Here is the first of my annual Top 10 Lists, this one covering music (Albums and Singles).
Top 10 Singles
10. Amy Shark with Mark Hoppus “Psycho”
This slow, melodic charmer with guest vocals from one of Blink 182’s front men works as both a relationship anthem and an indictment on dating as an adult. Everything means something. Shark’s soaring vocals pair nicely with Hoppus’ rasp as the song builds to its charming end.
09. Robyn “Missing U”
I wish I could go one year without using the word “bouncy” to describe a song on my Top 10 list, but alas I cannot. Robyn returns with this bouncy romp backing his chirpy, dreamy vocals, and it’s sheer delight.
08. Sigrid “Sucker Punch”
I really can’t wait to see what Norwegian chanteuse Sigrid can do with a full album. I’ve loved every one of her singles including this years “Sucker Punch” which matches her booming vocals with a trippy, grinding vibe. The climax of the song as her vocals veer from raw acapella to overly affected is a stunner.
07. Kylie Minogue “Dancing”
This shouldn’t work: a melding of country twang and pop-dance by an Aussie singer whose heyday was decades ago. But it does. It’s pure poppy fun, and manages to be both mindless mover and thoughtful nostalgia. (This is also bouncy).
06. Drake “Nice for What”
I’ll be honest, I don’t generally care for Drake. His nasally overaffected voice grates, and I find his posturing eye-rolly since I can’t shake the image of him as wheelchair Jimmy on Degrassi. But the pacing and movement of “Nice for What” is the first song of his that found itself on repeat for me. You can have your “In Your Feelings” challenges, I’ll take the urgent thump of this song.
05. The Struts “Somebody New”
In the year of numerous Freddy Mercury homages, the Struts tune serves as the best example that the influence of Queen’s frontman still lives on. This operatic pop ballad from the flamboyant British band would be every bit as home on a Queen best of as it is on this band’s recent release.
04. Janelle Monae “Make Me Feel”
After being amazing in several movies (Hidden Figures, Moonlight) since her last album, Monae returned to music with this song that is pure sexual joy that would make Prince proud. “Make Me Feel” bumps and grinds along to Monae’s breathy vocals and is the highlight of her amazing album (more on that later).
03. Mikky Ekko “Not the One”
I don’t know much about this guy, other than he did that song with Rihanna a couple years back. So I was surprised that this song found its way onto numerous mixes of mine throughout the year. Ekko’s intense rasp as he belts through this mid-tempo pop tune is wonderful, and the best part of a year where he produced a number of unexpected should-have-been hits.
02. Childish Gambino “This is America”
Tackling everything from minstrelsy to gun violence, this symbolic sensation from Donald Glover’s alter ego blazed into the zeitgeist this year. It was deep, dark, thoughtful, crazy, and ridiculous, and also arguably genius.
01. The Carters “Apeshit”
This banger from Beyonce and Jay-Z is outlandish and excessive, but it completely works, as both Carters spit lyrics out as it jumps around, fast like a lambo (skrrt, skrrt, skrrt). It’s absurd in the best way possible, and almost in explicable in its thunderous joy, but I dig it anyway.
Top 10 Albums
10. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
The latest effort from indie rock darlings the 1975 is a great mix of their usual weird pop sensibilities, screechy guitars, and booming vocals.
09. Bishop Briggs – Church of Scars
This vibrant debut from the British singer is pure adrenaline. Briggs’ powerful voice is a charmer, and works well whether she’s chanting along in “River” or belting out “Dream.”
08. Jukebox the Ghost – Off to the Races
Another band that wears its Queen influence on its proverbial sleeve. Powerful harmonies against power-pop melodies.
07. Prince – Piano and a Microphone
The master at work, back in 1983 with no New Power Generation or Revolution behind him, just eighty-eight keys and his hypnotic voice. With everything from an early version of “Purple Rain” to a breathy cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” this is a musical genius at work in his prime. Gorgeous.
06. Brandi Carlisle – By the Way, I Forgive You
This folk-rock singer with a violently beautiful voice released her best album in years with searing lyrics, soaring vocals, and a slow-burning rage that underlies even the sweetest tunes.
05. Soundtrack – Black Panther
Produced by wunderkind Kendrick Lamar and featuring his vocals on a number of tunes, the best soundtrack to any superhero movie ever and one of the best of any movie in recent memory, jumps around from the big hits (“Pray for Me,” with the Weeknd, “All the Stars” with SZA, “King’s Dead” with Jay Rock, Future and James Blake) to slow burners like Vince Staples “Opps” or Schoolboy Q’s “X.” Everything works together with a nice cohesion that is both evocative of the movie itself, and of an entire musical revolution.
04. Chvrches – Love is Dead
Trippy, synth-pop deliciousness from the Scottish band that features guest stars from Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and Matt Berninger of the National. With schizophrenic vocals, vivid guitars and booming beats, this thoughtful album is endlessly moving.
03. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
While this song also pairs disco vibes with country twang, it’s surprisingly affecting for what should be a ridiculous experiment. From slow charmers like “Space Cowboy” to raucous grinders like “High Horse,” Musgraves moves beyond her typical fare for a stronger and much more interesting endeavor.
02. George Ezra – Staying at Tamara’s
Ezra’s deep, gravelly voice with a batch of singalong tunes offers a surprising second album for the English singer. Road trip ragers like “Shotgun,” “Pretty Shining People” and “Paradise” do the heavy lifting while quiet sentimental tunes like “Hold My Girl” and “All My Love” keep things thoughtful.
01. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Monae clearly cribs Prince with her jangly guitars, groovy beats, and suggestive lyrics. This group of tunes on Monae’s third album is her strongest and most-cohesive collection to date with guest appearances from Grimes, Zoe Kravitz, Brian Wilson, and Pharrell. The music veers wildly between sexy slow jams to socially-conscious dissertations, sometimes in the same song. Every tune here is a standout.