Happy Halloween! The best thing about working in online media (as opposed to broadcast) is you get to sit at your desk and blog all day about Meow The Jewels’ “Pawcumentary” or Pope Francis’ hot new track and readers have no fucking clue that you’re dressed like a minion:
As you can imagine, the ‘Gum staff looks pretty cute in our matching Halloween costumes. None of this week’s best songs are particularly spooky, but the list is definitely stacked. Dive in.
There’s no need to name names, but every so often, an older established musician will make a curmudgeonly “things aren’t what they used to be” comment about the state of the contemporary industry. That criticism can take a few different shapes, but one of the most tired and inaccurate is the accusation that music today doesn’t “say anything” about the “political landscape.” It’s an assertion that a lot of people of my generation are pretty tired of hearing, namely because it’s just… not true. Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange, has always been an outspoken activist, particularly surrounding matters that relate to racial injustice in the U.S. He’s been present at many Black Lives Matter rallies in New York, and this week he released a tribute to Sandra Bland. Though this song was written with one name in mind, Hynes’ lyrics swirl around an even greater sense of defeat, because Sandra’s smile is one of many we’ve lost this year. Political message aside, this is a humbly-rendered, glowing Blood Orange track that lights up with an improvised sax solo. –Gabriela
At this point, just hearing Chance The Rapper’s signature ad-libs is enough to make me smile, and that ridiculous, grating parrot-squawk and those sing-song “na na na”s that open “Angels” encapsulate everything great about him as an artist. By all rights, Chance should be annoying as hell. Even though he’s a father now, his voice still has a pubescent squeak — “I just had a growth spurt,” he says here — and he often raps and sings with the kind of guileless, happy-go-lucky sincerity that could easily sound corny. But everything he does radiates such infectiously genuine energy and positivity in all directions, including Chief Keef-ward, that the sheer explosive warmth of his music melts away all resistance. Goddamn if that fucking “igh!” isn’t lovable! “This what it sound like when God split an atom with me,” he raps at end of the first verse, and yeah, pretty much. Even as he’s talking about all the South Side kids that get shot and killed, the steel drums make his hometown sound like a veritable island paradise, and the organ and horns and quavering vocal samples are like a choir of seraphim descending on Chicago in a sunbeam (and then starting a dance party). But no, it’s not just his city — Chance got the whole world doing front flips. –Peter
You ever get the sneaking suspicion that your so-called friends are avoiding you, or at least letting you slip out of their life without putting up a fight? As a human being living on Earth, you almost assuredly have felt that sort of abandonment, so you’ll probably tense up a little when Leslie Hong starts venting her frustrations. Over a jittery, discordant indie rock vamp that perfectly encapsulates this kind of bitterness, Hong tries to contain her seething anger in polite whispers. But eventually passive-aggression gives way to outright rage: “I don’t give a fuck if you were taking a nap! I don’t give a fuck if you were on the internet!” Those moments when “Old Friends” explodes into a shrieking fireball are thrilling and maybe even therapeutic. Cue it up next time you’re feeling vengeful and maybe you’ll save yourself from saying something you regret. –Chris
Can we talk about the way this thing is arranged? Mostly sleepy acoustic guitars, strummed bluesily, with little subtle bass-murmurs and massed tenor coos underneath. Right around the bridge, though, it all drops away and a string section comes in to repeat that guitar riff, quietly but definitively blowing this modest song out into something much bigger. Ty Dolla $ign has built himself a name by being slicker and more ratchet than anyone else on the R&B landscape, and that’s a crucial part of what he does. But he’s a musical mastermind, too, a guy who plays a dozen instruments and layers sounds like he’s planning out his outfit that morning. On “Solid,” he and one of the ’90s titans of commercial R&B join forces to do fantastical Brian Wilson-y things with an I’m-cool-as-fuck R&B song that would be pure boilerplate in the hands of almost any other singer. He knows what he’s doing. He’s solid. –Tom
In an interview, Claire Boucher said “Flesh Without Blood” was one of the most personal songs on Art Angels, that it was about a former best friend and “being really disappointed in someone who really once truly admired.” And it’s definitely about that! But it also reads as a giant fuck you to anyone who says she’s “gone pop” or “sold out” or doubted her sincerity over her love of pop music or the direction her career is heading. “It’s nice that you say you like me, but only conditionally/ Your voice, it had the perfect flow/ It got lost when you gave it up, though/ ‘Cause you want money, you want fame/ I don’t see the light I saw in you before.” “Uncontrollable,” she squeals in the bridge, a nasty word that undercuts her autonomy and invalidates her vision. “Flesh Without Blood” is the most pure pop Grimes track we’ve gotten yet — the riff lifted from Kelly Clarkson, a beat that falls in line with “Oblivion” but has years of refinement instead of just weeks — and it’s definitely a litmus test of sorts. What kind of artist do you want Grimes to be? The debate will continue to swirl around her, but her answer is right there: She doesn’t fucking care. Boucher is doing what she wants, follow along if you wish — “If you don’t need me, just let me go.” Not every track on Art Angels will sound like this — see “Scream” and “Life In The Vivid Dream” as evidence — but it’s an incisive start. –James