1. The Avalanches: “Colours”
In Stereogum’s review of the Avalanches long-awaited sophomore album, Wildflower, Chris DeVille points out the group’s knack for creating a “sensation of somehow simultaneously swimming and soaring.” After captivating the underground music community with their thrilling, unique debut Since I Left You in 2000, the Avalanches fell off the face of the earth for 16 years. They would occasionally tease a follow-up album, but nothing would ever come of it — until now. That swimming and soaring sensation DeVille mentioned is what makes the Avalanches so special, and the wait for Wildflower completely worth it.
“Colours” is a vibrant smorgasbord of swirling sounds, floating in an out of focus, resulting in a song both stimulating and soothing. “Colours” demonstrates another quality unique to the Avalanches: their ability to make a song that can soundtrack a party as naturally as it can drift through your ears as you fall asleep. Unbelievably, counter to the Avalanches’ usual modus operandi, the track contains no samples, so the backmasked vocals and whirlwind of sound were all recorded by the group. The flutes, bells, strings, and airy vocals combine to form a kind of ice-cream truck psychedelia.
2. Pusha T feat. Jay Z: “Drug Dealers Anonymous”
Everyone always talks about Kanye, Kendrick, and Drake at the top of the rap game, but I think Pusha T is right with them. “Drug Dealers Anonymous” displays Pusha’s multi-pronged prowess. His taste in production is top-notch, selecting another cold, menacing beat for the song. And his lyrical ability and flow are killer, like the way he raps “Shatter all your misconceptions, hold all of them missing weapons, you thought I would miss my blessing, the ultimate misdirection.” Jay Z, basically America’s Most Wanted at this moment in time, turns in an excellent guest verse as well, complete with a “Damn Daniel” reference. Jay brings a freshness and bounce that he hasn’t always had over the last few years, so it’s heartening to hear.
3. Disclosure: “Feel Like I Do”
I hate to say it, but Disclosure fell off a bit last year with the release of their second album, Caracal. Their 2013 debut Settle was amazing — nuanced and catchy with subtle grooves and a sense of inventiveness — but Caracal was flat, standard, and unexciting. The electronic house duo released a little 3-song EP called Moog for Love and it adequately recaptures Disclosure’s original magic.
“Feel Like I Do” prominently features a vocal sample from soul legend Al Green, lifted from “I’m Still in Love With You”. Disclosure constructs a passionate but chill beat that perfectly complements Green’s elegant croon. The bass and string adornments emit that ’60s R&B flavor, but with a modernized dance beat and tasteful warps of Green’s voice (it seems like it would be impossible to “tastefully” warp the storied voice of Al Green, but somehow they did it). The whole song moves effortlessly and creates a new genre along the way: electronic soul.
4. YG feat. Drake & Kamaiyah: “Why You Always Hatin?”
YG takes pride in the fact that he’s come up through the L.A. rap scene without the ever-present SoCal stewardship of Dr. Dre. But ironically, no one has mastered and repurposed Dre’s pure, unadulterated g-funk better than YG. The beats are organic, simple, bass-heavy, and ooze Compton swagger. “Why You Always Hatin?” would fit right in on The Chronic. With help from both the ubiqitous Drake and the fresh up-and-coming Oakland rapper Kamaiyah, YG adds a new classic to the west coast gangsta rap canon.
5. Whitney: “No Matter Where We Go”
We already gave a coveted Five Quality Tracks slot to Whitney when they released what sounded like a long-lost America single in “No Woman”. The band’s full-length debut, Light Upon the Lake, builds on their masterful, innate feel for ’70s AM rock. “No Matter Where We Go” sounds like it’s being played in your living room as the summer sun is just coming up. The drums and piano are raw and unadorned, and the electric guitar licks are inspired. And the chorus gets at a desire I have often: “I wanna drive all night with you with the windows down, and we can run all night.”
Honorable Mentions: “Wow” by Beck, “Best to You” by Blood Orange, and “The Magic” by Nico Yaryan.
Here’s a running Spotify playlist of all the Five Quality Tracks songs for each month in 2016 (or at least, all the tracks that are on Spotify).
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