It’s almost Labor Day here in the US of A. I wonder if Grimes is using the long weekend to convince Elon Musk to unionize Tesla… No? Well, here are some good songs to blast at your BBQ…
5. Mick Jenkins – “What Am I To Do”
The last time we heard from Chicago’s Mick Jenkins was with “Bruce Banner,” a song that might’ve been titled for the Hulk’s restrained and anxious human form but had a lot more in common with the teeth-baring and foreboding muscularity that result from Banner getting angry. Jenkins is still in confident attack mode on “What Am I To Do,” but between a more existential title and its production, his latest feels as if it operates in a more meditative lane. That production is courtesy of Kaytranada, and it’s gorgeous — a floating, gliding piece of soul-tinged rap that’s instantly immersive. On first listen, that might make “What Am I To Do” play like a chilled-out soundtrack for cruising around in the waning days of summer. But Jenkins’ dexterous performance above it sends a signal as clear as the more pointed challenges in “Bruce Banner,” using Kaytranada’s skyward beat not for a daydream escape but to kickstart an ascension. –Ryan
4. Gouge Away – “Ghost”
Florida hardcore band Gouge Away are named after the final track on Pixies’ 1989 album Doolittle. And their new song, “Ghost,” finds the band moving closer to their namesake. Like “Gouge Away,” and Doolittle as a whole, “Ghost” doesn’t sacrifice melody for noise. The rhythm nearly inverts that of “Gouge Away.” “Ghost” sounds like its offspring, similar structure — simple, captivating bassline and gruff vocals — with modern flourishes. But unlike Black Francis, who sings about violent seduction on “Gouge Away,” Christina Michelle disassociates on “Ghost.” “I’ve been feeling like a ghost in your house and in mine,” she howls. “It makes me wonder if I’ve passed away or been invisible this whole time.” There’s power and ferocity in her detachment, though. Just as Black Francis has his arms broken, only to “break the walls.” –Julia
3. It Looks Sad. – “Drool”
There isn’t much to it, but the lush wall-of-sound heard on It Looks Sad’s “Drool” evokes a late-summer nostalgia. It is the musical equivalent of laying down in a field on a beautiful day while you come down from a high. “All I really wanna do is sit around and drool with you all day,” Jimmy Turner sings, expressing a simple desire to be lazy with someone beloved. It’s unclear whether that beloved is a romantic partner or a friend that happens to slobber a lot, and it’s not really important who the subject of affection is. There simply aren’t enough songs about watching TV and relaxing with someone you really like to spend time with. It’s the most relatable feeling in the world. –Gabriela
2. YBN Cordrae – “Scotty Pippen”
The young rap crew YBN came up freestyling during marathon gaming sessions on XBOX Live, talking shit over games of Grand Theft Auto. That’s a hyper-modern origin story, but don’t mistake these guys for mumble rappers who get by on presence and personality over craft. Not that they lack for presence and personality, but they also attack each track with precision and ferocity. Dudes have bars.
YBN Cordae has been billed as the backpacker of the group. His best known track so far, “Old N*ggas,” was a response to J. Cole’s kids-these-days bitch session “1985” that reflected Cole’s contempt back at Cordae’s elders with a vicious fluidity. (Kanye West, R. Kelly, Bill Cosby: “And these supposed to be our heroes? Negro please/ Old niggas unreliable like D-Rose knees.”) It’s brutal. It’s beautiful. Even as it eviscerated Cole, its lyrical dexterity probably made him weep with joy.
On “Scotty Pippen,” Cordae shows how broad his skill set really is. Over a pitched-up version of the “Bodak Yellow” beat, he lets it rip, accelerating and decelerating through Migos triplets with remarkable clarity. “I’m Scottie Pippen, but I ball like a Piston,” he explains, summing up his power-meets-finesse approach by referencing an NBA rivalry that predates his birth. Such name-checks are an easy hook to latch on to, but don’t let them obscure the pure descriptive prowess of lines like this: “Syrup spilling, coughin’ penicillin/ Heads turning walking in the building/ Ledge burnin’, often I’m a villain/ Was deserted, brought up by some real ones.” When a sequence like that comes tumbling into your earpiece the only fair response is to put down your controller and applaud. –Chris
1. Haru Nemuri – “Kick In The World”
Haru Nemuri’s new single “Kick In The World” sounds like if you put a bunch of razor blades in a blender and let it rip. The Japanese musician feints a bit at the start of it, intro-ing with some mumbling cloud rap that only makes the explosion into pulverizing guitars hit that much harder. Japan has a long history of hard rock music, and in the past decade that’s melted into the pop sphere. Haru Nemuri operates within that tradition: controlled bursts of fury offset by bittersweet melodies. “Kick In The World” is a distillation of the sort of metallic cool that’s present on her debut album, Haru To Shura, that came out earlier this year, and to demonstrate her versatility, the song comes attached to five different remixes that highlight different aspects of the monstrous track. It’s a rare song that can go through six different permutations and still remain dynamic, but each one reveals a new side that sounds just as fresh as the initial rush. Kick in the world… more like a kick in the face. –James