There’s a nomansland quality to music releases at the beginning of the year: All the big Q4 releases have been out for months and the battle for the song of the summer is still a few months away; Most major pop stars are out of sight, hibernating and/or plotting, and the ones that do choose to release new music during this period do it in opposition to the industry’s Best Practices; Nobody’s really releasing bangers; Everything is sounds a little off-kilter: smaller, stranger, sadder. I like it! There’s an intimacy and urgency to music released in February. Like, why do anything, let alone release new music, in February if you don’t absolutely have to.
Anyway, here’s a whole bunch of new songs I liked this month:
A little lo-fi, a little country. Just the right amount of sinister. T. Bone Burnett definitely has it earmarked for some future HBO drama about Good Men who are Bad Cops in Lubbock, Texas or something like that. So, obviously, I love it.
Sego, “Neon Me Out”
Bratty Courtney Barnett-esque spoken word verses and a big shimmery '90s chorus? Sure, why not.
Anna of the North, “Leaning On Myself”
Anna of the North is one of those indie-ish pop girls I just can't bring myself to care about. I like this song just fine, but it sounds like a million other songs I like just fine? I enjoy it when it's on and then forget about it entirely when it's over.
Charly Bliss, “Capacity”
When Eva Hendricks sang "Doing nothing's sacrilegious/Triple overtime ambitious/Sentimental, anxious kid," I felt that.
Hatchie, “Without A Blush”
She still sounds like Sixpence None The Richer... but now, like, a druggier Sixpence None The Richer? A Sixpence None The Richer that consumed an edible an hour or so ago and developed some low-level paranoia. Big fan.
Wallows, “Are You Bored Yet? (ft. Clairo)”
What can I say? I'm really loving the vaguely '90s alt-pop ressurgance.
John Mayer, “I Guess I Just Feel Like”
Do you think John Mayer's celibate now? This song is, for sure. It's given up sex in its search for transcendence and has gotten super into skincare and spends too much time being clever on Instagram.
Big Wild, “6’s to 9’s (ft. Rationale)”
Don’t understand it all! Rationale sounds exactly like he always does! Have listened to it more times than I can count!
What a bittersweet little song! Released after Lil Peep's death, this bouncy emo rap track is brimming with energy, life, and hooks. Such a shame.
Astrid S, “Someone New”
Peter Robinson called this "almost offensively amazing," which I think says more about the sad state of pop music at the moment than anything else. It's fine. I think I'd like it more if it was sung by someone with a discernible personality.
Peachy Pavement, “Calling You (ft. Cleo Kelley)”
I have a weirdly hard time describing this song: Post-Trop Pop Pop? Spotify Pop? Dua Lipa-esque? Doesn’t matter. The most important thing is Cleo Kelley, whoever that is, spells Kelley correctly, aka with two e’s.
Kim Petras, “1,2,3 dayz up (ft. SOPHIE)”
I have very complicated feelings about Kim Petras continuing to work with Dr. Luke. I have very uncomplicated feelings about her chirping “I wanna party with Jesus!”
R3HAB, “This Is How We Party (ft. Icona Pop)”
G’bless Icona Pop for doing their extremely 2012 thing in this, the year of our lord, 2019.
A slightly more metal Icona Pop? When I went out in search of more information about this band I discovered they use an @hotmail.com account for official inquiries and stopped looking because that’s, like, pretty punk, tbh.
Zedd, “365 (ft. Katy Perry)”
It’s not what I want from Katy Perry in 2019, but, also, I don’t know what I want from Katy Perry in 2019. But, w/e. This will do for now. A bop is a bop.
The Chainsmokers, “Who Do You Love (ft. 5 Seconds Of Summer)”
Normani, “Waves (ft. 6LACK)”
I don’t know that Normani can slow-burn her way into a successful solo career, but this is great. And, obviously, I’d rather a young artist take their time in the studio than panic-release a bunch of underwhelming singles in a “strike while it’s hot!” frenzy (ala Camila Cabello and the aborted The Hurting. The Healing. The Loving. effort).
Gunna, “Out The Hood”
Ariana Grande, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored”
The irresistible sound of pop culture collapsing in on itself: A Max Martin-penned Ariana Grande thot bop that samples an NSYNC deep cut (“It Makes Me Ill”) that was written by ‘00s hitmaker and current Real Housewife, Kandi Burruss.
Lucky Daye, “Karma”
It’s the background vocals that make this song work; baaah bah bah bah baaah.
Diplo, “New Shapes (ft. Octavian)”
So low-key for Diplo! Just a lovely sunset of song.
Kehlani, “Footsteps (ft. Musiq Soulchild)”
I don’t know if it’s the pregnancy hormones, or what, but this bish is RADIATING peace, serenity, and acceptance. So much so that I didn’t even realize this was a breakup song until several listens in.
Ariana Grande, “make up”
Sounds like a rejected Beyonce track... in a good way.
Khalid, “Talk (ft. Disclosure)”
A few degrees sunnier than the average Khalid song; a bright February afternoon of a song.
Kehlani, “Nunya (ft. Dom Kennedy)”
Queen of Breezily Enforcing Boundaries.
PJ Morton, “Say So (ft. JoJo)”
A smidge traditional for my taste, but, like: vocals are vocals.
Snoh Aalegra, “I Want You Around”
A fine addition to my “psychedelic rock + R&B = tru luv” playlist.
Helado Negro, “Running”
Vast and intimate.
Ariana Grande, “ghostin”
The discourse around this ballad is too focused on how sad it is (it is, in fact, very sad) and not focused enough on how confused it is (i.e. who does she think she should be ghostin and why?), which is strange because the incoherence is part of its power. Grief is confusing!
Lizzo, “Cuz I Love You”
Drama! Punchlines! Vocals! This is, as the kids would say, a serve.
Chaka Khan, “Like A Lady”
A reminder that pop’s disco pivot to disco is long overdue!
Carly Rae Jepsen, “Now That I Found You”
Speaking of pop’s failure to pivot to disco: This is not what you promised, CRJ. It’s serviceable, but disco, darling, would’ve been better.
Martin Garrix, “No Sleep (ft. Bonn)”
I like Martin Garrix’s whole big, bright, and shiny deal.
Betty Who, “Whisper”
It’s that loopy, taffy-like melodic hook (i.e. “arrOOOUUNND,” “stroooNNG”) in the verses that gets me.
The Japanese House, “We Talk all the Time”
A less twee version of a lot of songs I listened to in 2005.
MARINA, “Handmade Heaven”
Didn’t love it on first listen. Still not totally sure how I feel about it. But I do sing along when it comes on, so that’s something.
Bebe Rexha, “Last Hurrah”
Bebe Rexha’s career went off track when she dyed her hair blonde. There’s an alternate universe out there where Bebe stayed a brunette and kept charting.
Ariana Grande, “bad idea”
Me: “I GOT A BAAAAD IDEEEAA-UH!!!”
Carly Rae Jepsen, “No Drug Like Me”
Appreciate that it subverts expectations; the song goes underwater exactly where you expect it to explode into a soaring, Carly Rae Jepsen chorus.
Jessie Ware, “Adore You”
Right click, add to playlist > makeout songs.
Theophilus London, “Whiplash (ft. Tame Impala)”
Another excellent addition to that “psychedelic rock + R&B = tru luv” playlist.
What if The Strokes, but no vitamin D deficiency?
Catfish and the Bottlemen, “Fluctuate”
I always forget this (Strokes-influenced, extremely British) is what Catfish and the Bottlemen sound like? Every time I see the band name I think, like… banjos and Brooklyn.
Sharon Van Etten, “Seventeen”
Wonderful! But, as my friend Kyle would say, “do songwriters know there are ages other than 17?”
Sundara Karma, “Little Smart House”
Pretty openly aping David Byrne? I’m fine with it.
James Barker Band, “Keep It Simple”
Seasonally inappropriate! Incongruously sunny! Qualms about release date aside: This is a great country song and it has a great, super horny music video.
Maren Morris, “The Bones”
Third pre-release single is the charm, right? I didn’t love “GIRL” and I really didn’t like “Common,” but I love “The Bones.” I never fail to fall for love songs about relationships that’ve been through some shit.
James Bay, “Peer Pressure (ft. Julia Michaels)”
Was genuinely surprised by how well this works. James Bay is usually too tasteful/boring for me. And Julia Michaels has been too indulgent of her own songwriting quirks lately. This song gives James a cute little Julia Michaels hook (“I don’t usually give into to peer pressure / But I’ll give into yours”) and forces Julia into so much needed restraint. More please!
Twin Shadow, “Only for the Broken-Hearted”
This is pleasantly pastel and weightless.
Kehlani, “Love Language”
Her therapist deserves an Executive Producer credit on this album, for real.
Mahalia, “Do Not Disturb”
A slinky little R&B number about smartphone notifications.
Jamila Woods, “ZORA”
I’m both too white and too dumb to have anything to say about the Zora Neale Hurston-inspired lyrics, I just love how the song builds; steadily, in layers, until there’s harmonies on top of harmonies on top of squiggly synths on top of a beat.
Cautious Clay, “HONEST ENOUGH”
Sounds kind of like a pop Moses Sumney? Airy, celestial vocals and ambivalent-bordering-on-outright-sad lyrics. Into it.
Gunna, “Who You Foolin”
Guzheng trap! Sure, why not?
Blueface, “Thotiana (ft. Cardi B & YG)”
Totally mesmerized by Blueface’s insanely lazy, offbeat flow. He sounds so bored; like he’s asking Thotiana to bust it down, but it’s clear he doesn’t really care if she does or not. Love a horny, indifferent man! Also: love the polish and punchlines Cardi and YG bring to the remix.
Ariana Grande, “in my head”
I was so sure “Bad Idea” was my favorite thank u, next song until my third or fourth listen, when I finally listened to the very mean, very sad pre-chorus: “Look at you, boy, I invented you / Your Gucci tennis shoes runnin' from your issues / Cardio good for the heart / I figure we can work it out.” There’s a lot of storytelling backed into those four lines! And storytelling has not, historically, been Ponytail’s strong suit.
Chaka Khan, “Too Hot”
Real talk: All the reviews of this album that were like “too trendy, not becoming of a legend, like screwing training wheels on a Harley Davidson” just don’t want people over 35 to have any fun.
Lucky Daye, “Real Games”
Sounds like walking through a house party before ducking off into a dark room to spill your feelings to an ex.