What’s Good: The Weekly New Music Newsletter is a new publication by Pitchfork’s founder and former Editor-in-Chief, Ryan Schreiber. Launched in September 2021 as a companion to Schreiber’s long-running weekly playlist of the same name, What’s Good outlines the week’s most essential tracks and albums, with a special focus on new and emerging artists.
It was hard not to be a little skeptical of Young Thug’s Punk project when he announced it back in July. Rap and punk have had a very on-again/off-again relationship through the years, with numerous hip-hop notables having unwittingly sacrificed themselves at the altar of rawk. (Lil Wayne was never quite the same after 2010’s career-torpedoing Rebirth.) Thug’s guitar-driven Tiny Desk performance, our first peek at the material, seemed to reinforce this at times, with the rapper at his best when the guitars turned down to recenter the mix on trap beats. Then, Travis Barker hopped on the kit for the final track and a very uneasy feeling set in. Luckily, Barker’s knucklehead fills are nowhere to be found on Punk, the album, which graciously arrives not as a rock opera, but as a set of Thugger’s conceptual musings on the genre and its ethos.
In a revealing interview with Complex, Thug outlined what he meant by the title. “Punk is just real-life stories. The whole album is purified. It’s just real,” he explains. On the album opener, “Die Slow,” Thugger raps about family tribulations over delicately plucked electric guitars. The first line is intense: “Told the lawyer that my brother ain’t going back to prison/ I don’t give a fuck if I gotta turn that n***a Jehovah Witness.” Thug then writes his autobiography, storytelling about hardships he faced as a kid, in his natural voice, and with his standard AutoTune settings largely stripped away. The tales are harrowing, humanizing, and kind of wild, too, bringing us closer to the real Jeffery than we’ve ever been allowed.
There are some classic Thug moments spread throughout the record (see: “Yea Yea Yea,” an instant HOF track from him), but Punk is a punk album like Beautiful Thugger Girls was a country album: It’s less about adhering to the contrivances of a certain genre than Thug claiming a space beyond his traditional settings to explore new concepts, narratives, and stories— and it gives him the freedom to make a record that sounds exactly as un-“punk” as Punk does.
This Remi Wolf album was bound to be a killer. In August, the L.A. pop pixie began sharing songs from Juno two at a time, and over the span of no less than seven teaser tracks this year, her spasmodic blend of bashed-together funk, hip-hop, indie rock, and dance music has proven charmingly irresistible. Wolf’s genre purée results in such a neon-bright mix, it nearly outshines her technicolor dress code. The best of her singles, which have graced What’s Good in the past months (“Liquor Store,” “Anthony Kiedis,” “Guerrilla”), sound even better in the context of Wolf’s grand vision.
Juno is raucous, boisterous, collegial fun, with a seam-bursting, kitchen-sink approach to production, melodies, and clever instrumental runs. She skates between vocal modes— from full-throated flights to half-rapped musings on addiction, sex, and family— with assured ease, cobbling together quirky yet fully self-assured pop constructions. Even when the subject matter veers dark, Wolf’s light touch and sunny worldview make Juno the happiest album of the year.
Prince’s sweat-soaked 1981 soul ballad, “Do Me, Baby,” was a longtime staple of his live shows; it often found the performer leaning into the refrain and stripping off his shirt, then crawling around on the floor and shrieking at its climax. Now, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Controversy, the Prince Estate has released a stunning, previously unheard demo recorded in 1978— and, as is often the case with Prince demos, it is in some ways more captivating than the album version. Where the finished track is spacious and airy, with glossed-up, chorused piano and a coat of reverb, the demo is dry and tight, its slap-n-slide bassline swerving between lush synths while Prince deliberately pants the vocals. It’s a more reserved vocal workout than we’re used to hearing on the track, as he saves up his energy for the all-out squeal he’ll ultimately deliver on the final version, but this different shine renews the well-worn tune. It’s all part of the continuing joy of experiencing all the genius that remains in Prince’s vault.
George Clanton — “Fucking Up My Life (Feat. Negative Gemini)”
Lost amidst the tireless critical reevaluation of 311 is the odd detail that one of the most intriguing characters in electronic pop, Virginia-born George Clanton, unexpectedly made a halfway-decent record with 311 frontman Nick Hexum last year. The force of 311’s reappraisal is such that this post-chillwave poster boy was able to link up with the OG chiller for a whole album and not be met with an ounce of cynicism. Clanton’s new solo track, “Fucking Up My Life,” trades in the smoothly crafted cool of his work with Hexum for something dirtier, grimier, and— as is often the case with his solo music— built for the dancefloor. The whole affair is heavy on distortion, but Clanton girds his emo-inspired whisper-croon with chunky Bmore breaks and fluttering vocals from his partner and 100% Electronica label co-founder Negative Gemini. It’s broken and a little bit desperate in all the right ways; as Clanton concludes, “It feels alright.”
serpentwithfeet continues to sketch outside the lines of traditional R&B with the release of “Down Nuh River,” the first taste of a forthcoming EP companion to his 2021 album, DEACON. The buoyant jam finds serpent coming close to a rap flow, floating leisurely over a bed of somber piano chords, thumping kickdrum, and a resonant chorus of call-and-response vocals.
Lil Ugly Mane dives deep into his emo-rap bag with “porcelain slightly,” a dour pop tune from his first album in six years, Volcanic Bird Enemy and the Voiced Concern— which is basically a whole record in the vein of his classic “Headboard” (which even gets a redux here). Absolutely impossible to be mad at that.
Paris Texas’ Red Hand Akimbo continues to astound, so I had to highlight “girls like drugs,” where the South Central rap duo take a clean stab at pop-punk. Louis Pastel and Felix build the track around a crunchy, one-note guitar chord, lending the song a crispy outer layer.
Houston’s Maxo Kream surprise-dropped his excellent third LP, Weight of the World, and though the record boasts stellar guest spots from Freddie Gibbs, Don Toliver, and Tyler the Creator (whose Maxo collab “Big Persona” showed up on this mix a few weeks back), one of its strongest moments comes with the swaggering, bass-heavy anthem “STREETS ALONE,” featuring a verse by A$AP Rocky.
Don Toliver taps one of rap’s hottest stars, Baby Keem, for “OUTERSPACE,” an R&B jam with Mike Dean behind the boards laying down a dizzying synth motif. Then, the track halts altogether and detours to an astroworld beyond the known universe.
Conway the Machine and the Alchemist are a perfect pairing on “Piano Love,” with the Grizelda MC indulging in his preferred brand of shit-talk while flexing over haunting keys and dusty drums from one of rap’s most reliable producers.
BADBADNOTGOOD’S Talk Memory remains in heavy rotation here, and when “Love Proceeding” hits, you’ll see why. Brazilian legend Arthur Verocai’s string arrangements give this jazz/post-rock hybrid a blockbuster soundtrack feel, while the boys of BBNG ride the epic’s subtler moments straight to the finish line.
Celebrating 10 years of their jangle-pop masterpiece Days, Real Estate pay respect to their forebears with a new cover of Television’s “Days,” which inspired the album title. The version from the New Jersey natives sticks to what they do best: tightly woven guitars, wistful vocals, and a bassline from Alex Bleeker that tentpoles the entire quilt.
Ex-Wrens member Kevin Whelan has shared “Leaves,” the second single from his forthcoming Aeon Station project, Observatory, which he calls a meditation on “finding the courage to leave negative people or situations behind.” I’m about to put all these guys in time-out because they clearly need a ref, but they’ve been nothing if not great at wringing powerful catharsis from shitty situations, and this bummer of a breakup anthem is certainly no exception.
Cate Le Bon spent the early part of her career making indie pop that toyed with post-punk guitar lines, providing sturdy counterpoints to her floating, airy vocal melodies. The Welsh musician has strayed further and further from the guitar since; 2019’s Reward was a masterclass in ‘70s synth-pop. “Running Away,” her first new single since then, doubles down on this proposition, built on a bass synth line that drapes around the track, wobbling like a slow-moving slinky. Le Bon’s voice is as mercurial as ever, traditionally beautiful but sharpened by a mysterious edge that she never fully exposes.
Out of the blue last week, Stereolab vocalist Laetitia Sadier shared “New Moon,” her first new solo track since 2017. Her soft, familiar timbre is instantly recognizable and all too welcome. Meanwhile, her knack for complex yet memorable melodic lines remains at a peak as she weaves in and out of the krautrock-inspired groove.
Dallas’ Liv.e, a new artist bearing the rare distinction of an Erykah Badu co-sign, is back with “Bout It,” an uptempo funk-pop jam that further fleshes out her inviting strains of experimental hip-hop and avant-R&B.
Tourmates Jordana and TV Girl surprised fans with a new collaborative EP last week called Summer’s Over. The title track is a wistful indie pop jam about getting ghosted by a new lover at the end of the season, then shrugging off the heat— and the loser.
British composers Duval Timothy and Rosie Lowe release the title track from their forthcoming album, Son, an a cappella piece written for choir that showcases Timothy’s experimental chops and Lowe’s breathtaking voice.
Jlin has dropped “Embryo,” the title track and lead single from a new EP due in December via Planet Mu. It’s another maximalist turn from the Gary, Indiana-based producer, and extends her mission of pushing footwork well beyond its perceivable limits.
Bristol producer Laurence Guy drops “Your Good Times Are Here,” an ecstatic, sample-heavy slice of filter house. The title may be presumptuous, but dude’s not wrong.
Anz is back with another dancefloor wrecking ball, “Last Before Lights.” Drawn from her new Ninja Tune EP, All Hours, this amped-up percussion workout gives way to a spaced-out, serotonin-inducing piano breakdown.
Doubling down on the stately vibes of his Phantom Thread score, Jonny Greenwood’s new material for Pablo Larraín’s upcoming Princess Diana biopic, Spencer, sets a lush string suite against doleful harpsichord flourishes, and sets the scene with the kind of regal, dramatic flair required for such an epically tragic story.