5. Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore – “Damaged Sunset”
Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore say that “Damaged Sunset” was inspired in part by seeing “Rainbow Series,” a 1964 painting by artist Don Dudley, at the San Francisco MoMa. The painting depicts a brilliant, smog-saturated Los Angeles sunset, and to hear them tell it, that’s the same image they tried to capture in song, an unsettling mixture of ancient natural splendor and modern, man-made pollution. But “Damaged Sunset” doesn’t sound like that, exactly. It doesn’t sound like anything from our world at all, really. Its diffuse, dreamlike beauty creates its own world outside of time and space, a world made up of rippling harp, weightless acoustic guitar strums, echoing drones, and vocals that seem to expand and dissolve directly into the air. It’s a world that’s easy to get lost in, and its eight minutes feel like a blissful eternity. –Peter
4. Lil Baby, Gunna, & Drake – “Never Recover”
I am the kind of herb who gets excited about a new Drake feature. I am more likely to check out an album of Aubrey Graham has a verse on it; I might even skip directly to that song. I am not proud of this, but in the case of “Never Recover,” my basic instincts were rewarded. Drake, who has run wild over Tay Keith productions this year (see: “Look Alive,” “Nonstop,” “Sicko Mode”), cuts loose with rapid-fire syllables low in the groove, like he’s darting in and out of pylons at high speed: “I bring up money, they change up the topic/ I got a 19 and it fold in my pocket/ She gave me her number, now I gotta block it/ I’m mixin’ the dirty bills in with the profit.” Thus the scene is set, and Drip Harder’s grand finale is off with a bang.
Not to be outmatched, Gunna and Lil Baby bring some of the project’s most athletic rapping, serving up Grade-A shit talk and seasoning it with details both amusing and bizarre. Lil Baby name-checks Kevin Gates and asserts, “Draco was foreign, they shipped it from Russia/ Bad vibes at my show like I’m Usher.” Gunna brags that he looks like a nun in black and white Chanel and that his jewelry “look like a box of crayons.” It’s a dizzying display that goes a long way toward validating the hype anointing these two young guns as new Atlanta royalty. –Chris
3. Sir Babygirl – “Flirting With Her”
The conceit of Sir Babygirl’s “Flirting With Her” is simple: crushing on someone has the power to send you into momentary free-fall. Half of the pop canon is about this phenomenon, and Sir Babygirl’s outsized, maximalist production paired with her capacious voice fits into that tradition. There are elements of surf rock, DIY punk, and shimmering, escapist pop from the early aughts influencing this song’s particular sound, but Sir Babygirl’s lyrics are all her own. She likens flirting with someone to small tragedies that upset the day-to-day (“flirting with her is like skinning your knee,” “flirting with her is like losing your keys”) but don’t always resonate a week or so later. That dexterous devotion is refreshing, almost like she’s saying, “Take me or leave me, either way I’ll be OK.” –Gabriela
2. Girlpool – “Where You Sink”
You can never fully understand another person and nobody will ever fully understand you. We try to fill the gaps with communication and analysis, but our perceptions of people are just that. On “Where You Sink,” Girlpool carry this burden, consumed by the Sisyphean task of trying to know someone who doesn’t want to know themselves. It feels like quicksand. Grainy reverb and rumination drone toward a pit. Chugging guitars struggle to fight the earth’s pull as Harmony Tividad grasps at the frayed edges. There are moments where it’s hard to tell whether she’s drowning or digging. Maybe it’s both. –Julia
1. Charli XCX & Troye Sivan – “1999”
Charli XCX was born in 1992. Troye Sivan was born in 1995. When the two of them sing about wanting to “go back to 1999,” they’re talking about a time when they were barely sentient. It’s a song about delirious nostalgia for a time they can barely remember. And so it makes sense that they sing about a blur of half-remembered pop-culture touchstones (All That, “Baby One More Time”) and childhood activities (“playing air guitar on the roof”).
Really, they’re singing about being sad on missing out on an era of their lives where they were too young to participate in anything. Maybe a young Troye Sivan really did crush out on Jonathan Taylor Thomas. But JTT basically stopped being famous by the time Sivan was five, so if he did, that would be some impressive precocity. (Maybe they showed Home Improvement reruns in Australia.) Charli and Sivan are both right at that age where they can kind of remember life before the internet, so the line about “best friends, all night, no phone” speaks to an intense longing for a period before the doohickeys in our pockets dictated all our social interactions.
Musically, “1999” is a total headrush, blocky day-glo synths rubbing up against a glammy drum-machine stomp. The production evokes the teenpop of the late ’90s. But it’s harder, weirder, less concerned with making room for teddy-bear harmonies. Charli and Sivan sing about their nostalgia like it’s a giddy dancefloor clarion, or like it’s a call to arms. “1999” doesn’t sound sad. It sounds celebratory. Maybe it even sounds childlike. –Tom