This was the first official week of summer, and appropriately, things seemed to slow down a little, while the best songs felt decidedly warmer than usual: some country sweetness; some punk-rock sweat; some uplifting funk; some infectious pop; Janet Jackson. Yep, it’s getting hotter around here. And this week, this is what it sounded like.
LA’s funk-overlord Damon Riddick hasn’t dropped a proper Dâm-Funk record since 2009, and his forthcoming album Invite The Light promises to be an introspective depiction of those interim six years. “We Continue” is the record’s first single, and while there are dozens of things to be said about Riddick’s insane, pulsing production, knowing that this record is about personal struggle adds a significant amount of weight to its lyrical content. But this debut single isn’t a chronicle of Riddick’s darkest days — it’s an uplifting, holy boost of self-confidence, and damn if it isn’t the most enthusiastic, motivational new song I’ve heard in a long time. Optimism isn’t necessarily my forte, but “We Continue” pulls at my dimples and heartstrings, fluctuating between defiant opposition to the oppressive forces that be (“I can’t believe we almost let people try and stop us in our tracks”) and self-affirming positivity, not unlike Jimmy Cliff’s “You Can Get It If You Really Want.” My mom used to play me that song on her record player when I was a kid, and it followed me through darker periods when I listened exclusively to bands easily classified a “doom-and-gloom.” Similarly, “We Continue” has the staying power to be that sanguine light shining through a shadowy room’s keyhole; a mantra that gets you up and out of bed in your darkest hour or up and into the streets to fight for social change. “Do you feel it inside?/ It’s time for us to rise.” –Gabriela
I can’t think of anything more 2015 than Janet Jackson incorporating vocal fry into the title of her first new single in seven years. “No Sleeep” draws out that extra “e” like a finger down your back, a tongue against your lips, or a long night stretching ahead with no one by your side. Because as slinky and sensuous as this track is, it’s more about the insomnia that stems from missing someone than the nights spent together. Tracks that function within the realm of possibility like this always end up being sexier because they dream of what hasn’t happened yet; they embody desire itself. “No Sleeep” will be especially meaningful for couples who live far away from each other, whose intimacy often subsists on slow-smiled promises of the future instead of physical touch. For all the over-the-top sexuality of Jackson’s past, this subdued glimmer of longing serves as the perfect primer for her new record. And the misspelled title serves a wink to the internetspeak that has conquered our culture in her absence. Just because she wasn’t in the spotlight doesn’t mean she wasn’t rocking with us all along. –Caitlin
I have no particular horse in the country music race — I didn’t grow up with it, though I didn’t have any kind of “…any music but country”-style aversion to the genre either — but Kacey Musgraves, at least to me, doesn’t seem as revolutionary as the surrounding narrative wants her to be. She says she smokes weed and says she’s down with the gays — so what? Welcome to the rest of the world, like a decade ago, with a dose of “not that there’s anything wrong with it” reductiveness thrown in. But she’s good at putting out traditional songs that tug at the heartstrings in the way that only a country song can. Pageant Material is kind of boring as a whole, but there are a few great tracks on there: “Fine” is one, “Late To The Party” is another. The latter is especially finessed — it’s the kind of tender, sweet, and open classic singer-songwriter track that’s archetypal of the genre, with witty wordplay (rhyming “confetti” with anything) and a universal sentiment to match. Musgraves’ strumming evokes the feeling of butterflies and weightlessness that comes with being in love; her words position her as the outsider, who is sick of all the social conventions and doesn’t want to “make the necessary rounds” anymore. She just wants to spend time with the person she really cares about, getting lost in a world that is of ours but separate from it. It’s the kind of tunnel-vision that works well over four minutes, but falls apart in real life. But just for a little bit, it’s nice to pretend that “the world can wait.” –James
For Irish-American punk rock kid Patrick Stickles, the Pogues are as much a lodestone as they are for every other Irish-American punk-rock kid. They’re also past Titus Andronicus tourmates and future cover material; the forthcoming The Most Lamentable Tragedy turns “A Pair Of Brown Eyes” into a frantic rip-snorter. But “Come On, Siobhan” echoes a different Irish-descended English band of the Pogues’ era. The influence of reeling soul revivalists Dexy’s Midnight Runners is all over the song, in ways that go way behind the way its title echoes that of the one Dexy’s song that hit huge in America. It’s there in the way the pianos and violins yell drunkenly across the street at each other, and in the way the song devolves into a giddy vamp when Stickles runs out of words. (Owen Pallett deserves some kind of Best Supporting Rocker award for all the staggering things his strings do on the album.) There’s some ’70s Springsteen, too, in the way every instrument screams triumph at once, and in Stickles howling about becoming more than just fodder for the factory floor. But it’s not the influences; it’s what you do with them. And Titus have once again taken all that great raw material and turned it into something grand and exhilarating. And there is a whole lot more of that on the album, so brace yourselves. –Tom
There’s nothing less flattering than trying too hard in New York, and Samantha Urbani is someone who could easily be unwillingly associated with the city’s avant-socialites. If you live here, then you know who I’m talking about; they’re the kids who run $100 tabs at dive bars in the LES, who introduced wearable Tumblr aesthetic to the rest of us and revived those plastic black ’90s chokers way before it was cool. You know, the kids who live in Bushwick “lofts” that are really just overpriced, glorified warehouses. These are the coolest of the cool kids, but Urbani towers high above them. She’s been an understated bastion of New York’s coolest of the cool art kids for a long time now, so don’t dismiss her for it. Urbani, who fronted the OG-Band To Watch Friends before she was known for her work on Blood Orange’s 2013 full-length Cupid Deluxe, has been releasing solo material this year under her own name, and fans of her collaborative work are feeling ~blessed~. Here’s to no longer referring to her as just “Dev Hynes’ muse” or a Brooklynite with a “strong social media presence”! When “1 2 3 4” dropped back in April, Urbani earned on-point comparisons to Madonna at her prime, but this new track upends that ready-made sound and ignites it. Urbani’s got the same attitude of a larger-than-life pop-star (which she isn’t… yet), but she and co-producer Sam Mehran channel the ’80s in inventive new ways that’ll run you in circles; initiating with a sensual whisper and whirr, Urbani’s voice then spits fire and recoils, her words unfurling like hyper-confident tongue-twisters. Urbani’s visual aesthetic may seem carefully composed to an unknowing onlooker, but her punchy vocal performance, her harmonies, are totally effortless. –Gabriela