2018’s first batch of singles carries the promise of another superb musical year.
“Calion” — Anna Meredith
By Adam Ramos, Scene Editor
In her latest record, 2016’s spectacular “Varmints,” Scottish producer/composer Anna Meredith established herself as a leading and innovative voice within the electronic dance scene. Since then, Meredith has continued to excel both in and out of the confines of the genre. Her latest release, “Calion,” comes as part of Adult Swim’s single series and showcases her unmatched gift for weaving polyrhythmic beats around ominous synth environments.
The track is separated into three distinct segments, each singled by a chaotic build and drop. The first phase begins subtly, with a constant bass beat accompanied by a bubbly organ progression and light, dancing snyths. From there, the track opens up, as playful snyths turn into violent sirens. The ambiance darkens as the buildup swells to the final drop. Finally, when the energy of the track is at its highest, Meredith lets us have it with a huge euphoric drop, fizzling to oblivion.
While the track is a thrill, the noticeable absence of Meredith’s vocals and pop sensibilities, a pivotal component to the success of “Varmints,” makes it feel more like a teaser than a stand-alone single. For now, the wait continues.
“The Middle” — Zedd, Maren Morris, Grey
By Matthew Munhall, Scene Writer
Maren Morris is responsible for one of my favorite debut albums of the past few years, 2016’s “Hero.” On her breakthrough hit “My Church,” she sings with a twang about driving down the highway listening to the music of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Yet, Morris is far from a country traditionalist, blurring the boundaries between genres on songs like the synthpop-indebted “80s Mercedes” and the gospel-tinged “Once.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that fresh off a number-one hit on country radio, Morris has collaborated on a song with EDM producers Zedd and Grey. Music critic Liz Pelly has argued that Spotify’s focus on algorithm-driven playlists — especially ones designed as background music for a specific mood or activity — reflects the streaming service’s “ambition to turn all music into emotional wallpaper.” “The Middle” seems perfectly calibrated toward this end, a bright, melodic EDM track that is pleasantly inoffensive (and suspiciously derivative of Zedd’s own “Stay,” his collaboration with Alessia Cara from last year, down to the ticking-clock percussion).
Is “The Middle” a good song? I honestly don’t know, but I’ve had it playing as background music for the past 24 hours.
“Tonya Harding” — Sufjan Stevens
By Owen Lane, Scene Writer
Sufjan Stevens, known for quirky musical concepts and downright strange performances, delivered a surprising spurt of music at the end of 2017. He released a collection of outtakes and unreleased tracks from the recordings of his tremendous 2015 album “Carrie and Lowell.” His original song “Mystery of Love,” written for Luca Guadagnino’s acclaimed film “Call Me By Your Name,” has earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. However, Stevens’ best work of the entire year came with the sudden release of a song about notorious figure skating legend Tonya Harding. Tonya Harding’s reaction was hardly positive, but the song, which Stevens’ admittedly ruminated on writing for years, serves as the perfect microcosm of Sufjan’s entire musical style.
Stevens released two different versions of the track (one in D major and one in Eb major), with each version emphasizing a different aspect of Harding’s incredible story. “Tonya Harding (in D major)” echoes with synthesizers and percussion, considering the skater’s tragic arc within the world’s treasured Olympic mythology. “Tonya Harding (in Eb major)” is far more spare and heartbreaking, and it forces the listeners to consider the mistake of a flawed human being that is really no different from anyone else. Once again, the artist who has vowed to make an album for all 50 states in the U.S. has found gold in his niche genre that is at once uncomfortably personal, biographical and populist at the same time.
“God’s Plan” — Drake
By Ryan Israel, Scene Writer
You know an artist has a firm grasp on the industry when the release of only two singles can lead the entirety of a genre’s fans to plug in their headphones and listen as soon as possible. That’s exactly what happened with Drake’s “God’s Plan,” which was unexpectedly released on Jan. 20 before going on to break Spotify’s record for most streams in a day.
The track feels incredibly familiar to followers of the Toronto rapper, as his illustrious voice breaks out over the mysterious beat early in the song. Drake glides over the Noah “40” Shebib produced beat while dropping relatable and moving lyrics. The Grammy-winning singer reflects on all those haters who pray for his downfall. Drake, however, trusts that his own prayers will reinforce God’s plan for him.
The ballad also contains words that party-goers can shout at the top of their lungs, most notably the understandable anecdote, “She say, ‘Do you love me?’ I tell her, ‘Only partly’ / I only love my bed and my momma, I’m sorry.” “God’s Plan,” coupled with “Diplomatic Immunity,” comprise the “Scary Hours” EP, which lets all music fans know that Drake is not slowing down, and more poetic hits can be expected in 2018.
“Pirouette” — Jay Som
By Molly Chen, Scene Writer
Last year, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Melina Duterte, better known as Jay Som, graced indie enthusiasts with what some have called the best album of 2017. “Everybody Works” saw tremendous success among music fans before being named No. 21 on NPR’s 50 Best Albums of 2017 and No. 1 on Paste Magazine’s list. What listeners may not have previously known is that the sessions that yielded such enthralling tunes like “The Bus Song” and “Take It” also produced two tracks that didn’t quite make the cut for the full length album — perhaps because they were so exceptional.
On Jan. 11, Jay Som released single “Pirouette,” an “Everybody Works” leftover that bears clear resemblances to the sophomore album. Starting out with spirited chord progressions over drums, “Pirouette” maintains all of the guitar-driven characteristics that we heard in previous tracks like “1 Billion Dogs” before introducing Duterte’s gentle and soothing vocals. Filled with the vulnerable musings that epitomize Jay Som, the track may feel familiar to fans of “Everybody Works.” Delivering lyrics about feelings spinning out of control, “Pirouette” is an intimate track that is sure to recruit new fans and appeal to anyone who enjoyed “Everybody Works.” “Pirouette” is to be released with another song from the “Everybody Works” sessions, “O.K., Meet Me Underwater,” as a 7” single on Jan. 26.
“King’s Dead” — Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake
By Maggie Walsh, Scene Writer
You only have to listen to a few seconds of “King’s Dead” to get infected by this fast-paced and powerful collaboration between Jay Rock, Future, James Blake and Kendrick Lamar. “King’s Dead” was released as the second single off the Lamar-curated “Black Panther” soundtrack, and it certainly sets a high standard for the remainder of the album.
Lamar’s verses serve as the catchy foundation for the song, but the other artists really make the song stand out. Jay Rock’s verse is full of clever wordplay (“I reign all day / You know, confetti”), while Future pays falsetto homage to Three 6 Mafia’s late ’90s hit “Slob on My Knob.” Then, just as the track reaches what feels like a critical point, everything falls away as James Blake’s veil of ghostly, psychedelic vocals descends. Blake clears the air for Lamar to return for a final, frenzied verse, into which he even manages to squeeze a relevant “Black Panther” reference (“All hail King Killmonger”).
“Red light, green light, red light, green light, they like, we like fast cars.” To the very end, “King’s Dead” is a high-speed car chase, and it will have you listening, on repeat, insatiable, for weeks.