It’s never easy to winnow a week down to five songs, but this one was a bloodbath. Every song here could have been #1 on this list, and in most weeks, they would have been. This week, though? This week was so stacked that we were forced to leave off at least two or three other potential #1 contenders. But these are good problems to have, and these are five great songs.
The last time we heard all four members of the taking-over-the-world California rap crew Black Hippy on a track together was a few years ago, and all four of them (Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul) were less famous than they are now. So a Black Hippy reunion song should be an event, at least if conventional wisdom has anything to do with it. There should be horn fanfares and red carpets and helicopter-rotor sound effects. We should be talking about these guys like they’re the new Hot Boys or something. But that’s not how Black Hippy work. Instead, all four of them seem to be competing to see who can come up with the strangest, most stuttery, most off-kilter flow over this eerie minor-key tingle of a beat. (In a surprise twist, Schoolboy Q wins.) They’re not trying to save the world on this one. Instead, they’re walking that old weird line, bragging about their own vices while stressing that those vices will end them. If they were simply celebrating, they wouldn’t be themselves. Instead, they have to give you something to puzzle out. –Tom
When Tinashe dropped the trailer for her second album, Joyride, it was pretty clear she had a chip on her dancer’s shoulder. “Motherfuckers I can’t be ignored,” she snarled, graceful even in her fury. While most of the world would consider Tinashe’s icy, cosmic debut album, Aquarius, to be a record full of masterful, regal R&B, the reception was apparently too cold for its maker. So while “Party Favors” is clearly tipped to be her radio-ready follow-up to the DJ Mustard go-dumb-smash “2 On,” she’s opted to grow even colder rather than heat up. “Party Favors” winds through a beat that doesn’t seem like it has a hook — that’s a Boi-1da specialty — but it lodges itself in your body like a chill down the spine, melting soft like a snowflake on your skin. The song alternates between a measure of affection and a measure of contempt; “Party Favors” is a gift from a woman who would never dream of acting servile. As long as Tinashe wants to divvy out her gifts, she will; this has little to do with you. “I feel like I could fucking kiss the moon,” she smirks toward the beginning of the song, and that burst of uninhibited, sky-high joy manages to pack more of a punch than Young Thug’s sporadic verse that caps the song off. The astonishing level an artist has to be on to make Young Thug sound like an afterthought makes me wonder if we should piss Tinashe off more often. “Party Favors” is a cold-blooded R&B sneer, flashy and deadly, seduction with a long memory. But when Tinashe offers you the moon, you accept. –Caitlin
I love everything they do to death, but sometimes it feels like Chromatics and the whole Italians Do It Better oeuvre verge on self-parody. There can only be so many iterations of late-night drive soundtracks and weepy, slow-motion discos before it all gets to be too much… right? Or maybe not. Maybe Johnny Jewel and co. have tapped into something limitless. Because no matter how many IDIB songs there are that play out like variations on a theme, they never retread. “Shadow” is one that teeters on that edge — lines like “At night I’m driving in your car, pretending that we’ll leave this town” feel like they’ve been sung by this crew many times over, but there’s always something new to keep me captivated. Here, it’s the way the track gradually ticks into existence like clockwork with that unwavering drum; how Ruth Radelet implies more in the spaces between words and the cracks of her lips than most other vocalists say in an entire song. There’s that last line: “Your shadow fell like last night’s rain/ For the last time” — the repetition of that last phrase echoes throughout the song, acting as a continuous, painful full stop. “Shadow” is about something that’s already gone, which is maybe why, out of all the (perfect) Dear Tommy tracks we’ve heard so far, it sounds most like one that could slot onto one of their previous releases. It’s a look back at a phantom, something that can no longer exist. But mostly, it just makes me more excited to hear what they have in store next. Dear Tommy when? –James
There is a formula to every Chvrches single that feels tiresome to lukewarm fans, and time and again, the band will face the critique that their songs all kind of sound the same. That’s okay, because as I pointed out in an earlier post, the hooks on every Chvrches single never get old, regardless of how many times we think we’ve heard them before. Lauren Mayberry’s lyrics are opaque, abstract ideas, words that you can adopt and reshape into something that resembles a conflict in your own life, words that you can project your feelings onto. That’s what pop music is — a wide-open canvas upon which you can paint your problems before the predictable moment when the chorus sweeps in and reminds you that you know something in this world. “Clearest Blue” is the best single off Chvrches’ forthcoming album because it upsets that trusting relationship between the song and its audience. Mayberry’s voice has always had a symbiotic association with her, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty’s electronic arrangements, and together they build “Clearest Blue” up for an inordinate amount of time, pushing the limit of expectation and making you wonder whether the song will ever break down. When it finally does, for the first and only time, it sounds like a millisecond of magic. That sense of relief is all we should ever need from a song. –Gabriela
Music fans who like their passion as unbridled as their band-name word counts have been heralding Harmlessness, the latest from emo/post-rock ensemble the World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, as an instant classic. Penultimate track “I Can Be Afraid Of Anything” is the strongest argument for that case, a seven-minute epic that makes overcoming depression sound like art. Like any good post-rock song, the music contains many movements, its peaks and valleys mimicking its narrator’s wild emotional swells. Like any good emo song, the lyrics contain 50-cent vocabulary words (an·he·do·ni·a noun: “inability to feel pleasure”), a few wistful turns of phrase that hit like gut-punches (“Being this age always seemed so far away,” oy) and, at its climax, sorrowful howls that translate as catharsis (“I really did dig my own hole!”). And like any good seven-minute song, rather than dragging on into infinity, it blows past before you realize it, leaving you exhilarated in its wake. “I Can Be Afraid Of Anything,” sure, but by the end of this one, you fear nothing. –Chris