We've reached that time of year again. Every single day, the thermometer hits triple digits. You pry yourself from sweat-covered sheets and walk into the oven-like air on your way to work, then come home to a house that's heated like a sauna because your electric bill also reaches triple digits if you leave it on during the day. The only way to distract yourself from this living hell? Reading silly lists about the best music of the last six months — like this one.
In no particular order, here are the best songs of 2019 so far.
Injury Reserve feat. Rico Nasty and Pro Teens — 'Jawbreaker'
Although apparently less of a scathing takedown of the streetwear industrial complex than intended, the first single from Injury Reserve's debut album is nevertheless straight fire. Over a quietly menacing, kalimba-flecked beat by Parker Corey, Ritchie with a T, Stepa J. Groggs, and guest star Rico Nasty flex on every basic bro attempting to pass off the trendy and ultra-expensive as true style. The impeccable Pro Teens hook might as well be a warning to the rest of the field, in fashion and in hip-hop: "Get your shit together, get your jaw up off the floor."
Jai Paul — 'Do You Love Her Now'
Whatever happened to Jai Paul? In 2013, this promising British musician's stolen demos were leaked online and, despite gaining instant acclaim among indie music fans, quickly pulled from the web due to their illegal release and unfinished quality. Paul more or less disappeared until last month, when he revealed the theft had traumatized him so deeply that he stopped making music. Having made peace with the event, he released the leak online — along with two brand-new songs.
This may be the first we've heard of Jai Paul in more than half a decade, but the two songs, "Do You Love Her Now" and "He," sound like he never went away. Paul retains the groundbreaking, genre-defying style of electro-pop that marked songs like "BTSTU," yet with a studio sheen and a newfound, mature sense of optimism. "Do You Love Her Now," my favorite of the two, sounds like a Peter Gabriel track unstuck in time, ageless and light. Don't go disappearing on us again, Jai Paul — we need more of this kind of music in our lives.
Weyes Blood — 'Movies'
This masterful centerpiece of Weyes Blood's album Titanic Rising might just be the most dramatic song of the year. Splitting the difference between the record's twin namesakes — the sunken vessel and the Hollywood movie — Natalie Mering diagnoses a generational predicament over crescendoing synth arpeggios that could have come from a Philip Glass composition had they not been so masterfully engineered by Jonathan Rado. "The meaning of life doesn't seem to shine like that screen," she sings, recognizing the limits of dreams, especially when they're shown to us in a Hollywood movie.
Skee Mask — 'Trackheadz'
One of last year's best albums was Compro, the debut LP by Munich-based producer Skee Mask, which married drum and bass breaks with chilly ambient sounds to create a sonic landscape unlike anything else in electronic music. He followed the album up early this year with an EP, 808BB, and to say it's a change in gears is an understatement. A-side "Trackheadz" opens with blistering breakbeats, warping in and out like the tune is being put in a food processor, until we reach the mysterious melodic line five minutes in. All the best dance-floor bangers take listeners on an unforgettable, immersive ride, and "Trackheadz" is no exception.
Young Nudy feat. Playboi Carti — 'Pissy Pamper' (a.k.a. 'Kid Cudi')
Technically, this song hasn't been released. Likely intended as a part of Young Nudy and producer Pi'erre Bourne's Sli'merre tape, "Pissy Pamper" was held up in sample clearance due to its use of an old Japanese pop song, "Tasogare" by Mai Yamane. That didn't stop leakers from getting a hold of it and publishing it to Spotify under the name "Kid Cudi," cribbed from two of featured guest Playboi Carti's lines ("Got a brand-new pack like Kid Cudi / I smoke dope like Kid Cudi"). The funny thing is, had the song not been leaked, we likely never would have heard one of the best rap tracks of the year. Bourne's beat may be indebted to that uncleared sample, but it's still a superlative bit of production. Meanwhile, Nudy puts in a hypnotic couple of verses, and Carti refines his now-infamous "baby voice" to sublime new heights. It just goes to show, sometimes the music industry doesn't have anyone's best interests at heart.
Vampire Weekend — 'Harmony Hall'
Vampire Weekend failed to stick the landing with Father of the Bride, an overlong album whose songs repeat their combination of sunny, classic rock-influenced instrumentals and fretful, lightly political lyrics to diminishing returns. But this glorious opening salvo remains an impeccable thesis on the degradation of the liberal order the Ivy-educated band was sired from. Interpreted by some as a commentary on the ugly history of certain colleges and by others as a wider-reaching statement on the post-Trump political climate ("Anger wants a voice, voices want to sing / Singers harmonize, 'till you can't hear anything"), one thing that's clear about the song — which even without the anxious lyrics, would still be highly enjoyable — is how accurately it captures the utter paralysis so many of us feel nowadays. "I don't wanna live like this / But I don't wanna die." That just says it all, doesn't it?
KH (Four Tet) — 'Only Human'
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Undeniably the club hit of the year, this Nelly Furtado-sampling house banger has already shown up in places like DJ Koze's Sunday night set at FORM Arcosanti 2019. It's a true feat by Kieran Hebden, who usually records as Four Tet, but decided to bring out his KH moniker for this one, where he demonstrates how easily he can more back and forth between contemplative, nearly ambient electronica and absolutely massive floor-fillers. Truly, Four Tet never disappoints.
Zack Fox and Kenny Beats — 'Jesus Is The One (I Got Depression)'
If you need proof that Zack Fox, the Twitter savant, comedian, and recently deposed TV and radio host, is the funniest man alive, just watch the video embedded above. It's episode five of The Cave, the web show hosted by Kenny Beats where the producer whips up an instrumental track for a guest rapper to spit over. During the course of his freestyle, for which he requests "a beat that sounds like Runescape, mixed with Jodeci, mixed with almond milk, mixed with domestic violence," Fox shouts out Betty White ("she ain't dead yet but for when she dead 'cause I know it's coming up"), pulls down his pants and raps with his thing out, delivers the most gut-busting bars you've ever heard ("I'ma dip my balls in some Thousand Island dressing / 'cause I got depression"), and makes Kenny question his entire life up to that point. Demand for a streaming version of the track was so monumental that the two were forced to release a sub-two-minute version to appease the masses. It's the best thing anyone's done all year.