It’s been quite a week for Smash bands. For one, Smashing Pumpkins finally announced that pesky reunion they’ve been teasing, and though D’arcy will certainly not be involved, we’re getting a whole string of tour dates with Billy Corgan, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlin, and Jeff Schroeder. As for the other Smash band: Smash Mouth debuted their long-awaited cover of Car Seat Headrest’s “Something Soon.”
In other news: Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside turns 40 this weekend, the Black Panther soundtrack is pretty great (we haven’t seen the movie yet), and Marshmello isn’t going anywhere. The five best noms were STACKED this week; dive into the ones who stood apart below.
If Frank Ocean keeps this up, by the end of his life we’ll have a whole album’s worth of classic covers translated into his own distinct musical language. A few years ago he manifested the legendary Isley Brothers/Aaliyah ballad “(At Your Best) You Are Love” as a gorgeous ghostly shimmer. Now he’s worked his magic on “Moon River,” a song sung by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s and recorded by umpteen artists in between. Ocean’s treatment is distinctly Blonded, built mostly from warm, unvarnished guitar chords and several tracks’ worth of tweaked vocals that intermingle like stray fireflies. Eventually, as the focus shifts from rainbows’ ends to our own, he envelops the music in flickering ambiance and subtle symphonic beauty, and we’re reminded just how gifted Ocean is at deconstructing timeless beauty and assembling it into new configurations just over the horizon. –Chris
Forth Wanderers make these contorted guitar-driven rock songs that twist and churn without denying you the power of a biting melody. “Not For Me” finds vocalist Ava Trilling caught in a relationship that feels life-changing and hum-drum at the same time. “I woke up with you/ Put on my shoes/ I left before you saw me,” she sings in this particular drawl that she’s cultivated over the past couple of years. Her lackadaisical approach to the partnership fades, though, and by the end of this song she’s full-on admitting to being In It. “I am bare and unread/ Open and eager to the touch of your hand.” As Trilling delivers these lines, the band creates flurry of sound and vocal harmonies that swirl around her, elevating and further dramatizing the internal conflict. Matters of the heart are no small thing, and Forth Wanderers have the right kind of sticky instrumental hooks to make you swoon. –Gabriela
Over four years and two albums, New Jersey’s Topaz Jones has already proven himself to be a liquid, adaptable rapper. But with “Toothache,” he’s utterly disappeared into a a whole new sound, fusing his voice with lush, bass-popping ’70s funk and making it sound effortless. Maybe it is effortless; Jones’ father played in the ’70s funk band Slave, so he grew up with these sounds. And Jones has talked about how he made “Toothache” into a family affair; the slick, whooping voice on the intro is his aunt. Still, it’s jarring and impressive to hear a young rapper hitting his stride among these roller-disco sounds, tossing off a couple of casually virtuosic voices that ride the beat without fighting it. Jones’ verses are full of silly, lighthearted references — “lost control of the cruise like Katie Hooooolmes” — and then hitting a chorus that’s revelatory in its stickiness. This stuff isn’t easy, but listening to Topaz Jones, you might think it was. –Tom
For fans of a certain strain of brutal Americana — think True Detective’s first season, Nick Cave’s apocalyptic noir, modern deconstructions of the Western like Hell Or High Water — the beginning of Iceage’s new single “Catch It” is instantly alluring. That bed of sun-fried guitar and sleigh bells conjures up a scorched-earth wasteland, the edges of civilization where enigmatic and foreboding events occur. The Cave similarities abound, not just in the actual sound of “Catch It” but also in how Iceage — hailing from the cold reaches of Denmark — are offering a dark, foreign interpretation of something that should feel familiar to us, and yet creating their own world within it. “Catch It” pulls you into that world with the rhythmic and hypnotic qualities of an incantation, with Elias Bender Rønnenfelt playing the role of the louche, strung-out shaman throughout: intoning and spitting each lyric like he’s summoning spirits, guiding the song to passages where it collapses into noise or quickens into a frenzy, guiding the ritual to its inevitable destination, that peak of violent ecstasy. –Ryan
If Frankie Cosmos’ “Fish Bowl” remix gave us a tantalizing appetizer of Kero Kero Bonito-as-rock-band, then “Only Acting” makes a whole meal of it. “When to realize you’ve had your time/ Find another role/ Carry on the show,” Sarah Midori Perry sings, and this is definitely a new role for them. When the chorus hits, the song’s tinny drum machine and bass groove lurches straight into some gloriously Weezerfied overdriven guitar, effortlessly transposing their sugar-rush aesthetic into an entirely different genre of music while still sounding exactly like KKB. They’re not afraid to get weird, either, subverting their happy-go-lucky image by melting into a brief industrial noise freakout. But these guys are such unabashed crowdpleasers that even when they go dark and experimental, they still put out a Radio Edit to make it all okay. And even if they’re only acting, it feels exactly like it’s all for real. –Peter