Iggy Pop has seen a lot of death in his time—the recent deaths of friends, collaborators, and contemporaries like David Bowie, Ron Asheton, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, and on and on, leaving the guy who was once synonymous with drug-ravaged excess an unlikely last wild man standing. Still, while Pop has long since cleaned up and become addicted to tai chi, and he’s still strutting through tours with Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme, the encroaching inevitable seems to be weighing on him of late, inspiring a series of somber songs that feel haunted by mortality. Earlier this year, he released “Gold,” a Danger Mouse collaboration for the soundtrack of the Matthew McConaughey film of the same name that drew inspiration from Cohen’s mordant delivery. And he remains in that mode for “The Pure And The Damned,” a partly spoken-word, partly growled stunner for the Robert Pattinson thriller Good Time that’s produced by Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin. Personally speaking, Oneohtrix Point Never and Iggy Pop doing a Leonard Cohen-esque song couldn’t be more tailored to my interests if the lyrics were half Don DeLillo stories, half descriptions of Sopranos episodes. But my fellow fans of either artist—or fans of dark, stilling music in general—should find plenty to be moved by in “The Pure And The Damned,” which finds Pop in a mode similar to Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt,” gravely intoning, “Death, make me brave / Death, leave me swinging,” over a cavernous piano that gradually builds to a huge swell of Lopatin’s Blade Runner synths. It’s funereal yet grateful, and a song that makes you glad Pop is still here to sing it.
Chicago’s Vic Mensa is a promising young talent—smart and angry, with solid taste in beats and a Rolodex including Hova, Kanye, and Chance The Rapper. Still, he seems cursed with an inability to drop a cohesive statement. Last year’s There’s Alot Going On EP was an emphatic attempt at a timely statement on race, power, and violence, but it boils over in a few too many places, losing the listener’s interest while the music builds in intensity. Mensa’s new The Manuscript EP is another grab bag of styles, but “OMG” is the sort of extremely expensive rap I will never not be down with. Mensa slides in on a Pharrell Williams beat that probably cost as much as a villa in Cinque Terre, all before getting an equally rap 1-percenter guest verse from Pusha T, who is turning into an endlessly reliable music-industry paycheck-chaser. In the past year, he has lent his reputation to tracks featuring cornballs like Logic, Linkin Park, and Rivers Cuomo, even as he bolsters his own résumé with terse, smart releases under his own name. He’s the rap game’s Liam Neeson, which is the exact type of metaphor he’d use for himself. I’ll listen to him snarl over Tarantino guitars about Scarface any day. That it’s the highlight of The Manuscript was probably not Mensa’s plan, but he’s got time to get things right.
I was falling down a YouTube rabbit hole of entrance themes for old Japanese pro wrestlers, because that’s the kind of thing I apparently do in my spare time now, when I heard “Honō No Fighter” for the first time. It was the theme of Antonio Inoki—wrestler, politician, MMA fighter, and founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling—and it’s a shockingly good slice of big, brassy, disco-tinged funk. It’s actually a cover of a song from The Greatest, a 1977 Muhammad Ali biopic in which Ali played himself. (Inoki has several ties to Ali, including a mixed-martial-arts bout in Japan that, some say, permanently damaged the boxer’s legs.) The film ends with the famous Rumble In The Jungle between Ali and George Foreman, where fans rallied behind Ali with chants of “Ali, boma ye,” which translates to “Ali, kill him.” Composer and record producer Michael Masser wrote the movie’s soundtrack, and he partnered with the funk band Mandrill for a pair of songs that turn the somber “Ali’s Theme” into a raucous pseudo-Afrobeat number. You can’t go wrong with either version. The original is more polished and dense, with sweeping, cinematic strings occasionally rising up to propel the grooves even higher. Inoki’s pumps up the bass and doubles down on brass, adding screaming trumpets and cutting out the original’s brilliant chorus of saxophones.
Chicago has been experiencing a nerve-deadening heat wave lately, and it’s been pushing me back into what I think of as the sounds of summer, which has always translated into an old-fashioned appreciation of distorted guitars and ramshackle, ’90s-style indie rock. Rather than digging back into my old Breeders records and mixes compiled from random episodes of 120 Minutes, I’ve been enjoying a new crop of bands who have taken inspiration from those acts and given them a new-millennium makeover. One of those is Great Grandpa, a band whose guitar sounds wouldn’t be out of place on a grunge bill from 1991, but which infuses all the distortion with a cracked pop sensibility that’s as much hyperactive Teenbeat-style melodicism as it is feedback-squalling rock. The beginning lulls you into a false expectation of Melvins-esque sludge, before lurching abruptly into a stutter-stop rhythm and Alex Menne’s breathless rush of singsongy proclamations. The whole thing continually feels like it’s on the verge of falling apart, which is a big part of the appeal—there’s no sense of prim and proper songcraft or the impression of a band working to score a licensing deal with Vans. It’s just joyous noise, conveying the release that comes from making big hooks with crackling amps. It’s the sound of a more appealing summer than the one we currently have.
It would take a real weird cat to save yacht rock from becoming just another novelty party theme for booze-soaked frat boys in blazers and captain’s hats. Luckily for lovers of the smooth, jazz-influenced sounds of the late ’70s and early ’80s, that cat has already arrived. After more than a decade working as a session bassist for the likes of Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar, and Flying Lotus—itself a very yacht rock-esque career path—Thundercat, a.k.a. Stephen Bruner, is now making headlines on his own with his new album, Drunk. As a whole, the album is an eccentric, free-form mélange of musical styles. But lead single “Show You The Way” is pure ’80s, with indecent blasts of bass under suave synth lines, and whispered introductions and cheeky applause for the guest vocalists, soft-rock titans Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. For the record, Thundercat’s love of the genre is unironic, Bruner having called Loggins “one of my favorite songwriters” and McDonald “amazing.”