10 midyear favorites

Rock ‘n roll is back. Philadelphia is killing it. And as we await releases from M.I.A., Frank Ocean, and LCD Soundstystem amongst others, let’s take a look back at what has made 2016 so loud.

10. “Fuck Donald Trump” – YG, Nipsey Hussle

There’s an unattributed Tumblr quote  saying “If it’s inaccessible to the poor it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.” And while I doubt LA rappers YG and Nipsey Hussle had this image mind when recording, they embodied the spirit with the simplest and most effective protest anthem in years. “Fuck Donald Trump” demonstrates that 2016 isn’t about crips versus bloods, black versus brown, rich versus poor, but a nation against a narcissist.

9. “True Love Waits” – Radiohead

Thom Yorke teased “True Love Waits” at live performances over twenty years ago, and according to producer Nigel Godrich, there was never a good time to get the recording onto an album. From the perspective of singer Thom Yorke, fresh off a separation from his partner of twenty-three years, 2016 still probably isn’t a good time to get it on an album. But if “True Love Waits” isn’t the Greatest Band in the Universe’s greatest ballad, it’s certainly their most heartbreaking.

“True Love Waits” 

Honorable mentions: “Ful Stop,” “Glass Eyes”

8. “Dapper” – Domo Genesis, Anderson .Paak

Six years ago, Domo Genesis was the chillest and least interesting member of Los Angeles hip-hop collective Odd Future, and not much has changed since then. The group has since morphed from a family to a loose confederacy with musical ideas spinning around in every which direction, sometimes landing at roller rinks with jet skis and famous friends and disco balls (who’da thunk these dudes were rapping about raping nuns not long ago?). It also helps that Anderson .Paak sounds like he’s having the time of his life, and hey, with women, weed, and roller disco, he probably is.

Honorable mentions: “Go (Gas)” (Domo), “Room in Here” (.Paak)

7. “Ultralight Beam” – Kanye West, The Dream, Kelly Price, Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin

There is now an inverse relationship between how much of Kanye’s voice we hear on a song and how great it is, and “Ultralight Beam” proves this math. Mr. West shows up for the hook and a mumbled verse, but the real stars are Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin, and the wondrous choir that takes this song to the heavens. And if you weren’t familiar with Chance the Rapper’s greatness, this is a pretty fine introduction.

Honorable mentions: “Real Friends,” “Saint Pablo”

6. “Sex & Drugs” – A Giant Dog

Rock ‘n roll isn’t a young person’s game anymore. Austin’s A Giant Dog tried that, and it hasn’t really worked for them until now with “Sex & Drugs,” a walloping and raucous tune of booze-filled regret.

5. “Too Deep” – dvsn

I safely assumed that there was a less superficial meaning to “Too Deep,” but it’s probably more accurate to conclude that “Too Deep” is actually just about penis-in-vagina sex stuff. With singer Daniel Delay’s Frank Ocean-light voice, however, OVO signees dvsn can get away with any song topic they want.

4. “Caitlyn” – JANK

“Caitlyn” is an emo “Paranoid Android,” but instead of Radiohead predicting society’s demise with the violent rise of artificial technology, JANK sings about weed. And in the song’s twinkly second movement, we hear singer Matt Diamond lamenting Caitlyn looking down on him because she’s “sooo god…damn…tall.” Also, Caitlyn is a dog. She’s also imaginary. Point is: “Caitlyn” is unexpectedly funny and impressive from a band trying hard not to be.

Honorable mentions: “The Hat Store,” “Ouran High School Toast Club”

3. “Can’t Stop Fighting” – Sheer Mag

The rock ‘n roll renaissance may be coming from Philadelphia with JANK, Modern Baseball, Kurt Vile, Radiator Hospital, and A Sunny Day In Glasgow all dismantling the indie scene. Sheer Mag is the most impressive of the bunch, however, with their meat-and-potatoes guitar rock fronted by the seductively powerful Tina Halladay belting out heartbreak like a scorned long-haul truck driver. Put this on the classic rock rotation right now; I doubt any of the old-timers would notice it’s fresh.

Honorable mention: “Nobody’s Baby”

2. “Awadama Fever” – Babymetal

Babymetal is still fascist, uncreative, and evil, and they also released a solid pop album that I should be tired of but still blast if I need a burst of energy. “Awadama Fever” uses early aughts breakbeats and nu-metal riffs and still comes out the other end as the most adorable song I’ve heard all year. It’s cute! It’s metal! And they’re no longer mutually exclusive!

Honorable mentions: “GJ!,” “Karate”

1. “Not Allowed” – TV Girl

TV Girl’s Brad Petering hates it when girls don’t call, hates it when they don’t do what they say they’re going to do, and hates that he’s often the B-side to a more fulfilling relationship. But he loves sex, so he’s going to power through all the other bad stuff for his get-off. He’s got some pretty unhealthy views, too: he sings “Did he ever make you come?/Did he ever make you cry?” as if they were the same command, and he tries to seduce someone out of love with his “interactive, sick, and twisted imagination.” I’m not entirely sure if it’s admirable or pathetic, though I am pretty sure that “Not Allowed” is majesterial pop.

Honorable mentions: “Song About Me,” “Heaven is a Bedroom”



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