Friday, December 28, 2018

My Top 30 Songs of 2018

Hello there! I've had a few people ask me if this year was the end of my annual "best of" list, but alas, it's not. I spent the last week trying to turn off my brain for a hot minute and — gasp! — not think much about music. But that never lasts long around these parts, so, here are my favourite 30 songs of the year — all of which I think vocally, technically, lyrically are also some of the best around. It wasn't an easy list to make, mainly because 2018 wasn't wildly memorable when it came to music. But, there were more than a few high points, comebacks, newcomers, collaborations and excellent full-lengths that made it possible. You'll see below that 2018 is definitely the year that pop music won, and I think that's reflective of what we all needed to feel this year. So, crank it loud and let it help you feel as good as possible going into 2019.

See you in 2019!

30. "Psycho" – Post Malone (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)

Say what you will about Posty, but anyone who can carve a space in mainstream pop, rap, trap and R&B — a space that didn't exist prior — is a pretty fascinating artist. He's unlikely in every meaning of the word, but relentless in his goofy pursuit of pop kingdom. "Psycho" is a perfect example of his peculiar prowess – sonically, it's pretty, while lyrically it's totally unchallenging; making it an easy choice for the dark horse earworm of the year.

29. "Music On My Teeth" – DJ Koze (feat. José González)

Part of one of the year's quirkiest releases, this José González collaboration is sunshine in a song, or, that moment in between sleep and consciousness where nothing really exists. Don't let "DJ" fool you; the song is beatless and instead, a tender, lo-fi González ballad with soothing embellishments from the praised German producer.

28. "OKRA" – Tyler, The Creator

This song knocks harder every time I hear it. It's got the same caliber of nasty bass heard throughout Goblin, without the questionable subject matter and auxiliary production. "Okra" is one big flex from Tyler; it's further proof he doesn't need anything decorative to work with, and he's got big ideas brewing.

27. "In My Blood" – Shawn Mendes

Shawn Mendes opening up about his struggle with anxiety is one of the most important things to have happened in pop culture this year. A kid with his influence, communicating the all-encompassing feelings of panic, has only done good for his gigantic following by simply telling the truth. And for that, he's a new fave of mine. Plus he lives across the street from me, and including him in his list feels like the neighbourly thing to do.

26. "Lemon Glow" – Beach House

Beach House at their finest, man. "Lemon Glow" will still cloak you in that same intimate trance that Bloom did, but not without new, added edge – namely some delicious electric slides and prominent bass.

25. "Like I Used To" – Tinashe 

Kehlani, SZA, Tinashe — all of thes
e R&B queens know how to turn a break-up jam into something wistful-sounding, even when they’re, in fact, super pissed off. If you only paid attention to the clean production and Tinashe’s sweet hook, you might not pick up on her ruthlessly airing out an ex — which she skillfully is (over a gorgeous melody, no less).

 24. "Pirouette" – Dizzy 

Canadian indie-pop group Dizzy meekly stepped out with their debut album Baby Teeth this year — an impressive collection of airy synth-pop and melancholic ballads like this one, all which breathe imagination into the suburban streets that raised them. Not much makes me want to be a teenager again, but the innocence baked into this LP almost does.

 23. "Sister" – Ben Howard

In a very Simon and Garfunkel way, Ben Howard managed to achieve that special kind of stillness on his untitled three-song EP this year. “Hot Heavy Summer,” the second song off the EP, sounds exactly like its title — summers filled with nothingness — while the undulating “Sister" achieves that sparse, Bon Iver-level introspection.

 22. "New Birth in New England" – Phosphorescent

Staying on that Paul Simon note, Phosphorescent’s long-awaited return to music (following a near-deathly bout of Meningitis) possesses the same simple, euphoric ingredients that Simon’s Graceland did. The underrated Americana gem has his happiest tune here, likely because it quite literally describes meeting the mother of his children, and while his gloomy Spaghetti Western touches were nice in 2013 — I hope this adorable flavour sticks around.


21. "Ooh Wee" – Your Smith

I remember back in the Songza days (RIP), when community playlist curation was just budding, and there was a channel called “Downtown Romantic.” It was my favourite, and to this day, I can pinpoint a song that would have made it on there. This would have. Sounding like a neon-lit stroll through the big city, Your Smith (Caroline Smith’s newest project) captures those lusty early days of a relationship via effortlessly soulful trip-hop.

20. "Heat Wave" – Snail Mail

If this song doesn’t sound like being a teen, lying in the park grass, literally nothing else does. Blending some 90s Cat Power angst with Car Seat Headrest-esque commentary, “Heat Wave” is sun-kissed strums one minute, electric shreds the next — which isn't too unlike being a teen, really.


19. "Just The Way I Am" – Emma Louise

Emma Louise is a celebrated pop staple in her native Australia, but on this year’s Lilac Everything, she emerged singing as "Joseph.” Electronically pitching her vocals down a few octaves, the entire Tobias Jesso Jr.-produced album is sung as the masculine alter-ego — ditching her naturally ethereal vocals for something deeper (in more ways than one). “Just The Way I Am,” which movingly captures the feeling of being really, really loved, is a precious high-point on an all-round great record.


18. "1950" – King Princess

The first single from 2018’s most exciting new queer pop star, “1950” signaled something really special is in store for the next generation of pop consumers. The raspy, Mark Ronson-signed singer, who first turned down a record deal when she was 11, parades vulnerability and fearlessness on “1950” — proclaiming her sexual orientation off the bat, but holding out hope for requited love throughout.


17. "High" – Young Thug (feat. Elton John)

Three years after Elton John rightfully expressed admiration for Young Thug, the sampling of my dreams was finally born as “High” — 2018’s prettiest rap song and most unexpected bromance. Featuring John’s 1972 classic “Rocket Man,” this melodic cut is optimistic and ridiculously well-produced — i.e. the perfect answer to anyone who’s ever dare doubted Thugger.


16. "A Rose in Harlem" – Teyana Taylor

One of the five Kanye-produced Wyoming albums in 2018, Teyana Taylor’s long overdue K.T.S.E. solidified her as one of the year’s fiercest new voices. This bold anthem, symbolic of her New York upbringing, has some of Ye’s best, oldest production tricks lined in — but it’s Taylor’s effortless voice and personality that win the spotlight. Keep an eye on her.


15. "All The Stars" – Kendrick Lamar & SZA

This song is straightforwardly great — accessible for the blockbuster audience who’d be buying the Black Panther soundtrack, as well as TDE super fans thirsty to hear rap and R&B’s best back on a cut together. Neither Kendy nor SZA need much to lift up their powerhouse voices, but this glittery soundscape is a fine canvas.


14. "Party for One" – Carly Rae Jepsen

Leave it to Canadian pop darling Carly Rae to write a single girl’s liberation anthem encouraging masturbation, dancing alone and everything else nice. I really don't think you'll find a catchier, more feel-good jam out of this year – which can only mean good things for her forthcoming album in 2019.


13. "Ultestakon" – Jeremy Dutcher

This is the kind of song that's hard to hear and forget. While Dutcher didn't make it on to my Polaris juror's ballot this year (but went on to win!), "Ultestakon" stands out the kind of arrangement that would have made me push through lines of people at HMV in the '90s to ask a salesperson what was playing. It really does stop me in my tracks every time I listen to it.


12. "Love is a Wild Thing" – Kacey Musgraves

I’ve been a longtime Kacey Musgraves devotee — since she ushered me into a new (yet, nostalgic) era of country appreciation in 2013. Musgraves isn’t afraid to wax existential or lonely on Golden Hour, and she does so with honesty and grace, but the romance of songs like “Love is a Wild Thing” and “Butterflies" (reflective of her recent nuptials) pull on the heartstrings hard.


11. "Something New" – SiR (feat. Etta Bond)

Top Dawg Entertainment newcomer SiR, with an assist from British soul singer Etta Bond, secured the title for sexiest song of 2018 with this one — a gooey, horn-filled ballad that somehow achieves big sexuality while remaining delicate. Painted in that kind of Los Angeles sepia tone, this neo-soul duet will make you feel sticky hot, like you have the sun in your eyes, no matter where you listen to it.


10. "Never Be The Same" – Camila Cabello

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is a perfect pop song. These days I'm showing my age by always remarking at any music that mirrors my musical upbringing, but with “Never Be The Same,” ex-Fifth Harmony ringleader Cabello (and genius TO producer Frank Dukes) has blessed us with that expansive pop balladry that Mariah, Britney or Christina would have cut their teeth with in their early days. That druggy hook! 


9. "Di Mi Nombre (Cap.8: Éxtasis)" – Rosalía

25-year-old Spanish sensation Rosalía is resurrecting in 2018 what Selena did in the early 90s: an expert marriage of contemporary production with traditional Latin music. Spoken in Spanish, El Mal Querer blends the folklore and drama of Catalan flamenco with forward-thinking beats, autotune and the young singer’s own glossy presentation. Accompanied by a very dope video, “Di Mi Nombre” paints Rosalía as vulnerable and love-struck, without sacrificing an ounce of her empowerment.


8. "Doesn’t Matter" – Christine and the Queens

French visionary Hélöise Letissier released her first album as "Chris" this year, adding yet another layer of complexity to her already unique approach. Chris packed even more confident, disco-laden pop into one album, all in an attempt to challenge the opportunities and mystery she says are reserved for men. Under the gender-binary guise of Chris, she’s seductive and heroic, as heard on bangers like “Doesn’t Matter,” which is actually impossible not to move to.


7. "Ghost Town" – Kanye West (ft. Kid Cudi and 070 Shake)

I debated putting any Kanye on this list, as I'm not sure I can go on separating his problematic politics from his music. But, in the end, this song was too much a part of my life this year to ignore, and included a number of other players worth shouting out. Part of Ye, the rapper’s relatively lackluster release that preceded many of his shitty 2018 antics, “Ghost Town” was the bright peak of his short record — featuring exciting up-and-comer 070 Shake and much-needed doses of humility and tenderness at the other end of the album’s dark arc. Turning numbness into feeling, specifically by way of Shake’s poignant revelation (“We’re still the kids we used to be”), "Ghost Town" might be a reminder of who Kanye used to be, and why he hasn’t completely lost us all just yet. 


6. "Blue Rose" – Amen Dunes

Damon McMahon (AKA Amen Dunes) is no stranger to the scene, but on this year’s Freedom, he appeared to have really found his stride, and himself. Made for the kind of coming-of-age roadtrip that starts at dawn, takes you along sprawling highways and into dive bars before ending you at the doorstep of your American dream, Freedom is packed with powerful but subtle anthems like “Blue Rose.” The song is about McMahon’s strained relationship with his father, but still feels triumphant.

Freedom was my favourite album of 2018.


5. "R.E.M." – Ariana Grande

Produced by Pharrell, this stream-of-consciousness nugget of doo-wop-pop gold is my favourite track off Grande's outstanding album Sweetener. The song was actually turned down by Beyoncé, which is fine; I'm convinced it needed Grande's ponytail-flicking sass to live its best life. “‘Scuse me, um, I love you,” is the best and most adorable segue into my favourite pop verse of the year.


4. "Sicko Mode" – Travis Scott (feat. Drake)

Travis Scott has always been a hybrid of hip-hop’s millennial tricks and fads – something that has either confused or excited anyone who’s tried to understand the Houston artist’s M.O. He’s an ambitious scientist of sorts, mixing songs that are weird rides, much like those in the defunct Houston amusement park Astroworld is named after. Easily the album's standout, “Sicko Mode” might have the biggest change-up and beat drop this year — shifting from Drake’s lighthearted intro to the thick bounce that backs Scott's bars. Like it or not, “Who put this shit together? I’m the glue,” isn't a cocky thing for Kylie's man to say in 2018.


3. "Love It If We Made It" – The 1975

The 1975 continued to be pleasantly unexpected this year with their all-encompassing blend of atmospheric Brit-pop and blunt political commentary. Charged with passion and a tongue-in-cheek honesty about the dumpster fire that was 2018, “Love It If We Made It” shows that while The 1975 are a pop band, no doubt – they won't shy away from topics heavier than their music, and that’s their allure. There's an urgency to frontman Matthew Healy's vocals on this track, which couldn't better reflect the urgency to fix everything 2018 screwed up.


2. "Missing You" – Robyn

Robyn’s shiny heartbreak anthems are so timeless that, by the time her album Honey was announced, I think it took a minute for me to realize that the queen of dance-pop hadn’t released a new album in eight years. Enter “Missing You,” the musical equivalent of disco lights flashing across a bar lime, broken glass and tear-covered dance floor. Home to the most mesmerizing 15 seconds in music this year (1:56 to 2:11— run, don’t walk), “Missing You” is the comeback single dreams are made of.


1. "If You Know You Know" – Pusha T

If you needed any reassurance that Pusha T is one of the top five most important rap moguls alive, 2018 probably took care of that. The G.O.O.D. Music president's quick-tongued album DAYTONA (can we collectively pop a bottle for a seven-song record in 2018?) was masterful proof that, twenty years into your career, you can still boast your best work yet. “If You Know You Know,” the album’s fiery lead single, is easily the year’s most memorable non-beat-drop-beat-drop, and undeniable indication that cunning rap lyricism is alive and well in an oversaturated landscape of uninventive rap. He's King Push.


And in case you'd like a Spotify playlist, here she is:

Friday, December 22, 2017

My Top 30 Songs Of 2017

Hello! I don't really write here anymore because I spend most of my time doing music things over here, and soon, I'll be somewhere entirely new. 

But, this is still my little baby that changed the game for me almost eight (!) years ago when I started writing here everyday. So it's the spot to write about myself, if there was one.

Anyway, here are 30 songs that almost, almost made 2017 more than the pile of crap that it was.

30. Everything Now - Arcade Fire

Compared to what Arcade Fire have put out prior, Everything Now as a whole didn't do it for me. But this welcome takedown of greed and consumerism, in all of its anthemic, pan flute-laced glory, was undeniably special.

29. Crowded Places - BANKS

This song was the first time I truly hopped aboard the BANKS-wagon—although I do respect her as an artist. Maybe it was the pretty melody or vulnerability in her shaky vibrato, but this one became a repeat listen for me mid-year.


28. J-Boy - Phoenix

Somethin' in the middle of the side of the store remains one of my favourite lines out of 2017. This disco-ey curveball was an instant homerun for the French rockers, and proof that changing things up can often be for the better.

27. Bad Liar - Selena Gomez 

I'm about 90% sure I wouldn't like Selena Gomez as a person, and almost equally certain that I haven't really liked her music to date. But, pair a little Talking Heads "Psycho Killer" sample with her conversational cadence, and I found not only a timeless pop favourite, but my guaranteed new karaoke song.

26. Feel It - Young Thug

The Beautiful Thugger Girls "singing album" experiment was one of the best and most welcome moves the busy Atlanta rapper made this year. And he made a lot of moves. Unlike some of his other chaotic releases, this album is a cohesive fusion of melodic sex songs like "Feel It" and moody, guitar-picked ballads like the album opener, making it an oddly accessible soundtrack for navigating twenty-something emotions.

25. Broken Record - Alex Ebert

This song, from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' frontman Alex Ebert, was an unexpected doozy for me. "Broken Record" bears a slight resemblance to some of the hippie collective's quieter, seaside ballads, but somehow, this dreamy solo piece is so much more.

24. Bet She Looks Like You - Nick Hakim

Off one of my favourite albums of the year, "Bet She Looks Like You" harkens back to 70s soul or even the beautiful blues of Black Keys' Brothers era. Hakim's laidback rasp and glittery guitars make for great city music.

23. Sign of the Times - Harry Styles

While the other One Directioners continued to fulfill their pop prophecies post-boy band, I wondered what the c-u-t-e Harry Styles would do. From the first achey piano keys, Styles blew the other 1D solo efforts out of the water with this epic Bowie-meets-McCartney showstopper.

22. 3WW - alt-J

Featuring Wolf Alice's Ellie Rowsell, this meditative RELAXER single hooked me right away with its ballsy disregard for structure. The song goes in about eight different directions—including waltzing, antiquitous and typical alt-J prog—but is totally captivating from start to finish.

21. Say Something Loving - The xx

Man, this song still makes me swoon. Whether walking on a warm summer night, kicking away leaves or watching the first snowfall, its endearing message holds up.

20.  Holding On - The War on Drugs

Adam Granduciel nailed soul-searching highway rock again with this year's A Deeper Understanding, which is easily more layered than 2014's Lost In The Dream (although not better, IMO). Nothing says the "open road" like a WOD album, and this Springsteen-inspired scorcher says it best.

19. The One To Wait - CCFX

Feeling part Primitive Radio Gods, part Cocteau Twins, this glimmering retro-pop gem is a bit of a time-stopper for me. It feels both lonely and hopeful, and I'm always left wanting more of Mary Jane Dunphe's nostalgic pipes over those echoey guitar lines.

18. Green Light - Lorde

Lorde knows she's cool, we know Lorde's cool—sure, Lorde's cool. Sometimes it can be a bit much (especially in person). But this Jack Antonoff-produced song is maybe her coolest yet; a pulsing here I am break-up banger that not only drips with triumph, but is straight-up impossible to sit still to.

17. LOVE. - Kendrick Lamar (feat. Zacari)

Another woooorld premiere! An unexpected Kendrick song, "LOVE." is hands-down one of my most-played songs this year. It's beautiful, so there's that—and, honestly, let's just leave it at that. To anyone who feels the need to marvel at and deconstruct the "girly" direction he took, sit down.

16. Velvet Gloves & Spit - Timber Timbre

One of my very favourite Canadian bands, Timber Timbre's latest album proved their ability to churn out dark, Spaghetti Western ditties, as well as soothing Nick Cave-ish lullabies like this one. Another thing that struck me about this song was how the album art reflected exactly what I saw in my brain when I listened to this song. Neat.

15. Indulge Me - Moses Sumney 

Sounding a little Zero 7 in its slow, desolate start, one of the year's most exciting new songwriters captured the feeling of fading sun with this one, and I'd imagine that's not easy to do.

14. Passed You By - Chicano Batman

And on the opposite end of the sun spectrum is this beam-licked album opener off Chicano's latest release, which I listened to pretty much non-stop since February. I saw the West Coast quartet play a tiny show at SXSW two years ago and have been obsessed ever since—eating up every chord of their psychedelic, Tropicalia-touched rock.

13. Into The Ether - Leif Vollebekk 

Another one of my most-played albums of 2017, Leif Vollebekk's intimate ballads are still spine-tingling, even after hours spent with them. Behind the piano for the majority of Twin Solitude, "Into The Ether" stands out as probably the most heart-wrenching plea of them all.

12. Without Words - Joseph of Mercury 

On my favourite EP of the year, Toronto's Joseph W. Salusbury struck a thoughtful balance between sultry INXS and lilting Frank Sinatra—writing about love and longing in a way I hadn't heard in some time. Fit for a super hip 60s promenade, "Without Words" is the love song you didn't think people wrote anymore.

11. oh baby - LCD Soundsystem

Talk about an album opener. Written around the time of frontman James Murphy's divorce and LCD's temporary disbanding, "oh baby" is the kind of unexpected, twinkling heartbreak song that signalled a real rebirth.

10. Biking - Frank Ocean (feat. Jay Z + Tyler, The Creator)

This song could easily be anywhere in the top ten on this list, because it was such a faithful constant in my rotation this year. Boasting three of the greatest artists around, "Biking" really is about, well, biking—both literally riding a bicycle, and figuratively cycling through life's encounters. Regardless, from Jay Z's nonchalant bars to Frank's croon, his old friend Tyler's punchy rhymes and eventually, Frank's incomprehensible outburst—this song is fucking genius.

9. Bagbak - Vince Staples

The second best active rapper alive, Staples' effortless flow and social clarity is the stuff of legends. 2017's Big Fish Theory was surefire proof of how undistracted Vince is by noise; he doesn't really make or need a lot of friends, and will probably never have to cameo on a Maroon 5 song. For that, we love him.

8. New York - St. Vincent

On her most romantic and undecorated piano ballad yet, Annie Clark sounds like a modern-day Joni Mitchell with the opening line "New York isn't New York without you, love." It's a two-and-a-half minute tug on your heartstrings, but worth every damn note to feel that big city love with her.

7. Advice - Kehlani

I almost lost my mind/ I left myself behind,” are tough words to hear from Kehlani—and likely tough ones to write—straight out of a pretty dark period in her life. The R&B pop ballad is undeniably gorgeous, and her voice has never sounded better, but it's the honest narrative around self-love that did it for me.

6. Where This Flower Blooms - Tyler, The Creator (feat. Frank Ocean)

The Odd Future rapper always had my ear, although sometimes reluctantly, with a high chance of cringe. On this year's Flower Boy, Tyler himself seemed to have enough of his immature quips and obscenities, instead settling for clever reflections on his own sexuality and what it means to be a black kid. And when Frank swings in before the jazzy bridge? Oof.

5. GUMMY - Brockhampton

Sort of replacing the aforementioned rap collective is this ragtag group of 14 online pals who formed out of San Marcos, Texas in 2015. Releasing three albums in 2017 alone, the opening track off Saturation II is more than a bunch of feisty kids trading verses over mid-90s LA production—it's a gaggle of diverse young voices sounding pretty unafraid to be themselves.

4. Love Galore - SZA (feat. Travis Scott)

SZA won 2017, as far as I'm concerned. The endlessly talented R&B vocalist and poet has been a huge favourite of mine since her 2013 EP S, and it was frustrating to watch her get overlooked when, the only female signee to TDE, she offered so much more than her mainstream counterparts. This gorgeous first single was proof she'd paid her dues and waited long enough, before dropping the realest, most relatable female-led album of the year.

3. HUMBLE. - Kendrick Lamar

There's nothing I can possibly say about this song that hasn't already been said. The first single off the incomparable DAMN., "HUMBLE." (and its oh-so-dope video) ushered Lamar into a hybrid era of both street-savvy consciousness and party rap accessibility. His bars are as bouncy and memorable as Mike WiLL Made-It's beat, making for easily one of the best rap songs... ever.

2. Valley - Perfume Genius

This song is like a sucker punch every time it comes on, forcing me to stop and be mindful of everything happening in it. The whirling chords and Mike Hadreas' subdued vocals—particularly when he sings "How long must we live right/ Before we don't even have to try?"—were exactly how I felt at more than a few points this year. The entirety of No Shape is so rose-coloured, so lush—even at sad points. It's the kind of album no one really made this year, and he was the perfect artist to make it.


1. Chanel - Frank Ocean

Unsurprisingly, the most brilliant, elusive songwriter of our time delivered this dizzying thing less than a year after his long-awaited Blonde album, which had no shortage of other era-defining jams on it. "Chanel" premiered 18 times during an episode of Frank's near-perfect Blonded radio show in March, blowing other surprise singles out of the water with its blend of marching percussion, gloomy piano and some of his most complex wordplay to date. "Chanel" preaches the exact dichotomy that Frank represents, saying "my guy pretty like a girl/ and he got fight stories to tell" because he sees "both sides like Chanel." Obviously, Frank never has to explain why he chooses to withhold perfect singles from perfect albums, or what timing even means to him, because it all feels like part of this greater plan we don't even deserve insight into. Either way, seeing both sides, being both sides of anything is probably something we could all learn to do more of, and it's Frank's effortless embodiment of sonic and spiritual eclecticism that makes him untouchable.

A playlist, if you'd like!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top 25 Songs of 2016: #3-1

Happy New Year! Almost. This concludes my little annual countdown of what I think are the top songs of the year. I listen to a silly amount of stuff, so it's always a fun exercise to look back and narrow down what stood out most or had the most impact on me. It's so easy to be influenced by popular opinion or what your peers and critics say, when really, whatever music strikes you is a blueprint of who you are - and nothing else should really matter.

Thanks for reading!

3. All Night - Beyoncé: Following the above intro, this song is a great example of choosing an unlikely favourite off a groundbreaking album. Don't get me wrong, I was equally moved by "Formation," "Hold Up" and "Freedom," but it was this healing track that tied the whole story of love gone awry together. It's still honest, forgiving and, more than anything, just a really beautiful love song. I happened to be awake, drinking wine and working the Saturday night that this album dropped back in April, and for whatever reason, clicked on this song first. Of course, the rest of the album turned out to be far more charged than "All Night," but even after listening to it all, Beyoncé's vulnerability on this one still hit me like a ton of bricks. It's just as symbolic as it is literally pretty, and for that, will always be the Lemonade standout for me.

2. Nights - Frank Ocean: Again, upon the release of Frank Ocean's long-awaited Blonde, this track was almost always unmentioned by critics, who were enthralled with stunners like "Ivy," "Self Control" and our first taste, "Nikes." But as I've watched media outlets post their picks for best of the year, "Nights" is making it on to plenty, and that's probably because it's the kind of song a listener needs to sit with. Off one of my favourite albums of the year, I'm not choosing "Nights" because it sounds so distinctly Frank Ocean; in fact, I love the distorted approach to a lot of the album. "Nights" is just fucking dreamy; it's a classic. It takes you through a two-part journey that feels exactly like a lot of nights do. It starts as a downtown, neon-streaked adventure with its clangy chords and Frank's punchy delivery, before ending in a whirling, slow jam haze. Song to song, all of Frank's journeys are so different and sometimes tough to follow, but "Nights" is a place I feel like I've been in real life, and want to revisit.

1. Ultralight Beam - Kanye West: Oh man, where to begin. My first memory of this song is one of my most powerful music memories, maybe ever. I ran home from work to stream Kanye's The Life Of Pablo and Yeezy Season 3 reveal at Madison Square Gardens, where thousands piled in to sit and and listen with 'Ye and co. The first track played was "Ultralight Beam," and in preparing to consume a new Kanye record, this wasn't what anyone expected as the album opener. Even from the comfort of my couch, I was motionless. Starting with the tiny toddler preacher and Kanye's most coherent, diary-like verse, this song about a "god dream" and looking for redemption was already solidifying itself as the most game-changing of the year (and it was only February). A booming choir and Kelly Price interjection later, Chance The Rapper delivered the most spellbinding verse of the year. With insane clarity, Chance lets his acrobatic wordplay and vocal shifts tell the story of his life to date, and where he plans on going. He talks family, hunger and doing his best with that coined Chano exuberance, and it becomes clear that the positivity and hope Chance has mirrors what Kanye has been looking for, and probably still is looking for. It's a fitting back-and-forth between mentor and mentee, and while Kanye sets the tone and asks the questions, Chance delivers the answers - proving that youthful optimism and a little faith can go a long way.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Top 25 Songs of 2016: #6-4

6. Love On The Brain - Rihanna: I've always liked Rihanna; she's a talented, versatile, hitmaker who's still wildly successful nearly 14 years after her first single. But. I've never owned an album of hers until this year's Anti, which I knew I would be purchasing the first time I heard the impossibly bad ass "B*tch Better Have My Money." Even though she's always been a bit of a bad ass, it felt as if the dawning of an even badder RiRi era was upon us; a serious rebirth of a new femme fatale that was more rock star than anything else. Sure enough, after Anti's release, that was confirmed - when even chugging doo wop ballads like this one managed to be intimate, vulnerable, kind of grimy and, most of all, chock full of confidence, all at once. From the first few notes of "Love On The Brain," as well as "Higher," I knew we we had a few contemporary R&B classics on our hands here. Similar to some of the great retro soul and R&B artists that likely influenced Rihanna, this round's raw, fearless lyricism and delivery suddenly put her in a class of her own.

5. We The People... - A Tribe Called Quest: Learning that A Tribe Called Quest would be releasing a new album 22 years after their last was maybe one of the most thrilling bits of music news (for me) this year. An album created with Phife Dawg prior to his passing, We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service was destined to hit hard. From the first buzz and kickdrum of this album opener, it was as if no time had passed; that they were just as triumphant, just as spot-on, as when they asked if they could kick it back in '90. A biting commentary on the state of America then, now and moving forward, ATCQ are still the people's rappers - the sharp, no bullshit boys who, days after Trump's election, swing in with 16 tracks of realness that predicted America's demise long before this album was released.

4. Sister - Angel Olsen: There were any number of tracks off Angel Olsen's breathtaking My Woman that I would have put high, high up on this list - but this one is everything I adore about the album all in one. The sprawling 8-minute track starts close to her Neil Young folk roots - voice shaky, drums skittering, guitar twanging - before thundering into her newest self, a Stevie Nicks-influenced shredder, baring her soul with vocal variations on one line: "All my life I thought I'd change." She spends the better half of the song exploring that concept, but it's not sad - and, similar to the Cat Powers' and Hope Sandovals before her, that's what makes Olsen one of the most authentic rock heroines of our time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top 25 Songs of 2016: #8-7

#8. Glowed Up - Kaytranada (feat. Anderson .Paak): Montreal-based Kaytranada flew onto the global radar this year, collaborating with everyone from Talib Kweli to Chance The Rapper, and eventually winning the Polaris Music Prize. To me, all of this signified that the future of Canadian music, and all of its possibilities, was here. While Canada's been historically pretty well-represented in the rock game and, more recently, the hip-hop game - a brilliant, genre-diverse DJ is something we couldn't really boast about until now. Particularly, a millennial who mind-bogglingly chops soul, R&B and funk samples together like someone who lived through the height of those genres. This track is a perfect example of what we're talking about with Kay's eclectic debut album 99.9%; it's amazing, but by no means representative of everything else on the record. The two-parter slithers around .Paak's fiery sing-rapping - the first half sounding chillingly extraterrestrial, before transitioning into a romantic, acid-jazzy finish. It's a bonafide hip-hop earworm, with a little something for everyone, but is wedged between some electro-jazz fusion and what sounds like an old-school breakdance number. He has so much range, and I really don't get how he knows as much as he does, but I'm beyond proud he's one of our own.

#7. No Problems - Chance The Rapper (feat. Lil Wayne & 2Chainz): And now for the man of the damn year, Chancelor Bennett and Coloring Book, one of the most refreshing hip hop albums of the last decade. Chance has been around for awhile, and avid listeners would remember that he wasn't always the confident, sunshiney fellow he is until last year's Surf, a stunning collaborative album with tons of huge stars and his backing band, Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment (name since changed, thanks to another Donald). Following 2013's darker, druggy confessional Acid Rap, which was still obviously incredible, Surf was a gorgeous hip hop experiment that fell deaf on the mainstream's ears, but acted as the prelude to the dynamic then-named "Chance 3" - a mixtape that had been hyped up by new friend Kanye West the second the year started. Once singles like "No Problems" dropped, it was clear that this album was going to be one of the most confident releases by an unsigned artist ever, as evidenced by the subject matter of this track, which is basically a (jolly) double middle finger to anyone who wants Chano to conform. Sure enough, Coloring Book was released independently and on streaming services only - becoming the first album to chart solely based on streams, and the reason The Grammys changed their rules to allow stream-only albums for consideration. This bouncy banger might seem like, well, just that, to anyone who hasn't followed Chano's story, when in reality, it's a forewarning that Chance really only plans to do things his way.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top 25 Songs of 2016: #10-9

10. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales - Car Seat Headrest: As I got further down this list, I wondered if I made a mistake putting this song so high up, in the number ten spot. There were at least three other songs I thought deserved to be here - some of which didn't even make the list in the end - and so I re-listened to this album over and over again to feel confident in my choice. And it turns out I'm very confident, actually. After consuming Car Seat Headrest's official debut (frontman Will Toledo put out 11 Bandcamp albums prior) another dozen or so times, I remembered a lot about who I am as a listener. This kind of angsty indie rock is a big part of what I grew up on, and frankly, it's been a thing of the past for awhile now, until Toledo. He's this generation's 24 year-old indie saviour, whose lo-fi anthems ask the same drug and booze-induced questions about his place in the world as the Nirvanas and Pavements before him. Teens Of Denial is a lyrically sharp, instrumentally scorching rock record, in a time when great rock records are hard to come by.

9. Rings of Saturn - Nick Cave: Off one of the most devastating albums of the year, this song is a mess-you-up-in-public kinda song. And whether or not Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds' dark balladry is your bag, there hasn't been a time when I've played this song around other people and someone hasn't asked, 'What is this?" Skeleton Tree was written prior to his son's tragic death in 2015, and completed afterwards, so there's no escaping Cave's confrontation with pain here. But "Rings of Saturn," with its spoken poetry and transcendent melody is a momentary reprieve in itself. Over glimmering synth, Cave reflects on a resilient female lead (who I think is his wife), repeating, "And this is the moment / This is exactly what she was born to be." Especially after enduring an unthinkable tragedy like he has, their 16th album might be his darkest yet - but a song like "Rings of Saturn" proves he too can find the light.