What a wild week we’ve had! The GOP can’t get it together, a new Gorillaz album is officially on the way, Perfume Genius will follow up his critically acclaimed Too Bright soon, and Drake gave us an album, I mean, a playlist. On top of that, Feist is back! All four of these fine artists are included in the list below, duh, and there is one other winner worth paying attention to. Dive in.
If “One Dance” was Exhibit A in Drake’s case for global domination, “Passionfruit” makes a convincing closing argument. This track contains, if not the whole world, at least a whole world: one that encompasses house and afrobeats, new wave and chillwave, soft rock and even softer soul. It’s a beautiful world, too, one marked by weeping synths, a hypnotic keyboard riff, and circular drum programming so vibrant you could hula hoop to it. But this is Drake, so despite all its rhythmic propulsion, what sticks with you most about “Passionfruit” is the emotional content, the way he bends all these disparate ingredients toward melancholy so deep you’d be wise to keep a lifeguard on duty. Not so long ago, this wistful story about lovers falling apart would have become one of Drake and 40’s patented R&B slow jams, which would have been fine but not particularly revelatory at this juncture. Now it’s something else entirely, something that suggests the death march that was Views was actually leading somewhere worth going. –Chris
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s rag-tag animated band was always far less interesting conceptually than they presented themselves to be. As deep as the virtual members’ mythology goes, it will always be burrowed second to the inventive, free-wheeling pop music Albarn has wrung out of this project for nearly 20 years now. All the lead-up to the announce of Humanz has been mildly humorous, but disposable at best, and at their worst these antics come across as pointlessly, painfully tedious. Thankfully, the Gorillaz’ music is so good and their shtick so forgettable that the moment you press play you’re immediately transported away from it all. This time the journey takes you not to anything resembling the breezy, lucid world of the Plastic Beach, but rather a place a bit more spectral, and possibly special. Of the four tracks the band dropped yesterday afternoon, “Andromeda” is the most immediately aurally arresting. Albarn builds a simple dance track with astral ambitions, and reaches them through sheer navel-gazing (plus a subtle-but-essential assist from D.R.A.M.). There’s some soul-lifting secret ingredient hidden beneath the song’s array of synths and Albarn’s smooth, dry croon — the same one present in all of the Gorillaz best tracks — that makes the whole thing brim with life, no matter how often these guys insist they’re merely “cartoons.” — Pranav
Sophie Allison is originally from Nashville, though her roots don’t often show up in the muted bedroom pop she makes as Soccer Mommy. But on “Last Girl,” with a full band in tow for the first time ever on record, it’s apparent that she grew up in the country capital of the world and inherited the naturalistic storytelling characteristics that come with the genre. There’s echoes of Taylor Swift in the jealous girlfriend narrative of the track, but the unflashy nature of Allison’s songwriting calls back to an even earlier era of confessional dejection. “Last Girl” pivots around an aching question — “Why would you want to be with me when she’s got everything you’ll ever need?” — and each verse is a putdown ramp-up about the worries that can’t stop rattling around inside her head. That Allison is able to channel that insecurity and second guessing into something as sickly sweet as “Last Girl” is a testament to what makes the project so great, and an encouraging sign of things to come. –James
“Pleasure,” Feist’s first new song in almost six years, starts at a whisper and stays there for almost its entire run. When that bluesy classic rock riff hits in the middle of the track and again towards the end, it feels almost like an afterthought, a reflex. It’s a ways removed from the muddy operatics of 2011’s Metals or her big commercial breakthrough, 2007’s The Reminder. Instead, Leslie Feist uses “Pleasure” to remind us of her origins. In the first interview she gave about her new album, Feist reminisced on the early days of her career when she could pull out her guitar and stun on the spot. “I cut my teeth doing that for years and I wanted to sort of fess up and make sure that I could still do that,” she said.
And “Pleasure” is enticing in how bare-bones it is. It reminds you of the wonders that Feist can conjure with just her voice, in the deliberateness over what words she emphasizes and which she chooses to swallow. “Get what I want, and still it’s a mysterious thing I want,” she sings in the opening lines. “So when I get it, I make sense of a mysterious thing.” Feist explores the impassable distance of constantly wanting more: What is pleasure if not a dull, momentary satisfaction before you’re back to desiring again, waiting for the next rush? “It’s my pleasure/ And your pleasure,” goes the chorus of banal niceties — an endless, repetitive cycle of always wanting. –James
When The FADER profiled Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas, they titled the article “How Perfume Genius Grew Up And Started Thriving.” The piece is about Hadreas’ life as a sober, stable artist living with his longtime partner in Tacoma, WA. He spends a lot of time hanging out with his adorable dog in his comfortable home, and whatever “having it all” is, Hadreas seems pretty damn close. The first single off of Perfume Genius’ forthcoming album, No Shape, is a song called “Slip Away” and it is the sound of someone who is finally figuring shit out and reveling in the confidence that comes with knowing you’re really good at what you do. Kate Bush-level theatrics are turned all the way up on both this song and its accompanying video, which finds Hadreas running from a pack of goblins in a Garden Of Earthly Delights of sorts. “Take my hand/ Take my everything/ If we only got a moment,” Hadreas pauses before his voice descends to a command. “Give it to me now.” “Slip Away” would sound good in any context, but it’s kind of the perfect song for spring; the type that makes you want to walk out on your job midday, to “let all them voices slip away.” I’m still sitting here after a dozen or so listens, but spend some time with this one and you’ll see what I mean. —Gabriela