Monthly Report: April 2015 Singles

1. Tori Kelly - "Nobody Love" 
Much like with my instant infatuation with the new Jason Derulo song last month, this is one I only heard for the first time the other day but felt strongly about right off the bat. I'd seen Tori Kelly's name on the charts for a while recently but had no idea who she was -- apparently she's one of those YouTube cover singers who got signed, and she already had one major label album that went nowhere. But now she has a Max Martin-produced single and it's pretty great without reminding me overtly of any past Max Martin hit -- he's never really done much with singers with big soulful voices and this song makes great use of Tori Kelly's, letting her build big to the last chorus. Listen to my Spotify playlist of favorite 2015 singles.

2. Foo Fighters - "Congregation"
If "Something From Nothing" was the weakest first single in the Foo Fighters' unusually strong line of first singles, then "Congregation" makes up for it a bit by being one of their best second singles. Just one of those big triumphant anthems that I always enjoy playing air drums to. I like the part of the bridge where Dave Grohl says "DO YOU HAVE BLIND FAITH!?" over and over because I imagine he yelled that at a record store clerk in a deleted scene from the "Sonic Highways" show.

3. Pitbull & Ne-Yo - "Time Of Our Lives"
Ne-Yo has had a really unnecessary amount of anxiety about doing dance pop -- his songs in that vein have been way better than Usher's or Chris Brown's, and you don't see those guys wringing their hands about it in every interview. There's even a song on Ne-Yo's latest album where a woman says to him, "I know your music, I prefer your old shit to your new shit/ That song with Pitbull that was kinda cool, but after that you went left and I couldn't fuck with you." Thankfully, that doesn't stop him from also having a new collaboration with Pitbull that's almost as good as the great "Give Me Everything." I like that both artists get enough of the spotlight on the song for it to be on both of their albums, it's mostly a Pitbull track but Ne-Yo's "everybody's goin' through somethin'" bridge really raises the whole thing to another level.

4. Rae Sremmurd f/ Nicki Minaj and Young Thug - "Throw Sum Mo"
I wasn't as big on "No Type" as a lot of people, but it's pretty inarguable that Rae Sremmurd are 3 for 3 with their first trio of singles, which is always a rare achievement but especially in rap these days, and it seems possible for them to get to 4 with this album ("Up Like Trump" is apparently the next single, I always hoped it would be "This Could Be Us"). When I first wrote about "No Flex Zone" last year, I mentioned that Rae Sremmurd sounded to me like the first new rappers that were probably influenced by Young Thug, so it's fun to hear them hold their own on a track with him. Slim Jxmmi's first verse is probably his standout moment in their catalog, but Swae Lee still manages to upstage him like he usually does with the crazy sing-song riff at the beginning of his verse. There's so much to enjoy on this song that it almost makes sense to limit Nicki Minaj's role to a bored-sounding hook girl, although that's still a weird decision.

5. One Direction - "Night Changes"
For all their success here, U.S. radio has really not had much use for One Direction -- this song is their 3rd biggest radio hit, distantly behind "Story Of My Life," which was itself a distant 2nd to "What Makes You Beautiful," and pretty much everything else has only charted from downloads. I initially didn't think much of this song and kind of resented it being a single -- I love so many deep cuts on Four and this is still only maybe my 9th favorite song on the album. But then the heartbreaking poignance of the lyric hit me ("everything you've ever dreamed of, disappearing when you wake up," holy shit that line makes me wanna cry), and I came to love it. And that was before Zayn, who sings the opening of the song, left the group, and it kind of became the swan song of his tenure of the group.

6. Calvin Harris f/ Ellie Goulding - "Outside"
Ellie Goulding isn't that big a star that she has songs out constantly, so it's weird that this is the second time she's kind of had a solo single in direct competition with a Calvin Harris collaboration. Before, I rooted for her "Burn" over Harris's "I Need Your Love," but now I'm rooting for the Harris track "Outside" over "Love Me Like You Do," which is currently the far bigger hit. EDM pop songs always have these big synth lines that seem to fight to justify the producer's equal billing with the singer, and Calvin Harris always has some of the best ones, this song's synth hook is almost as great as the instrumental parts of "Sweet Nothing." And I admit that very grudgingly, because Calvin Harris used to be the most embarrassing person in the world.

7. Mary J. Blige - "Doubt"
Rodney Jerkins has been turning out Mary J. Blige's blandest material for so long that it amused me that he still managed to muscle his way onto The London Sessions, an album all about her getting a fresh start with a new slate of collaborators from another country. I picture Darkchild hearing about the album and jumping on the next flight to London to make sure he doesn't lose a major client. But hey, "Doubt" is one of the clear standouts on the album, so he earned his keep.

8. Robert DeLong - "Long Way Down"
This song has been big on alt-rock radio for the last few months, kinda reminds me of the goofy synth pop that was big on alternative radio in the late '90s, but there are some production touches that feel very current.

9. Train - "Bulletproof Picasso"
I remain music criticism's biggest Train apologist, especially now that they've got Butch Walker producing and co-writing a lot of their stuff. It's easy to hear how it would've been probably better as a Walker track, but it's pretty good as is, love the piano line.

10. Action Bronson f/ Chance The Rapper - "Baby Blue"
I had a great moment a few weeks ago of leaving work, getting in the car, and immediately hearing Chance The Rapper's voice on the radio for the first time and feeling absolutely elated. 2 years after Acid Rap, I'd kinda gotten used to the idea that that would probably never happen, so it was interesting to finally get that moment from him on a song with a peer that he's worked with before as opposed to one of those superstar collaborations with Lil Wayne or Madonna or Justin Bieber that he's been doing. I still really have no use for Action Bronson, bleating "why you gotta act like a bitch" and sounding even more like Eric Cartman than before, but Chance just steals the track and singlehandedly makes it worthwhile.

Worst Single of the Month: Jordin Sparks - "How Bout Now (Remix)"
Drake makes some alright songs, but he continues to shit up the airwaves with so many of the worst songs on the radio that I could really put him in this spot almost every month if I had no restraint. And "How Bout Now" is possibly a career nadir, just the whiniest, pettiest, most annoying, most Drake thing he's ever done. But let me talk about a totally unnecessary remix of it instead. In 2011, there was something kind of fresh and exciting about JoJo getting radio spins with a remix of Drake's "Marvins Room" from a female perspective. But the Jordin Sparks version of "How Bout Now" feels like another former teen pop star trying to recreate that exact moment, much less memorably, and this version of the song has had its own chart entry and has been bouncing around the lower reaches of the R&B airplay charts for 2 months now.
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