We’re very nearly a third of the way through 2015 already, and as legions of astute commenters have continually pointed out, it’s been a hell of a year for new music. The 5 Best Songs below prove it further. From all-star rap team-ups to massive return singles to adventurous covers and all the quiet, delicate moments in between, these tracks reveal a universal truth: 2015 is not fucking around. Not even a little bit.
Barter 6 is an exercise in vibe and atmosphere, so it’s hard to pick a single highlight out of that whole glittering miasma. But the most immediate song on the album might be the one where a couple of big guest stars carve out room for themselves in Thug’s loopy acid party. T.I. is probably Thug’s greatest non-Rich Homie Quan collaborator, and it’s fascinating to hear him trying out some of Thug’s hiccuping stop-start flow before locking into the smooth mastery that contrasts so well with Thug’s expansive sustained bugout. As for Boosie, his frantic, chirping delivery is probably a low-key Thug influence, but he feels like a visitor from another century, throwing heartfelt headknock tough-talk into the equation. These two anchor Thug, who spins off into full-on astral absurdity, to the point where the song’s Rap Genius page is full of “[?]” moments. Thug throws a few stray shots at Lil Wayne here, but the heart of the song is Thug in way-out mode, slurring about riding blue dolphins and how he’s on too much lean to do a push-up. And thus does rap’s greatest space traveler pull a couple of hard-ass relics into his universe. –Tom
In a 2012 interview, Jesse Lacey talked about the sound that Brand New wanted to explore after Daisy, and said that they were going to look backwards and find another jumping off point in their discography where they could have gone in another direction. Not so much a retread as a reimagining, and it’s easy to hear how “Mene” could have been the lead single to a hypothetical Deja Entendu or Devil And God followup and been just as satisfying. The song incorporates the bratty, smooth punk of Your Favorite Weapon, the angst of Deja, the harder elements from Devil And God. And they’re still wrestling with the same kind of unanswerable questions they’ve been pondering for a decade-plus: A) fear of and dependence on a higher power: “I still cower at eternal wrath, though,” a classic example of Catholic guilt left over from Lacey’s schoolboy days; B) self-inflicted pain and subsequent self-medication: “This is my own fault/ We don’t feel anything” and “I want to evade my thoughts/ I want to down a Kyoto“; C) a preoccupation with withering away, which provides ample fuel for hardcore fans to speculate about the future of the band: “Not gone but fading fast, so let me put to rest the only question that you’ll ask.” They’re still fighting off their demons and don’t seem any closer to winning the battle. But this perpetual state of unknowing is the nature of Brand New, as it always has been, and it’s good to have them back. –James
“Money ain’t the motive” are the first words out of Tyler’s mouth, and even if he later raps about how his income got his mom out of Section 8 housing, it’s true enough that he’s making the music of his dreams. “Smuckers” is not quite the Tyler, The Creator song of my dreams — he hasn’t properly knocked me off my ass since “Yonkers” — but it’s close, pulling childhood heroes Kanye West and Lil Wayne into his weird world and coaxing out some of their best recent verses. As on the similarly produced “Bound 2,” Kanye reminds us he can reprise his playful old-school flows any time he feels like it, and thank Yeezus he chose to do it here. Wayne, too, taps into the dialed-in, zonked-out flow that made him a legend. And Tyler is in full command of his lyrical and musical arsenal — still the same bastard we’ve always known, now with a budget. –Chris
I’m a fair weather One Direction fan, and by “fair weather” I mean that I can only really sing back the chorus to “What Makes You Beautiful” and I know that Harry Styles is really hot. That’s pretty much it. I hadn’t heard “Fireproof” until this week when Brooklyn’s Mitski Miyawaki covered the track in homage to Zayn Malik (also hot, but no longer in One Direction). Mitski’s lyrics are so emotionally hard-hitting that they practically break bones, and she has the vocal delivery to match. Undeniably gorgeous, sure, but so haggard and desperate that it sometimes sounds like she’s just barely hanging on. Mitski songs always sound painfully sincere, so it’s clear that there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek or sarcastic about her decision to cover “Fireproof.” Mitski’s rendition boasts all of the same crisp production as anything to be found on her 2014 LP Bury Me At Makeout Creek — immersive feedback, audibly quavering vocal chords and sparse, pointed drumbeats. It might as well be a B-Side. This is Mitski kneeling at the altar of pop, acknowledging the influence that songs like “Fireproof” have on her own work, and taking down anyone who might belittle One Direction as a prepubescent phenomenon in the process. She takes the song’s tendency toward ambiguity and reorders it into a passionate, declarative statement: I REALLY FUCKING LOVE YOU, AND I DON’T CARE WHO KNOWS IT. After listening to both versions well over ten times this week, all I can say is this: It must feel really good to be on the receiving end of “Fireproof,” regardless of who’s singing it. –Gabriela
“Before The World Was Big” begins with an eight-second snippet of a tinkling music box, or maybe a toy xylophone. I had both when I was a little girl and I loved the sound they made, a sort of elongated, toothsome little chirp. There are inflections of that coppery, amateur plink woven throughout Girlpool’s debut album, but this one little moment at the beginning of the song reminds me of lying on the floor, hearing that sound and watching the little ballerina on my music box spin. Then, Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker shatter that peaceful moment like the 7:45 AM alarm clock they reference. I love how they never try to make their voices pretty, there’s a sense of naturalness in the shrill harmonies — a face with no make up, jeans-and-a-T-shirt vocals. This is a song about how leaving girlhood behind is a considerable loss, and no one ever talks about that! Girlpool wade into that loss often, detonating TNT lyrics wrapped neatly in bows: “I just miss how it felt/ Standing next to you/ Wearing matching dresses/ Before the world was big.” The pain of that memory revolves in their rounds of harmonies, the world spinning itself, enormous, expanding until there is all this space between you and your innocence. There’s power and majesty in the little rituals of girlhood though, even if they’re only talismans of a past we can never shrink ourselves back into. “Before The World Was Big” is a tender homage to those tiny memories, a chirrup that remembers girlhood the way it should be: small, unadorned, and lovely. –Caitlin