It’s Carly, baby!
5. Warthog – “Corroded”
All four songs on Warthog’s new self-titled EP will impale you, but if I have to pick one, it’s the leadoff track, the song that immediately tensed up my muscles and pumped wind into my lungs. First come those iconic 20th Century Fox drums, a bit of winking pomp and circumstance before the wide-eyed violence. Soon Warthog are off to the races, bass and drums careening ahead at a breakneck clip as if trying to outrun the incoming deluge of weaponized guitar sludge. Chris Hansell roars with the ferocity of a born hardcore frontman, rallying his bandmates to an ever-rapider onslaught, until it all crashes into a guitar-soloing blaze of glory. It’s an exhilarating wave of mutilation — the kind of music that will lift you off your feet before mercilessly slamming you into the ground. –Chris
4. Robyn – “Beach2k20″
On her new album Honey, her first in eight years, Robyn parses heartbreak and finds solace, warm resolution, on the dancefloor. She’s reconstructing the shattered pieces of herself, shedding the “fembot” armor that shielded her throughout 2010’s Body Talk and rediscovering a human being who loves, feels, dances, fucks. Throughout Honey, Robyn is in command of her vulnerability. But on “Beach2k20,” the penultimate track, she relinquishes control to the beat.
It sees Robyn in the near future — let’s say, 2020. She’s done the emotional labor of rebuilding herself after falling apart and her priorities have shifted. She’s not singing about love or loss, she’s singing about going to a sick party. There’s “this cute place on the beach, they do really nice food,” she tells us over pulsing tropical house and an iMessage bloop. “Come through, it’ll be cool.” These are the only details she offers during the five-minute song, and it still sounds like the best party I’ve never been to.
It’s unclear whether she actually makes it to the party. There’s a lot of quasi-planning going on. Robyn purrs and giggles through the phone, her voice — drunk and flirty — submerged in glimmering synth and a spiraling disco beat: “So you wanna go out?/ How you gonna get there?/ Should we call someone? Let’s go party.” She could very well be at home, getting ready and drinking wine at her lit-up vanity. It could be 2020, 2018, or 1995 — Robyn is, and has always been, the party. –Julia
3. Poppy – “Play Destroy” (Feat. Grimes)
Poppy and Grimes have a lot in common. They’re both total weirdos, futuristic children of the internet who deconstruct ideas about celebrity and pop music by embracing their own idiosyncratic forms of it. And, in recent months, they’ve both become controversial figures, in large part due to the company they keep. Poppy has been embroiled in a complex, recently settled lawsuit involving allegations of abuse and copyright infringement against her creative partner Titanic Sinclair, while Grimes has been in the tabloids for her relationship with tech billionaire Elon Musk. All of this is worth thinking about, but none of this can change the fact that their new collaboration “Play Destroy” is a really good song.
As its title suggests, “Play Destroy” turns wanton violence into a game: “This is how we play/ This is how we play destroy,” Grimes and Poppy sing, inviting images of mutilated action figures and Barbie dolls. “Gonna cut your face/ And break your favorite toy/ Drop a match in the gas tank/ Blow up your neighbor’s pool.” They turn the music into a game, too, fusing a bubblegum teen-pop chorus to demonic howls and a menacing nu-metal riff that recalls the aggression of Grimes’ own “Scream” multiplied a thousandfold. There’s something patently ridiculous about this unholy Frankenstein union of mainstream radio sonics, but each half informs the other, the sweetness of the chorus perversely amplified by the meatheaded riffage. We already know they like to play destroy, but maybe Grimes and Poppy should play create together more often. –Peter
2. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Party For One”
Look: It’s not “Run Away With Me,” and it’s definitely not “Call Me Maybe.” In the years since she released E•MO•TION, Carly Rae Jepsen’s reputation, at least amidst online pop-music dorks like your Stereogum staff, has grown to legend status. And so when she returns with something that does not immediately reduce us to puddles of happy tears, it runs the risk of coming off as a disappointment. But “Party For One,” Jepsen’s long-awaited comeback single, really is the monster we were waiting for; it’s just that it takes a few listens to reveal itself.
Jepsen has talked about how Robyn has inspired her work, and the clear antecedent to “Party For One” is “Dancing On My Own,” the most obviously classic song in a catalog full of obvious classics. But “Party For One” is coming from a different place. Where Robyn was the ignored girl in the corner, Jepsen is the one who’s already been through it, and who has to learn to be on her own again. It’s an aspirational song, a song about willing yourself to self-reliance. And when its emotional weight sinks in, that mathematically precise thousand-ton chorus does exactly what it needs to do. Some night in the not-too-distant future, you are going to hear this song in the wild, probably while drunk, and it is going to reduce you to atoms. Start preparing yourself now. –Tom
1. D’Angelo – “Unshaken”
There have, obviously, been many complicated and reclusive years in ‘’Angelo’s career. As a result, you never quite know when or why or where he will reemerge. Still, even in that context, this is not exactly what one would’ve expected: Four years after D’Angelo made his triumphant return with Black Messiah, now he’s reappeared on the soundtrack for a video game. Titled “Unshaken,” D’Angelo’s contribution to Red Dead Redemption 2 is a work of quiet yet cinematic grandeur.
It is also very uncharacteristic of what we are used to hearing from D’Angelo. “Unshaken” is neither languid soul nor politically-minded funk. D’Angelo sings over a meditative, grainy, and roadworn acoustic blues ballad of sorts. Perhaps fittingly considering that Red Dead Redemption 2 is a Western, D’Angelo is tapping into older structures here, calling on spirits lost to the past.
Even with D’Angelo existing on his own wavelength, out of time, at this juncture in his career, “Unshaken” is still something else; his voice, as resonant as ever, feels as if it’s communicating ancient wisdom. The result is strikingly gorgeous, mournful yet resilient and defiant. It plays like a hymn weathered by the years and stained in blood — a hymn all the more powerful for the struggles it carries with it. –Ryan