On The Dial: Eight Songs for 2018

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One of the hottest tracks of 2018? Photo by Randy Stern

Your audio system has ears. They emit those sounds to your ears. And, you both enjoy each note, each lyric, each beat…each groove.

To close out this column for the year, I compiled the tracks I have been listening to on the radio – terrestrial and satellite – and through streaming and app-based channels. There are a lot of great tracks that have wafted from the speakers of the various vehicles I worked with this year alone. Compiling them is no easy task, to be truthful.

Let's get this list going for 2018. As I always say…be surprised.

"ALL THE STARS" – KENDRICK LAMAR AND SZA: "Black Panther" was the movie event of the year. Its soundtrack was equally crucial. It came as no surprise that this became one of the biggest hits of 2018 for the Compton rapper and the one of the hottest R&B voices coming straight out of Jersey. What brought me to this song is SZA's chorus, which leads to Kendrick's first bars. The whole song fits with the mood of the film, along with the breakthrough and impact it had on the culture. Not to mention, SZA is having a great year with her album "Ctrl" – some said she is having the same kind of year Kendrick had in 2017. I would definitely agree.

"BOO'D UP" – ELLA MAI: This British artist broke through this year with a strong R&B album and this breakout track. It certainly does not sound like a British R&B track – nor does her voice. Ella took a wholly American approach to this track – and her entire debut album. I saw many people groove hard to this track in my travels – and rightfully do. It is an infectious track full of young energy and woman power.

"HURTIN' ME" – STEFFLON DON W/FRENCH MONTANA: Another voice from Britain, she rocked both sides of the Atlantic with her Jamaican tinge and groove. The collaboration with rapper Montana was her entry to USA R&B listeners. The track is soulful and rocks a reggae groove throughout. But, you have to pay attention to her and her vocals She is not going to fade away any time soon. Check Stefflon Don out as provided hooks to Halsey's "Alone." She's a tower of strength that will be around for quite some time.

"MEHCINUT" – JEREMY DUTCHER: We go to Canada for this First Nations singer combining his language with a piano and other "modern" instrumentation and arrangement. This is one of several tracks on the Polaris Music Prize-winning album "Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa." It took five years to take the wax recordings of his Wolastoqiyik ancestors of North-west New Brunswick and record them as a way to revive his language. It is a beautiful song and shows Dutcher's vocal excellence. The whole album is superb on its own merits and deserving of the Polaris Music Prize this year. By the way, the "samples" heard on this song and throughout the album are the original recordings of these same songs.

"OTW" – KHALID w/6LACK and TY DOLLAR $IGN: Back to the R&B world for a minute. Can we talk about how hot Khalid has become with every hit or hook taking to every chart possible? The equal parts of the three voice ring up a slick production of Nineteen85. It is just one of several singles released by – or, in part – this Georgia-native (via El Paso) with the distinctive nasally mid-tone voice. There is also a remix known as the BURNS Edition that fits well with the EDM crowd.

"NO PLACE" – RUFUS DU SOL: This Australian trance trio released this first single from their third album, "Solace." It was an aural landscape that treated any speaker system with emotion and depth. It is not to say that it is minimalist, although there are parts of the song that feel like it. The chorus comes on and you do get the beat that underlies the entire track.

"LET YOU GO" – LUMISADE: Finnish DJs Joonas Hahmo and K-System got the biggest break in their collaborative career when Armin van Buuren featured this track on their "A State of Trance" radio show (#ASOT848) and it crept into my iPhone from satellite radio. The beat is infectious and driving – which makes it a great track to drive to. The vocals help to create the atmosphere of the track by adding additional texture to the driving beat.

"BREUKELEN (BROOKLYN)" – MASTA ACE AND MARCO POLO: Two veterans of Hip-Hop took on a project that would reflect on the history of the borough using the original Dutch name of it. The album, "A Bruekelen Story," is a refreshing treat that sets aside the pall of mumble rap for several minutes. Both Brooklynites crafted this singular paean to their borough, shouting out the neighborhoods and the legends who came from those streets. It is the smoothest track you have ever heard from Masta Ace himself.

Eight songs are just about right for this list. And, no rock or pop tunes? No country or Latin? Where have my musical tastes been? For one, I am glad that R&B is alive and well. I was a little worried that the musical backbone of my soul may have been succumbed to mumble rap. Not with young new artists who are bringing back the sound with some filtering from Hip-Hop. It gives me hope that music will evolve but will never go away.

It also gives me hope that we have a way to absorb new music that resides under the radar. Without the internet, an artist, such as Jeremy Dutcher, would not be discovered and played back on any device. Yet, there will be ears who will listen to new soundscapes, new perspectives, new languages, and new vibes.

The purpose of this column was to connect the old and the new in terms of music and content delivery through our infotainment systems (or, our good old radios in our vehicles). These eight songs simply scratch the surface in terms of opening up the conversation about what music to play on which station or app that feeds through your speakers. Let's continue these conversations and perhaps become influential in how music programing should be done in the future.

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