Courtney Barnett, "City Looks Pretty"
Judging by the names and sound of some of the tracks off of Courtney Barnett's latest album, you can tell she might be going through a rough patch (ex. "Crippling Self-Doubt And A General Lack of Confidence"). Despite this, she manages to channel some of the joyous energy that was so prevalent on her debut album on "City Looks Pretty." The sound has the allusion of a fast moving, never sleeping, big city. This theme is developed even further as the song slows down as if the narrator is finally taking a breath to appreciate the city. Although the instrumentation lends to a generally upbeat vibe (until the end), the lyrics reveal just as depressing a song as the rest. Even through the Debby downing, Barnett delivers poignant lyrics such as "The city takes pity on your injured soul/And heavenly prose ain't enough good to fill that hole." The contrasting tones make us think deeper about the themes present and showcase Barnett's extensive talent.
Florence + The Machine, "Hunger"
The first single from the latest Florence + The Machine album, High As Hope, is an odyssey of insecurities and anxieties for the modern age. The song's instrumentation builds into a satisfying crescendo with Florence singing "We all have a hunger." Florence starts the song off by talking about one kind of hunger (her eating disorder she had as a teenager), but transitions to a more abstract view of the hunger for success and happiness. For Florence, this manifests itself in her anxiety about a pink dress. "And it's Friday night and it's kicking in/In that pink dress, they're gonna crucify me." This crucifixion could be a reference to the Beatles song "The Ballad of John and Yoko," where John famously talks about how the media will judge him for his love and honeymoon with Yoko Ono. Florence is similarly anxious about people judging her for how she dresses and how she performs on stage. "Hunger" is a multi-faceted song that adds to the pantheon of great songs in the Florence + The Machine discography.
Childish Gambino, "This Is America"
"This Is America" and the accompanying video is probably the most significant cultural moment in music so far in 2018. Nothing seems to encompass this year more than this subtle banger from Childish Gambino. The flow of the song is next level as chanting from Gambino slowly builds with various instrumentation until the beat (and Gambino's voice) drop into oblivion. The change back and forth from angelic voices (sometimes the literal choir) to trap style bars creates a stark contrast that comes out more in the music video. The video deserves a whole article unto itself. The combination of Gamino dancing, the shock of when he shoots the masked figure/congregation, and the numerous forms of imagery and metaphor makes this video a worthy subject for future DBQs in AP U.S. history.
Pusha T, "If You Know You Know"
Pusha T's best track since appearing on Kanye West's "Runaway" is the explosive opener to Daytona, "If You Know You Know." What is there to know? Apparently, a lot, as Pusha T goes through a myriad of cultural references from Alejandro Sosa and Oprah to Al Roker and Pink Floyd. But obviously, the track is more about the drug trade and how some people are just in the know about the language and references Pusha uses throughout his songs. Pusha isn't exactly coy with his references. The "snow" that Al Roker forecast can be seen as cocaine and getting "tennis balls for the wrong sport" is another obvious drug reference. While not coy Pusha finds creative ways like these to mask the drug trade in his music and only be available to those that know.
Father John Misty, "God's Favorite Customer"
The title track off of Father John Misty's latest album is a double entendre of sorts. On the one hand, Tillman was raised ultra-religious but ultimately abandoned God (and his family) as he moved to LA and became a musician (often criticising religion in his music as well). So he sings in a sarcastic tone as it must sound ridiculous that he is coming to God in his time of need while he so fervently abandoned the concept for so long. The other side of this song is he sees his wife, Emma (separated at the time if you can't tell from the edgelord lyrics), as an angel and a God. As Tillman sings about his wife being what is keeping him sane and alive (in "Please Don't Die") it isn't much of a stretch to say this is who he is "praying" to in his time of need. This is exacerbated even more with the closing line asking his wife just to stay one night longer. The tone created by the muted harmonica and piano bass line is perfectly accompanied by Natalie Mering's (Weyes Blood) angelic backing vocals. The authenticity of this track and others is what makes Tillman's latest album spectacular.
Kanye West, "Ghost Town"
"Ghost Town," like every song off Kanye West's latest album, ye, is very personal. Not personal in the sense that it is about others in his life like "All Mine" and "Violent Crimes," but personal in the sense that it is about Kanye's inner monologue with himself. While at the core Kanye reflects (with himself) on many of the events in his past like his hospitalization in 2016 due to opioid overdose and his constant presence in the spotlight, the true gut punch of this song is that Kanye wants to make it to the end (as PARTYNEXTDOOR puts it "I wanna lay down, like God did, On a Sunday") and look back at his work with joy. This release is put to words with 070 Shake's sensational outro wailing "I feel kinda free." Another way of interpreting this outro is that Kanye has been numbed by the media and the attention-storm that ensues every time he comes out of hiding and needs to make sure he still feels emotions or "still bleeds." It is no doubt that "Ghost Town" is one of the most sonically complex and thought out songs off ye that really lends to the theme that graces the album cover.
Parquet Courts, "Total Football"
This one's a doozy. The opening track from Parquet Courts latest album, Wide Awake!, is a searing political hard rock statement (albeit buried a bit) that kicks off their album literally and thematically. The song starts off with these booming guitar chords that transition into becoming faster when the first verse arrives. Throughout the song, the overall wall of sound builds until Adam Savage's voice fills your ears with poignant yells of "TOTAL FOOTBALL." There is a lot to digest sonically in this track and it is pretty difficult to understand what this man is yelling at us but a closer look at the lyrics reveals a very nuanced political message that lays the foundation for the album's message. The concept of "Total Football (soccer)" is that every position except the goalie can play all other positions interchangeably. The idea that is trying to be put across is that the collective is greater and more important than the individual. In total football everybody is positionless and the team is the most important object. Savage transmutes this idea to society (which can quickly lead to socialism etc.) saying that "rebels, teachers/strikers, sleepers" one and all are positionless and are stronger rising up together against fascism. The band seems to predict the socialist undertones and critiques as the outro states "collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive." They are saying that we can still work together for social change while maintaining our individualism. The last line may seem like a giddy yell, but saying "F*ck Tom Brady" supports their point as Brady (as a football player) has his individuality rise up as more important than his team (or something they could honestly just hate Brady). "Total Football" is a fantastic, low-key political and thematic statement that shows the maturity and greatness of Parquet Courts.
Lizzo's tracks are usually catchy as hell, empowering, and colorful. "Boys" is similar in this sense as the chorus is catchy as hell, the themes of so bombastically talking about loving boys is empowering, and Lizzo's intonations lend to a colorful song. What sets "Boys" apart from other Lizzo tracks is the incredibly funky instrumentation. The baseline carries this song and makes everything Lizzo says that much more groovy. Compared to Charlie XCX's 2017 track of the same name, "Boys" has a little bit more interesting instrumentation along with more personality from Lizzo. It is the personality embedded in all of Lizzo's songs that is slowly making her a fixture in popular music.
Kacey Musgraves, "High Horse"
Although Golden Hour is focused on a more relaxed somber tone, "High Horse" explodes into your ears with an ever building funky beat. The meshing of funk and country may seem odd at first but Kacey Musgraves makes the pair seem like a match made in heaven. The high vocals that accompany the kicking chorus push the song to new heights. The clever way that country lyrics about John Wayne sit aside such lavish funky instrumentation and fit is a testament to the moods that Kacey is able to conjure. Kacey Musgraves is truly pushing the envelope in country music with this track and while it may not be a beautiful ballad, it will be important in the country canon.
Early in the summer, Iggy Pop went on his show saying that Mitski has "great talent. For me, she's probably the most advanced American songwriter that I know." The second single released from Mitski's upcoming album, "Nobody," does a ton to prove Iggy's point. "Nobody" is truly a sad song about nobody caring for Mitski and she explains this point in various ways. She references the planet Venus being "destroyed by global warming" asking "did its people want too much too?" This could refer to us wanting "too much" from earth but in the context of the song (and Venus being the planet of love), it probably is referring to Mitski wanting too much love that it overwhelms other people and hence why she is so lonely. Crushing. Another crushing way Mitski explores her loneliness is when she sings "I've been big and small and/Big and small and.../And still nobody wants me." The gut punches keep coming as the song ends with her singing "nobody" over and over. Reading this song will give you a heart-ache, but listening to it, not so much. The song starts with a pretty heavy chord but the progression is uplifting. The instrumentation, in general, is confusing as it doesn't exactly match the tone of the lyrics or themes. This may be the point as Mitski may want to mask her loneliness to some extent as you wouldn't really understand the song unless you were paying attention to the lyrics. Regardless, Mitski's songwriting and instrumentation work in tandem to create a beautiful, vibrant song.