This week’s playlist features new music from SAULT, PinkPantheress and Willow, Lizzo, Daniel Caesar featuring BADBADNOTGOOD, Kurt Vile, Yung Lean, Microwave, Chief State and Logic.
Click here to listen along to the Spotify playlist, which includes additional tracks we loved this week.
Leave it to SAULT — the mysterious British music collective led by producer Inflo and vocalist Cleo Sol — to not only drop a surprise new album without any warning, but to also overhaul their sound entirely.
In 2020, at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, SAULT released two extraordinary protest albums — “Untitled (Black Is)” and “Untitled (Rise)” — that seamlessly blended elements of funk, R&B and soul. In 2021, they released “Nine,” another solid LP that explored and described the ubiquity of racism in the U.K,, but included elements of humour, like on “You From London,” which featured English hip-hop phenom Little Simz.
SAULT’s latest LP, “Air,” is an almost completely instrumental album that combines choral music and contemporary classical. That’s right. In place of Cleo Sol’s vocals and the band’s signature funk-inflected drums, you get harps, horns, strings and a full on choir. The result is a sweeping opus of great emotional depth, quite unlike anything I’ve heard.
“Sonically, there’s little anchoring ‘Air’ to the group’s previous output,” writes critic Shy Thompson. “But its themes still zero in on a critical element of the Black experience: the need for self-care and celebration of individual Blackness.” — Richie Assaly
Lizzo: About Damn Time
Lizzo is an artist who I’ve kept my eye on for quite some time but had not fallen in love with — until now. “It’s bad bitch o’clock, yeah, it’s thick-thirty,” she raps at the start of her latest single “About Damn Time.”
Born in Detroit, Mich., 33-year-old Lizzo has already made a major mark on the industry. Musically, her pop-rap blend is unique and easily recognizable, earning her awards from the Recording Academy, while Lizzo the individual is a leading figure of positive representation for plus-sized women and those who generally feel overlooked in the world.
“About Damn Time” champions her ongoing theme of self-love and escapism. In the music video, directed by Christian Breslauer, Lizzo starts off dressed as we all have during the pandemic — in a grey, matching comfy set — before changing into a sequined jumpsuit and dancing around her magical world. “I got a feelin’ I’m gon’ be alright … It’s about damn time,” Lizzo sings. Her confidence shines through the record, inspiring listeners to dance along in joyful agreement. — Annette Ejiofor
PinkPantheress (ft. Willow): Where You Are
In less than a year, PinkPantheress has moved from burgeoning artist to one who’s never released a anything less than a good song. “Where You Are” is a continuation of PinkPantheress’s sad girl motif, while Willow offers a spritz of angst to the sound. Willow’s tormented shouts of “Now my life’s a downward spiral, got my broken heart recy —” during PinkPantheress’s delicately sung hook adds a dash of anger to breakups that PinkPantheress is typically aloof to. The hook is also the snippet she’s been showcasing on TikTok for months as part of the song’s promo and it still hasn’t lost its stickiness. The daintiness of PinkPantheress’s vocals combined with the pithy lyrics are perfect for the internet, short enough to happily digest on repeat while still encouraging the full meal.
I’ve mentioned this in previous weeks, but Paramore’s influence has a titan’s grip on the latest generation of artists. “Where You Are,” a U.K. garaga track produced by Skrillex and Mura Masa, samples a dreamy guitar loop from the band’s 2005 track “Never Let This Go.” It’s a five-second sample from a classic pop rock track that’s translated beautifully to form the backbone of “Where You Are.” — Demar Grant
Yung Lean: Paradise Lost
In the beginning, it was easy to write off Yung Lean as nothing more than a novelty; an artist bound to be lost amid the crush of SoundCloud rap. But over the years, the boyish-looking Swede has quietly refined his unsteady drawl and — owing in part to a cosign from Frank Ocean and a not-insubstantial appearance on “Blond” — transformed into one of the more interesting figures occupying the fringes of hip hop and pop.
On his latest mixtape, “Stardust,” Yung Lean has recruited a long list of fellow experimental weirdos for a satisfying wander through various genres and styles — from “Bliss,” a raucous post-punk collab with FKA twigs to “SummerTime Blood,” a summery hyperpop track produced by Skrillex and featuring Drain Gang rappers Bladee and Ecco2k.
But the tracks that burrow into my brain are actually the woozy, sad boy anthems (and there are plenty of them on “Stardust). “I can’t be a role model, my life’s nothing to dream about / Ever since a kid, can’t keep jack sh– inside, have to let it out,” Yung Lean raps over a lightly plucked guitar on “Paradise Lost,” a sparse confessional that features Swedish-Assyrian rapper Ant Wan, who delivers most of his stellar verse in his native tongue. The emotions here might not be new, but they sure feel authentic. — RA
Microwave: Circling the Drain
“Circling the Drain” only came out earlier this month, but Microwave’s newest track triggers major nostalgia for some reason.
Maybe it’s the clean, dangly riff at the beginning, or the catchy and heavy chorus, evoking memories of Weezer, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Pixies and other ’90s era alternative rock acts. That vibe has always been present with Microwave, but after they took a much harder turn on their 2019 album “Death Is a Warm Blanket,” you could argue “Circling the Drain” is a return to their roots — plus more.
It’s got an assertive groove, mature lyrics and dirty-sounding guitars, so all the necessary ingredients to a great Microwave track. Let’s hope we see more releases from the Atlanta band soon. — Justin Smirlies
Daniel Caesar (feat. BADBADNOTGOOD): Please Do Not Lean
There’s beauty in simplicity. Simple lines atop BADBADNOTGOOD’s simple drums and simple synths portray Daniel Caesar lamenting his complex mental state. Someone with thoughts constantly running through their mind, Caesar offers an out to his paramour for a simpler lifestyle, singing, “It’d break my heart but I’d understand if you’d / Leave me for another man with a little / Less on his mind, less on his plate.” The tweeting synths underline a feeling of freedom as Caesar offers the same freedom from himself. Sometimes people aren’t meant for each other and that’s OK; Caesar knows that.
“Please Do Not Lean” shows that Caesar is on the brink of crumbling and while he offers his lover an out of the relationship he knows that it’s probably for the best as he illustrates how: “The more that we both try to fight it / The harder it’s gon’ be / I wish that we could stand united, instead we’re crumblin.’” — DG
Kurt Vile: Wages of Sin
What makes a cover song special?
The secret is to “get it as close as possible to the original recording,” Kurt Vile explained in a recent interview. “There are other things in your style of playing that are gonna be different … any nuances, that’s going to be your spin on it.”
Vile, a Philly indie rock veteran who released his ninth album “(watch my moves)” last week, taps into the magic of this method on “Wages of Sin,” an extraordinary cover of a somewhat obscure Bruce Springsteen outtake from 1982. Like the Springsteen original, the track is sparse: some simple guitar chords, a sprinkling of piano and some understated drums. But there are few artists who can lock into a groove like Vile, whose ultramellow vocals and singular guitar playing make you feel like you’re riding a cloud into the infinite horizon.
Springsteen’s influence is all over contemporary popular music, from the War On Drugs to The Weeknd to Sharon Van Etten. But it takes a very special artist to outdo the Boss. — RA
Chief State: Burning Out
Canada has such a rich history in pop punk — Sum 41, Gob, Simple Plan, to name a few — that it’s a shame it feels like it’s sometimes overlooked when we examine our national musical repertoire. Vancouver’s Chief State aren’t a household name by any means, but if the singles for their upcoming debut album are any indication, who knows, maybe they will be the ones picking up the pop-punk torch in this country.
Their latest track “Burning Out” is a cathartic pop-punk anthem, kicking off with a chugging palm-muted riff that transitions into a heart-racing chord progression and a chorus that will stick with you all day. And like many of these anthems, the lyrics grapple with growing up, dealing with waning energy levels post-adolescence and digging yourself out of disappointment.
So, yeah, this resonates with many in their 20s or 30s. And you can dive into all that angst when their LP “Waiting For Your Colours” drops on Canada Day. — JS
Logic is back doing what he does best, rapping about rapping and his lifestyle. Over a classic boom bap track and a throwback sample, Logic reminds people: “I’ll be goated by the end of my time, More tracks than Amtrak by the end of the line I’m harder to find, Maryland state of mind, From the womb to the prime.”
Like its namesake, “Tetris” is a series of lines that fit neatly together over 127 seconds to produce a spellbinding effect. Couplets, callbacks and crypto all make an appearance to show that Logic still has the lyrical edge when it comes to other rappers. His subject matter doesn’t need complexity; the complexity sits in his rhymes. And while his pen game continues to offer lines like “Even if you knew the whole clan, couldn’t protect this / Don’t deflect it, you motherf— is defective / So get back on that assembly line / I’m schooling these emcees with assembly rhymes,” he doesn’t ever need to switch it up. — DG
Annette Ejiofor is an Ottawa-based digital producer for the Star. Reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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