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. It's available on Tidal, as well as Apple Music and Spotify. If you like what you see, go ahead and subscribe. (It's free.)
Rosalía’s third full-length, MOTOMAMI, has received near-unanimous acclaim from the music media, but it’s something of a surprise to find myself in that same camp: Not one of its first three singles made it into What’s Good. As the Spanish pop star pushes further towards international super-stardom, it’s only sensible that the album’s most universally radio-adjacent material might be among its least adventurous; none of those singles remotely hinted at the staggering range and breathtaking production risks taken throughout MOTOMAMI’s 42-minute runtime.
Not often do I find my mind repeatedly blown throughout the course of a major pop record, but MOTOMAMI makes its first seismic impression less than three minutes in. “Candy” revolves around a familiar hook that I found achingly unplaceable during its first few plays. It wasn’t until I checked the credits and caught a familiar name that it popped into focus: David Bevan is Burial, and the melody, sung plaintively in Spanish against a circular synth arpeggio that bears no resemblance to its original trappings, comes from his Untrue classic, “Archangel.” It’s not surprising that Rosalía, an artist unafraid to intertwine pop with esoterica, would source melodic inspiration from one of the most pivotal electronic albums of the modern era, but to hear the tune recontextualized so completely is an unexpected thrill.
The other MOTOMAMI track on the playlist this week is the album’s gorgeous closer, “SAKURA.” The song is a simulated live recording with elements captured during her El Mal Querer tour, recalling the epic closers of all-time greats like 808s and Heartbreak and Purple Rain. Rosalía’s stunning vocal range is on full display here, reverberating in stadium acoustics and reaching towards the heavens as she grapples with the fleetingness of fame and celebrity.
As a non-Spanish-speaking, non-Latinx person, I feel underqualified to review some of this album’s deeper cultural and lyrical nuances, but I very highly recommend this enlightening write-up by the pop critic Stefanie Fernández which explores the album’s complexities in fine detail.
Since practically day one of their existence, the backlash against the Arcade Fire has been so overwhelmingly, unnecessarily resounding that it has often succeeded in assuring even me that I must have been delusional for my whole-hearted belief— around the time of their towering 2004 debut, Funeral— that their appeal seemed more or less guaranteed for anyone with a genuine love of earnest, guitar-based rock music. If anything, it’s become clearer in the years since that this was mostly accurate. Where I missed the target was in my conviction that they could also be embraced by discerning music fans and rock elitists as inheritors to a certain lineage of iconic art-rock heroes: The Cure, New Order, or Pixies, they have not turned out to be.
Still, all of that backlash did manage to get in my head over the years and, on some level, hinder my appreciation of every Arcade Fire album since. Funeral, which I’ve been returning to more often lately, still hits me with every ounce of the impact it did in 2004, but while I revisit their follow-ups less often, Neon Bible, The Suburbs, and Reflektor all remain worthy, rewarding successors filled with moments that stack right up next to the best of their debut.
As a band so many have been rooting to fail for so long, it’s no surprise that they would eventually produce an album as vitriolic and contemptuous of their audience as 2017’s electro-disco misfire, Everything Now. Yet, despite their refusal to indulge a single one of their strengths as a group on that album, its production from Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow at least suggested that whatever they thought they were doing was intended to succeed. In one way, it did: Everything Now managed to turn the same kinds of numbers as their more creatively rewarding endeavors.
Having learned to ignore the noise around their releases, I chose to approach their Nigel Godrich-produced new single, “The Lightning I, II,” with open ears, and I’m happy to report that fans of their Neon Bible and The Suburbs eras are likely to find a lot to love about this two-parter. Yes, it’s driving and anthemic and earnest and all of the things that have always defined their best material, and dropping any semblance of electronics or disco rhythms, it returns them to straight-ahead rock band territory. For the first time in ages, they don’t sound self-conscious or concerned or like they’re gunning for commercial airplay; they are simply content to be the best version of the band they always were.
Charli XCX’s new album, Crash, isn’t great— and it seems she’s not unfamiliar with that sentiment, having recently appeared in a t-shirt that harped on the age-old cliché, “They don’t build statues of critics.” Never mind the Roger Ebert statue outside of the Illinois Theater in his twin-citied hometown of Champaign-Urbana, or the one of literary critic Charles Augustin Saint-Beuve in Luxembourg, Paris, or any number of others. I’d choose the worst review by Pauline Kael over the best Charli XCX song in a pinch; fortunately, we can have both, and “Lightning” happens to be one track from Crash worth saving. (For what it’s worth, the one statue of Charli XCX that has been constructed to date is very much worth your click: Enjoy.)
In the streaming era, consistency is king, and few give their (seemingly rabid, seemingly ever-growing) fanbase as much to chew on as Swedish future-pop titans Bladee and Ecco2k. Their new collaborative album, Crest— Bladee’s fifth studio record in the span of two years— expands the Drain Gang universe of effusive synths and earnest AutoTuned melodies. On “White Meadow,” the two find new ways to contort their prismatic vocals, searching for a new level of unadulterated sweetness. If the chaotic clips from last weekend’s sold-out Drain Gang performance at New York’s Knockdown Center are any indication, they’ve found it.
Indie/shoegaze duo Sweet Trip have re-emerged with Seen/Unseen, an absolutely massive, three-disc, 50-song collection of largely unreleased material. It’s a thrilling drop from a band whose most recent studio albums were issued 12 years apart. The label Darla Records, whose frankly spectacular catalog is itself overdue for a renaissance, cited an unofficial Youtube compilation of Sweet Trip’s Soundcloud uploads as the basis of this sprawling box; they added additional material from the duo’s personal archives.
I’ve chosen two of these cuts for the playlist this week: “Route of Escape” tracks the duo’s indier-leaning side, recalling such noisy, lo-fi, ‘90s college-radio staples as Superchunk, the Poster Children, or Pastels, while “To Live on Valium” blends shoegaze guitars and hazy, emo-inspired vocals, landing somewhere between Slowdive and vintage Red House Painters. All told, Seen/Unseen feels like an appropriate send-off, marking the end of an era for this iteration of Sweet Trip with a collection that makes for an excellent point of entry for new or curious listeners.
Among this week’s expansive trove of reissues from the British duo Broadcast, I’ve found myself gravitating most towards Microtronics Volumes 1 & 2, which collects fascinating instrumental vignettes from the late Trish Keenan and partner James Cargill. These intriguing sketches, originally issued as tour-only 3” CDs in 2003 and 2005, capture the band’s most outré explorations in fragments which all clock in under two minutes. Captured during or near the Haha Sound and Tender Buttons sessions, these recordings offer a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at a remarkably inventive group at the peak of their powers.
Dead Oceans has been kickin’ out Bill Fay singles all this year from the folk legend’s double compilation album, Still Some Light, which first saw release in 2010 and is set to be reissued in two parts on vinyl this year. The first part came out in January, but they’ve been gradually leaking covers of songs from the record, and this week’s drop spotlights harpist Mary Lattimore’s cover of Fay’s gorgeous “Love Is the Tune.” Her version is fine enough, but I’ve instead included his original, which is better.
It’s been quite a while since we last heard from singer/songwriter Alex G, but this week he’s released the spooky “End Song,” which presumably closes out the intriguing-looking horror flick We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, for which he’s also written the score; R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe has partnered up with Mykki Blanco for a moody tune called “Family Ties" that appears to concern the rejection faced by LGBTQ+ people coming out to their families; and Brooklyn rapper MIKE gives us “Makeda,” a warm and soulful downtempo meditation suggesting he’ll be “back before the summer ends,” insinuating he’ll be continuing his long-standing annual tradition of dropping a new album on or around June 21.
Meanwhile, Syd of The Internet has issued “CYBAH,” the fourth single from her upcoming album, Broken Hearts Club, and it’s a silky duet with emerging R&B singer Lucky Daye that features an addictive rhythm modeled on Prince’s ‘80s ballads; Normani gets her heart broken, too, on the richly emotive single, “Fair,” which directs its dialogue at an ex-lover who’s getting over their breakup more quickly than she is; and Lykki Li also appears to be going through it as well on “NO HOTEL,” which finds her stumbling aimlessly down the street at dawn, still sick about a fight with a lover she refuses to let go of. That said, she seems to be thankfully over her so sad, so sexy phase, returning to work with longtime producer Björn Yttling.
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