5. Anderson Paak – “Come Down”
“Come Down” is something of a black sheep on Anderson Paak’s sophomore album Malibu. Much of the album can be categorized as either baby-making assistance or uplifting soul, but “Come Down” is a funky dance track on which Anderson Paak channels the grit of James Brown. It’s a classic “fuck the haters” anthem that rides a walloping bass groove. At around three minutes in length, “Come Down” is as pithy as it is inspiring: do what you love, do it well, and when people come to knock you down, dance them away.
4. Solange – “Cranes in the Sky”
Whether viewed as a song about coping with depression or a song about dealing with the world as a Black woman, there’s a universality to Solange’s sentiments in “Cranes in the Sky”—the way the towering machines block out the blue skyline, the common futility of addressing the obstructing sadness with sex or material objects, and the necessity of rebuilding oneself in order to truly see the entire scope of that skyline. The achingly beautiful strings form a backdrop for Solange’s buttery and dynamic vocals, culminating in a track whose immense power lies in its hushed reticence.
3. James Blake – “Timeless”
On his latest album, the surprise release The Colour in Anything, James Blake perfected the obscure art of the morose club banger. Against all logic, “Timeless” pulsates with a dark yet pounding energy even as Blake’s eerie, droning croon bemoans that “You know you slide out when you slide in with graceful shadow.” The song climaxes in a discordant pile-up of artifice: a foreboding, bassy foundation beneath a layer of blaring retro synths and a yelping alarm tone. “Timeless” is urgent, bleak, and tortured, but utterly intoxicating as it strangely gives way to movement. Some might call that movement dancing.
2. Childish Gambino – “Redbone”
“Redbone” is one of the grooviest songs about the heartbreak of infidelity since the Motown classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” from the late 1960s. The synths are splashy, the bassline kicks like a shotgun, and Donald Glover’s pitchy falsetto cuts through the sexy, lush funk tapestry like a sharp diamond slicing through silk fabric. Without question, “Redbone” is the best song Donald Glover has ever written and produced under his Childish Gambino moniker.
1. Radiohead – “Burn the Witch”
With apical strings reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s legendary Psycho score, “Burn the Witch” is one of the most unnerving songs in Radiohead’s repertoire, and the highlight of their already-exceptional ninth album A Moon Shaped Pool. Sonically, the naturalistic instrumentation is a stark contrast from Kid A, the band’s opus, but lead guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood has never been one to shy away from experimentation. The song’s central theme of scapegoating—as we Americans once practiced in the form of witch hunts, and then many times after throughout the nation’s brief history—is all-too relevant now considering who the recently-inaugurated 45th President of the United States is. Given the song’s release in May of last year, one could look back on “Burn the Witch” as a warning of things to come, or perhaps just a reflection of our present through the lens of our past. Socially relevant, foreboding, and stirringly gorgeous, “Burn the Witch” displays the best tenets of Radiohead’s creative process: audaciousness, a yearning for inventiveness, and a keen understanding of their own acclaim and the expectations levied on them. “Burn the Witch” meets, if not surpasses, those expectations.
All songs can be found on this Spotify playlist, including ten honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut.