We celebrated the ’90s this week by reflecting on some of the decade’s most bizarre cultural moments and artifacts. We looked back on surreal times when ’90s rock met mainstream TV, paid tribute to John Lurie’s bizarre TV show Fishing With John, argued that Nickleback won the ’90s culture war, interrogated rap’s awkward adolescence, honored the swing revival, and so much more. Hell, we even interviewed the guy who wrote “Steal My Sunshine”! It’s been a great week! Catch up on all of our phat content here, and take in some fresh new music below.
Sometimes one of the worst things you can do in a relationship is ask if things are OK. If your partner thinks things are OK, they might begin to question whether things are actually OK because you did. That reassessment can come with an unsettling gamut of emotions that both of you may never have had to endure if you didn’t say anything. But then again, if you don’t act upon your feelings you could explode from holding them in too long. Relationships can suck. But “Joni” doesn’t because it harnesses that paralyzing ambivalence through Raphaelle Standell-Prestion’s candid and evocative lyrics from the very start with the simple but loaded three-word question: “Are we OK?” Then the wonderful balance of playful 8-bit-like and deep whomping synths mirrors the comfort or turbulence that may result. Standell-Preston’s piercing frankness and the emotional fluency of the sonics combine for insanely catchy truths — which, in my opinion, is music at its best. –Collin
Tegan And Sara have always been masters of wrenching emotion out of cadence and inflection. Look at the way they twisted the repetitive phrasing of “Walking With A Ghost” into every possible tonal variation; even something as early as “Superstar” demonstrated their natural ability for figuring out exactly when to apply pressure to their words. With their transition to capital-P Pop on Heartthrob — a style built around gut feelings and melodic math — they were able to utilize those skills to maximum effect, and that talent is even more finely tuned on Love You To Death. “Stop Desire” is a showcase for the ways in which the duo use language and emphasis to mirror the subject matter they’re singing about. Take the run-up to the pre-chorus — Tegan Quin mumbles out, “You were there, I was tired of this nonsense when you pretend you don’t…” and then slams on the breaks: “Get me, feel me, want me…” — or on the bridge: “Right where I want you back against the wall,” all bunched-up and aggressive, and then: “You can trust me, I’ll never let you fall,” all open and inviting. The song’s wording mimics its themes: a flood rush of desire, testing the limits of someone else’s walls. Maybe it’s an obvious trick, but Tegan And Sara make it seem instinctive. That’s the sign of great songwriting. –James
Dawn Richard has gotten so good at this warped, personal, futuristic post-R&B thing that she can push it in any direction she wants and still sound like herself. Right now, she’s on another level, secure enough in her gift that she never has to oversell anything. Case in point: “Wake Up,” which hits straight-up no-joke dance-anthem status without ever sounding like a crossover-attempt concession. The beat, a Machinedrum production, is all-out gothic rave, evocative and heady, but it still has a dizzy sense of float to it. Richard is smart enough to know when to let the track breathe. Her vocals are understated but deeply felt. She never tries to sing over the music; instead, she sinks deep into it, becomes a part of it. It sounds like a hit, and it also sounds like some weird thing you might run across on a late-night SoundCloud binge, a left-field jam that becomes a favorite song. Lots of songs can be one or the other of those two things. Precious few can be both. –Tom
There is a very famous song about vibrations that I’m sure you’ve heard of by the Beach Boys. It’s called “Good Vibrations” and it’s all about falling for a hot girl who gives Brian Wilson “excitations.” Naps’ “Bad Vibrations” lands on the other end of the vibe spectrum; this is a song about feeling like you can’t stop fucking up, no matter how hard you try. “Can’t shape up to the world’s expectations,” Ryan Stanley sings. “I’m living on a bad, bad vibration.” That sense of inadequacy is dormant in all of us; it creeps up whenever your mind is at rest, when you’re feeling unmoored and totally disconnected from the person you thought you were. Naps have always done a good job writing hooks that take the edge of the dark side of existence, and this one is no exception. Despite its content, “Bad Vibration” is almost uplifting, especially when Stanley repeats the same contradiction over, and over, and over again: “The world’s too slow, and I’m too fast.” Maybe that’s supposed to be a bad thing, but I’d rather live fast than creep along at everyone else’s lethargic pace. –Gabriela
Sampha is the kind of artist that can alter your mood for the day in an instant, and though it’s frustrating to hear his music so sparingly, it’s usually a moving surprise. The London crooner was a big reason why Drake’s emotive narcissism had you dwelling on your feelings on Nothing Was The Same’s “Too Much” and “The Motion.” He was also my only reason for caring about Kanye lamenting his “greatest shame” on “Saint Pablo.” So when some rare solo Sampha drops, I rejoice because I don’t have to put up with silly rapper woes to have his tender pleas take me away like Calgon.
“Timmy’s Prayer” is just such an occasion. He wrote the song trying to process some personal turmoil, and he translates that strife exquisitely. He beautifully floats between delicate falsetto and gorgeous tenor as the instrumentation builds underneath him, transforming the song from a warmhearted ballad to a compelling experience. Not only is his voice something to marvel at, but the lyrics are just as penetrating as their delivery. As he sings: “If ever you’re listening/ If heaven’s a prison/ Then I am your prisoner/ Yes, I am your prisoner,” Sampha elevates this song to an unrelenting catharsis. –Collin