It’s been a busy three months for me, and while I’ve still had time to listen, I haven’t been able to keep up with what has turned into a blinding first quarter. Here are a handful of my favorite songs that I haven’t been able to write about.
“Know Me From”
Like a lot of American teenagers, I was enamored by the exciting world of grime thanks to early efforts from The Streets and Dizzee Rascal. Unlike a lot of American teenagers, it stuck, and it’s still sticking as tightly as ever. Original Pirate Material remains one of my three favorite albums, and it has led me to discover heavyweights like Wiley, Skinnyman, Kano, and Roots Manuva, as well as less celebrated folks like the Mitchell Brothers, Sway, Tempa T, and Devlin.
For that reason, I’ve loved the recent American interest in grime. A wicked new wave of producers, as well as artists like Skepta, JME, Novelist, AJ Tracey, and Stormzy guarantee the genre’s bright future. The breakthrough banger from the 21 year-old Londoner is probably my favorite song of the year so far, and hopefully, it will continue to grow the genre enough to finally kick off the US grime takeover that I predicted in the late 90s… or at least, a couple of long-awaited American tours.
“Only One” / “All Day” / “Wolves”
So Help Me God (out ??? on GOOD Music)
I somehow missed writing about all three of these gems, and when considered together, they’re indicative of Kanye’s incredible versatility and duality as an artist. A heartfelt, disarmingly direct piano ballad to his wife and child; a delirious, maximalist turn-up anthem; a spare, claustrophobic rumination. They illuminate the many facets of Mr. West. And though he’s on fire, in love, and surrounded by all the cool kids, there is still lingering loneliness, isolation, and self-doubt all over these tracks. Those are the contradictions that make him the greatest artist of his generation.
Crown (out April 14 on Radio Killa)
Though his blazing T.I. collab, “That’s My Shit,” took most of the plaudits, the slow jam B-side is the real keeper. The palm-muted guitar lick and graceful keys elicit the kind of serious “Human Nature”/”I’m Still in Love with You” vibes (the best kind!) that he nailed on last year’s under-appreciated beauty, “Lake Michigan.” King Terius tops it off with the effortlessly earnest vocals that the inch-perfect arrangement deserves.
“How Much a Dollar Cost”
To Pimp a Butterfly (out now on TDE)
Picking a single song off an album as exquisite and utterly complete as To Pimp a Butterfly is a worthless exercise, but keeping him off this list altogether feels unforgivable. As good as the storytelling is here — and nearly everywhere else on the record — the songwriting is even better. Kendrick goes in over arpeggiated piano chords, lush melodic filigree, and an emotional, earworm vocal hook from LA crooner James Fauntleroy. It’s a perfect microcosm of this rare record that’s just as thought-provoking as it is fun to listen to.
Father John Misty
“I Went to the Store One Day”
I Love You, Honeybear (out now on Subpop)
Every great story needs an equivalent ending, and the finest moment of Josh Tillman’s excellent second LP is its finale. A masterful love song, the 33 year-old’s ode to marital bliss is heartfelt, romantic, sardonic, and legitimately funny, mirroring the key traits that make I Love You, Honeybear such a success.
Though still not properly recorded, the London trio’s newest single trawls the same emotional and sonic space of their spellbinding previous work, including my favorite song of 2014, “North Circular.” Restrained, atmospheric, and direct, “Lovers Lane” is hopefully the first taste of a sparkling debut LP from a band that is operating completely in their own (ahem) lane.
The song is taken from a live Zane Lowe session; skip to 18:18 to hear the performance… or just listen to the whole damn thing.
Silk Road Assassins
Peace Edits Vol. 1 (out now on Gobstopper)
Everything about Gobstopper’s 4-song Peace Edit compilation is a delight, but its slow-motion closer is perhaps its finest moment. The UK production collective flips T-Pain’s buoyant “I’m Sprung” into a gauzy, molasses-soaked bedroom jam. Now, if they’d only make it available to download…
“Should Have Known Better”
Carrie & Lowell (out March 31 on Asthmatic Kitty)
The Soof is back, and he brought his acoustic guitar and/or banjo! It’s been nearly ten (10!) years since, Illinois, Stevens’ last folk(ish) full-length was released. Sonically, Carrie & Lowell seems more akin to 2004′s seminal Seven Swans, which is about the highest possible praise I can lavish on it.
“I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around”
Dear Tommy (out ??? on Italians do it Better)
Speaking of highly-anticipated albums, Johnny Jewel and friends are back for another night at the Disco Italiano. 2012′s brilliant, Kill for Love, is going to be a tough act to follow, but based upon this and the moody mastery of debut single, “Just Like You,” Dear Tommy is shaping up to be their best effort yet.
The best project that nobody is writing about, the Swedish songwriting master has been writing, recording, and giving out a new song every week this year on Soundcloud. I’m going to write more about it this week, but considering the timeframe, these songs have no business being as good as they are. My favorite of the very, very good bunch is this beautiful extended metaphor — a devastating lovesong that stands up among anything in his spectacular canon.
Hallucinogen (out May 5 on Fade to Mind)
Nobody does tension quite like Kelela, and this Arca-produced tearjerker is dripping with it. A relationship exorcism, the D.C.-native prepares for the end with crushing darts like “I won’t shed a tear, cause waterworks are easy.” It’s a special single that sets the table nicely for her forthcoming follow-up to the exquisite, Cut 4 Me.
Heterocetera (out now on Tri Angle)
He may be Houston-bred, but J’Kerian “Lōtic” Morgan’s sound is anything but classic Texan. A key cog of the flourishing Berlin beat scene, Morgan’s music is simultaneously beguiling and inviting — challenging enough to keep you guessing, yet visceral enough to work on the dancefloor. Sign me up.
Tala x How to Dress Well
Yours Truly’s Songs from Scratch series only works when there’s natural chemistry between artists, as is the case here. Tom Krell’s virile falsetto is a good match for Tala’s expressive delivery, and while there isn’t a ton of vocal interplay between the two, it sounds far from slapped together.
Samo Sound Boy
“Baby Don’t Stop”
Begging Please (out April 28 on Body High)
The first taste of the Body High head honcho’s debut LP is a warm, inviting one. Like much of his best material, Sam Griesemer zeros in on an affecting vocal sample and frames it with a meticulously crafted, unraveling arrangement.
“One Man Can Change the World”
Dark Sky Paradise (out now on GOOD Music)
I now live in a world where a Big Sean track made me tear up on my way to work. I miss you, Grandma.
Belle & Sebastian
Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (out now on Matador)
Stuart Murdoch’s brutal seven-year struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome has long been a key part of the Belle & Sebastian story, but the Glaswegian has never really written about it with this much clarity. “Nobody’s Empire” is as beautiful as the disease sounds horrible. It tells the powerful story of despair turning to hope, thanks to the power of love, faith, and (surprise, surprise) music.
Future Brown x Sicko Mobb
Future Brown (out now on Warp)
Though the discussion around Future Brown’s debut was often more interesting than the LP, the diverse collection does have some standouts. None surpasses the buoyant, “Big Homie,” that combines Sicko Mobb’s rampant, shit-hot vocals with a wobbly, off-kilter arrangement.
“X Marks the Spot” (f/ Nadine Shah)
Shedding Skin (out now on Play it Again Sam)
On his third LP, Obaro “Ghostpoet” Ejimiwe’s subtle sonic shift makes a massive difference. After two intriguing LPs of sparse street poetry, Shedding Skin fills out the arrangements and ups the melodies, freshening up the sound without losing its original vibe.
California Nights (out May 5 on Harvest)
The Angelinos tend to make one song a year that I really like, and “California Nights” figures to be that track. Though the lyrics are still benign in the extreme, Bethany Cosentino’s vocals sound massive here, and they stretch gracefully over a guitarline as expansive as the city that inspired it.