Cat Power (ft. Angel Haze) – “Manhattan”
Chan Marshall released an uncharacteristically happy record last year called “Sun.” After struggling with alcoholism and personal problems, the record felt like a welcome relief. But the really exciting thing about this remix is the flow of New York rapper Angel Haze. Dark, unrelenting, like a late winter trip to the city. “Manhattan, you are my favorite place to die.”
Drake – “Come Thru”
I’m normally easily bored by Drake’s lazy lyrical misogyny, but on this track he’s clearly not phoning anything in. His new album, Nothing Was the Same — is his strongest showing yet. Granted, I’m not an avid follower of Mr. Graham’s career. I found out about this track via a g-chat from my boyfriend. But I was deeply excited by this laid-back, RnB-inspired, multilayered groove. And yes, in the wake of this year’s Miley Cyrus fiasco — who the fuck can focus with all this twerking going on?
Los Macuanos – “Sangre, Bandera, Cruz”
Straight out of Tijuana, Los Macuanos work in a scary genre of beats known as “trival” (think apocalyptic Mexican cumbia). This song is like a sound collage of Mexico’s current narco-troubles, complete with speech audio, archival tape, and modern-day synthesizers. Despite the words of former president Felipe Calderon — “Mexico is still standing” — there’s clearly room for disagreement.
Haim – “Falling”
My best friend Alana once said Haim is pure California sound. There’s a special kind of creativity in the Golden State — to quote Best Coast, “We’ve got the ocean, got the babes, got the sun, we’ve got the waves.” And the alchemy between all these elements really lends itself to artistic spontaneity. Maybe that’s why this group sounds like Stevie Nicks, sans cocaine and magical powers, with exceptionally genius hooks. “Never look back and never give up,” feels like a mantra we could all take on for 2014.
Becky G. – “Becky from the Block”
Keeping things real in my adopted state for a minute, set your eyes on Becky G., because she won’t stop ‘til she gets to the top. This song is a repurposing of Jennifer Lopez’s “Jenny from the Block,” but let’s not hold that against this 17-year-old firebrand. I can’t get enough of her tribal prints, and the girl’s got grit. She’s part of a new generation of bicultural rappers that will increasingly define pop music in years to come.
A Tribe Called Red (ft. Northern Voice) – “Different Heroes”
My favorite musical discovery of 2013. A Tribe Called Red mixes traditional powwow music with contemporary beats — from Jamaican dancehall to Dutch-Caribbean moombahton. The goal? To create political change through partying. The group started out DJing in Ottowa clubs, hoping to provide a welcoming space for aboriginal youth who had come to Canada’s capital from far-off communities. Their newest effort, Nation II Nation, is a must-hear.
Zuzuka Poderosa – “Psicodelia” (Nego Moçambique Remix)
Straight outta Rio via Indonesia, the Caribbean, and now Brooklyn, Zuzuka Poderosa is a global act to watch out for. It’s hard to follow the baile funk singer’s rapid-fire Portuguese, but it’s clear her message carries some urgency. “Parties catch fire in the ghetto,” she begins, “if the war is on the hills of Rio or in the Middle East…it’s already killed so many people.” Zuzuka delivers her dark lyrics with a spoonful of musical sugar, shouting over an infectious beat and an addictive hook.
La Yegros – “Viene de Mi”
I discovered this song after a chance download of an exciting collaboration album called Future Sounds of Buenos Aires. I was driving across a long stretch of highway in Northern Arizona, feeling a little lost and maybe a bit altitude weary. The opening notes began and I felt La Yegros was inviting me on her own kind of road trip — in this case, across the culturally rich Argentina-Brazil border. I was immediately hooked on her easy cumbia.
Selena Gomez – “Come & Get It”
Supposedly Gomez’s not so discreet parting words to Justin Bieber: “When you’re ready, come and get it.” Anti-feminist? Culturally appropriative for its use of Indian musical samples and the video’s Bollywood dance moves? I’ll just take it for what it is at its surface: damn catchy pop music.
Dënver – “Los adolescentes”
This Chilean duo has been brewing up exciting disco pop since 2004, when they were just 18 years old. They’ve got their hands all over the burgeoning Chilean DIY music scene. I was lucky enough to interview the outfit this summer for another project. When I got to the venue, they were surrounded by indie media from all over the country and getting ready to perform for a large, arty audience in Valparaiso. During our interview, they bickered like an old married couple. But it’s not hurting their music at all.