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.
Jazz doesn’t die; it evolves. For the past 20 or 30 years, rap has been the gateway— the primary context, even— for a new generation to experience jazz. Many of the most exciting young players wear that hip-hop influence on their sleeves, even as they strive to push the genre forward in their own ways.
Canadian trio BADBADNOTGOOD have spent close to a decade building a rep on their unique ability to highlight the inherent hip-hop grooves in jazz (and vice versa). Collaborations with Ghostface and Kendrick Lamar allowed them to forge an explicit bond between the two genres. On their new LP, Talk Memory, BADBADNOTGOOD forego the vocal collabs they’ve recently explored to dive headfirst into their jazz roots, and the results bear the hallmarks of both Low End Theories: the influential LA club night and the Tribe Called Quest classic we know and love. Legends of the jazz and experimental communities join up, too, contributing ambient textures, esoteric instrumentation, and— wildly—string arrangements that, at times, sound like they could have been pulled from one of Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock film scores.
“City of Mirrors,” in particular, swells with the cinematic tension of Rear Window or North by Northwest, thanks to the orchestral finesse of Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai. This piece especially feels like a film score for an imagined universe, blending prog-rock with dizzying strings and an effortless ear for the epic.
From the top of that mountain, BBNG slowly descend onto a more ominous landscape with “Beside April,” adding Karriem Riggins to the mix. Riggins came up producing for artists like the Roots and Talib Kweli, releasing drum-forward solo jazz records with the seminal LA label Stones Throw in the last decade. He brings a skittering groove to “Beside April,” which toys with the string motifs from “City of Mirrors” before devolving into a psychedelic revolt. Then, just as the clouds start blotting out the sun, the band introduces a scorched-earth guitar solo with a ’70s psych-rock edge. The two-song run serves as an emotional peak for the record, offering an ecstatic high in the middle of an album that moves with ferocity and confidence throughout.
Influential new age artist Laraaji brings the plucked Baltic tones of the zither to “Unfolding (Momentum 73),” knitting the notes beneath looped woodwinds and an increasingly free-jazz drum groove. On album closer “Talk Meaning,” the band invites Martin and Verocai to return, along with lovely harp additions from Brandee Younger. (As a frequent collaborator of Kamasi Washington and Makaya McCraven, Younger is quickly becoming the modern jazz era’s answer to Dorothy Ashby, with a heightened versatility that puts her on the improvisational level of her counterparts.) The title track falls somewhere between a big band composition and an orchestral samba, with saxophonist Leland Whitty channeling the language of horn legends Pharoah Sanders and Albert Ayler.
Chicago drummer/bandleader Makaya McCraven has so far released three singles from his forthcoming album, Deciphering the Message, for which he’s assembled a dream team of modern jazz giants to reinterpret the Blue Note discography. Where BBNG use Talk Memory to solidify their jazz bonafides, McCraven continues his mission to find connecting throughlines between the two genres. His new single, “Sunset” (a rework of a tune by perennially underrated bebop trumpeter Kenny Dorham), features Tortoise instrumentalist Jeff Parker on guitar, vibraphonist Joel Ross, and Junius Paul playing a ceramic bird. (Now that’s a multi-instrumentalist.) McCraven turns “Sunset” into a hip-hop stomp, built atop crunchy drums and brilliant interplay between Parker’s wail and the mellifluous tones of Joel Ross’ vibes.
Across the pond, there’s young London jazz figurehead Nubya Garcia, who possesses an uncanny knack for blending straight-ahead grooves with dub, electronic, and soul accents. Her 2020 sophomore album, SOURCE, was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and later this month, she’s putting out a remix album with contributions from Georgia Anne Muldrow, DJ Harrison, KeiyaA, and others. The latest offering is a delightful remix by Nala Sinephro, another UK jazz artist whose brilliant ambient jazz album, Space 1.8, is among the very, very best albums to be released this year, in any genre. On this new version of “Together Is a Beautiful Place to Be,” Sinephro isolates Garcia’s breathy horn line, layering it with a bed of electronics that range from glassy synths to harp-like runs. It’s a stunning rendition, and Sinephro brings enough of her identity to the song to make her remix unique while honoring Garcia’s original.
In a move that will surprise literally no one who’s been paying attention to their three-year run of incredible singles and EPs, Magdalena Bay have finally gone and made the ultimate neo-pop album. The LA duo has been writing and self-producing their own material on a budget since day one, but their laser-guided, neon synth shredders sound as immaculately polished and satisfying as the most workshopped, stadium-ready neo-disco banger you can name. With an approach that’s closer to, say, My Bloody Valentine than Dua Lipa, these two stuff their songs full of endlessly tracked noise and effects, each layer meticulously designed to maximize ear-exploding pleasure. It is perfect pop, constructed from every imaginable electronic influence— from standup arcade machines to those elaborate jingles new appliances make at the end of their cycles.
The group began as something of a riposte to chillwave, turning the genre’s feel-good vibes into something duskier and dubbier, then began bouncing between styles as a means of experimenting and refining something wholly their own. Each of their five EPs to date materialized as fully formed statements— compact, cohesive albums in miniature— so it only makes sense that their first proper full-length, Mercurial World, would be this thrillingly ecstatic from end to end.
You can usually find out everything you need to know about the quality of an album in its last three songs; as a general rule, it’s just where the filler lives. No such frontloading techniques are found here, as Magdalena Bay use this span to build the record to an explosive climax. Even in this late stage of the 14-song album, the duo continues introducing new ideas and textures to their tapestry. “Domino” presents as a swirling, electro-shoegaze behemoth with bitcrushed vocals. Closing track “The Beginning” is a deeply earnest, neon-soaked future-disco delight, and in between, there's “Dreamcatching”— this album's fourth (and alas, final) feature on What's Good— in which Mica Tenenbaum’s ethereal timbre decorates wall after colossal wall of M83-esque synthesizers. It’s a breathtaking run for an album full of art-pop essentials, and a gratifying close to the clear beginning of this young group’s imperial phase.
Anjimile — “Ever New”
Anjimile’s version of Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s song “Ever New,” a peak of the new age genre, pares it back to its essentials. The original, released in 1986, comes to life with flowing synths that bubble up like groundwater from the soil following a spring rain or ice melt. It’s a gorgeous song of renewal, and due both to its wonderfully multi-interpretable lyrics and the composer’s story of self-discovery that led to his coming out in the early 00s, it has become a wellspring of inspiration for trans youth. Anjimile’s faithful rendition, centered on their stirringly resonant vocal performance, lends the song a circular quality and highlights Copeland’s ability to conjure melody with the same precision attributed to his masterful synthesizer work. The piece hits its peak when Anjimile pauses their delicately plucked guitar to rest on a moment of a cappella wonder. In that moment, there’s a clear joy in their embrace of Copeland’s affirmations: “Welcome the child whose hand I hold/ Welcome to you both young and old/ We are ever new, we are ever new.”
Suzanne Ciani — “Morning Spring”
This gem from electronic pioneer Suzanne Ciani comes from a new Ninja Tune compilation arranged by DJ Mixmaster Morris and the label’s founding fathers, UK duo Coldcut. The project aims to bring together notable names in the minimal and ambient communities with younger artists who are pushing these genres forward. While Ciani is a certified legend— not to mention one of her community’s foremost female pioneers— she continues to blur the edges; “Morning Spring” provides a fresh update for some long-standing ambient principals. The song simmers with vibrating synths and washes of noise reminiscent of an oceanside breeze, while arpeggiated lines rise and fall with subtlety. This is one for intense relaxation; the song flows at a leisurely pace, allowing for each individual part to grow, decay, and reform before fading into the next.
Cat Power — “Bad Religion”
Cat Power’s most devout followers may have caught wind of her take on Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion” when she began performing an interpolation of it back in 2018. As Pitchfork reports, Marshall began swapping out lines from her song “In Your Face” when she found her own lyrics too depressing to perform, and chose to substitute a selection from Ocean’s rousing Channel Orange classic. Now, ahead of her latest covers album, she’s issued her official take on the song. Marshall’s rendition is a stirring one, with her biting, gorgeous voice giving a different kind of grit to lines like, “It's nothing but a one-man cult.” To that end, she twists Ocean’s lyrics to fit her own perspective, even completing the song with a gutting coda of her own: “I could never make them love. We could never make them love. We’re all just stuck in the mud, praying to the invisible above.”
Go check out the full playlist, which features more brand new music from Michael Kiwanuka, Big Thief, Black Country, New Road, Lala Lala x Sen Morimoto, The Alchemist x MIKE, Paris Texas, audiobooks, PinkPantheress, Flock of Dimes, Qrion, and Ducks Ltd.