Monthly Report: June 2013 Singles

1. Fantasia f/ Kelly Rowland and Missy Elliott - "Without Me"
I've already raved about Fantasia's album, and many recent singles produced by Harmony Samuels (by Ariana Grande, Sevyn Streeter, Keyshia Cole and others), but this song in particular is just incredible: lush and skeletal at the same time in a way that just sounds amazing in the car in the middle of the summer. I also just love the seething, imperious tone of the song, which all three vocalists nail in different but equally perfect ways. I'm curious if Missy wrote this -- obviously, she has a writing credit, but I don't know if it's just for her verse or if she came up with the hook and the concept and everything, which would make sense, it feels like it could've been one of those killer R&B deep cuts on her early albums. Listen to all of these on the Spotify playlist of my favorite 2013 singles.

2. Alicia Keys f/ Maxwell - "Fire We Make"
Maxwell's Blacksummers'night was a masterpiece, and it's really kinda driven me nuts that it's taken him 4 years and counting to continue what was supposed to be a trilogy of albums released in fairly closely together. So it's nice that there's at least been a little new music from him lately -- a great but far too short snippet of a new song called "Gods," and this duet where he predictably outsings and outclasses Leeshakeez, while still maintaining some semblance of aesthetic compatibility, if not chemistry per se. I haven't heard much by Gary Clark, Jr., but his cracked squealing guitar solo at the end of this song really does put a nice cap on it. Another great production from Pop & Oak, who did amazing work last year with Miguel and Elle Varner.

3. Paramore - "Still Into You"
This is a perfect power pop song, which in proud power pop tradition means it is just out of step enough with actual trends in both pop radio and rock radio to not be much of a hit, which is frustrating. Especially because that other emo comeback act with a recent #1 album, Fall Out Boy, have managed a big Top 40 hit with something I don't like as much or consider remotely as accessible. Here's hoping "Ain't It Fun" is the next single and becomes the massive crossover hit it deserves to be.

4. Gloriana - "Can't Shake You"
This has been a serious serious sleeper hit on country radio -- it recently peaked on Billboard's country airplay chart in its 37th week on the chart, but it never quite got into the top 10, and has already started to wane. Really hits the same kind of vibe as Lady Antebellum's best singles, which is nice since their own recent singles have been garbage.

5. The Neighbourhood - "Sweater Weather"
After years of old-ass '90s bands running alt-rock radio, there's a lot of new blood these days, but that's not always a good thing. It feels like now the rock charts are constantly being dominated by these random new bands (as in, like newer than Imagine Dragons even) like Capital Cities, New Politics, Atlas Genius that I really can't be bothered to learn much about or even muster any real hate for besides changing the station when they come on. This song has grown on me, though, ironically hitting its stride just as sweater weather was ending. It really seemed to come out of nowhere, though -- it hit #1 on the Alternative chart before I really could hum it, and right after that was when my local rock station started running 'new music' bumpers featuring the song.

6. Brad Paisley - "Beat This Summer"
Where "Sweater Weather" ended up kind of taking so long to peak that it missed the perfect seasonal timing, Paisley managed to calibrate things pretty well with "Beat This Summer." I remember hearing the song on the radio for the first time in early March and thinking he jumped the gun, but here we are in June and it's saturating the airwaves at just the right time.

7. Nicki Minaj f/ Lil Wayne - "High School"
One thing that I think has been glossed over a bit in all the debates and thinkpieces about Nicki Minaj 'going pop' is that it actually didn't work out that well for her to focus on Top 40 instead of urban radio. "Starships" was as big a pop hit as "Super Bass," but her second album sold half as much as her first. And the big difference, I think, was that Pink Friday had 5 big urban radio hits, and Roman Reloaded only had one. "High School" is not exactly a real rap mea culpa, but it definitely feels like one of the only songs suited to the format that she's had in a while, and her first verse is some of the best plain old rapping with no crazy accents or vocal pyrotechnics that she's ever done, she just tells a story with enough attitude and personality to make it compelling. Of course, this song has already started to lose steam at radio, but it really is good.

8. Emeli Sande - "Next To Me"
I guess she's big in England, which as usual means I'm happy to ignore her until a song is big in the U.S. and good enough to grab me by the lapels and win me over. A little basic and saccharine (is she their Alicia Keys?), but the heft of the production really works.

9. Tim McGraw f/ Taylor Swift and Keith Urban - "Highway Don't Care"
I still can only handle Taylor Swift in small doses, a single here or there, so I like when she has these little minor cameos in songs like this and John Mayer's "Half of My Heart" that really flatter her voice. I also like how Keith Urban has a 3rd wheel guitar solo on the vocal duet just like Gary Clark, Jr. on the Alicia/Maxwell song.

10. Leah Labelle - "Lolita"
With Pharrell suddenly ubiquitous again thanks to Robin Thicke and Daft Punk, big stars are actually looking to him for hits for the first time in years, and it's quickly becoming apparent that his batting average hasn't improved much. But this is a decent single from an early American Idol also-ran who had another good overlooked Pharrell-produced single last year.

Worst single of the month: B.o.B. f/ T.I. and Juicy J - "We Still In This Bitch"
Mike Will Made It has had a really incredible string of hits over the past year, to the point that I've literally had one of his productions in these posts every month for 6 months straight -- "Neva End" then "Show Out" then "Bugatti" then "Kisses Down Low" then "Love Me" then "Body Party." So it seems like time to admit that he can do wrong, and while the Miley Cyrus single is really probably the worst pop hit of the year, I feel like singling this one out because I'm just appalled that B.o.B's return to rap radio was more craven and pandering than his pop crossover, and that urban radio actually welcomed him back. The production isn't even any good, it sounds like Mike started making a beat and then they laid their verses before he got around to finishing it.
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