Off the charts but not out of mind: 10 songs worth a listen



Mikaela Krim

Presently, a number of hit singles have emerged from artists like Maroon 5 (“Sugar”),  Taylor Swift (“Style” and “Blank Space”), WALKTHEMOON (“Shut Up and Dance”) and Ariana Grande (“Love Me Harder”). These songs have monopolized the airwaves, but they aren’t the only ones worth noting. Winter 2015 has witnessed the rise of a number of new independent artists who are producing quality tracks.  This list—assembled in no particular order—comprises 10 of the more melodically interesting, experimental or just plain catchy songs of the season. Rest assured that a few, if not all of these artists, will be finding their own spot on the charts in the near future. Here’s your chance to explore them before the mainstream grabs hold. 

1. “Back Again” by Flor

The best part about this song is its hook, which is delivered early on and experiences but a single reprise, leaving the listener yearning for more. Anchored by a gently pulsing base line, the track is carried on the soothing vocals of the Oregon band’s lead singer, and crescendos into the achingly beautiful phrase, “I guess, I guess I never really thought it through enough.” 

2. “Proofread” by Daniel Wilson

This synthesizer-heavy indie pop jam is playful with its melodies, breaking from the typical structure to fashion multiple choruses. Wilson, an up-and-coming 23-year-old from Michigan, layers distinctively choppy snare under his swooning gospel falsetto for a novel and endearing contrast of sound. Electric guitar is added at points to create a gritty, genre-bending effect.  

3. “Talk to Me” by Cymbals

With a vibe ripped straight from a John Hughes’ movie, “Talk to Me” makes you feel like a character in a montage, driving around the city late at night looking for the climax to some storied romantic escapade. Although more crowded melodically than Wilson’s “Proofread,” this single relies just as heavily on drums and synth, and the consistency of rhythm makes it difficult not to bounce along in time.

4. “Lean on” by DJ Snake and Major Lazer, ft. Mø

Although Danish singer Mø lends her vocals to this track, it is the brainchild of  EDM masters Snake and Lazer, who have created a chorus that practically vibrates with crystal clear energy.  Devoid of the grittier components which generally typify trap, the bass is less intense, the drums less snappy and the overall product is one that swings rather than pounds itself into the listener’s memory. 

5. “Seventeen” by Stone Cold Fox

This track begins softly, allowing Brooklynite Kevin Olken Henthorn to intone imploringly,“Come back, I can’t remember all the things you said/ Come back to New York honey I won’t treat you bad,” before bursting into a rapturous explosion of guitar and drums. “Seventeen” is a pure jam, warm, ragged and uplifting in its breakneck pace. The lyrics are simplistic but alluringly so—the rhythm of the lines flow effortlessly, and it recalls all the great grunge jams of the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

6. “Heroes (Branchez Remix)” by Alesso 

You’d be hard pressed to encounter someone who hasn’t heard this party favorite from the Swedish hit-maker. But the Branchez remix is something special, forgoing up-tempo intensity in favor of a glowing hook that bubbles casually to the surface before popping. It cleverly builds up the verse in expectation of an explosive drop (in the manner of most EDM singles), but exploits that expectation by removing the bass altogether. You wouldn’t bump to this “Heroes” in the car, but if his aim was putting a contemplative spin on a house hit, Branchez nailed it. 

7. “Habits of My Heart”  by Jaymes Young 

Piano-rock is a strange genre, one that seems to idle along indefinitely in search of some occasion that will finally suit it. Young, who toured with London Grammar and is signed with Atlantic, does a fine job of repurposing piano-rock for the modern era.  “Habits of My Heart” glides along on the rippling surface of a classical melody, but throws in an R&B beat and an electronic touch that makes it functional both as a sexy mood-setter and as a jamming ballad. 

8. “Round Two” by Royal ft. Desktop

As the solitary rap song on this list, “Round Two” seeks to follow in the footsteps of Odd Future, Run the Jewels and Childish Gambino by pushing outward on the boundaries of hip-hop yet again. Elevated by a poppy beat, the distorted vocals warble happily about going “oh so high, like some medical green tea” and beg the question of why you’d ever “let all that negativity surround you.” At a measly 2 minutes 48 seconds, the track ends long before the listener is ready to let go of the sunny, laid-back attitude it imbues. 

9. “Ego” by Tove Styrke

Tove Styrke has the terrible misfortune of coming to prominence at the same time as fellow Swede Tove Lo, whose hit “Habits” is permeating the airwaves.  Despite dabbling in the same pop-diva territory, Styrke has a distinctively different style, more fast-paced and upbeat than the other Tove. “Ego” jibes playfully at an unnamed someone who’s self-absorption gets the better of them. By contrasting its lyrical message of exhaustion with the happy melody, the track manages to perfectly convey the image of a person who’s so fed up she has no alternative but to dance it off. 

10. “Cocoon” by Catfish and the Bottleman

“Cocoon” has already begun making the rounds on alternative radio stations, but such propagation justifies itself in the perfection of the song’s alt-rock vibe.  Lead singer Van McCann’s endearing accent oozes boyish charm, and the lyrics capture every girl’s unrealized teenage fantasy of rebellious romance. As a polished alt-rock jam with a melody that catches from the very first note, “Cocoon” is bound to hit the charts faster than any song on this list, and merits a listen. Or two, or three.