Despite another frustrating Grammys ceremony, where women suffered and Bruno Mars soared, 2018’s first chapter hasn’t failed to produce an abundance of first-rate jams. From Canadian R&B standout Charlotte Day Wilson making her case for a most-worthy 2018 breakout, to the socio-political funk of Belgian-Congolese MC Baloji, here are the top five songs from January.
Charlotte Day Wilson – “Nothing New”
Toronto’s hottest R&B asset—in pair with the bursting Daniel Caesar—Charlotte Day Wilson’s 2018 launch provides a new, groovier edge that was absent in her 2016 debut EP. While she could have coasted on her slow-burning neo-soul charm, “Nothing New” is a little darker, a little more in your face, a little more self-assured (“I know my ties when I’m cutting loose / ‘Cause I’m not gonna waste my time”). It’s the kind of expansion that marks a great artist, and it’s hard to imagine Wilson will be recognized as anything less.
James Blake – “If the Car Besides You Ahead”
If I’m being honest, I’m not sure I’m convinced that Blake’s one-off single is particularly spectacular. It’s definitely a good track that reminds listeners of Blake’s experimental roots, but it doesn’t have much movement to it, the glitching vocals are more in conflict than an odd couple, and would probably better serve as a two-minute interlude on his next album. However, I find myself thinking about the song on a daily basis. Maybe it’s because I fell asleep while watching Blade Runner 2049 (watching the original before a 10 pm viewing was a poor choice) and have unfinished guilt, but whatever the reason, “If the Car Besides You Ahead” is stuck in my head, and that means something.
Baloji – “Soleil de Volt”
Gearing up to release his new album 137 Avenue Kaniama, Belgian-Congolese artist Baloji blends African rhythms from countries like Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Ghana with stuttering electronics on lead single “Soleil de Volt.” While the results are guaranteed to put bodies on the dance floor, the song’s subject matter is a bit more weighted, focusing on the artist’s DRC hometown Lubumbashi, where residents only have access to electricity six months out of the year, and the resilience of the people who live there.
Mimicking Birds – “Great Wave”
Mimicking Birds M.O. up to this point has been to explore the halcyon spaces of life, music made with nature’s interest at heart, guided by the inimitable pickings and tender croons of frontman Nate Lacy. The Portland outfit’s junior release, Layers of Us, offers a medley of new tricks without veering too far from their established sound, and this harmony is best captured on the track “Great Wave.” The verses rise and fall like an undulating ocean ceiling, synthesizer chords hissing in the background like a steady breeze. After the second chorus (Lacy’s vocals stacked like a rising tide), Lacy begins the bridge with a bouncy, pirate-song pattern, before pounding tom hits and wailing guitars amass—Mimicking Birds know how to get loud, and they’re really good at it. This is all topped off by a marvelously befuddling transition into the final chorus (key change!). It’s a song so compelling it deserves a movie to be made with it in mind as its climax…
Jay Rock – “King’s Dead” ft. Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake
You won’t find another soundtrack cut that registers higher on the Richter scale than “King’s Dead.” Jay Rock delivers one of his best verses in years (dare I say since his “Money Trees” feature?), Future jumped on the track for the meme, and Kendrick Lamar once again proves that any beat is rap-ready for him during the track’s second part. If no trailers for Black Panther had been released prior to its Feb. 16 release, this song would be enough to bring in the numbers.
Check out our best of January playlist, featuring these five tracks and more, below: