What's Good: The Weekly New Music Newsletter is a new publication by Pitchfork’s founder and former Editor-in-Chief, Ryan Schreiber. A companion to his 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. That playlist is available on Tidal, as well as Apple Music and Spotify. If you like what you see, go ahead and subscribe. (It's free.)
Hayden Silas Anhedönia could just be the coolest person on Earth. A Florida girl who relocated, of her own volition, to Alabama, the 24 year-old inhabits a persona named Ethel Cain who— between an obsession with horror films, redneck culture, and the decaying infrastructure that runs through rural countrysides— subsides on fast food and makes music so eerily personal that the line between character creation and lived experience becomes utterly blurred. She is, on one hand, as real and relatable as any post-teenage mid-American retaliating against her conservative Christian upbringing, and on the other, an unsettling creature inhabiting that soul— an uncannily perfect approximation of personage adopting her surroundings via chameleonic metachrosis.
Each song on the album is inextricably linked to the greater Ethel Cain project its creator envisions— she sees it as a trilogy spanning film, books, and albums— and it is as cohesive in whole as any album could hope to be. But as this newsletter attempts to isolate highlights, I have to mention the spectacular “Ptolemaea,” which opens on an ominous drone and death chant. Pitched-down vocals mingle with hollowed-out percussion and buzzing voices that create an energy so palpably tense that it could accompany the climax of a torture-porn slasher flick. Cain eases up on the throttle, cutting everything but a few throbbing bass notes and her hushed, pensive voice, lulling the listener to false sense of security, then explodes in the final minutes with a Carrie-esque shriek that sends the song tumbling into a lurching, black metal coda.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are “Hard Times” and “A House in Nebraska,” both guitar and piano ballads with country inflections that sound like they might have started life as lo-fi bedroom pop creations. Here, reverb-heavy guitar can mingle with southern cicadas and crickets, as Cain ascends across the mix like she’s finally scaling the mountain she’s tried her whole life to climb.
Entirely self-produced, Preacher’s Daughter is more than a special record. It’s one of those projects that feels poised to define an era of resolutely unique and unreplicable superstars, starting with Anhedönia herself. In a March edition of this newsletter, I wondered whether she might be “the next Weeknd,” given the similarity of this album’s first single (“Gibson Girl”) to a gender-inverted House of Balloons cut. But Cain is much more complex than that, and much less possessed by pop chart ambition; she is a figure wrapped in her own world-building mystique, drawing as much from the fabric of southern Americana as from her own deep well of talent and vision that is at once strikingly familiar and wholly original.
Kendrick Lamar first began releasing tracks in “The Heart” series way back in 2010, well before he landed on mainstream radars, and even before he even released his breakthrough mixtape, Section.80. The series has served as a means of checking in over the years, documenting his growth and growing status, so the newly released fifth installment finds him on top of the world, as arguably the planet’s biggest and best rapper— and predictably, he doesn’t hold back here. The track adapts some of the musical styles he explored on the iconic To Pimp a Butterfly, with a brief spoken-word intro that explodes into an absolutely scorched-earth opening verse: “I done seen n****s do seventeen, hit the halfway house, get out and get his brains blown out, lookin' to buy some weed.”
The track suggests Kendrick’s forthcoming Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers may be a more experimental affair— the kind his most ardent fans might be hoping for after 2017’s more pop-oriented DAMN. And naturally, “The Heart Part 5” introduces some new ideas into the Kendrick lexicon, too. Whereas TPAB bridged rap with jazz, “Part 5” toys with straight-up 70s soul, sampling and riffing on Marvin Gaye’s sensual classic, “I Want You.” The familiar backing allows Kendrick to illustrate just why he’s so widely considered the best rapper alive: “And to my neighborhood, let the good prevail/ Make sure them babies and them leaders outta jail/ Look for salvation when troubles get real/ 'Cause you can't help the world until you help yourself/ And I can't blame the hood the day that I was killed/ Y'all had to see it, that's the only way to feel.”
Toro Y Moi’s excellent new album MAHAL is his best since the early ‘10s three-album run (Causers of This, Underneath the Pine, Anything In Return) that made him an unstoppable force in post-guitar indie music. It’s also his most musically adventurous, exploring the psychedelic underbelly of jazz-funk, kaleidoscopic guitar lines, dusty drum grooves, and bass lines so bright they nearly pop off into their own orbit. The record is mostly an insular one, in that only a few collaborators are brought in to help him flesh out his cosmic vision, but the ones he draws in are heavy hitters: Ninja Tune producer Salami Rose Joe Louis, jazz duo Mattson 2, Stones Throw avant-pop singer Sofie Royer, and kraut-pop indie stars Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Considering the hype that once surrounded Toro mastermind Chaz Bear, MAHAL feels like a surprisingly humble project, but it’s executed with fine attention to detail. Album standout “Clarity,” which features Royer, flirts with proto-jazz, moving between double-timed grooves and a half-time pace. It lilts along, conjuring a Tame Impala-esque backbeat against surrealist vocal lines that evoke Microcastle-era Deerhunter, but the accouterments are pure Toro, with jazz flute interjections, delicate chimes, and rumbling low-end. Royer’s vocals give the song an astral edge, as she half-slurs imagistic lines like, “17 and restless, August fog/ Stay and fight with me, this dreamlike brawl.”
Sharon Van Etten — “Mistakes”
Sharon Van Etten has said that her new album, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong is “designed to be listened to in order, at once, so that a much larger story of hope, loss, longing and resilience can be told.” That’s kind of antithetical to this newsletter’s M.O., but the electro-indie pop hit “Mistakes” is too good not to highlight. A pulsing bassline and disco-punk drums highlight Van Etten’s stirring voice and outstanding chorus melody as she sings about dancing like a fool— namely Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes.
070 Shake — “Web”
G.O.O.D. Music affiliate 070 Shake is prepping her sophomore album, and its on second single, “Web,” she showcases her Swiss army knife versatility, crooning over Mike Dean synths before layering her vocals to resemble a one-woman choir. The track builds towards a resolve that never quite arrives, drawing attention to the small details beneath Shake’s voice that help make the track a quick-burning gem.
Tove Lo — “No One Dies From Love”
Tove Lo goes hard on the indie sleaze rave synths for her should-be radio-smash, a Robyn-esque throwback that finds this fellow Swedish pop singer also dancing on her own. Featuring an irresistible chorus in which the song’s title, “No One Dies From Love,” is cleverly followed with the line, “Guess I’ll be the first.” this cut nonetheless positions Lo powerfully, singing through the pain.
Daniel Caesar — “Please Do Not Lean (feat. BADBADNOTGOOD)”
Canadian crooner Daniel Caesar has recruited jazz band extraordinaire BADBADNOTGOOD for “Please Do Not Lean,” a self-aware tune that finds Caesar begging a potential partner to value their own beauty over the flaws of which he’s painfully aware. BBNG lend D’angelo-esque backing in a start/stop downtempo funk vibe, as Caesar pleads, “Please do not lean on me, I'm unstable/ You're all you need, I've seen it, you're able.”
Sampa the Great – “Lane (feat. Denzel Curry and Powers Pleasant)”
Australian MC Sampa the Great’s newest cut, “Lane,” is an intoxicating future-rap tonic with features from Denzel Curry and Pro Era producer Powers Pleasant. Sampa layers her vocals over a minimal, bass-heavy beat, creating a landscape in which her conversational style creates a dynamic interplay of multiple melodic lines— one of which subtly echoes Ciara’s ‘00s classic “Oh”— and narrative arcs. The beat gets burnt crispy at the start of Denzel’s verse, giving him a barren wasteland to spit his searing bars: “Why all these people fake act like they know me/ When I chose to put my whole life on tape?”
Carly Rae Jepsen — “Western Wind”
I’ve never been much of a Carly Rae stan, but her new single, “Western Wind,” is a serious vibe, throwing back to that brief period in the early 90s where dropping a breakbeat on the track seemed to solve just about every pop conundrum. Here, Jepsen effortlessly blends her innate pop instincts with a longing for the Cali breeze that reflects a 70s Laurel Canyon sensibility. Rostam handles production, and together, they create a track that’s more nostalgic for a specific location than a certain era; guitar solos, congas, and epic piano chords abound, before handclaps and a shimmering organ hammer home Jepsen’s longing chorus: “Coming in like a western wind/ Do you feel home from all directions/ First bloom, you know it's spring/ Reminding me, love, that it's all connected.”
Porridge Radio — “End of Last Year”
The latest single from British indie rockers Porridge Radio recalls some of that genre’s early ‘00s leanings, bearing more than a passing resemblance to female-led UK acts like Love Is All, The Concretes, and Johnny Boy— but “End of Last Year” adds a distinctly contemporary spin. Referencing that very specific, post-pandemic period when the world was emerging from indoor exile, the song explores the dissolution of a relationship that’s overstayed its welcome. As the song crescendos in a drum-bashing coda, singer Dana Margolin invokes an all-too-relatable mantra: “I don’t wanna go back, I don’t wanna go back.”
Kehlani — “wish i never”
Oakland R&B rapper Kehlani makes clever use of Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story” on “wish i never,” regretting hopping in a bum dude’s Lambo and being unable to catch herself slipping. It’s a subtle nod to Rick’s rap classic, and Kehlani more than does it justice as she spits, “I usually got the game in a headlock/ Known to keep a piece on deadstock/ Don't drive him up, don't want no rest stop/ Couldn't keep it on the low like bedrock.”
Shabaka — “Black Meditation”
On his first-ever solo outing, renowned British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (Sons of Kemet, The Comet Is Coming, Shabaka & The Ancestors) rebrands like Sade to become Shabaka. The project’s first single, “Black Meditation,” introduces his new, crystalline approach to his instrument, looping it in a contemplative fashion against a backdrop of woodwinds, chimes, and a transient ambience that gives the song an intoxicating restlessness.
Boldy James x Real Bad Man — “All The Way Out”
Detroit MC Boldy James follows his dual 2021 collaborations with The Alchemist by partnering with producer Real Bad Man. Here, he unfurls a knotty narrative in his signature laconic flow, cruising in a droptop to meet a plug. Galloping piano chords are backed by boom-bap drums, hustling along while Boldy spits pays homage to those no longer with us: “Leave a spliffy in his casket, Gucci Dapper Dan/ Heard them n****s want smoke with blocks, we can match a gram.”
Quelle Chris — “The Sky Is Blue Because The Sunset Is Red (feat. MoRuf & Pink Siifu)”
Few MCs sound better over hypnotic samples and dusty drums than Quelle Chris, who turns in an undeniable head nodder in “The Sky Is Blue Because the Sunset Is Red.” Produced by Chris Keys and Knxwledge, the cut features that purveyor of fried Southern funk-rap, Pink Siifu, and Jersey-based indie spitter MoRuf, both of whom add technicolor flourishes to Chris’ sturdy raps.
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