Monthly Report: May 2016 Singles
1. Maxwell - "Lake By The Ocean"
In 2009, Maxwell returned from an 8-year hiatus with a new album that he promised was part of a trilogy that he'd be rolling out in quick succession. Fast forward 7 years, and we're just now finally getting the 2nd album in that series. And perhaps the silliest thing about this protracted wait is that he released the single "Lake By The Ocean," which he'd been mentioning for months or years, just after a goofy song called "Cake By The Ocean" was a massive pop hit. I love both songs, though. "Lake By The Ocean" isn't the instant smash "Pretty Wings" was, and I've heard some R&B fans kind of dismiss it, but I love its gentle groove and the subtly weird effects or triggers going on with the hi-hats, Maxwell records always tend to have these really understated creative production touches that reward repeat listening. Here's my favorite 2016 singles playlist on Spotify.
2. Eric Church - "Record Year"
Mr. Misunderstood was pretty much country music's first high profile 'surprise' album, and if it has any function as a test case, it would seem to indicate that surprise releases are not a good idea for country artists. Eric Church had already kinda peaked in popularity, but this album has still performed terribly by any measure -- hasn't gone gold in 6 months, and the first two singles both missed the top 10 on the country airplay charts. And it's a shame because "Record Year" is a fantastic song that deserves to be one of his bigger hits, putting a little more emotional resonance into the record collection namechecking that was also all over "Mr. Misunderstood."
3. Dreezy f/ Jeremih - "Body"
This song took a while to grow on me but it really does have that iridescent joyful quality that Jeremih brings more than almost anyone else in popular music these days. but Dreezy still really maintains ownership of the song and doesn't get Natalie La Rose'd on her own track. The best part is that spoken "you gon' catch a body if you ain't careful" part of the chorus that feels like it was just ad libbed but then they looped it and kind of created a place for it in the melody, that's just some brilliant songwriting.
4. Rihanna - "Kiss It Better"
I included "Kiss It Better" in my piece for Complex earlier this month predicting songs of the summer, but to be honest it's already looking a little like wishful thinking -- Rihanna's other single released simultaneously to R&B radio, "Needed Me," is doing much better on the charts, and her new song with Calvin Harris seems like it's quickly taken "Kiss It Better"'s spot on pop radio. I really love this song, though, I think it's by far the best thing she's done this whole album cycle. I dig the way the trilling hi-hats accent the melody, "Dangerous Woman" does that a bit too, puts a fresh twist on something that had become kind of a production cliche.
5. Troye Sivan - "Youth"
A teen YouTube celebrity mewling "my youth, my youth, my youth is yours" probably shouldn't be as rousing and enjoyable as this is. When he performed on the Billboard Music Awards the other night, my wife, who had never heard the song before, turned to me and said "this is a weird premise for a song, I feel like he's talking about a vampire."
6. Justin Timberlake - "Can't Stop The Feeling!"
This song really seems to mark the point where Justin Timberlake has completely ceased to be cool, and it really kinda seems like he's doing it on purpose, even though the world really enjoyed him being cool and wanted him to keep it up. That really started with "Suit & Tie" but this is the decisive point where he's just a total and literal dad, and honestly I'm not mad at it -- you've got Bieber, Zayn, Nick Jonas and who knows how many other guys following his Justified-era career model right now, so he might as well become something else. But as sick as I was of his repetitive work with Timbaland, this song at least sounds a little fresh and a little different, ironically because it marks Justin's first work in 16 years with Max Martin, who did a few early N Sync hits. I'm sure I'll get good and sick of this song once it reaches the "Happy" levels of ubiquity it seems destined for, but for now I enjoy it.
7. Yo Gotti f/ E-40 - "Law"
The first time I ever heard E-40 was when he popped up on the Cash Money posse cut "Baller Blockin'," and even then he had the air of this regional rap elder statesman who wasn't that famous but could pop up on anybody's track at any time. So it's crazy that he's still on that wave a whole 15 or 16 years later, appearing on a giant hit by Big Sean and more recently moderate hits by Yo Gotti and Ty Dolla $ign. I didn't expect "Law" to be as big as it is, just because it's kind of just another Yo Gotti song and not a crossover slam dunk like "Down In The DM," but I'm glad it's doing well.
8. Clare Dunn - "Tuxedo"
This song has been hanging around the lower reaches of the country charts, but the first time I heard it wasn't on a country station, and it didn't even register as a country song, it just sounded like a pop hit. Generally saying that kind of thing comes across as a knock, but it's just a really catchy song, I feel like they could change the reference to George Strait and pretty easily work this to Top 40 or adult contemporary radio, it got stuck in my head all morning the first time I heard it.
9. Kelsea Ballerini - "Peter Pan"
A while back I heard a song on the radio with a whole Peter Pan metaphor and really liked it, but then I heard it again a few weeks later and hated it. Then I realized that it was two totally different songs, and that I hated Ruth B's "Lost Boy" but enjoyed Kelsea Ballerini's "Peter Pan."
10. Muse - "Reapers"
Muse are a pretty goofy band who are often unbearable, but I find myself enjoying their really ridiculous bombastic songs like "Knights of Cydonia" or "Panic Station." And "Reapers" falls pretty well into that tradition, the guitar solo is just kind of hilarious but I feel like they're having fun playing with these over-the-top sounds and it's infectious.
The Worst Single of the Month: The Strumbellas - "Spirits"
These kinds of hippie singalongs have become increasingly common on alt-rock radio in the last few years, and I don't even reflexively dislike them all. But man, this song is just awful, maybe as bad as Sheppard's "Geronimo."