2015 is off to a good start for music. Stellar singer-songwriters like Natalie Prass blew us away in January, but February has been dominated by familiar voices — like Sufjan Stevens and Drake — who dropped great new hits.
Here are the seven best songs:
Drake's surprise mixtape has been killing the charts for the last three weeks; it's also an album that fully shows who he is as a person and an artist. "Energy," more than any other song on this album, has killer beats and a strong sense of identity. Drake is one of the only rappers who can create rhymes like, "I got bitches asking me about the code for the wifi/so they can talk about their timelines." It's a funny line, but also one that's completely relatable (if not trill). On top of that, this might be his catchiest song since "0 to 100."
Sufjan Stevens, "No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross"
Sufjan Stevens carved a place for himself in the singer-songwriter genre with his sultry voice and gentle touch on acoustic guitar. His albums are historically intimate affairs that make you feel like he is singing only to you, just inches from your ear. It's no surprise that his newly released song, "No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross," employs the same effect, but it's much more straight-forward than some of Steven's earlier more erudite work. Here is Stevens at his most raw, and his most vulnerable self. It's not every day you hear an artist recording a song with air conditioner noise in the background to make it feel realistic.
Hot Chip, "Huarache Lights"
"Huarache Lights" is the first single off of Hot Chip's sixth studio album, and it's a more mature song than they've ever produced. Hot chip built its fandom with emotionally-intelligent and loneliness-inducing electronic beats. On "Huarache Lights," Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard overlay their voice to create a pulsing, mid-tempo song that fluctuates between smooth, calming verses and amplified, overwhelming choruses. It's a pairing that turns "Huarache Lights" from good to great.
Kendrick Lamar, "The Blacker the Berry"
Since Kendrick Lamar dropped "i" last September, his fans have been on edge waiting for his fourth album. On Valentine's Day, the Compton-bred rapper dropped "The Blacker the Berry" without warning onto Soundcloud. The song is based around a thumping drum and a couple of layered symphonic sounds, but the power lies in the lyrics. "You hate me don’t you? I know you hate me as much as you hate yourself," he raps." Here, Lamar completely departs from the positive thumbs-up anthem of "i," to create a song that hits you as hard as the angles that he spins on his cadence.
Heavy drum beats kick off Mathaverskan's new song, "Witness" with as much energy as the band shows onstage. It's a howler of a song. Maja Milner's swaying, belting voice varies so much between the chorus and the verses that it's hard to believe that "Witness" is all one song. Behind her voice, drums thunder and the guitars swing. This is a song with power and a true hook. "Witness your fall," Milner belts out as her voice lulls you into a trance.
Elle King, "America's Sweetheart"
"What do you want from me," Elle King croons on her new song, "So beat the drum with me, I'm not America's sweetheart." Elle King's got a voice that's the deep South's version of Amy Winehouse: she's raspy, she's soulful, and she's got a healthy dose of twang. The 25 year-old's second album, Love Stuff dropped February 13, and she seems to have really found her musical personality. "America's sweetheart" is a bad-girl misandrist anthem that's angry, smart, and could easily be a summer sleeper-hit.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, "Multi-Love"
"Multi-Love" tells a well known rock and roll story with distorted keyboard sounds and Ruban Nielson's melodic voice. It's about love told through the lens of a rock star trashing a hotel room. "The writing on this album was more abstract, riddles that slightly disrupt the flow," Nielson told Jagjaguwar. "A good lyric was something that didn't quite sit right. I don't want to be sad or nostalgic about these relationships. I want to be more celebratory." He's right. With lyrics like, "she wants to be your love" and a minor-keyed chorus, "Multi-love," is a celebratory song, but with a twist.
The best songs of January are here, and this is a playlist of the best of 2015 so far: