Depreston – Courtney Barnett
Our top song is our second resident of Melbourne on the list. Courtney Barnett blew up over the last couple of years, writing songs that tell stories from the point of view of an incredibly likable narrator.
“Depreston”, about looking for a house in the suburbs (and what that means about your place in the world and maturing) is so specific that you can picture everything and place yourself there. It’s just a quiet, rainy day song. And then she flips it, just a bit, with the cutting outro quoting a realtor saying that if you just had “half a million”, you could rebuild it.
I don’t think there’s anyone quite like Courtney Barnett right now, creating these specific little wordy stories with such detail that you wonder how she possibly figured out how to make them melodic. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is one of my favorite albums of the year (check out “Elevator Operator”, too). “Depreston” is my favorite song.
Should Have Know Better – Sufjan Stevens
After the shiny pop of Carly Rae Jepsen, we move to probably one of the quietest, most heartbreaking songs. Sufjan Stevens song about his mother’s death after their estrangement, and his inability to deal with it, is sparse and beautiful.
I mean …
When I was three, three maybe four,
She left us at that video store
But, it’s not all dark. The song turns a bit in the middle, as it moves into moving on and dealing with the past. Ending with the wonder that comes from a new life, a new generation.
Sufjan Stevens makes gorgeous music, and it’s all the more powerful when it’s clearly coming from somewhere personal. Carrie & Lowell is a really great album, and I think this is the best track on it.
I Really Like You – Carly Rae Jepsen
I’m not kidding. This is such a good pop song. Emotion is actually a pretty incredible album, with four or five songs that could be big radio hits.
This is my favorite of them.
There’s magic in coming up with a song that has that hook that gets stuck in your head. She did it with “Call Me Maybe”. She’s done it again here. All set on top of a perfect 80s pop track. The last minute of the song with the speak-sing vocals over the glittery strings blowing up into the full blown chorus (and another 30 reallys or so). Amazing.
Albums like this (accessible, poppy, fun) don’t get made much any more.
Nor do videos like this with Tom Hanks.
King Kunta – Kendrick Lamar
I’m not going to say anything that hasn’t been said about Kendrick Lamar. He’s got one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year, is probably one of the most famous artists on the planet right now, and did it while creating an album that’s not super accessible.
How To Pimp a Butterfly is a really complex, challenging album. “King Kunta” feels like a microcosm of that. The beat is all over the place, with instruments coming in and out, key changes, the horror movie bassline backing much of the song; it’s amazing that it’s a really coherent track. It’s lyrically dense, but completely understandable. Kendrick’s flow is unique but really accessible.
All those tensions and contradictions remind me a lot of Public Enemy of the early-to-mid 90s. Beats and sounds and lyrics that shouldn’t be listenable, that shouldn’t work, forming a whole that bigger than the sum of its parts.
The Race – Oh Pep!
The first Melburnians on the list (hint, hint), there’s a quote on Oh Pep’s website that I think does a pretty good job of describing the band:
‘If Sylvan Esso and First Aid Kit had a musical lovechild, the result would be Oh Pep!’ -IndieX
That’s pretty damn accurate.
This is a folk band. There’s guitars and strings, but it’s all used almost percussively. If you catch a live performance, you’ll see they’re plucking and strumming a fiddle. It’s such a unique sound, and it’s put together in a song that’s paced more like a synthpop song than a song by a “folk” duo.
The Sylvan Esso comparison is spot on—it’ll be this time next year that Oh Pep! will probably be headlining their own big time gigs.
WTF (Where They From) – Missy Elliott
Where you been?
This is 100%, unmistakeably Missy Elliott. The world needs more Missy in it.
That’s it. There’s no way you can’t hear this song and not end up bobbing your head. Missy could have put this out 15 years ago, and it wouldn’t have surprised anyone because she’s always 10 years ahead of everybody else.
Leave a Trace – CHVRCHES
While typing their band name annoys me, CHVRCHES put out a great album with at least three really super synthpop songs this year. “Leave a Trace” is my favorite of those because of the way the track builds its layers. It starts off reasonably slow and restrained for a CHVRCHES song, segueing into a the singalong chorus.
“Leave a Trace” is really driven by Lauren Mayberry’s vocals, which is not a bad place to hang your hat.