After a fairly sluggish summer, September came out swinging to tip off the fall season proper. What started with The National, Tori Amos, and Rostam continued with Foo Fighters, Phoebe Bridgers, and The Killers. Looking ahead, that momentum doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon thanks to forthcoming releases by St. Vincent, Beck, Kelela, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, Wolf Parade, and yes, I could keep going on and on.
That’s why this month’s list was particularly tough. Hell, we could have done a top 20 and still not even scratched the surface, which means the songs you’re about to hear are really, really, really fucking great. So much that we’re willing to place them on Spotify playlists and keep them around long after our pumpkins have rotted and our Halloween costumes become politically incorrect. Did we miss a track or two up ahead? Of course.
But that’s why we’ve got you to tell us in the comments below.
10. Sam Smith – “Too Good at Goodbyes”
Life’s good when Sam Smith is back in our lives. Sure, we’re emotional wrecks, and shit gets real way too fast, but what good is music if it doesn’t leave you teetering on the edge of depression. “Too Good at Goodbyes”, the first song from the British balladeer in god-it’s-been-too-long, is actually empowering. Kind of. “So I’m never gonna get too close to you/ Even when I mean the most to you/ In case you go and leave me in the dirt,” he sings in that all-too-catchy cadence of his, later concluding: “Baby, we don’t stand a chance. It’s sad but it’s true/ I’m way too good at goodbyes.” Okay, so it’s a little depressing, but c’mon, love is never black or white. For most, love tends to exist in that murky gray area, where the glaring negatives always ride shotgun to the occasional positives. It’s a stupid thing we do as human beings, but it’s necessary, because we’re complicated souls, willing to run away as soon as we’re ready to embrace. What makes Smith’s latest meditation feel so vital is that he’s at that transitional point where he feels strong enough to actually say “goodbye,” and while there are lyrical hints to suggest otherwise, mostly his use of repetition (as if he’s saying this again and again as he’s hurt again and again), we’re willing to bet he’s a few blocks away from badness. Can’t wait to see what else he’s got in store for us. –Michael Roffman
09. Charlotte Gainsbourg – “Deadly Valentine”
Somehow, even the simplest words can gain immense weight and meaning when they’re repeated, time and time again, over centuries. Human beings cherish ceremony and have reserved certain phrases and sentences for the most important occasions in life. On her new song, “Deadly Valentine”, Charlotte Gainsbourg taps into that deep linguistic well, reiterating the language of the marriage ceremony through the arching drama of a grand electropop song. But then things aren’t as blissful and sweet as that might seem; in the midst of all that iconic language, the little tweaks shatter the illusion. We are talking about a “deadly valentine,” after all. This song, and others featuring everyone from Sir Paul McCartney to Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, will be featured on Rest, out November 17th via Because Music. —Lior Phillips
08. Nao – “Nostalgia”
Here in Chicago, the leaves are starting to turn bright orange, and there’s a chill (oh that chill!) coming on, no matter how much we wish it wasn’t. So, when Nao sings, “You feel like summer/ You bring me back to life/ You got me reminiscing ’bout a better time,” on “Nostalgia”, the idea of a happier moment full of sunshine and warmth hits home particularly hard. The self-professed “wonky funk” vocalist showcased what she was capable of on 2016’s excellent debut, For All We Know, and the bubbly, shimmying “Nostalgia” promises that there’s much more to come. The details of the follow-up to that debut haven’t yet been announced, but we’ll be sure you know as soon as we do. —Lior Phillips
07. Maggie Rogers – “Split Stones”
It’s always a positive feeling when we seriously impress our teachers. Not only do we nearly burst with the bubbly satisfaction of seeing that triangular letter at the beginning of the alphabet stamped on our work, but we also get that little nudge of encouragement so critical to someone just starting out. Maggie Rogers felt that nudge from no less than Pharrell Williams at a songwriting master class, and it sparked a 2016 trio of instantly catchy singles, quirky accompanying videos with their own unique aesthetic, and a major-label debut EP, Now That the Light Is Fading, that left us pining for more. Like breakthrough hit “Alaska” and Rogers herself, “Split Stones” finds that casual compromise between a young woman who can’t decide whether she wants to go backpacking and sightseeing or break out into an unapologetically goofy dance in the middle of a public sidewalk. Again, as on prior singles, we hear the poetic singer-songwriter verses spilling into ebullient pop choruses, all delivered with a take-me-or-leave-me sense of self that shines through all her recordings. Rogers considers “Split Stones”, an old song of hers, to be a gift to fans and a signal to the end of one journey and the start of another. Consider our bags already packed. –Matt Melis