Drake - In My Feelings
Due in part to some much-lampooned blanket promotion by Spotify, but mostly to his sheer pan-demographic popularity, the new Drake album Scorpion is one of the year’s biggest cultural events, coming at the height of his fame – and his infamy, having sired a child with a woman, he says on the album, he only met twice. As well as this fresh drama, Scorpion shuttles between the standard Drake poles of confected beef, self-aggrandisement and light-hearted croonery; like all his albums, it’s too long but still contains plenty of future best-of material. In My Feelings is a highlight – some might see this and his other takes on New Orleans bounce (Child’s Play, Nice For What etc) as defanging the sharp attack of the style, but he cleverly pairs its propulsion with a much more romantic mood. It’ll have you dancing around in a pale pink tracksuit in no time.
Nicki Minaj – Rich Sex
This month saw another two drops from the rapper’s upcoming album Queen, which she has been talking up as her greatest yet. The big single Bed, reuniting her with Ariana Grande, is a little underwhelming compared with their great ode to cervical bruising, Side to Side, but Rich Sex is richly satisfying. While Minaj is always remarkably on point at speed, it’s her slower flows, where she lets each word roll round her lips and slope off her tongue, that are among her best (think Beez in the Trap), and this is a classic example. Lil Wayne also turns up with a gross but gorgeously elastic guest verse.
Ebony Bones – No Black in the Union Jack
Adopting someone else’s persona in pop is tricky to pull off: unlike film and literature, you don’t see the narrative devices and simply have to trust what you hear. Sometimes it’s awful – see Lil Dicky – but sometimes, as on Ebony Bones’ first single in three years, it’s bold and daring. No Black in the Union Jack focuses on the overt racism and xenophobia legitimised by Brexit. It samples Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech and the sound of two neighbours laughing as they exchange racist epithets, while Bones adopts the racists’ mindset in her own lyrics: “Red, white and blue / Let ‘em in to smash the system now the country is screwed,” she raps coolly over a stark, looped beat that clatters and glowers. It’s not quite the British answer to Childish Gambino’s This Is America, but it’s close.
Blawan – Tasser
Blawan has been a UK techno hero for years now – tracks like 2012’s wildly catchy Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage? showcased his talent for pounding kicks and nagging melody, while his most famous moment remains his Brandy-sampling funky house cut Getting Me Down. He’s finally released his debut album Wet Will Always Dry: masterful minimal techno in the Nina Kraviz or Radio Slave mould, where unceasing 4/4 hauteur is brightened with mischievous licks. Tasser is a highlight: the core drum programming ticks along like a Roomba, but is menaced again and again by a magnificently amorphous cloud of static.
Miya Folick – Stock Image
When every X Factor contestant and their dog can do a full-tilt Whitney warble, there’s something even more impressive about the kind of singer who keeps their melisma skill hidden, playing it as their ace. To wit, LA synthpop artist Miya Folick’s latest single, where a soaring falsetto high enough to tickle God’s beard bursts unexpectedly from her brow-furrowed verses about feeling a bit drab. It takes Stock Image from subtle greys to blazing colour, while the tense euphoria of the drum machine earns its comparisons to peak Robyn.
Jess Sah Bi & Peter One - Apartheid
Another great discovery from the Awesome Tapes from Africa label, which has previously brought us Hailu Mergia, Ata Kak and more, Jess Sah Bi & Peter One are a fairly unlikely proposition. A political cartoonist and a history teacher from the Ivory Coast, they made twanging country music from slide guitar, peppy strumming, and yearning vocals in three languages. They got stadium-level massive following the release of their 1985 debut, Our Garden Needs Its Flowers, and ended up moving to the US. Currently working on music separately, there are reunion plans for later this year once the album is back out.
The Night Flight Orchestra – Speedwagon
This Swedish classic rock band, now 10 years and four albums deep, are utterly, brilliantly preposterous. Powered by the same combination of riffs, synths and peacocking used by their compatriots Europe, and with a fixation on outer space, their tightly harmonised oeuvre begs to be hollered wearing a wolf’s pelt while riding a hoverboard. Speedwagon is glorious, nodding to its AOR namesake as well as Thin Lizzy, ELO, Hall and Oates, Bon Jovi and every glam metal band ever, all condensed into a hyper-melodic ball of hair and chrome. Rock song of the year?
Interpol – The Rover
Still bashing out existential freakouts set to bourgeois garage rock, Interpol retain their uniquely anxious energy on their first new track in four years. The major label sheen that left some of their albums feeling genuinely empty rather than performatively so has gone, thankfully replaced with blown-out drums and scuzzy rhythm guitar; Daniel Kessler’s pealing lead could have come from Obstacle 2 on their debut. As ever Paul Banks’s voice, delivering poetry that seems to yearn for sexual and spiritual uplift, is the last word in seedy NY cool.
Low – Dancing and Blood
The Duluth trio aren’t short of menace at the best of times, but they’ve never exuded such a sickly, shuddering spirit as on the three taster tracks from their forthcoming 12th album, Double Negative. Dancing and Blood is the most song-like of these corrosive, ambient oozes: a beat that sounds like heavy steps through coal dust suggests total desolation, while tiny synth flickers conjure images of an abandoned building that still shudders with electric current. It is phenomenally chilling (and reminiscent of Burial at his most haunting) not least thanks to Mimi Parker’s unforgiving judgments echoing through the murk: “All that you gave wasn’t enough.” Highly recommended that you chase this with strawberry ice cream and a Love Island binge.
Carl Stone – Mae Yao
One of last year’s most fascinating reissues was a collection of 1970s and 80s work by Carl Stone, an American electronic composer, touring the UK this week, who timestretches samples and live instrumentation into glitchy burbles or transcendent ambient passages. Just as his peer Laurie Spiegel accidentally invented techno around the same time as the earliest midwest electronic dance music, Stone was understanding the collaged power of sampling at the same time hip-hop was doing so in a completely different way. Now there’s a new compilation of four of his 80s and 90s pieces – all are amazing, but Mae Yao is almost unbearably beautiful. Over 23 minutes, what starts as choppy gamelan glitching gets smoothed out by a wondrous set of quavering, manipulated tones. Is it a voice, an instrument, the wind? The point is that Stone uncouples it from recognisable timbre, leaving it as pure, contextless sound – a staggering announcement of the universality of beauty.