With a year gone by that held releases from Kendrick’s throne-defining DAMN. to King Krule’s emotional sonic exploration The OOZ, 2018 has a lot to live up to from its predecessor. Some of the releases so far have held the flame—new Top Dawg signee SiR’s debut album November—while others have simply pissed on it—Timberlake’s Man of the Woods. With an incoming nuclear war on our radar mixed with a McDonald’s chomping orange demagogue in office trying to boot each brown and black immigrant from the country, everyone’s crossing their fingers for a sunrise on the new year’s horizon. Whether it be new tunes, a new President, a new Congress, whatever—I might be asking too much—this year has to be better than the last. Right? Right…
Here are a few tracks to help yourself believe 2018 will be a good year:
“Heart Attack” – tUnE-yArDs
“Heart Attack,” the second single from Tune-Yard’s new album I can feel you creep into my private life, is so visceral, primal, and rhythmically complex it’s dizzying keeping up with it—but that’s exactly how it wants you to feel. The new album—which speaks on fascism, gender identity, race relations, and more—is lead singer Merrill Garbus’s admission to white guilt and plea for radical empathy. Meshing political ‘wokeness’ in a time of white apathy with her unique synthesis of Afrobeat and art-pop, “Heart Attack” is a fiercely danceable track whose legacy goes back to the radical dance compositions of Nigeria’s Fela Kuti. One of the highlights from the track is when Garbus is at her most vulnerable singing, “I’m only human,” while only accompanied by short, tense violin phrases. Here, the manicness of her head and the world seem to fade away for one short moment before the violins diffuse and rhythms kick back in full force. For more like this, check out “Coast to Coast,” “ABC 123,” and “Colonizer” from the new album.
“After the Storm (feat. Tyler, The Creator, Bootsy Collins)” – Kali Uchs
First of all, if you haven’t seen the video for this track, you’re missing out. Directed by the deeply strange Nadia Lee Cohen, she updates 1960’s pop art for the new century with vibrant colors, strange visuals, and over-the-top characterizations of Americana. Produced by the innovative jazz-hop group BADBADNOTGOOD, “After the Storm” puts Kali Uchs’s alluring voice amongst a wave of liquid synths and smooth beats. “So if you need a hero,” sings Uchs echoed by Parliament-Funkadelic’s very own Bootsy Collins, “just look in the mirror.” The track is a hell of a collaboration with some heavy hitters—Tyler, The Creator and Bootsy Collins—but Uchs is never upstaged by her high-profile collaborators. Rather, she stands equal to them as a confident new voice in the recent alt-funk trend of music. Laden in dreamy, retro-funk sounds, Uchs assures us with “After the Storm” that good times are on the way.
“Hand It Over” – MGMT
Out of the three singles they’ve released in anticipation for their upcoming fourth album Little Dark Age (out this February), this one has got to be my favorite. Since their self-titled 2013 release, the psychedelic-pop group have been edging on the experimental side and diving into new sounds, textures, and styles with bold ambition. It’s been a mixed bag overall, with some goodies (“Your Life Is a Lie,” “Hand It Over”) and some just straight up bad ones (the entire second half of their third album; “Little Dark Age”). With this single, they’ve opted from the Cure-esque sounds of “Little Dark Age” and “When You Die” for a hazy, dream-pop kind of tune. Speckled with the spacier sounds of their first album and the moody experimentations of their last, “Hand It Over” is an existential ode to past mistakes and yesterday’s greedy tendencies. On the new single, MGMT plays like the house band in purgatory with ghoulish seductresses as the background vocalists during the chorus. Here’s hoping to more of the same.
“Corporation” – Jack White
Collectively with the rest of the world, when Jack White announced his new album with the cryptic sound-collage “Servings and Portions from my Boarding House Reach,” I screamed. My theory of the “Servings”? It’s a faux-radio sound collage of everything that’ll be on the new album. If my theory plays out, the new album should be the most genre-defying and wide ranging album White has put out yet. “Corporation” filters classic groove-heavy organ riffs through the distorted bluesy tone we’ve come to expect from Jack White. It’s a definite rocker of a track, but instead of the garage-rock from White’s previous work, he reaches out into more danceable and foot stompin’ territory. It’s a definite stand-out from the previous tracks he’s released, and I can’t wait to hear what the rest of the album sounds like. Oh yeah, one more thing—someone give me the name of the bongo player from the beginning. Legendary.
“Something Foreign (feat. ScHoolboy Q)” – SiR
So I know this track was released last year, but his debut came out this year, and you’ve got to listen to it. Hailing acts like SZA, Kendrick, and now SiR, Top Dawg Entertainment is dominating hip-hop with the most adventurous, bold, and innovative voices of this century. Period. On “Something Foreign,” SiR picks up fellow Top Dawg labelmate ScHoolboy Q for a midnight drive through reflections on success, relationships, and his own place in the world. “Tryna keep it humble in a world full of egos, gangstas and evils,” please SiR amidst a wandering, starry piano line. On the track, SiR is at his most vulnerable while taking you through a trip into the darker crevasses of his mind. By the time the track wraps up, it leaves you suspended in thin air, wondering if SiR and ScHoolboy Q got the girl and have found peace with their demons. For more off of his debut November, check out “D’Evils,” and “Something New (feat. Etta Bond).”