March sent the music world into high gear with the release of great rap albums by Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt and heavy, emotional hits by Sufjan Stevens and Courtney Barnett.
Here are the seven best songs of the month:
Kendrick Lamar, "King Kunta"
"I got a bone to pick." That intro line to "King Kunta" could be the thesis statement for Kendrick Lamar's sophomore album, To Pimp a Butterfly, an incredible collection of songs about the black experience and Lamar finding his way in the world. Based on Kunta Kinte, an 18th-century slave in Virginia whose life forms the basis of the book (and resultant miniseries) Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, "King Kunta" is more than an addictive beat — though it's certainly got that, too.
Courtney Barnett, "Depreston"
"Depreston," by Australian rock artist Courtney Barnett, is one of the best singles of the year so far, as smart and beautiful as it is melancholic and jarring. A somber song, "Depreston" feels a lot of things — something that sets Barnett apart from many other contemporary rock writers. Read more about it here.
Earl Sweatshirt, "Grief"
The first single off Earl Sweatshirt's sophomore album, I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside, "Grief" carries the same weight of the angst, frustration, and panic that made Earl Sweatshirt's first album, Doris, such a standout. As the track goes on, it becomes more and more disjointed — pulled apart by all-consuming anger.
Lower Dens, "Ondine"
Baltimore dream-pop band Lower Dens has already made two albums full of soaring vocals and lingering choruses. "Ondine" rests solidly in that tradition. The story of a broken relationship finally falling to pieces, it has a remorse-filled center. The constant refrain of "I will treat you better" sticks in the mind. Here, finally, is a breakup song less about sadness than about recognizing one's own flaws amid the regret.
Sufjan Stevens, "Should Have Known Better"
Stevens's seventh studio album, Carrie & Lowell, is all about learning to deal with death and loss. "Should Have Known Better," a major centerpiece of the album, is one of the most personal songs Stevens has ever written. Its erudite lyrics give it a powerful punch, one felt even through its gentle, finger-plucked, soothing sound.
Tame Impala, "Let It Happen"
Tame Impala, fronted by Kevin Parker, has never been a group to make music for the radio. Instead, Parker — a noted introvert — creates songs that reflect a particular mood or feeling. There's some irony in titling an eight-minute song with a carefully crafted and finessed structure "Let it Happen," but the song's seamless nature is a big part of its appeal.
On "Realiti" electro-pop artist Grimes takes a step back from bass drops into the atmospheric, soothing sounds of her critically acclaimed 2012 album Visions. Grimes salvaged "Realiti" from the recording studio while working on her upcoming fourth album and decided to release it as a single. Light synths suggest a perfect pop song, but the humanity in the lyrics offers something weightier, more personal.
For more great tracks from 2014, check out our lists of February songs and January songs. You can also subscribe to this Spotify playlist: