Jack White, "Corporation"
There's nothing quite farther from the rock persona than a Corporation. Despite this Jack White proved you can still make a rock song about it. Like the rest of Boarding House Reach, "Corporation" features stunning displays of the intersection of multiple musical genres. Funky rock drums persist throughout the entire song but are punctured by synthy guitar lines and a mounting wall of sound that Jack White muddies further with his primal screams. When White sings "Yeah, I'm thinking about starting a corporation" it comes off odd as nobody says stuff like that in real life. He critiques the idea of corporation saying that they are the only way nowadays to get "adulation." So somehow Jack White turns a song about corporations into a critique that keeps him in the rock canon.
Ought's lyrics drew me to them on their track from 2014 "Today More Than Any Other Day" which had such an unforgettable sense of humor. Overall their latest album seems to have lost this witty humor that plagued their 2014 album, but they evolved in different categories. On the track "Desire," Ought creates a true song in the style of classic rock canon. Although the witty lyrics are gone, they are replaced with poignant, almost infinitely relatable lyrics. The instrumentation starts with a Stranger Thingsesque synth-line that morphs into their normal sound. The range of Tim Darcy's voice combined with the gospel choir also work to contribute to that classic rock epic sound. The end result is a song that cuts deep.
MGMT, "Me and Michael"
While "She Works Out Too Much" creates such a weird atmosphere of uncomfortableness that I wanted to comment on it, the beautiful synth-pop of "Me and Michael" attracted me even more. The lyrics and tone combine to create almost a flashback of a song as we all had our "Michael" as a child. In an interview with Q the band admitted that the original lyrics were "me and my girl," but that sounded cheesy so they changed it to Michael. In light of this, the credit has to go to the instrumentation as the band is able to transport us to this state that was a rewritten lyric.
Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, "Big Shot"
The best song from the cultural zeitgeist of a film, Black Panther, is definitely "Big Shot." Although the album as a whole is lacking in consistency and the use of the track in the movie isn't the best (See Opps for how its done), the unforgettably catchy flow from Lamar destroys any negatives attached to this song.
Frank Ocean, "Moon River"
The cover of the iconic song from Breakfast at Tiffany's, done by Frank Ocean will tear your heart to pieces. While the song is simple enough, Ocean's style shines through as his muted guitar chords paired with his angelic voice and trademarked vocoded voice create an atmosphere of pure emotions. The building string and trademark sound make the song seem like it could have fit nicely on Ocean's latest album, Blonde. Ocean is so dialed into our emotional heartstrings it almost seems inevitable he would cover this song.
Janelle Monáe, "Make Me Feel"
By far my favorite song of the first half of 2018. "Make Me Feel" by Janelle Monáe is a masterpiece in many respects. The funky instrumentation pays homage to Prince while the deep static sounds that come into play during the buildup and the quick drumbeats that appear during the bridge gives us a rollercoaster of sound that at the same time makes the song more modern. There are so many layers to the instrumentation and it changes so much throughout the song that it keeps your attention and groove until the very end. The authenticity of Monáe's lyrics is apparent as she shouts her feelings into the void. This song will quickly become an anthem for self-love, bisexual love and any other kind of love. It doesn't get much better than this.
Ben Salisbury, "The Alien"
One of my favorite films of the year, Annihilation, (directed by Alex Garland of Ex Machina fame) is supported by a fantastic, spacious soundtrack. Throughout most of the film, the soundtrack is almost bare with limited atmospheric electronic instrumentation accompanied by a quiet guitar line that repeats throughout the soundtrack. This all culminates with the climax of the movie and the song "The Alien." This track is an explosion of sound that perfectly matches the mood of the climax of the movie. The strings that bring the track to life are foreboding. As soon as they arrive the song quiets and is replaced by a glitchy, bassy electronic sound that is irresistible. This song is just so atmospheric, beautiful while being scary and unsettling at the same time. The wooshing sound that comes and goes while the electronic section makes you feel like something is coming for you. Perfectly encapsulating what makes a great score, "The Alien" also shows how a movie track can stand alone.
Soccer Mommy, "Wildflowers"
Soccer Mommy's debut album, Clean, was an interesting exploration of super Lo-fi indie rock. Although it left much to be desired, the closing track, "Wildflowers," is everything the album desperately needed. The folk guitar is finally met with some minimal backing instrumentation that builds and gives the song an extra oomph. The slight cracking of her vocals as she sings the chorus deepens the insane empathy that we have for her. That empathy is forged by her equally elegant literary lyrics. This combination pushes the song to a searing tear jerker.
Parquet Courts, "Wide Awake"
Are you woke? That seems to be the theme of Parquet Courts latest album, Wide Awake!. In spite of this, the track "Wide Awake" seems to make fun of the concept of being "woke." After the first half of the album goes in depth with great nuance into some of the social and political issues of the day, "Wide Awake" makes fun of people that seem to use their wokeness as digital clout on the internet. Though the song does this in a more discrete way as lead singer Adam Savage sings "I'm wide awake/mind so woke 'cause my brain never pushes the breaks." This is not the first thing you will notice when listening to this song. The absolutely infectious funk that starts off the track (and never stops) is what makes it a standout. Then the bassline comes in and further cement this track as one of the most sonically tight and fun tracks that Parquet Courts have released so far.
Cardi B, "Get Up 10"
While Cardi B's debut album is filled brim to brim with big hits, the opener, "Get Up 10," feels like the most authentic, polished new Cardi B track. Although " Get Up 10 features similar lyrics and themes to mega-hit "Bodak Yellow," the track sounds levels more aggressive. It is this aggressive energy and lyrics that have made Cardi B such a big superstar in 2017. The background instrumentation and beat are what sets this apart from other tracks from Invasion of Privacy. The siren and piano that builds slowly with a tension until the main beat drops and Cardi explodes. Another thing that sets this track apart is that it is all Cardi. Many other tracks off her debut rely on other artists ("Drip", "Best Life", "She Bad", etc.) for the heart of the track, but "Get Up 10" shows that Cardi can carry a track all on her own.