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.
Grouper Continues Her Singular Run With Shade
Shade, the latest release from Liz Harris’ Grouper project, opens with the click of a cassette recorder, triggering a well of tape hiss that saturates the mix like a dense fog. She allows this cloud to settle in and hang, setting the scene as a filmmaker might: Ext. Forest — Dawn. While it may be just a natural effect of multi-tracked home recording techniques, this layering of environmental sound— air, on top of air, on top of air— feels lush with humidity and oxygenation. At different volumes, it can sound like running bathwater or an immense waterfall. It has a way of changing the weather in your room.
When the music thrums in, it’s fully enshrouded, with no clear definition. We can hear Harris distantly through the mist but only in blurred shapes. Then, in an instant, the moisture evaporates and we’re in tight quarters, listening to her strum and sing close, radiating warmth. Harris’ records have always varied in their approach to fidelity, but most stick to one particular dynamic. Here, we’re transported to new surroundings from one song to the next. It shouldn’t work, but Harris is a master of mood, and this patchwork sensibility sets Shade apart from her other releases.
Two songs especially stand out: “Pale Interior” and “Kelso (Blue Sky)” are among the cleaner-sounding recordings Harris has made, with a polished quality that lends them a rare clarity. The former is enchanting, a lullaby built around a looped guitar, whispered vocals, and faint, textural distortion; the latter is dipped in reverb, with plainly audible lyrics: “Blue sky over Kelso and I’m feelin’ fine,” she sings. “Just crossed the bridge from Longview, I’m laying the line.” Then: “Can’t believe that I don’t get to see you one more time. I asked how you were doing, and you said fine.” These lines feel like a culmination of her music’s larger ethos, contrasting the comforts of home and isolation with the emotional rifts created by distance.
Ian Isiah Breaks Out With "SEE YOU"
Brooklyn’s Ian Isiah has been searching for his voice. In the past few years, the pangender singer has flirted with deconstructed club bangers and operatic slow jams, while stealing the spotlight on Blood Orange albums and tours. On “SEE YOU,” he seems to have fully arrived, with a genuinely soul-stirring ballad. His resonant tenor is silk-soft, and shines as it's supplemented with vocal synthetics. He is, in short, an artist of multitudes, and here, he lays those multitudes out in a brilliantly structured, heartbroken hymn.
Even the most direct bars scan as poetry. This is how he opens this song: "Have you ever seen the beauty that's in you? Even in the dark with my eyes closed, I see you." The song builds around an acoustic guitar line that lands somewhere between Celtic folk and Dirty Projectors, the notes dancing around the stereo field to ornament Isiah’s delivery. “I thought we signed up for forever,” he sings, bringing a deep complexity to even the simplest statements: “This shit don't feel like it's forever.”
SUSS Create a Night Suite for “Ash Fork, AZ”
Northern Arizona is humbling terrain. Driving north from Phoenix, the desert floor becomes laden with spiky brush before erupting with saguaro cacti. Exiting I-17 near Spring Valley, enormous plateaus jut and jag along the horizon, turning rust-laden and blocky. The skies, like those of the New Mexican vistas spoken of by Rickie Lee Jones in a distant tune by The Orb, run on forever: they’re purples, yellows, and reds on fire. As dusk sets in, the expanse runs a light show of aurora ombrés and gradients. The outcroppings turn obsidian against the violeting sky, then just before nightfall, glow gold. Only once in my life have I seen the sun refract in a tower of standing light— a vertical sunbow beaming from dirt to exosphere. That was in Ash Fork. It seems a shame to drive it at night.
NYC band SUSS call their sound “ambient country.” The songs on their new album Night Suite are named after towns along U.S. Route 66, navigating the listener east to west, from Gallup, NM to Needles, CA. Like the earthier moments of The KLF’s Chill Out, and even more like Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas score, this is music made for a specific stretch of American road. Low-pitched drones rumble like radials on asphalt and twanging guitars fire off bolts of rippling electricity. Pedal steel twists and ricochets off flatland buttes, while ebow and dobro conjure whirling vortex energy. At the center of the journey, “Ash Fork, AZ” drifts to a hum. There’s a stillness here, like stepping out of your vehicle to hike up a hillside and stand alone in the crisp air. It’s the calm midsection of Night Suite, a deep meditation on a tour of reflection.
JPEGMAFIA Sets Himself Free With LP!
JPEGMAFIA plays by his own rules. Following the release of his breakout Veteran in 2018, the flinty multi-hyphenate inked a deal with Republic/EQT that appears to have quickly soured. Fulfilling his contract, LP! officially sets Peggy free.
In a Bandcamp note, he details an exit from the traditional music biz. “my time in the music industry is over because I refuse to be disrespected by people who aren’t [respectable] in the first place,” he concludes. “the only ones I care about now and forever are you my fans, I love u. and for u will always be here. This is the true LP! & i hope u all enjoy.” By “the true LP!,” he refers to the album’s “offline version” (on Bandcamp and YouTube, among other places) which features an alternate tracklist with additional songs uncleared for wider release. Yet, unlike artists who attempt to cut loose from their label deals with halfhearted throwaways, JPEG gives us his most thrilling project yet.
The singles are excellent here, from album opener “TRUST!” to last year’s “BALD” and “CUTIE PIE,” even if the glaring omission of the latter cut from the Bandcamp tracklist suggests a degree of conflict behind its inclusion on the label-sanctioned version. “OG!” finds him channeling A Tribe Called Quest, both in beat and bars, while other tracks traverse lounge-y synth funk (“DAM! DAM! DAM!”) and soulful flips (the previously YouTube-only “HAZARD DUTY PAY!”). “REBOUND!” feels like a career-best beat, with siren-esque synths and hazy horns joining his rapid-fire vocal delivery. He also offers up an instant-classic chorus here, shouting: “Why would I pray for your health? Baby, I pray for myself. Why would I pray for your pics, boo? I'm fuckin' somebody else.”
LP! is stacked with highlights, all of which were written, produced, mixed, and even mastered by JPEG himself. He may no longer be “in the music industry,” but an entire new run of brilliance appears to be just getting started.
aya Astounds With Her Hyperdub Debut, im hole
Aya Sinclair previously made music under the name LOFT, but now turns in one of the most exciting, confounding, and unpredictable records of the year under her mononym, aya. im hole follows its own roadmap to a bounty of deliriously joyful avant-garde poetry, deconstructed footwork, and— her brilliantly self-described subgenre-of-one— ASMR drill.
On first listen, I was struck by how vulnerable aya appears throughout the album, despite the heavy use of vocal effects, blinking left-turns in production, and fourth wall-breaking performances. Part of this, surely, can be attributed to her name change and subsequent self-reckoning with authenticity. In an interview with The Quietus, Sinclair explained her thinking: “An alias is a thing to hide behind. There's a mental distance between you and your work. It's strange how you then negotiate that still, between, ‘I'm Aya Sinclair the person,’ and then ‘aya the artist.’ That’s a separate mindset, but it’s much closer to who I am, and you expect to see my face in it.”
Even when aya’s in instrumental mode, like on the stellar “dis yacky,” she seems to run footwork, deep house, and garage through some sort of intangible, alchemical filter. In this middle-ground, her music vaguely gestures to these genres’ histories, yet sounds unlike anything else that’s being put out there right now. The bass wobbles and impacts like a punch in the gut, while synths skirt and shuffle in and out of the mix with second-to-second unforeseeability. It’s baffling, brilliant work; a stunning effort from Hyperdub’s newest star.
Brainfeeder DJ/Producer Ross From Friends Treads Hard
On Ross From Friends’ “XXX Olympiad,” a highlight of his outstanding new album, Tread, the British producer works filtered 70s soul samples into a reflective percussion workout that’s ideal for the season. The sample is a later rendition of the jukebox soul classic, “Your Precious Love,” first recorded in the 1950s by Curtis Mayfield’s first group, the Impressions. The original is a heartfelt profession, but amidst this mood, it takes on a lonely, pining quality like that of his 2017 stunner, “Bootman,” or Teengirl Fantasy’s “Cheaters.” Just after the three-minute mark, Ross lets his scaffolding fall away, allowing the sample to stand alone for a brief moment, before kicking back in with frenetic drum programming and chest-rattling bass.
Seoul-Based Shoegazer Parannoul Takes a New Trip
When Parannoul broke through earlier this year with To See the Next Part of the Dream, part of the joy of discovery was the surprise that it existed. Parannoul is a semi-anonymous, Seoul-based songwriter who champions 90s shoegaze in emo anthems that are, at once, full-blown and homemade. On “Insomnia,” a new collaboration with Asian Glow (Gyungwon Shin of Seoul) and sonhos tomam conta (a songwriter from Brazil), Parannoul combines the emotive, sound-wall brilliance of M83 with the noise-charred experiments of Fuck Buttons, continuing the project’s quest for cathartic ecstasy. It begins with sparkling synths and hushed melodies, but slowly, more instruments are introduced; the bassline is subtle, but the drums come crashing in like a 10-foot wave.
In what’s been an outstanding week for dance music, I must advise you not to sleep on the latest from Ghostly International’s resident dancefloor dissident, Galcher Lustwerk. “Bansby” is a minimal, Chicago house-styled cut that could have come out alongside vintage 12s by Paul Johnson or DJ Deeon on the Dance Mania imprint. His signature, disaffected rapped vocal is center-of-mix here— a resonant basso in the tradition of Moodymann and Jamie Principal— supplanted with jazzy keyboard stabs and an unusually playful, uptempo beat that flirts with footwork.
Boy Harsher’s latest seems to mark a shift to heavier territory. Just in time for Halloween, “Tower” is a creeper of a track, opening with pulsing, Carpenter-esque synth bass sequences that gradually build tension, then finally explode in a demonic roar that refreshingly throws back to deep witch house acts likes oOoOO and White Ring, with a touch of Crystal Castles to round it out.
Shygirl is among the UK’s most exciting dance artists, and her latest single, “Cleo,” continues to thrill. Melodramatic strings lead the way before Shygirl’s sultry voice cuts in: “You got me feeling like a movie star, all eyes on me.” It’s not hard to imagine punters and club sophisticates alike soundtracking their nights with this stomping house banger.
Jacques Greene’s ANTH01 gathers early singles and out-of-print 12”s that span the first 10 years of the Toronto dance producer’s career. “Faded” is a retro house jam outfitted with nostalgic soul samples and a drum groove powered by masterfully sequenced tambourine accents and snare clicks.
Animal Collective’s full quartet reconvenes for “Prester John,” their most straightforward song in years. The band knits together shuffling dub percussion, twinkling Rhodes piano accents, and lush harmonies on this excellent, Dead-inspired psych-pop tune.
“One Theme,” the opener from Sam Wilkes’ stellar new album, One Theme & Subsequent Improvisations, foregrounds a compelling fusion of new agey synth lines, heavy cymbal work, clattering percussion, and an intoxicating melody. Culled from a largely off-the-cuff live session recorded with Chris Fishman, Christian Euman, Greg Paul, and Jacob Mann, Wilkes’ quintet gifts us a post-jazz epic in which his bass leads the way but never hogs the spotlight.
French nu-disco band L’impératrice recruited American garage legend Todd Edwards to remix their intoxicating single, “Submarine.” Edwards highlights Flore Benguigui’s airy vocals by placing shuffling house drums, spliced melodies, and his signature micro-cut sampling style underneath. It’s a testament to his singular artistry and technique that the core of Edwards’ formula has stayed mostly the same for more than two decades and remains so thrilling.
California artist Jamire Williams brings together operatic vocalist Lisa E. Harris and gifted multi-instrumentalist Sam Gendel for “Pause in His Presence.” Williams is best known as a drummer, but there’s no percussion to be found here; his languid composition moves between transitory ideas, never without patience, emphasizing Harris’ trance-inducing voice alongside sampled choir and the circular swirl of Gendel’s horn.