A powerful examination into the state of race relations and racial tensions in America right now. Chicago MC Noname’s ‘Blaxploitation’ is littered with flashes of lyrical genius. Simultaneously autobiographical and allegorical, Noname jostles between delving into her own experience as a black woman and criticising the stereotypes which plague society at large. Oh yeah, last but not least, the jazz instrumental is absolutely blistering.
me and my dog
Three rising North American songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus combined their powers as Boygenius and my, is it a potent collaboration. ‘Me & My Dog’ is the highlight, drawing on the strengths of each. It’s a track that achingly moves from young love to heartbreak (“I wanna hear one song without thinking of you / I wish I was on a spaceship / Just me and my dog and an impossible view”) and does so with tones of country, melodic folk, indie and singer-songwriter strands.
‘Charcoal Baby’ is indicative of Dev Hynes’ Negro Swan as a whole, in that it is a realistic look at a sense of self. “When you wake up / It’s not the first thing that you wanna know / Can you still count / All of the reasons that you’re not alone?” Hynes sings with his trademark shimmering haze and nuanced production. The guitar riff is the hook that brings you back. Hynes has found his place in the music world that he alone occupies while exploring his place in the world at large.
The first highlight on this list from Honey, the title track captures a lot of Robyn’s trademark euphoria as well as an absolute earworm.
The Dublin rapper Kojaque arrived with heart, soul, grit and truth on his outstanding Deli Daydreams album this year, The mini-album’s opener ‘White Noise’ rages with anger and societal frustration at class divide set to some mournful strings taking in “weekly standups in the streets with Síochána” and aiming vitriol at a country “that leaves abortions to the backstreets.”
A highlight from the Arklow singer’s most excellent year in a while, ‘The Rumble’ features on the last of four 12” releases produced by Maurice Fulton. As with many of the dance-friendly tracks released by Murphy this year, the song takes a while to get under the skin with its call and response vocals, but by the time the backing vocals kick in, its earworm status is complete. Roisín can sing a tune time and time again and this is her THIRD song on this list this year.
Nice for What
Drake’s seemingly invincible streak took a bit of a knock this year, thanks to both Pusha T and the largely disappointing Scorpion. ‘Nice For What’ is the MC’s finest solo work alongside ‘God’s Plan’, partly because it’s built on samples of Lauryn Hill’s robust and soulful ‘Ex-Factor’ and New Orleans bounce music.
Schoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz and Saudi
According to the stats, my most-played tune of the year and another Black Panther album highlight. A hype anthem that has Kendrick willing the energy to hit 10, the song has Schoolboy Q delivering one of the best lines of the year in “not even Kendrick can Humble me,” a low-slung dragging rhythm and one that repeated for days this year.
Nervous Tics (feat. Holly Walker)
Maribou State are maestros at blending organic instruments with an electronic production style. ‘Nervous Tics’ falls right in that sweet spot between indie and dance. Holly Walker’s impassioned vocals are washed out beneath a filter and the plucky guitar riff duets with a fuzzy synth melody. Bridging the gap between dance, R&B and pop music ‘Nervous Tics’ is a keeper.
Opal (Four Tet Remix)
Songs can’t be divorced from context and this Four Tet remix of a song from Belfast duo Bicep’s self-titled album, was one that worked in DJ sets and open-air arenas all over this year – from Body&Soul to Primavera Sound to headphones listens to Lumo Club, ‘Opal’ brings tightrope energy to a polychromatic synth release that marches forward determined to slay all in its uplifting path.