Latasha Alcindor, “Don’t Be Mad”
Latasha Alcindor describes her music as “for the weirdos who grew up in the hood.” Blending her art-school training with her experience coming up in pre-gentrification Brooklyn, the young Afro-Latina MC spits razor-sharp verses with a disarming sense of ease, calling to mind fellow East Coasters Lil’ Kim, Latifah, and Biggie. On “Don’t Be Mad,” Alcindor (or LA, as she’s known) begins the track with an invitational spoken word—“Dance in my garden of revival / I play with my own loving thorns”—before the beat by Timbaland protégé Kaui Williams opens up. LA opens up with it and, now all rasp and swagger, she can properly put it to us that she’s “trying to come through, boo,” that “life is fucking hard, but I’m just trying to rap.” In asserting herself, she’s taking care of herself, and also having fun; the song’s video shows her both laying down the law and playfully smoking, drinking, and snacking in front of a floral art installation. “Don’t Be Mad” is the third track on Alcindor’s early June release Teen Nite At Empire, which I fully expect to be near the top of my year-end list.
Japanese Breakfast, “Boyish”
As singer of the on-hiatus Philadelphia quartet Little Big League, Michelle Zauner delivered her emotional lyrics over solid, workmanlike indie rock, but since going solo as Japanese Breakfast, she’s stretched her wings shockingly wide. Her debut, Psychopomp, was filled with lushly arranged dream pop, and the first two singles for her soon-to-be-released follow-up couldn’t be more different. Zauner led with “Machinist,” a dance track about a woman who falls in love with a robot. It’s charmingly cheesy, with its copious Auto-Tune and saxophone outro, but it hasn’t stuck with me quite like her latest song, “Boyish.” Starting with the legendary “kick—kick-kick snare” beat made famous by “Be My Baby,” it makes its intentions known immediately: This is a dense ballad with orchestral accompaniment in the grand tradition of Roy Orbison or, more aptly, Phil Spector’s productions. That beat persists throughout the verses, shuffling on as Zauner delivers an ultimatum to an immature, noncommittal lover. Her scolding heats up as the song heads into the chorus, where the strings and countless layers of background vocals kick into action, enveloping Zauner’s voice. It’s lavish, gorgeous stuff and worthy of its lofty inspirations.
Swervedriver, “Son Of Jaguar E”
It was recently announced that excellent shoegaze-meets-hard-rock band Swervedriver would be again touring the States, the first time since the British group’s reunion album, I Wasn’t Born To Lose You, was released in 2015. More exciting for longtime fans of the band like myself was the announcement that they’d be playing Raise and Mezcal Head, their first and second albums from 1991 and 1993, in their entirety. The latter record in particular would almost certainly find a place on my favorite 100 albums of all time, so this news sent me back down a rabbit hole of Swervedriver’s discography, in particular, Ejector Seat Reservation, the band’s third album that went unreleased in the U.S. thanks to label troubles.
While it’s pretty much agreed-upon by fans to be one of the band’s best offerings, I’ve always skipped over what I thought were a couple weak tracks. However, listening to it with fresh ears showed me that a song I used to always avoid is actually great: “Son Of Jaguar E.” It’s heavy into the group’s psychedelic rock side, and while I previously found its simple guitar melody too meandering and aimless, now it sounds languid and inspired. Swervedriver is commonly pegged as “driving music,” and this song shows why, as it feels very much like the sonic equivalent of tooling along an empty country road, the 3/4 rhythm making for a dreamy, restless vibe. It’s a song that reminds me again why it was such a tragedy the record didn’t come out here, as the band forever seemed like a group that should’ve experienced the success of its Britpop contemporaries, or at least gained more attention. As it was, Swervedriver always felt like a name whose mention was a secret handshake with fellow fans, a group who had cracked the recipe for a strange amalgam of trippy sensibilities and pummeling rock that always sounded timely. Which makes sense—even now, 20-plus years later, there’s no danger of songs about taking drugs and fucking going out of style.
Chief Keef, “Whoa”
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Chief Keef, in part because his kind of burly, thunderous drill is tough to listen to on headphones, but also because the grim, hypermasculine chest-thumping of his lyrics grows to be… a bit much after a while. But his new Thot Breaker, finally released after years of delays and retooling, is an abrupt left turn for the Chicago rapper, a surprisingly sweet selection of paeans about, if not monogamy, then at least deeply individuated affection for specific women. Tracks like “Can You Be My Friend” and “You My Number One” are about exactly what they seem like they’re about, but “Whoa” is the most infectious one here, a saccharine-sweet pop anthem about being so woozy and love-sick that his friends make fun of him. Keef’s still firmly Keef—his idea of pillow talk is “What do you eat? What’s your favorite color? / Do you like D. Rose or do you like Butler?”—but the music scrapes Lil Yachty’s teen dream-pop hook highs for something much more personal. Slot Thot Breaker alongside Hndrxx and Easy Breezy Beautiful Thugger Girls on this year’s fascinating trend of rappers making fluorescent, good-life R&B records that nevertheless radiate their specific creator’s eccentricities.
Christopher Church, “Nothing Ever Comes Easy”
Chicago singer-songwriter Christopher Church describes himself as “Roy Orbison, sprinkled with a tinge of modern gusto,” though his act is far from a mere update to the late musician’s legendary crooning. More than anything, the reedy-voiced Church is steeped in a similar love-sick musical mood, a kind of easygoing melancholy. This sense is on display in the midtempo “Nothing Ever Comes Easy,” which paints the portrait of a woman with the “Milky Way in her eyes” who isn’t ashamed to go home with another guy if the narrator keeps “giving her a hard time.” Church’s nostalgia for dreamy Americana comes through in lines like “she’s gonna put your shit on a shelf” (the “on a shelf” part; the “shit” is part of the aforementioned “modern gusto”) and blossoms completely in live shows, inducing sighs and swaying. With a band that includes sweetly rendered backing vocals, Church’s sound is the perfect accompaniment to a warm summer night.