- Daft Punk
“Touch” is everything people used to think Daft Punk wasn’t: sappy, long-winded, obsessed with the past and invested above all in the power of things only humans are capable of. But remember that this is the same group who met their first label contact at Euro Disney and once performed on top of a pyramid made of lasers—musical theater has always been right around the corner. Led by Paul Williams—a songwriter most famous for “Rainbow Connection”—the song spends eight minutes piling on Moog filigree, trumpet solos, children’s choirs, and two-hundred some-odd other things in Pro Tools only to contract to the sound of Williams’ voice and some lonely piano chords ripped from the encore of a lounge singer’s routine. Clever as ever, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo hedge their bets: “If love is the answer,” the choir sings, “you’re home.” And what if it isn’t? If they know, they’re keeping it under their helmets. —Mike Powell
- Pop Noire
Savages appeared fully grown, like four battle-ready Athenas from the head of Zeus, with a nuanced manifesto that rejected apathy, misogyny, and cell phones at concerts, and they commanded disciples immediately. Their quick emergence is perhaps not the most remarkable thing about the London-based four-piece, whose dark post-punk thrives on its agonizing discontent and refusal to compromise, but it certainly speaks to the power of their conviction.
"She Will" was not their debut album's lead single—that honor went to "Husbands"—nor is it the most distinctive Savages song, thematically speaking, on debut Silence Yourself. (That's probably opener "Shut Up"). What makes "She Will" transcendent is its forceful simplicity, the easy way it conveys the sadness and anger that birthed Savages, in such a quick yet subcutaneously complex portrait. Frontwoman Jehnny Beth depicts the life of the song's purposeful subject, a sexually, spiritually free woman eventually stifled by norms and expectations, as a cold list of facts, totally free of sentiment. Drummer Fay Milton beats a crash cymbal with barbaric intensity and systematic exactitude. The song builds with perfect balance, its creators maintaining its concise gallop with a militant control. Even the title of the song is unrelenting and austere. From the first lick to Beth's final, orgasmic yelp, "She Will" is a compact tragedy belonging unmistakably to our time, delivering passion through a dispassionate lens, passing responsibility for its ending, ultimately, to us. —Devon Maloney
Savages: "She Will"
- Fade to Mind
"Bank Head" [ft. Kelela]
Kelela and Kingdom’s attempts at R&B—together and separately—tend to be deconstructed, purposefully ungainly affairs, the wreckage of skyscrapers endlessly pounded with wrecking balls. “Bank Head”, by contrast, plugs into the science of surfaces that’s always been R&B’s calling card. Specifically, it calls to mind Janet Jackson’s peerless 1997 percussive ballad “Empty”, through both its luxuriant, tantric expanse and its balance of pillowy softness with taut rhythmic rigor, the echoing claps and rippling kicks creating a delicate web of tension and release. In keeping with the vibe, Kelela offers her most Janet-like performance, singing in a high, whispery coo that is more tactile and intimate for its fragility, as if she’s succumbing to the groove’s temptation right alongside you. “Like kickin’ an old bad habit”, she muses as “Bank Head” begins, but if anything the effect is the reverse: right, there’s that familiar feeling, let it in, let it rush over you. —Tim Finney
"The Mother We Share"
“The Mother We Share” pulls off a tricky alchemy. It's simultaneously difficult to pin down but very easy to fall in love with. Widescreen yet intimate. Sonically bright yet thematically dark. Menacing yet comforting. As precise as assembly-line EDM, yet as sweeping as an epic romance story’s movie trailer. The lyrics refuse to cohere into a single straightforward emotion, instead seesawing between love and hate and devotion and betrayal. Is it about siblings? Lovers? God? Mother Earth? Singer Lauren Mayberry never shows her hand. It’s a mystery that can’t be solved. But perhaps the most impressive trick of all is that over a year after the song’s release, with Chvrches having been through the buzz-band wringer of countless remixes, interviews, on-air performances, and blog chatter, “The Mother We Share” still sounds fresh, exciting, and defiantly Now. —Amy Phillips
Chvrches: "The Mother We Share"
- My Bloody Valentine
“Only Tomorrow” has a celebratory air to it, mostly manifested in the giant whoosh of sound that scoops up everything around it at key points in the song. Listening to My Bloody Valentine can be a reflective experience (“To Here Knows When”, “Cigarette in Your Bed”), but it’s often strangely visceral, too (“Soon”, “You Made Me Realise”). Here, they bridge both those inclinations, with Kevin Shields trailing slug-like guitar lines across the song's dynamic frame, and Bilinda Butcher delivering a heavy-hearted vocal that still lacks any recognizable peer. They flexed the boundaries of their sound to a greater extent elsewhere on mbv, leaving tracks like “Only Tomorrow” to work as a stark reminder of how effective they are at coating candied pop moments with an almost suffocating density. There are few clues as to when this was recorded or how old the song might be, but “Only Tomorrow” carries the unmistakable sound of a band caught up in a moment, excited to be out there making music again. —Nick Neyland
My Bloody Valentine: "Only Tomorrow"
- Fool's Gold
“Kush Coma” was the first single released prior to Danny Brown's album Old, and in retrospect, that's given it a strange double life. The dazed robot-funk hook is enough to make it an obvious lead single. Its all-build beat vibes off the peak-is-everything ethos of EDM while grounding its 808s in pure club hip-hop. And then there's the excess of Danny's “blunt after blunt” lifestyle, which scans on first read like a celebratory mania (“Nuggets the size of Rakim rings/ Got my head looking like a fatality screen”), backed up by the stoner-goon clobber of A$AP Rocky's guest verse.
But the song, which arrives late on Old's deceptive “hedonist” second half, isn't so much a break from the album’s bleak poverty-to-hustle first half as it is the end result of how Danny's chosen to self-medicate the PTSD that haunts him and informs some of his best work. Whether it's the weed or the pills, what matters isn't just that Danny’s walking on clouds barefoot, it's that he feels something besides stress and anxiety. If the side effects mean “my forehead's sweaty, my eyelids heavy, feeling like I ain't goin' make it,” so be it. He's escaped worse. —Nate Patrin
- Jai Paul
"Str8 Outta Mumbai"
Thanks to the peculiar case of Jai Paul and the release of 16 demos said to be the ever-elusive UK producer/ singer's debut album, most of us first knew "Str8 Outta Mumbai" simply as "Track 2". But "Str8 Outta Mumbai" turned out to be a near-perfect title in context. It's not the first breakthrough moment we've had with Paul, but rather the first breakout moment. And it's a big-sounding one at that: laser flashes, spangled percussion, that loopy little earworm melody that you catch yourself whistling while waiting for the bus. For anyone who doubted that the guy who brought us the sultry mope of "Jasmine" and "BTSU" wasn't capable of dropping a blooming, summery quasi-banger, here's your proof. It sounded like the product of being stuck between two stations, frequency disruption and all: on one, there was ebullient vintage Bollywood pop, on the other, Velvet Rope-era Janet. The pirate radio jam of the year. —Zach Kelly
- Polo Grounds
"Shabba" [ft. A$AP Rocky]
You know how things go: one strong gimmick in a hook, and suddenly it might as well be laid over a goofy photograph in Impact font. “...Like I'm Sha, Shabbaarrr Ranks” is the mode in which a lot of people decided they were doing things once Ferg floated the idea, and if that means more young’ins infatuated with all things A$AP sought out some classic dancehall to up their status, that should all balance out in the end, right?
So with the mimetic aspect of this song out of the way, let's contend with what a monster it is: Ferg's rubberband flow tauntingly flossing about making raw-dogging his key to relationship trust, rocking gear like it's Mortal Kombat couture, and running with a crew that he immortalizes in a mere five lines – Twelvy and Illz as kush supply/demand, Ty Beats as producer-murking phenom, Ty Nast as the other half of a mutual girlfriend-theft team. Even with all the punchlines, it's a performance driven almost entirely by charisma – factory-line machinery beats assembling a disco-lit 25-foot riser for Ferg and Rocky to ascend, their Morse code stutter-step voices slipping into a semi-patois flow so catchy it could get away with saying less than it actually does. —Nate Patrin
Some songs are chilling, and then there’s “Childhood’s End”. A single gunshot leads to a single casualty in the song’s opening lines, but the rest of the song is all implication. “It’s weighing down, weighing down, weighing down on me,” sings Devon Welsh, without pinpointing where the pressure’s coming from. He stretches the pronoun as far as his sonorous voice can take it, however, and that goes a long way. The phrase dangles there until you are forced to interpret it for yourself.
Unlike most songs on Impersonator, “Childhood’s End” moves relatively briskly, thanks to busy drum programming moving underneath Matthew Otto’s minimalist synth waft. There’s a clear middle eight to go with that hook and the conservative remaining structure, but otherwise, “Childhood’s End” is a place of wintry desolation. No other song on Impersonator managed to communicate so much—overwhelming dread, terror, isolation—with so little. —Mike Madden
James Blake has spent much of his career burrowing into the crevices of sadness, exploring the particulars of loneliness with a worrisome tenacity. Is he all right? Will he ever really be all right? Now that he's in love, you'd think the answer would be an easy yes, but like every other emotional conundrum in his songs, it's a bit more complicated than that. "Retrograde" will go down as the exact moment when he exited his hermetic cave of existential, world-weary grief and found a way to make being in love sound…actually about as lonely as not being in love. It's complicated. Or complicated enough that even though he's clearly made a connection, he still wants to go deeper, not that it'll solve anything. In the world Blake's created on "Retrograde," isolation is something that is incurable and deeply rooted. When he croons "You're on your own in a world you've grown" over blurry synths and the hiss and snap of synthetic handclaps, he could be singing to himself or he could be singing to his partner. Either way, they're now alone together. Life could be worse. —Sam Hockley-Smith
James Blake: "Retrograde"