1) N.E.R.D ft. Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean – Don’t Don’t Do It!
Where do I even begin. Whilst Lemon and 1000 were catchy, this track is on a whole other level. Frank Ocean is responsible for the track’s opener, which brings the same airy summer sounds of CHANNEL orange. As Pharrell comes in, the track begins to pick up pace, transitioning into a funk-banger that calls back to N.E.R.D.’s best. The lyrics are powerful throughout – Pharrell delivers the story of police brutality victim Keith Lamont Scott in full colour, delivering devastating lines like “I’m not your guy / They’re gonna do it anyway.” If this wasn’t enough, the introduction of ska-inspired guitars brings superstar Kendrick Lamar onto the track, and he delivers. Bringing out a liquid tempo reminiscent of Andre 3000, Kendrick delivers more devastating commentary. This is an essential listen.
2) Total Control – Luxury Vacuum
I think Fred Passaro of Noisey describes Total Control the best – they seem almost a “melting pot… of different bands from Suicide to Screamers to Joy Division.” They’re hard to pin down, but they’re damn good. From the track’s opening vacuous drums to its nostalgic synth-led ending, Luxury Vacuum is consistently engaging. Though frontman Daniel Stewart takes somewhat of a backseat to the track’s instrumentation, his “Ha, ha, ha as the threads come loose” is still great. Whilst I’m someone who tends to avoid guitar-led music on instinct, Total Control have my interest. Give them yours, too.
3) Eminem ft. Ed Sheeran – River
To say that Eminem’s Revival is an album of peaks and troughs would be an understatement. Amongst the mess of rock-pop trash came some incredible surprises, such as the ‘black sheep’ of the album – an Ed Sheeran feature. Now, I’m no fan of pop-rap. Or Ed Sheeran’s features. But this track is utterly compelling. Ed here avoids some of the vague statements of the album’s other pop features, delivering a powerful, surprisingly raw chorus. Em is fantastic too - gone is the god-awful choppy breathy flow, replaced with a series of verses that complement the track’s theme completely. You can tell that both artists had a vision for this song, and they delivered.
4) BROCKHAMPTON – BLEACH
The All-American Boyband is back. It was near-impossible to pick just one BROCKHAMPTON track, but BLEACH is certainly one of the best from their latest LP. As always, BROCKHAMPTON bring their A-Game. Jabari and Romil’s production is insanely beautiful, with vocal layering and harmonious synths painting a colourful, yet nostalgic backdrop for the track. Regulars Matt, Merlyn, Ameer, Dom and Joba deliver on the verses front, delivering a series of immensely personal slices of sadness and insecurity. Guest star Ryan Beatty’s chorus is soulful, and Bearface and Kevin round the track out with a beautiful vocal conclusion. This song is heartwrenching, soothing and uplifting at once.
5) Charli XCX ft. Brooke Candy, CupcaKKe, Pabllo Vitar – I Got It
For all the trash that exists within pop music (*cough* Halsey), there are some shining stars, namely one Charli XCX. Whilst many have attempted to sound more marketable, XCX has followed the fantastic work of PC Music to produce some of the sharpest pop music of the decade. The ‘Yeezus’ of pop, PC Music employs a minimal-maximalist approach, producing cluttered yet undeniably ‘clean’ instrumentals. I Got It is perhaps the best example of this on XCX’s recent Pop 2 – its mechanical synths and pipes sound gloriously industrial, with XCX and a variety of collaborators delivering their verses alongside. This isn’t the most conventional pop song, but it’s a damn good one.