When you work in this field, SXSW can kinda seem like a vacation — like the industry just STOPS for a week of schmoozing and boozing in Austin, while the rest of the world goes on doing whatever it is the rest of the word does. But then, the time arrives, and you remember: You have to work so fucking much at SXSW! And schmooze! And booze! This is not a complaint, mind you, just an observation. And you know what else? The industry doesn’t stop! Every band in the world is playing showcases in Texas, and yet new songs still come out every single day! And these are the 5 Best that came out while your friends at Stereogum were at SXSW 2016.
A Good Night In The Ghetto is going to result in some good nights all over the world this year. Thursday at SXSW, it resulted in a great afternoon. Kamaiyah took the stage in an incredible Adidas hoodie and sauntered through a handful of the mixtape’s best tracks, giving it her all despite a relatively thin crowd at the Fader Fort. The set was solid throughout, but for a long time it seemed like the most memorable moment would be YG’s surprise guest appearance to perform his own “Who Do You Love.” Instead, YG departed, Kamaiyah took back control of the stage, and the set ended with a triumphant run through “How Does It Feel” backed by a dozen dancing friends. It’s a song about making that timeless topic of making it big and watching your dreams come true, and set to infectious bouncing synth production by CT Beats, in theory it should be 100 percent ecstatic. But it’s deeper and better than that because it the pain of the past is still very much present. There’s real pathos in hearing Kamaiyah sing, “I been broke all my life, now I wonder/ How does it feel to be rich?” She’s going to find out soon. –Chris
Ariana Grande isn’t dangerous at all. She’s not fooling anyone just because the rabbit mask she’s wearing on the cover of her new album is made out of leather. The most dangerous things she’s ever done is express her hatred for America (and apologized) and maybe “maliciously” licked some powdered donuts that she didn’t buy. She admitted her breakup with Big Sean was pretty easy to do, but Naya Rivera did that way more gangster. So here we are with this title for a song and album that doesn’t quite make sense (though anything post-Disney is dangerous by comparison) but the song is actually really good. It’s just a very well-constructed, R&B-shaded pop song. Grande builds the drama with a melody and cadence that is too easy to learn and sing along with, and then lets that energy cascade at the perfect moment when the huge synths, heavy drums, and the slightest of trap clicks for some edge come in. She repeats that same pattern for her second verse in case you missed it the first time, so by your third listen you’ll pretty much know the song. Add in a dash of electric guitar as she slows down her delivery and prolongs the tension a bit more while ramping up the energy, and you have this undeniably infectious romp on your hands. I wonder if this was written for the dude she shared sweet stolen powder kisses with. If so, I hope she keeps him around for a while. –Collin
Breaking someone’s heart or getting your heart broken is the last thing you want to happen, but it seems sort of inevitable, right? What are the chances that two people are not fucked up enough not to hurt each other irreparably? “Gravity Don’t Pull Me” is about that inevitability, our human tendency towards self-sabotage. Failure’s a train, and it always arrives on schedule (or so goes the metaphor in the first verse). Both songs that Rostam’s put out since leaving Vampire Weekend earlier this year — “Eos” and now this — have been concerned with trying to capture a feeling already long gone, and “Gravity” is cutting in how it accepts culpability for the moment when everything fell apart. Rostam takes on both sides of the narrative (“the worst way I ever felt,” “the worst things I ever did”), and only comes out more conflicted. “Some days I still let you back in,” but it’ll never be enough. “Gravity” is nauseating and cleansing all in one, an inevitability. –James
“I wanna buy back the farm.” That’s the closest thing we get to a hook on “Hands Of Time,” the first song on Margo Price’s first album. It’s not a metaphor. When Price was growing up, her father worked as a prison guard, a job he had to take when her family lost their corn-and-soybean farm in Illinois. Price sings about wanting to buy it, but for all we know, that farm no longer exists. It could be a parking lot now. It could be a Big Lots. Price knows that, and she knows that what she really wants to do is change the past, something she can’t do. “Hands Of Time” is six minutes of heartbreak of Price recounting all the shit she’s been through, all the shit she wishes she could change: The drinking problems, the professional ripoffs, and, most wrenchingly, the death of her infant son. There’s no answer, no resolution. All we learn is that that’s why she sings the way she does. And holy god, does she sing it. Price has a seen-it-all swagger, but when she reaches for high notes, every bit of tragedy comes through in her voice. “Hands Of Time” is a classic old-school country burner, with pedal-steel solos and uplifting strings and a next-door-to-funk bassline. This isn’t some raw four-track confessional. But even with all that craft, it still stings like a torn-off scab. –Tom
Terrace Martin is a team player. A multi-hyphenate, multi-instrumentalist, and former child prodigy, the rapper/producer/saxophonist started touring with Puff Daddy just out of high school, and he got his big break producing for Snoop Dogg in 2008. Nowadays, Martin is best known for his work with Kendrick Lamar, and his fingerprints, production, and alto sax are all over the jazz-addled compositions on To Pimp A Butterfly and untitled unmastered. All these references to Martin’s work with others aren’t meant to downplay his own formidable talent — it’s just the way the guy works. We like to think of art in terms of auteurship, as the product of one solitary genius wrenching his vision into reality. But perhaps more than any other art form, jazz is truly democratic music, valuing the improvisatory interplay between the collective over the individual, and Martin is seriously steeped in that tradition. On “Think Of You,” ostensibly a solo track, he shares the spotlight with a whole host of kindred spirits — his own father providing the fleet-footed drum work, Chris Cadenhead on Fender Rhodes, Marlon Williams on electric guitar, Brandon Eugene Owens lending a subtly funky bassline, Rose Gold with her sultry vocals, and Kamasi Washington coming in with a scene-stealing tenor sax solo. Everyone has their moment to shine before retreating back into the mix, and it’s all held together by Martin’s distinctly modern production. The dude knows how to lead and how to follow, and when to do which. His music is all the better for it. –Peter