Welcome to the first (proper) edition of my weekly new music newsletter, What's Good. Following last week's kickoff with my feature on the The Year's Best music to date, we're about to settle into a rhythm, exploring all the new music that matters on a week-to-week basis— starting with new releases this week from Low, Houston's Maxo Kream and Tyler, the Creator, a new track from Radiohead's Kid A and Amnesiac sessions, a surprise collaboration between Oneohtrix Point Never and the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser, and as always, loads of new artists on the rise.
Low: “White Horses" / "Hey”
Any of the 10 tracks on Low’s wildly brilliant new LP, HEY WHAT, could be featured on What’s Good. Several already have; others will still. This newsletter’s launch feature, The Year’s Best, cited the project’s first single, “Days Like These,” but could have been switched out for either of these cuts. “White Horses,” opens the album— quite easily among 2021’s very best— with Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s instantly recognizable harmonies over crumbling synths, forming a quaking foundation that grinds up from the earth like metal and mineral, all while threatening to reduce itself to a pile of smoldering ash. “Hey” draws on opposing elements, air and water, recalling cloud cover drifting apart to reveal reluctant rays of sun. HEY WHAT repeatedly creates and wrecks itself, wielding near-apocalyptic electronic textures to suggest beauty reborn and destroyed, which Sparhawk explained to Pitchfork was intentional: “Maybe it’s revenge—I want to see technology break as much as it has broken me.”
Remi Wolf: “Guerrilla”
Remi Wolf dreams in neon. The Palo Alto alt-pop star’s music is, like her, audacious, driven, and fiercely individualistic. Each of the four tracks she’s dropped from her forthcoming album, Juno, show off her charmingly brash lyricism and eccentric, cut-and-paste pop approach while exploding with irresistible hooks that catch on first listen— but “Guerrilla” is her strongest yet. The track bursts with bright synths and Wolf’s layered vocal delivery, as she tries to explain away a bad crush with touching vulnerability: “Hiding her mind, smoke away depression/ Damn, that guy he keeping her guessin’/ Bolo tie, why’s he making impressions?/ Look like her exes.”
Petey: “DON’T TELL THE BOYS”
Petey was practically engineered for this era of music consumption. He blew up on TikTok, of course, then moved to California because he was obsessed with The O.C., and finally, concocted a glimmering pop sound that’s equal parts early ‘00s pop/punk and modern Midwest emo. You might be inclined to call it gimmicky if it wasn’t so earnestly autobiographical or irresistibly anthemic. Whatever you call it, “DON’T TELL THE BOYS” is a relentless slapper from Petey’s new project, Lean Into Life— which is also his first for Terrible Records, the label that brought us Blood Orange, Moses Sumney, Porches, and Solange.
Magdalena Bay: “You Lose!”
L.A.-based Magdalena Bay recently dropped “Chaeri,” the first single from their new album, Mercurial World (out October 8), and “You Lose!” is the project’s latest teaser. The massive track is built around gnarled synths and arena-ready drums, while Mica Tenenbaum’s sweet vocals hardly rise above a whisper. It’s shoegaze for a new era— or perhaps, a hyperpop take on slowcore. The duo have made a name for themselves by staying extremely online (take a peek at their website), but with songs like “You Lose!,” they go straight for the gut, churning out a bittersweet anthem.
Little Simz: “Point and Kill (feat. Obongjayar)”
Following a lyrical level-up on 2019’s Grey Area, Little Simz has lifted her beat game, too, resulting in her first certifiable classic LP— and thee breakthrough UK rap album of the year— Sometimes I Might Be an Introvert. Among its many highlights is new single “Point and Kill,” on which the British-Nigerian MC taps into her Yoruban roots alongside fellow Nigerian ace Obongjayar for a track that echoes 70s-era Afrobeat and its clubbier contemporary successor Afrobeats. “It feels very much like Nigeria to me,” Simz told Apple Music, “and Obongjayar is one of my favourites at the moment.” SAULT producer Inflo laid down the beat, making this the work of a truly unbeatable trio.
RAY BLK: “Over You (feat. Stefflon Don)”
The Nigerian-born, London-bred RAY BLK has captivated a growing audience since winning BBC’s Sound of 2017 (an annual poll of music critics and industry figures), blending UK garage, dancehall, and American R&B into a unique take on hip-hop. For “Over You,” featuring reigning dancehall queen Stefflon Don, she invited producer Fred Ball into the mix, and his work with superstars like Rihanna, JAY-Z, and Beyonce is palpable on this diamond-bright track. In an interview with The Guardian, BLK explains how these influences inform her music: “A lot of the R&B that we consume is from America. I didn’t want to shy away from the fact that I’m influenced by those sounds.”
Maxo Kream: “Big Persona (feat. Tyler, The Creator)”
It’s always a blast hearing Tyler talk shit and flex on a chorus, and Houston’s Maxo Kream wisely hands over his hook here, effectively packing an hour’s worth of charisma into the song’s brief runtime. Maxo could easily find himself upstaged here, but as the title suggests, neither of these dudes is about to deliver anything but “Big Persona.” While Tyler’s lurching, horn-laden beat forms the springboard for both to jump off, Maxo showcases his verbal dexterity, mixing flossy raps with cutting one-liners and bringing a barrage of quotables, like: “Maxo Biggie Poppa, who you know that do it better?/ I'm the trap Barack Obama, Betty Crocker, used to pedal.”
Van Buren Records & AzizTheShake: “Cult (feat. Jazz Cartier)”
Van Buren Records are popping off thanks to a nebulous cast of characters that seem to have one goal in mind when they press record: to rap their asses off. The group (which includes *deep breath* Home Invader, Lord Felix, Jiles, Andrew Regis, Saint Lyor, Ricky Felix, Luke Bar$, and Kiron) emerged out of Brockton, a shuttered industrial Massachusetts town tucked into Boston’s shadow, and quickly became local phenoms thanks to the group’s playful personalities; the allusion to the Seinfeld gang in their name didn’t hurt, either. “CULT” stands at the middle of the band’s new EP, BLACK WALL STREET, and it’s clear the collective has found a formula that works, with this posse cut full of clever one-liners, raspy deliveries, and a beat made to rattle your subwoofer.
Ari Lennox: “Pressure”
Two years on from her debut, Shea Butter Baby, Ari Lennox gives us our first taste of her next project with “Pressure.” The uptempo R&B jam recruits Bryan-Michael Cox and the legend Jermaine Dupri to provide a laidback beat built on hi-hats and ascending melody. The result is a song worthy of Dreamville Records’ lone female signee, paying homage to the R&B of yore (which Lennox mirrors in the excellent video, portraying icons like Diana Ross and TLC) while showcasing her signature harmonies, vocal runs, and lightly off-kilter song structures.
Cleo Sol: “23”
The mystique surrounding SAULT is slowly being chipped away as its members step out of the shadows. Producer Inflo is emerging as a sought-after collaborator (you might have caught his name in the credits of Little Simz' "Point and Kill" upthread), while vocalist Cleo Sol is proving a sterling solo act in her own right. She took to Instagram to explain the inspiration behind her latest outing, Mother: “I became a mother this year, and it’s been the most transformative, uplifting, heart-melting, strength-giving experience thus far that led me to write this album.” Among Sol’s many talents is an innate ability to communicate and transfer the emotions she feels to the listener.
Oneohtrix Point Never: “Tales From the Trash Stratum (feat. Elizabeth Fraser)”
The latest entrant from Dan Lopatin’s brilliant Oneohtrix Point Never project is a limited Blu-Ray edition of his most recent album, Oneohtrix Point Magic. The new edition features this updated version of “Tales From the Trash Stratum,” now featuring a rare appearance by the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser. Lopatin has proven his strengths as a collaborator with artists as sonically diverse as ANOHNI and the Weeknd, but here, he makes clear that Fraser is a guest in his surreal world, fragmenting her vocals among a deluge of sampled harpsichords and atmospheric synths.
Radiohead: “If You Say The Word”
Radiohead announced this past week that they’ll be reissuing Kid A and Amnesiac together this fall in a package titled Kid A Mnesia— and thrillingly, it’ll feature a full disc of unheard outtakes from those sessions. The first of the children, “If You Say the Word,” first leaked two decades ago as a spare, lyricless demo called “C Minor Song,” but in true Radiohead fashion, this completed version bears little resemblance to that sketch. The cut most closely resembles Amnesiac’s “Dollars and Cents,” especially Phil Selway’s reverbed kicks and rimshots, but it trades out that song’s more ominous mood for a pensive longing. The Radiohead fansite, Citizen Insane, has guitarist Ed O’Brien’s journal from this era, and while his notes suggest reworking the demo “in a Stax stylee,” the end result— perhaps thankfully— couldn’t sound less like a product of the Memphis soul label; it’s peak-era Radiohead and can’t be mistaken for anyone else.
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo de Augustine: “You Give Death a Bad Name”
Like so much of Sufjan Stevens’ work, there’s a lot to unpack with “You Give Death a Bad Name.” The latest single from his next album with California songwriter Angelo de Augustine loosely flirts with the similarly titled Bon Jovi song, but is littered with imagery of death and destruction, verses backed by Western-tinged guitars, and a loping feel. The subject matter was inspired by films the duo watched while making this project at an upstate New York cabin: “You Give Death” draws on Night of the Living Dead while drawing a bit of melody from “The Runaround,” off Sufjan’s 2020 collaboration, Aporia, with stepfather Lowell Brams. The single’s A-side, meanwhile, flashes back to “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.,” with a first-person narrative from the perspective of Silence of the Lambs’ Hannibal Lecter.
Sega Bodega: “Only Seeing God When I Come”
Irish-born Sega Bodega is a celebrated record boss, running the influential British dance label NUXXE with Coucou Chloe, Oklou, and Shygirl (whose monster single, “BDE,” he co-produced). Based in London, Sega has dropped seven EPs since 2013, culminating in his 2020 full-length debut, Salvador. That project solidified Bodega as a dominant force in the UK dance scene, bringing sexually-charged lyrics and samples to a footwork-inspired framework, with some juke and jungle signifiers added for flavor. He continues in that vein on “Only Seeing God When I Come,” a typically raunchy track built around skittering bass.
Hubert Lenoir: “OCTEMBRE (feat. Bonnie Banane)"
Hubert Lenoir’s follow-up to 2018's Polaris-nominated Darlène dropped today, and it’s a chaotic collection of disco and sultry lounge-pop that coheres under the striking vision of its creator. Ahead of the project, titled PICTURA DE IPSE : Musique directe, Lenoir dropped the silky, swaggering “OCTEMBRE,” which finds the Quebecois creator teaming up with French singer Bonnie Banane. In an interview with Brooklyn Vegan, Lenoir explained the album's touchstones, including Jean-Pierre Ferland’s Jaune, which inspired Lenoir to “go on and trust my ideas... trust the process and try to do something legendary.” He’s clearly headed in the right direction.
Mr Twin Sister: “Polvo”
Mr Twin Sister bring Cumbia-flavored grooves to their indie-pop grooves on “Polvo.” The Brooklyn-based band cooks up a vintage electro drum groove topped with playful effects that fit within the group’s evolution towards playfully progressive sounds. The band has stayed steady with a slew of singles since their last album in 2018, and with “Polvo,” they’ve added a wrinkle to the beat-driven electronic experimentation they’ve been honing since “Meet the Frownies” way back in 2010.
DJ Seinfeld: “Walking With Your Smile”
Once you get past the unbearable irony of DJ Seinfeld’s name— and believe me, I realize that takes some doing— the outsider house producer reveals a surprising sentimental side. On his latest single for Ninja Tune, “Walking With Your Smile,” from his new album Mirrors, he pairs shuffling breakbeats with glossy synth pads and flips a sample of Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” into a sweaty club jam that’s both reflective and nostalgic. In an interview with Mixmag, the producer explained how he translated personal turmoil into a cathartic dance record: “It's easier to see who you are in the silhouettes of your experiences like heartbreak and family trauma, but also through the peculiar flickers of light and love that enter your life."
Colloboh: “Turning &”
Nigerian-born, Baltimore-based Colloboh and L.A.’s Leaving Records are a perfect fit: the former is a restless electronic wizard; the latter offers a nurturing homebase for such artists fond of mixing up chemicals in the lab. Colloboh’s debut EP, Entity Relation, arrives following the footwork-inspired “Zero Day,” which dropped in June. The EP is heavy on modular synths and highlighted by opening track “Turning &,” a house cut that chops up Erykah Badu’s “On & On” vocals and drops them into an entirely new setting. Colloboh creates a world of his own from steely electronic textures. As he explained to 15 Questions: “I love mistakes. My music is filled with [them]... I think they make my music more enjoyable.”