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Top 10 Tracks – January 2019

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Top 10 Tracks – January 2019

Jackson Wyatt, Digital Editor-in-Chief

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January is a unique time for musical releases. On one hand, there is the urge for an artist to start the year off with a bang, cementing a spot in year-end lists as quickly as possible. On the other hand, there is a certain fear of being forgotten in the subsequent wave of music, left behind in a month people often overlook. Luckily, many artists gravitate towards the former urge, and a score of excellent tracks have been released over the past few weeks. With both underground and mainstream artists working away, 2019’s catalogue is growing already. At a time of the year synonymous with cold and boring tendencies, here are ten songs to hopefully bring you some sort of sunshine.

 

  1. Noname feat. Phoelix, ‘Song 31’

 

After last year’s release of her phenomenal sophomore album Room 25, Chicago rapper Noname provides an amazing addition with ‘Song 31.’ The track echoes many stylistic and thematic elements typically found in her catalogue while still managing to sound like the freshest, most updated version of her sound. Using flawless delivery and an elaborate writing style akin to slam poetry (which she has previously dabbled in), Noname bounces from the topics of black representation in popular media to factory farming to struggles in her career as an independent artist, spinning a spider web of interconnected rhymes in a stream-of-consciousness-like pattern. The result is uplifting when accompanied by Phoelix’s pillowy production and soulful vocals, managing to create a track that doubles as a rousing statement piece and all-around experience.

 

  1. Glen Hansard, ‘I’ll Be You, Be Me’

 

Much like comedian John Mulaney’s retellings of the “Bittenbinder Method,” Dublin singer-songwriter Glen Hansard finds strength in catching the listener off guard with ‘I’ll Be You…’. The track starts off as a subdued rumble, matching Hansard’s hushed voice with lo-fi fuzz, careful bass and a strutting beat. Lyrics of being trapped and staying cautious of a lover help to build a duality of tension and sensuality, gaining urgency as crisper drums, strings and pianos are added to the mix. Hansard eventually revolts, saying, How ‘bout you be you and I’ll be me / And we’ll just leave it where we found it’ before backing vocals lead the track into an abrasive sandstorm of competing instrumentation. It’s a subtle rise into madness, making ‘I’ll Be You…’ a rollercoaster more focused in nuance and reaction than shock factor.

 

  1. Ariana Grande, ‘7 Rings’

 

Regardless of your position in the current ‘Who-stole-whose-flow’ debate, no one can deny the immediacy and prominence of Grande’s most recent single, ‘7 Rings.It stands as a good-natured feel-good anthem, combining potent confidence with unapologetic flexing. Grande sounds unstoppable, letting out quotable after quotable with a surprisingly strong flow (a definite highlight is: “Whoever said money can’t solve your problems / Must not have had enough money to solve ’em”). The production balances her silky vocals on top of dark, icy synths and a hip-hop-inspired beat, creating an atmosphere equally focused on fun and elegance. Like the event that led to its creation, ‘7 Rings’ sounds like a trip with close friends to an expensive jewelry store, peeking in bright display cases while cracking jokes. Who are we to not want to go along for the ride?

 

  1. Sharon Van Etten, ‘Seventeen’

 

When singer-songwriters get bored of their small-scale sonics and decide to incorporate larger instrumentation into their craft, a gamble has been made. There is the threat of losing a key intimacy and warmth, but also the possibility of a bigger emotional width and resonance with audiences. Van Etten takes the risk on her recent single ‘Seventeen,’ and with synths nonetheless. They work wonders, though, occupying the spaces behind her like wavering light-pollution haze in the night. Van Etten cruises the blurring city lights of past and present by sticking her head out the car window, reminiscing on and comforting her younger self before erupting into a geyser of passionate cries. Zooming past the jangly beat and deep piano chords, she creates a tune that is equally sentimental and carefree, valiant and brokenhearted.

 

  1. Dreezy, ‘RIP Aretha’

 

When reading the song title for Chicago rapper Dreezy’s recent single, one would likely picture a soulful, mourning tribute to the late, great Queen of Soul. That notion would be incorrect. ‘RIP Aretha’ is a trap-fused banger focused more on flexing than Franklin, and it is an outstanding one at that. Dreezy tears the beat to smithereens, bragging, teasing and threatening over woozy synths. Lyrics referencing Lemony Snicket, Jada Pinkett and everything in between are met with pounding bass and a vocal sample that sounds somewhat similar to gagging. The result is loud, in-your-face and unapologetically cocky, an invigorating mix that could work you up emotionally if you were not so busy bouncing around.

 

  1. Karen O & Danger Mouse, ‘Woman’

 

What do you get when you combine one of the best frontwomen and one of the best producers of the past decade? A slam dunk, obviously. From their upcoming collab-effort Lux Prima, ‘Woman’ is a testament to the duo’s separate and complementary talents. Danger Mouse’s production is as dynamic and well-crafted as always, melting into a vintage strut of muted synths, sharp drums and melodic chants. Karen O’s vocals are fiery and raw, careening from soft to animalistic to high-pitched, passionate wails as the track progresses. It’s a warrior cry for femininity and its lasting power, with O declaring, “Girl, you’ll make it / I’m a woman, what you see.” In a time of popular culture’s attempt to harness female liberation, ‘Woman’ is a daring addition and anthem for those told not to shout.

 

  1. Lana Del Rey, ‘hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it’

 

The self-proclaimed “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” is known by many for her smoky vocals, melancholy atmospheres and vintage-inspired lyrics, and ‘hope is a dangerous thing…’ is no different. References to Sylvia Plath and Charles Manson are littered throughout, and the track possesses a comfortably sombre tone. Del Rey’s voice is stronger than ever, though, alternating between rich velvet and breathy falsetto near its close. With current in-demand producer Jack Antonoff’s minimal staging, her lyrics are placed at the forefront, accompanied only by dark piano passages as she seems to focus in on every syllable. The risk of such skeletal instrumentation is a resounding emptiness, but ‘hope…’ feels full in every right. Rey conveys fierce emotions into an appealing power ballad, resulting in a piece that is equally heavy and entrancing.

 

  1. Boogie, ‘Silent Ride’

 

Compton rapper Boogie has some big shoes to fill. After three well-received mixtapes, he was recently signed to Eminem’s Shady Records and is set to release his debut studio album. If ‘Silent Ride’ is an accurate precedent, he is more than up for the challenge. Over rich, woodwind-like cries and a rattling beat, Boogie details an uncomfortable ride home after his girlfriend finds something on his phone that upsets her. He takes full blame, contemplating and asking for guidance on the catchy hook. It is melodic, thoughtful, and features excellent production from frequent collaborator Keyel. No ride home will ever be silent with this addictive, refreshing cut.

 

  1. Jade Bird, ‘I Get No Joy’

 

If singer-songwriter Jade Bird’s recent track had to come with a warning, it would likely be something like: Warning, this chorus will get in your head and never find its way out. For being a relative newcomer to the music scene, Bird knows how to write a behemoth of an earworm. Over bright acoustic strums and polished riffs, she circulates between rapid-fire syllable-spitting and careful intonations, rising and falling with grace. Her lyrics concern overthinking and its grip on her, and she wails against it with an optimistic fury. The track ebbs and flows naturally, busting into four choruses in its short run-time without feeling played out. It may seem excessive, but by the end, you’ll be disappointed it is over. ‘I Get No Joy’ is an excellent slice of folk-pop fantasy, and it will leave you saying quite the opposite of the title.

 

  1. Vampire Weekend, ‘Harmony Hall’

 

Vampire Weekend are here to challenge people. Their fans, specifically. After a six-year hiatus from their previous Grammy-winning album, frontman Ezra Koenig announced multiple two-song releases per month leading up to their new project, Father of the Bride. With the release of the first pair, he warned fans to throw all previous expectations out the window. It would be unsettling if ‘Harmony Hall’ wasn’t so wonderful. The band’s typical collegiate-inspired themes and indie-pop appeal are present, but the cut revels in a spring-like atmosphere and cryptic lyrics that could reference racist fraternities, anti-Semitism, an old dorm room, discontent and a wedding ceremony. The acoustic melody is instantly memorable, and the multitude of other instruments help to build a pastel, grainy snapshot of blooming flowers and bright grass among weathered stone walls and treacherous snakes. Sunny and nostalgic, ‘Harmony Hall’ is the perfect remedy to any January blues.

 

(All sources from featured artists’ Genius and Spotify pages)

For more track reviews:

Top 18 Tracks of 2018 

 

About the Writer
Jackson Wyatt, Digital Editor-in-Chief

"Writing has always been my biggest passion, and while I'm most comfortable writing fiction, East Highlights helps me fine-tune a lot of my skills."

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Top 10 Tracks – January 2019