressible bass line whisks our inhibitions away.

2. Earl Sweatshirt – “East”

Most rappers are content to rap over beats. Earl Sweatshirt raps through mazes. On “East,” it’s a drumless, three-second accordion sample lifted from a song by Egyptian crooner Abdel Halim Hafez. As Earl raps about all he’s lost – his phone, his girlfriend, his grandma – he somehow never loses his way.

3. Ozzy Osbourne – “Under the Graveyard”

Ozzy Osbourne’s voice has a troubled, mournful quality that has elevated even the dopiest of lyrics. And on this impeccably produced power ballad – his first single in nine years – our 70-year-old Prince of Darkness shows us he’s absolutely still got it. Pondering the finality of death, in a voice that can still sound stunningly forlorn.

4. Coldplay – “Cry Cry Cry”

Chris Martin dabbling in doo-wop might sound like the first idea Coldplay should’ve erased from their brainstorm whiteboard this album cycle. But this is a band who wrote a song called “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” and made it slap. So of course, “Cry Cry Cry” is an adventurous little ditty about romantic loyalty, its swaying Flamingos melody buoyed by vinyl hiss and Chipmunk harmonies.

5. NLE Choppa – “Forever”

This skyrocketing Memphis rapper celebrated his 17th birthday with a love song. “I got some trust issues / But I trust you,” he sings, the weight of the admission floating away in a haze of human chemistry and catchy organ chords.

6. Lauryn Hill – “Guarding the Gates”

Ozzy wasn’t the only legend flexing his muscles in November: 21 years after her first (and only) solo studio album turned the world on its ear, Lauryn Hill emerged on the soundtrack to Lena Waithe’s film Queen & Slim, with a jaw-dropping, six-minute R&B epic. As harpsichord notes declaratively ring, Hill sings about society’s expectations and the anxieties they bring, eventually finding freedom in another: “You can laugh at me / But I’m in love.”

7. Wiki (feat. Lil Ugly Mane & Denzel Curry) – “Grim”

What better subject for a sneering, ominous New York rap song than the cold indifference of the Grim Reaper? “Will it be late at night or in the early morning? / Either way, slurpin’ forties out in purgatory.”

8. Haim – “Hallelujah”

They might be from California, but Haim’s finger-picked ballad about spiritual bonds and crushing losses is well within sight of those snow-covered hills Stevie Nicks sang about.

9. Red Death – “Sickness Divine”

This DC hardcore band goes full 1986 Metallica on “Sickness Divine,” regaling us with a clean, melodramatic intro, which makes the subsequent skull-rattling riffage hit even harder.

10. Kacey Musgraves (feat. Troye Sivan) – “Glittery”

Kacey Musgraves has written indelible love songs using metaphors as trite as butterflies and rainbows. So who better to write us a new, hopelessly romantic Christmas carol?

The Top 25 Songs of 2014

What better way to ring in the new year than with a list of songs that somebody else liked? Here are my favorite songs of the year that was. Listen on the fancy playlist that hopefully is appearing below, and/or read my thoughts on each track, and/or stop reading now and start a good book. Like “Watership Down” or something. Got it? Great. Happy new year.

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25. Ex Hex – “Waterfall”

Mary Timony’s new ensemble gins up a dynamite Ramones boogie, and gives us an idea of what it must’ve been like to court Dee Dee: “I want to show you my affection / But you’re on the floor.”

 

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24. Jessie Ware – “Say You Love Me”

The kind of scorching R&B theater we took for granted when Whitney and Mariah were at their peak.

 

 

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23. Kylie Minogue – “Fine”

This underappreciated pop star speaks directly to the people who line the walls of the club, staring at their shoes, afraid of how they’ll be perceived: “You’re gonna be fine/You don’t have to worry.”

 

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22. Mark Ronson ft. Mystikal – “Feel Right”

I’ve heard that Get On Up was pretty decent. But I don’t need a James Brown movie. I have Mystikal. “Feel Right” is no “Hit Me,” but it still drowns our eardrums in joyful adrenaline, leaving you no choice but to believe lines like “I eat flames up / Shit fire out!”

 

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21. Swans  – “A Little God In My Hands”

When this angular funk groove gets pancaked by a dump truck of drunken horns, it makes Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” seem like “I Want Candy.”

 

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20. Run The Jewels – “Blockbuster Night Part 1”

Just in case this beat’s Andre The Giant-playing-the-12-string-guitar thump doesn’t do the trick, Killer Mike is here to shake your ass awake: “Top of the mornin’ / My fist to your face is fucking Folgers.”

 

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19. Jungle – “Busy Earnin'”

Perhaps the catchiest dance track to ever leverage the swagger of hardcore capitalists. We “can’t get enough,” indeed.

 

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18. Mastodon – “High Road”

This song compares those who take the high road to plague-ridden rats. Whether or not you agree is immaterial – one listen to that magnificent, belching riff, and you’re following these guys down every tunnel.

 

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17. St. Vincent – “Birth In Reverse”

What does Annie Clark see through the blinds? She hints that it’s something phenomenal, haunting, and American. Perhaps it’s her own reflection.

 

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16. Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”

During a summer when Taylor Swift and Meghan Trainor were appropriating hip hop tropes in queasy ways, “Anaconda” felt necessary, with Minaj transforming an old pop-rap punchline into something hilariously, defiantly, and indelibly new.

 

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15. Future Islands – “Sun In The Morning”

A stunning ballad that dares to suggest one person can be all you need. It’s “Drunk In Love” for the quavering new wave set.

 

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14. Migos – “Pop That”

Proof that humanity’s instinctual urge to procreate is directly related to our instinctual urge to dance.

 

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13. Tune-Yards – “Water Fountain”

An elegy to a failed public works system presented as a gleeful jump rope chant. Shades of gray aren’t usually this neon.

 

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12. Drake – “0 to 100 / The Catch Up”

A salve for those still irked by the flagrant falsity of “Started From the Bottom.” Drake claims that he left TV for hip hop because the money wasn’t coming fast enough. Then he admits he’s probably not the greatest yet, in a freewheeling flow that begs otherwise.

 

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11. Hannah Diamond – “Every Night”

The chirping synths and Chipmunk vocals of the PC Music collective sound like a robot presenting evidence that it can love. And “Every Night” is its most convincing argument, if only for its charming brain teaser lyrics: “I like the way you know that I like how you look / And you like me too.”

 

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10. Sturgill Simpson – “Turtles All The Way Down”

A ballad about Buddhism and the cleansing power of reptile aliens. Now that’s what I call rebel country.

 

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9. Azealia Banks – “Gimme A Chance”

There’s a difference between an artist making eclectic music and an eclectic artist making music. This track is the latter, transforming from brassy hip hop into a killer salsa tune so seamlessly, you almost don’t realize it.

 

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8. Against Me! – “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”

Hearing Laura Jane Grace’s pain ferment into jet fuel was one of the only things in 2014 that made us believe hatred’s days are numbered.

 

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7. Shamir – “On The Regular”

Throw together some cowbells, a few notes on a synth, and the breezy confidence of the precociously talented – and just like that, dance music feels new again.

 

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6. Cakes da Killa – “Just Desserts”

Listening to a Cakes verse should qualify as an hour of cardio. “Coming at n***as like an avalanche,” he spews here, not even coming close to hyperbole.

 

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5. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – “Betray My Heart”

If you can believe any famous person who claims to be true to themselves, it’s probably the one who waits 14 years to capitalize on his fame. And then does so with earthy aplomb over walking bass and squelching wah-wah.

 

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4. Nicki Minaj – “Boss Ass Bitch (Remix)” 

The Rosetta Stone of being a boss.

 

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3. Sleater-Kinney – “Bury Our Friends”

“Patch me up/I’ve got want in my bones,” belts Corin Tucker on Sleater-Kinney’s first new track in almost a decade. She sounds like a boxer who’s feeling her second wind, a character in an action movie who the CIA convinces to come out of retirement with guns blazing.

 

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2. Clean Bandit – “Rather Be”

When the alarm goes off, you’re holding your person, and you’d trade tickets to Paris for just another hour. Clean Bandit has made a dance song out of that feeling.

 

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1. Young Thug – “Treasure”

Nobody sounds like Young Thug. And “Treasure” captures him at peak delirium, marveling at people who leave money on the table in enchanting quadruple time, his voice squawking and cracking and stopping and starting like a Lil Wayne tape played on a melting Teddy Ruxpin. If you pass up the chance to listen to this, its chorus immediately applies to you.

Honorable Mentions: Azealia Banks – “Chasing Time”; Behemoth – “In the Absence ov Light”; Cozz – “Dreams”; Craig Campbell – “Keep Them Kisses Comin'”; D’Angelo & The Vanguard – “Really Love”; Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me”; Michael Jackson – “Love Never Felt So Good”; ILoveMakonnen – “I Don’t Sell Molly No More”; La Sera – “Running Wild”; Nicki Minaj ft. Soulja Boy – “Yasss Bitch”; Sinead O’Connor – “Take Me To Church”; Pallbearer – “Worlds Apart”; Robert Plant – “Rainbow”; Rich Gang – “I Know It”; The Roots – “Tomorrow”; Sia – “Chandelier”; TV On The Radio – “Lazerray”; Sharon Van Etten – “Every Time The Sun Comes Up”; Young Thug & Bloody Jay – “Florida Water”