Guys! The first half of the year somehow ended! Only seventeen more decades left in the year! There’s been some good records, certainly, and that’s helped, so let’s get down to some of it before I bust out crying about not being able to have seen a band in a million years. There’s a spotify playlist at the bottom, as usual, and there will be a folder for downloading here, when I get to putting it together. The playlist doesn’t have the clipping. Song 1, which is replaced by Mint Mile’s “Shy”. So there.
Fiona Apple – Heavy Balloon
I have basically nothing to say about this record that isn’t said by basically everybody else. I love the record, it’s very good, this is a very good song, please see literally anything else written about music in the first half of this year for more information.
Arca – Afterwards
Arca made a pop record! Or, well, longtime ONAT-favorite Arca made a focused, easy-to-understand record out of the same set of songs she usually uses to make weird, amorphous records. She actually made two great records this year, KicK i and @@@@@, but this one has songs, the greatest of which is this one, which could probably have been predicted given that it’s the one with Bjork on it
Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin – The Bastard Wind
You know, I love Bell Witch, genuinely, but I really only have so many words that I use to express that love. It’s true, however, that the “The Bastard Wind” pretty well requires them all, so here they are: “crushing”. “Heavy.” “Sad.” “Doomy.” “Dark.” “Awesome.”
Caspian – Ishmael
You know, On Circles was one of the first records I listened to this year, and it’s still one of the best. It seems to get better every time I listen to it, and although I’ve bounced around from favorite song to favorite song, I think “Ishmael” really is emerging as my actual favorite song on the record. Maybe the title track, but probably “Ishmael.”
Chubby and the Gang – Blue Ain’t My Color
I loved Chubby and the Gang’s record 1,000 years ago in February when I first heard it, but man, jumpy, catchy anti-cop songs are really the thing to have written at this point, and I’m pretty happy about this one.
Clipping – Chapter 319
I mean, pretty much any kind of anti-cop song works, though. Especially the noisiest ones.
Coriki – Shedileebop
It is true that Coriki is a bit more “The Evens with an awesome bass player” than “half of Fugazi with a different drummer”, but, well, I like the Evens, and they sound great with an awesome bass player, so it’s hard to get too worked up about.
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – DIET
Play this one and remember the beginning of the year, when telling someone to go to church would be something you out of concerned, and not because you wanted to grant them a death sentence. Ah, simpler times.
Diet Cig – Stare Into the Sun
In general, I like Do You Wonder About Me? less than the less-polished, more-bashy Swear I’m Good at This, which is also basically true of anything. But it’s fine, and “Staring Into the Sun” is a good song with a very good vocal.
Dogleg – Ender
There’s always a tonne of room in my heart for huge, shout-along climaxes at the end of big guitar songs. “Ender” is one of the best ones in years, and it’s been a real balm during an extremely difficult few months.
Empty Country – Ultrasound
Since the appeal of Cymbals Eat Guitars was largely in their singer, I wasn’t pretty surprised to find that I liked Empty Country a great deal. Just excellent high-quality rock and roll music here.
Field Works – A Place Both Wonderful and Strange (f Noveller)
Noveller’s excellent album Arrow didn’t really yield a song that I thought belonged on the list (but it’s great, go listen to it), but she certainly provided the high point for this record, made in collaboration with a bunch of experimental/ambient heavyweights using the sounds of an endangered bat. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and features some stellar playing.
Hinds – Just Like Kids (Miau)
It is true that Hinds, like seemingly everybody else, have discovered the joys of putting unnecessary synthesizers 2 all over their records. Obviously I’m not in Hinds, and not interested in telling them what to do, and The Prettiest Curse is good, but the best song is the one that’s the most like their other records. So there.
Hum – Cloud City
Did I expect a new Hum album ever? No I did not, let alone one right now. I’m thrilled as hell to have one, and even more thrilled that it sounds as good as one could hope it would.
Jason Isbell & 400 Unit – Only Children
I’m not saying the heartbreakingly sad quiet songs are the only good Jason Isbell songs. Lord no. I’m just saying they’re generally the best Jason Isbell songs.
KeiyaA – Hvnli
I feel like for all the sturm and drang about lo-fi rap, we could all be sleeping on a lo-fi R&B revolution, and if we are, I think that KeiyaA is likely to be a huge part of that.
Knxwledge – Minding My Business (f Durand Bemarr & Rose Gold)
Let it stand as a testament to how weird things are in hip-hop that 1988 is Knxwledge’s 5,184,167th release, but his “second” album. That’s weird. Also, it’s great, and this song is incredible.
Maserati – Der Honig
I mean, I certainly had a great deal of love for the music of Maserati before, but adding Bill Berry made it cooler, and whoever they got to play the organ on this song 3 is both hilarious and welcome. What a great song.
Mark McGuire – I Want You To Know (extended mix)
Mark McGuire has really been exploring his strummy/songwriter-y impulses for the last couple of years, and while I don’t find it yields as consistent returns as his bleepy guitar stuff, I like this song a lot, and look forward to more like it, if that’s in the offing.
Megan Thee Stallion – Savage (Remix, f Beyonce)
Hey guys, I’m only human.
Midwife – SWIM
I suppose that “heaven metal,” the term that Midwife uses to describe her own music, is as good as anything. It’s certainly more easy to drop in conversation than my own referent, “Loud Grouper”, but in any event, “SWIM” is a lovely song.
Helen Money – Marrow
Sometimes it’s the day for a woman doing very loud, unspeakable things to a cello. Actually, most times it’s the day for that.
Moor Jewelry – Working
Moor Mother (who is awesome) reconnected with Mental Jewelry (who is awesome), and somehow topped their previous collaboration (which was awesome) with a largely live-instrument assisted album. It’s angry, it’s loud, it’s deeply effective, and I’ve been listening to it all the time. I guess you could say it’s working 4
John Moreland – East October
More of that fancy unnecessary synth work all over this record, but John Moreland’s voice and songwriting are the reasons to listen in any event, and they’re both coming through just fine.
Mourning [A] Blkstr – Mist::Missed
It’s always the case that if you get a handful of people up there to sing different parts of interlocking, complex rhythm and blues songs, I will love your band in the first place. Put on a great live show and come from Cleveland, and I’m extra-super likely to write about it here. That all established, The Cycle is even more incredible than I expected it to be, and it could have been any of several songs here. I ended up with this one because it seems the most crowd-pleasing, but what the fuck do I know from pleasing crowds? Listen to the whole record.
Myrkur – Svea
It is true that Id id not expect a straightforward album of folk songs from Myrkur, but it is even more true that I’m very glad to have one.
Naeem – Stone Harbor
There’s a lot of loud, frustrated, angry music here, so a little rhythm and blues smoothness is a necessary balm. I’ve been using Naeem for that a whole lot, and mostly “Stone Harbor”.
No Age – Turned to String
Always happy to have No Age back. It’s comforting. There are no real surprises here, just a great duo doing what they do greatly.
Old Man Gloom – Love is Bravery
Old Man Gloom put out two records so far this year, the first being the sequel to the second, because Old Man Gloom are very funny. The first is generally not as good, but it does have the best single the band’s ever put out, possibly because it’s also the closest thing to catchy they’ve ever managed.
OOIOO – Kawasemi Ah
OOIOO is definitely the best band ever created as a fake band for a photo shoot, and is way up the list of the best bands formed by members of the Boredoms. I don’t have much else to say about it. This song rules.
Kassa Overall – Please Don’t Kill Me (f Joel Ross & Theo Croker)
Over the course of the last several years, a bunch of people have put up houses at the border of jazz and hip hop. Kassa Overall’s is a mansion, and he made maybe the first jazz/hip-hop fusion record that I’ve loved this much.
The Pack AD – Shake
It’s always sad when a band stops banding, but there’s a lot to be said for going out on a high note, and not overstaying your welcome. Good job, Pack AD.
Jeff Parker – Max Brown
Jeff Parker wrote one of his best ever songs about his mother. Awwwww.
Princess Nokia – Harley Quinn
You know, I’m the only one making rules here, but there are rules, dammit, and one of them is the “one song per name per year” 5 rule, which really caused some trouble when it came down to winnow the Princess Nokia records (there are two of them, Everything is Beautiful and Everything Sucks). So it could have been this or “Sugar Honey Iced Tea”, so go ahead and listen to them both, because rules are stupid.
Quelle Chris & Chris Keys – When You Fall (f Nappy Nina, Fresh Daily & 5ill)
There is, predictably, a bunch of good work on Innocent Country 2, even if it was a sequel that didn’t seem demanded and was certainly unexpected, but the real high point is the long, convivial closer, “When You Fall”, which is immensely satisfying as its own listen, even if the album isn’t your bag.
Shilpa Ray – Manic Pixie Dream Cunt
I believe some things are self-explanatory.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Cameo
You know, I like RBCF. I sort of sat out most of the hype over the last couple of years, but I have the records and they’re pretty good. I’d go see them if they played near me, that kind of thing. But “Cameo” is really something else. What a great fucking song.
Run the Jewels – Yankee and the Brave
You know, if you run it all the way to R.A.P. Music, El-P and Killer Mike are coming up on just about a decade of this hot streak. RTJ4 is better than 3, not quite as good as 2 and, like all of them, a blast to listen to. I’ve got very little to add to the general discourse in that regard.
Micah Schnabel – How to Ride a Bike
In which the erstwhile Two Cow Garage singer, and the best-ever songwriter from Bucyrus, Ohio, makes plans for a nebulous future.
Shabaka and the Ancestors – They Who Must Die
Shabaka Hutchings makes records, and then I love those records. It’s a very simple formula, really.
Shabazz Palaces – Wet
Sometimes you just want to hear a dude rap about how good he is at rapping, I guess. I mean, sometimes I want that.
Nadine Shah – Buckfast
It’s sometimes difficult to find something to say about every song here, especially when I don’t have a particularly personal stake in why I like it. This is an excellent piece of art-pop, and Nadine Shah’s voice is an incredible instrument. That’s about it.
Soakie – Boys on Stage
I mean, just because there aren’t too many boys on stage right now, because there’s no one on stage at all, doesn’t make the sentiment any less meaningful.
Soccer Mommy – Circle the Drain
Sometimes, no matter how much I like a song, as these writeups always end up proving, I just don’t have much to say about stuff. “Circle the Drain” is a very good song by a very good songwriter.
Thundercat – Black Qualls (f Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington & Childish Gambino)
You know, despite my long-documented love of the comedy work of Donald Glover, and my occasionally liking his music for awards-show-documenting purposes, this might actually be his first appearance in one of these writeups. I’m certain that he’s relieved. Also, this Thundercat record is great, and this is one of his best singles.
US Girls – Red Ford Radio
There are more pop-oriented songs on Heavy Light, and there are also newer songs, but this, a re-recording of a song from way back on Go Grey, is probably still the best part of the record. It’s bigger, more insistent than the original recording, and the propulsive, chanting quality of it is a mode that I almost always prefer US Girls operating in.
Ric Wilson & Terrace Martin – Don’t Kill the Wave
I still don’t dance much, but I like to pretend that I’m someone who does, you know? It’s nice. Then I could be the wave.
The Weeknd – Blinding Lights
The Weeknd has really figured out how to be this pop star version of himself, and while that’s not anything new, or even anything particularly unique to my attention, it’s also meant that he’s ushered in probably his best pop song right here.
Charli XCX – Anthems
While it’s true that I don’t have much need to go out to the club, specifically, a need that is explored lyrically throughout How I’m Feeling Now, I’m a hundred percent sympathetic to the need to go out and get some damn music in your bones. Charli would probably rather I choose that Christine and the Queens song, but I still don’t like that song very much, so here we find ourselves.
YG – FTP
Fuck the police
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Swamp Dogg’s “Please Let Me Go Round Again” is a pretty effective plea to stay on Earth, featuring the recently-departed (and sorely missed) John Prine. The Sadies’ “The Most Despicable Man Alive” is a very funny story song about a bad acid trip abetted by King Khan, with whom they split the single it’s from. Steve Earle’s “The Devil Put the Coal in the Ground” is a very effective mission statement for an album about the horrors wrought upon Appalachia. I tired to include Mint Mile’s “Shy” because I love Ambertron so much, but it’s not really a “singles” experience, so it didn’t quite make it. Ambertron is great, though. Go listen to it. Destroyer’s “Crimson Tides” is his best single in a few years. Khruangbin & Leon Bridges’s “Texas Sun” is as relaxing as you could want, and has been a good song to have in my back pocket for the dumbest year on record.
- actually, neither does the folder, because it’s a charity single, so go buy it yourself. ↩
- here at ONAT, we are huge fans of necessary synthesizers – see this and every other list of good songs I’ve ever made – I’m just talking about the unnecessary ones, here. ↩
- of course I could look it up. Of course I could. ↩
- I’m funny! ↩
- That is to say, there could be two OMG songs here, or two Princess Nokia songs, because they both made multiple records in the first half of the year, but the rule doesn’t prevent a different name – Liz Harris, for example, has definitely had these writeups where she’s had more than one song on them as two different acts, and if there had been, say, a Sumac record this six-month interval that would have worked also. It’s a weird rule, but it’s there, and I admit that it’s completely arbitrary. ↩