UNDERWORLD, “REZ/COWGIRL LIVE”
Euphoria? Communion? Here it is, the pure, silvery, “everyone’s together” rush. This live version is the best: The crowd’s delayed roar of gladness as the beat drops at 8:39 is like a chemical exploding softly across the brain centers. Musical bioengineering at its most soulful and loving.
BREE RUNWAY FEATURING MISSY ELLIOTT, “ATM”
Something to look forward to every new year: the future of music. The rapper Bree Runway makes a solid case for the title of Next Big Thing on “ATM” while commiserating with that forever-future-of-music, Missy Eilliott, about the hassles of travel.
KAYTRANADA AND SHAY LIA, “CHANCES”
If ever there were a song that insisted on shimmying, it’s this gauzy offering from the pair of Canadian musicians. Shay Lia’s voice is so light, it’s practically atmospheric, the song a reminder that there’s beauty—comfort, even—in thoughtful repetition.
AUGUSTUS PABLO, “KING TUBBY MEETS THE ROCKERS UPTOWN”
Dub reggae is literally bottomless: an echo-world without a floor, and an inexhaustible amount of material. But search as you may, delve as you might, you won’t find a deeper, more wildly creative two and a half minutes of dub than this. A brain-mending micro-symphony.
LADY GAGA, “FREE WOMAN”
In a career full of cheesy-ass liberation cries, this is Gaga’s purest one. The pandemic won’t fully be over until go-go boys at crowded beach bars get to shout the final chorus.
BAD BUNNY, “LA DIFÍCIL”
Really, you could play the entirety of Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG and catapult yourself into the new year with the Puerto Rican star’s high-energy Latin trap. One of the racier songs on the album, “La Difícil,” finds him waxing poetic about a woman who calls only when she needs him after a night out. Remember those?
KILLING JOKE, “REQUIEM”
“When the meaningful words/ When they cease to function …” Catastrophe-ready since 1979, millenarian post-punkers Killing Joke have never really gone out of style. But 2020 was an especially Killing Joke type of year. And “Requiem”—with its brain-canceling synth-pulse, its angelic staircase of a riff, its processional stomp into the end times—is once more the anthem of the hour.
CHARLI XCX, “ANTHEMS”
In the early days of quarantine, the noise-pop hero Charli XCX recorded this feral, meta tribute to camaraderie-creating anthems such as the very ones on this playlist.
SAM SMITH FEATURING NORMANI, “DANCING WITH A STRANGER”
“Dancing With a Stranger” is a union of two pop juggernauts. Smith and Normani bring soulful energy to the club-friendly track, elevating it beyond normal nightclub fare.
NEIL YOUNG, “DON’T LET IT BRING YOU DOWN”
From the ineffably sad slump of its three main chords to the ringing, spacey melancholia of Young’s imagery, there is much strange comfort to be found here. It does the job, this song: It pierces downward, through shelves of loneliness, into a substrate of human connection.