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Best Songs Ever: New singles reviewed, featuring The xx, Alicia Keys, Kevin Abstract, Shia LeBeouf & more

‘Best Songs Ever’ features various contributors to The Spinoff Music assessing recent songs and singles.

SONG OF THE WEEK

The xx – ‘On Hold’

The first xx album pre-dated the likes of Miguel and Drake, but its melancholy and longing and preference for a pulse over a beat make it seem of a piece with them – hierarchically, these were songs less written than produced. The follow-up, Coexist, saw them becoming more of a band and – as is often the case – their better musical dynamic made for more boring music. ‘On Hold’, though, is fantastic, taking the best bits of Jamie xx’s fidgety and spare solo material and plugging it into a beautiful duet about a relationship withering through neglect. The agitated soul sample on the hook is a particular delight and suggests the yawning gap between records might not mean anything more than their having got their shit back together. – Duncan Greive

Kevin Abstract – ‘Miserable America’

Released a few days before the citizens of the United States voted by a marginal minority to blanket the world in a bleak, unknowable darkness, ‘Miserable America’ is a song which articulates this brave, terrifying new era with a painful efficiency. It’s a song about the constant pains and hassles of otherness in a country whose previous claims to celebrate that quality now seem thinner than ever, with a chorus that sardonically celebrates the joys of disassociation from all of the above. And it’s the kind of lyrically direct, musically ambitious and spiritually powerful music that the world desperately needs right now. Sorry if this sounds a bit too effusive, but Kevin Abstract deserves all of your love and your attention and your streaming royalties. – Matthew McAuley

Lotic – ‘Formation (Election Anxiety/America Is Over Edit)’

If you’ve been struggling to get the election of a race-baiting conman to the position of Leader of the Free World out of your head, even as half the country shakes violently, this is what the neurons firing around your brain might sound like – a powerlines-in-an-hurricane mix of anxiety, energy, assertiveness, hope, destruction, oppression and disobedience. Oh, and Beyoncé. – Henry Oliver

Neiked – ‘Sexual’

The song title is somewhat alarming, conjuring up a sleazy soundtrack for nightclub lechers, but ‘Sexual’ is anything but sleazy. It ends up being such a positive and delightful tune that it’s impossible to hate. The song is the work of Swedish producer Neiked (aka Victor Rådström) and British vocalist Dyo (AKA Dayo Olatunji). Production-wise, there’s nothing happening here that hasn’t been going on with pop all year long. What sets it apart are Dyo’s vocals, a perfect match for the meandering Scandinavian melody. Her voice brings warmth and sass to the song, completely erasing any thoughts of perviness (though there is a version titled “Sensual” for more delicate listeners). ‘Sexual’ has been following the modern pop trade-route from Sweden to the UK to Australia and is now making its mark here, just in time for summer. What a tune! – Robyn Gallagher

Alicia Keys – ‘Girl Can’t Be Herself’

It’s like beyond predictable for a white dude of a certain age to applaud a song like this – a song about how shit it is wearing makeup and being assessed physically at all times as a woman – as a way of peacocking his own wokeness to the world. No way around that, so I apologise. But no getting around the fact ‘Girl Can’t Be Herself’ is an absolute pan-Caribbean stunner too, a reminder of what a peerless voice Keys possesses, and the way she can cut you to the core while riding a beat with an effortlessness that barely exists this side of Beyoncé. – DG

Shia LaBeouf – ‘5 Fingers of Death (Freestyle)’

In this post-truth world, one thing remains irrefutable: the number of people who think they can rap is greater than the number of people who can rap. And, to the world’s surprise, Shia LaBeouf can rap. Like, not just can rap, but dude got bars. Sure, this isn’t really a single, or even really a ‘song’ in the traditional sense, but it’s one of the most purely entertaining five minutes of music I’ve heard in awhile. Is there anything he can’t do? Surely this confirms LeBeouf’s spot at the top of the celebrities-who-try-their-hand-at-everything-as-some-kind-of-performance-art pile. He’s like James Franco if James Franco weren’t so fucking annoying. – HO

P-Money ft JME & Wiley – ‘Gunfingers’
Not to be confused with his New Zealand counterpart, the new Skepta-produced P-Money single is an old-school grime throwback drunk on camaraderie; a tiki tour of the club/studio/pirate radio with a neat conceit that lets the drums imply both the titular hand gesture (really fun to mime along to, eh) and some pointed dangling rhymes for Theresa May’s Britain: “… Batman / … Pacman / Living in Number 10 Downing Street you will never see a ____.” – Stevie Kaye

Nef the Pharaoh ft Juvenile – ‘Put You On’

Nef The Pharaoh steps up his elaborate Cash Money fanfic/cosplay (after last year’s killer ‘Big Tymin’’, proving you can mix club bangers and oral histories) by recruiting label star Juvenile (with nearly twenty years on Nef!) for ‘Put You On’. Bay Area synths reminiscent of Enya float above New Orleans-inflected drums, and a similar relation exists between the two MCs – Nef’s breezy flow anchored by Juvenile’s gravelly tones. – SK

Aanysa x Snakehips – ‘Burn Break Crash’

Ghost Town DJs’ 1996 smash ‘My Boo’ had a moment in 2016 off the back of one of those viral video challenges the police always end up doing; now the dying echoes of its reappearance in the public consciousness can be heard in the Snakehips-produced debut single by R&B singer Aanysa. She gives a strong first impression, delivering hooks on hooks which hold their ground against the track’s anything-goes ‘90s nostalgia combo of So So Def Bass All-Stars beat and plinking ‘Rugrats Theme’ keys. I don’t know what Snakehips look like but I’m imagining some Fido Dido type blokes behind the desk on this one. – Calum Henderson

Kaylee Bell – ‘Getting Closer’

The best kinds of breakup songs are the ones that make you wish you were going through one. ‘Getting Closer’ is one of those songs. Full of attitude and not a hint of desperation, the song is a goddamn anthem. The cheating boyfriend is by no means a new narrative – especially for the country music genre – but the feelings are universal and easy to empathise with. Young artists willing to give country music a crack in NZ deserve a lot of credit; bonus points for those like Bell who wouldn’t sound out of place alongside US chart toppers Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini. Not a big country fan? That’s cool, there’s a pop edit too. – Kate Robertson

Little Big Town – ‘Better Man’

‘Better Town’ features a writing credit from one T A Swift, forever placing Little Big Town in the canon of Great American Artists Who’ve Recorded Songs Which Might Be Roasting Her Ex-Boyfriends. But even absent that weighty cultural context, this is a glorious four minutes and twenty-one seconds of contemporary American country music. An ideal companion piece to LBT’s transcendent ‘Girl Crush’, it’s the kind of torch song that Swift stopped writing for herself a couple of albums ago; a crushingly universal pseudo-tribute to a man who she’d still be in love with if he wasn’t the fucking worst. If you can’t relate to this, that’s probably because it’s about you. And you should feel bad for that. – MM

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