Monthly Report: September 2014 Singles

1. Florida Georgia Line - "Dirt"
Florida Georgia Line's first album had 5 singles that were all huge on country radio and all pushed bro country to obnoxious new extremes, so I was pleasantly surprised when the lead single for the second album had a totally different vibe. They still have weird sneery voices, but this big corny power ballad really works for them to the point that I'm not even thinking about how some country singer I actually like could've done it better justice. Love that lead guitar line, especially, sounds like some Slash shit. Check out all these songs on my running favorite 2014 singles playlist on Spotify.

2. Jeremih f/ YG - "Don't Tell 'Em"
I'm pretty happy that Jeremih has a serious hit and is finally releasing an album, but I'm also glad that this has emerged as DJ Mustard's biggest pop crossover hit (and highest charting production besides "Rack City" so far). I guess it's a pretty derivative of Kid Ink's "Show Me" (which Jeremih co-wrote) but it's just better in every way -- the singing, the rapping, the beat, even the '90s song it interpolates.

3. Lupe Fiasco f/ Ty Dolla $ign - "Next To It"
As you may remember, it was less than a year ago that I got into a little Twitter beef with Lupe Fiasco for suggesting in print that over the years his music has become perpetually disappointing and underwhelming. I don't think this is a terribly rare opinion to express, but I guess he caught wind of it, shit happens. Every now and again, though, he does release a song that suggests to me that he's not doomed to make music that only his diehard fans can defend, and this song is pretty great. So many times when he engages in something commercially savvy it feels half-hearted or even trolling, and considering the way Atlantic Records just throws all their artists on tracks together even if they're not musically compatible at all, it's just a miracle that this song actually works. The beat is this weird skronky sax thing that Ty Dolla $ign co-produced with one of the Sa-Ra Creative Partners guys (not the one who worked on Frank Ocean's album, or the one who wore funny clothes next to Kanye, the other one). And Lupe actually sounds like he's having fun for once, putting his talent to use with some simple but really deftly executed wordplay and goofy punchlines.

4. Yo Gotti - "Errrbody"
I feel like Yo Gotti had been such a boring, underachieving B-list trap star for so long that nobody can even be bothered to notice that he's become a really consistent singles artist in the last two years ("I Got That Sack," "Act Right," "I Know," among others) and I Am was one of the better major label southern rap albums in recent memory. This song feels like it could either bring him up a notch or maybe it'll just be another underappreciated moderate hit, but it's pretty great. Kinda rides a repetitive lyrical structure in a similar way to "Next To It." But it's all hinged on this claustrophobic echo chamber of things people say on social media, which Yo Gotti sometimes responds to in his own addled Twitter logic while occasionally registering some actual insight ("errrbody need to be theyself/ errrbody famous, ain't no regular people left").

5. Taylor Swift - "Shake It Off"
I have no problem with Taylor Swift going full-on pop in the sense that most of her singles that I've really enjoyed were basically power pop songs with a perfunctory amount of country instrumentation ("You Belong With Me," "The Story Of Us," "Red"). But I hated 2 of the 3 Max Martin productions on her last album and still don't know whether this new Martin-heavy album will be great or awful. But "Shake It Off"  has grown on me pretty quickly. I listened to it twice the first day it was out and made my snarky tweets, but within 24 hours it had started getting stuck in my head, and even with some iffy lyrics and that cringe-inducing spoken bridge it's just a jam.

6. August Alsina f/ Jeezy - "Make It Home"
It's weird to write about my mixed feelings about August Alsina right after the poor guy apparently came out of a coma, but: I was never a fan of "I Luv This Shit," and in the year since that song blacketed R&B radio, his label has thrown out 5 follow-up singles that have all drifted around the lower reaches of the charts. "Make It Home" is one of those underachieving singles but in the last few months it's become a staple of the Baltimore and D.C. stations I listen to and it's the first time I've been really impressed with dude, pulls off the whole somber dramatic thing well with great production.

7. Elle Varner f/ A$AP Ferg - "Don't Wanna Dance"
Perfectly Imperfect was the shit, but unfortunately any non-superstar female R&B singer is just in industry purgatory these days, so she's been flinging out good singles for her second album for a minute with very little success, until this one, which is still not getting as much buzz as it deserves. Really feels like a great encapsulation of her whole persona, and works as a song beyond the nostalgia triggered by using that sample from Kanye's "We Don't Care." Even A$AP Ferg is a surprisingly good fit for the song, although him showing up on this a year after he had a minute of fame is kinda like when Trinidad James got to extend his brief career thanks to "I Luv This Shit."

8. Diggy f/ Trevor Jackson - "My Girl"
There's something distinctly depressing about Run from Run DMC's son having a middling career as a teen rapper who makes Drake-lite music. His flow on this is more baby Kendrick, though, and anyway this song jams, especially if you just ignore him and pretend it's Trevor Jackson's song.

9. J. Roddy Walston & The Business - "Take It As It Comes"
Very happy these guys finally got a rock radio breakthrough with "Heavy Bells," most Baltimore bands only every break through on an indie level but they're definitely a band that writes radio singles. The album still has a bunch of potential hits to me, so I'm glad they got a 2nd chart hit and I hope the label keeps pushing for a 3rd and 4th.

10. Twin Atlantic - "Heart And Soul"
It probably says something about my love of Scottish accents that I enjoy this generic rock song more than a lot of other generic rock songs on the radio right now just because the singer has a really thick accent. This is a catchy song, though.

Worst Single of the Month: Avenged Sevenfold - "This Means War"
It says something about the state of hard rock in America that Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart seems to exist now, paradoxically, as the less popular flipside of the Alternative Songs chart. And the biggest 'young' hard rock/metal bands in the decade since the rise of Nickelback and Linkin Park are bands with zero pop crossover like Avenged Sevenfold, who are basically some kind of weird embarrassing metalcore version of '80s Sunset Strip hair metal. But this single (Avenged Sevenfold's 10th top 5 song on the Mainstream Rock chart) is just the most hilarious thing they've ever done, because it's this weirdly meticulous recreation of every single element of Metallica's "Sad But True" into a new song. It doesn't have the same melody or lyrics, but every riff, every vocal cadence, every drum fill seems designed much like a "Weird Al" Yankovic 'style parody' of the Metallica song, only the comedy isn't intentional.
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