Song of the Week
"Pristine," Snail Mail
Whenever a young songwriter tackles love and heartbreak, it can generate some skepticism from the naivete of teenage love and all that. But when Lindsey Jordan belts out, "I know myself and I'll never know anyone else," she addresses those patronizing comments head-on. This pop ballad finds Jordan thoughtfully examining this romance, and her youth in general, with singing that simultaneously captures fragility and punk energy. It's a combination of thrilling performance and stunning songwriting, and makes for one of indie rock's greatest statements of the year.
"U&I," Flatbush Zombies feat. Dia
After declaring their mission for supremacy on the hard-hitting, reference-fueled "Headstones," the East Coast hip-hop trio gets more introspective on the disarmingly poignant "U&I." They rap about their brotherhood, loyalty and love for one another. It's a pleasant track, but the lengthy final verse from Meechy Darko reaches a whole new level of emotion, chronicling a lifetime of insecurity and hardship. It's perhaps the best rap verse of the entire year, and Flatbush Zombies seem primed to release one of the best albums.
"Falling Into Me," Let's Eat Grandma
This up-and-coming British synth-pop duo has made a grand statement with this single, one of the richest and most bombastic performances of the year. Over the song's five minutes, it changes numerous times, from towering keyboard chords to buzzing beat drop to moody arpeggios. These transitions are delightfully subtle -- lose concentration for a few seconds, and you might wonder if the song skipped. The sheer adventurousness of track, alongside its monolithic cope, generates plenty of excitement for the duo's upcoming album.
"4 Days," Belly ft. YG
While he isn't one of the more exciting or interesting artists on the come-up, Belly definitely knows how to nab good collaborators. On his latest single, he works with one of the greatest rapper-producer duos in the game: YG and DJ Mustard. The shining stars of West Coast revivalism, these two bring such energy and charisma to their tracks, and Belly is lifted up by Mustard's catchy beat and YG's fiery guest verse.
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"Lost in Japan," Shawn Mendes
I want to put on my "sophisticated music listener" cap and pretend I don't like this song from Shawn Mendes, but I just can't. It's distinctly retro-inspired, but simple and sweet in its own right. The melodies stick and his delivery is soft yet earnest. This song is pretty good.
"High Horse," Kacey Musgraves
Musgraves, a country artist known for her empowering storytelling, tries out a new sound with her latest single -- disco-pop. The song sounds bubbly and sweet, but definitely isn't the most expert exercise in throwback songwriting. Still, as a country-pop crossover, it could be much worse.
"Take it all," Iceage
Even though their visceral and grimy post-punk sound is far from mainstream, Iceage is a consistent and reliable artist, maintaining a balance of evolution and quality. With yet another single from their upcoming fourth LP, the group overlays their punk lineup with a string section. It's not as exciting as their past work, but nevertheless occupies a captivating space between beautiful and unsettling.
"One Track Mind," Thirty Seconds to Mars feat. A$AP Rocky
In their newest single, the rock band ditches the "rock" part in favor of boring electronica. Jared Leto's manipulated vocals sound legitimately bad, the melodies are cringeworthy and the big break is filled with a grating, one-note synth and languid trap beats. A$AP Rocky certainly doesn't help with his verse, including such empty platitudes as, "Love is like problems/we all got 'em." Step aside, Shakespeare.
"Rover 2.0," BlocBoy JB feat. 21 Savage
Thanks to a minimal yet catchy piano-driven beat and an invigorating feature from Drake (his best in some time), BlocBoy JB's "Look Alive" became a surprise smash hit. Here's the thing: the success of that song rests with Drake. BlocBoy was basically the guest on his own track, and he spent several lines bragging about rapping alongside Drake. This follow-up single, "Rover 2.0," reveals the faults in BlocBoy's talent. It sounds like an inferior "Look Alive," and the man just isn't as charismatic when he's not basking in Drizzy's shadow. A limp feature from 21 Savage doesn't help.
"Lemon - Drake Remix," N.E.R.D. feat. Rihanna
The original version of "Lemon" is easily one of last year's most phenomenal songs. The first half is energetic and infectious, with a great performance from N.E.R.D. member Pharrell Williams. Then it transitions with one of the best beat changes in recent memory to an ultra-smooth groove, with a jaw-droppingly cool rap verse from Rihanna. The remix, while not decidedly terrible, is a bit of a let-down for two reasons. On one hand, that fun first half of the song is gone, and that second beat feels a bit tired after the song's full length. Also, Drake's verse is, quite simply, not as good as Rihanna's. He takes away from the song's momentum, rather than adding to it. Just stick to the original version.