Thursday, August 6, 2015

Taking On 2015 - Top Tracks (Q2 Quarterly Review)

Alright, so once again we have returned with our Quarterly Review series, spotlighting (as usual to start) the top songs of the year so far. Or that's what I guess I would write had I not neglected to do a Q1 Quarterly Review back at the end of March, but alas the time for that has passed while I was just listening to a lot of Drake and being lazy. We aren't here to read about the goings-on in my life though (presumably there is only a minimal 'we' anyway, but let's ignore that for the time being as these words continue to be typed in to the void), it's music time. As usual here is a Spotify list of all the songs that are on Spotify which I considered for this list, and you can also click on the song titles for corresponding Youtube/SoundCloud links where applicable.

10. "SMUCKERS" - Tyler, the Creator (feat. Kanye West and Lil Wayne)

Though it is debatable how successful Tyler, the Creator's latest album was on a whole, opinions definitely seemed split though I ended up enjoying it more than expected, "SMUCKERS" easily exists as the standout track. It takes a lot to make Lil Wayne tolerable, so perhaps the fact that he doesn't ruin the song is a testament to how good it is (aided toward the end by a nice bit of back and forth with Tyler), but that would be overlooking the obvious verse that elevates this song: Kanye's verse. The smooth beat recalls his older work, and while there is still plenty of Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in here, there's a fair amount of Late Registration in there as well. The lines are quotable, the verse starts with trademark vulnerability mixed with enough braggadocio to make it unmistakably Kanye. Plus there's the final gem "Had a drink with Fear and I was textin' God/He said 'I gave you a big dick, so go extra hard.'" But I'm sure there's still plenty of time to gush over Kanye's 2015 coming soon.

9. "Drink Tickets" - kitty

While this is a far cry from "DEAD ISLAND" and other more traditional hip-hop kitty songs, the more traditional pop elements are not exactly unwelcome and add to the infectiously addictive quality of the song. Not to mention that kitty does get her rapping in, and damn if she doesn't do her thing in the limited time. Realistically the length of her second verse makes 2 Chainz's guest verse on "Breakfast" seem like Paradise Lost by comparison, but this is a pop song so perhaps it's to be expected. Kitty has always had a presence on songs, but with time it starts to become a lot more commanding as she embraces pure pop in a surprising turn, and on "Drink Tickets" she does take command, at least in a kitty way (whatever the fuck that means), which is more than enough for me.

8. "Can't Feel My Face" - The Weeknd

It's easy to write off "Can't Feel My Face" as a fairly standard The Weeknd song, but I think that kind of loses sight of just how powerful and clear his voice is on the track. Both literally and less so, a nice blend of style that occasionally recalls the Michael Jackson cover "D.D." from Echoes Of Silence that made one of these lists years and years ago, I believe. Oh, here it is. The instrumental work is arguably the star, however, switching from the more subdued to the quicker synth qualities of the chorus, all adding up to a song that exists in the magical (liminal?) space between personal and universal, as any successful emotionally charged song ought to, but The Weeknd elevates that as he has so many times before.

7. "Blessings (Remix)" - Big Sean (feat. Drake and Kanye West)

Well, here we are more than halfway through 2015 and somehow there is a Big Sean song on this list. Now, obviously it's not exactly because of Big Sean, but credit where it is do, his work on this song is pretty good and works really well with the beat. But come on, Drake and Kanye at the same damn time! No real need to mince words, this isn't technically close to Drake's best verse of the year because realistically there are so many to pick from, but the more sedate beat really plays to his ability to make the lavish seem common, which works perfectly on the song. And, of course, just when the song (originally) concludes, in comes Kanye with a pounding verse that almost seems to transform the song in a way, all leading up to the track's refrain standing on its own. Brief a capella moments in hiphop have always done a ton for me when used correctly, and this goes way beyond a simple word like "correct."

6. "Sunday Candy" - Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment (feat. Jamila Woods)

Technically this song came out in 2014, but Surf came out this year and I missed it in 2014, so here it is. At some point this list will not have a hiphop song on it, at least I think, but let that not serve as a distraction from the soulful sound that Trumpet creates nor the magnificent vocals that Woods provide. It's easy to focus on the emotion conveyed in a song from a vocalist, and while I wish I could say I was above that I am not, especially when it's so powerful. Chance the Rapper's two verses both build in different ways, creating an energy that is complimented wonderfully with Woods's voice. The part that has stuck with me the most comes in the second verse, a rapid fire list that Chance makes of the tangible and intangible, utilities and survival: "You smell like light, gas, water, electricity, rent." And even though I'm not super religious, the central metaphor to explore the idea of love (familial or otherwise) just makes this one of the most beautiful songs I have heard in quite some time.

5. "The Powers That B" - Death Grips

The title track from Death Grips's long awaited double album does not disappoint, leaning in to what I most love about the group: MC Ride's blasting vocals over pounding instruments occasionally broken by moments of clarity. The lyrics here, at times, are almost drawn out, almost all immediately comprehensible (except when they are not), but still mostly contributing to the overall sound that is created. It's Death Grips at their best and most versatile, showing off just how carefully arranged the seemingly discordant noise is. And while it's easy to write off how silly something like "My favorite color is oh my god bitch" can be, it all leads that that starkly clear final verse that proves to be one of the most jarring and forceful moments I've listened to this year.

4. "Legend" - Drake

Realistically I could have picked so many songs from Drake's latest album to occupy this slot, but even if "Legend" isn't the most in depth or impressive song from on there it's not only an incredible way to start everything off but the song sort of best captures Drake's 2015 so far, as it kind of has been the thing of legends. And while putting a representation on the list rather than a best song is something I try not to do, this one also does happen to be so addictive and capable of repeat listens that I think the spot is well earned. Sure it's not as quotable as "Energy" or as resonant as "You & The 6" but it sort of blends those two together in a really impressive way.

3. "Holy Shit" - Father John Misty

Look, I'm going to blame 2015 being a spectacular year for hiphop for the absence of the genre diversity on this list (plus we have the album list for that, don't worry), so when something stands out so much that it is able to cut through the sea of Kanye and Drake it definitely deserves one of the top spots. The lyrics, as seemingly simplistic as they may be over the bare instrumentals, are simply staggering, but what they contribute to is even more so. The pent up cynicism seems to flow freely (not as much as on "Bored In The USA"), creating just an engaging sort of poetry. The variations on the refrain, moving from an inward "black hole" to a bursting form "atom bomb" and ultimately tossing aside all the external factors and complications for a simple "you and me" is remarkably powerful. The song kind of reminds me of "Blowin' In The Wind" were that one not so aggressively hollow with its arresting lyrics (I still love you, Bob Dylan, I promise), and it even gets through my jaded exterior to cut right to the core.

2. "Only One" - Kanye West (feat. Paul McCartney)

Pretty sure this song came out on January 1st, and at this point I'm still not entirely convinced that Kanye didn't start the year off with the best song of 2015 when all is said and done, but I'll refrain from anointing it just yet. Once again Kanye turns entirely to singing, channeling the spirit of his deceased mother reflecting on Kanye's newborn child and life at present. It's surprisingly effective even in its obvious sentimentality, a true beauty and connection that transcends life and death found in the lines "And when you cry, I will cry/And when you smile, I will smile." Now I'm not going to contextualize this in relation to whatever Kanye has released this year, nor am I in any position to speculate on what his new album might sound like when it does release because I have no idea at all, but looking at "Only One" on its own has me convinced that it's one of the year's best songs. And also has me wondering if I may have grown soft in my old age.

1. "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" - Jamie xx (feat. Young Thug & Popcaan)

Perhaps this does little to refute my concerns over finally having the rock in my chest worn down, but I like to think that it at least puts some of them to rest. The undisputed song of the summer comes equipped with a healthy dose of The Persuasions paired with Popcaan's reggae influences all carefully arranged by Jamie xx's watchful eye, but it's got a hefty fucking amount of Thugger too. And let us not forget what may very well be the most ridiculous and spectacular set of words put to paper in 2015 in that shrill opening to the second verse when Young Thug hollers out, "I'ma ride in that pussy like a stroller!" A case for a spot on this list could be made with that line alone, but the energy that pulsates through the rest of the track solidifies it in the top spot at the year's halfway mark.

And, of course, the songs that were just outside the Top 10 in no particular order:

"Twist My Fingaz" - YG
"bodyache" - Purity Ring
"Elevator Operator" - Courtney Barnett
"Constantly Hating" - Young Thug (feat. Birdman)
"Christ Conscious" - Joey Bada$$

How does it all look? Did I get anything insanely wrong or right? What should I listen to before I get around to doing this again? Let me know below in the comments and check in soon for a list of the top albums of the year so far!


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

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© 2015 Richard James Thorne

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