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Laid Off's Top Songs of July

. 15 min read
Laid Off's Top Songs of July

Last month’s intro was way too long, so I’ll keep this one short and sweet: These are our favorite songs of the month.

Also, today is Bandcamp Friday, which means Bandcamp is foregoing their revenue share and giving all profits directly to artists. If you like any of these songs, go buy them! If you don’t, go buy music you do like on Bandcamp! Artists need your help!

Your TUNES Editor,

Raphael


“HOW LONG UNTIL CYBERGRUNGE.NET IS ‘CANCELLED’ BY THE C.I.A.?” The website referenced, which asks us this important question, also contains all the image data used on zoey.’s album sink and die. I don’t know if we’ve talked about this before, but I have strong feelings about sonification of data. Sometimes when data is translated into sound it’s too cold or repetitious. And yes, maybe the C.I.A should cancel that kind of sonification. But other times~~the good times~~it’s warm and pretty, and the patterns are just enough to rewire your fucked-up brain for a second. On sink and die, and especially on the track “stand by me,” zoey. handles data quite tenderly~~an elegant structure, gorgeous timbres, and that special kind of panning that’s indicative of sweet, sweet data. I could stay in this space forever, but I’d rather continue to the following track, rendered fully uncompromising by what precedes it. “stand by me” turns out better than the movie of the same name (R.I.P. River Phoenix tho), and maybe even the song. Let this be a lesson to you, Kings Stephen and Ben E. I’ll be standing by zoey. from now on. (Hedra Rowan)

Buy sink and die. here.

Yukika’s stabs at city pop—see “Soul Lady” or her cover of Tomoko Aran’s “I’m In Love”—are fun but lack the verve of the original stuff. (Blame the smeared-over production and restrained vocal melodies.) “Yesterday” is where she truly shines, radiating a nuanced wistfulness akin to the wide-eyed, tender schmaltz of Apink and Gfriend. In its Beatles interpolation and ABBA harmonies, “Yesterday” channels a spirit present in both their music and the act of listening to it, a nostalgic pang for the past, so idealized and plain and true that optimism for the future feels like the only way to live. As Yukika longs to re-experience a honeymoon phase, there’s a sense of loss for what once was. But there’s positivity, too, for what can still arrive. In her reminiscing, she wills a beautiful future into existence. (Joshua Minsoo Kim)

Buy Soul Lady here.

It started as a meme on metal message boards: What if Full of Hell, the Ocean City grindcore band that’s collaborated with some of the biggest players at the intersection of noise and metal, from The Body to Merzbow, were to mash their terrifying brand with that of electro-punks HEALTH, who’ve collaborated with some of the biggest players in internet rap, from Ghostemane to JPEGMafia? The concept, much less convoluted than what I’ve presented here, seemed laughable until July 15, when the two forces merged to create an “album” (one track clocking in at 2:15) better than anyone could have anticipated. Over propulsive percussion—played on a real kit but hyper-quantized—and a buzzsaw of synth bass and guitar power chords, Full of Hell’s chief growler Dylan Walker and HEALTH’s head whisper-crooner Jake Duzsik trade bars that play off each other shockingly well. The accompanying music video is appropriately post-apocalyptic, featuring gruesome creatures made of war machines, billboards flashing images of monsters with erectile dysfunction, and FOH-brand fried chicken buckets full of dismembered body parts. (Raphael Helfand)

Buy “FULL OF HEALTH” here.

New York-based DJ Swisha’s Bandcamp page has been a treasure trove of floor fillers and club-ready tracks for all of 2020. His latest release, Sittin on Chrome EP, a collaboration with fellow New York producer DIYR, was released on July’s Bandcamp Friday. The title track is a rework of Masta Ace’s classic 1995 song of the same name, but it’s completely morphed into a bass-throbbing banger that mixes elements of house, techno, and Jersey club. Swisha’s inventive use of breaks and hip-hop samples are present throughout his constantly-growing discography. “Sittin On Chrome” is only the latest example. (Brandon Lattimore)

Buy Sittin on Chrome EP here.

Dinner Party is the debut project from the eponymous supergroup formed by Terrace Martin, 9th Wonder, Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington. The synergy of these four towering jazz and hip-hop figures is captivating, creating a nuanced, approachable record at the intersection of the two genres. Though the record resonates right now, following widespread national protests against racial injustice and police brutality, Glasper has noted that the group had already finished much of the album last year and were simply waiting for the right time to release it. In the same interview, he says the album draws directly from Marvin Gaye’s playbook, which explains why it carries such amorous, laidback vibes while also alluding to serious social issues. “Love You Bad,” which features Chicago-based vocalist Phoelix (as does most of the EP), is more of a feel-good sunny groove than a politically-charged song like the penultimate track “Freeze Tag.” Still, it’s worthwhile to hear these four virtuosic players and producers compose neo-soul melodies that—boom-bap drums aside—imitate the looped structure of traditional hip-hop production. (Sean Popermhem)

“Would you rather be lonely?” is the question Jessy Lanza repeats in “Alexander,” from her new album, All the Time. Her voice is a little breathy, a little sedated, and set over otherworldly synths tethered to a slow, cool rhythm. One of the quieter, more contemplative tracks on the album, it’s just the thing to slow down time for four minutes and enjoy bathing in a rich, complex sound. (Lily Houston Smith)

Buy All The Time here.

“Siyabulela” is a traditional South African gospel track whose base lyrics are simply “Siyabulela, Amen.” Gamedze’s “cover” recruits Nono Nkoane to sing these words with such grace they molt from their spiritual meaning into the fabric of the instrumental, which (aside from Gamedze’s percussion) features Thenbinkosi Mavimbela on bass, Buddy Wells on sax and Robin Fassie-Kock on trumpet. Each musician takes an extended solo at some point during the 8-minute track, but what keeps the repetitive structure alive throughout is Gamedze’s expert stickwork. He switches up rhythms and dynamics constantly, but not obsessively. No two fills are alike, but he’s never in the way of his fellow musicians.

Most of Dialectic Soul, Gamedze’s debut record as a bandleader, deals in free abstraction. The three-part, side-long suite that opens the double LP is an impressive exercise in non-linear musical storytelling, flashing through motifs so fast they’re hard to catch, but slow enough that they can be caught. “Siyabulela” is the opposite, a warm blanket of sound to lull you to sleep when your mind is racing. (RH)

Buy Dialectic Soul here.

According to Marilyn Wilson, Brian Wilson’s first wife, The Beach Boys track “Wind Chimes” was written in a moment of spontaneous reverence while Brian watched some wind chimes through a window that he had brought home that day. The appeal of wind chimes is universal; it’s hard not to look at them and easy to get lost in them. “In the late afternoon I’m hung up on wind chimes,” Carl Wilson sings on lead vocal, painting a scene that’s all too familiar to anyone who’s relaxed on their grandmother’s porch on a summer day.

Minamo’s “Superscience,” a blurring of the lines between an improvisational concert and studio recording, evokes that same feeling of a performance beholden to nothing but the whims of a cool breeze. Tetsuro Yasunaga and Keiichi Sugimoto imagined a living, mutating being as they performed. The slithering, fluid nature of the track really nails this imagery down. It feels alive; it feels organic; it’s moving. Carried by the whispers of a gentle wind that blows this way and that, “Superscience” has had me hung up all month. (Shy Thompson)

Buy Superscience here.

“I made this song as a spell to ward off subtle social attacks at Blackness,” Open Mike Eagle said about the new song he released in mid-July. Made in response to Joe Biden’s passive aggressive statements that dug into Black respectability politics, Open Mike Eagle uses a meditative beat made by Smoke Bonito to air his grievances, struggles, and accomplishments. He ends his final verse, “But I done come so far though / My therapist said I came so far, yeah,” reminding us of the progress he’s made while the world is on fire. (BL)

Buy “Neighborhood Protection Spell” here.

Jesse Gibson‘s debut album, Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead, marries alternative rock and emo rap. The song, recorded in JUJU Merk’s studio in the L.E.S., will feed your desire for mosh pits and teenage angst. It's a gritty New York love story, full of self destruction and lust. Anyways, enough of my bullshit. Click the play button. (Joseph Mooney)

Buy Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead here.

“Swan Lake,” the final and most understated track of 333, evokes a vivid melancholia that establishes it as one of the strongest cuts on an already engaging project. Longtime collaborator whitearmor pairs fragile guitar licks with percussive delays, grounding Bladee’s feathery voice. It’s an Enya track drenched in DXM, but Bladee’s robotic vocal stylings are betrayed by his abstract, evocative lyricism. “It’s winter in the world, I want your warmth,” he pines as the track draws to a close, an affecting and vulnerable departure from the emotional unavailability he tends to exude. (Andy Swicord)

Buy 333 here.

Toronto rapper Quinton Armani Gardner (Pressa) is due for international stardom. He’s already opened for his city’s vulturous overlord and collaborated with another much-maligned compatriot. Now, he’s reached across the border to Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow, two of the biggest names in Brooklyn Drill, neither of whom have taken a shot at Megan or creeped on a 14-year-old TV star, as far as we know.

“Head Tap” is an almost flawless mini-posse cut, a contagious chorus prairie dogging between three snappy verses. There’s a high-pitched sneer from Pressa, a low-down brag from Sleepy, and a call to arms from Sheff, each gone faster than it arrived. An old-timey piano/violin loop, with a barely-perceptible backing vocal floating over it and a gnarly sub-base beneath, transports the whole affair to a dusty saloon moments before a showdown. (RH)

Buy “Head Tap” here.

There are classic UK Garage songs where dudes sound like complete idiots, so it’s apt that “West Ten” stays true to this model. It’s subtler here—beyond the immediacy of its 2-step beat and the energy derived from singing-to-rapping switches, “West Ten” is about a woman being neglected. As Mabel dejectedly cries, “Don’t you know I’m walking away?,” AJ Tracey spends most of his time boasting and providing shallow assurance of his commitment. The chorus reveals the truth: Mabel’s vocals get chopped up, scattered like confetti as some sort of adornment for AJ Tracey’s self-congratulatory rant. (JMK)

Buy “West Ten” here.

Young Thug’s most eccentric and slept-on son is back with Barnacles, a laid-back and consistent project throughout. On standout final track “Hey Mr.,” SahBabii contrasts aggressive lyrics with relaxed delivery over a sedated, late-night instrumental as he repeats the mantra “Hey mister, you’re not a killer,” to hypnotic effect. His ability to entrance is coupled with his penchant for playful, absurd punchlines (“She reached in my pants, I got two peepees”) rapped in a high-pitched, ethereal voice. Sahbabii teased retirement in 2018, but thankfully, he’s given us another glimpse into his dreamworld, where sex and violence are coated in a mesmerizing, angelic glow. (Austin Sanderson)

Buy Barnacles here.

It’s hard to find legitimately weird art. There’s plenty of music that doesn’t follow conventional pop structures, or any genre conventions, for that matter. But a song that creates conventions of its own is a rarity. Alex Brownstein-Carter and David Sigler, Primpce’s founders and songwriters, have established themselves as true weirdos, creating a timbral, temporal, dynamic universe that only they ever have or ever will inhabit. This isn’t to say they don’t wear their influences on their sleeves. (Anyone who’s ever spent a little time with Captain Beefheart will be quick to draw the comparison.) But their sound is—dare I say it—more breathtakingly bizarre than any of the Captain’s endeavours. Primpce’s first record, The Best Thing to Get to Do is to Learn to Inspire You, is an incredible feat of DIY ingenuity, a home-recorded masterpiece unlike anything else that came out in 2016. Now they’re back with “You Think It’s Funny,” the first single from their new album, Goodbye Marines and Hello Dad It’s Son or Mr. Worm the Monster, out online sometime in September and in physical form on Halloween. Their new sound is much sharper, due in part to top-notch mixing from the band’s touring bassist, Joe Ceponis. It’s no less surprising, though. On the new song, Brownstein-Carter’s precise drumming marches in step with his skronky bassline and Sigler’s spastic guitar licks, which seem to pop out from behind every beat. The lyrics are characteristically inscrutable—”Full leather clown to swipe it out / Of my new mouth a smile climb out / Black slice sundown gut thrusted out / In a white nightgown with the dice rolled out”—but grant us disturbing glimpses into the group’s collective imagination. The music video, based on Primpce live guitarist Eric Buller’s Tik Tok/ASMR-inspired concept and directed by Brownstein-Carter, is equally unsettling. I’d try to describe it, but, like most things, it’s much better consumed firsthand. (RH)

Preorder Goodbye Marines here.

“Buga” is another testament to the consistent growth of Nigerian-born afropop artist Kida Kudz, his latest in a slew of singles released over the last several months. A punchy bass drum and a metallic synth melody provide the perfect support for his charismatic crooning. Kudz, accompanied by Falz and Joey B, gloats about the money and success he’s garnered. In Nigerian Pidgin, “Buga” means to brag, maybe excessively. This song proves that his boasting is justified. It comes just in time, as the last days of summer pass us by. No matter where you’re listening, let it take you to whichever sweaty dance floor you’ve missed the most. (Will Gates)

Buy the “Buga” single here.

For Park Hye Jin’s first release on Ninja Tune, How Can I, she has decided to experiment outside of the deep house rap classifier she’s been shoe-horned into alongside the likes of Galcher Lustwerk and Yaeji. The results are mixed but interesting. “Can You” is the perfect bridge between her older releases and the rest of the tracks on the EP. Dipping into UK Garage, she repeats “Can you be my baby,” as if it’s a dare, before switching to “And I fucking hate you,” the two refrains bouncing off each other, mirroring the arc of a relationship beginning and falling apart. (BL)

Buy How can I here.

“Los Angeles,” the opening track of Haim’s Women in Music Pt. III, is a dejected celebration of the band’s hometown, painted with the same sunbaked anxiety as the city where Bret Easton Ellis’ characters cruised mindlessly past billboards that read “Disappear Here.” “Los Angeles” opens with a warm saxophone that starts off like a vocal exercise and is later accompanied by crisp snares and surfy guitar loops. The song evokes the complexity of its sun-drenched namesake: cheerful yet pensive; glistening yet coarse; an overcast morning followed by a sunny afternoon. Danielle Haim ruminates about leaving L.A. when she sings, “These days, these days, I can't win / These days, I can't see no visions / I'm breaking, losing faith.” Having just returned from quarantining in my hometown, I find myself relating to the feeling of loss in “Los Angeles.” Do I still belong there? Is it the same place where I grew up? Where is home now? Haim’s near-perfect summer album helps answer these eternal nagging questions of selfhood. (David Kobe)

I didn’t think I’d hear the brass rip so hard in this song. But there it is at 1:29, when the music gives way to some serious wonk~~flagellant brass lines, stellar sub bass. This transition from gorgeous and harmonious to gorgeous yet dysfunctional will break you every time. I’m not gonna lie: The first time I heard it, my eyes rolled back into my thick bimbo skull and my normally cute tongue slobbered out of my mouth. Weeks later, I woke up from ahegao slumber wanting more of “Victory Parkway.” It’s a track from an upcoming EP by Cincinnati’s Chloe Hotline and New Jersey’s Titmouse. They’ve both brought us gems before, and I can’t imagine their upcoming tracks will be anything less than semi-precious stones .There are 180 dedicated parking spaces associated with the Victory Parkway Campus at the University of Cincinnati, so you will have no problem finding a place to hang out until the full EP drops. (HR)

50 Cent’s influence echoes in Pop Smoke’s legacy. The direct descent of his style from 50’s is apparent on “Gangstas,” an early track on Pop’s posthumous album, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon. 15 years earlier, it would have fit in perfectly on a G Unit record. 50 is an executive producer on Shoot for the Stars and features on “The Woo” alongside Roddy Ricch. But nowhere is the bond between the 45-year-old king of New York and his 20-year-old presumed heir apparent more heartfelt than “Got it On Me.” In its opening lines, Pop interpolates the chorus of 50’s “Many Men (Wish Death),” a track based on the attempt on 50’s life in 2000. 20 years later, we’re faced with the painful irony of the young rapper predicting his own shooting, an event that didn’t share the happy ending of his mentor’s survival story. His message, like 50’s (“I’ll come and take your life away”) is a warning. “I got it on me,” he sings menacingly over a garish beat complete with a Roman choir, letting his killers know he’ll be ready when they come. Four months after his death, the song is heartbreaking. (RH)

Buy Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon here.

On “Black Mirror,” Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire glides over a soulful Madlib beat as he reflects on his youth and the memory of his beloved uncle Shango, who passed in June. He opens with vivid vignettes from his childhood, recounting himself as a boy chasing pigeons in the park, and scuffing his knees and his Oshkosh tee chasing after a pretty girl. He packs this first verse with these coming-of-age snapshots, which deepen into meditations on gentrification, lessons from past generations, and questions of black masculinity as his character ages. The second verse pays homage to his uncle and the significant role he played in eXquire’s life. “My uncle marked my heart, the reason I started rap / I was a baby, he would let me take vinyls to scratch.” Thank god he did so. Rest in peace to Shango. (SP)

Buy “Black Mirror” here.

Everyone agrees that the most satisfying part of a movie or album is when its title is, at long last, spoken aloud. I’d go so far as to say that such occurrences release more endorphins than any other human experience. That’s exactly what happens on “Flying,” the closer of Dehd’s phenomenal Flower of Devotion. What I found monotonous at first and now enjoy most about the album is how the tracks bleed into each other, none fully differentiating itself from the pack. Instead, it’s brief, shimmering moments of melisma—“Baaaaaby / True-ooh / Blue-ooh” (“Letter”), “Fluuuhyid / Fluh-id” (“Flood”)—that bring the record home. Like most of the project, “Flying” jams along pleasantly, Emily Kempf’s urgent, smoldering voice riding a surfy groove. The chorus hits soon and isn’t anything special: ”Flying, you got me flying / Trying, you got me trying.” Then, at 1:30, something starts to happen. “In the garden of emotion,” Kempf bellows. Your ears perk up. “I’ll see the flower of devotion,” she finishes, accompanied by Jason Balla’s earnest, nasal wine. Your eyes widen. Your sphincter clenches. You moan. You’ve hit your musical climax. Now all that’s left to do is relax as the song plays out. (RH)

Buy Flower of Devotion here.

“Sleep Deep” is the shortest track on Dominic Minix’s new EP, Sun Will Show Again, and the only one on which his voice isn’t severely affected in post. The song closes out a tight, four-track project that’s remarkably varied but flows cohesively throughout. The other three songs are all experiments in production technique, with instrumentals created by Minix and polished by the guiding hand of his seasoned co-producer, Zack “Lazerdisk” Johnson. “Sleep Deep” shares these credits, but in its final form, it sounds more like Minix’s past work as Yung Vul than the rest of the record. It’s raw and gloomy, straight from Minix’s damaged soul to your eardrums, with minimal interference along the way.

The song is based on the chords Minix initially used to underscore “Hair Piece,” a song-poem by Tarriona “Tank” Ball of Tank and the Bangas. In my recent interview with Minix, he said he’d been trying to think of his own take on the progression when the song’s simple, simmering refrain, “Sleeeeep Deeeeep,” came to him one day as he drove. More lyrics followed: “Night will pass before you know / The sun will show again.” Like Dehd’s “Flying” (see above), Minix’s “Sleep Deep” packs a payoff, bringing clarity to the title of the album it finishes. It may not mean anything, but I’m happy my two favorite closers of the month share this trait.

In our interview, Minix told me he wasn’t happy with the way the track had come out, that he didn’t “feel like it got to the integrity of where the song was really at.” To me, it’s nearly perfect. “Sleep Deep” is a dark condolence, a message to those struggling with intense depression: It may feel like it now, but it won’t last forever. (RH)

Buy Sun Will Show Again here.


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