After the summer we’ve been having, it seems like the last thing we need is the Olympics. There’s a lot of shit that could potentially go wrong, and a lot of merriment that doesn’t necessarily feel warranted in our current socio-political landscape. Or maybe — if you’re an optimist — the Olympic games are exactly what we need right now to encourage some sense of global community. Either way, it’s safe to say a lot of us will be posted up in bars and on our couches watching some I-Can’t-Believe-That’s-An-Olympic-Sport events like table tennis, or rhythmic gymnastics (bka: dancing). There was one other massive event scheduled to go down today: Frank Ocean was supposedly going to drop Boys Don’t Cry. Obviously he did not! Some are holding out hope for this evening, others are listening to these good-ass songs from this week instead.
In Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl, and in the icy thriller that David Fincher made out of it, the “cool girl” is a certain form of unapproachable ideal. She’s the girl who makes herself available for men’s sexual whims without demanding anything like an emotional connection. So maybe it’s a sly bit of cultural commentary when Tove Lo seems to inhabit that archetype on her new single “Cool Girl.” “Fuck if I knew how to put it romantic,” she sneers in a chilly little singsong, never even devoting her whole voice to the song’s lack of sentiment. Or maybe this is just a uniquely Scandinavian take on Rihanna’s whole “I was a savage” persona. Either way, it’s top-shelf pop music. Tove Lo comes from Max Martin’s songwriting braintrust, and she knows how to wrap her cold, understated voice around a cold, understated melody. And the rubbery electronic bassline that snakes through the song gives it its hook, tying it to dancehall and tropical house and everything else that moves bodies in 2016. It’s cool. –Tom
Even at its earliest and ugliest moments, black metal always had the capacity to be beautiful and wondrous: Filosofem and Bergtatt are two of the prettiest records in my collection, in any genre. But France’s Alcest were the first black metal band to make beauty and wonder the whole point. They paved a lane for countless others to barrel down; without Alcest, you wouldn’t have Deafheaven, and Deafheaven would be the first to admit it. But Alcest followed that road to its logical conclusion on 2014’s Shelter, making an album that was simply very pretty without any of the menace or nastiness required to still be called “black metal.” Not a bad thing, honestly! Having reached that terminus, though, they had to choose a new direction. So what did they do? They turned around. And holy fuck, they somehow found a point on the path that they’d missed the first time through and it is AMAZING. “Oiseaux De Proie” is the first single off their upcoming LP, Kodama, and it’s an astonishing blend of everything I ever wanted in music, presented in a way I’ve never quite heard it before. The song is arcing and graceful and glimmering, yet it roars like a cavalcade of Harleys and blasts like a January hailstorm and feels like a 20-year-old basement demo you just discovered and can’t believe even exists. I never expect new Alcest music to be a disappointment, but when I first came to Kodama, I was preparing myself for a minor work, a variation on the previous theme. I did not expect them to come out with this. There’s no fucking way I could have prepared myself for this. –Michael
Miguel is very good at writing music about doing it. Anyone who knows anything knows this; it is fact. Look no further than his cameo on Schoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP, which is essentially just him repeatedly singing: “I wanna fuck right now/ I wanna, I wanna fuck right now.” So, it’s totally appropriate that Miguel’s contribution to Baz Luhrmann’s forthcoming Netflix series The Get Down is all about fucking in a car, because Miguel singing about sex hasn’t gotten old yet. Maybe it never will, because the subject matter he’s dealing with is timeless. This song is an early hip-hop indebted throwback that still sounds like something I want to hear bumping out of cars in 2016. Miguel’s always had the swagger of some old-school playboy crooner dressed-up for a raunchier millennium, and “Cadillac” might be the best example of Get You A Man Who Can Do Both I’ve heard in awhile. –Gabriela
I’ve always wondered what a Noname full-length project would sound like after hearing her on so many songs from Chicago’s finest. It turns out, Telefone is pure nourishment for the soul, whether it’s in need of solace, healing, joy, celebration, love, or pretty much anything else imaginable. “Freedom Interlude” best encompasses what is present on the entire project. It embodies just how fucked up life can be, and the beauty and preciousness that can thrive despite that fact.
She opens with intention, “I thought I was gon’ write a rap,” and it quickly morphs into three different songs, grappling with everything that deters us from executing even the best of intentions, showing how our expectations can both stregthen and damage us at times. “I think I wrote a song about confusion and perception.” “I think this is a song about redemption.” “I know this is a song for overcoming.” And it in fact is all of that at once. It captures the messiness and err of just trying to be a person with a purposeful existence. The monotone ease of her voice is so serene, almost soothing to the point of hypnosis were it not for her ability to snap in an out of complex rhythmic and arrhythmic cadences over Soulquarian-esque sparseness. And any Nina Simone on or off wax is always welcome, especially when used by an artist who wonderfully carries on her legacy. You seriously have no soul if this song doesn’t warm your insides. –Collin
Everyone hates airports. Airports are terrible. But if you have brown skin, airports aren’t just a Kafkaesque nightmare of bureaucratic incompetence; they’re an actual nightmare, a place where outright racism is systematized and accepted — I mean, even more systematized and accepted. And it’s not just an American thing, either. Heems, who makes up one half of Swet Shop Boys, is Indian American, but the other half, Riz MC — whose performance as the meek Naz on HBO’s The Night Of gives no indication that he can rap like this, which is a testament to his skills as both a rapper and an actor — is British Pakistani. And while it’s cool that two dudes from different backgrounds on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean can come together to make great music, it’s decidedly uncool that their common ground is “people are racist as fuck everywhere.” “T5″ is a great song, a song from a perspective that we don’t always get to hear in music, and a song that somehow turns state-fueled paranoia into something approaching a legitimate banger. In a better world, it wouldn’t have to exist. But in our fucked up world, I’m glad it does. –Peter