Keeping up with the times is hard. In fact one of my friends is constantly making fun of the fact that I know next to nothing about the moment’s pop culture and my references generally date back a good 10 years (sorry, ‘It’s my verb’ is still a great phrase). And usually I could care less if I’m in on the latest debatably offensive thing a Kardashian has done. But with music, I do genuinely try to keep in the know. I love sitting down with my newest Rolling Stone and surfing Spotify. Discover is my savior. I’m that obnoxious friend asking you to screenshot the song you’re playing. That said, I can also listen to the same four songs on repeat for a week when things are chaotic and I need reliable jams. That undoubtedly happened numerous times this year.
Now, though, it’s winter break. I’m back home, bored out my mind, with loads of time on my hands. Conveniently, now everyone is also posting their year-end best-of lists. So, between flipping through the pages on Junot Díaz’ last book at a crazed speed and watching episodes of Friends I’ve seen approximately a zillion times, I’ve got in some serious music reading and listening. All those songs, artists, and albums I’ve been hearing about through the year and not got around to listening to are now stacking up my queue.
It’s a long process, one I probably won’t ever actually fully complete. But here are some songs that, so far, have really stood out to me.
in time – FKA twigs
I was actually fairly into FKA twigs for a bit this year, so I’m not quite sure how I completely missed the boat on this one. Regardless, I managed to. Sometimes I think of FKA twigs as the female version of the Weeknd, in that each of their sounds has such a sensual basis. FKA twigs’, though, is incredibly ethereal. On LP1, her songs take you to this spacey frame of mind where you drift off into a breathily soundtracked limbo. On ‘in time’, however, she hooks you. Here, her sound feels so much more complete. Now not all songs have to have catchy hooks, by any means. But FKA twigs seriously benefits by introducing a gripping chorus in this song, in which the tempo quickens, tightens and she forces her listeners to snap back into reality. In just over a year, FKA twigs seems to have refined her sound and this song is evidence of that. Pumped to see what more she has in store for us.
Break Away – Bobby Caldwell ft. Jessie Ware
What a killer, laid-back, but also slightly heart wrenching jam! On this track, Bobby Caldwell—with producer Jack Splash—bring a super chill, bit funky tune, complete with sassy horn-section about the need for distance after a relationship. While Bobby Caldwell’s voice serves up some attitude, Jessie Ware (who I always forget I kinda actually love) gives the song a suave vibe. Together, these three have created a song that embodies the cold, heartless attitude you want to emit after a relationship gone awry with a surprising warmth.
Ch-Ching – Chairlift
So I know Chairlift for their song 2008 ‘Bruises’. And nothing else. And this is nothing like ‘Bruises’. This is pretty much the epitome of 2015. ‘Ch-Ching’ is glammed out, a bit jazz-infused, with quick, heavy drums. It’s Marian Hill meets Jessie J, while possibly trying to be MIA. It was—at least for me with my limited knowledge of them—totally unexpected. But it’s fun and chock full of energy. Their second single, ‘Romeo’, was released at the very end of November and features similarly exciting sounds. When their album released January 22, it should be quite interesting to see if this new sound of theirs is one they can sustain and make their own.
The Answer – Savages
Now of course I follow the xx religiously on all social media platforms with which I engage. For that reason, I’m beating myself up for not jumping on this bandwagon (this term is so apt here, I lowkey had to research its etymology; anyone else thinking A Bug’s Life?) when Romy shared their music on Instagram months ago. But better late than never, right? Savages are some seriously great, ¡all female!, British rockers. Insane guitar riffs, head-banging tunes, and committed vocals, these women aren’t fooling around. Do yourself a favor and check out these talented lady punks.
You Are Luhh – Frank Ocean
I know everyone is up in arms about the fact that Frank Ocean didn’t drop his new album this year, but it actually wasn’t a completely Ocean-less year. On what would’ve been Aaliyah’s 36th birthday he covered her Isley Brothers ‘At Your Best (You Are Love)’ cover. My favorite Frank Ocean song is ‘Novacane’ so this super stripped down, sentimental song is totally other end of the spectrum, but, as we all know, Frank Ocean’s talent is that he pulls both off with captivating conviction. So now everyone can back of the dude, give him some space to make the album he wants to, and in the meantime recall why it is you love him so much with this song.
Hell You Talmbout – Janelle Monáe
The song we all wanted all year long…was actually here all along. Or at least since August. People have been asking me what the best song I heard this year was and Kendrick’s ‘Alright’ keeps coming to mind. And I stand by that because I think it’s not only a catchy, powerful, popular song, but also one with immense meaning and use. As the BLM movement pushes on, so will this song. Janelle Monáe’s ‘Hell You Talmbout’ is catchy and powerful and meaningful and useful in similar ways, but in certain ways cuts even deeper. How so? First off, so much of this song is not sung. It’s shouted—shouted by voices tired and angry, but also motivated and pleading. Then there’s the catchy element of it. But it’s catchy because it’s based around the phrase “say his/her name” and there are so many names (six and a half minutes worth) this phrase has to be repeated a near exhausting number of times. And it’s all underscored by the percussion provided by a drum line. This is the sound of marching, marching that’s been going on a concerningly long amount of time, and which must continue until we can all say these names and until there are no more names. Yes, this is the year Janelle Monáe released ‘Yoga’, but ‘Hell You Talmbout’ is the song of hers you absolutely need to listen to.
Obviously, there’s an enormous slew of other music I should’ve given at least the briefest listen to and emerging artists I still need to look further into, but these are some of the songs that really sold me and which others might’ve missed out on, as well. So as we step on into the new year, I’ll be keeping my eyes on these artists. And of course trying to listen to every new song released by all the hip emerging artists. That or I’ll inevitably end up doing the complete opposite and throwing it back hard with The Beatles’ catalogue now available on Spotify.