“Here’s ice cream for you, and you, and you.” There’s nothing wrong with listening to the radio, if that’s what you prefer. But you also have to realize how many songs are left out of mainstream rotation because they don’t fit a certain mold that stations bait to the casual listener. It’s here where we can help you out. While some songs may seem very obscure, that doesn’t make them any less deserving. So with that being said, at the very least try to give each song one listen. And also note the “so far” bit of the headline, as we’re only halfway through the year and this list is definitely subject to change by December. But it’s summer and we’re giving out treats. Let’s begin.
25. “Don’t Hold The Wall”
While “Suit & Tie” was a good single and got a lot of radio time, it perhaps fell victim to being way overplayed way too fast. There are other gems on Justin’s 20/20 Experience that just deserved more credit and “Don’t Hold The Wall” is one of them. The production is very Timbaland if you get what that means with the first part having a distinctly middle-eastern influence. The second half breaks down further, slowing the tempo a bit and Timberlake’s vocals become more prevalent and pleading for a nice effect.
24. “Kiss Land”
The Weeknd uses a familiar but effective formula with “Kiss Land”. Yes, he’s still doing lots of drugs and singing about women’s feeble attempts at seducing him, but for some reason it never gets old. Much like “The Party & The After Party” and “Gone”, “Kiss Land” is really two different songs melded into one. It slows down the tempo considerably by the midway point, and we’re left with a song that sleepily crept into the top 25.
23. “Retina Television”
Marika Hackman’s “Retina Television” is folksy, soulful, and beautiful all at the same time. What makes the song so impressive is Hackman’s minimalistic approach and ability to create a somewhat somber yet nostalgic mood. Her voice carries the song and is supplemented by background vocals with not much else besides a steady “clap”.
22. “Rich As F*ck”
Just when you thought Lil’ Wayne was dead, he comes back and breathes a little fire into everyone’s life. With the combined power of a hot 2 Chainz hook, a helluva beat, and a very nice and humorous second verse, Wayne at least reminded everyone that he’s still around and doesn’t plan on going anywhere.
21. “Acid Rain”
There probably are better songs on Chance’s well-received mixtape Acid Rap, but I’m going to stick with this one because it’s the song that introduced me to the young Chicago emcee. The tempo is slow, the beat is chill, and Chance switches back and forth between singing with a surprising amount of skill and rapping with even greater proficiency. The background also contains a soulful crooning element that only adds to the mood.
20. “Red Eye”
Kid Cudi’s latest project, Indicud, was decent at best and frustrating to say the least. Yet with Red Eye listeners got to hear Haim take center stage. The three tremendous voices of this sister act meld with Cudi’s in a near flawless manner, creating a melodious song full of energy that is definitely a standout on the album.
19. “Ghetto Symphony”
A$AP Rocky’s “Ghetto Symphony” borrows heavily from Frou Frou’s “Psychobabble” in terms of arrangement, vocals, and overall sound. Yet the production is both good and different enough to make A$AP’s version unique. It sounds like it could be the title track for some epic modern gangster film, with it’s deep bass, use of high hats, and killer verse from Gunplay (the jury is still out on A$AP Ferg).
Stuart Howard a.k.a. Lapalux created a weirdly seductive song in “Guuurl”. The track contains all of Howard’s signature sound with it’s creepily distorted and slowed R&B vocals, chopped up synths, steady buildup, and random background whirs. But for all of its frenetic randomness, “Guuurl” still manages to capture something creative and mesmerizing.
17. “Far From Floating”
This as obscure as it gets, but I’ll be damned if this wasn’t one of the best songs I’ve heard all year. The beat is infectious, funky, and steadily groovy, while the vocals are looped, sampling an as-of-yet unidentified late 70’s era hook. I’m not sure if Harrison will ever blow up, but he’s only 17 and incredibly talented, so here’s hoping he does.
Young Scooter and Future released quite the banger with “Julio”. The hook alone is enough to “embarrass your secondary”, but once the bass comes in and combines with the lyricism of the everyday hustle of slangin’, you have yourself a little something.
15. “Say That”
I remember I was in a hotel room during Mardi Gras with four of my friends, getting ready to go out, when I played this song on the stereo. Without questioning what or who it was, almost immediately each of them started to either bob their head or sway back and forth with the beat. Granted, we were all a tad intoxicated (I mean it was Mardi Gras) but that fact doesn’t take away from Toro Y Moi’s ability to create digital bliss with an infectious beat and soft simple vocals.
Denzel Curry’s “Threatz” will get you all the way hyped. The bass is heavy, deliberate, and menacing, while the production is some of the best heard this year. Curry delivers a confrontational verse that lets you know he’s not playing, while his comrades Yung Simmie and Robb Bank$ keep pace with impressive flows of their own. Personally, I think they should come together and release a mixtape under the moniker of the “Dade County Killers”. But that’s just me.
13. “Wholelatta Ice”
While the title may sound like a ghetto Starbuck’s coffee flavor, SGP’s “Wholelatta Ice” really gets the blood flowing. The track comes from his B.M.W. EP, and brings in a heavy beat that’s unshackled and to the point. Steel drum-like keys and overly active synths are the pivotal tools for the song, and SpaceGhost uses each imposingly as he maneuvers through the beat with his raw, straightforward lyrical ability.
12. “95 Til’ Infinity”
Maybe it grew on me too fast, as it only came out a couple of weeks ago, but as a fan of Joey Bada$$ I’d never heard the side of him that’s unleashed on “95”. It starts off slow enough with a silky chill beat produced by Lee Bannon, but before it even drops Joey begins to flow with a tenacity similar to his 90’s era influences. He sounds like a young Brooklyn emcee that’s hungry, and trying to prove that he belongs on the biggest stage of hip-hop. I agree with you Joey.
Banks has been a pleasant surprise for the year 2013. Her song “Before I Ever Met You” had new listeners questioning where this Los Angeles beauty had come from, and “Warm Water” cemented these listeners as official fans with it’s overall vibe. She’ll surely be placed in the “pop” category but “Warm Water” definitely is more R&B than anything. It’s dark, somber, and lovely as Banks’s vocals are sultry and disarming, almost catching the listener all the way off guard.
10. Get Lucky
I’ve heard “Get Lucky” played in a casino, multiple bars/clubs, a gas station, a mall, and a beach. The point is it’s one of those songs that’s in perilous danger of being overplayed. But it’s also still hard not to at least sing along in your mind upon hearing it. This song is, after all, what made Daft Punk’s long awaited return to the dance genre a reality and not just some myth like Detox. Amen for that, and Amen for Pharrell.
9. “Yay Yay”
ScHoolboy Q’s “Yay Yay” embodies all of the characteristics that make this Compton emcee one of the toughest out. The hard rhythm and snare perfectly accentuate all that Q is trying to do, which is rapping about his experiences on the streets while selling this and that. ScHoolboy isn’t overly metaphorical, but that doesn’t take away from his god-given ability to flow and ride with a track of any nature to an impressive lyrical extent. It just so happens that this track is tailored to his nature, and what a track it is.
8. “You & Me”
Disclosure’s excellent debut Settle contains a plethora of immediately club-worthy tracks. And while many of those could take this spot on the list, we settled with You & Me, which is without a doubt a standout. Eliza Doolittle sets the stage with her beautiful voice and heartfelt songwriting while Disclosure compliments her perfectly with an uptempo house melody lush with synths, clicks and overall dance ready sound.
7. “Guilt Trip”
“Guilt Trip” is worth the listen just to hear Travis $cott and Mike Dean sample the hell out of “Blocka”, placing it perfectly within the confines of the song. It also contains a lot of Kanye’s auto-tuned singing (see “Blood On The Leaves” below) but I love it. Outer space synths unite with a beating digital drum, the playing of piano, and towards the end we are treated with Cudi’s best (albeit brief) hook in years as a gentle violin carries us off into wonder. Yeezus has risen.
6. “Doin’ It Right”
As an admitted Daft Punk “stan”, I could’ve easily put 5 to 6 songs (“Lose Yourself To Dance”, “Instant Crush”, “The Game Of Love”) on this list from RAM. But for the sake of fairness I limited myself to two. “Doin’ It Right” is a collaboration with Animal Collective’s Panda Bear that fits right in with Daft Punk’s new, old school approach to their music. The robots loop their simple vocoder-based voices, while an even simpler midtempo beat settles in. As Panda Bear sings, the listener becomes more enamored with the track, from the soft keyboard synths to the subtle but powerful bass. Overall, the final product is pretty amazing.
5. “Rose Quartz”
Chaz Bundick’s Anything In Return is still in the running for AOTY and it boasts not one, but two tracks on this list. With that being said, The key with “Rose Quartz” is the buildup. At first, the listener can be a bit overwhelmed with all the different and seemingly random sounds going on in the beginning. And almost halfway through the track, one might even find this selection pleasant yet aimless with no clear direction. But after this overly long tease, Toro Y Moi’s “poppy” synths, piano keys, and dreamy sequenced harmonics all come together to form an alluring piece of music that can’t be missed. Seriously.
4. “Started From The Bottom”
True story. I was at a beach, sitting under an umbrella, casually people watching when this song came on over some pretty loud speakers. As it played, I noticed a balding white guy sitting a couple of chairs away. He looked to be in his early 40’s, but I noticed that he started mouthing the lyrics word for word around a couple of his friends. Then the hook comes in, I look around again and see an ethnically ambiguous women in her 30’s also claiming she “started from the bottom”. Then another woman. Then a couple of kids my age. And I ask myself “How the ____ did Drake go from Jimmy No Legs Degrassi.. to this”, a question I still ask myself everyday.
You’ve never heard “Genevieve”, and technically you’re not supposed to have heard “Genevieve”. Also known as “Track No. 5”, it comes from the unauthorized (and still very mysterious) leak of Jai Paul’s collected demos/songs. When first listening, you’ll probably have a reaction somewhere along the lines of “wait wut”. The song is truly a powerhouse of sound, assaulting your senses and testing your audial limits at every turn. With its electro guitar riffs and psychedelically funky synths blasting to full capacity, Jai definitely sings his heart out from beginning to end. To be honest, you might still be very overwhelmed by the time the song’s over but repeated listens are necessary to understand all that’s going on in this ambitious, futuristic, but ultimately undeniable track.
2. “Blood On The Leaves”
Maybe it’s just me, but singing your heart out goes a long way in my eyes. It’s not as important if your voice can’t quite measure up to the emotion that’s pouring out of it, as long as what you’re singing can resonate. This is how I would best describe my feelings towards Kanye’s 808s and how I would with “Blood On The Leaves”, only more so. Unlike 808s, which for Kanye was more experimental and used as an emotional outlet than anything, he knows what he’s doing on Yeezus. The auto-tuned emotional voice is back, but this time it’s not sad but angry while trying to tell a cautious tale. Hudson Mohawke’s menacing horns combine with added piano strings and Nina Simone’s singing of “Strange Fruit” to form an epic product that’s boisterous and beautiful. Top it all off with an excellent verse from Yeezy and the song is good enough for the No. 2 spot.
James Blake’s “Retrograde” hung on to the top spot by the slimmest of margins but it’s everything you want in a song that’s truly compelling. It’s powerful and haunting, as it invades the mind and eats at your soul with each listen. It starts off really slow with Blake humming a beautiful melody over the carefully arranged notes on his piano. As the song builds, it feels as if you’re hearing a beautiful ballad specifically about Blake’s lost romance with a former flame. Isolation sets in as his soulful, gospel-like voice belts out lyrics such as “Ignore everybody else, we’re alone now”. And suddenly you’re hit. The synths on the electronic organ start playing, the singing intensifies, the harmonics grow louder, and the emotion resonates. And then you listen again. And again.