There’s so much music out there, it’s hard to keep up! We're already a fourth of the way through this, the year of our Lord Beyoncé's 2016, and hundreds of albums have been released already. Several major stars put out chart-topping albums, and a bunch of smaller names produced totally uncelebrated greatness. It’s really not safe to head into April without catching up.
Here are the 25 songs we loved the most this quarter:
With its jolting piano riff and Hill's whisper-in-your-ear voice, "Down" is a track that shifts from a purely reflective, almost meditative breathing exercise into a jolting dance track and back again so quickly that it's never dull and constantly engaging.
The incredibly catchy rhythm topped with a jolting bass line makes Kamaiyah's "Out of the Bottle" seem like it's only a party jam about an unstoppable good time. But it's also about poverty and liberation and how important a good night can be at the end of a terrible week.
The ever-elusive double-sided wig masquerading as the pop star named Sia released a full album in early January. "Cheap Thrills" is a swirling, gorgeously constructed pop song that sounds like spinning around in a beautiful field of spring flowers.
I never learned any of the words to this song because its electronic riff is so catchy that it alone was enough to make "Dancing on Glass" worm its way into my brain and refuse to leave.
When the track list for Zayn Malik's new album came out, I assumed "Tio" was about an uncle, but boy, was I wrong. "TiO" stands for "take it off" and it is about as straight as a banger can come.
“I’ve imagined you, one hundred pennies underneath my tongue,” Kristine Leschper sings on "Copper Mines." Her voice lilts up to finish the line, giving a terse, almost terrified feel to the song's easily distinguishable emotions. This is a simple song, a few guitar chords and a walking bass, but Leschper's voice makes it feel inescapable, endless.
This is an incredible song from Kiiara, a 20-year-old Illinoisian working at a hardware store. Her sliced-and-diced vocals layered on top of a choppy electronic beat are catchy and mesmerizing, but instead of coming off as distractingly "new" or "innovative," they just feel like her natural artistic output.
ANOHNI dropped this track two days after the United States killed more than 150 people in a Somali drone attack. This is a beautiful song, but it's also a song with the kind of soul and moral conscience that great music has been built upon for centuries.
On first listen to Rihanna's new album Anti, "Needed Me" was far from my top three. But in the past month this song, with its strung-out vocals and twisting, climbing chord progressions, has become addictive for me. Plus, you don't get much better of a feminist mantra than "fuck your white horse and your carriage."
"Your Best American Girl" tackles all the complex questions usually reserved for fiction—racial dynamics, the American dream, girlhood, parental expectations, and rebellion—in a sparse three-minute pop song. As Jill Mapes wrote for Pitchfork, "This is not the 'go girl' triumph of pop anthems, but rather a fraught conclusion reached after weeks, months, years of reflection."
There is no star more interesting to watch right now than FKA Twigs: Her body twists and turns, her voice climbs to stunning heights, her breath drops and rises. On "Good to Love," FKA Twigs shows that she's evolved since her 2014 debut album. She's more emotional, more honest, and even more unforgettable.
Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011, and five years later she still isn't a household name. But in this single, Spalding proves that her deep-jazz inspiration, her spiritual questioning untied to a specific faith, and her almost '70s rhythm section sound make her an artist we should pay a lot more attention to.
I was adamantly anti-Meghan Trainor until this song. I honestly would not be surprised if this became a contender in the ever-fraught battle for Song of Summer.
Kendrick Lamar's "project" untitled unmastered. is a collection of unusually mastered, rough-draft pieces. The first of these was debuted on Jimmy Fallon as "Untitled 02," but appears on the album as "Untitled 08." Whatever you call it, it screams energy and power. I've heard this song probably 100 times and it still gives me full-body chills.
From its first line, "What happened after N'Orleans," Beyoncé's first single of 2016 is a siren call for social justice. "Formation" is an anthem for the Black Lives Matters movement, and a reminder that America's biggest pop star is in fact a black woman. And it certainly doesn't hurt that "Formation" is a straight banger of a hit.
Woods's newest single "Sun City Creeps" has solid country-western vibes. Before the vocals come in, its strumming guitars and jilting rhythm give it the cadence of a saloon door swinging back and forth. But this song is also more confident than any of Woods's past work. Lead singer Jeremy Earl has finally found a confidence that oozes into the sunny, dirty grime of this song.
I'm a sucker for a good Grateful Dead cover, and lead singer Adam Granduciel nails this song. It's gorgeous and uplifting, and just really happy.
What's that? You wanted a song to remind you of your pop-punk youth? Try "Hearts in Motion," a song with too much guitar, a rhythm that chugs faster than a boy at a frat party, and a melody that will make you feel.
Young Thug's "Digits" is an older, wiser, and more fucked-up version of Fetty Wap's Top 40 hits last year. "Digits" has passion, grit, anger, violence, money, fun. Nothing hits quite as close to the swirling-head, broken-body feeling you get after that last (maybe regrettable) shot of the night.
Porches wants a larger audience, and you can feel it on this second single from their new album. "Be Apart" sounds expensive. It's watery, swimming sounds couple with a thumping drum beat and Aaron Maine and Greta Klien's duetting voices to create a song that sounds soothing, desperate, and relentless all at the same time.
There's not a ton of rock in the world right now that feels fresh and necessary. But White Lung's "Hungry" isn't your dad's rock. Sure, it's fast and guitar centered and has enough crashing cymbals to sound like a car crash, but it's also emotional, with lyrics like, "Baby you’re weak / Baby your starvin'."
Azealia Banks can't be bothered to play by the rules. She dropped her newest album on Twitter as straight .wav files—no promotion. But that doesn't make "The Big Beat" any less of a crazy-good club jam.
"Is it human to adore life?" Jehnny Beth croons over a steely guitar line. Throughout the song her voice grows angstier and angstier, pushing her into an abrasive, honest realm so quickly that when the song drops off around the three-minute mark, it feels like an abandonment, a loss so deep it cuts as quickly as her voice.
"No Hook" isn't on Lil Yachty's March-released album Summer Songs. Instead, the Soundcloud release has an almost childish feel to it, the backing electronic keyboard giving it a light and truly summery vibe.
Kanye West promised that his long-awaited album The Life of Pablo would be a gospel album, and on "Ultralight Beam," the album's lead song, Kanye more than delivers. "Ultralight Beam" is holy. It's communal. It's a gospel choir, and a sermon, and an offering to modern music. It's a hymnal book so heavy it hurts your arms to carry it, but it's so sacred, you can't put it down.
Twenty-two of the 25 songs on this list are available on Spotify. They (along with a few other greats) can be found in this playlist:
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.