20 Essential Adult Swim Singles

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Adult Swim singles

Adult Swim just launched the 2021 edition of its singles program, which started all the way back in 2010 (though music’s been a part of the network’s programming for even longer). Back then, the tracklist was shorter, but stacked with ringers (Madvillain! LCD Soundsystem! Mastodon!), a fun, free offering of new, exclusive music that arose before streaming took over the industry. With each year, Adult Swim’s free summer singles program has grown a bit while incorporating a wider array of styles and a more diverse selection of artists. In 12 years, hundreds of songs have debuted through the series, which generally launches just in time for summer, one new track dropping every week. Truthfully, we probably should have compiled a list of its best moments a couple years ago, as it’s only gotten more challenging to pare down since. But with a new batch of tracks on the horizon, we decided to finally make good on it. Here are 20 Adult Swim singles from throughout the history of the series.

The Armed – “FT. FRANK TURNER” (2019)

Taken at surface value alone, “FT. FRANK TURNER” is a whole lotta WTF—that’s Frank Carter on the single’s artwork in case you need another look, and its 90-second video is a hyperactive blitz of swamp monster mayhem. But the song itself is glorious, more of a pure hardcore song (by The Armed’s standards, anyway) than the beefed-up pop anthems on their new album Ultrapop. Once it gets going it’s on a collision course and the best you can do is hang on. Pure chaos as recreational activity. -Jeff Terich

Autre Ne Veut – “On & On”

Digitized NYC singer-songwriter Arthur Ashin dropped his highly regarded third album Anxiety in February of 2013. Determined to make it the year of Autre Ne Veut, he followed it up with this entry in the Singles Program that summer. “On & On” pours in as much breathy soul as a lineup of buzzing synths and canned conga samples can carry. With half- and double-timing lyrics that might be about the never-ending responsibilities placed on women, it’s less dour than How to Dress Well, more shallow than The Weekend, and infinitely more entertaining than the jazz reprise version that would open ANV’s 2015 album Age of Transparency. – Adam Blyweiss

Com Truise – “Kontex”

The Florida-by-way-of-New York synthwave producer is no stranger to Williams Street, showing up in two other Adult Swim online compilations This song’s spare electronic drama clearly falls in line with popular Stranger Things revivalism of the day, evoking aloof keyboardists with architectural haircuts and Earth teens reluctantly involved in alien conflict. The dirty secrets here are that Com Truise was already about a decade ahead of the curve on everyone else buying into that aesthetic, and that “Kontex” would be the only Adult Swim track he’d migrate to a proper album, fitting it snugly into the tonal storytelling of Persuasion System in 2019. – Adam Blyweiss

Cherry Glazerr – “Sip O’ Poison”

The closest the band’s ever come to having a true heavy metal moment, Cherry Glazerr rages into “Sip O Poison” with all the shred they can muster. It’s a quick, punchy, to-the-point anthem, oozing with raw musical energy. “Sip O Poison” is mosh pit ready, reproducing the chaotic but cleansing environment that Cherry Glazerr creates at their live shows. Clementine Creevy’s fearless vocals ring out with a cathartic tone, leaving the listener refreshed, all under two minutes. It’s the musical equivalent of jolting yourself awake with a cold splash of water to the face. – Virginia Croft

Deafheaven – “From the Kettle Onto the Coil” (2014)

Deafheaven’s studio albums are typically composed of epic, emotionally charged blackgaze songs that reveal their non-metal influences as brazenly as their more obvious black metal roots, but they tend to deliver their most visceral rippers as one-off singles (see also: “Black Brick”). With “From the Kettle Onto the Coil,” released a year after their acclaimed 2013 album Sunbather, Deafheaven offered a counterpoint to their beauty-drenched, dream pop and post-rock-influenced metal with a relatively slim six-minute slice of riffs-n-roar. While it might not have captured the complexity of that album’s greatest moments, “From the Kettle Onto the Coil” does something equally important: It whips ass. – Jeff Terich

Brian Eno & Kevin Shields – “Only Once Away My Son” (2017)

Adult Swim’s singles program sometimes feels like an extended version of the best movie soundtracks of the ’90s, unearthing rare and unreleased tracks as well as a number of unexpected collaborations. Not that I’m comparing this epic slice of ambient beauty from Brian Eno and My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields to anything from the Spawn or Judgment Night soundtrack, but the ethos is largely the same: Two titans in their field, brought together for a one-time moment of tag-team glory. On one level, “Only Once Away My Son” is exactly what you’d expect from these two—dramatic atmospheric drift, heavy sheets of miasmal guitar. It’s also as good or even better than you might imagine it, at once more tense than much of Eno’s greatest ambient works, and as patiently graceful as Shields’ guitar-driven works have ever sounded. -Jeff Terich

Full of Hell – “Language of Molting Cherubs”

For a little over three minutes, Full of Hell’s “Language Of Molting Cherubs” provides an exercise in pure, revolting noise. Industrial-esque grinding shrieks through distortion and bass; each cymbal clang rings beneath scorched-throat vocals. Full of Hell aren’t ones to write songs in a cookie-cutter manner, and this single is a testament to their chaotic sonic approach. The level of bombast works throughout the track to both excite and unease; a stellar fusion of climactic distortion and noise escalating to menacing levels. – Michael Pementel

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – “The Next Day” (feat. Oh No) (2019)

Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s “The Next Day” dropped in August of 2019, just two months after the dynamite hip-hop duo’s excellent Best of 2019 album Bandana, but rather than being connected to that album, it ended up being released on Madlib’s 2020 album with his brother Oh No as The Professionals. As such, it’s classic ‘lib, driven by a hard-driving beat wrapped up in vintage psychedelic rock samples. Gibbs’ performance is neither his best nor a throwaway, but simply a seasoned pro dropping in to sound badass as usual. As satisfying as crate-digging new-school boom-bap gets. -Jeff Terich

Tim Hecker – “Amps, Drugs, Mellotron”

Experimental producer Tim Hecker entered the Adult Swim fold in 2014, and “Amps, Drugs, Mellotron” is a beautiful reworking of his track “Amps, Drugs, Harmonium” off his album Virgins from the prior year. Despite the similarity in both sound and name, Hecker’s otherworldly approach to music lends the song a certain singularity, allowing it to stand separate from the original. “Amps, Drugs, Mellotron” is more reserved compared to some of his work, but has an undercurrent of melancholy that cuts through. The left field qualities of Tim Hecker’s music and Adult Swim alike make the two a perfect match. – Ian MacPhee

Julia Holter – “So Humble the Afternoon”

When speaking about this song in October 2020, years after its initial release as part of the Adult Swim Singles Series in 2018, Julia Holter said she set out to capture the “hazy malaise” of the afternoon, which she called “the least introspective and most alienating part of the day.” At first, “So Humble the Afternoon” pulsates in a way that certainly evokes the oppressive waves of heat and light of a humid, summer afternoon, before shifting halfway through into washes of synth and vocals that sound like they’re underwater. Though there is undoubtedly a harshness to this ambient track which mirrors the harshness of the time, I find it oddly comforting as well—much like the black-and-white cover art, the way the shadows of trees crisscross over the sunlit grass. – Tyler Dunston

Jay Som – “Simple”

Jay Som’s “Simple” is a dreamy contribution to Adult Swim’s 2019 Singles. The California bedroom-pop artist’s tunes are infectiously catchy, and strike just the right balance between dreamy and urgent. Over the course of three critically-acclaimed albums, Jay Som’s lo-fi production and pop songwriting chops have become more and more distinct, and it all shines on this single. Like all good songs, the track is deceptively (no pun intended) simple, yet employs complex layers of melody. It’s a perfect introduction to her work, as well as a testament to her skills as an artist and producer. – Ian MacPhee

Jlin – “Downtown”

Both the Singles Program and experimentalist footwork musician Jlin get their share of listeners proclaiming “oh shit,” but her contribution to the 2016 series comes in the door yelling it as a literal refrain. Its percussion and keyboards simultaneously stutter and shimmer, a rendition of this relentless electronica of the American Midwest that seems downright lighthearted. A stopgap release between Jlin’s groundbreaking Planet Mu albums Dark Energy and Black Origami, it manages to brighten the grimiest corners of this dance-music microgenre. – Adam Blyweiss

Madvillain – “Papermill” (2010)

Anticipation over the possibility of a second Madvillain album from MF DOOM and Madlib never really went away, even if time and metal-faced impostors seemed to dramatically reduce the possibility of that ever happening. With the release of “Papermill” in 2010, in the early stages of Adult Swim’s singles program, there at least came a glimmer of hope. A few seconds shy of two minutes and as crackly and lo-fi as the bite-sized standouts from the original, “Papermill” offered a reminder of why demand for a sequel from these two, dynamic collaborators remained so high. Over a funky flip of some German pop, DOOM effortlessly unloads line after line of advanced-placement dadaism: “Pumpin’ dumplins, a hundred and sumthin’ sumthin’/Forrest Gump chumps get clumps of nuttin’ for nuttin‘.” Yeah, I feel ya. -Jeff Terich


MIKE is as prolific as he is talented. In the last five years the New York City rapper and
producer has released six excellent LPs, most recently 2020’s Weight of the World—and, oh
yeah, he has another one called Disco! on the way next month. That’s not even counting his
additional production work under his DJ Blackpower alias. So you’d be forgiven for missing
“NUMBERED DAYZ,” the standalone single he released as part of Adult Swim’s single series a
couple years back. This one in particular shows off his production skills. A little over halfway
through the track, after a crisp, sober final line—“So misunderstood, went through love and
”—MIKE steps back to let listeners ride the wave. The last minute or so sounds vaguely like
a tide rising, falling, crashing over one of MIKE’s best-ever beats. – Tyler Dunston

Moor Mother & billy woods – “Furies”

In many cases, the songs that debut through Adult Swim are exclusive tracks, outtakes or one-offs that you won’t find elsewhere. But more than a few times, those tracks proved a harbinger of great things to come. In 2020, Philadelphia poet/producer/emcee Moor Mother and New York rapper billy woods (one half of Armand Hammer) came together for an auspicious production that ended up as the leadoff track for an outstanding full-length collaboration that dropped just as the year came to a close. BRASS is solid throughout, kicking off with this jazzy, meditative abstract hip-hop standout, built on a sample from London jazz ringers Sons of Kemet. – Jeff Terich

Power Trip – “Hornet’s Nest”

One of the last original songs that Power Trip released before vocalist Riley Gale’s untimely death in 2020, “Hornet’s Nest” showcased the relentless power of the Texas thrash metal band at their most ferocious. As much of a giddy blast of a mosh-pit anthem as it was a call to arms in the face of rising right-wing forces, “Hornet’s Nest” made kicking against the pricks sound as fun and cathartic as stage diving as the group tears through four and a half minutes of galloping crossover thrash: “You know who we are/You think we’re scared to bleed?/With strength in numbers/We’ll pull you under/’Cause you can’t resist.” – Jeff Terich

Run the Jewels – “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”

Keeping it in the family, here’s one Williams Street Records pet project participating in another. Run the Jewels, the world-champion rap tag team of El-P and Killer Mike, had this included in the Singles Program as the de facto second single from their second album RTJ2. Equal parts studio-gangster theme song and glute-bouncing club cut (“I fuck and rap, I tote the strap/I smoke the kush, I beat the puss”), it helps firm up the reputation of RTJ2 as the hardest and best entry in the duo’s discography. – Adam Blyweiss

Sleep – “Leagues Beneath”

It feels like nearly a miracle that Sleep managed to produce a track so heavy, so expansive, that it approaches the stoned majesty of their legendary “Dopesmoker.” A warm, often blistering exercise in crescendo and expanse, every note of “Leagues Beneath” is a narrative, a folding sprawl of pages and stanzas masquerading as rich guitar solos, and drowning bass harmonies. The track is so far removed from a traditional commercial single, yet every second of it speaks in plain language, it beckons the listener to look, listen, absorb, and drop out to the spectacle that is Sleep, an achievement not just in music, but experience. – Brian Roesler

Thou – “Eyehatethou”

While Thou have a knack and talent for taking on a pretty wide variety of sounds within heavy musics, there will always be that essential sludge to their sound. “Eyehatethou” is a superb example of the band’s gritty style; a minimal, yet abrupt display of noise heads right into a thick, ominous guitar rhythm. The weight of the guitar playing has a textured sound to it, and the song smothers the listener in overwhelming aggression. Guided by the deep, wretched sounding vocal performance from Bryan Funck, the track draws the listener in like a pit of quicksand. It’s a dirty, grimy listen, and it kicks a whole lot of ass. – Michael Pementel

Wye Oak – “Spiral” (2012)

With a mesmerizing, looping guitar line that brings to mind Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love,” Wye Oak’s “Spiral” is a highlight even among the band’s consistently excellent catalog of guitar-driven indie anthems. It finds an intersection between electronica and grunge, heightened by Jenn Wasner’s empowering vocals. The lyrics of “Spiral” hone in on life’s circular patterns: “Got yourself in the constant, content / You are over my shoulder / Distant, past / When our lips come together / I come over / As we’re coming our present.” In creating a continuous instrumental pattern, Wye Oak pull us deeper into their rabbit hole—one you’d never want to leave. -Virginia Croft

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