If the album is still supposed to be dying, nobody told 2016 – it’s hard to remember a year that was so dominated by the full-length, with seemingly one major LP roll-out handing the baton to the next over a months-long relay of Event Records. Exciting times, but don’t let the individual song get lost in the shuffle: highlights from those marquee-stealing releases, crossover radio smashes no one saw coming, one-offs responding to a cultural moment, and many more jams borrowing some piece of the cultural conversation for four minutes at a time. Ultralight beams and low-flying panic attacks, these are the 66 Best Songs of 2016 So Far.
The Starman’s final transmission. To close out his curtain-call album, David Bowie offers this weightless, wistful goodbye, nodding to works past and pleading with admirers, “I can’t give everything away.” That’s fine — you gave us more than we ever deserved. — KYLE MCGOVERN
Kali Uchis is a New Hollywood glamour-girl crooner who knows her worth: “Talk is cheap and see, I got expensive tastes.” Vince Staples plays her philandering-but-semi-regretful boyfriend, whiplashing between apologies and excuses so fast you feel like he might break into “Hotline Bling” at any point. Thankfully, hook man Steve Lacy’s light-as-air vocal goes a long way to smooth things over. — ANNA GACA
A captured S.O.S. to Ground Control from the Tri Angle ambient-noise pilot, as his spacecraft spirals out of control and sets adrift into the gorgeously terrifying unknown: SEND HELP AND ALSO ADDITIONAL SYNTH ARPEGGIATORS AND DRUM PADS. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
At a recent listening party, Maxwell proudly announced that his long-awaited upcoming LP, blackSUMMERS’night, was recorded in analog. But like Maxwell at his best, “Lake By the Ocean” feels too free-flowing to be held down by austere intentions. Even if the song favors plush production over creative risk-taking, it’s hard to find fault with Maxwell’s dulcet falsetto soothing over an arrangement that exists in perpetual bloom. Besides, the singer suffixed his Jack White-ian announcement by saying he doesn’t mind today’s turn-up music. Can’t be offensive if you’re trying to be Eros. — BRIAN JOSEPHS
Though it opens with one of the most literal lyric-to-sound-effect tricks in the book (“I hear thunder in the distance,” Jepsen moans as thunder crackles in the distance), “Love Me Like That” is one hell of a pop-funk boombox bumper. The staccato guitar, Jepsen’s breathily layered vocals, a dramatic key-pounding bridge: It’s like someone shook a soda bottle up and poked a hole in the cap, unleashing the fizzy concoction. — BRENNAN CARLEY
One Baltimore rapper’s valiant attempt to put a stop to the hip-hop Derek Jeter’s seemingly endless winning streak, with 2040s Bomb Squad production and Twitter-unfriendly lyrics like “I give a f**k about peace, I spit hate crimes.” Good luck to the heavy underdog, but chances are Drizzy’s still smarting at least a little over that faux-“Marvins Room”-crooned, Forrest Gump-quoting outro. — A.U.
“You’re the most spiteful person I could never be / So when I hear your name around town / Kills me,” moans a gut-punched Kristina Esfandiari, as encroaching guitars and drums swell to envelop her in a monsoon of bile. Plenty of shoegaze artists have managed to equal metal’s sonic destructiveness, but reaching its emotional devastation is the kind of achievement only artists bold enough to dub themselves “Miserable” should be capable of. — A.U.
In which Lucy Dacus is forced to stand by while a loved one spirals out of control — a frustrating scenario made even more so with the knowledge that there’s little she can do to save them from their “bad habits.” That doesn’t set the Richmond singer-songwriter’s mind at ease — precisely the opposite. If this person’s a speeding bullet, Dacus is the shell casing, left to survey the damage. — RACHEL BRODSKY
“Is this past or present?” strains Modern Baseball co-frontman Brendan Lukens. We can’t seem to make it all out, either: Hailing from the band’s first non-self-produced album, Holy Ghost, “Apple Cider, I Don’t Mind” incorporates the open-wound narrative style of their earlier records while showcasing their subtle evolution from “Whatever forever”-minded] Drexel recordings to New York Times-recognized indie rock. With rollicking percussion guiding the track, and Lukens’ raw and urgent howling erasing any need for a chorus, it’s evident that the still-mid-20s Philly quartet are already starting to age gracefully. — NATALIE CAAMANO
You might know Ariana Grande and Max Martin, but please welcome to the stage producers and songwriters Savan Kotecha, Alexander Kronlund, and Ilya Salmanzadeh, who crank the heat to the triple digits on the singer’s menacing disco scorcher “Into You.” It’s the only Dangerous Woman cut as intriguing as Grande’s latex bunny ears, and it’s smoldering enough to melt them down into a pile of rubber. — B.C.
Stop the press releases: James Harrison’s cracked voice, halting lyrics, and static guitar patterns are spookily close to what Robert Forster from the Go-Betweens would sound like if he grew up alongside emo. (All the spookier considering that the bassist/co-frontman to his left is actually Forster’s son Louis.) “I don’t care about much / But one of the things I care about is you,” Harrison speak-sings into his moleskine, pitching a relationship as well as his acne-scarred heart can muster. — D.W.
“I’m only a woman if woman is a word,” wails Lorely Rodriguez, as she proceeds to either disassociate her femininity from its strictest Webster’s meaning, or guarantee that you’ll never define it by anything else. Regardless of the point Rodriguez is making, if she doesn’t hammer it home herself, you can be damn sure her cowbell will. — A.U.
Soundtrack singles rarely sound as blessed as “Good As Hell,” a bouncing bauble Lizzo had been working on with pop producer Ricky Reed when the pair got the call from the brains behind Barbershop: The Next Cut. Praise the heavens we didn’t have to wait until the Minnesota rapper’s next album cycle to hear this prayerful, half-sung (better than your faves, too) slice of surefire satisfaction. — B.C.
Two minutes of leather-jacketed nocturnal bliss that packs more vampiric romance than an entire CW series in one devilishly cooed “Hey you, I saw you from across the room.” By the time it ends as suddenly as it began, you feel like you’ve woken up from a wild and hazy night, totally empty except for a strange lust in your veins and inexplicable throbbing in your neck. — A.U.
Sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson’s bonkers tropi-pop goes down smoother than a flight of technicolor Jell-O shots. The beat for this slinky, springy opener from eighth (!) album Xtreme Now takes off like a flying saucer and doesn’t come down for three gloriously goofy minutes. — A.G.
As in another “Pop Song” from 27 years earlier, Sam Ray of Teen Suicide half-heartedly tries to shrug off the more confusing anxieties of his existence with a little pop shimmy, his subconscious uncoupling getting more and more exquisitely frayed as it folds in on itself (“What do you want for dinner? We broke up in November”). Michael Stipe and his topless cronies may have been more successful in unburdening themselves, but he didn’t have multiple Netflix accounts to worry about. — A.U.
BRONCHO lead singer Ryan Lindsey sounds like he was born inside of a big, dreamy, scuzzy nostalgia wave. He blesses this retro cruising anthem with a weird, wonderful vocal hook (“fa-fanna-sea buy-oys”) that might be mistaken for a hiccup if it weren’t made purely of innuendo and saltwater taffy. — A.G.
In Marissa Nadler’s realm, a change in relationship status is akin to a sudden shift in weather patterns, so consider the smoldering “Janie in Love” an Emergency Alert. Brace for hurricanes, earthquakes, monsoons; take shelter in the shadows and marvel at the chaos. — K.M.
“With Them” upstaged half the songs on The Life of Pablo when it played at Yeezy’s Season 3 fashion show, yet it barely did much damage on the charts, staying on the Hot 100 for a whole week. But when the public wises up and the behind-the-curve thinkpieces finally recognize Young Thug as Lil Wayne’s heir, “With Them” will be an essential mention for how Thug throws syllables against internal rhymes with the violence of water splashing against a Slip-N-Slide. When Lyor Cohen advised his signee not to leave his songs “like little orphans out there,” it was a reflection of our own limits, not Thugger’s. — B.J.
Musket drums, napalm guitars, Tremor synths, and a vocal that sounds like it’s being attacked by all three, combining for one of the most visceral expressions of terror you’ll find outside of a Golden State Warriors away game. Or, the sound that Indiana Jones’ intestines make at the thought of being buried alive with the titular serpents. — A.U.
Though it’s not going to be celebrated in comments sections anytime soon, Emily Nokes’ one-woman crusade against the “hate from the basement” from those who have “no consequence to fear” will remain timely as long as female Democratic state chairs are still fending off actual, physical chairs. Her backup singers and blunted riffs lift up a soaring hook that asks, sanely, “What place do you have?” Well? — D.W.
“Vroom Vroom” is a song of firsts: First Charli XCX collaboration with pop molecular physicist SOPHIE, first production to veer from EBM contortions to cheerleading stomp, first driving jam to actually make you feel like you’re trackside at the Grand Prix. Unlike Charli, you might not have been waiting all your life for such a good time, but now that it’s here, you certainly hope it won’t be the last. — A.U.
A single beat takes on a life of its own on Hamilton electro-pop maven Jessy Lanza’s “It Means I Love You.” Over the course of almost five minutes, the metronomic pulse mutates, piles on layers, and morphs into an agile beast as Lanza pulls you in, determined to look you in the eyes and have it mean absolutely everything. — MELODY LAU
If you’re going to compare Deftones’ first new material since 2012’s aggressively atmospheric Koi No Yokan to nu-metal, look to nice-guy Puka-shell wearers like Morning View-era Incubus rather than perennial growl-brooders Korn. Getting heavy on the hooks without sacrificing any noise, Chino Moreno & Co. stay true to their trademark approach by experimenting with the quiet-loud balance, building “Prayers / Triangles” out with hulking guitar, throat-cracking screams, and thundering percussion — but, at the same time, butter-smooth harmonies. It’s no small feat when anything metal-related gets tagged as “blissful.” — R.B.
FKA’s experimental tendencies are a distant second to her most valuable asset: No other artist expresses the complexities of desire better than her. “Good to Love” tosses within the same bed as Twigs’ most forward-thinking fare, but as a traditional, sparse ballad, it’s arguably FKA twigs’ most accessible song. The instrumental break sounds like Aphrodite’s wail, but know it’s an expression of yearning despite heartbreak: “It’s not your fault that I’m loved to my limit / I’ve had plenty, so I know you’re mine.” — B.J.
Not a cover of Dionne Warwick & Co., as you could probably guess from the song’s singularly soul-piercing single cover. Nonetheless, Adesse Versions’ cacao-dark acid-house throwback is one of the most unexpectedly poignant tributes to friendship of recent years, with a long-matriculated vocal sample offering to perform the most final of kindnesses for a long-suffering friend and stone-cold matte synths reinforcing her grave seriousness. “You can always count on me,” promised Ms. Dionne, but Adesse Versions’ loyalty would never necessitate such platitudes. — A.U.
No matter how gripping Open Mike’s threnody of living in the skin of an assumed rapist/pocketbook thief/yoga pants crook is, “Smiling” just wouldn’t be him without that “ghost fart” line. Chuckle at his diss to Macklemore’s “flip-flop squad,” let Paul White’s chipmunked doom-blues sample make your hair stand up, and note the duo’s collective post-protest depression: “When a hundred police wanna sing one song / All the people stop giving a damn.” — D.W.
You already knew her name was NO, but this is the response song that Redman’s “I’ll Bee Dat” deserved. She and her clever studio architect Ricky Reed treat Max Martin the way Tyler, the Creator did Pharrell: as an inexhaustible resource. Who cares if only teenaged girls end up liking her in the end? They can never have too many songs teaching how cool it is to say nay. — D.W.
Like Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” if it was streamlined by Steve Albini and its aggression directed just as much outward as inward. You know exactly how many years it’s been since the mid-’90s by how exhilarating it is when — after two verses of corkscrewing guitar riffs, bone-dry drum stanzas, and snickering self-lacerations (“I’ll get over it when I feel like it!”) — the building tension finally chuck-a chuck-as into a full-band mosh, broken hearts and torn flannels everywhere. — A.U.
At 18, Lil Yachty is very much a child of the post-Lil Wayne, Internet-based era of hip-hop: He has melody and charisma, but not much else. But his strengths coalesced for one gem — the “Minnesota” remix, aural candy as surreal as an animated Bob Ross painting. Whereas Yachty’s shaky falsetto was an enjoyable novelty at best throughout breakthrough tape Lil Boat, here, it’s the center, stuck in levitation with only thudding bass tethering it to the stratosphere. The joy is infectious: Young Thug makes Yu-Gi-Oh! relevant again, Quavo gives Motorola stock a boost, and the Minnesota summer peeks over the horizon. — B.J.
“If you want the girl next door, then go next door,” challenges country songwriter-turned-performer Brandy Clark. That’s hardly the last Jenny Lewis-esque shot Clark fires at her wannabe love interest, whom she’s sure would rather date a “cardboard cutout,” a “Barbie doll,” or “Debbie debutante” than her. Her blunt honesty, set to a no-nonsense, march-forward beat, is exactly what Clark’s convinced you’ll initially find attractive and later desire to “fix” — but good luck trying. — R.B.
The year’s most thoughtfully scripted rock album gets the climax it deserves, an epic drama in its own winding — from taut verses to exposed chorus to wrecking-ball outro, and from pulse-skipping courtship to open-hearted proffering to cruelly lost eternity. No one has invoked the Solar System center’s majesty this awe-inspiringly since the Boredoms, or this heartbreakingly since Gerry and the friggin’ Pacemakers. That there are still three tracks to follow on the album is Goodness’ greatest mistake. — A.U.
A campaign slogan that’s welcome not just for its takedown of the GOP’s “Comedy Central-ass” candidate, but also for proving there’s indeed a personality driving YG’s drop-top G-Funk. Only way this anti-Drumpf anthem could be more on-point is if he and Nipsey Hussle took aim at the Donald’s cocktail-weiner fingers. — K.M.
The lead single from Nick Jonas’ Last Year Was Complicated shows Sweden’s freshest production stars, Mattman and Robin, flexing new muscles as in-demand songwriters Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels try their damnedest to nestle intricate wordplay into pop-friendly melodies, while faux steel dreams provide both the backbone and the heartbeat. Tove Lo’s haunting, hollowed-out verse (and panting video appearance) cinch the deal. Give us that new album already, Tove. — B.C.
Sadie Switchblade has released fewer than 40 minutes of music — with her breakneck, ‘80s-style hardcore band G.L.O.S.S. and her own Springsteenian Dyke Drama project — and every one of them feels vital, but none so much as the almost-two of “Give Violence a Chance.” Beginning with “world peace is just another word for death,” almost every legible lyric is a goosebump-inducing mantra: “Anti-racist doesn’t mean not-racist,” and duh, “Black lives don’t matter in the eyes of the law.” These girls aren’t actually living outside of society’s s**t; they’re shoveling it out. — D.W.
Todd Terje’s irresistible Boney M cover has already infected thousands of innocents with its skittering beat, rubbery synth line, and consonant-popping, sex-starved robot voice. Practice safe bumping. — A.G.
The Range, a.k.a. electronic producer James Hinton, has secured a reputation for crafting sophisticated patchwork quilts out of YouTube samples. On the breathtaking “Florida,” the result features a cover of Ariana Grande’s spritely “You’ll Never Know.” As the warm, sensual vocals are paired with chilly synth pads, guitar plucks, and slices of steel drum, the song’s erratic tone feels reminiscent of its titular state: balmy with the occasional blast of cool rain. — R.B.
South African rapper Kwesta has dubbed himself DA King of Afrikan Rap, a clever semi-backronym for Senegal’s capital city, even though his hypnotic Tricky-deep basso chanting won’t garner Best Rapper Alive evaluations on its own. On the screwed-down house sample of “Ngud’” he finds a heavenly ebb and flow to match, a four-and-a-half-minute ear tickle that should work on lean-puddled dance floors. Maybe he’s got a backronym for ASMR too? — D.W.
Frankie Cosmos ringleader Greta Kline recalls some less-than-favorable memories in “Sinister,” realizing she “can’t always turn to Arthur” to lift her spirits; sometimes it’s healthy to embrace the woe. Though the well-known Arthur Russell enthusiast doesn’t always find relief in her North Star, we can look to Kline’s twinkling wavelets of six-strings, hushed harmonies, and sobering relatability for our own comfort. — N.C.
On “Below,” Mish Barber-Way tackles the transience of beauty on one of White Lung’s prettiest songs to date, and the biggest musical departure from their usual punk fury. Here, bright and spacious soundscapes — a glimmering guitar riff and pounding drums — give way to Barber-Way’s “Stevie Nicks-meets-Celine Dion” vocals and, suddenly, the band’s music opens up to so many new, exciting possibilities. — M.L.
On the opening track of Bottomless Pit, Death Grips invite an outside voice into their wigged-out man cave: Cherry Glazerr frontperson Clementine Creevy. Her impudent presence elevates and escalates a banger that already hits like an overcharged defibrillator — all busted instrumentation, rudely shuffled atmospheres, and MC Ride’s trademark fist-through-windshield bluster. Is this really what disbandment sounds like? — R.C.
When house music wizard Hans-Peter Lindstrøm eschews vocalists and gets in touch with his more caffeinated side, he’s absolutely golden. Exhibit A: the eight-and-a-half minute delight “Closing Shot,” a veritable 4-D disco whirlwind calibrated to trigger heart, head, and feet. — R.C.
Nicki Minaj is very much a student of Lil Wayne, and “Down in the DM” captures an essential aspect of Weezology: stealing beats with kleptomaniac zeal. Yo Gotti’s original — a 2016 “Sky Pager” for the club — was fine, but seems quaint now with Minaj strong-arming him. Peggy Bundy and Miley Cyrus catch strays here, empty calorie dick-swingers (“Your dick ain’t good enough to be stylin’ on me”) get clipped, and tabloid firestarters are re-appropriated into signature witticisms (“Then he put his hands in my pants, felt them thick lips, and got wood / He said, ‘Kylie, what’s good?'”). Minaj is a ruler, existing at the center of a mythology that she built. We’re the guests. — B.J.
If there’s an upshot to living during Kanye West’s ongoing Imperial(ist) Era, it’s that, in context, his more humanist offerings stand out; sometimes, they truly resonate. The definitively unfinished The Life of Pablo doesn’t get any more relatable than “Real Friends,” where mournful, looped tones and deflated drums soundtrack typical middle-aged doldrums in a way that suggests a marathoner limping across a finish line: family as familiar strangers; everyone scheming or begging; life revealed as a vise that makes it impossible to connect to whomever you once were. The struggle is real. — R.C.
“Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me,” cries New York-based twentysomething Mitski on the gut-wrenching chorus to her best song yet. This Puberty 2 centerpiece transforms a small epiphany into a crushing wall of sound, illustrating how one’s identity of race and upbringing can fracture and ultimately overwhelm an otherwise joyous relationship. — M.L.
Often, you hear a great breakup song you just can’t relate to personally — Jay Z didn’t cheat on you, right? The reason ”A Change of Heart” hurts so bad is because mutual attraction can quietly slip away from even the happiest relationship: “You used to have a face straight out of a magazine / Now you just look like anyone.” Monday everything’s perfect, and Tuesday you’re crying in your car feeling way too old to be this dumb or this affected by four British boys with pretty synthesizers. :'( — A.G.
The bawdiest spoken-word 4/4 floor-slayer of the year’s first half is also its most quietly affecting. “Daddy” is LOLercoaster enough for three verses of seduction and repudiation — over the most Technotronic of Reverend Dollars beats — that it takes a couple of listens to properly suss out the years of frustration underlining the lyrics from the opening “So there was this guy, right? / You can already tell where this is going…” The final verse is the real coup, an irritated (but still impressively patient) plea for the sexual inflexibles of the world to get over themselves and realize: “It’s not the end of the world just because I gave you the suck.” — A.U.
In a way, the most plainspoken song of 2016 sets up its own mysteries in a vignette so direct that finding ambiguity in it feels impossible. How could a woman pass the rapper riding his bike and know which way he was going? Which beefing rapper is mediocre and which one is okay? (He’ll never confirm Meek Mill and Drake respectively, but the timeframe and interest from HuffPo only allow for so many suspects.) And is the fourth verse the most outward discussion of polyamory in hip-hop extant? We’d never dream of trying to kick some knowledge to the boy Sand; we just hunger for more of his. — D.W.
If we’re indeed defining this as black metal, it’s black metal for Care Bears. Or Cheap Trick for kidney thieves. Let’s savor the fact we may never again hear a wedding of caramel and barbed wire quite like this ever again, noise-pop burning at both ends and held together by a single seam. — D.W.
Lemonade is a deep exploration of hurt and betrayal, among many other things, and “Sorry” is a sweet moment of suspension, where uncertainty looms but the anger begins to strip away in favor of free-spirited aplomb. At this exact moment, as Bey tosses biting lines like “Suck on my balls, pause” to a buoyant bounce, there are no f**ks left to be given because, as the Queen has warned us in the past, “Me, myself, and I / That’s all I got in the end.” Self-love takes priority here and hell naw, she ain’t sorry. — M.L.
Breaking up is hard to do; witness “Human Performance,” which lurches from lounge-act despondence to hard-rock-anthemic desperation and back again with all the helplessness of a claustrophobic in a padded cell. As if that wasn’t compelling enough — and it almost is — singer Andrew Savage blithely nails the ennui of separation, how waking existence is reduced to an imitation of life: “Breathing beside me, feeling its warmness / Phantom affection gives a human performance.” — R.C.
Leave it to mopey music writers to take the most joyful release of 2016 so far and single out its saddest song. But hear us out: The downbeat tone of “Summer Friends” provides a helpful counterbalance to Coloring Book‘s Spirit-juiced ecstasy. Projecting fading memories of childhood alongside the tragic violence devastating Chicago, Chance offers a poignant look at his hometown and captures bittersweet nostalgia like a lightning bug in the backyard. — K.M.
The same man who once built an entire music video around a pack of gyrating, thong-clad gym-goers is now one of the most respected players in the prog-house game. And for good reason: Of the 125 minutes comprising his debut, Opus, the dazzling “Last Dragon” demands the most attention. Prydz lets his synths do the heavy lifting, pounding out a fireball hook that, combined with a throbbing back beat, will have no trouble getting every last foot on the floor. — R.B.
After capturing New York’s earthy blend of smoke and snarl on “Ch-Ching,” Chairlift shot for summertime incandescence on “Moth to the Flame.” The production is just as crisp, but this time it’s more Caroline Polachek’s show. As she cries the eponymous hook, her melisma twists and dies like, well, the doomed titular insect. But the burning moth is as compelling as the rising phoenix here. — B.J.
Wherein Drizzy Drake sets aside categorical, grayscale woes aside to tip Hennessy and trip the light fantastic on his first number-one single. Dancehall-drenched and “Do You Mind?”-feel copping, “One Dance” practically demands a riddim patois that its host alley-oops: clipped, suave, laser-focused, almost koan-like. — R.C.
“Ooh, that’s it?” Gates asks at the end, while the red light’s still on. The effect is that of Miguel’s rapt “Pussy Is Mine,” if you can imagine that Miguel looks comparatively embarrassed by his floor-humping. But rap’s greatest hook massager glides through every event of his conjugal evening with gusto: caressing your thigh jelly, sucking your titty in the mirror with a finger in the booty. They never make it to the bed, which is just fine because this lapdog prefers the floor anyway. And what would the premier mix of crude and tender be without “My attention / Giving all of it to you” in the bridge? That’s right, ladies: He writes bridges. — D.W.
Those squawking synths! That chorus! A tearjerking music video that’ll stop you in your track as you realize, “Well s**t, Naomi Campbell can act”! ANOHNI ushered in the HOPELESSNESS era with a stunner heavy on lyrics about warfare, orphaned children, and mass destruction — and made us dance to its assaulting throbs and pulses. That’s the ultimate pop coup, and nobody saw it coming. Consider us unblinded. — B.C.
You know it’s good when a track that came out in January is still in the running for Song of the Summer come June. Curiously elliptical and proudly Caribbean, “Work” is a song only Rihanna could make — and Drake knows it, which is why he had to try so hard to bite Popcaan’s style on “Controlla.” Their neon-saturated joint video is a testament to these two artists’ are-they-or-aren’t-they tension, even when Drizzy’s landing some of the most disingenuous lines in the history of pick-ups (“If you had a twin I would still choose you”). Dancehall may or may not stick around on the pop charts through autumn, but unless you’re in Fifth Harmony, good luck trying to say the word “work” this summer without someone parroting Rihanna’s unmistakable patois back at you. — A.G.
The Life of Pablo may not have been the gospel album we were promised but “Ultralight Beam” is a beacon of luminescence sent from above, one of the best opening tracks on any album this year. It’s a hymn that Kanye merely ushers us into and then takes a backseat as he oversees a powerful choir of voices, including The-Dream, Kelly Price, Chance the Rapper, and Kirk Franklin — each pleading for serenity, for peace, and for love. Because, good God, we need it. — M.L.
As damning an indictment of Twitter as you’re likely to hear all year, set to croaking electronics and violins plucked with guitar picks. Saving themselves from being thought of as over the hill, Radiohead pick a prime spot beside the gallows and give us the theme for our Age of Public Shaming. “Abandon all reason,” says the leader. Gather round, point fingers. (Shame.) Expose the outlier, set it aflame. (Shame.) Turn on each other, repeat. (Shame.) Lazier, miserable, less productive. (Shame.) — K.M.
While it’s reprehensible that Epic found it acceptable to pair Fifth Harmony — hot on the heels of their worldwide 2015 smash, “Worth It” — with Ammo, a member of Dr. Luke’s production team, the resulting product is a series of nonstop pop peaks. Its chorus sinks its teeth into listeners with unvarying repetition (the song’s title, quite believably, was simply “Work” before Rihanna’s hit of the same name came along); beyond the chorus, Ally Brooke nails the song’s saucy lyrical highlight: “Nothing but sheets in between us / Ain’t no getting off early.” Bust out the briefcases and get in formation — work starts at midnight, and doesn’t let off until you’ve worn a hole in your shoes. — B.C.
Underworld celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Born Slippy .NUXX” becoming the euphoric dance-floor anthem of the Britpop generation by going the other way with it. “I Exhale” is about as grandiose as “Slippy,” but its triumph reminds not of Saturday night’s release but the brutal work week leading up to it: all post-industrial grime, bleary-eyed exhaustion, and one-foot-in-front-of-the-other drudgery. It’s still thrilling in its daily grind, though — EMP bass blasts, air-raid synths, and Karl Hyde sneering, “December, Monday morning / Okay / What you got?” all steeling you for the quietly exhilarating dignity of uniting with your fellow man for another five days of clock-punching. Shouting TIME-SHEET! TIME-SHEET! TIME-SHEET! TIME-SHEET! — A.U.
The Quin sisters may not have always draped ‘80s-style synths around every circuital melody, but the one element that’s stayed consistent over their 15-plus-year career is Tegan and Sara’s open-veined approach. On this stellar single from their eighth record, Love You to Death, the twins confront a puzzling relationship that toes the line between closest confidant and potential romantic partner. It’s an ambiguous situation, not to mention a true story: Sara’s current girlfriend was seeing a man when they first met and had never dated a woman. But the chemistry was there. “You call me up like you would your best friend / You turn me on, like you would your boyfriend,” an observation capped with an ultimatum: “I don’t wanna be your secret anymore.” It’s a justified request that any partner deserves — to love and be loved freely. — R.B.
Not pop, bubblegum. Understandably emerging from last year’s spellbinding “Deeper Than Love” with the takeaway that maybe a drum machine works in her songs’ favor, the most bonged-out chill-mistress since Kim Deal writes an A. That’s A as in A-list, top-shelf harmonies and wit (extra-top-shelf harmonized guitar solo, actually), and A as in the A-side to a single that would’ve blown the Ohio Express off the charts in 1968, provided no one told Dick Clark what a D was. He didn’t know what “Yummy Yummy Yummy” was rumored to be about either. — D.W.
Over the past decade and a half, there’s been endless evidence of Beyoncé‘s regal status. But the proof that’ll endure the longest — even when today’s twentysomethings are grandparents — just might be this “Rhythm Nation”-by-way-of-Houston anthem. Bey’s power is encompassing enough to take over Super Bowl Weekend by sheer force of pro-black artistry; Peyton Manning’s ride into the sunset was a sideshow to the “Formation” roll-out, and this year’s Black Panther-inspired halftime show is already in sports-performance canon.
The track’s video and the song itself feel juxtaposed: The former is a densely formed and historically wrought vision, while the latter draws power from its plainspokenness. In between the slinks that bounce along like jack-in-the-boxes and the New Orleans-inflected brass, Beyoncé fills the space with immediately identifiable features: the negro nose and Jackson 5 nostrils, the black entrepreneurial ambitions, and the creole ancestry. Every decision she’s made — and she’s making all of them — exists to accentuate those details and remind listeners that she’s a black woman first and foremost. Beyoncé is a king, and those attributes are scepters. — B.J.