CHRIS TALBOTT’S PICKS
1. DRAKE, STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM: Sometimes a song hits you at the right time and place in life. Started from the Bottom is one of these songs. I’ll never forget where I was when I heard it. And I’ll never forget how it crystallized what I was feeling at the moment. Drake got dinged because he didn’t exactly start at the bottom, but the simple and hypnotic song is an anthem for anyone lucky enough to feel like a world-beater for a day.
2. KANYE WEST, BLOOD ON THE LEAVES: On an album packed full of thought-provoking music, Blood on the Leaves showed just how far ahead of everyone else West is. Drawn from disparate elements that surely can’t go together, the song is the most beautiful moment of Yeezus and stands among his greatest achievements. The song also provides the volcanic heart of West’s live show.
3. J. COLE FEATURING KENDRICK LAMAR, FORBIDDEN FRUIT: There were a lot of great songs on Cole’s Born Sinner, but he takes it to another level with the game’s top player guesting on this throwback ode to A Tribe Called Quest. This song serves as Cole’s Control, the song Lamar used to announce his greatness. The presence of Lamar only adds to the legitimacy when Cole boasts: “When I say that I’m the greatest I ain’t talking about later/I’m a drop the album same day as Kanye/just to show the boys I’m the man now like Wanya/And I don’t mean no disrespect ... but this what’s next, the boy sick, can’t disinfect.”
4. DAWES, FROM A WINDOW SEAT: A coincidence: I sit down in a window seat on a flight and hit play. It’s this song. I hit repeat. And again. And again. Songs like this don’t really exist anymore. The craft has changed, the value of storytelling diminished. Musically and lyrically, Window Seat transports you to other times and places, just like the best songs should.
5. ASHLEY MONROE, WEED INSTEAD OF ROSES, AND BRANDY CLARK, GET HIGH: While the men of country were hogging all the radio airplay, leaving a trail of empties in their wake, these 20-something women joined with Kacey Musgraves to push the genre forward. Musically traditional, but lyrically modern in every way, Monroe and Clark are making music for the legions of fans turned on to country music as teens by Taylor Swift, and now navigating adult life. The songwriting is mature, the music vital. Country radio’s not playing them, but I advise you to put in the effort to find them on your own.
MESFIN FEKADU’S PICKS
1. BRUNO MARS, GORILLA: Gorilla is an example of Bruno Mars’ musical prowess: It’s vocally impressive, sultry and smoky, and beat-laden. It’s the perfect pop song, and the best one released this year.
2. ROBIN THICKE FEATURING PHARRELL AND T.I., BLURRED LINES: Robin Thicke has been making impressive music for more than a decade, but it’s nice to see him achieve this pop success with Blurred Lines. The ubiquitous track was the year’s most playful single, and induces your bones to dance. Everybody get up!
3. SOLANGE, LOVERS IN THE PARKING LOT: Like Solange’s Losing You, released last year, Lovers in the Parking Lot proves that she is a multi-talent who has a voice worth listening to. Lovers, highlighted by the drums, is an R&B mid-tempo tune that’s hard to resist. Solange’s voice is soft on the track, as she sings about being a foolish lover. You’d be foolish not to love the song.
4. LADY GAGA FEATURING R. KELLY, DO WHAT U WANT: Despite Lady Gaga and R. Kelly’s cringe-worthy Saturday Night Live performance, their work together is impeccable. Do What U Want is a top-notch track with a backbeat that is engaging. Gaga and the R&B crooner trade verses that flow nicely, and it is proof that people shouldn’t count out the pop diva just yet.
5. LANA DEL REY, SUMMERTIME SADNESS (CEDRIC GERVAIS REMIX): A year after her SNL disaster, Lana Del Rey broke into the top 10 with a remix of Summertime Sadness, an electronic dance number that makes the original mid-tempo version, already an incredible track, even more likeable – that’s thanks to DJ-producer Cedric Gervais.