The “best of” list has been a staple of arts criticism since long before music blogs existed. The desire to curate is why most music writers got into the “business” in the first place. The urge to rank and score—and to read rankings and scores in lieu of the actual reviews to which they correspond—has become the driving force behind the churn of review content from our industry’s “most trusted voice,” and the lazy, homogenous top-ten Twitter threads the gatekeepers of music journalism continue to fire off month after month.
We tried to do something different here. Inspired by Tone Glow’s unranked, crowd-sourced, quarterly “favorite songs” lists, we let our writers blurb about any track they wanted to from the past two months, with no one’s opinion holding any extra weight. Caveat 1: This was originally supposed to be a “Best of May” list, before protests of police violence erupted in early June, making music criticism irrelevant for a while. So this roundup is May-heavy. Moving forward, we’ll be making one of these every month. Caveat 2: I wrote way too many blurbs. My compulsion to represent all my favorite releases of the past two months, combined with my tendency toward self-indulgence, led me to write a silly amount of long-winded descriptions. Therefore, you’ll find my blurbs taking up an obnoxious amount of space alongside much more efficient writing. Feel free to skip or skim them, but don’t disregard the songs.
In these end-times, music can feel non-essential, ephemeral even. But the songs on this list helped us make it through the past two months. Here we have summer jams that give us a brief release from our worries, experimental odysseys that push all other thoughts from our minds when we lose ourselves inside them, protest songs that remind us what we’re fighting for, and one track so powerful it had to be erased from existence.
Your TUNES Editor,
Breezy, piano-dappled house elevates these hot, almost-summer days, but how good can they be without the company of one you love? You can hear an aching in Jayda G’s voice, warbling as if she’s on the verge of tears. “I can love enough for the both of us,” she proclaims, before switching to “I can’t love enough for the both of us.” Social distancing can only ever be hard for lovers, so “Both of Us” naturally bursts forth with a longing for it all to end—for this relationship to feel more real, for sunny days to feel well-spent. Jayda G explains it succinctly: “I just wanna be with you.” (Joshua Minsoo Kim)
Buy Both of Us / Are You Down here.
Room For the Moon, the latest from multifaceted Muscovy musician Kate NV, has cold-climate origins, but it’s the album of the summer. In the video for “Plans,” the last single she released before RFTM dropped in June, NV plays a chainsmoking anchorwoman in charge of a team that’s streaming in live from three drastically different weather zones. As a new wave bassline, a buchla synth, a crooning sax, and Kate’s own mesmeric voice play in the background, she dances in front of a chaotic green screen, accepts a leg-shaped award, and throws confetti with her band on a stage covered in rubles. (Raphael Helfand)
Buy Room for the Moon here.
Charli XCX’s album how i’m feeling now was made in and for quarantine. “anthems” depicts COVID isolation in all its boredom and existentialism. She sings, “I get existential and so strange / I hear no sounds when I’m shouting / I just wanna go to parties / Up high, wanna feel the heat from all the bodies,” while her signature industrial, bubblegum pop throws her loneliness around and lets us dance to it. Charli XCX made her own soundtrack for quarantine screaming, for drowning out the sadness and anger that the world won’t stop inflicting. (Marisa Clogher)
Buy how i’m feeling now here.
D.C. reggae outfit The Archives revisit singer and poet Gil Scott-Heron’s songs at an unexpectedly timely moment. Throughout the 1970s, Scott-Heron charamastically tackled many of the issues facing Black Americans and stoked revolutionary spirits with songs like "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and “Who’ll Pay Reparations on My Soul?” George Floyd’s murder, which occured two days prior to this tribute Carry Me Home’s release, shows that many of the subjects addressed in Scott-Heron’s works are as relevant now as when he released his debut album five decades ago. This tribute album focuses on the singer’s collaborations with musician Brian Jackson, who joins The Archives on multiple tracks, including this take on “Winter In America.” (William Archambeault)
Buy Carry Me Home: A Reggae Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson here.
The fourth track on The Passion Of, the explosive new album from New Orleans punks Special Interest, starts with lead singer Alli Logout’s unaccompanied voice, distorted so that it’s unclear whether she’s saying, “I just wanna party” or, “I just want poverty.” Then comes a stringy, automated hi-hat and a colossal, echoing kick from synth maven Ruth Ex, a menacing bass groove from Nathan Cassiani, and some tasteful high-register guitar squalling from Maria Elena. Logout paints a picture of a city that crumbles and rises from the rubble, “tawdry condos” and high-rise office buildings replacing dilapidated homes. It’s a post-apocalyptic vision, complete with war machines rolling through residential neighborhoods. Or it’s a flashback to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which drove out over 100,000 Black New Orleans residents, many of whom would return—though many couldn’t—to a gentrified city.
The music video, directed by Nisa East, shows stark, black-and-white images of a New Orleans built in the image of the transplant. We see the I-10 freeway, which cut through the center of the Treme and the 7th Ward, historically black neighborhoods, in 1968, replacing the oaks that lined Claiborne Avenue with stern cement columns. We see the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, home of the beloved Saints, but also a monument to corporate greed. We see the abandoned Charity Hospital, where the city’s uninsured used to go for care before the storm.
“But aren’t we going out tonight?” Logout sneers repeatedly at the end of the chorus, alluding to the parties referenced in the song’s title. The lyric, juxtaposed with the blight and ruin of the rest of the song, reminds us of the gnawing need for stimulation that has brought some of us to abandon social distancing and drink at crowded bars in the face of a continuing global pandemic. “We were willingly blind,” Logout finishes, as the synth percussion, now stuck in a loop like a jammed phaser, fades away. (RH)
Buy The Passion Of here.
“Angel”—or, “Life and Death of the Earth in the Key of F”—is the first single from Brooklyn-based experimental jazz and hip-hop collective Standing on the Corner since Red Burns dropped in 2017. Its alternate title aptly captures its contrasts: the crisp, dulcet guitar pushed along by a hazy, distorted drum machine; the pitch of Gio Escobar’s ghostly croon morphing from high to low; the slow, moonstruck melody exploding into a sonorous volley of brass tones. Peppered with noodling keys, pick scrapes, and chopped-up samples, this record dynamically evokes images of tenderness and tumult—a fallen angel, a heartbroken lover, or actor and filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles floating into intergalactic ether. (Sean Popermhem)
Buy “Angel” here.
DeForrest Brown, Jr. is on a mission to Make Techno Black Again. He’s currently working on a book that parallels the origins of techno with the industrial revolution and argues that dance music is fundamentally a Black artform. Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry, his latest album as Speaker Music, is a bracing 50 minutes of percussive fractiles, underscoring fragments of found sound and urgent spoken word poetry. “A Genre Study of Black Male Death and Dying” pairs a jagged, pulsing beat with muddled transmissions from a police radio. As the track moves on and the police dialogue grows more frantic, the rhythm builds in speed and intensity, and additional percussion and static bursts are added in. It’s impossible to make out exactly what the cops are saying, but the track’s title tells us everything we need to know about what is taking place. (RH)
Buy Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry here
Drakeo the Ruler is one of the best rappers in the world, and he is currently imprisoned on bogus charges. Even rapping through the GTL, the phone service available to people who are incarcerated, his wordplay and mastery of the pocket shine. Follow his Twitter to keep up with ways to support. (Ben Shear)
Buy Thank You for Using GTL here.
The message of “Moody” is simple: “My old shit sound like they new shit.” It’s the catchphrase of the two choruses that sandwich a single verse on the streamlined second track from Sheff G’s latest, One and Only. Sheff is a pioneer in Brooklyn drill, the movement popularized by Pop Smoke before his tragic death at 21 this February. On One and Only, Sheff carries Pop Smoke’s torch, leading the way for a genre still in its infancy. (RH)
Buy One and Only here.
Duwap Kaine and Nine9 are establishing themselves as one of the most exciting rapper-producer teams in music. Like Carti and Pierre, when these two join forces the resulting track always sounds good. “Under Da Sun 2” is a standout from Duwap Kaine’s new tape of B-sides and outtakes from his 2018 classic, Underdog. This track has everything that makes the pair so enjoyable—multi-tracked vocals bouncing and floating through 420-friendly ad-libs and one-liners about the simple pleasures that accompany not being broke, all buried in a smoked-out cloud-rap beat that would have done huge numbers on Tumblr circa 2011. (BS)
Buy Bad Kid from The 4 here.
“I want to cook and eat your dick” is a lyric only Stephin Merritt could write. It’s been 21 years since the release of 69 Love Songs, the iconic triple album that eulogized the Lower East Side bohemian lifestyle of the 20th century. But on Quickies, Merritt shows that he’s still got it. Most of the album’s 28 tracks—all under two-and-a-half minutes—aren’t particularly memorable, but there are standouts, like “Let’s Get Drunk Again,” on which Merritt manages to rhyme “borscht” with “divorced,” and “Love Gone Wrong,” which includes the priceless lyric quoted above. The song strikes that perfect balance of deadpan humor and deep sadness that has always been TMF’s forte. Listening to Merritt’s impossibly deep voice singing stripped-down country over a simply-strummed banjo, it’s easy to see where Orville Peck got his vocal style, if not his mask and tassled leather 10-gallon hat. Here’s to hoping Merritt continues to inspire gay cowboys around the world. (RH)
Buy Quickies here.
The ninth installment of Carrie Z’s complete recording of French umbrella-slut Erik Satie’s piano works is recorded on a gorgeous electric keyboard and accordion in an “undisclosed location.” If you like insanely pretty music (like Satie’s nocturnes from 1919), chords of any kind, or enjoying life instead of being a total hack, you should probably hear this. Z’s playing evokes the image of two grand pianos stacked on top of each other. Like, in a calming way. When the album is over, you have your work cut out for you: Z’s eight previous installments of Satie’s music, which feature contributions from beloved pianos, keyboards, the outdoors, and unique tuning systems. Then hunker down, for nothing can be accomplished until the next volume is released, and on and on in perpetuity until the umbrellas and matching handkerchiefs are piled so high you can’t see the future or the past. (Hedra Rowan)
Buy Satie: Complete Piano Works—Volume 9 here.
I have a weakness for human voices in lush, resonant harmony (a weakness which has perhaps been intensified by the last four months of social isolation), so I was utterly at the mercy of “Empty Vessel.” Felicia Douglass’s voice—sincere, understated, and caramel-smooth—is the main instrument, propelled forward by a simple beat and spare, mostly textural accompaniment. Her double-tracked vocals elicit glitchy, digital echoes which hurry behind her, just barely capturing syllables, like a child struggling to keep pace with fast-walking adults. The effect is haunting and deliciously sad. “Empty Vessel” is a song to leave on repeat until it sinks into your bones. (Lily Houston Smith)
Buy Flight Tower here.
Gabriel Garzón-Montano previewed “Someone” as part of a medley for COLORS towards the end of last year. His first release since signing to Secretly syndicate Jagjaguwar, the track is written, produced and performed entirely by Garzón-Montano, filled with his signature sultry sounds and smooth neo-soul instrumentals. The track's spare instrumentation leaves space to showcase his lyrical versatility, exploring the seductive confidence and utter confusion that comes with a fleeting romance. (Martha Cleary)
Buy “Someone” here.
Prolific producer-turned-singer-songwriter Blake Mills released Mutable Set, an understated collection of smooth, soft-sung jazz-folk tunes, in May. “Mirror Box” is the only fully instrumental track on the album, aside from outro “Off Grid.” It’s Mills’s guitar tribute to Bill Evans’s classic “Peace Piece,” which started out as an extended vamp on the two opening chords of the standard “Some Other Time,” and ultimately ended up taking its place on Everybody Digs Bill Evans. (Evans’s “Some Other Time,” relegated to a bonus track on that album, is one of the great jazz piano performances of all time. I’ve promised my dad I’ll play it at his funeral.) Mills takes some creative liberties with the structure, warping his own complex harmonic system around Evans’s open-ended two-chord structure, tactfully accenting his rich guitar tones with soft strings and mellow horn swells. (RH)
Buy Mutable Set here.
To the surprise of fans, prolific electronic artist Four Tet released a slew of edits and demos on his SoundCloud for free at the end of April. The many new gems will be sure to make a completionist happy, but the standout is a deep house edit of Ne-Yo’s 2005 R&B hit “So Sick.” Already a staple of his DJ sets and bootlegged between fans online, Four Tet’s version compliments the 2005 track with minor synth keys and his signature chopped-up vocal samples. With the acapella from Ne-Yo’s original layered on top, it becomes a new end-of-the-night dance staple, and a perfect breakup song. (Brandon Lattimore)
Buy Sixteen Oceans here.
Dua Saleh uses mythos to rewrite religious fervor. Saleh is queer and non-binary, and on “hellbound” they create an alter-ego, Lucifer Labelle, who Saleh claims “brandishes queer identity smugly in the face of religious zealots.” The booming bass and distorted vocals further the song’s hellacious energy, as Saleh sings “Hellbound, bitch, you on my dick, you must be spellbound.” Rather than condemning Saleh, the underworld embraces their queerness as something attractive and irresistible. (Marisa C)
Buy ROSETTA here.
“‘You left your number, you left your number / You left your number on my fiche // You left your number, you left your number / When you’re so out of reach.” This is the chorus, and the only English lyric in “Soar Estranho,” the lead single from Thiago Nassif’s excellent new album, Mente. At least, that’s what I think he’s saying, his falsetto affected robotically and complemented by a shimmering harmony from Gabriela Riley. The lyrics aren’t online, so I can only guess. If so, though, I applaud the rhyme. The rest of the track is mostly Nassif monotoning in Portuguese as synth drums and bass build slowly beneath him, accented by some characteristically skronky guitar from no-wave legend Arto Lindsay, who co-produced the album and is a champion of Nassif’s work. The track jerks forward at a jittery pace, moving from pocket grooves to noisy breakdowns to the disco-indebted chorus. None of it sounds much like música popular brasileira (MPB), the umbrella genre in which most North American critics tend to throw any post-tropicalia Brazilian music. Like the album it opens, it’s a million different styles at once, styles that shouldn’t work together but somehow blend smoothly in Nassif’s capable hands. (RH)
Buy Mente here.
This joyous new release from renowned tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia sits at nearly 8 minutes long and mirrors the intensity of modern life, sweeping between peaceful space and hectic urgency. Featuring the incredibly talented Joe Armon-Jones on keys, Daniel Casimir on double bass and Sam Jones on drums, the track evokes feelings of gratitude for the things in life that keep us grounded. Garcia’s first release with Concord Jazz, "Pace" signposts a step forward, a promising reminder of her huge talent and an insight into the promise of future releases. (Martha C)
Buy When We Are here.
I did not expect to, nor did I want to, like this song. At its core, “All I Need” is a hey-hoing, smooth-synthing, pitch-shifting pop anthem. But Jacob Collier has mischievously loaded this number with the kind of inspired arrangement prowess that has landed him four Grammys at the age of 25. After settling into the song’s easy groove, an acrobatic vocal riff cautions you with big, red lights not to get too comfortable. And even as the track enters its cheery, candy-coated midsection, Collier sprinkles enough of his trademark harmonies underneath guest singers Ty Dolla $ign and Mahalia to lift the music to a higher level. The result is a song that walks the tightrope between mass appeal and sophistication, confounding the expectations of those on either side of that line. (Daniel Girma)
Buy “All I Need” here.
Taken from his upcoming, aptly named LP, Home (out July 31 via Ninja Tune), Romare provides all the summer synth sounds needed for a homestay heatwave. Enjoy it, soak it in, and try not to get too down that we'll all be waiting another year before hearing this blasted at festivals worldwide. (Martha C)
Preorder Home here.
The first half of “Ridin’ Strikers” is pretty standard Future fare, as is the rest of his new album, High Off Life. But about two-and-a-half minutes in, the beat slows down to the woozy pace he favors on his best music, and he spits matter-of-factly about bank robbery as the instrumental warps below his voice. Much like the album’s other standout, “Life is Good” ft. Drake, “Ridin’ Strikers” is two tracks snuck into one, the second significantly better than the first. It could be that, in his old age, Future needs a song to warm up before getting to the good stuff. (RH)
Buy High Off Life here.
In the year 2020 it can feel corny to praise a song’s lyrics, especially when those lyrics are, “Even on your worst days you’re still kinda cute.” But it must be said: Polo G is one of the best lyricists in rap. Each line is a little love message to a special someone—some are sweet, some sexy, some funny. It’s a love song! It can be corny; let it be! Just listen, smile, sing along if you’re so inclined. (BS)
Buy The Goat here.
None of the tracks on Another Country, the jaw-dropping 43-minute odyssey Luwayne Glass (Dreamcrusher) dropped at the start of June, are labeled. Their mixtape is presented as a whole, with an oblique list of track names and sample credits listed at the bottom of the bandcamp/soundcloud/youtube page. “Blameless” starts around 9:40 and runs just past the 14-minute mark. It begins simply enough, a ‘60s soul sample shrouded in Glass’s signature static. They credit the sample to “crooklyn dodgers ‘95,” referring to a track immortalized in Clockers, a 1995 Spike Lee joint. A ghostly voice, perhaps Glass’s own, floats over the seething soundwaves, singing, “In the morning time,” as the sample begins to denature. About two minutes in, the three amplified triangle tinkles that have stayed with us the whole song, marking the end of the sampled loop, suddenly disappear, and the track slows down. An ominous drone enters in their place, making time stand still. Then the air rushes back into the room all at once, and a distorted kick-snare combo joins the melee, banging out a demented version of the beat kids used to get lite to in the late aughts. When that vanishes, we’re left with the original sample, full of white noise and reverb overtones, echoing in our heads until the song ends abruptly and Another Country moves on. (RH)
Buy Another Country here.
There are few rappers with as much conviction in their concision as Brooklyn-born-and-bred emcee Medhane. “I’m Deadass,” from his latest project, Cold Water, is one of the album’s more upbeat tracks, and the clearest distillation of its centering optimism. He opens the song, “Tryna settle down / Stepping through the clouds // Kept Heru around / Feet solid on the ground.” Heru, god of the sky, accurately matches the ascending quality in Medhane’s lyrics, as well as the celestial boom-bap concocted by frequent collaborator iblss. Wasting no words, Medhane articulates the wakefulness and newfound strength that Cold Water splashes on you. (SP)
Buy Cold Water here.
MIKE has quietly put together the best three-year run hip-hop has seen since the golden age of Young Thug and Future in the early ‘10s. But unlike the flamboyant Atlanta trap they perfected, MIKE’s is a subdued, reflective style. His bars, contemplative and soft, are set to muddy, hypnagogic beats that flow into each other, making his new album, Weight of the World, feel like one long, heavy track. “what’s home?” is just the second half of a three-minute track, but it’s possibly the most poignant moment on a project filled with pain—torrential grief over the loss of a mother, slow-simmered suffering inflicted by a racist nation. “What’s home if it isn’t your heart? / How he glow ‘til he isn’t a star?” MIKE asks, as if he’s really seeking the answer. “Might’ve folded, but didn’t depart / Out and cold, I be itching the scars,” he continues, maintaining the same somber flow throughout the quick half-song. The instrumental, from Queens producer rbchmbrs, centers a six-note vocal sample that manages to evoke a deep longing despite its glitchy brevity. Like all MIKE’s music, it’s intensely vulnerable yet tantalizingly oblique, stopping just short of letting the listener fully enter its world. (RH)
Buy Weight of the World here.
Moses Sumney’s entrancing voice rides in on intoxicating summer beats and echoey horns on “Colouour,” an ode to the environment. Melodic hints of keyboard slow down time and beg you to listen to Sumney’s words closely and in solitude. Sumney begins, “Why don’t you wear some color? / It’d bring out your eyes. // You say you’d never bother / Cause you’d be telling lies. // Why don’t you try some earth tones / Cause you claim you want to die?" The poetic language evokes a natural world that transcends quarantine, one you can experience without having to leave your house. (Sydney Fishman)
Buy grae here.
Shrines is a no-nonsense album, from no-nonsense rappers billy woods and ELUCID. On “Charms,” they discuss Jewish mythology, communicate with celestial bodies and ponder the fate of Eve’s sister (“Who knows what he did with her?”), over a woodwind sample and hyperactive percussion from Child Actor. 2020 breakout phenom KeiyaA sings a one-line chorus—”I’m not the first to believe in this hypocrisy”—that splits the rappers’ verses and serves as a welcome break from their dense, unforgiving bars. The track ends with a snippet of a speech about how the concept of survival is too often reduced to mere existence. (RH)
Buy Shrines here.
Not much is known about Sault, who dropped their new album Untitled (Black Is) in June. Some sleuths have suggested the group is a project of producer Inflo., with Cleo Sol and Kid Sister providing vocals. To say it’s a multi-genre behemoth is an understatement, as each track feels like a different expression (and celebration) of Black music. The results sound both timeless and progressive. Set against a funky bass groove, “Wildfire” takes a minute to hit you with the lyrics, “You should be ashamed / The bloodshed on your hands / Another man / Take off your badge / We all know it was murder.” Many will hear these words and be reminded of the current protests against police brutality. But like Sault’s music itself, the statement would have been just as relevant decades ago. (BL)
Buy UNTITLED (Black Is) here.
Angel Marcloid (Fire-Toolz) is constantly surprising. Her infinite sonic palette pulls from vaporwave, 8-bit, jazz fusion, black metal….. On the title track from her latest album, there’s a bit of everything. “Please don’t be mad that I cut your cord!” she screams at the beginning, apparently communicating with her dead cat from across a magic bridge that leads to a world beyond ours. Full of the manic energy and omnibus musical knowledge that makes 100 Gecs so appealing to one generation and so horrifying to every other, Marcloid jumps from harsh noise to soothing synth beds, trapping the listener in a sadomasochistic feedback loop they’ll never want to leave. (RH)
Buy Rainbow Bridge here.
Since their time in the Terry Radio-adjacent Wiggle Room, and probably before, Ulla has built shimmering electronic landscapes that are in their own lane completely—part metallic, part liquid; the image of a coin at the bottom of a fountain. The first side of this two-track tape for the Boomkat Editions Documenting Sound series is their most developed work to date. Clicks and clacks of kitchenware open the track, followed by fragments of telephone conversations that weave in and out, fragmented voices asking questions, showing support, affirming the importance of breakfast. “It’s not any of our faults, but you know all of my friends have been real fucked up lately.” (“Enjoy your worries may you never have them again.”) These domestic contemplations unfurl against a canvas of rippling synths and a saxophone calling from some faraway beach. (BS)
Buy inside means inside me here.
The rerelease of Mayu (繭) in May was a huge win for a generation of blog-obsessed millennials who’d spent almost a decade listening to a scratchy bootleg version of the 1984 album. Newly remastered, its songs can finally be heard in their original quality. Even without tape hiss cloaking the tracks, they still sound like relics of the past, phantom tunes flowing from long-rusted carnival rides. “Shunmin,” the album’s second track, plays like reels of grainy film unspooling to reveal a sepia scene of a child riding in endless circles on a carousel. (RH)
Buy Mayu (繭) here.
This is Future-Jazz. Or maybe third stream, but the stream is online. I guess it doesn’t really matter. It’s good. The first track on Radio Benska’s annual compilation, “fly on the wall” is the product of three gifted musicians making music together. Though only seven minutes, it’s expansive. Each listen reveals a new passage, sound, theme. There’s a little squelching noise at one point—not sure what that is, but it’s nice. The track is layered but light, despite the thick drone that hums along just below the surface, anchoring the scattered percussion and Chick Corea keys that flit through the mix. (BS)
Buy A Gallup Unchained here.
Experimental South Korean cellist Okkyung Lee has been playing with her Yeo-Neun Quartet since 2016. Their debut, self-titled album, is a shift towards tonality for Lee, and nowhere is her harmony richer than on “one bright lazy sunday afternoon (you whispered that name).” Pianist Jacob Sacks gets most of the gentle melody, while bassist Elvind Opsvik maintains a four-note pedal-point and harpist Maeve Gilchrist fingers the highest strings of her instrument. Lee herself remains behind the scenes, sometimes popping up to play in unison with Sacks or spilling out from her hiding place to play slippery, dissonant notes that sound eerily like children’s laughter. The song is so heartbreakingly cinematic, it’s hard not to imagine it soundtracking the most poignant moments from your past. (RH)
Buy Yeo-Neun here.
The last song on Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album, Punisher, is more than an ending. In the first half of the song, Bridgers sings, “But I’m not gonna go down with my hometown in a tornado,” her voice forgiving. The song picks up speed as she depicts government drones, alien spaceships, a fear of God and other relics of Americana. It becomes a swirling chaos of dystopic minutiae and clashing instrumentals, an unbearable overstimulation. Background voices repeat “The end is here,” until Bridgers finally lets out a wordless scream. Rather than an ending, here is a beginning. (Marisa C)
Buy Punisher here.
Red Summer is the title of the new album from Chicago’s strangest, longest-running, best punk band, ONO. It refers to the race riots that roiled America in the summer of 1919. The project was set for a 2019 release to commemorate the Red Summer’s centennial, but its release this May feels much more timely, considering the massive national movement that began just weeks later. Every song on the album draws from a different chapter in the ongoing nightmare of our country’s racial violence. Opener “20th August 1619” recalls the day the Dutch slave ship Pearl landed in Jamestown. “Black Stain,” a song ONO has performed live for years, singer/poet/actor/frontperson Travis putting his entire septuagenarian body into the lyrics, trains its scope on J. Edgar Hoover, who perpetrated countless racist crimes as the first Director of the FBI. “Coon” looks to the future, where a squadron of Black fighter pilots starts a revolution from the sky.
“Syphilis,” defying its title’s implications, is probably the album’s most listenable track. Dulcet tones from a sampled Hawaiian lap steel wander across a dirgelike drumbeat and a slow crescendo of bass and screeching, scratchy guitar. It’s a Black Lodge Shintaro Sakamoto instrumental that sets a discomfiting tone for the song’s dark subject matter. Malci, a jazz-inclined Chicago emcee, starts us off with a short, morbid verse that ends, “The hardest part of living is after you die.” A woman’s voice enters, giving us the historical background we need to understand what comes next: “1932–1972, the U.S. Health Service conducted the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.” Then Travis takes it away, telling the blood-curdling story of how our government tricked illiterate Black men into agreeing to injections of syphilis. “Tuskegee Syphilis, intermarriage, concealed carriage,” his voice booms enigmatically. He then lists the presidents who “gave me syphilis,” including Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. The last minute of the song is a morass of fragmented lyrics, warped lap steel and droning feedback, raging on until the track’s final shudders bring the horror to a momentary close. (RH)
Buy Red Summer here.
Emma O’Yama - ☣ Eel Anatomy ☣ ~~now deleted~~
Software drums saved my life in middle school. Too much alone time making sick (shit) beats on Garage Band. Only in my wildest dreams do software kits sound like they do on Emma O’Yama’s recent track, “☣ Eel Anatomy ☣”~~jarring, varied, somewhere between a beat and an exaltation of instability. O’Yama is no stranger to shredding, and their vocals are as beguiling as their beats. The result is pure rock ‘n’ roll, in the most capacious sense of the word. Most importantly though, it recognizes the ephemeral nature of rock~~so ephemeral, in fact, that it’s been taken down from the internet. Good luck finding such a wonderful experience again, nerds! (HR)
Buy iKey Carz (4fun!) here.
Get to know Raphael better, @raphael_helfand for all his latest stories.