StAR’s music contributors and editors weigh in on last year’s best tracks while looking forward to what 2017 has to offer. In no particular order, here are our favorite songs from 2016.
“Space Program” by A Tribe Called Quest
After nearly two decades of silence, Tribe came out with one final album and “Space Program” is definitely one of the best songs of the year. I’m a bit biased because my favorite dynamic of Tribe was always the high and low of Q-Tip’s and Phife Dawg’s voices, but there’s just something about this song that brings me back to their glory days in the 90’s. As always, Tribe brings a political spin to their songs, “Space Program” provides the funk and advice to thrive through today’s tumultuous politics.
“I Bet on Losing Dogs” by Mitski
Let Mitski’s soft and beautiful voice serenade you in this song. Puberty 2 as a collection is a masterpiece, but I think this song showcases the sweet nature of Mitski’s vocals. She sings about universal experiences of pain and makes it sound so raw and incredibly relatable. How can a song sound so sweet and painful at the same time?? I don’t think there can be enough said about Mitski’s mastery of her craft, but all you can do is listen to understand.
“Jamz” by Sales
“Jamz” is incredibly minimal, yet at the same time so heartfelt. The lead singer of Sales sings to you like you’re her younger sister or brother. “Jamz” is my go to song that I play whenever I chill in the Cactus Garden. The duo behind Sales, Lauren Morgan and Jordan Shih, seem to magically craft a glowy mood in each of their songs with their garage-pop guitar strumming and lyrics and in “Jamz”, the combination just makes you feel incredibly content.
“The Curse of Hypervigilance (in Politics, Romance, and Cohabitation)” by Open Mike Eagle
Open Mike Eagle partners up with Danny Brown’s go to beat guy, Paul White, to create the album Hella Personal Film Festival which is filled with playful beats and heartfelt raps. The reason why I like this song so much is because it brings me back to the hey-day of Souls of Mischief where a lot of the rap lyrics had an incredibly large storytelling element to them. This song reminds me of a cartoon and will envelop you deep into Open Mike Eagle’s colorful imagination.
“Augustine” by Blood Orange
Freetown Sound has got to be one of my favorite albums from the year. It has a pacing funky element to it, yet it has the resonant, soft vocals that reminds of Twin Peaks. In this song, he takes his childhood experiences and fuses together themes of blackness, immigration, queerness, and religion in order to communicate something bigger about finding love in a disconnected modern world. He references St. Augustine in this song and shifts the perspective of his religious writings to one with a queer lens that promotes acceptance in one’s own being.
“Your Best American Girl” by Mitski
God I love Mitski. Mitski’s 2016 release Puberty 2 was celebrated by many as one of the best albums of the year, and the title is absolutely deserved. Puberty 2 explores the ups and downs of Mitski’s adulthood and her struggle to find happiness. The album is both emotional and brutally honest. With each track the listener feels as though they’ve been invited to a private screening of an event from Mitski’s life.
With “Your Best American Girl” we are invited to a scene from Mitski’s adolescence. In “Your Best American Girl” Mitski describes a relationship where she felt pressure to change herself for a partner. The partner she describes is a white, all-American boy who she struggles to see eye to eye with because of her international upbringing and identity as a woman of color. The lyrics are paired with Mitski’s trademark distorted guitar, and a series of crescendos in Mitski’s use of her own voice. The result is a thought-provoking track that’s had me thinking for the past nine months.
“Timeless” by James Blake (ft. Vince Staples)
It’s a toss up as to whether I cried more to James Blake’s The Colour in Anything or Mitski’s Puberty 2 this year. The Colour in Anything is a beautiful, lengthy, and heavy album that is reflective of Blake’s mental state when he wrote the album. In an interview with Rolling Stone Blake said of the album, “Over time, being part of the music industry and adjusting to my new life as an avatar, I found it really difficult. And my music reflected that mood.”
“Timeless” featuring Vince Staples is a remix of the album version that was released four months after the album. The remix is a condensed cut that features Vince Staples rapping over the original. The track is filled with tension, and it is faster and more aggressive than the original. The album version of “Timeless” evoked misery, and the remix of “Timeless” is James Blake fighting against these feelings. The tense music is a battle cry. The remix of “Timeless” was one of my anthems of fall quarter, and a reminder that no matter what I’m going through, I can handle it.
“Cruel World” by Phantogram
I’m surprised to be including a track from Phantogram on my top five of 2016. Phantogram was one of my favorite artists four years ago, but I lost interest after I felt like their second studio album Voices was too similar to their first. Their third album, appropriately titled Three, was a pleasant surprise. “Run Run Blood” and “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” are dynamic, high energy singles that earned the band acclaim from the likes of Pitchfork. My favorite track on the album however is “Cruel World,” perhaps because it’s delightfully simple. Lead singer Sarah Barthel told Complex, “The overall message is about how tragic life can be at times – how the world can bring you down… But you have to try to find the beauty in it sometimes.” The message is relatable, and the catchy sample introduced at 0:40 and used throughout brings me back.
“Glowed Up” by Kaytranada (ft. Anderson .Paak)
I can’t help but root for Kaytranada. He’s performed at Stanford twice in the past three years; the first time was during the Winter Quarter of my freshman year, when he performed for an audience of less than 200 in the Theta Delt parking lot. Last year of course, he was on the lineup for Frost. A month before the release of his latest album 99.9%, Kaytranada also came out as gay in a profile for The FADER. Kaytranada’s music is genre-bending, but in each circle he works in: electronic music, hip-hop, and R&B, representation of black gay men is lacking. As a bisexual woman and a fan, Kaytranada’s coming out meant a lot to me. After watching him grow as an artist as well as come out, so much of me was rooting for his success.
As a result, I had high hopes for Kaytranada’s debut studio album, and 99.9% did not disappoint. “Glowed Up,” featuring Anderson .Paak, is a standout on the album. Kaytranada’s R&B-inspired electronic beats pair perfectly with .Paak’s chilled-out Southern California vibe. The result is an undeniably fun track with works well as the soundtrack for anything from a house party to a study session.
“Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time” by Panic! At The Disco
This year was the first year I ever saw Panic! At The Disco live, despite having listened to them since 2009. The venue was a pop punk music festival in Sacramento in September. It was over 90 degrees outside and we had the option of standing on either black concrete or astroturf. There were more preteen girls with neon dyed hair in the audience than I had ever seen in my entire life. During the show, though visibly intoxicated, Brendon Urie landed not one but two backflips. The show was a religious experience; I walked away with a renewed interest in Panic! At The Disco and all pop punk.
Panic! At The Disco’s latest album Death Of A Bachelor is fun. At times it’s corny, but what else could we expect from a 29-year-old musical veteran whose largest audience are preteens? “Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time” is my favorite track off the album, primarily because Brendon Urie and I share an interest in partying with cocaine and gasoline.
“Blood on Me” by Sampha
Known primarily for his collaborative work with Drake, Kanye, Frank, and others, Sampha’s “Blood On Me” paints a lush portrait of his prowess as a lead artist, and serves as proof that the British songwriter deserves a spotlight of his own. His voice has that lazy-river kind of temperance, with perforations of a primal desperation and resolve. Heavier than fudge, yet soft enough to enjoy before bed, “Blood On Me” is an electronic treat that can be savored at almost any time, satiating a wide range of moods and situations.
“The Dreamer” by Anderson .Paak
The last track on Anderson .Paak’s latest album Malibu, “The Dreamer” turned out to be among my favorite songs of the year. Wistful descriptions of a childhood spent in poverty come accompanied with a sunnily optimistic tone – a retrospective reflection on harder times, and the idealized role of struggle in the pursuit of achievement. Reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly in its lyrical and melodic content, “The Dreamer” packs enough groovy Sunday nostalgia to make one sentimental for a backstory of their own.
“Night Out” by Baauer
Baauer is a trap genius – a sentiment born way back in 2012 with the release of his debut single, “Harlem Shake.” The 20-something producer got busy in 2016 with the release of his debut album, Aa, trailed closely by two hard-hitting singles (“Paauer” and “Night Out”).
“Night Out” can be hard to swallow at first, but you know immediately that it’s good food. The single is raw and rambunctious, featuring full throttle Japanese-accented English and bilingual lyrics (courtesy of Tokyo rap collective YENTOWN). With its popping bass and a disheveled, hardy rapping structure, this is the kind of track that gets you up in the morning and keeps you awake at night.
“Projection” by PWR BTTM
I was smitten from the start by “Projection” for its simple percussion, its catchy spontaneity, and its messy riffs. In the traditional vein of PWR BTTM, this song is short – less than three minutes – and its brevity is a nifty function that gives the end an added punch. “Projection” is analogous to a pair of bookends, with its simple, groggy start, followed by a rhapsody of up-tempo guitarwork and an implicit air of optimism, ending with a final “thud” that leaves you hitting ‘replay’ like a craving unfulfilled.
This single speaks of the “burn” associated with isolation – in particular, the anxious kind that occurs when your perception of self is measured by how you envision others seeing you. The metaphor of heavy weather is an apt caricature of the feelings being expressed, yet the midway metastasis from the melancholic to the reckless and rapid offers an alternative (or, perhaps, an antidote) to the suffering.
Overall, if queer punk isn’t your thing – or if you didn’t know it was a thing – this song serves as an excellent example of what the genre is capable of.
“untitled 06 | 06.30.2014” by Kendrick Lamar
Circa early 2016, I was a classic rock snob with little patience for anything that wasn’t slipslapped with guitar or glam metal. I became a Kendrick convert after listening to untitled unmastered all the way through – and proceeded to spend the rest of 2016 exploring the realm of rap and hip hop, looking to recreate what Kendrick gave me. His eight-song EP is a medley of free-floating experimentation with the same political and intrapersonal themes found in To Pimp A Butterfly. And, in spite of the unmixed rawness that the title alludes to, untitled unmastered was truly one of the best albums of 2016.
Though the album in its entirety is worth a listen, “untitled 06” is the song I find myself coming back to when I really want to listen like it’s easy. The song is a narrative about introspection, self-respect, and embracing all that makes one “evenly odd” – a notable (yet compatible) divergence from the thematic ideas of racism, power, and social destruction that can be found scattered throughout untitled’s set list. The track is supported by the smooth vocals of CeeLo Green, a perfect partner to Kendrick’s vocal style and emotion.
I have a lot to say about this song, but CeeLo Green said it best: “I think it’s wonderful. I think he’s wonderful. And I think it’s wonderfully timed.”
“Good Drank (feat. Gucci Mane & Quavo)” by 2 Chainz
Mike Dean combines a gorgeously loping piano melody with some stretched-out 808s. 2 Chainz invites Gucci Mane and Quavo over to rap and sing and moan about cars and kush and tasty beverages. What more can a reasonable human being ask for? Sometimes I put this song on repeat, which is great because it means that every three minutes I get to hear Gucci pronounce Kevin Durant’s surname in two (very) different ways. Also, like, if you hadn’t already realized it, “Good Drank” should convince you that Quavo truly is the greatest living writer of rap hooks. Swish!
“Choose Me” by James Blake
James Blake put out a really solid album this year that is, as per usual, about ten tracks too long and overwhelmingly somber. I found it very difficult to make it through the whole record in one sitting, but this track was the immediate standout that I kept returning to. We get a couple minutes of typical James Blake build-and-release (dubstep, baby!) before the track enters a clearing: birds chirp, keyboards plink, and fireworks echo somewhere off in the distance. But just when you think everything’s calmed down, it starts to build up again — Blake’s choppy vocals, pitch-shifted yelps, and swirling synths combining to form this monumental thundercloud of emotional intensity. It sounds great at parties, weirdly, but it sounds even better on rainy highways.
“RiRi” by Young Thug
I’ve been saying for years that Young Thug should put out an album composed entirely of love (sex) songs. (Notable entries could include “Tell Em (Lies),” “Hey I,” “She Notice,” and so on.) For now, though, I’m cool with him including a couple romantic loosies on every project he puts out, and “RiRi” is my favorite of 2016. Something about that hook, man: “You gotta earn-earn-earn-earn-earn-earn-earn it!” That might be the most indelible pop earworm of the year, but Thug also says the sentence, “Apple Watch with them booooogers on it,” so, like, toss-up, I guess.
“Sugar” by Terror Jr
Okay, in the interest of transparency, I did spend the better part of the year wondering whether or not Kylie Jenner is a member of the mysterious pop collective known as Terror Jr. And, sure, that might explain why I’m so obsessed with them — and with “Sugar” in particular. But Kylie notwithstanding, this is some freaky, catchy, excellent pop music. It’s like PC Music drained of the pretensions and coated with a thick layer of Kylie Lip Kit (Dolce K, obvi). I think this song is about cocaine or something, but damn if that pre-chorus doesn’t hit me right in the chest every damn time: “We’re turning off our phones / I don’t think we’re going home,” Maybe-Kylie sings, before a mist of saudade envelopes the track: “I miss that…” Oof.
“Alone” by Marshmello
I don’t have anything to say about this song except for the following: it is perfect.
“The Bird” by Anderson .Paak
Occasionally I’ll hear a voice, a sound, a song that makes me pause and wonder where they came from, who they are influenced by, what sounds are they combining. Sometimes I can figure it out, but with Anderson .Paak I have no idea. He plays the drums, wears a septum ring, dances like it’s his first show, and sings with a rough smooth beautiful voice that pulls you in and pushes you away but always keeps you there. It’s both traditional with just some horns and drums and guitar and his voice, and also nothing like anything that’s come before.
“Nikes” by Frank Ocean
This one you gotta just watch the video: (https://vimeo.com/179791907)
From the opening song you can tell Blonde is going to be different than Channel Orange, more raw, more painful, but at the same time if you make it through the whole journey with him, you end up feeling a wave of emotion. If you give yourself to it, it will take you from this world, even if just for an hour.
“I’m On” by Kamaiyah
There’s something special about hip-hop concept albums, at least the ones I’ve grown up listening to: College Dropout, GKMC, 2014 Forest Hill Drive. When there’s a coherent story driving the whole album, you feel like you’ve actually gotten to talk to the artist, not just enjoyed their music. Plus I’m really down for skits I think they’re real underrated. Kamaiyah (who is younger than I am damn it), in her debut mixtape empowers her city real hard and gives a full story about a night in Oakland for her, all with fire production and bars that should make some rappers watch their back.
“Ultralight Beam” by Kanye West
Stand up for this song. Hold your hands over your head. When Chance says “this is my part nobody else speak,” let him get this one. When Kanye says “Pray for Paris, pray for the parents,” think about it for a second. When the choir screams “FAITH, MORE, SAFE, WAR,” scream more. Don’t notice when the track becomes “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and start dancing at Metro Boomin’s intro. Lose yourself to this one.
“Consideration” by Rihanna
Play this one for your mom when you’re home. Play it for your dad too. Play it in the car when you’re driving on the 280 and trying both to break and not break the speed limit. Play it to wake you up, play it when you sneak into the listening room, play it when you’re wondering if this is the same Rihanna from “SOS.” It is. She’s grown with you, more than you. Still so beautiful, indescribably so.
“Work” by Rihanna (ft. Drake)
We first hear the synths, and now we’re in the little pop parallel universe Rihanna’s granted us three and a half minutes to play in. If you’ve got on decent pair of headphones, Boi-1Da’s drums move through you like a pendulum, tickling one ear and then getting back to the next. It’s a subdued, off-kilter instrumental, and it’s simple – synth, drums, bassline, repeat. The sound of its entrance, however, is the best, most lit moment of the night.
“Work” is a magical song. Rihanna’s been mainstream pop’s rightful queen for nearly a decade now, so any sort of departure from her success recipe of cranking out familiar-sounding ear-candy is gutsy. She speaks with a Barbadian twang, but we’ve never heard her rock it quite like this. She embraces Young Thug’s 2016 and puts aesthetic above comprehension, and it makes for her best song ever.
“Waves” by Kanye West
I’ll be damned if there isn’t a collection of 200+ cut masterpiece tracks on the laptop Kanye got back from his cousin. Legends like Madonna and Stevie Wonder, young studs like FKA twigs and Earl Sweatshirt, middle-school dance gods like Soulja Boy and Akon, I’m positive, have logged studio minutes with Kanye, and we may never get to hear those B-sides. “Waves” was a passionate Chance the Rapper plea away from collecting decades of dust too (until geriatric Kanye reissues his catalog with never-before-heard material), and after a year of spinning the track daily, I personally feel deeply indebted to Chance, but I’m also peeved: we now know how incredible the B-sides are.
Maybe it should count as some form of harmful forgiveness to consume a bad dude’s art, but I find myself able to separate Chris Brown the person from Chris Brown the singer. His “Waves” hook is glory, exuberance, magic, love – it strikes me so powerfully at such a simple level of gratification, that I can’t help but associate it with unspecific, cliché descriptors. I don’t want to think about it harder, it just makes me feel like I’m on top of the world.
“Self-Control” by Frank Ocean
Many still aren’t used to a world where we’re no longer biting our nails clean while hating and waiting for Frank Ocean. A consolation to the painful wait, beyond getting two stellar albums, is that Blonde hasn’t yet lost its novelty after five months. It is compositionally simple, but getting to digest the album so slowly suggests it possesses transcendent complexity.
In “Self Control,” for example, we don’t hear a single beat of a drum. Instead, the instrumental is built almost entirely from a simple, lush guitar riff reminiscent of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself.” Yet unlike “Love Yourself,” (a song I also love), “Self Control” has as much replay value as a song can have, and I can’t explain that. This is, on paper, a stripped down composition, but with every listen, I hear something new.
“29 #Strafford APTS” by Bon Iver
In October, I went to a Bon Iver show, and Justin Vernon turned the Fox Theater into an intimate forest cabin. He and his band played 22, A Million beginning to end. When they got to “29 #Strafford APTS,” nobody was moving anymore. Hell, nobody was breathing anymore. Anything – sound, motion, sniffling – felt blasphemous.
The most impressive artists are those who explore new sounds as they move through their careers. Vernon was making pure folk music in 2007. A slightly altered rendition of “29 #Strafford APTS” puts it back into that category, but it’s also got Yeezus-esque vocal filters and post-Emma Vernon autotune, and it makes for a breathtaking composition.
“Really Doe” by Danny Brown (ft. Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar & Earl Sweatshirt)
It’s tough to get the best out of three of the world’s most unique rappers by cramming them over the same instrumental, so if you’re planning on putting together a star-studded posse-cut anytime soon, study “Really Doe” for months before you download Ableton. The beat repeats, and repeats, and repeats – it’s both stanky and ear-candy. But the track retains its dynamism through energy, bars, and flow. Each MC shines: Danny Brown’s opening is psychotic, and Ab-Soul’s follow is grounded. Kendrick’s classic verse doesn’t even stand out as the track’s best – Earl’s the one who steals the show. His closing verse makes you wonder what sort of next-level intellectual playtime Odd Future required of its members. Maybe they read James Joyce.
“Friends” by Francis and the Lights (ft. Bon Iver)
If Chance the Rapper is heading up your PR efforts, every Internet-user who enjoys sunshine and gospel will inevitably hear about your project—and that means you’d better deliver. However, if Chance the Rapper is heading up your PR efforts (and has gone so far as to sample your lead single in a Coloring Book track), that’s already a pretty good sign that you know what you’re doing.
Francis and the Lights released their first album, Farewell, Starlight!, last fall. It was, overall, a solid album—some songs blurred into each other, creating a somewhat generic, twinkling electronica-lite landscape that was all still very pretty—but the crown jewel was “Friends”, a Bon Iver collaboration that not only had Chance’s stamp of approval, but also featured a cameo from earnest fan and supporter Kanye West (who went on record mid-summer to call “Friends” his favorite song of 2016). The song does some beautiful work with autotune, layering Francis’ voice over his collaborators’ to create a haunting sense of regret and of the past, underscored by a future promise of patience and kindness against the worst of our human impulses. It’s a touching, luminous message of cautious optimism and interpersonal healing, and that is its strength. “Friends” is such an excellent song because it’s a simple one: in the face of failed romance, of distance, of mistakes and mixups, it simply promises friendship. Imperfect but wholly genuine friendship, without strings attached or ulterior motives, which can often feel like a rarity.
“All Night” by Beyoncé
I once spent an otherwise perfectly nice evening arguing with my friends about Lemonade (unless you want to obsessively dissect music and pop culture, you shouldn’t strike up a conversation with me after a few glasses of wine). The general consensus, of course, was that the album was a masterpiece, that Beyoncé was our queen and patron saint of feminism, etcetera; but the real question at hand was this: what is the best song on Lemonade?
The answer is “All Night”. “All Night” is the best track on Lemonade because it is a song built on pure love, grace, and the brass line from OutKast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”, making it one of the few cultural artifacts of 2016 immune to the vitriolic hatred and bitterness that defined so much of the past year, politically and otherwise. It’s an iron-fist-in-a-satin-glove kind of song, a stirring testament to human resilience, joyfully asserting that a history of oppression and suppression managed to create something beautiful under the pressure: generations’ worth of tenacious women who ultimately derive their strength from family, a strength that Beyoncé and this generation of black women and women of color have also inherited. “All Night” refuses to draw straight lines, insisting that compassion and forgiveness is just as powerful as Beyoncé’s voice rising to a crescendo. Here is a song that celebrates family and happiness and love and the value of creating moments of peace in times where none seems to to exist.
“Your Best American Girl” by Mitski
My initial reaction to “Your Best American Girl” was to stifle a scream, a loud, relieved, cathartic scream, and then to hastily try to weave myself back together when I began to unspool in the last minute of this track. Mitski, I nearly wept. Mitski, I have been there. Mitski, my god, so many of us have been there, you have no idea—or maybe you do, because in a year like 2016, a messy year of lost identity and dirty politics and lost, dirty identity politics, you gifted us with a stunning tribute to it all and then some.
“Your Best American Girl” is at once messy, lost, and dirty, because discovering and owning oneself is a process that reduces people to a constant state of desperation, and that allows us to totally dismiss frivolous luxuries like image or direction. Have you ever so desperately wanted to be something that someone else wanted you to be? Have you ever so desperately wanted to shed your skin—and by that, I mean have you ever reached rock bottom, ever entertained a perverse and impossible idea of abandoning everything that made you you, be it your culture, your lineage, your sexuality, your gender, or the parts of your face and body that distinguished you from the established norm? Have you ever so desperately wanted to be that best American girl who is wanted by that best American boy, just because we were told from birth that’s what we should want? So many of us have been there, furiously and painfully now working to unlearn it. Mitski’s been there, too, and she brought her wailing guitar with her.
“White Ferrari” by Frank Ocean
2016 was marked by a lot of difficult music, but Frank Ocean’s Blonde was especially… raw. It peeled apart the layers of traditional R&B music as we understand it, left nothing behind but the essence of the genre: its heart, usually wrapped up by lush vocals and the intricate layers of soul and blues that gave R&B its name, was instead left naked and exposed and barely beating on the stark, empty surface that Ocean built his music on. Here is an artist who finds emotion so overwhelming he needs to deconstruct it; he’d rather rip it from his chest and evaluate it from behind the safety of his keyboard than force himself to find any kind of emotional closure through his music.
“White Ferrari” is different. This is Ocean realizing that having a gaping hole in your chest still hurts, it’s just a different kind of pain. He’s giving us something we’ve rarely seen from him before: genuine acceptance, as a thoughtful eulogy to the past. It’s a close cousin to Channel Orange’s “Forrest Gump”, with similar notes of wistfulness and nostalgia, but the critical distinction is that lines like “I care for you still, and I will forever / That was my part of the deal” don’t treat forever as an extension of the past. Growing up and apart can lead to regret and bitterness, but that can still coexist with progress, and with the two distinct futures that he and his former partner just don’t fit into anymore. Add to this a dynamic musical growth—gorgeously sparse production with enough room for your tears and then some, with heavy Bon Iver influence towards the end—and Ocean is the magician he claims to be in “White Ferrari”, after all.
“Closer” by The Chainsmokers (ft. Halsey)
We’ve failed to recognize the brilliance of “Closer” because we just haven’t been paying attention, too busy mindlessly screaming out the chorus and dancing to the beat drop between shots of Jose Cuervo and miscellaneous acts of debauchery. Which, granted, is probably the way this song was meant to be listened to: loudly, not closely; cathartically, not seriously. An excessively close reading shatters the illusion of “Closer”, reminds you that these guys are just regular, slightly selfish people who like to party and make mistakes. Worse, you remember that these are the Chainsmokers, creators of “#SELFIE” and “I Love Kanye”, and you realize that these are the auteurs of some of the last few years’ most horrifying, generic pop fluff, and that you might ultimately not even like them all that much.
But “Closer”, by some miracle, is more than generic pop fluff; it’s a promise that tonight will be the night of your life, damn it, and it’s precisely because of, not in spite of, the fact that tonight’s not polished or perfect. In a pop music landscape that pushes chrome-finished idealism on the regular, this is a surprisingly subversive, seductive message. Maybe there was no stolen mattress or unaffordable rover involved, but somehow, someway, we’ve all been there. “Closer” just takes our uncomfortably trashy universal memories and makes them sound good. Like, really good.