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.
RXK Nephew — “Blackberry Touch Screen”
The hyper-prolific, Rochester-based rapper RXK Nephew is preternaturally talented with the pen, but perhaps an even more talented freestyler. Projects like Slitherman Activated and Crack Dreams 2— and new songs uploaded daily on his insane YouTube channel— have made him one of this year's most mesmerizing rap stars. This week, he set Music Twitter alight again with a new track that absolutely savages the very beat he's rapping over. Hopping on Twitter, he wrote, “I can’t believe a beat placement sent me this shit… I still blacked.” That he did. RXK Nephew doesn’t waste a moment of this 1:17 runtime. There are too many quotables to list them all, but here are a few favorites:
“This a dirty du-rag Memphis Bleek-type beat.”
“This a beat Jay-Z woulda thought was hot.”
“This a beat the labels would have invested in and made everybody flop.”
“This beat sound like a bitch grandaddy just died.”
“They shoulda sent this beat to Fat Joe and Ja Rule to do a Verzuz.”
“Can’t wait til this beat end, it got my ears hurting.”
Gabriels — “Blame”
American Idol has never been an arbiter of underground cool, so I was surprised to find that Jacob Lusk— a participant in season 10— has emerged as the singer in an excellent indie soul group, Gabriels. The trio began percolating with a few singles in 2018, but it wasn’t until 2020’s Love and Hate in a Different Time that their current sound began to take shape. The music is built around classic, cinematic orchestrations and Lusk’s otherworldly, captivating voice— a cross between ANOHNI’s silvery croon, David Thomas Broughton’s casual tremolo, and even a touch of Nina Simone shining through at points. “Blame,” the band’s latest single, bursts with gorgeous production. Its string swells, sped-up, doo-wop backing vocals, and marching timpanis capture a slightly spooky 1930s animation soundtrack vibe.
Kadhja Bonet — “For You”
Kadhja Bonet’s 2018 album Childqueen was a delightful slice of '70s psych-pop that nodded to soul icons Minnie Riperton and Roberta Flack. Between that album and her latest single, the California songwriter said she “wanted to create something new for myself, not to overthink or be held onto a certain genre." Interestingly, though, “For You” is among her most genre-specific exercises: a synth-pop delight, anchored by the sort of chorus that begs to be cranked up on the road. The self-produced cut, her debut for Ninja Tune, blends together icy 80s synths and drum machines, resulting in the sort of post-chillwave pop that feels right at home amongst changing leaves.
UNiiQU3 — “Unavailable (feat. R3LL)”
UNiiQU3 introduced her forthcoming EP Heartbeats with the trance-inducing party starter, “Microdosing.” Over an electric bass drum you can feel in your chest, she channeled the free love ecstasy of classic house through a distinctly ‘20s filter: “You want me? Come take a dose of this drug. Stop microdosing my love.” The track revealed UNiiQU3 as a thrilling deep house producer; her follow-up, “Unavailable,” is a frenetic banger that references juke, footwork, and Jersey club, all while blending in R&B vocals, trance synth stabs, and booty-shaking bass. Fellow NJ producer R3LL assists.
Clarence Clarity — “SU฿LORD”
Clarence Clarity is the artist moniker of English producer Adam Crisp. His versatility makes him a vital collaborator for future-pop artists like Rina Sawamaya and Dorian Electra, both of whom excel in carving up microgenres into undefinable new sounds. That spirit extends to Clarity’s new solo single “SU฿LORD.” This chromed-out cut blends an early ‘00s R&B vocal sound with glitched autotune, distortion, and furious builds. The influences are clear, from Michael Jackson to A.G. Cook, but the track never crosses over into pastiche.
Mandy, Indiana — “Bottle Episode”
The experimental post-punk trio Mandy, Indiana (formerly Gary, Indiana) might hail from Manchester, but their raucous sound is made up of French lyrics, allusions to radical film auteurs like Gaspar Noe and Leos Carax, and, on “Bottle Episode,” an unmistakable drum sample from Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead.” There is, to be sure, a lot going on throughout “Bottle Episode’s” nearly five minute duration, but the group— led by singer Valentine Caulfield— weaves hypnotic vocals, purring industrial synths, and that explosive Yeezus beat into a startlingly fresh kick in the ass.
Wiki — “Can’t Do This Alone” (feat. Navy Blue)
On “Can’t Do This Alone,” the latest single from Wiki’s forthcoming Navy Blue-produced album Half God, the New York rapper starts from the beginning. Literally. The former Ratking MC has a way of spinning details into epic narratives, and on “Can’t Do This Alone,” he twists his origin story into a tale of perseverance. “My ma said I didn’t hurt… Tried to ask for an epidural/But it was too late, ready to burst out the belly/Ready to immerse myself in the world, collect me some turf/Put a Wiki flag in the dirt and went to work.” Navy Blue’s chopped soul sample and looped strings give Wiki plenty of room to flex his nasally drawl, continuing his run as one of rap’s most unique stylists.
Moor Mother — “Vera Hall (Feat. BFLY)”
On past records— either solo, with Irreversible Entanglements, or with collaborators billy woods and Mental Jewelry— Moor Mother layered her bars with blasts of disorienting punk, avant-garde spoken word, and sound collages. But her latest LP, Black Encyclopedia of the Air, is designed to bring people together. In a New York Times interview with my fellow Bulletin-ist, Marcus J. Moore, she said, “I want it to be accessible so you can play it when you’re hanging out with your mom or little sister. You can still get the message but it’s not over your head, you know? The feelings are still there.” On “Vera Hall,” named for the Alabaman folk singer, that message takes center stage as she gives the U.S. region colloquially known as the “sunbelt” a new title (“the black belt”) and goes straight off: “Before Europeans had apples, they had this land of snakes, carbon copy fakes. We all made mistakes but you can’t copy great, so let’s just get it straight. This that ‘I ain’t brown, I’m black’ shit.”
Andy Shauf — “Jaywalker”
Andy Shauf just released Wilds, a new surprise record recorded during the same sessions as his 2019 ANTI- Records breakthrough, Neon Skyline. The music takes a similar shape; clean electric guitars and delicate percussion highlight his distinct Saskatchewan drawl. The raw immediacy of his vocal delivery and reflective lyricism recalls Cass McCombs, further highlighted by the unforgiving nature of his direct-to-tape recording method. He hides behind nothing. Shauf has long deserved the praise he’s now receiving— his career hit new heights when President Obama dropped the last album’s title track in his Summer 2020 playlist— and this sudden ascent throws a spotlight on new music like “Jaywalker.” Despite the new eyeballs, though, his course remains on an even keel: He’s one of indie music’s sturdiest folk-rock troubadours.
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine — “It’s Your Own Body And Mind”
Sufjan Stevens has a habit of putting together unexpected collaborations. There’s his work with art-rap extraordinaire Serengeti and Son Lux as Sisyphus, plus his Solar System-inspired ensemble with Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, and James McAlister. Stevens’ new album with Angelo De Augustine, though, feels like an outlier due to its simplicity. De Augustine began his career as a lo-fi bedroom folk musician, signing to Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty label after dropping his stunning self-released debut, Spirals of Silence, in 2014. The two artists share aesthetic sensibilities: hushed voices, plucked acoustic guitars, glimmering choruses. Sometimes, Stevens likes to stretch out with more intricacies, but songs like “It’s Your Own Body and Mind” illustrate that sometimes, the easy answer is the best one.
Damon Albarn — “Royal Morning Blue”
From his early days with Blur, to his years with Gorillaz, to ambitious side projects like the Good, the Bad & the Queen, Damon Albarn has always been a man of big ideas. His latest solo album, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, is inspired by the natural beauty of Iceland, one of his favorite places to visit. “Royal Morning Blue” is the sound of a man in awe as he processes a chilly vista. Albarn croons about the beautiful sky and the pending apocalypse as distorted synth stabs, skittering piano notes, and string swells fill out a straight-ahead dance groove below him. But more notably, this is Albarn’s most effective, straight-ahead pop/rock number in some years, tightly constructed, propulsive, and pleasurable.
Proc Fiskal — “8 Mgapixel See Thru Phone”
Proc Fiskal began uploading grime instrumentals to SoundCloud in 2016, gaining the attention of Kode9, the boss of legendary UK label Hyperdub. The Edinburgh-based producer’s debut for the label, Insula, sped up grime-inspired beats to bpms closer to juke or garage ranges. With 2021’s Siren Spine Sysex, he’s swapped out the metallic sheen on his compositions for something more lush and serene, as on single “8 Mgapixel See Thru Phone.” The track still sounds like Fiskal— there’s a barrage of varying percussive sounds, glitched out and chopped up at a breakneck pace— but it leans closer to ‘00s IDM and microhouse sonics, blending the meditative, melodic synth haze of vintage Four Tet and with the quick clicks and cuts of classic Autechre.
Nao — “Burn Out”
Although she first gained widespread acclaim when her debut album, 2016’s For All We Know, led to a Brit Award Nomination for Best British Female Solo Artist, Nao’s resume these days is full of star collaborations: She's written songs for Ariana Grande and Stormzy, and worked with Nile Rodgers & Chic. 2018’s Saturn scored a Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 62nd Grammy Awards. But on “Burn Out,” the first single from her latest project, And Then Life Was Beautiful, she focuses on her own struggles and a quest for improvement.
The song finds Nao gliding from a half-rapped cadence to a double-time flow atop lush electric piano chords. As she discussed in an interview with Apple Music, it’s about the emotional toll of chronic fatigue syndrome, and one gets the sense she’s singing to herself, for herself: “Cause I've been on the go, go, go, go/Turning into someone I don't know,” she coos in the chorus. “Maybe I should slow down, down/I’m taking it slow.” Probably, we all should.
Kent Loon — “The Mist (Feat. Chester Watson and Valee)
Chicago rapper Valee has a strange idiosyncrasy: He’s at his best when he barely seems to care. In these moments, his lines drift in and out of the beat like driftwood meandering toward the shore. His voice sometimes rises above a whisper, but rarely. “This Mist”— a new song by Bogota-born, Florida-raised rapper Kent Loon featuring Valee and Loon’s close collaborator Chester Watson— is full of this magnetic apathy. Loon folds Valee’s signature aesthetic into a menacing track, built around a cinematic, cue-the-killer piano line and three MCs with a knack for unfurling threats with percussive propulsion.
HTRK — “Kiss Kiss and Rhinestones”
HTRK, the duo of Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang, spent 2019’s Venus in Leo exploring the middle ground between electro and acoustic compositions. (Imagine if Burial’s next project was a Townes Van Zandt tribute album.) On “Kiss Kiss and Rhinestones,” the first track from their new LP, Kiss Kiss, the duo does away with any synthesized flourishes in favor of a haunted, gothic folk sensibility that blends the dark romanticism of Julee Cruise with the highway minimalism of William Tyler. Spectral fret noise flutters around Standish’s delicate tones and harmonies before vanishing into thin air like smoke from a winter woodfire.
Emma Ruth Rundle — “Return”
You may be familiar with Emma Ruth Rundle thanks to her brilliant LP with Louisiana sludge-metalists Thou and her collaboration with gothic singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe. “Return” is an otherworldly change from such full-band compositions: a slow-burning, solo piano-and-voice performance with few frills. As the sparse track gently lulls forward, Rundle slowly chips away at its surface to search the song’s void for answers: “Where have you gone to?” she wonders. “To return to me.” Her voice drifts between extremes, from airy to intense, while delicate piano tones recall artists like Grouper and Juliana Barwick. Rundle uses that light touch to accent her thunderous voice, a weapon of pure beauty.
Injury Reserve — “Bye Storm”
The surviving members of Injury Reserve, Parker Corey and Ritchie with a T, have been explicit that most of their new album, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, is not a reflection on the death of their bandmate, Stepa J. Groggs, who passed away during its creation; rather, he appears on the record in celebration of his talent. But on “Bye Storm,” the album’s closing track, the two allow themselves to mourn.
Sampling the fuzzy guitar line of Brian Eno’s “Here Comes the Warm Jets,” the track is a solemn, heartbreaking last chapter to a story of incalculable loss. At the start of the track, Ritchie with a T almost sounds like he’s rapping in his sleep, but as the beat evolves, he dusts the cobwebs off his flow. His final reflections are better read than described: “But who gon' hold it down when that rock can't take no more, man?/ It rains, it pours, but, damn, man, it's really pourin'/ They said you'll cope, but, damn, man, shit, I don't know, man/ We laugh, we joke 'cause, man, that's just how they'd want it/ It rains, it pours, but, damn, n***a, it's really pourin'.”
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Emile Mosseri — “Moon In Your Eye”
For her Ghostly International debut, 2020’s The Mosaic Of Transformation, electronic composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith set out to make an album that reflected the electricity that moves through a body when listening to especially resonant music. It’s a feeling she experienced again when watching director Joe Talbot’s 2019 film debut, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and felt compelled to look up the composer of the film score: Emile Mosseri. "His music filled me with the urge to connect with the world," explains Smith regarding their new collaborative album, I Could Be Your Dog (Prequel). On tracks like “Moon In Your Eye,” Smith loops her breathy, pitch-modulated vocals beneath sung lyrics and Mosseri’s dissonant, buzzing strings.
Tim Hecker — “Delirious”
The North Water is a new AMC original series about a disgraced ex-army surgeon who runs into trouble on an extremely violent whaling expedition in the Arctic. It’s the sort of horrifying setup that’s perfect for the ambient/noise composer, Tim Hecker, enlisted to create its score. On “Delirious,” a standout moment on this excellent soundtrack, what begins as a traditional-sounding string drone slowly mutates into an expanse of swirling synthesizer and fractal noise. Hecker embraces a relatively subdued timbral palette throughout the claustrophobic and strained piece, offering a creakingly sinister upgrade for the Arctic ambient subgenre established in the '90s by Biosphere’s classic Substrata and Thomas Köner’s Permafrost.