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. Listen to What’s Good on Spotify and Apple Music— and don’t forget to subscribe. (It’s free!)
Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac receive the 20th Anniversary treatment in all but name with KID A MENSIA, a deluxe edition reissue combining the two LPs into the double-album they were never (always?) intended to be. As most fans know, these albums were culled from the same sessions, but the band, in an attempt to distance themselves from indulgent rockstar clichés, opted instead to issue them a year apart. As a result, Amnesiac has sometimes been misconstrued as an album of Kid A outtakes, rather than a proper companion.
The strength of Amnesiac never did bear this logic out. The punchdrunk pacing and deep, ethereal darkness of “Pyramid Song,” the backwards whirl and aching howls of “Like Spinning Plates,” and the New Orleans funeral march “Life in a Glasshouse” could only have been produced by this band at their most restlessly innovative, pushing themselves to the edge of their creative abilities.
Speaking as the precise demographic for this set, the previously unreleased material here recalls the bits and pieces found on the band’s Minidisc leaks from a couple of years ago. It lends some insight into their creative process, but it’s clear from the instrumental versions and half-formed vocal takes that there was nothing much left from these sessions that hadn’t already come out.
Die-hards might have preferred the bonus disc had simply compiled the eight B-sides from the original “Pyramid Song” and “Knives Out” singles, plus the previously unreleased “If You Say the Word” and “Follow Me Around,” and perhaps a Beatles Anthology-style piecing together of alternate takes to complete the piano-infused version of “Like Spinning Plates,” which has previously been available only as a live take and would have benefited tremendously from being recut with a finished vocal.
Sequencing all of that material into a cohesive listening experience— maybe using some of these discarded untitled pieces as segues in key areas— could have positioned the work as a sort-of third release in the series, creating a kind of trilogy effect and offering a few of those songs on vinyl for the first time. (It is a certifiable shame that “Worrywort,” “Kinetic,” and the original, superior “Fog” remain mostly unavailable in that format.) Unfortunately, it’s impossible to imagine anyone throwing this outtakes LP on the decks more than once or twice as a listening experience unto itself, rendering this set’s existence a missed opportunity.
As one of the most consistent and influential dream-pop bands of the past two decades, Beach House seems all but bulletproof. With 2018’s expectation-shattering 7 firmly in the rearview, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are tackling that most ambitious of feats: the double album. Wisely, the 18-track package, titled Once Twice Melody, will be released in four EP-length chapters, leading up to the full release in February. This tactic favors our new streaming-consumption paradigm while allowing the duo to stretch out their yearning, heavenly arrangements.
The self-produced material retains the reliable hallmarks of their core sound, as well as the ingenuity that’s allowed them to continually recalculate their formula. Standout “Pink Funeral” explores more unexpected territory, bearing the alluring patina of Air’s Virgin Suicides soundtrack, with elegant, upmixed strings that move in conjunction with arpeggiating synths and Legrand’s perfectly poised vocals. Then again, each of these four songs is satisfyingly constructed, suggesting we may well be in for yet another leftfield knockout.
It feels safe to use the word “cavernous” when describing Haley Dahl’s latest album (and first for her bestie Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory label): she and her band, Sloppy Jane, decamped to an actual cave in West Virginia to record it. It gives the album a unique acoustic quality that diverges from the typical reverb canyon often associated with that word. In fact, it almost sounds like a local theater production— a campy romp sans cringe— considering Dahl’s clear affection for the stage.
Dahl’s piercing, eccentric songwriting keeps it all together; a couple of tunes on the album share DNA with Tom Waits, down to the gravelly vocal affectation, while “Judy’s Bedroom” vaguely recalls the Velvet Underground’s “After Hours.” At other points, like on “The Constable,” Dahl and her band sound as if they’re scoring a Robert Altman film.
The album’s grandest moment, though, comes in the form of “Jesus and Your Living Room Floor.” Opening as an intimate and instantly captivating piano ballad (“When I finally die, won’t you bury me in the same suit that you buried her in?”), the song slowly unfurls into a heart-shattering post-rock epic.
On their first single from Everything Was Beautiful (the forthcoming follow-up to 2018's And Nothing Hurt), Spiritualized re-emerges in the only way they know how: with a slow-burning epic that folds in everything but the kitchen sink, then the entire kitchen. The chord progression will feel comfortingly familiar to longtime fans, echoing back to the leadoff track from Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space— but where that song ached with isolated yearning, “Always Together With You” is a starry-eyed romantic’s dream, drawing on 50s doo-wop and Phil Spector motifs. Squint long enough and the chorus starts to resemble a ‘slowed + reverb’ take on “Twist and Shout.”
Jenny Hval has been pushing the boundaries of avant-pop since the early 2010s, and she continues unabated on “Jupiter,” a perfect song for a West Texas desert drive. The song, after all, is about experiencing the famous Prada Marfa sculpture out on US-90. Hval’s music often reflects her surrounding environments; “Jupiter” interprets her literal reflection in the faux-storefront’s window: “Black like the desert-scape, black like a planet calling.”
In a fascinating manifesto published online, Singapore-born creator Nat Ćmiel, aka yeule, identifies as a “non-binary painter, musician, performance artist, and cyborg entity.” Images of the artist are often modified, morphed, or otherwise enhanced, with features reminiscent of anime and MMORPG characters. Yet, the recent single, “Don’t Be So Hard on Your Own Beauty,” crackles with a distinctly human earnestness and emo-indebted vulnerability, even through heavily synthesized vocal processing: “You let me cry and wipe my eyes and make me feel something other than desolated nothing,” they sing, rediscovering love after surviving abuse. The song closes with an affirming upward climb amidst crisp acoustic guitar: “Suddenly, curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor, unconsciously, I feel you shake me awake from a bad dream, with my eyes open.”
In 2017, Swedish hyperpop artist Namasenda joined the PC Music music stable largely credited with inventing the genre, issuing a promising debut EP with Hot_Babe_93. Producer A.G. Cook is back behind the decks for her new full-length mixtape, Unlimited Ammo. The tape includes contributions from Oklou, Joey LaBeija, and the PC OG, Hannah Diamond, who lends her presence to “Steel,” a glimmering, lovestruck bop.
London septet Black Country, New Road stunned in February with their Ninja Tune debut, For the First Time, creating a Chicago-style post-rock concoction with a distinctly British bent (think Slint fronted by an introverted Jarvis Cocker). “Bread Song,” their first offering since, opens on Isaac Wood’s cracking and wavering voice, as the rest of the band slowly enters the stereo field like a tuning orchestra. The song offers a more delicate and nuanced side of the band, as Wood studies a relationship turned sour: “Okay, well, I just woke up and you already don't care/ That I tried my best to hold you through the headset that you wear.”
Canadian art-rock band Ought broke up this past week, but from its ashes rose Cola and their debut single, “Blank Curtain.” Whereas Ought was clearly taken by the nervous fits and starts of Talking Heads, Cola toy with the murky motorik of Can and Cluster, enveloping singer Tim Darcy’s sardonic delivery in jangling, pitch-bent guitars and a driving, melodic bassline.
SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE’s “THE DOOR IS CLOSED” is a b-side to last year’s “THE DOOR IS OPEN,” and it’s a delirious funhouse-mirror reflection of the original indie pop jam, with earworm melodies interrupted by layers of muck and sludge. The piece eventually descends into a deliriously fucked-up screamo blastbeat that feels strikingly natural for these scuzzy experimentalists.
PUP puts a nice cap on a stellar week for rock music with their new track “Waiting,” a throwback to an era when polished yet aggressive alt-rock anthems like this were considered “radio-friendly.” The chorus explodes in screaming, multi-tracked harmonies with a blast, like glass shattering outward. Tracks like this and last week’s entries from fellow college-rock revivalists Ovlov and Wednesday, seems to suggest that a purist shade of classic 90s indie rock— the genre in its truest form— may be on the cusp of a very welcome resurgence.
“Fear,” by Washington state rockers Chastity Belt, is a shoegaze-inspired track powered by wall-of-sound guitars and a booming chorus that recalls no one so much as Microcastle-era Deerhunter. It’s a noticeable shift from the straightforward indie pop of the past albums. Singer/guitarist Lydia Lund compares the looping mantra in the hook to a sort of expulsive primal scream therapy: “It’s just the fear, it’s just the fear, it’s just the fear.”
Mitski’s latest, “The Only Heartbreaker,” is a tightly crafted synth-pop stunner in the spirit of Giorgio Moroder’s Flashdance soundtrack, with a powerful vocal performance that befits the heart-rending subject matter. Mitski’s songs have always held this force, even on her earlier homespun releases, but the immaculate production here elevates the lyrics, touching on the pressures of repeatedly screwing up in a one-sided relationship: “If you would just make one mistake, what a relief that would be.”
Following this year’s EP, Inside Out— an excellent compilation tailor-made for newcomers— London songwriter/guitarist Nilüfer Yanya preps Painless, the follow-up to her 2019 full-length, Miss Universe. Our first taste is “stabilise,” a speedy post-punk number that sounds a bit like classic Strokes on fast forward. In a rare turn, Yanya eschews lyrical clarity to emphasize the instrumental, where her narcotic guitar lines and rapid-fire drums interlock, followed by a striking chorus where the bottom gives out, leaving just a guitar line and Yanya’s hazy vocal.
There are a handful of highlights on Dijon’s new album, Absolutely, but “Talk Down” strikes me as the most inventive. It’s an elusive sketch of an R&B song built on top of Lyn Collins’ enduring “Think” break, with Dijon’s scratchy vocal merging with the sparse backdrop, delivering an infectious circular hook.
On Summer Walker’s sophomore album, Still Over It— the sequel to her 2019 debut, Over It— she outlines the full scope of modern R&B: radio-ready jams, future club staples, heartsick ballads, old-school throwbacks. Walker has a masterful understanding of how her voice fits into the lineage of these various styles, precise control of her range, and a clear reverence for the genre. The SZA-assisted “No Love,” a highlight, is a kiss-off to an ex that doubles back in the memorable chorus: “But if I had you back, all I wanna do is fuck, get drunk, take drugs.” SZA shines on the second verse, clarifying the stance: “Just cc me, just vv me, just that dick when I call, no more feelings involved.”
New York quartet altopalo recruited vocalist Kiah Victoria to remix their 2020 song, “nocturne,” but the result is more a full-on reinterpretation, giving the post-R&B jam the feel of a ballad. Recreating the tune in her image, Victoria’s vocal layering emphasizes the strong melodic line, offering a fresh perspective from which to view the original.
Bruno Mars’ and Anderson .Paak’s Silk Sonic project goes down almost too easy. The duo’s perfectly composed commemorations of 70s soul eke out just enough new ideas to justify their existence. Here, the conceit is basically: What if we turned this Future tweet into a Gamble & Huff tune? “Smokin Out the Window” covers all the bases: Bootsy Collins on the intro, vocal acrobatics from Mars and .Paak, and luxurious arrangements in the spirit of classic Delfonics, Stylistics, and Chi-Lites.
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