What’s Good is a weekly new music newsletter 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.
1 : serpentwithfeet / "Fellowship"
If nothing else, the isolation and heartache of these past two years have taught us not to take one moment in the company of our families and closest friends for granted. This sentiment is not an easy one to articulate adroitly; sometimes, it’s enough just to express gratitude. “Fellowship,” the closing track from serpentwithfeet’s Deacon, meditates on this affection (“This is the blessing of my thirties, I’m spending less time worrying and more time recounting the love”), then, through simple repetition, turns it into a heart-swelling mantra: “My friends, my friends/ I’m thankful for the love I share with my friends.”
2 : LOW / "Days Like These"
“Days Like These” is a campfire rumination for the end of the world. Hopeless, despondent, and destroyed, its sentiment reflects the deepening darkness we endure day-to-day. Through the crunch and crackle of distortion, the song itself sounds like it’s been chucked into a fireplace. There’s no silver lining here, just that familiar sense of impending dread you feel every time you flip on the news, follow the discourse, or doomscroll through Twitter: “No, you’re never gonna feel complete/ No, you’re never gonna be released.”
3 : FRED AGAIN... / "Julia (Deep Diving)"
There’s no one way to write a great song; sometimes, it’s born in the edit. “Julia (Deep Diving)” transforms an Instagram video post from pop songwriter Julia Michaels into a cathartic house exercise. “I’m deep diving into your emotions,” she says. “And sometimes I think it might be broke, but you’re bringing back all my feelings.” Then, with warmth radiating from her voice and a light giggle, she concludes: “And I fuckin’ love it.” UK producer Fred Again leans into this emotion and uses it as fuel, turning one of his own relationships into a gorgeous club track, underscored by a rich piano hook played on his Macbook keyboard and the aching refrain, "And I just wanna be with you."
4 : CASSANDRA JENKINS / "Hard Drive"
Coming into 2021, a little hope went a long way, and Cassandra Jenkins’ “Hard Drive” was that perfect dose of uplift. In a style that mixed spoken word with a wide-open Americana backdrop— like Laurie Anderson backed by Chinatown-era Destroyer— Jenkins documented personal interactions and conversational bright spots during the darkest of times, ending on a breathing exercise offered by a friend that promised to “put your heart back together.” Truly cathartic.
5 : JAZMINE SULLIVAN / "Pick Up Your Feelings"
When Jazmine Sullivan ends a relationship, she doesn’t want anything to do with sentimentality. On “Pick Up Your Feelings” from her stellar Heaux Tales, Sullivan flexes her agency time and again with brilliantly scathing lines: “Oh, I'm tryna find a fuck to give for you/ You ran out of chances of forgiving.”
6 : JAMES BLAKE / "Life Is Not the Same"
James Blake knows what works: namely, minor piano chords, twisting percussion, and haunted vocals. On “Life Is Not the Same” he sticks to that script, but by doing so, underscores how indispensable his perspective has become to the post-R&B lexicon. “Life is not the same if we’re miles away,” he sings, and the yearning in his voice makes the distance nearly palpable.
7 : GABRIELS / "Blame"
L.A. soul trio Gabriels elides the most anachronistic tendencies of “chamber pop,” embracing lush strings and allowing the unique woodiness of singer Jacob Lusk’s voice to do the talking. Bandmates Ryan Hope and Ari Balouzian smartly surround him with complex, beautiful arrangements, as he wonders, “Who's gonna catch me when I fall down?” His pursuit of an answer is exhilarating.
8 : JOHN GLACIER / "If Anything"
On John Glacier’s “If Anything,” the UK MC and producer Vegyn concoct a knotty, dense rap song built around a woozy synth siren and Indian raga-inspired percussion. This cocoon offers ample space for Glacier to free-associate a memory of a hazy club night spent falling for a new love: “In a trance, in a trance/ Like the drinks sellin' cheap at the bar,” she reels, as the mystery of her tale lends the sense of a half-remembered dream.
9 : MAGDALENA BAY / "Secrets (Your Fire)"
Magdalena Bay’s “Secrets (Your Fire)” takes a gliding G-funk melody and flings it into a piano-heavy disco jam, to kaleidoscopic effect. The duo of Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin treat the recent history of pop music like a box of Legos, building their own curious constructions from the fragments of tropes and subgenres.
10 : KAYTRANADA / "$payforhaiti" (feat. Mach-Hommy)
Haitian-Canadian rapper Mach-Hommy has had a banner year, dropping two of the best rap albums of 2021, but his single greatest moment came with “$payforhaiti,” a loosie slid onto the back of Kaytranada’s latest single. Kaytra’s mesmerizing, soulful groove is the perfect venue for Mach to build on his recent output, with quiet intonations and rapid-fire Creole stanzas.
For the full, 100-song playlist, click here. And while you're here, why not close out your own year on a high note and subscribe? It'll only bring you happiness.