Video and Audio: International bright young things
Never especially alarming, ’til now
Khaligraph Jones & Dax: “Hiroshima”
Nairobi’s Jones is possibly Africa’s most deft rapper to date, at least in (mostly) English, racing through extended strings near the ten-syllable-a-second barrier without sacrificing meaning. While no slouch, Dax is not Canada’s most skilled rapper to date, but his hungry/angry style is a fine counterpoint, plus he’s willing to take his shirt off.
Gogol Bordello: “The Era of the End of Eras”
Not so much refuting Fukuyama as recapitulating Jesus Jones, Eugene Hutz captures how while living right here right now is overwhelming, it’s also thrilling. And he’s had a lifetime of interesting times: there were never any boring old days, at least not since 1789.
Billlie: “Ring X Ring”
From last year’s mini-album The Billage of Perception: Chapter One, not to be confused with the subsequent The Billage of Perception: Chapter Two, nor The Billage of Perception: Chapter Two Original Soundtrack from “The End of the World and the Awakening”. Anyway, this debut single is basically a kawaii L’avventura, with a verse melody that’s somehow just as strange as the last one-and-a-bit sentences, before a transition to a truly huge chorus that rhymes “missing” with “risky”. “Carol of the Bells” is in there too. Irony? Psychedelics? Why not both?
Empress Of: “Save Me”
On what she calls “one of the sexiest songs I’ve made”, the ersatz-Arab strings slice through the neediness of her lyrics, while key lines of her backing vocals (“I’m on my knees having a good time”) are processed to sound like the uncomfortable emissions of an adolescent of ambiguous gender whose must be wearing something painfully tight. So yeah, she’s right.
Yat-Kha: “Kazhanda-daa Olbes-le Bis”
Albert Kuvezin’s vocal style is kargyraa, approximately the death metal kind of Tuvan throat singing, so when he and his undertone jump an octave three and a half minutes into this, it’s as unusual and thrilling as that baritenor guy’s High D.
Björk & Kasimyn: “Atopos”
This time Björk hires an Indonesian gabber guy whose post-gamelan beats sound normie compared to her all-Icelandic clarinet section appropriating tunes from some alien archipelago. Considering it’s been 45 years since her first LP, acceptably weird.
Rich Mavoko & Niviiri the Storyteller: “Kiboko”
One of the stars of Tanzania’s catch-all bongo flava scene/genre, Mavoko is well above average at marrying contemporary pop tech to old school East African beat patterns and tunelets. I don’t know what the story he and Niviiri are telling is actually about, but it’s seductive.
Raye: “Black Mascara”
It sounds like your usual streaming-optmized pop bid, presenting a negative feeling syllable by echoey syllable, except it turns out her drink has been spiked so for once the repetition and lack of certitude make emotional sense.
Blackpink: “Pink Venom”
Funnest use of a Korean instrument this season: the geomungo. Funniest line: replacing Biggie’s “kick in the door, waving the .44” to “waving the coco”, edging out the “candle”/”vandal” rhyme I seem to remember from some other cool as ice song some decades ago. Clearly Teddy Park has remembered he’s supposed to be the best pop producer in the world.
Dylan: “Nothing Lasts Forever”
It takes some chutzpah for one Natasha Woods to adopt that stage name. Anyway, the “forever, forever, for-EH-vah” chorus is more fun than Bob’s bothered with since he was in his sixties, while “hopelessly romantic but you’re not very clever”, well, he probably thinks this song is about him, or should.
Harry Styles: “Matilda”
It matters that countless nonconforming young people will here this and start to imagine a life beyond their family—with parties, even. It’s less encouraging that this may inspire semi-conforming young men to play the acoustic guitar at said parties, but the song’s still a net win.