I’m going to be brutally honest: I think The xx is fine. I share neither the rapturous, openly weeping love for the band’s hushed pillow-talk murmurs that I’ve witnessed at its live shows, nor the rancorous, open contempt for its shy, minimalist mumbling that fills my social media feeds whenever the group happens to appear on television. I have all of The xx’s albums in an Apple Music playlist I’ve titled “Pleasant,” a collection of innocuous music designed for playing in the background in polite company (or whenever my kids need to calm down), but rarely do I listen to the group otherwise—and never does it leave much of an impression, beyond its general, whispering aesthetic. But I do love Four Tet, and I love what Kieran Hebden has done with “A Violent Noise.” Taking the original’s typically cautious, slowly building trance melody—which already sounds like an Underworld tune trying desperately to break free—he brings it to its natural conclusion by adding a knock-knocking house rhythm, stuttering arpeggiations, sparkling harps, and washes of ghostly vocals reminiscent of his pal Burial, allowing it to build into a grand (if still appropriately reserved) rave anthem. Granted, there’s barely anything left of The xx here, yet it’s also made me go back and form a new appreciation for the original. (Even if it’s not going to get as much play in my house as this.)
Playboi Carti’s exterior is immaculate, and I’m not just talking about the fact that he’s handsome enough to attract Vogue and W profiles. I mean the entire Playboi Carti aesthetic, the way he rubs shoulders with the hip, subversive artists of Awful Records, as well as the style-conscious A$AP Mob, or uses a still from Gummo as his Soundcloud icon—even his inflammatory, offhand classification of himself as the “Jay Electronica of mumble rap.” Carti is good at being a rapper on the internet, in other words, even if his rapping has remained largely an unknown quantity. His self-titled debut mixtape won’t win over any converts, but it’s likable lifestyle rap, full of airy beats like the one on opener “Location.” Like a less-exuberant Yachty or a less lyrical 21 Savage, he takes a low-key tack against the beat, almost viewing himself as part of the scenery. When the beat’s as blissfully catatonic as it is on “Location,” the result is glorious, if characteristically surface-level.
Priests have been turning out loud, biting, often politically pointed punk since forming in 2012, and while their first-ever full-length album, Nothing Feels Natural, finds them leaning slightly further into tunefulness, it’s no less chaotic than the EPs on which they built their name. Like many of the band’s tracks, album highlight “JJ” eschews your usual verse-chorus structure for a stream-of-consciousness screed about some asshole that singer Katie Alice Greer can’t believe she ever had feelings for. As Greer wavers between nostalgia and disgust, the song teeters on the edge of becoming something more comfortable. Twinkling piano sneaks into the post-punk groove as if it’s ready to lead the band into some roaring chorus, but—like Greer realizing just how lame this Parliament-smoking nobody in her past was—the band snaps out of its build and moves on with its life, heading to the next feint toward complacency, the next thrill, the next killer hook of a song that refuses to ever settle for less.
Free Throw has long been a staple of Nashville’s burgeoning punk community, so it’s no surprise that its latest single, “Randy, I Am The Liquor” (named after a classic Trailer Park Boys scene), feels as lived-in as it does. It’s pop-punk drenched in throat-shredding emotion with a side of shimmery, arpeggiated guitar—think a more heavily produced Benton Falls, or American Football with way more pop. It starts with all the touchstones of a classic emo track: a boy, alone in his room, staring at four white walls, wanting for nothing more than the company of his friends. That’s all before things turn—to the bottle, that is. One can only hope that the rest of the songs on Bear Your Mind, the band’s first release for Triple Crown Records, are just as catchy, but, for the sake of the band’s livers, far less reliant on autobiographical stories of alcohol abuse.
This is a longtime favorite that has just recently found its way on the revolving playlist of music I listen to with my kids. It’s actually the B-side to Reynolds’ only hit, “Endless Sleep,” which our own Katie Rife wrote about in her excellent guide to classic teen tragedy songs; I have the single somewhere, put out in 1958 by Demon (“The Highest In Fi”), with a beautiful pink label. “Tight Capris” was written by Reynolds and guitarist Al Casey, who was playing with Duane Eddy at the time and would soon become one of the founding members of the Wrecking Crew, the legendary West Coast pop session band. It’s a two-minute rockabilly gem of three-quarter pants fetishism—innocent (check out the way Reynolds’ voice cracks a little in the second verse), but with that element of an obsessive urge that gives so many rockabilly classics their dark side.