So how’s music doing in this, the first week of The Age Of Grusk? (Or Mimes, if you prefer.) Well, we got new albums from rock stalwarts Beach House, Arctic Monkeys, and Charlie Puth. A really promising artist, Illuminati Hotties, had their debut named as our Album Of The Week. And though the Age Of Grusk has been distressingly free of new Grimes music yet, we did have these five great songs to make up for it…
When I interviewed Kero Kero Bonito a couple years ago, one of its members said this: “It would be the most amazing thing in the world for a band like us to have a legit crossover hit in the way that Joy Division did when they broached the Top 20 when they were on Factory Records.” It’s a quote I’ve though about a bit in the years since, as the gulf between mainstream popularity and independent music has grown increasingly wider despite streaming’s accessibility being positions as some great equalizer.
It crossed my mind again while listening to “Time Today,” the first single from the British trio’s new album Time ‘n’ Place, mainly because it sort of sounds like it’s playing off a tinny radio in some alternate timeline, chirping out of a video game’s speakers or soundtracking some movie montage of a sunny day’s adventures. It’s a shame that Kero Kero Bonito’s music isn’t everywhere, because their unrelenting and determined positivity makes them and their listeners feel larger-than-life.
“I got so much time today/ I got hopes and dreams and plans all yet to be made/ So get out the way/ ‘Cus I’m coming through now/ I got something to do,” Sarah Perry sings, the music itself paddling along like the footfalls of an uphill climb. They’re luxuriating in all the possibilities of now, willfully ignoring the rain clouds gathering on the horizon for just a little bit longer. –James
In the announcement essay for Ryley Walker’s new album Deafman Glance, he talks a lot about Chicago, its bleak charm and the music that it influenced. “Chicago sounds like a train constantly coming towards you but never arriving,” he writes. That soft jittering runs throughout the album and hits its peak on the closer, “Spoil With The Rest.” Drums skitter beneath bright guitars as Walker sighs, “Whenever I do my best/ I’ll spoil with the rest.” You can hear a slight hopefulness as the melody ascends, only to turn back to where it began. A math-rock-leaning riff stirs into a chant-like refrain, noodling behind Walker’s hazy vocals like the shy Chicago sun. –Julia
Alyse Vellturo is part of a grand tradition of songwriters penning pretty songs about ugly emotions. In the case of “wrong,” the ugliness derives from an examination of hate, regret, and confusion: the wrath Vellturo feels for an ex, the empathy incurred when she recognized glimpses of herself in that person at their lowest, and her struggle to make sense of this jumble of unpleasant passions. “Now I’m sitting feeling sorry/ For somebody that I hate,” she sings, “And it feels so wrong.” As usual, her method for wiping up the mess involves encasing it in music that could not be cleaner. On “wrong” that entails a brisk drumbeat, breathy whispers, and a cavalcade of guitar and keyboard sounds. The song is a brightly chiming and fastidious, rhythmically antsy and sonically sleek — a busy metropolis that whisks along wearing a smile to mask its ghosts. –Chris
It’s a magical gift that some rock bands have — taking feelings of depression and alienation and insignificance and making them feel grand and majestic and big. On “Heaven,” Late Bloomer have that. The North Carolina band is a power trio in the truest sense of the term. They pound and heave and wail their way toward transcendence — all three dudes playing as hard as they possibly can. Those instruments feed into each other, in constant conversation, building toward an enormous chorus. And the enormous chorus is this: “If I make it to heaven, doesn’t really matter? / If I crawl on the floor again, does it really matter?” Neil Murray hits that line like it’s anthemic, like it’s the sort of thing that will resonate with thousands upon thousands of us. And who knows? Maybe it will. –Tom
Donald Glover has always been extremely talented. He’s also always been extremely ambitious, and maybe more than a little pretentious. When he was mostly spending his time making jokey, self-consciously clever pop-rap, that could be a little hard to take. But in recent years, his talent has started to catch up with his ambition. His 2016 album Awaken, My Love! may have been an album-length P-Funk pastiche, but it was a pretty good album-length P-Funk pastiche. His TV show Atlanta, which just wrapped up its second season, is genuinely great. And his new song “This Is America” might just be genuinely great too, the first time that his music career has felt like more than a distraction from his other creative endeavors.
Let’s just get this out of the way right now: The music video for “This Is America” is iconic. There’s no getting around it. It’s the sort of visceral, audacious work that demands your immediate attention, and its symbolically rich deep dive into black identity and gun violence rewards repeat viewings too. Most of us first listened to the song in the context of the video, and it’s hard to separate “This Is America” the song from “This Is America” the video. But the song, perhaps just as confrontational and shocking, is more than good enough to stand on its own.
“We just wanna party/ Party just for you,” Glover sings at the beginning of “This Is America,” backed by jubilant whoops, an entire choir, and a sunny, highlife-reminiscent guitar figure. Then, out of nowhere, comes a gunshot, shattering the joyous atmosphere and jarring the song into a menacing trap beat. “Yeah, this is America,” Glover raps. “Guns in my area/ I got the strap/ I gotta carry ‘em.” BlocBoy JB, Slim Jxmmi, Young Thug, and 21 Savage chime in with ad-libs.
There’s a lot to unpack here. Both the song and the video explore the intersection of black joy, black art, and black pain, and how America somehow manages to turn all of them into sources of entertainment and money — yeah, this is America — and it even makes the listener complicit through their enjoyment of the song. Just like America itself, “This Is America” is too complex to reduce to a single thesis statement. But if you wanted to come up with one, maybe it’d go a little something like this: Donald Glover is extremely talented. He’s not going to let you forget it anytime soon. –Peter