Across the Margin takes pause in the midst of another year chock full of classic albums to examine the best songs of the year (so far)….
Kendrick Lamar – King Kunta
There is a reason we kick things off with “King Kunta” off Kendrick Lamar’s most recent masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly, and that’s because we just can’t get over it. We are positive that we are not the only ones that can’t stop thinking about the call and response of James Brown’s “Get Up (I Fee Like Being A) Sex Machine” when Listening to “King Kunta,” or who feels that “Bitch, where was you when I was walking?” is the shrewdest shit talking we’ve come upon it ages. And we can’t imagine a more fitting and poignant crowd pleaser to introduce us to what Kendrick had up his sleeve to follow up good kid, m.A.A.d city than “King Kunta.” “King Kunta” not only divulged to much of White America (those not fluent in the novels of Ralph Ellison or Chinua Achebe) what “the yams” truly means1, but it is also one of the funkiest tracks we’ve stumbled upon in 2015. This one’s been on constant repeat, and that isn’t changing anytime soon.
Jamie XX – Loud Places
Just this past week, The XX’s Jamie XX released his solo full-length debut, In Colour, and unsurprisingly it’s already on our radar to be a part of our Best Albums of the Year feature come December. But amidst all the intoxicating, pop glory of the album, there is one gem that stands above all others. “Loud Places,” a track which features XX bandmate Romy Madley-Croft (making it sort of an XX song, a fact that we are not complaining about!) whose sultry voice is elegantly paired with a chorus of club kids and Jamie’s emotionally evocative soundscapes. “Loud Places” is huge. It’s anthemic and it’s the musical apex of In Colour, and easily one of the best tracks we’ve heard so far this year.
Father John Misty – Holy Shit
Father John Misty is the moniker of the wildly creative folk-singer songwriter Joshua Tillman. Once the drummer for Fleet Foxes, and now fully established as a talented solo artist, Tillman’s latest album, I Love You Honeybear, is his most personal and introspective yet. Existing as a concept album that brazenly explores Tillman’s personal life, for better and for worse, and full of such emotion and raw, empirical expression that he sometimes felt uncomfortable with the idea of playing its songs live, I Love you Honeybear makes no effort to hide its intentions. But whereas some may see this as a negative, as just another singer-songwriter expousing their regrets with the past and their animosity towards the future, what Tillman does on this album, and especially with “Holy Shit,” is present the fact that he is just as broken, and cognizant of society’s ills, as we all are, and he asserts that we should not shy away from these emotions just because it hurts. Written on the day that Tillman was married to his wife Emma, “Holy Shit” is a song filled with a peculiar clarity, a certain brazen half-infatuation, half-contempt with the world’s truths as told through the prism of modern times. With such evocative lyrics as “This documentary’s lost on me / Satirical news, free energy / Mobile lifestyle, loveless sex / Independence, happiness….Carbon footprint, incest streams / Fuck the mother in the green / Planet cancer, sweet revenge / Isolation, online friends,” it’s hard to not make comparisons of Tillman to other far-seeing singer-songwriters of the past, most notably Harry Nilsson, Warren Zevon and Neil Young.
Panda Bear – Mr. Noah
True to Form, Panda Bear’s (Noah Benjamin Lennox of Animal Collective) latest album Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is rife with murky shadows, foreboding drones and that thick layer of grime that he excels at composing. But it’s also his funkiest to date, and in the standout of the album, “Mr. Noah,” the hypnotic, vibrating melodies and the thrusting rhythms amass to create a symphony of throbbing pulses of exuberance. Although Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper was dropped the second week of January, “Mr. Noah” is poised to be a focal point of all our summer playlists, a sure bet to get the party poppin’.
Mick Jenkins – P’s and Q’s
Last year, the talented Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins caught our eye with the brainy and hard-hitting mixtape The Water[s]. And now, with the release of his latest single “P’s & Q’s” (from his forthcoming production Wave[s]), Mick has our full attention. A product of Chicago’s thriving poetry scene, translating directly to a profound commitment to lyrical deftness, “P’s & Q’s”2 finds Jenkins spitting ferociously for two and half minutes with no hook, riffing off the phrase “I’m on my P’s and Q’s.” Just like Blackalicious’ “A2G,” Big L’s “Ebonics, ” Nas’s “Rewind” or Jay Z’s “22 Two’s,” “P’s & Q’s” is a track that just needs to be heard to be believed. And the video is equally as stunning to behold3…
Metz – The Swimmer
On their second full length album, Metz II, the Toronto three-piece has found a way to insert nuance and exploration into their steamroller productions. But not for one second should you consider that statement to imply any softening of the edges or a dip in their adrenaline levels, especially in the tension-laced rager, “Swimmer.” Frontman Alex Edkins said the album was inspired by a year experiencing loss and “contemplating our relationships with death and the planet,” and from the unhinged, aggressive sounds of the album, epitomized in “Swimmer,” it’s easy to assume that Edkins’ reflections demanded a catharsis of bedlam. We would usually shy far away from employing someone else’s words to describe, well anything – but we stumbled upon an article by Tom Breihan of Stereogum that described “Swimmer” as a “big, heavy bag of hate.” It was just too perfect not to share.
Sleater Kinney – Heavy When I Need It
In our estimation, the best track that Sleater Kinney released this year isn’t even on their latest album, No Cities to Love, their first album since 2005’s The Woods. This idea, that their best track this year lies outside the confines of their new album, may sound absurd to some, as No Cities to Love is a top to bottom barnburner. But “Heavy When I Need It,” released as a vinyl-only addition to the album is that raucous of a song. It’s Sleater Kinney in all their glory: loud, confident, and thumping, and includes a perfect cool down to close the song that allows you to pull yourself together as you contemplate the storm you just weathered.
Action Bronson – Actin Crazy
Action Bronson’s major-label debut undoubtedly satisfied his hardcore fans who have been chomping at the bit for Bronsoliño’s highly anticipated Mr. Wonderful, and it’s safe to say he made a few new ones with the effort. Yeah, Action Bronson has blown the fuck up (pun no doubt intended), and the second single released prior to the album drop was one that made it clear to all that this was his time to shine, as when “opportunity be knockin’ [you gotta] let a motherfucker in.” A laidback beat allows for Bronson’s lyrical dexterity to sit center stage, and acts as a canvas for Bronson to do what he does best, compose an unfiltered and imaginative portrait of folly as he walks the world ‘Actin Crazy.’ “Actin Crazy,” produced by Drake’s right-hand man, Noah “40” Shebib, isn’t just good fun, it also finds a way to be touching as Bronson talks to his immigrant mother on the hook, reminding her that even with all the bluster and lunacy, he is still her “little baby.”
Mikal Cronin – iv) Ready
It’s not easy to outshine Ty Segall, the prolific and exceedingly talented young musician who at the age of twenty seven has already released eight exceptional albums. And it’s especially difficult when you are the former bass-player in his band. But after stepping out from behind his frontman and wowing us with the thick, grungy guitar rock sounds of 2013’s MCII, Mikal Cronin has showed us that he has a more refined, more elegant side to his music with his latest release, MCIII. With the second half of the album functioning as a sort of numerical grouping of sound, progressing from showy and classical to orchestral and dreamy, song number “iv) Ready” is the sort of high-energy offering that illustrates Cronin’s push to elevate his music to new heights, merging his lofty talent for slaying his fans with infectious, garage rock ditties with the future possibility of a grand, rock opera album.
Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD – Raygun (featuring DOOM)
Ghostface has always shined over ethereal psychedelic soul played by a live band (Twelve Reasons to Die the most recent example), and just four months after releasing his eleventh studio album he was back at it, this time teaming with the Toronto-based trio BADBADNOTGOOD4 on Sour Soul, easily one of the best hip-hop albums released this year (and it’s a strong field in 2015!). In “Raygun,” Ghost comes out blasting, “Back in black, it’s your local superhero from verse with the hood / Ironman Starks got the good / Not that good good like Snoop / I bulletproofed the coop,” and following one of Ghost’s stouter verses in recent memory, DOOM penetrates with equivalent intensity and finesse. If Ghost and Doom ever get around to that album they have hinted at dropping together (DOOMSTARKS), we can rest assured it’s going to be an instant classic. “Raygun” is proof positive of this.
Sufjan Stevens – No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross
We often wonder if Sufjan Stevens owns the rights to the word “perfection.” If he somehow understands the word so deeply, so truly, that whatever powers that control the words of our English language, have decreed that it belongs to him. Because to listen to Stevens’s latest song, “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” off his ambitious and career re-defining album “Carrie & Lowell,” is to dance with that word. The song, delivered with a dreamy effortlessness and the characteristic whisper-singing that Stevens does so well, seems like a musical encapsulation of everything you wanted to say to someone you loved but never got around to. “This is not my art project; this is my life,” Stevens said of the release of his latest album, and with an acoustic guitar, a calming voice and some old-fashioned songwriting, he has turned that very life, and its experiences, into one of the most beautiful collections of songs we’ve ever heard.
A$AP Rocky – Canal Street
It is hard to argue, following the release of A$AP Rocky’s sophomore album, At.Long.Last.A$AP, that A$AP is not one of the most exciting and interesting rappers in the game (right up there with Kendrick – yeah we said it!). At.Long.Last.A$AP is such a loaded album that it was nearly impossible to single out just one track to spotlight, but after we heard that bass line drop and the beat reach its full potential fifty-five seconds into “Canal Street,” we knew we had found the one. Sexy, arousing, and flat out filthy, “Canal Street” manages to be hard and soft at the same time, thick yet penetrating, and a song we will have on blast all year long.
Tame Impala – Let It Happen
In 2012, Tame Impala cemented their place as one of today’s most impressive rock acts with the fascinating psych-meditative classic, Lonerism. And with the release of “Let it Happen,” an eight-minute single off their forthcoming album Currents, Tame Impala appears poised to re-affirm and heighten their status as the gods of psychotropic indie-rock. “Let it Happen,” the first new material Tame Impala has released in three years5 is a vitalizing beast of a track, a journey rife with Tame Impala’s signature pulsating, hypnotic grooves, and winsome, arresting melodies. Front man Kevin Parker says “Letter it Happen” is “about allowing what is overtaking you to take control,” and we’ve found that this is the best way to indeed take in Tame Impala’s exceptional brand of psychedelia – just let go and allow it to have its way with you.
Viet Cong – Death
The Calgary-based trio Viet Cong’s self-titled debut is easily one of this year’s best introductory albums. It’s a kick to the gut of hard rock that pummels you to the ground time and again, but you on keep getting up for more. But while there are moments of genius littered throughout the album, like the six minute hypnotic “March of Progress” that acts as the centerpiece of the album, or the 80s pop-influenced, synth heavy “Silhouettes,” it feels that the entirety of the album, like life itself, points directly towards “Death,” the eleven-minute domineering culmination of the album. “Death” is Viet Cong’s way in which it confronts directly the loss of their former bandmate, guitarist Christopher Reimer. As the lenitive and subtle rolling guitar riffs give way to an apex of unmitigated rapaciousness both disconcerting and entirely numbing, Viet Cong offer not only a fitting tribute to their fallen mate, but also a triumphant take on a rock epic.
Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian at Heart
Is Courtney Barnett the female version of Kurt Cobain? We’ve asked ourselves this question too many times to count. It’s hard to listen to her songs and take in her lyrics and her stage presence and not want to draw parallels to the late, great grunge god. Howling out “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you. Tell me I’m exceptional and I’ll promise to exploit you.” Barnett fills the four minutes of “Pedestrian at Heart” with more contradictions than we could have imagined possible in such a short period of time. This song is a fun, rocking adventure through the center of Barnett’s brain, flush with ironic lyrics and a poker-faced delivery that easily makes it one of, if not the, best song of 2015.
- Yams are a key ingredient in African cuisine and have significance in some parts of Africa as a sign of social status. [↩]
- Produced by Kaytranada. [↩]
- Featuring cameos from fellow Chicago acts Alex Wiley and Hurt Everybody. [↩]
- BADBADNOTGOOD have previously teamed with Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt and have producer credits on tracks from Danny Brown’s Old and the soundtrack to The Man with the Iron Fists. [↩]
- They have since released “Eventually,” “Cause I’m a Man,” and “Disciples” of their upcoming album. [↩]