Monthly Report: May 2014 Singles

1. Tinashe f/ ScHoolboy Q - "2 On"
At the inevitable point a few months ago when the DJ Mustard sound started crossing over from rap to R&B, I was really not enjoying hearing overexposed guys like Trey Songz and Chris Brown oversing on hard, brittle Mustard drums. It just seemed like a terrible combination. But then this song gives me hope, both for the capacity of singers, especially female singers, to sound good on those beats, and for Mustard's versatility. There's so many little sounds in this track, it's just amazingly detailed for a guy who initially got over with sparse, hard-hitting minimalism. And Tinashe hits like 6 different vocal melodies that all sound great over that groove. Also fuck the version of this with Drake and his beardy friend so much, totally ruins the song, but hey maybe it's helping the original break through on radio at least. Check out my Spotify playlist of favorite singles of 2014 so far.

2. Ed Sheeran - "Sing"
I had no idea who did this song the first few times I heard it on the radio, and wouldn't have guessed it was Sheeran, which is probably the best way to open up your ears to it. It's a little ridiculous to hear this British ginger folkie go in the studio with Pharrell and turn out a better Timberlake track than anything on Justin's last album, but hey, if Justified happened mainly because Michael Jackson didn't want Pharrell's tracks, there's kinda some history repeating here. This has some cringe-inducing lyrics but, hey, so did "Like I Love You." Although actually the guitar in this reminds me more of "Long Train Running" than anything else.

3. K. Michelle - "Can't Raise A Man"
This song was the one holdover from K. Michelle's 2012 mixtape that made it onto her proper debut album in 2013, and it really is a great one, worthy of its long road to becoming a radio hit. For all of K. Michelle's well-earned reputation as the trashy queen of 'ratchet' R&B, she can actually write a smart, novel, well-observed song about gender relations like this while her male counterparts like Ty Dolla $ign come off like cavemen.

4. Lil Boosie and Webbie f/ Kiara - "Show The World"
There's something a little frustrating about Boosie having been home for 2, going on 3 months now and there hasn't really been a whole lot of new music yet (although if that scheduled album does drop in July, I won't begrudge the lack of a mixtape or anything). And it's just kind of funny to have this song, which was released shortly before he got out of jail, and must have been recorded back in 2009 or something, become the first big hit of his return. But it's really grown on me, and nicely sums up how Boosie's music tends to be a lot more earnest and wholesome and plainspoken than he gets credit for. And he ended up cutting a remix with K. Michelle that both improves the singing on the hook and gives you a good basis for how 2014 Boosie sounds different from pre-prison Boosie.

5. Neon Trees - "Sleeping With A Friend"
Neon Trees are in that kind of awkward space pop-leaning bands can get into where the lead singles off of each of their first 2 albums was a big crossover hit, but they don't really have much of an established identity beyond those songs, and it feels like a lot rides on them being able to keep making big hits. And it's a shame that both their third album, the awesomely titled Pop Psychology, and this lead single don't seem to be hitting very big, because they depart a little bit from the sound of "Animal" and "Everybody Talks," while frontman Tyler Glenn has recently come out of the closet and given the band maybe a bit more of a human identity. This song seems to be hanging onto the charts for a good while, though, hopefully it can pull of sleeper hit status.

6. Magic! - "Rude"
The singer of Magic! reminds me so much of the singer of Neon Trees that when I first heard "Rude" on the radio, mere days after listening to the new Neon Trees album, I kinda did a doubletake like "wait, they have a new song that's not on the album?" This is a nice catchy song, although the more I see this skeevy-looking band's video and contemplate the idea of a Canadian reggae pop hit, the harder it is to totally get behind it.

7. Lana Del Rey - "West Coast"
I consider myself to be good at separating the song from the artist, and being able to enjoy something even if I didn't like what they've made in the past, I really think that's a key component to loving pop music and not being a closed-minded rockist auteurist. And sometimes that principle is tested when I find myself having to admit that I really dig, say, a new Lana Del Rey song produced by the guy from the Black Keys. This is pretty good, though, seems to get across her single-minded overcooked aesthetic better than usual, and I really like the washed out surf rock noir sound of the track, which actually reminds me a lot of restrained mid-'90s Sonic Youth ("Skink" in particular), when it's not reminding me of Stevie Nicks ("ooh baby, ooh baby") or the New Radicals ("you've got the music in you").

8. Bear Hands - "Giants"
Minor alt-rock radio hit with cringe-inducing lyrics referencing ODB but a really great central riff and some cool, bombastic production.

9. Ingrid Michaelson - "Girls Chase Boys"
Never thought much of her previous songs that hit big on the VH1/"Grey's Anatomy" circuit, but this one really feels like an impressive crossover moment with a ton of huge hooks and sly turns of phrase. No points for being the billionth music video to attempt to play off of those Robert Palmer vids, though.

10. Naughty Boy f/ Sam Smith - "La La La"
Sam Smith seems to be getting set up as the new male Adele, although I'm a bit skeptical, mostly because he's got this weird trembling voice and his solo single, "Stay With Me," totally bites the chorus of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down." But at the moment he seems to be getting more traction with his dance collaborations, Disclosure's "Latch" and this, which uses his odd overdramatic voice to good effect as he literally impersonates a whining little kid and a goofy vocal sample plays in the background, and the producer's name is 'Naughty Boy' fer chrissakes. Really highly silly song, but I like it.

Worst Single of the Month: K Camp f/ 2 Chainz - "Cut Her Off"
There's never been a perfect way to navigate listening to rap while being against misogyny, but in general I've been able to feel comfortable listening to a lot of questionable rap by at least feeling like it was sex-positive and not really anti-women even when it wasn't especially respectful of women. But there's really been a rash of songs on the radio lately, from "Loyal" to "I Won" to especially "Cut Her Off," that just seem awful on so many levels and make me change the station instantly. "Cut Her Off" is especially bad because K Camp's previous single seemed a lot catchier and it kinda mystifies me why this ugly and not very good song seems to be blowing up so much bigger.
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