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.
Rapper Haleek Maul Rakes in $235k on NFTs of Four New Recordings
Though established a decade ago as an emerging Brooklyn rapper, Haleek Maul grew up in Barbados, and in recent years, his sound has developed into a heightened blend of dystopian rap beats and strong Caribbean influences. With his new Barbados-based arts and tech accelerator, Holdersland, he hopes to elevate Caribbean artists and culture, and help guide them through the evolving blockchain and NFT space.
Setting the example himself, the rapper, born Malik Hall, became one of music's most notable NFT success stories last month, selling four recordings on the music NFT platform Catalog for a staggering 56 ETH, equivalent to about $235,000 (or 58.7 million Spotify streams). Just one of his latest tracks, “VERIFIED FEAT. CHIIEF DIIN,” brought in 17.8 ETH (or about $75,000).
What Hall sold was not the traditional publishing rights to these songs, but rather, assets representing the songs themselves, to crypto-rich buyers who view the purchase of these assets as a form of artist patronage that stands to appreciate as Hall’s star continues to rise. The songs themselves are free to stream on the Catalog site.
Catalog, for its part, continues to onboard increasingly relevant and recognizable names, including Amon Tobin, rappers Rome Fortune and Vic Mensa, and others that may be familiar to frequent What’s Good reader-listeners, including Sam Gendel, matthewdavid and his Leaving Records label, Haich Ber Na, and Black Taffy.
A$AP Rocky’s 2011 Mixtape Hits Streaming Platforms
A landmark release in cloud rap, unabashedly obsessed with Houston hip-hop and Clams Casino beats, A$AP Rocky’s LIVE.LOVE.A$AP mixtape finally landed on major streaming services this week, celebrating a decade of existence and offering a peg for music media to reconsider its virtues and impact. Released four years before A$AP Mob founder A$AP Yams tragically passed away, the record bears his fingerprints, from its murky, subterranean sonic aesthetic to its impeccable rollout, which presented the New York-based A$AP brand as a purveyor of rap styles from across the country.
At the time, we weren’t so far removed from the era when New York rappers were made to bow at the altar of Biggie and Nas. By contrast, Rocky was eager in his embrace of Texas rap. On the epic opener “Palace,” he rhymes, “Influenced by Houston, hear it in my music/ A trill n***a to the truest, show you how to do this,” planting his flag as a new kind of NY rapper. Standout collaborations like “Brand New Guy” with ScHoolboy Q and the SpaceGhostPurrp linkup “Keep It G”— and the eternal cloud-rap classic, “Wassup”— fully retain their appeal a decade out.
There is one previously unreleased song here: The bonus track, “Sandman,” finds Rocky returning to his cloud rap roots with his most dexterous flow in years. Clams Casino and Kelvin Krash (hell of an alliterative pair) provide a suitably bass-heavy, washed-out backdrop. The chorus is haunting and slippery, with Rocky shifting up to a cooing falsetto at points. It’s the closest he’s come to his creative peak since the release of LIVE.LOVE.A$AP, and fitting that it was released on Yams Day.
Jónsi Summons the Darkness on Surprise Album, Obsidian
Sigur Rós founder Jónsi’s surprise solo album, Obsidian, bears some of the hallmarks of the Icelandic artist’s main project— cold, ambient pads, droning walls of sound reaching toward the sky— but the overtones are substantially darker and more adventurous. One of several highlights comes with “Pyralone,” which opens with the ominous moan of a pipe organ and the desolate, windy howl of indeterminate effects. As the song evolves, Jónsi’s voice— locked in a dense chamber of reverb where each utterance seems to have no firm beginning or end— chisels away at the abstract layers beneath. Then, a pulsing drum turns into a slapping gated snare, and the elements lift to a brighter apex, letting in a touch of light.
Fire-Toolz Delivers Chaos-Fueled Joy With Eternal Home
Angel Marcloid’s experimental project Fire-Toolz returns to boundary-pushing label Hausu Mountain for Eternal Home: a four-disc, 25-song opus built around black metal blast beats, bubblegum pop, MIDI jazz, and other disparate styles. This is 21st century music in the truest sense of the phrase, utterly unconfined by genre. Opener “≈ In The Pinewaves ≈” bursts forth with a barrage of double-bass kickdrum patterns, death growls, and glimmering synths that sound lifted from early 90s CGI demos and tropical-themed Playstation titles. Eventually, a sax solo breaks in that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Kenny G record. “I Am a Cloud” exists in the same virtual realm as Oneohtrix Point Never, but as throughout the record, Marcloid underpins her bucolic compositions with unexpected juxtapositions and loads of vocal fry.
There’s a curiosity about alternate reality throughout Marcloid’s record. As Bandcamp editor J. Edward Keyes pointed out in a recent post, her records are filled with musings on the holographic principle and the Hindu philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, which focuses on self-realization. The latter influence is readily apparent on the song “Advaita §huffling,” and while punishing metal grooves and unchartable section movements aren’t necessarily my idea of transcendental living, there’s a strange beauty in the way this music obliterates the canon to construct technicolor worlds from its ashes.
Jai & A.K. Paul’s label, The Paul Institute, dropped a new track from London-based Ruthven. “Don’t Keep It to Yourself,” co-produced by A.K., is a scorching hot R&B tune featuring harmonizing guitars, Phil Collins-esque drums, and some very horny vocals. Most of Ruthven’s past singles are firmly indebted to Prince, and “Don’t Keep It to Yourself” does share some of that DNA, but his voice is more refined here, and that discipline lends the song a subtle, sensual tension.
The first minute of Xenia Rubinos’ “Don’t Put Me in Red” sounds like a vocalist's extended warm-up routine if matched by elaborate harmonies, but when the song kicks into gear, Rubinos confirms her bonafides as an avant-soul star in the making. Opening with Spanish lyrics before switching to English, she rebukes the provincial mentality of American exceptionalism: “Ask me where I’m going, don’t ask me where I’m from/ I speak in three languages, you barely speak in one/ Kids you put in cages look like they could be my sons/ You forget we were here when the west was won.”
serpentwithfeet’s forthcoming Deacon’s Grove EP is shaping up to be an outstanding companion piece to his DEACON LP. The latest addition, a remix of that album’s stunning closer, “Fellowship,” spotlights an entirely new vocal mix from Ambré and Alex Isley (Ernie Isley’s daughter!).
Makaya McCraven has shared the fourth single from his upcoming Blue Note Records project, Deciphering the Message— and it’s safe to say this album will land squarely in the AOTY conversation. On “Black Rhythm Happening,” McCraven turns Eddie Gale’s 1969 original into a summertime romp, folding in an infectious bassline and hip-hop drum grooves.
Kent Loon’s Bittersweet is a quick hit of bars, paired with some really grim, smoked-out beats. One standout is “Wolves on Clouds,” a tag-team effort between the Florida-born Loon and L.A. star 03 Greedo. Though Greedo is locked up in Texas on dubious charges, he contributes a verse that reaffirms his high placement on West Coast rap power rankings.
Minneapolis artist Dua Saleh’s new EP, Crossover, features a collaboration with the aforementioned ETHlord, Haleek Maul, that leans into a deconstructed dancehall sound. But the standout for me is “buzzin,” which pairs Saleh’s soft vocal timbre with a pulsing two-step beat and a darkly gorgeous breakdown featuring a haunted Eastern choral sample.
Among Arca’s two new KiCK ii offerings, “Rakata" foregoes the Venezuelan-born producer’s more experimental tendencies in favor of a populist international club sound, bolstered by sirening synths and sultry vocals. Here, she bridges the past and future, paying respect to reggaeton duo Wisin & Yandel’s 2005 hit of the same name while plotting her own bold vision.
Asa Tone is a trio of New York-based multimedia artist/producers recording for L.A.’s Leaving Records. Together, they create hypnotic, minimalist compositions that draw highly organic, naturalistic textures from electronic instruments. “II,” from their upcoming live album, Live at New Forms, pairs soft-chopped vocals from Jakarti-born group member Melati Malay against gorgeous percussive patterns that patter across the mix like rain on glass.
Marissa Nadler’s gothic Americana inflections grow more powerful on her latest, The Path of the Clouds. “If I Could Breathe Underwater” starts with a shimmering shoegaze guitar strum, then propels down a lonesome highway of atmospherics. “Late winter, like a storm/ I thought I saw you floating away,” she sings, her delivery landing somewhere between Julee Cruise and Weyes Blood.
Cassandra Jenkins’ An Overview on Phenomenal Nature was a quiet surprise in the early part of the year. Now, a new companion album promises unheard demos and instrumentals, as well as a few new songs. Among them is “American Spirits,” a slow-simmering composition that dances around Jenkins’ low, delicate vocal.
Ovlov and Wednesday are two young bands making strikingly authentic 90s microlabel indie rock. Their material is so faithful to that sound and those production techniques as to be indistinguishable from the music of that era. If you slid Ovlov’s new single, “The Wishing Well,” or Wednesday’s “Handsome Man” onto a mixtape of vintage Superchunk, Grandaddy, Poster Children, Dambuilders, Heatmiser, Spent, Seam, and Swirlies, they would not only trick any intended listener, but hold their own amongst the finest of those songs. Though it’s pure homage, it’s refreshing to hear this style so perfectly executed.
Hand Habits released their new album, Fun House, just a couple of weeks back, and now, its producer, SASAMI, is getting her second out into the world. The A-side of her latest single, “The Greatest,” is classic indie rock maximalism, with crunching guitars, stadium-ready drum fills, and rich vocal harmonies, but deals in isolation at the end of an abusive relationship. SASAMI sounds like she's been through the wringer yet still finds the strength to summon epic sound, casting herself as the wandering star in a rock opera of her own design.
Radiohead has finally released “Follow Me Around,” a track that first cropped up in 1998’s Meeting People Is Easy documentary and now arrives as part of the Kid A/Amnesiac retrospective, KID A MNESIA. It’s easy to see why this was left off those records: It feels like a solo demo, with just acoustic guitar, Thom Yorke’s close-mic’d vocals, and a subtle background effect on those vocals that, while about a decade ahead of its time, is not enough to dress up this fairly repetitive, Pablo Honey-sounding tune.
Mary Lattimore’s Collected Pieces: 2015-2020 collates the best tracks from two previous compilations, now on streaming services for the first time. While some come a bit too close to unpolished sketches, most offer unique insight into how her harp-based compositions come together. “Be My Four Eyes,” though, is the star turn: an extended, meditative composition that builds on glistening harp, bare electric guitar, and a bevy of glitched-out delay effects to great textural resolve.
Thanks for reading + listening. Subscribe for more.