If you read my blog regularly (which I’m pretty sure, you don’t), I made a review for Best Songs of 2015… So Far which I posted at the end of March. Believe it or not, it’s already that time of the year to post the same thing. This year is much like 2014 when the first quarter of the year is really quiet, with the absence of major release from major artist, except for Rihanna that surprises us with the release of Anti. This year may sound boring for some people, but I find this year interesting because I can discover some of hidden gems in this vast world of music.
In no particular order, these are 16 best songs that I’ve heard throughout the first quarter of the year.
1. Mitski – “Your Best American Girl”
Mitski Miyawaki is definitely not your typical all American girl. She was barely born in Japan, grew up in Democratic Republic of Congo, (not) finished her high school in Turkey, before finally moving to Brooklyn, New York. In the first taste of her new album, Puberty 2, Mitski who falls for an all-American-boy–Christian, conservative, white guy who wears Abercrombie & Fitch everyday–writes a beautiful ballad about her unrequited crush. She imagines her relationship with the lucky guy in a soft whisper, using an effective reference of spooning, “If I could, I’d be a little spoon/And kiss your fingers forever more”, before she explodes in chorus, saying that “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me/But I do, I think I do”, underlining their discrepancy before she finally realizes that she doesn’t want to change who she really is for someone else in such a sharp and bold tone.
2. ANOHNI – “Drone Bomb Me”
Written from the perspective of a young girl whose family is killed in a drone attack, “Drone Bomb Me” is the most heart-wrenching and powerful song this year. Formerly known as Antony Hegarty, ANOHNI explains that “Drone Bomb Me” is about a girl who longs to be killed in similar fashion, as she sings, “Blow me from the mountains/and into the sea”. This song, produced by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, is heavily synthesized as ANOHNI’s haunting voice soars above the synth drop. She reminds us that war brings nothing but devastation and forlornness.
3. Rihanna – “Kiss It Better”
For someone whose name is as big as Rihanna, familiarity is a good thing. In her eighth album, Anti, Rihanna changes her direction, giving her fans a surprising and novel sound. Some of her fans complain that this isn’t Rihanna they know, who makes ear-wormy songs, who reaches number one of Billboard Hot 100. Like it or not, Anti is Rihanna’s best albums, where every songs are structured and cohered perfectly, with “Kiss It Better” and “Higher” are the highlight of the album. “Kiss It Better”–that can easily be put in Loud–is the old Rihanna, the Rihanna that her fans always hear. This R&B ballad, written and produced by Jeff Bhasker, with help from Glass John and Rihanna herself, elaborates Rihanna who lusts for her former lover, but it turns out wrong as Rihanna sings, “Man fuck your pride/just take it on back boy take it on back boy.” “Kiss It Better” showcases us her talent and the reason why she’s one of the greatest pop R&B singers in this generation.
4. The Hotelier – “Piano Player”
The cover of The Hotelier‘s third album, Goodness, depicts a bunch of naked young old people that makes you’re very uncomfortable, but that’s the point here because this band doesn’t want to hide something, they want to be honest with their listener, and that’s what they do with “Piano Player”. They start the song with Frederick’s fiery drum, accompanying Holden’s voice. The lyrics which sound like a fluid story are really trenchant. Most of the album is inspired by Holden’s experience as a camp counselor, where he met a girl who taught him a lullaby. Its influence is shown as he sings, “A kid half my age, baby’s breath and meadow sage clutched in her hands like trophy game,” The Hotelier’s “Piano Player” once again convinces me that they’re one of the best punk bands right now.
5. Beyoncé – “Formation”
“Formation” is dropped a day before Beyoncé‘s performance with Coldplay in this year’s Super Bowl halftime show, as if she commanded her folks to make a formation to hail the queen during the show. It is Queen Bey’s most aesthetic song yet, as she celebrates her blackness by singing, “I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros/I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils”, accompanied by thumping beat produced by Mike Will Made It. In “Formation”, Beyoncé also mocks people who accuse her of joining Illuminati who seeks the world dominance in “Y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess”. “Formation” is like a concoction of everything you love from Beyoncé: breathtaking music video, strong political lyrics, and her sass that slays everything.
6. School of Seven Bells – “This Is Our Time”
“Our time is indestructible,” says Alejandra Deheza in “This Is Our Time”, taken from School of Seven Bells‘ (ostensibly) final album, SVIIB. The album’s nuance is dreamy and peaceful since it is intended to be a tribute for late Benjamin Curtis who passed away in December 2013 after losing the battle with his lymphoma disease. Alejandra Deheza–the only member of School of Seven Bells–finishes this album with the memories of Curtis that spark and burn inside her mind. SVIIB is the School of Seven Bells’s most personal album, where most of the album is filled with farewell. In “This Is Our Time”, Deheza sounds scared as she has to depart with Curtis and her fans. “No one can say we’re too young/to decide that we’re gold,” Deheza sings, reflecting Curtis’ death in such young age. But, after she truces with herself, she says that her memories of Curties, her memories of School of Seven Bells, and her memories of her fans are all “eternal”.
7. The Range – “Florida”
One day a YouTube user named kaihuna covers Ariana Grande’s “You’ll Never Know” and puts it on YouTube. Little did she know this is the start of her new life when Providence-based electronic musician, James Hinton (a.k.a. The Range), samples her cover. Hinton is indeed genius since he can discover diamond in the rough from YouTube, sample it, and infuse it with his own personality. “Florida”, the lead track from his new album, Potential (one of my favorite albums of the year), proves his ingeniousness. He transforms kaihuna’s shaky and pure voice into a dance-floor anthem, sprinkling it with bass drop and steely drums. Her voice incredibly blends in Hinton’s new mixes, resulting in a beautiful song.
8. Frankie Cosmos – “On The Lips”
Frankie Cosmos‘ Greta Kline knows there’s no point in making long song when you can manage to pour out your feeling in less than two minutes. “On The Lips” is not an exception. Its length is only less than two minutes, but it is impactful. It first appeared in im sorry im hi lets go, a collection of her songs released in 2013, hence, this reference on the lyrics. They are followed by powerful lines of “Sometimes I cry cause I know I’ll never have all the answers”. She sings it plainly, but it’s what makes the song impressive. She started the song by seeing David Blaine, the street magician, starting to believe in anything, asking the significance of kissing people, and crying by the end of the song.
9. Porches – “Car”
It is hard to make a song from a thing that is ubiquitous without sounding too banal. In “Car”, Aaron Maine a.k.a. Porches sings about the mode of transportation that can be found anywhere. It’s an ode to car and automobile. “It takes us away from where are,” Maine hums, so full of wonder that how can such thing can take us anywhere. He repeated “Oooh what a machine” in a hypnotizing way, like a 50’s child who’s ecstatic when he rides a car for the first tame. “Car” may sound so constant with that repetitive beat on chorus, but you can’t stop humming along with Maine “Oooh what a machine!” And you also wonder what a magical thing car is.
10. Minor Victories – “A Hundred Ropes”
Minor Victories is a supergroup which consists of Slowdive‘s singer/guitarist Rachel Goswell, Mogwai‘s guitarist Stuart Braithwaite, and Editors‘ guitarist Justin Lockey, plus his brother James Lockey who barely spent time together to discuss the music in same room. But, their first single “A Hundred Ropes” still highlights the best qualities of each band member, It starts with a dusky bassline, with thumping synth pattern. “A Hundred Ropes” features Goswell’s powerful and spooky voice. “We’ve got to find our own way out,” she repeats on the hook. The song is accompanied by a dark video which features a plethora of samurais that charge toward the screen, bringing death in their katanas.
11. Parachute – “New Orleans”
There’s nothing wrong with making a catchy pop song as long it’s crafted well. I may be biased because Parachute is one of my favorite bands. Or I may get distracted by Will Anderson’s eyes whose are as blue as ocean. But, Parachute is one of few pop bands that produces atypical pop songs. In their latest album, Wide Awake, Parachute seems to go back to their 2011’s album, The Way It Was by insinuating more choir and traditional production. It’s a major departure from their previously album, Overnight, that has more electronic sound and synthesizers. “New Orleans”, the standout track from Wide Awake, reminds me of White Dress, but with a triumphant gospel choir in bridge part that distinguishes Parachute from other pop band. Parachute’s strongest suit, descriptive lyrics, is flaunted here, like a pop-up book, as Anderson falls in love in New Orleans.
12. Flume – “Smoke & Retribution (feat. Vince Staples & Kučka)”
Flume’s “Smoke & Retribution” is like a pleasant collision, a melting pot of all genres. Australian producer, Flume, wittily mixes these different genres into something mellifluous and harmonious. Taken from his latest album, Skin, “Smoke & Retribution” is aggressive and stentorian electro songs. Staples blasts at the beginning of the song, “You ain’t got no money, I ain’t got no time/All these faces lookin’ funny when I’m drivin’ by”. In chorus, Australian singer, Kučka, whispers softly, downing the song’s tempo before finally Staples heats up the song back. They alternatively turning up and down the tempo, making “Smoke & Retribution” an enjoyable roller-coaster ride.
13. PJ Harvey – “The Community of Hope”
Polly Jean Harvey‘s latest single, “The Community of Hope”, is–as usual–filled with political message. It’s about the Washington, DC area Ward 7, and it’s about all the problems that come with poverty and gentrification. Harvey once visited the area that she describes “just drug town, just zombies”. “The Community of Hope” is a critique for social injustice and Harvey delivers it in sardonic way as she sings, “They’re gonna put Wal-Mart here”. It doesn’t receive warm reception and when a local politician hates your song even hates your song, that’s when you know you have delivered your message quite well. Well done, PJ Harvey!
14. dvsn – “Hallucinations”
Anonymity in music industry isn’t something neoteric. dvsn–which is first introduced by Nineteen85 who produces “Hotline Bling”– joins the elite club of anonymous musician. This band has become an enigma for a few months as no one knows who’s the people behind this fine R&B group. They (?) will release their debut album, Sept 5th, this April, but have released enough materials to make people go insane. “Hallucinations” which first appears in December last year is another example why dvsn is something we all should look forward to. dvsn’s whispery voice is as evocative as ever, softly speaking about the hallucination of past relationship. “You, you, fall asleep and dream of/You, you, late at night I scream for/You, you, waiting on a déjà vu,” dvsn is longing here, seeing his lover everywhere. “Hallucinations” brings us sweet memories of past relationship, creating effigy in our mind, which all turns out to be untrue. It is really sad.
15. Frightened Rabbit – “Death Dream”
You know when a song starts with “It was dawn and the kitchen light was still on”, it won’t be a fun one. “Death Dream” serves as first single from Painting of a Panic Attack, the latest album of Scottish folk-rock band, Frightened Rabbit. The whole idea of the song is about death. “Death Dream” is so melancholic and full of sorrow, yet so poetic. “I stepped in and found the suicide asleep on the floor. An open mouth screams and makes no sound. Apart from the rain of the tinnitus of silence, you had your ear to the ground,” continued Scott Hutchinson, accompanied by the growl of organ. The lyrics are so fluid and full of on-point metaphors: tinnitus of silence, scream and no sound. It feels complex, while “Death Dream”‘s composition sounds simple and not too excessive. The awesomeness of the song reaches its epitome when Hutchinson leads a choir-like climax when he whispers, “He died in sleep last night” over and over, while in the background you can hear him chanting, “It’s been a while since I dream this”. The part feels so harmonious and alive, yet creepy at the same time.
16. Car Seat Headrest – “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”
Musician prodigy, Will Toledo, who’s more known as Car Seat Headrest, is known in making DIY and self-produced songs. He’s just 23 years old, but he’s released 11 albums on his Bandcamp. “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is taken from his latest album Teens of Denial, which is the follow-up to his 2015 album Teens of Style which receives critical acclaims. Teens of Denial is the first album to be recorded in a proper studio and alongside a producer and full band, and it’s really exciting, as proven by “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”. “In the backseat of my heart/my love tells me I’m a mess,” Toledo sings as he can’t get his shit together. This six-minute track talks about post-party sadness, about “going home alone, in poor condition”. The killer whales is inspired by Blackfish which according to Toledo, “is a depressing film”. In a way, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is a depressing song as well.