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Monthy Playlist: Mar. 2019

1 Apr

Here’s a crazy fact: we’re already a quarter of the way into 2019! It felt like just yesterday that we at TFR were putting together our end-of-year lists, and now here we are. Wild, right? Anyway, without any further ado, take a look at our top five songs for March. And as always, let us know if you agree or disagree.

5. “In Your Head” – Nilufer Yanya

23-year-old Nilufer Yanya grew up in London, in a creative household with mixed Turkish / Irish / Barbados heritage. With a background that fluid, it is little surprise that Yanya’s approach to music is decidedly irreverent.

On her recently-released debut album Miss Universe, Yanya flits between bat-your-eyelashes pop moments and fuzzy rockstar vibes with an ease that simply can’t be taught. Perhaps the best song from the album is the lead single, “In Your Head”. “And I can do what I like / I’ll never know what it means / Some validation is all that I need,” she says, clear-headed about both her materialism and the lack of substance within. (Fittingly for a song that explores the emptiness of individualism, the music video is shot in Las Vegas.) In a way, she kind of reminds us of the best parts of the erstwhile Marina and the Diamonds.

Yanya stands out with her throaty voice, unique personal style and brazen lucidity. Keep an eye on this one – and take a whirl through Miss Universe while you’re at it!

4. “Patience” – Tame Impala

As die-hard Tame Impala fans, we would of course be remiss if we did not mention “Patience”, the latest song to escape the inimitable workshop of Kevin Parker’s brain.

It takes about 20 seconds for Parker to bring out his signature phaser sounds on “Patience”, but this time it’s different. With its dizzying synth garnishes and heavily processed bongos, the song winks at a sort of disco-by-way-of-world-music that no other Tame Impala song has really explored. Parker’s indecisiveness – and the dreamy psychedelia that results – is the real backbone of the famous Tame Impala sound, as we wrote about in our review of Currents (2015). On “Patience”, it’s clear that he’s still working on it. “Sometimes I get so tense but I can’t speed up the time,” he confesses, flipping around seconds later to ask his lover to take things slow.

Tame Impala are headlining a bunch of festivals this year, but haven’t yet announced a release date for a full album. “Patience” until we hear more, then.

3. “Black” – Dave

In many ways, Psychodrama – the debut album from British rapper Dave – is a spiritual successor to Kendrick Lamar’s good kid M.A.A.D. city (2012). Like K-Dot, Dave is blessed with an otherworldly talent to channel the realities of the world outside him into hard-hitting poetry – and with killer flow to boot. Our stand-out track from this album is definitely “Black”, Dave’s exploration of what it means to be a black man in the world.

With the oversaturation of American media, news and politics into global consciousness, it is almost easy to equate blackness – and the associated struggles – with a negativity-tinged African-American experience. Dave does better, thankfully. On “Black”, he shines light on truly personal experiences of what it means to be of African heritage in a Western country. There’s so many great lines here. On growing out of his surroundings: “Black is growin’ up around your family and makin’ it / Then being forced to leave the place you love because there’s hate in it.” On being divided and ruled: “Her hair’s straight and thick but mine’s got waves in it / Black is not divisive, they been lyin’ and I hate the shit / Black has never been a competition, we don’t make this shit.” And so on.

Psychodrama deserves a full listen, but if you’re going to hear just one song, make it “Black”.

2. “Choose Go!” – Chai

On first listen, the thick bassline and staccato drums of “Choose Go!” sounds like a hidden gem from the heyday of the indie rock revolution on both sides of the pond in the early 2000s. However, the reality could not be further from the truth. You may be shocked to learn (as were we) that the creators of “Choose Go!” are Chai, a four-piece all-girl band from Nagoya, Japan.

This isn’t Chai’s first rodeo, surprisingly enough. Their first album, Pink (2017), was very well-received, but the band has really found its footing with this months’ well-named follow-up, Punk. Sung half in Japanese and half in English, “Choose Go!” combines the relentlessly poppy vibes of, say, the band OK Go, with the lovable weirdness of Japanese culture.

1. “Exits” – Foals

Foals have been around for a while. Their 2008 debut, Antidotes, arrived during an early-2000s crest of the math rock genre, but stood out nevertheless. Songs like “Balloons” and “Cassius”, filled to the brim with frenetic chords and semi-shouted lyrics, shot Foals to fame very quickly. However, on their more recent two albums (2013’s Holy Fire and 2015’s What Went Down), the band took an unexpected turn. The frantic urgency of Antidotes was replaced by a mellow restraint; it felt like they were reveling in their ability to turn a musical phrase or two whenever they wanted (but not, as with Antidotes, all the time).

On their latest album (2019’s Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1), the band has really put two and two together. There’s restraint, yes, but Foals is largely back to their gloriously feverish roots. The star track is “Exits”: a serpent that twists and turns through more moods than you can count on first listen.

The first section, with its deliberate beats and dramatic lyrics (“Now the sea eats the sky / But they say it’s a lie / And there’s no birds left to fly / We’ll hide out”), makes way to a reverberating one-line chorus (“In a world upside down…”). And that isn’t the end of it. At about the four-minute mark, Foals break out into a heady, psychedelic synth solo that truly elevates the song to greater than the sum of its parts.

“Exits” is six minutes long but Foals entertain you every second of the way.

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Monthly Playlist: Feb. 2019

1 Mar

Last month, we started a new feature here at Top Five Records: a run-down of the top five songs from every month. We heard from quite a few of you that you loved it – so without further ado, here’s our list for this month!

5. “Body Chemistry” – The Drums

Don’t let the unrelenting bassline on “Body Chemistry” fool you into thinking it’s a harmless, upbeat bop. On this new track from the NYC-based indie-pop band The Drums, lead singer Jonathan Pierce provides a peak-millennial take on anxiety, romance, and the crippling self-awareness in between. “I know some good luck, and a good fuck, a nice glass of wine and some quality time is gonna make you mine,” he acknowledges, “but it’s not what I’m trying to find.” The song itself reminds us of some of the best tracks on Spoon’s last album, so that’s always a good thing as well. The Drums are set to release their fourth album in June.

4. “In the Capital” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Melbourne-based pop-rock quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (there’s a mouthful!) had a very well-received debut album (Hope Downs) last year. Their sound is essentially a cross between the woe-is-me melancholy of Deerhunter and the sparkling pop of Real Estate – but it’s not as odd a combination as you would think. “In the Capital”, a new track that was released earlier this week, apparently came about as lead singer Fran Keaney was swimming. “I can’t neatly describe it, but something like connection despite distance. I was thinking about transience and water and death and big cities and fishing towns and moon river,” he says. Have a listen for yourself – we think he’s got it down spot-on, actually.   

3. “Fast Times” – Albert Hammond Jr.

Albert Hammond Jr.’s third full-length album, Francis Trouble, won us over last year with its boisterous yet clean-cut vibe. With “Fast Times”, Hammond is back with a track that is equal parts nostalgic and melancholic. “I was over there, completely unaware / It was me, that you saw / How little did I know / All the things would go,” Hammond sings, wistfully reminiscing about carefree days long gone. The music is of course immediately evocative of the early 2000s-heyday of crisp, fast-paced rock, for which Hammond’s past (and present!) band, the Strokes, were a primary driver. After “Fast Times”, we’re certainly keeping an eye out for more music from Hammond.

2. “GummyBear” – Mini Mansions

Mini Mansions are an LA-based three-piece band comprising The Last Shadow Puppets’ bassist Zach Dawes, QOTSA bassist-turned-singer Michael Shuman and Tyler Parkford. If that line-up sounds like the band would make fun, bass-driven tracks that could fit well within Humbug-era Arctic Monkeys, you are exactly right. In fact, Mini Mansions are just coming off of a supporting tour on that band’s North America leg, and something great seems to have rubbed off of on them. “GummyBear” is an instantly accessible dance-rock track about a love-hate relationship (“Boy, I thought you was sweet, girl, but you’re just sugar-free”). Mini Mansions plans to release their third full-length album, Guy Walks into a Bar… in July – look for them!

1. “NASA” – Ariana Grande

This month, Ariana Grande released thank u, next, her much-awaited follow-up to 2018’s blockbuster hit, Sweetener. New converts to Arianaworld, such as yours truly, were skeptical that a brand-new album mere months after the monstrously successful Sweetener could live up to the hype that Ariana has created for herself. However, those thoughts can be laid to rest and buried under six feet of earth, because Ariana is almost definitely the new queen of pop music.

The title track from the new album, of course, has been in constant rotation on radio stations and Spotify playlists since late last year, but there are actually a shockingly high number of other great songs on there, too. The best of these, in our opinion, is “NASA”, a space-themed ode to modern romance. “I’d rather be alone tonight / You can say ‘I love you’ through the phone tonight,” she says, an on-the-head flip of decades of popstars who’ve told us that they need to be around their men 24/7. Of course, being an Ariana track, there is also a maddeningly catchy chorus – this one involving a playful spell-out of the titular government agency. We’d be surprised if this song alone doesn’t play a part in raising the brand value of NASA.

Read our full review of thank u, next here.

Smashing Pumpkins: Five Deep Cuts to Get You Amped for the Revival

12 Feb

Since 2005, eternal frontman Billy Corgan has rotated through several lineups under the Smashing Pumpkins banner. Each incarnation’s musical output covered wide-ranging territory, but sadly offered mere glimpses of the classic Pumpkins sound of the original foursome. Corgan had always maintained that he wanted his band to be something more than a nostalgia act, but occasional potshots at original members D’arcy Wretzky and James Iha didn’t help reunion prospects.

Then, the unthinkable happened. In March 2016, James Iha joined Corgan on stage to perform “Mayonaise”, sending a legion of Pumpkinheads around the world into a frenzy. The Pumpkins would eventually reunite (albeit without Wretzky) for a glorious arena tour, playing a three-hour long setlist carved out of their ’90s years.

Miraculous reunion aside, the tour setlist made abundantly clear just how deep the band’s catalog runs. A boxset of the band’s B-sides and outtakes (The Aeroplane Flies High) went platinum; so did Pisces Iscariot, a less elaborate compilation of rarities. The Pumpkins belong to an exclusive club of bands whose deep cuts offer as much depth and quality as their singles.

As the band and its fanbase get ready for another tour this summer, we bring to you our top five Smashing Pumpkins deep cuts. Enjoy!

5. “Glynis”(1993)

In our opinion, “Glynis” was the stand-out track of No Alternative, an AIDS-relief project that boasted the who’s who of 90s alternative rock (Pavement, The Breeders, Pumpkins). Apart from his angsty nasal whines, the Corgan of those days was a master of the dreamy semi-whispers that perfectly complemented the blanket of riffage underneath them. “Glynis” is a prime example of this era, with flanging guitars and a shimmering strings section.

4. “Set the Ray to Jerry” (1995)

This track, written during the Gish (1991) era, is widely considered by the fanbase to be one of the band’s best. Allegedly written about bassist Wretzky’s dad (who Corgan found to be extremely intimidating), “Set the Ray to Jerry” is carried by a thumping drum and bass backbone, set to an emotional vocal delivery by Corgan. Perfectly oscillating between dreamy croons and impassioned outbursts, it is still considered to be one of Corgan’s finest vocal performances to date. Although it failed to make the final cut of the band’s third album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, it was included as a bonus track on a 2012 re-issue. Hurrah!

3. “Stellar” (2007)

As a reunion album, Zeitgeist was not exactly what fans had been waiting for, but it certainly had its moments. “Stellar” is a sonic journey that harks back to the Siamese Dream (1993) days when Corgan’s guitar lines had an ethereal element to them. That vibe, locked in with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin’s thumping fillers, makes “Stellar” one of the best tracks to come out of the Zeitgeist era.

2. “Meladori Magpie”(1995)

The lead up to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a particularly productive period for the band: to realize his vision for an elaborate double album, Corgan was churning out demos at a brisk pace. Naturally, the period also saw a lot of experimentation with singing styles and arrangements; a few demos are especially notable for a bizarre carnival-themed undercurrent that accentuated the rough concept of the album. In our opinion, the best example is “Meladori Magpie”, originally released as a B-side to the album’s third single, “Tonight Tonight”.

1. “Waiting” (1998)

“Waiting” was a product of the Adore sessions that took place at Sunset Studios in late 1997. It was a trying time for the band: their touring keyboardist died of a heroin overdose, and longtime drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was fired. Chamberlin’s void left by Jimmy gave way to a lot of experimentation with drum machines and other electronic elements. “Waiting” is a gloomy but surging track pulled out of this very same bag of tricks. Surprisingly, it was left out of the original Adore tracklist, but found its way back on a 2014 re-issue.

Monthly Playlist: Jan. 2019

31 Jan

As we finish up the first month of the new year, Top Five Records is proud to start what we hope will become a long-standing tradition: a quick, five-song list of the month’s best songs. We’re just thirty-one days into 2019, but we’ve already enjoyed some great music. So, without further ado, here is the inaugural Monthly Playlist – enjoy!

5. “Sex Rich” – CRYSTAL

CRYSTAL is a Scottish punk / grunge act that has been gaining a solid fanbase over the past few years – and for good reason. The band elicits the best parts of 90s alternative mainstays like Nirvana and Pearl Jam – from vocalist Anna Shields’ gauzy vocals to guitarist Blair Crichton’s jagged, heavy riffs – without sounding like a rip-off tribute act. “Sex Rich” is perhaps the best introduction to CRYSTAL. The slight menace in Shields’ opening lines builds to a grungy wall-of-sound that occasionally breaks for some muddy, hard-hitting riffs. Have a listen, and keep an eye on this band.

File next to: Nirvana; Genres: Grunge, punk

4. “Landslide” – Beirut

If you love cinematic pop, you’ve likely been a fan of Beirut for years. “Postcards from Italy”, the band’s break-out track from their debut album in 2006, showcased the best parts of their sound: a folksy take on world music that somehow elicited images of cobbled European villages or cafés in old-town Ankara. “Landslide”, from the band’s upcoming fifth album Gallipoli, continuous this vibe. Zach Condon’s signature sweeping vocals tether the combination of percussion and staccato organ notes to create a lush, uplifting sound. Gallipoli is out on February 1, 2019.

File next to: Grizzly Bear; Genres: Indie, folk

3. “Pure Water” – Mustard feat. Migos

There’s plenty to love about this new track from Mustard and Migos. A hypnotically uneven beat provides the foundation for taut verses that perfectly exemplify why Migos currently rule the rap scene. All three Migos have a flow so unique that it goes beyond the lyrics as an instrument in itself – a feat so inimitable that it is now known ubiquitously as the Migos flow. On “Pure Water”, Offset, Quavo and Takeoff excel in shooting words with precision between the ebbs and flows of a beat, and Mustard provides them the perfect fodder.

File next to: Future; Genres: Trap rap

2. “Juice” – Lizzo

Since her debut in 2013, Lizzo’s music has been known for her gratuitous mix of soul and funk with the beat elements of mainstream of hip-hop. “Juice” is no different – a fun and exuberant take on the phrase “Why should boys have all the fun?” with some great lines that hinge on Lizzo’s self-confidence (“No, I’m not a snack at all / Look, baby, I’m the whole damn meal”). As a mark of her rising star, Lizzo performed this very song this week on Ellen. If that isn’t a testament to the song’s perfect dance sensibilities, we don’t know what is. Lizzo’s third album Cuz I Love You will be out on April 19, 2019.

File next to: Janelle Monae; Genres: Funk, hip-hop

1. “CHARLIE” – MALFNKTION feat. Shayan Roy

Mumbai-based electro-hip-hop act MALFNKTION is one of the most reliable beatmakers in Indian hip-hop. Older tracks like “Rani” (from 2015’s Hindustani Rascal EP) showcased his ability to merge desi elements such as old-world filmi samples onto an ever-changing landscape of beats. Recently, though, he’s really stepped it up a notch – and Shayan Roy, who you may know as the youthful Bengali lad in many Buzzfeed India videos, deserves much of the credit for it.

On “CHARLIE”, Roy’s fluid, swaggering flow meshes perfectly with the maddening beats – complete with an electronic horn section – that MALFNKTION puts together. With his lyrical dexterity and pop culture references, Roy evokes Childish Gambino, and we hear bits of Iggy Azalea’s melodic braggadocio here too. Simply put, we can’t recommend this track enough.

Bonus: If you liked this one, be sure to check out this duo’s other collaboration, “Vincent Chase Slippin”.

File next to: Childish Gambino, Iggy Azalea; Genres: Hip-hop, electronic

Top Five Jazz Records From 2018 That We Want You To Listen To

28 Jan

5. Ambrose Akinmusire – Origami Harvest

Origami Harvest is an interesting, if inconsistent, album. There’s some really compelling jazz here. “the lingering velocity of the dead’s ambitions” is pleasingly jagged, which is where the album is at its best, but drags a few moments out for too long. The interplay between Kool AD and Ambrose Akinmusire in “blooming bloodfruit in a hoodie” is excellent, but the ad-libs drag the sound down. “miracle and streetfight” has an excellent conversation between the strings and the brass and the space in “Americana / the garden waits for you to match her wilderness” is very strong. The political tinge adds a little depth but needed more development if it were to add another dimension to the album.

Overall, this is an album that rewards a listen and one that stands out for the uniqueness of the pairing, but is nonetheless deficient in fairly significant ways.

4. Moses Boyd – Displaced Diaspora

This album is a fascinating view into London, not the London of Dickens and smog, but that of the many people that have through one means or another found their way there. It’s an album that does more than just talk about London’s history as a global city. Naturally then, it fuses a lot into the base sounds with Afro-bass in a few songs, including the energetic “Frontline” and rap in “Waiting on the Night Bus”, which has a nice traditional jazz feel, but is sadly weighed down a little by that same “City Nocturne” however stays traditional but is elevated by the fantastic vocal work of Zara McFarlane.

It’s an album with undeniable grooves. Moses Boyd’s drumming and production are rightly acclaimed and this album showcases that well. Unfortunately though, the album does still pall on repeated listens. There’s plenty of cleverness in it and the diaspora adds some welcome challenge, but as a whole, it feels a little lacking. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating and under-explored angle into a city often evoked and a strong musical piece to boot.

3. Esperanza Spalding – 12 Little Spells

This is a highly challenging album rife with atonalities, genre bending and odd meters, but somehow charming despite that and undeniably clever. It’s a gorgeous puzzle box of an album that pushes at you again and again. There’s more than enough here to reward you for the considerable effort that the album asks for and the album makes that effort fun to spend. You should definitely give it a listen and then give it a bunch more so as to fully appreciate what it does.

2. Joey Alexander – Eclipse

It’s hard not to be excited about Joey Alexander. His debut was fantastic and he goes from strength to strength. It’s not just that he is a prodigy, it’s that his skill is prodigious. He has a great flair for the unexpected, which shows up well in “Space” and an ear for the gentle and beautiful as in “Time Remembered” and “Bali.” Additionally, his guest Joshua Redman does fantastic work in his solos in “Fourteen” and “The Very Thought of You” which are then matched wonderfully Joey Alexander’s piano work. It’s even very approachable and his version of “Blackbird” is worth checking out no matter your comfort level with Jazz. My only complaint is that the album as a whole could have used a little more challenge, but the album is so charming and cheerful and refreshing to listen to that the complaint seems almost misdirected. Eclipse is just something that you are glad to have listened to.

1. Ezra Collective – Juan Pablo: The Philosopher

This is an excellent album and another that’s just a pleasure to listen to. It’s underpinned by good, traditional jazz but layers on fascinating world influences from Africa to South America and the Caribbean. “Juan Pablo” in particular benefits from this openness and then again in the drums of “The Philosopher.” These are upbeat songs that energize while still fully engaging the mind. The highlight though is the final song, an unorthodox and wonderful take on “Space Is The Place”, the famous Sun Ra piece. There’s even space in this album for the more drawn out sounds of “People In Trouble.” This is a very, very strong sophomore effort and an album that I cannot recommend highly enough, both for people deep into jazz and for people looking to try some out. You should definitely listen to it.

The Top Five Albums of 2018 – Nikhil’s List

31 Dec

There’s been a lot of great music in this year, from sources both expected and previously unknown. It took quite some effort to bring the list down to just five, but these are the five that we think you should definitely listen to when ringing out the new year.

5. Chris – Christine and the Queens

Musically, Chris is a throwback. This album sounds like nothing as much as an escapee from the pop / R&B charts of the 80s and a very good one at that. It’s upbeat music with lots of interesting little quirks. It is not just effortless, but actively fun, to flow with this album and it’s embedded with myriad little flourishes that delight.

What truly elevates it though is the modernity it brings. While the structure is that of Michael and Madonna, the album is clearly something of 2018, both musically and, more strongly, lyrically. Héloïse Létissier’s alter-ego Chris explores the edges of modern femininity with intelligence and complexity. The character is strong and sensual but vulnerable and human. She’s a full person and she makes this one of the most vivid albums of the year.

4. KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS

Kanye has had an interesting year to say the least, but we’re not here to talk about that. We’re just going to talk about the best of the series of seven-song mini-albums. Kids See Ghosts finally brings Kid Cudi out of the rut that his last few albums found him in and gives Kanye the grounding and focus that he’s lacked for a few years now. The two of them have a history of bringing out the best of each other and this album is the culmination of that relationship.

The rock-flavored rap of Cudi has exploded of late, but most of the current practitioners are somehow substantially more emo than Cudi ever was. It’s refreshing to see a return to his more straightforward, guitar-focused strain with this album. His deep voice and the thrum of his humming have always been his greatest strength and Kanye’s flat-edged rapping cuts right through it beautifully.

This album is a spiritual experience and clearly built to be so. “Reborn” evokes the kind of devotional feeling most religious ceremonies can only grasp at. The strength, the upliftment and the humanity of the song and the album as a whole transcends the human and reaches the divine.

Read our full review here.

3. Room 25 – Noname

Room 25  is easily the most unique album of this list and of this year. I’ve never heard anything like Noname’s blend of laid-back rap, jazz and soul before and I doubt that I will again until her next album.

Her technical skill is astounding. She takes rapid, layered lines and delivers them with a staggering nonchalance. She’s even able to mix a little laughter into the lines that she goes through at a blazing pace.

It’s not a loud album. It doesn’t need to beat you over the head with its merits. It just does what it wants to do and it does it extremely well.

Read our full review here.

2. MUDBOY – Sheck Wes

MUDBOY is basically the opposite of Room 25 in every aspect but quality and innovation. Where Room 25 is gentle and intricate and relaxing though, MUDBOY is pounding and blunt and arousing.

This is a rough and uncompromising album. It bludgeons you with ideas and innovations relentlessly. It’s also just really good rap. “Mo Bamba” is not just a viral hit, it’s the most exciting song in rap this year. He doesn’t need any kind of ornateness in this album, it’s just straightforward and strong.

I don’t actually expect to see this start a new trend in rap just because of how unique Sheck Wes’ sound is. Imitating him is not a task for the weak. Instead, we’re going to have to leave it to the man himself to show us what’s next for the most interesting music of the year.

Read our full review here.

1. Both Directions At Once – John Coltrane

Both Directions At Once was the album that I was most excited about this year and it delivered fully on that hope. Recently discovered in a copy given to his first wife, this album found Trane in the middle of that fertile period around My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme. It never got the full release that his classics of the time obtained and so is quite naturally rough, but the brilliance here is undeniable.

His early takes on “Impressions” are fascinating not just for what they would become, but for the music that they were in the moment. It’s clear that this is a transitional period for Trane. He still has some of the pop sound of My Favorite Things here in “Nature Boy” and “Villa”, which may not be as challenging as the rest, but are still excellent.

The Untitled Originals are all intriguing. His variations on 11386 are all thought-provoking in different ways, Take 2 is exploratory and Take 5 is playful. They are elegant and unexpected and so beautiful.

There’s a clear difference between Both Directions At Once and the masterpieces that Trane actually released in those fertile years of the late 50s and early 60s, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an album of tremendous intelligence and my easy pick for album of the year.

Read our full review here.

@murthynikhil

The Top Five Songs of 2018: Neeharika’s List

30 Dec

You might have heard a few of our top five songs on the radio; a couple are famous for their blockbuster music videos. All of them, though, have made our year that much better, and we’re excited to share them with you. Read on for our top picks!

5. “Nice for What” by Drake

The women in this Dreezy hit from 2018’s Scorpion work hard and party harder. They don’t get bogged down by bad partners; they put in their best from 8 to 5 and don’t feel guilty to hit the club later at night. With hypnotic beats, a sunny outlook and endearing lyrics, “Nice for What” is a feel-good female empowerment song from a totally unexpected source – a male rapper.

A special shout-out is warranted for the song’s excellent music video featuring some real women role models. Issa Rae, the black writer-actor behind HBO’s Insecure, leads suited-and-booted men in a neon-green jumpsuit. Zoe Saldana, who plays a superhuman fighter in the Marvel Universe, is a doting mom to her young children. Letitia Wright, the scientist-princess from Black Panther, dusts the dirt off her bright red jacket. Like the song itself, the music video captures the true happiness and optimism that comes from being an independent, hard-working woman. And we are here for it.

4. “QYURRYUS” by The Voidz

Tyranny, the debut album from The Voidz, was a genre-defying exploration of eclecticism, peaking with an eleven-minute amorphous beast called “Human Sadness”. On this year’s follow-up Virtue (full review here), The Voidz have sharply toned down the weirdness for a much more accessible album. “QYURRYUS” (pronounced “curious”), though, does not fit into that formula – or any formula, really.

There are no precise words to describe what this song is because there are no others like it. Familiar-sounding synth beats dissipate in the first five seconds into an imagining of what Rammstein, for example, might sound like if they were a belly-dancing nomadic tribe. Julian Casablancas’ strange, indecipherable vocals could be viewed as a musical instrument on their own. The chorus sounds like a robot attempting to create a Bollywood song. Somehow, miraculously, it’s a catchy song, too.

File this one under its own damn category because there isn’t going to be anything like this anyway.

3. “Set to Attack” by Albert Hammond Jr.

In our opinion, the best songs are the ones that can change your mood just by listening to them. “Set to Attack”, the highlight of Albert Hammond Jr.’s fantastic Francis Trouble (full review here), is just that kind of song.

With an achingly nostalgic mix of early Beatles and early Strokes, “Set to Attack” is a sweet, simple ditty about the trials of young love. “I was still hoping that you were the victory / To what had felt like love,” croons Hammond, taking us back to a time when you could know and feel all the words on a love song.

“Set to Attack” is a little happy, a little sad, but ultimately impossible to not love. An instant classic.

2. “SICKO MODE” by Travis Scott feat. Drake

Travis Scott’s new album, Astroworld, is a tribute to a now-closed, much-beloved amusement park in his hometown of Houston. “SICKO MODE”, the stand-out track from that album, is an inspired, three-part roller coaster of a ride that shows why Scott is a cut above the rest.

“SICKO MODE” is so packed with surprises that it might give you whiplash. Drake lays the intro in a verse that seems to build up to a beat drop – except it doesn’t. Travis takes over with two verses of hypnotic flow that lull you until he swerves again, with sludgy beats that lead into a dizzying new section. A few seconds before the end, the tempo abruptly slows down to a halt, and you know you just have to get back in line hit replay.

1. “This is America” by Childish Gambino

It’s been seven months since “This is America” broke the freaking Internet, and we still can’t get over it. The song starts off innocently enough, with gospel-style vocalizations and a gentle guitar. With a gunshot, it breaks into an on-point summary of black America in 2018: racism, shaming and unwarranted police violence.

Of course, no review of this song is complete without talking about its music video. There is no doubt that Donald Glover is the renaissance artist of our generation. He wrote for 30 Rock; he’s an established actor; he produces and often directs his own award-winning show; and he is an independently popular musician. On the music video for “This is America”, he puts it all together in a maddeningly talented way.

There are so many layers to the music video that this short review cannot do it justice, but consider the following images. He grooves along to an upbeat gospel choir but suddenly shoots them dead with a machine gun. He joins uniformed black kids in traditional African dances while chaos reigns in the background. And the camera pans to folks filming the whole thing on their phones.

There are musicians, and then there are artists. And then there are geniuses. No points for guessing which one is Childish Gambino.

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