Summer’s finally here, and we aren’t mad about it! New York’s iced coffee game is going strong, and we’re just about midway through the year wondering how it’s possible that so many highly anticipated albums dropped within a few weeks of one another. We got Rihanna, Kanye, Beyoncé, Chance, freakin’ Radiohead, all in the first half of 2016. Which, of course, leaves us with that one pesky question: WHERE FRANK OCEAN AT?!?! Cross your fingers, say a prayer, and dive into the week’s best songs.
Road songs for lovers tend to fall into two categories: ones that celebrate the intimacy, possibility, sense of wonder that comes from exploring the world together, and ones that are filled with dread over the thought of having to spend long periods of time in cramped quarters, exposing the fissured cracks in a relationship. “Emma O,” named after the Japanese Buddhist god of the underworld, is the latter sort. As Sadie Dupuis explains, it’s “about spending uncomfortable, quiet hours with someone you still love but shouldn’t,” and takes place on a drive through upstate New York as they make the trip “with total silent reverence for cut-tongue pile ons,” acknowledging the awkwardness of the dead connection between them with all the sogginess of a damped-out flame. Neither are willing to admit defeat, however, out of vestigial love and a sense of self-preservation, concluding with a clever bit of wordplay — “I never wanna come for you again/ I only want your comfort” — that demonstrates their necessity to soldier on, no matter how unhappy. The car morphs from an escape into a prison of their own making. –James
In which evolution amounts to plunging even farther back in time. Cymbals Eat Guitars have always been classic rock in a way: They began by dredging up memories of Built To Spill’s towering ’90s guitar epics, and parts of 2014’s LOSE delved into pure ’80s dirtbag euphoria. And now, on the lead single from this year’s Pretty Years, these young Americans have gone full “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” embracing ’70s rock in all its brassy pomp and soulful stomp. When these guys said they wanted to make a more energetic album, they must have meant one you could dance to. –Chris
The last time we heard YG and Drake together it was a couple of years ago on YG’s “Who Do You Love?” single. That one was an endlessly renewable banger, the sort of low-simmering summer hit that flies under the radar until you suddenly realize that you’ve learned all of its words, almost by osmosis. And since that one worked so well, the two of them are back, on some if-it-ain’t-broke shit: same type of skeletal beat, same type of rubbery digital bassline, same type of rhetorical-question title. And it works again. This, I maintain, is how Views should’ve sounded. Drake always sounds great over this type of beat, arrogant and effortless and cool. YG has a classic restrained-fury G-rap voice, but it works best for everyday celebration: “I’m just proud of my accomplishments.” And speaking of accomplishments, here’s another YG line: “I’m with the posse back at it, nigga / That means Kamaiyah going platinum, nigga.” The Bay Area newcomer may be reduced to a cool voice on a hook, but it’s still so fucking great to hear her radiating that cool on a song this big, sharing space with rap’s current king of the universe. She is on her way. –Tom
“Life is short” is one of those idioms of received wisdom we accept as truth without examining it. Sure life is short in the grand scheme of things, but if you look at how many chances arise from the amount of time you have to fuck things up, it can seem like an eternity. That’s a bleak way to look at things, the kind of outlook on life that makes your bedding feel heavy when you push it off every morning. But the deeper you go into the dark abyss, the brighter any ray of light that breaks though will shine. That ever-so-slight glimmer of hope is powerful on “High Dirge.” The song begins at a vivid, dismal low as the narrator stands over a bathroom sink, trying to shake off the hurt of an argument. The raw, vulnerable storytelling over sparse guitar strums evokes the strength it takes to ready yourself for the disquietude a day can bring. The weight of the refrain, “It’s a long life, I can’t get it right,” is achingly palpable as beautiful guitar and minimal drums come in to make it even more acute. The moment elicits a feeling of trudging through life without the slightest clue of how to go about it the “right” way. But that gravity is shifted brilliantly toward the end, when a tiny but potent bit of hope comes through in the question, “Oh, long life, how is it that you go by?” Because no matter the length of our stint on this earth, we still want to feel like we’ve lived it to the fullest. To unpack the gamut of emotions in that existential whopper on wax is truly incredible. –Collin
Every Jenny Hval release is a concept album of sorts. Her most recent, Apocalypse, girl, explored human sexuality, appropriating the male gaze and exploiting her own fantasies for the sake of art. Above all else, it was about power; about how gender dynamics shape our interpersonal relationships in ways we may not even realize when we’re not examining the little things carefully enough. Hval describes her forthcoming album, Blood Bitch, as an intensely personal work with a fictional narrative, and though its first single is a bit of an oddball fairytale, it’s still an example of Hval doing what she does best: reclaiming stigmas associated with the female body. Blood Bitch has been described as an album about menstruation, what Hval describes as a “red toilet roll chain which ties together the virgins, the whores, the mothers, the witches, the dreamers, and the lovers.” On “Female Vampire,” Hval subverts the typical male vampire — characterized by his bloodlust and predatory personality — by making her demon subject female. Hval’s vampire character looks for a victim on the dance floor as she sings “I keep a steady gaze” in a high falsetto. The accompanying production is as sexy and haunting as the song’s narrator, a welcome return to the gothic aesthetic that Hval championed during her come-up. –Gabriela