10 Midyear Favorites

10. “Harry” – Macseal

So there was this song last year called “Caitlyn” by this band called JANK that I really liked. The band balanced humor with super serious jangly guitars, creating this three-movement emo masterpiece that stood out in a crowded field of grief. Anyway, “Harry” sounds a lot like “Caitlyn.”

9. “I’m The One” – DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, Lil Wayne

I fully support Justin Bieber replacing Chris Brown as the industry’s hook-maestro, just as I fully embrace Khaled’s cartoonish positivity, Quavo’s rise to the chart-topping elite, and Wayne’s semi-functional retirement tour. But Chance’s verse drives the song, integrating Chicago’s finest MC into the mainstream without dropping any of the charm. Plus, he rhymes “coochie melt” with “Gucci belt” like it was nothing.

8. “Stay Happy” – Broken Social Scene

I’ve thought about this for a while, and I can’t think of a reason why Broken Social Scene has remained this good for this long.

7. “The Fall of Home” – Los Campesinos!

Perhaps I had to choose a song from my favorite band’s most recent record, or maybe because I, too, left my hometown for somewhere new this year (okay it’s the same town, different neighborhood, though). But “The Fall of Home’s” brilliance lies in its delicacy, a trait the band hadn’t the maturity to pull off until just recently.

6. “Gold” – Brockhampton

Let’s not pretend that LA hip-hop heroes Brockhampton represent anything more than potential at this point. But if “Gold” indicates anything, it’s a staggeringly high ceiling for even the non-Kevin Abstract members of the group.

5. “HUMBLE” – Kendrick Lamar

Sometimes I like to imagine Kendrick Lamar returning to the studio for the first time after releasing the greatest album in a generation and wondering what in the world to do next.

4. “Witness” – Benjamin Booker, Mavis Staples

Rarely does a plea for social justice sound this timeless. “Witness” would’ve been a hit record in the 50s, 70s, 90s, and hopefully will be today.

3. “Creature Comfort” – Arcade Fire

After an underwhelming past few singles, Canada’s finest returns with a jam that reaffirms Regine Chassagne as the world’s best backup singer, Win Butler as the world’s tallest rock star, and Arcade Fire as the biggest band in the galaxy.

2. “Mary” – Big Thief

Adrianne Lenker’s cadence on “Mary” could haunt the most hardened of woodsmen, raining forest melancholy from the band’s Brooklyn habitat.

1. “XO TOUR Llif3” – Lil Uzi Vert

Could it have been any other?

 

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Two Jams 6/28

A Jam That Came Out Yesterday – “Stay Happy” – Broken Social Scene

Of all the mid-aughts rock titans releasing an album this year–LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Queens of the Stone Age–Broken Social Scene excites me the most. Why? you ask. Well, jeez, have you listened to these singles?

A Jam That I’m Pretty Late On – “Magnolia” – Playboi Carti

When the DJs on my local hip-hop top-40 station introduced “Magnolia” last week as “the hottest track in the country,” I knew I was way behind. 15 seconds in, however, I realized I had heard it before in a Dragon Ball Z parody video. So yeah. I’m totally hip.

 

 

Two Jams 6/17

A Jam That Came Out This Week – “Creature Comforts” – Arcade Fire

I know, I know, more Arcade Fire. But this one is also a jam, I promise. A shiny disco jam, too, so shiny that it makes the shiny disco jams on Reflektor seem rather scuffed.

A Jam That Came Out Eight Days Ago So I Just Missed Out On Saying That It Came Out This Week – “Waste” – Brockhampton

LA’s biggest thing is Brockhampton, a collective of rap enthusiasts turned indie darlings turned eventual cult leaders headed by the super-talented Kevin Abstract. You will be hearing their album Saturation in bakeries and barbecues all summer, especially the booming machismo of “Heat” and the laid-back groove of “Gold.” But do yourself a favor and get to the end, where Northern Irish singer Bear//Face croons Frank Ocean lullabies over a sexy guitar lick, and make sure your popsicle doesn’t melt in the process.

Three Jams 6/12

A Jam That Came Out This Week – “Mary” – Big Thief

Brooklyn’s Big Theif’s new album Capacity tenderly touches touchy subjects, and the band saves their softest approach for “Mary,” the powerful penultimate track on their subdued, fantastic sophomore record. With an old gospel structure and singer Adrianne Lenker’s strained whisper, “Mary” clears out the haze of the previous nine tracks and plants its flag on songwriting perfection.

A Jam That I’m A Little Late On – “Bambi” – Jidenna

You’ll have to forgive me for the reasonable assumption that 2015’s “Classic Man” was a one-off hit from an industry plant, but alas: Jidenna released an album this year. I’ll grant you, listening to Bambi on the radio for the first time, I thought it might have been Jidenna, but the black-and-white island sample was so polished and the vocals were so smooth that I needed to get to the Migos flow in the third verse to ask myself, “who’s that well-dressed pop-hop dude?”

A Jam That Was A Jam When it Came Out And Is Still A Jam – “Cemetry Gates” – The Smiths

Morrissey is an asshole; he basically said so himself many times. As if luring you to a romantic encounter in a boneyard isn’t asshole-y enough, he deigns to tell you that the poetry you read is the wrong poetry, as if there ever were such a thing. But “Cemetry Gates” measures your love: can you hold someone dear who constantly insults you? If Johnny Marr is there to back him up, the answer is, sure, why not?

Two Jams 6/3

A Jam That Came Out This Week – “Everything Now” – Arcade Fire

Now that Arcade Fire is one year late on their typical three-year album cycle, any new release, much less a dedicated single with a video, is a newsworthy event. “Everything Now” puts 2013’s Reflektor’s future disco on cruise control, though Arcade Fire’s cruising speed nudges everyone else out of the passing lane.

A Jam That I’m a Little Late On – “Money” – Riton, Kah-Lo, Mr. Eazi, Davido

Riton is an English producer who incorporated the help of Nigerian pop stars Kah-Lo, Mr. Eazi, and Davido for a breezy and universally catchy dance jam.

 

Three Jams 5/19

A Jam That Came Out This Week – “Fool’s Errand” – Fleet Foxes

The Pacific Northwest folk phenomenon exploded a decade ago with Fleet Foxes’s first two beautiful records, lush and confident throwbacks that re-ignited acoustic power in churches and dance halls all over the country, inspiring Clear Channel copycats like The Head and the Heart, The Lumineers, and even Mumford and Sons. And then they went into a deep silence, no word about upcoming projects or thoughts, no words at all, really. Which makes these first two singles eight years later seem so sudden, but hey, I’ll take it.

A Jam That I’m a Little Late On – “Harry” – Macseal

Macseal is a Long Island emo/math rock/American Football disciple, and there’s no hiding their affection in the jangly guitars and muffled anguish. But emo is smarter than it ever has been, to a point where anonymous bandcamp criers can get heavy internet rotation.

A Jam That Was a Jam and is Still a Jam – “A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays” – De La Soul

Old heads (hide your prejudices), how many early hip-hop jams still hold up? Here’s a fun trick: if you name any De La Soul song, the chances are pretty good.

Three Jams 5/12

In a poorly masked excuse for writing practice, I present the first installment of this (hopefully) weekly series, in which I share three jams.

A Jam That Came Out This Week – “Gospel” – Rich Chigga, Keith Ape, XXXTentacion

I work and socialize in a heavily Asian-American area of these United States, so it’s likely that I’m invested in this Rich Chigga phenomenon far more than the rest of the country (he only has five songs out FFS). However, it’s probably fair to declare this meme a real cultural force, now. Rich Chigga slaps.

A Jam That I’m A Little Late On – “Big Beautiful Day” – PWR BTTM

The dirty little secret about precious, anti-establishment indie-rock is that it has always been overwhelmingly straight, white, and male. PWR BTTM has the white part down, certainly not the straight, and the male part is a bit complicated. But the music is an otherwise familiar vague anger, like a polished Green Day, only gayer.

An Older Jam That’s Still A Jam – “Over and Over Aain (Lost and Found) ” – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

CYHSY is a band that still exists, mostly in the memories of those who were there when they and Arctic Monkeys kinda changed everything about music marketing twelve years ago, but also in the sense that Alec Ounsworth is still making music. Very little compares to track two on their debut, however, where Ounsworth’s low register sounds like David Byrne’s falsetto, with the same emotional imperative the Talking Heads always managed.