Welcome, friends, to 2022! This week in What’s Good, we’ll be looking back on the year that was— and tragically, continues to be. But why focus on the negative? These past 13 days have blessed us with numerous musical delights (specifically, eight), and in the name of editorial capitalism (free newsletter), I’ve chosen to present them in this highly clickable countdown format. Let’s see if this strategy works! (It does.)
#8 / Widowspeak: "Everything Is Simple"
Given the understated quality of their fairly straightforward folk-rock/dream-pop compositions, it can be easy to miss how consistently Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas are able to articulate profound universal truths. On the new Widowspeak single “Everything Is Simple,” Hamilton surveys the limitations of foresight we often experience when exploring new relationships and opportunities. Soon, she turns the lens on herself as the unreliable narrator of her own hardships. “Singers tend to hide the truth,” she admits. “It serves them well to edit anything that’s fit to tell.”
#7 / Big Cheeko: “Spin Off (Feat. Mach-Hommy)”
In exciting rap news, the commercial debut from Atlanta’s Big Cheeko — the wonderfully titled Block Barry White — will be executive produced by New Jersey enigma Mach-Hommy, a big favorite around these parts. Mach steps in for the first verse on new single “Spin Off,” his vocal fry drawling in contrast to Cheeko’s breathy rasps.
Cheeko is no slouch on the mic, either. Over a beat by South Carolina-based Corey Gipson, he and Mach trade verses to set up a brilliant introduction for the full album. Naturally, Cheeko supplies Mach with abundant props (as one does) while turning in the best, most succinct bar himself: “Pray to God ‘cause the truth comin’/ Mach-Hommy got the boof, homie/ Time’s up, bеtter do somethin’.” Check the video to catch some flamethrower antics; as if the song’s not fire enough.
#6 / Burial: "Shadow Paradise"
Burial’s new EP, Antidawn, is almost entirely free of percussion. Shadows of rhythm briefly materialize beneath the dust and scratches, but the foregrounded garage and two-step beats that mark much of his work have gone absent. Instead, he draws on his usual toolkit to dive deeper into ambient world-building.
“Shadow Paradise” is the record’s 10-minute centerpiece, and the one in which a sense of humanity feels most present. Its warped sampling of emotion-rich dialogue and lyrical fragments (“hush, my boy,” “let me hold you for a while,” “in the darkness of night,” “alone in our reverie”) may be well-trodden ground for the elusive producer, but it’s no less affecting. Only he can immerse us in this specific environment, and it’s a place he’s welcome to take me any time.
#5 / The Smile: "You Will Never Work in Television Again"
When you’ve been Radiohead for 30 years and spent most of that time trying to keep up the ever-rising bar of progressive experimentation, how would you choose to keep things interesting? The Smile— the new trio of Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner— suggests keeping it fun might work.
“You Will Never Work in Television Again” is a furious post-punk thrash in a 5/4 time signature with zero electronics in the mix, diverging violently from (most) anything its members have made before. While the song is typically dark in subject matter, it’s unusually lucid, castigating high society’s wealthy sexual predators; the title threat is made to a young victim to "bunga bunga" or else. This direction is unlikely to please everyone, but then, that’s been the disclaimer on every release since “Creep.” Seems to be working out fine.
#4 / Christian Lee Hutson: “Rubberneckers”
Breakup songs are bound to be a popular theme this year, so Quitters, Christian Lee Hutson’s follow-up to his 2020 breakout album, Beginners, couldn’t come at a better time. One of the sharpest lyricists out, Hutson’s writing reflects the best aspects of Father John Misty’s early work with none of the narcissism, throwing daggers with bullseye accuracy.
“Rubberneckers” is especially poignant. It opens with a darling marriage proposal and cohabitation, then leaps straight to the aftermath (“We’ve got rubberneckers, broken records, why-don’t-you-get-back-togethers”) and resulting ego death (“I’m a self-esteem vending machine, a doctor’s office magazine”). Produced again by Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst, the song could do with a bit less polish, but Hutson’s incisiveness and wonderfully wry delivery would shine in any setting.
#3 / Let’s Eat Grandma: "Happy New Year"
With much of their debut having been produced by the late soundcraft savant SOPHIE, art-pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma have much to prove with their forthcoming follow-up, Two Ribbons; on “Happy New Year,” the pair handily succeeds. This latest slice of synth-pop ecstasy finds the two reflecting on their lifelong friendship and coming to terms with the need to redefine its boundaries. And yet, it’s a joyous appreciation of their love for each other; a recognition that sometimes, change is the only way to move forward together.
#2 / Binker and Moses: “Accelerometer Overdose”
Perhaps the original rising stars of the exploding London jazz scene, tenor saxophonist Binker Golding and drummer/composer Moses Boyd first emerged in 2014 with Dem Ones, their wildly acclaimed debut album, recorded live in session at Mark Ronson’s Zelig studio. That album and its follow-up, 2017’s Journey to the Mountain of Forever, won them an armful of notable jazz awards and accolades.
“Accelerometer Overdose,” from their forthcoming Feeding the Machine, finds them pursuing a much further-out, more experimental direction. Joined on electronics by fellow UK player Max Luthert, who deploys a cluster of ethereal loops and effects, the duo’s monster 10-minute opus has Golding commanding phantasmic melodic runs against Boyd’s almost Bonham-esque drumwork, heavy on kick and impact.
#1 / The Weeknd: "Less Than Zero"
The Weeknd could easily notch three or four positions on this chart with songs from Dawn FM. It may be the only record in his catalog, besides House of Balloons, that feels intentionally crafted as a traditional album-format experience, with overarching themes, colorful segues, and a sense of the whole as a complete work. Producer Daniel Lopatin is responsible for much of that cohesion: The record’s psychedelic radio bumpers, faux-advertisements, and especially its incredible closing poem by Jim Carrey — all drenched in OPN’s radioactive synth work and luminous sound design — make it one of the most inventive major commercial pop outings of the last several years.
As pure songcraft goes, tracks like the city-pop-sampling “Out of Time,” the Discovery-era Daft Punk worship on “Sacrifice” (which calls back to his Starboy collaborations with that duo), and the album’s single finest moment, “Less Than Zero,” lend some new essentials to the Weeknd’s ever-expanding arsenal of maximalist pop triumphs. “Less Than Zero,” however, may be the only cut here with the potential to eclipse “Take My Breath” in sheer ubiquity. A self-effacing breakup song with an irresistible, blossoming chorus and a devastating kick of a final lyric, it is one of the Weeknd’s best songs yet — and in this catalog, that is no small achievement.
Also gracing the playlist this week:
New music from Earl Sweatshirt’s Sick! LP (out tomorrow); Gunna’s hard-knock ballad “livin wild” (which samples Keith Sweat’s “Why Me, Baby” to immaculate effect); Spoon’s similarly titled but otherwise totally dissimilar “Wild,” which sounds a lot like all of Spoon’s other best songs and is all the better for it; David Byrne & Yo La Tengo’s very pleasant cover of Yoko Ono’s “Who Has Seen the Wind” (originally the b-side to her “Happy Xmas [War Is Over]” single with John, and just as Christmas-y, I think); a highly entertaining ramble by Destroyer with an out-of-the-blue bass drop (because, sure); Rosie Thomas’ take on Björk’s classic “All Is Full of Love” featuring the entire lineup of the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival (give or take); Mitski’s Flashdance flashback “Love Me More,” Cate le Bon’s new St. Vincent-via-Broadcast lovechild; Spiritualized’s classic country-and-western-tinged “Crazy” (not the Patsy Cline song but perhaps close enough); Latvian new-ager Sign Libra’s blissed-out rendition of the Eurythmics’ “There Must Be an Angel Playing With My Heart”; and of course, that Jim Carrey poem from the end of Dawn FM.
Happy listening, and I’ll see you next week!
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