The singles bar: Spring Break edition

(Via Sony Music Entertainment) A promotional image for DJ Khaled's 2018 single "Top Off" is pictured.

With break right around the corner, check out some of this season’s biggest releases that will be the perfect soundtrack for the week off!

“Top Off” — DJ Khaled featuring Jay-Z, Future and Beyoncé

In perhaps what was one of 2017’s most unlikely turn of events, DJ Khaled finally became a star. After 10 studio albums, the Snapchat-famous DJ landed back-to-back hits with “I’m the One” and “Wild Thoughts,” both off his album “Grateful” (2017). However, said record had been preceded by the release of the so-stale-it-hurts “Shining” (2017), featuring pop culture icons Jay-Z and Beyoncé. On “Top Off,” Khaled calls upon their services once more and brings in Atlanta-based rapper Future in an attempt to right the wrongs of their first collaboration. The result is a decidedly average trap-inspired banger. The three featured stars all sound indifferent on their verses, failing to create any true moments of stardom. At this point, it is largely accepted that Jay-Z will never regain his former glory, and while he shows a bit of a spark here, his verses ultimately fall victim to cheap shots at Meek Mill and simply mentioning expensive items. Beyoncé, too, feels wasted here, especially when compared to the masterful flow found all over her last studio album, “Lemonade” (2016). Future does a decent job of playing the role of the hook girl, but he has little to work with as he uninspiringly repeats, “I took the top off the Maybach.” While “Top Off” is more listenable than “Shining” will ever be, Khaled still has much work to do.

Rating: 3/5

“No Excuses” — Meghan Trainor

With another Singles Bar, the law of diminishing returns evidently applies to Meghan Trainor. The doo-wop songstress returns to the retro-inspired sonic palette of her debut studio album, “Title” (2015), in order to craft “No Excuses,” the lead single to her forthcoming third studio album. While she embraces the feminist message purported on her sophomore album “Thank You” (2016), Trainor fails to reinvent the wheel on this release. “No Excuses” is catchy enough, using a groovy baseline and vintage-sounding guitars to call a man out for his disrespectful behavior. While this message may fit within the current political climate of the Time’s Up movement, the song structure itself feels too generic, rushing through unmemorable verses to get to the chorus. Here, Trainor puts her songwriting chops on display, using a clever call-and-response method around her answering, “Someone else” to draw the listener in. It is moments like these that serve as reminders that Trainor is indeed a capable star, but for most of “No Excuses,” she simply fails to make good use of them.

Rating: 2.5/5

“Django Jane” and “Make Me Feel” —  Janelle Monáe

After two critically acclaimed albums, it might be possible to conceive that Janelle Monáe, one of R&B’s most daring purveyors, would surely fall short at some point. This assumption would be wrong. Although the 32-year-old songstress may have taken an extended hiatus to work on landmark films such as “Moonlight” (2016) and “Hidden Figures” (2016), Monáe is finally back with her third LP “Dirty Computer,” which is scheduled to be released on April 28. In preparation for the release, she dropped two tracks,  which could not be more different. The hip-hop-influenced “Django Jane”is a triumph for Monáe both personally and thematically. She remains unafraid to tackle complex social issues, unapologetically declaring, “Let the vagina have a monologue / Mansplaining, I fold ’em like origami.” The track very much speaks to the current conversations this country is having, delving into issues around sexuality and race.

“Make Me Feel,” while much less of an overtly political statement, is unafraid to be a serious pop anthem, embracing Monáe’s sexual liberation to address rigid societal ideas about sexuality. Sonically speaking, if Justin Timberlake is still taking notes after the failure of “Filthy” (2018), this is how one does a Prince-inspired track. Calling upon the services of the songwriting duo Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, who were vital to Selena Gomez’s “Revival” (2015), Monáe shines in pop diva mode, giving her the best chance at a Top 40 radio hit in her career so far. Simply put, this is what a high-quality pop song sounds like.

Rating: 4/5 and 4.5/5, respectively

“Space Cowboy” and “Butterflies” — Kacey Musgraves

With Taylor Swift having severed ties from her country roots for the foreseeable future, the lane for a country-pop star has remained wide open — until now. Kacey Musgraves first burst onto the scene in 2013 with the masterful “Same Trailer Different Park,” which addressed many taboo topics in country music like safe sex, recreational drug use and acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Her sophomore follow-up, “Pageant Material” (2015), failed to create the same cult following, forcing her back to the drawing board for her third record. The result is the forthcoming “Golden Hour,” due out March 30, and the results could not be more excellent.

“Space Cowboy” is a delicate melding of vintage Americana with contemporary pop influences, addressing a love that has clearly run its course. In typical Musgraves fashion, she masterfully emotes the soft resignation of the ballad’s scenario, singing, “I know my place, and it ain’t with you.” The clever revival of the “Space Cowboy” trope feels apt here, demonstrating how Musgraves can push country music to new heights.

“Butterflies” is a bit of an emotional 180, seeing Musgraves bask in a new love. The track, though a tad kitschy with the references to a butterfly’s life cycle and ability to fly, is another solid effort from the singer-songwriter, leaving much anticipation for “Golden Hour.”

Rating: 4/5 and 3.5/5, respectively


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