A lot of songs blew us away this year. To be more specific, all kinds of songs blew us away. Certain singles can be a microcosm for their albums, for a certain mood, or a certain cultural movement. Singles can unite audiences like no other medium. Or they can hook us into loving an artist or album. They are a vital aspect of our playlist generation. Because of this, we’ve decided to focus on singles that stood out to us in 2016, from independent artists like Kemba to heavy-hitters like The Weeknd.
When I listened to Rot Forever earlier this year, I was forced to wonder whether something could become too saturated in recreation/homage. “Should people be making music that sounds this much like the 90’s?” But before I could answer that question, Jessy Lanza seemingly posed a similarly daunting prompt: “Just how deep into the 80’s can I go while still staying original?” Well, with “VV Violence”, Jessy goes deep. This song exudes leg warmers. You can practically feel her growing up on a childhood backed by little else than Madonna dance numbers. Is this much influence a good thing? It’s hard to tell, but “VV Violence” spurts away like an accidentally forgotten True Blue deep-cut, stowed away in a time capsule only to be discovered thirty years later. – Zach W.
When Vampire Weekend channeled coming-of-age tragedy on their opener “Obvious Bicycle”, there wasn’t a tongue in cheek joke. When faced with being lost in the world, it’s hard to smile. However, for Angel Olsen’s slow burning folk rock that already occupies a tearful headspace, getting sadder would only wallow in pity. Instead, Olsen enters an airy chrysalis on “Intern”. Surrounding herself with synthesizers that float downward, she emerges with a turn of confidence. The act of waking up is an act of defiance, not the submissive display Ezra Koenig claimed it as. These bold claims could be preachy, but Angel Olsen’s voice is tempered with a sense of personal conflict. And she never enters needlessly cathartic territories; instead, when her final verse fades out, those low embers of emotions rightfully glow brighter, proving masterfully that quiet emotions are just as evocative as any shout. –T. Pennington
It’s become trite to intellectualize music as being purposefully bad, or for it somehow being better for dabbling in terrible lyrics or shoddy production. On Collect, 18+ shared a lot of moments that could be chalked up as “bad”. I won’t make excuses for it – some of the lyrics are admittedly tough to swallow as serious, and some of the production sounds unfinished, possibly never even started. But “Drama” is something else. “Drama” is wholly complete with oft-poignant lyrics about relationships and the dichotomy within them. The drums rattle away while the synths space out upwards, a phlegmatic “oh baby” guiding it all. The glitchy back-and-forth between Justin Swinburne and Samia Mirza is often uncomfortably sexual, their eroticism towards someone unspecified or maybe each other can become borderline overt. But when the hook has a foundation of “Deep, deep down I really love you”, 18+ emerge in a different light. – Zach W.
The latest output from David Longstreth might be the most debated song for us at Basementality. It takes some of the best and worst qualities of music in general, and surgically attaches them with an almost blatant negligence for quality. There was too much debate about if this song should be on our list, let alone exist for that matter. Because of that, we’ll present a pros and cons list and let you as a reader decide if you think this song is a provocative discussion catalyst for Dirty Projectors as a music project, or if this song is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
- The glitchy production employed feels genuinely detached, severing any grounded feelings.
- Longstreth’s voice aches with genuine power and ennui.
- The tonal shifts can be schizophrenic and frighteningly tense.
- I can’t tell if Longstreth is more upset about his breakup or his band losing a popular (and necessary) member. Any song that comments on art by saying “what I want from art” is not trying to make an inciteful commentary.
- The rap verse is just masturbatory (and the name drops make it worse).
It’s hard to tell if any of this song should be taken seriously, but when something like this creates enough fodder for a discussion this late in the year, it deserves a spot as a remarkable single. –T. Pennington
“The New Black Theory” was the first real taste of what YC the Cynic’s transformation into Kemba would entail. It acts as a clean slate, or a moment of clarity. YC was great, but often too in his head and overwhelmed with being known as a poetic mind that sees what the rest of us can’t. As Kemba though, that cloudiness seems to have cleared up, giving him the opportunity to death grip his targets in a completely focused manner. “The New Black Theory” examines the redefining of blackness in America, how race plays an undeniable part in the country’s criminality and division, and what it means to him. In a sobering moment of refrain, Kemba murkily states, “I can’t see the logic”. But this track isn’t great for its political perspectives – they’re not particularly new, especially this far into the Black Lives Matter movement. No, this track works fundamentally as a rebirth of an artist, an artist that was already considered to be criminally underrated. As Kemba, that’s even truer. – Zach W.
One of the first pieces of music writing that I was genuinely proud of was a writeup for ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron. For everyone’s sake, I won’t go into details or share any of it. But the reason I liked it was because of the point I made: ScHoolboy Q is the wild card of TDE. He occupies a multitude of roles. He’s Grammy-nominated. His song featuring Kanye West charted as well as his other singles. His albums sell well compared to his TDE label-mates. Yet his albums are crafted with a concept. And he often goes in radical directions with each song. The roles ScHoolboy Q can not only occupy, but thrive in, is admirable. “Groovy Tony” does this by showing how on one song Q can make you forget about everything else he does and drill home one point. Ferocity and an unstoppable force are laced into every bar. The escalating and gasping interjection of “Blank face” act as pivots for him to transform off of. Success is his endgame and he’ll erase or add layers to his persona to achieve it. -T. Pennington
Though uncommon, there does exist evidence of the perfect synth line. Most synths nowadays are used rhythmically or for effect, but occasionally a band finds the perfect balance of synth utilization – that fine point between retro stylization and cheesy dependency. New Order found it on “Blue Monday”, Depeche Mode found it on “Enjoy the Silence”, and the Postal Service found it on “Such Great Heights”. Of course, I wouldn’t be making these comparisons if Porches didn’t hold up their end. “Be Apart” is one such song that forces a new melody to sound familiar: instantly recognizable yet unlike another. And sure, lyrically “Be Apart” excels in its double entendre (wanting to be a part of something versus wanting to be apart from something), but the lyrics aren’t what matters here. Porches capture something a lot of pop artists forget about, something that’s so crucial in elevating and separating a song from merely being “catchy” to becoming “lasting”. Porches have finessed tone, and on “Be Apart” it’s one of gloomy exuberance, a potential rise to a second wave of goth-pop. – Zach W.
Rae Sremmurd have always fallen into that category of hip-hop artists that feel famous for being famous; getting a lot of radio time without creating a song that’s truly deserving of it. That was before “Black Beatles” – an infectious, justifiably viral track that combines the glamour and lifestyle of a rock star with the braggadocio of hip-hop. The effervescent beat is a misrepresentation of what’s to come, with a light, airy bass that doesn’t match the loud, cocky hook that erupts before anything else: “That girl is a real crowd pleaser/Small world, all her friends know me”. Admittedly guided by the presence and verse of Gucci Mane, the three create a natural flow that transforms a seemingly weak comparison to the most popular rock band in history into something oddly believable. – Zach W.
Theres is nothing to say about this single. Kendrick Lamar went so far as to remove the second part of the song for the single version, which was the meat of the song. Included in that part were dense lyrical attacks and “Control”-esque similes that further elevated the track. Additionally, the original version contained a behind-the-scenes peek at what his creative process was. The majority of this eight-minute track was a spliced-together look into the process of creating a Kendrick Lamar song. But like what he did with untlitled.unmastered, he offered a barebones representation of the album. “untitled 07 | levitate” is posturing, plain and simple. Commands are given to disregard the material world and the things you think will make better. Drugs. Luxury items. These things don’t matter. The bulk of this song? It doesn’t matter. The rest of hip-hop? It doesn’t matter. “Levitate”. Transcend above everything else. Then you’ll see what Kendrick sees. Then you’ll be where Kendrick is. –T. Pennington
If you’re gonna sell out, you should probably follow in Abel Tesfaye’s footsteps. It seems like generations ago when The Weeknd was the cloaked R&B act that had tentative connections to Drake. Now he’s getting paid to sing about cocaine at the Victoria Secret’s Fashion Show. And all it took was an image overhaul. But on “Starboy”, we learn that Tesfaye hasn’t changed all that much. Strutting to a Daft Punk beat fit for a Nicolas Winding Refn film, Tesfaye laments about how nothing he’s changed has actually elevated him here. Instead, it’s every orbiting factor in his life that has rocketed him to stardom, not his association with Lana Del Rey, Ed Sheeran, and a Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack appearance. Regardless, hearing Tesfaye cooly scold us to “look what you’ve done” as Guy and Thom score another disco-based banger, it’s abundantly clear that his position as pop icon was calculated, no matter how he feels about fame. –T. Pennington