10. “Mortal Man” // Kendrick Lamar
This track makes you sit and listen. Really listen. It’s one of the best endings to an album I’ve ever heard. With all the bells and whistles stripped away, the meeting of two kindred spirits who wish only for bad things to stop and for love to prosper is beyond description. The only reason “Mortal Man” isn’t higher up on this list is that listening to it alone does not do it justice. It rides on the crest of the entire album, and should be heard in that context. If we haven’t plugged To Pimp a Butterfly enough, here’s one more effort: “Mortal Man” is a magnificent track and you should listen to it—just be sure to listen to the hour of music that precedes it before you do.
9. “Oino” // LA Priest
The solo project of Samuel Eastgate, LA Priest, takes on many of the influences from Late of the Pier, which he fronted in the 2000s. “Oino”, the single taken from the project’s debut album release this year, Inji, follows these influences, with sampled, reverb filled percussion and interesting electronic instrumentation as Samuel’s vocals float over the top, an air of the tropical aesthetic that’s been popular through the year flowing through the whole track. This catchy, excited track was on regular circulation after its release and it still sounds great now. It’s even better live, where Samuel clearly tries to keep as much of the music live as one man can possibly attempt to, and, even in the wet festival atmosphere we experienced it in, still brightened everyone’s spirits.
8. “King Kunta” // Kendrick Lamar
Timing is key. Whereas “i” and “The Blacker the Berry” preceded the album, “King Kunta” was the first single to drop once To Pimp a Butterfly was actually released, and it was the perfect choice. The groove is magnificent, pacing with a swagger as if it were the beating heart of Kendrick Lamar himself, who raps with spirit and a sense of authority, knowing that through the impact of his latest work, he is the current voice of music. “King Kunta” is utterly captivating; an infectious splurge of heart and soul that ultimately serves as a splendid showcase of the talent, and influence, of Kendrick Lamar.
7. “Lean On” // Major Lazer
A reverb soaked, spacey track from Major Lazer’s Peace Is The Mission, “Lean On” was the first single from the album and clearly garnered some interest, with various remixes that spanned from Drum and Bass, Moombahton, and Hard House, playing out across club nights through the year and Shazam users looking for the song 16.6 million times. The collaboration with Danish singer, MØ, and French DJ, DJ Snake, saw wide critical acclaim and commercial success. The track itself breaks from the current traditional house track formula in most chart tracks, with a half-tempo, Moombahton beat, featuring a muted synth, and vocals that ring through the track and a final ethereal breakdown of sampled vocals. With lyrics remembering a simple romance, and describing warm nights, and instrumentation and melodies which easily evoke memories of summer, it’s a great track for a chilled moment and certainly had me coming back to it many times over.
6. “Reapers” // Muse
Muse kick some serious arse when they’re on point, and they’re on point for “Reapers”. Kicking off a quite superb trio of tracks in the middle of the otherwise baffling Drones, it’s like being reintroduced to a dear old friend. Tremolo picking, frantic riffs, falsettos; it’s all there, and it’s wonderful. Only Muse could come up with a track like this, and for the first time in years I can say that and mean it as a compliment.
5. “Sticky Drama” // Oneohtrix Point Never
Visceral, hyperactive and totally brutal, Garden of Delete is relentless in its message, and no track illustrates Oneohtrix Point Never’s abstract depiction better than “Sticky Drama”. It inherits the riffs and roars of metal and combines them with EDM hooks, and if I were to romanticise the situation, I’d dare say it’s the type of track a young Trent Reznor would create today. A track of this caliber cannot be adequately described; such is its mutilated character. There’s no pay off, it will baffle as much as it delights, yet it remains irresistible for those with an ear for the peculiar. “Sticky Drama” is a grotesque beast that drips with the remains of your musical consciousness, and it’s fucking brilliant.
4. “Gosh” // Jamie XX
The opener to Jamie XX’s debut album, In Colour, “Gosh” is a rolling, evolving UK garage track that was one of the first to be teased ahead of the album is still a favourite of mine after months of listening to it. As the track opens out, a bass, drone-like melody blooms out from the low frequencies to the highs, shortly followed by a synths many octaves above it, which reverberates and flies and flutters around over head while the rest of the track continues to rumble on. It’s a grand finish for a track that started as an excitable garage drum line and a brilliant opener to an album.
3. “The Handler” // Muse
Muse are a band that delight me one moment, and make me want to tear my hair out the next. Drones epitomises this more than any of their releases, though I can say with confidence that “The Handler” is the finest track from the band in almost ten years. It struts with a finesse not otherwise seen on their latest absurd release, which is ultimately the most frustrating thing. The riffs are contagious, Bellamy’s falsetto’s soar high with pride, and Howard’s drumming retains a flair that has been found wanting in his playing since Absolution. Collectively, they still have the ability to produce one of the most badass tracks of the year. Muse will never give me what I want – a focused hard rock release – so when I get glimpses I’m forced to grip it with both hands and never let go. As we jest about the pitfalls of such a talented trio, the frustration turns into a resounding lack of interest. The way things are going, “The Handler” could well be one of the last cases of ‘good Muse’, an expression I find myself saying less and less with each album. Maybe it’s just time we all move on.
2. “Divers” // Joanna Newsom
Although I wasn’t exactly infatuated with Divers — due to the blackness of my own heart, no doubt — its title track was the closest I came to being disarmed. “Divers” is of a finesse that redeems the world and makes it seem rich and lovely. Melancholy is ultimately a life-affirming thing, laced as it is with depths of feeling we all treasure, and “Divers” is as esteemed an expression of it as anyone could wish for. If you haven’t yet seen fit to make time for Divers, I gently suggest giving this track a listen. The album will likely follow.
1. “How Much a Dollar Cost” // Kendrick Lamar
Three Kendrick Lamar tracks in the list would ordinarily be enough to tell the whole story, yet it still understates the sheer force of To Pimp a Butterfly. “King Kunta”, “Mortal Man”, “Alright”, “The Blacker the Berry” – any one of these could have topped such a list. Kendrick Lamar’s voice is the one of the moment, and no track exemplifies that more than “How Much a Dollar Cost”. A song that is sleek as it is profound; here Lamar showcases his skills not just as a rapper, but also as a storyteller. You don’t need to be of faith to understand and abide by the message of such a narrative. As much as I’d love to brand it as the centerpiece of the album, I couldn’t possibly do so – a single track cannot fully represent the weight of such a work. “How Much a Dollar Cost” is just one of many significant pieces that comprise an absolute masterpiece; it’s a track that resonated with each of us, and is fully deserving of its status.
Few songs induce niggling self-reproach as well as “How Much a Dollar Cost” does. Full marks.
I had a hard time whittling down my favourites from To Pimp a Butterfly, but “How Much a Dollar Cost” was poignant and polished enough to clinch it, while involving many of the elements and themes from the rest of the album. With lyrics telling the story of a homeless man asking for a dollar to which Kendrick refuses, only to find that the man is God and that his selfishness has lost him his place in Heaven, the track reflects on the relative value of a dollar to different people, focussing on wealth and greed and adding to the self-critique throughout the album. This, combined with the heavy jazz influences the album is soaked in, and the lyrical delivery nearer to spoken word than other tracks, forms a brilliant track to summarise an incredible album. A track to reflect upon.