Though most of my favorite tracks this year (“Pyramids,” “I’ve Seen Footage,” “Apocalypse Dreams,” “The Symbol,” “Revival Mode“) were standouts on my favorite albums, I wanted to avoid rehashing that list in any way. Instead, here are my favorite singles released into the online ether, as well as other choice cuts.
25. “The World Is Not Enough” – Asher Roth
Admittedly a longtime Asher antagonist, he silenced my criticism and earned my respect by flipping a killer Charles Bradley sample into a poignant, poetic state of the union. Case in point: “Man, it’s pretty sick / They try to vilify religions / And pit us against each other / When nobody’s really different”
24. “Climax” – Usher (from Looking 4 Myself)
Usher still delivers with the kind of authentic rawness that only a much younger, more vulnerable man could still muster. Add Diplo’s polish and you have a real R&B gem.
23. “Unnecessary” – Childish Gambino ft. ScHoolBoy Q & Ab-Soul (from ROYALTY)
Just in case any wet blanket blog-bro types are still out there dismissing ‘Bino as a dude who raps “white,” he barrels out of the gate en fuego, and flippantly gives this year’s fieriest upstart MC guest bars just for comparison’s sake.
22. “Feel Flows” – Slow Magic (from ▲)
The artist’s name is also this track’s most apt descriptor: here we have a perfect soundtrack to the way our brains slo-mo replay those surreal, hypnotizing, “three in the mornin’, yawnin’, dancin’ under streetlights” moments.
21. “$outh$ide” – Trinidad Jame$ ft. Forte Bowie (from Don’t Be S.A.F.E.)
The out of tune, repetitive piano lick has led me to label it “trap jazz.” How could you not want to love that? Jame$ also shouts out the Clayton County AMC 24 my girl and I often frequent, so there’s that, too.
20. “High Over Blue” – Moon Duo
I never really got around to Circles, because this twenty(!!!)-minute groover flung me way into the deepest reaches of the galaxy and left me hanging out there.
19. “Third Revelation” – Car Bomb (from w^w^^w^w)
“So, you say you wrote a riff so heavy it sounds like the whole guitar is warping and bending and you culled lyrics from There Will Be Blood? Yes, you will absolutely be on my ‘Best Of’ list. Also, will you marry me?”
18. “Too Good For You” – Howlies (from licked.)
In a perfect world, Howlies never would’ve disbanded, and they’d be in matching blue velour jackets at the Grammys, crooning this timeless blue-eyed soul toe-tapper into a single Shure 55S. Bruno Mars would watch from his bed, a million “I wish that were me” thoughts racing through his mind.
17. “Burning Spirits” – RØSENKØPF (from RØSENKØPF)
I still can’t put my finger on my connection to this one’s vibe – it’s some triangulation of Trent Reznor’s recent scores, Teeth of the Sea, and black metal bummer vibes – but it’s stayed under my skin. It’s the sound of that ghost town in the deepest recesses of the mind, where it’s always the middle of the night and everything’s a million miles away.
16. “Spit in the Eye” – Heavy Blanket (from Heavy Blanket)
My buddies Cliff and Stu used to practice in a dark old warehouse, and they would often launch into the loudest, headiest, fuzziest blues-metal dirges I’ve ever experienced in person. As they never recorded any of that material, this track is the closest approximate I’ve found yet. Good on ya, J. Mascis.
15. “Bringing the Phonk” – SpaceGhostPurrp (from Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles Of…)
On his way back in time to steal one the great lost Hypnotize Camp underground beats, Purrp recorded the sound of and sampled an actual Apple Dot Matrix printer. From there, it was just a matter of returning to the present and recording himself saying the same thing 100,000 times in a row.
14. “Big Love” – Matthew E. White (from Big Inner)
Imagine Terrence Malick’s take on a blaxploitation opening sequence, wherein we find our protagonist coasting around in a widebody, lost in thought.
13. “Manifest Destiny Pt. 1” – Rival Sons (from Head Down)
The first week of March, I stayed in a hostel in Nashville, at the same time this song was being recorded right down the road. Though I wouldn’t hear it until much later, its searing licks and lyrical gravity very much reflect the weight of what I experienced during my work with the Martha O’Bryan Center that week, and they both grip my soul similarly. Absent that context, though, it’s just a huge, righteous rock ‘n roll burner.
12. “Au Cinéma” – Lianne La Havas (from Is Your Love Big Enough?)
New-age lovers’ rock, for those too young to have caught Sade the first time around. A gorgeous, moody jam, best served when it’s just you, the one you love, and a long, lazy dusk.
11. “Request Denied” – El-P (from Cancer 4 Cure)
Jaime builds to a single perfect machine-gun lyrical crescendo, but not for you, not for you, not for you, not for you. Dare you to find me a line colder or more perfectly delivered than “I don’t give a fraction of fractal of …”
10. “Freedom at 21” – Jack White (from Blunderbuss)
Though his white-hot rendition of a Little Willie John classic is far more fun, this one deftly marries the sweat on James Brown’s brow, some Southern Gothic vampire funk, and the kind of Telecaster misbehavior that’ll get you banned from the bars on Broadway. Shout out to the Hype Williams of yesteryear for the very, very Jack White visuals.
09. “Romulus & Remus” – High on Fire (from De Vermis Mysteriis)
The best Matt Pike riff ever, which pretty much makes it the best riff ever. BANG TO DEATH
08. “Astralplane” – Blues Pills (from Blues Pills EP)
The ghost of Janis Joplin and two Radio Moscow expats conjure a swinging, smoldering, sensuous voodoo child of the blues. It’s out of this world, which is fitting for a song about leaving the body.
07. “Temptation (Remix)” – Big K.R.I.T. ft. Juicy J & Waka Flocka Flame
Whether or not Live from the Underground delivered on the promise of three perfect mixtapes in less than 24 months, Krizzle makes that conversation moot with this four-minute masterclass in the Dirty South sound, bringing Southern heavyweights old and new into the fold.
06. “Black Mist” – Chris Travis & Ethelwulf
A sample of the all-time scariest Three 6 song, a spooky slide guitar line, disorienting 808s, and a Lord Infamous-reincarnate Chris Travis verse converge to give new meaning to “murdered out.”
05. “Cheek.” – The Chariot (from One Wing)
With any other band, this would be a gimmicky “experimental” album closer afterthought, but this is The Cha we’re talking – preconceived notions need not apply. Scogin and Co. manage to elevate what is already arguably among the greatest monologues in history to a new plane entirely.
04. “Comeback Kid” – Sleigh Bells (from Reign of Terror)
Working title: “Heavy Metal 80s Thunderdome-themed Prom of Doom.” Pop song of the year. Alexis Krauss’ reign of terror on my heart has only just begun.
03. “Mia Wallace” – Wiz Khalifa (from Taylor Allderdice)
Relative unknown Derek Dumont calls on the mighty Oscar Peterson (a piece fittingly titled “Wave“) to complement the effortless flow a peak-form ol’ Young Khalifa. RIYL: penny loafers without socks, always wearing sunglasses no matter what, “Sonny Crocket swag,” obscure jazz vinyl, Fuente OpusX, infinity pools, the Burj Al Arab lobby
02. “Pretty Flacko” – A$AP Rocky
Remember how “Knuck If You Buck” used to make everyone in the club totally lose it? Replace Crime Mob with a dude bent on freaking the rap game, throw in a beeper sound effect for good measure, and get ready to “get your … hands up” as you ride the trillwave.
01. “Hot Shots Part Deux” – Action Bronson, Riff Raff, & Joey Copafeel
I listened to this song literally hundreds of times this year. Favorite song, favorite beat, favorite sample. Superlative praise aside, you should need little more than “Ay yo, sing wit’ an accent; Portuguese / See me wiggle the Porsche keys / Grapes, crackers, gorgeous cheese” (which is the first line of the song) to reel you in. Rap Game Dr. Huxtable.
In closing, I would be remiss if I failed to mention:
Three Stacks polishing his crown on three studio album verses, Thebe’s thrilling return, the bassline of “No Worries” when cranked to dangerous volumes