50 great tracks for October by Alicia Keys, DaBaby, Angel Olsen and more

An epic harp workout and an unearthed Japanese ambient gem sit alongside new rap from DaBaby and James Massiah in our playlist of the month’s best new music – read about our 10 favourites below

October playlist

Alicia Keys ft Miguel – Show Me Love

The video for this track is dubbed a “visual sonic installation” and stars the song’s duetting singers, plus Zoe Saldana and her husband Marco Perego Saldana, and Michael B Jordan, all doing balletic things with water, paint and each other. It’s beautiful and rather grand, unlike the song, which is beautiful but much more understated. Over gently swaying acoustic guitar, Alicia and Miguel coo sweet nothings to each other in a gorgeous, timeless melody, the kind of thing that sounds improvised by Keys just sitting at the piano and playing. This relaxed, unforced mood hopefully suffuses her incoming seventh album. BBT

What about her dreams? … Angel Olsen.
What about her dreams? … Angel Olsen. Photograph: PR

Angel Olsen – Lark

It’s hard to think of another contemporary singer who time-travels as convincingly as Angel Olsen. Her debut sounded as though it had been recorded by lamplight in a poorly insulated shack; later records reinvigorated classic rock’n’roll and weepies worthy of Roy Orbison. On Lark, she harnesses high romanticism, the lux drama of classic Hollywood. It’s a hard sound to land without veering into pastiche, let alone to hold one’s own amid the heavy arrangements. But Olsen commands the scene. She teases out the details of a relationship that crumbled into the void of disconnection, the soft production accruing a potent charge. Then the tension snaps: “What about my dreams?” she howls, addressing a former lover who failed to see her for who she truly was. As the strings go off like a fireworks display comprised entirely of screamer rockets, the blinkered sod is left in no uncertain terms about the magnitude of her desires. LS

DaBaby – Intro

The rap breakthrough of the year award has to go to DaBaby, who has just released Kirk, his second album of 2019 following the excellent Baby on Baby. The first album was mostly fixated on guns, wealth and – as track titles such as Carpet Burn and Baby Sitter allude – shagging. But Intro announces that Kirk is rather more soul-searching. With his HD alpha-male delivery, DaBaby tells of his pre-fame poverty, and the pain of his father dying at the same time that he finally became successful. It prompts a reflection on the enduring power of family and friendship even through the complicating factors of newfound fame and wealth. BBT

None more emo … Touché Amoré.
None more emo … Touché Amoré. Photograph: Christian Cordon

Touché Amoré – Deflector

This LA post-hardcore five-piece aren’t so much in touch with their feelings as sending them a constant stream of extremely earnest WhatsApps. A decade into their career, they follow their recently rerecorded debut with this first track from their forthcoming new album, and the lyrics from frontman Jeremy Bolm are almost self-parodic in their emo-ness: “A last responder to my own self interest … Cold-shouldered by design,” he laments. “I’m a secondhand piano / Incapable of tune / Providing the score / For gone too soon.” But boy, does he sell them – the chorus would be anthemic sung by anyone, but is made gloriously so by Bolm’s acute feeling. BBT

Brittany Howard – Goat Head

It’s tough to pick a standout from Brittany Howard’s remarkable debut solo album, Jaime. But even on this intimate, exposing record, Goat Head cuts deeper than everything else. It’s a break from the album’s diffuse blues, hooked instead around a lilting piano loop. Howard layers it as she assembles her child’s-eye understanding of colour: first learning red from green, the way your parents teach you. Then, starker differences: having a white mother and a black father in a southern town, and how that prompted a hate crime; slashed tyres, a goat’s head on the back seat. The stumbling joins in the looped piano become fissures as the younger Howard becomes painfully cognisant of the world’s gaping inconsistencies; more unsettling is how Howard and her backing vocalists turn “goat head in the back” into a sensual, soothing refrain. LS

Bittersweet beauty … Mary Lattimore.
Bittersweet beauty … Mary Lattimore. Photograph: Rachael Pony Cassells

Mary Lattimore – Quintana

Left over from the recording of her 2018 album Hundreds of Days, Quintana finds harpist Mary Lattimore at her most expansive and melancholy. Her glassy playing is subsumed by static fog, which, across 15 eventful minutes, swells and eddies, blurring the precision of her playing and building to an unexpected bass note that hits like a cataclysmic omen. The track also calls to mind the imposing tundras of Canadian drone composer Tim Hecker’s defining Ravedeath, 1972. Given that it’s an outtake from an album with which it has little in common, it’s hard to tell whether it indicates a new creative horizon or an abandoned idea for Lattimore. Either way, its bittersweet beauty and lingering sense of doom feels arrestingly contemporary for this moment in the climate crisis. LS

(Sandy) Alex G – Southern Sky

Although he was recently and no doubt mendaciously mistaken for Beto O’Rourke by right-wing trolls, (Sandy) Alex G could never actually mount a credible Democratic candidacy campaign – he’s so horizontally chill you can barely imagine him mounting his stairs most days. But that demeanour has made the singer-songwriter – and Frank Ocean’s sometime guitarist – one of the best of his generation, with songs that rarely resolve in the way you expect them to. Southern Sky, from excellent new album House of Sugar, is the perfect entry point to his catalogue, with its Beach Boys-style naivety to the vocals and the playground-chant melody in the outro. BBT

Lou Rebecca – Desire

Texas-based French pop auteur Lou Rebecca trades in fantasy: she makes dreamy lounge pop that’s as featherlight as a pink macaron, her sexy-baby vocals in debt to countrywoman Brigitte Bardot. (It’s been a good year for it. See also: Swiss singer Vendredi sur Mer’s debut, Premiers Emois.) But the fantasy is all hers. On Desire, she beseeches a lover to get closer, tell her everything, says she’ll be anything they want. But her plan, it turns out, is more Villanelle than Valentine: “Je plante mes crocs dans ta chair,” she coos – I’ll sink my fangs into your flesh – taking revenge against men who treat women like wish-fulfilment machines. They should have seen it coming: the insouciant yet relentless disco beat speaks to a strategic mind hard at work behind the deceptively sugary facade. LS

Hot property … James Massiah.
Hot property … James Massiah. Photograph: Alex Kurunis

James Massiah – Natural Born Killers (Ride for Me)

Set in an equatorial city, the gripping video for south London poet/rapper James Massiah’s debut single depicts people struggling to go about their everyday business in apocalyptic heat – so hot that an egg frying on the pavement becomes an omen for their fate. The track is as cool as the clip is sweltering: Massiah connects the threads from eski to dancehall and the slower end of acid house, unspooling a nonchalant devotional amid a cocky bassline and glacial, ravey synths that sparkle enticingly. LS

Toshifumi Hinata – Atarashii Yuhbokumin

Japanese ambient is the latest frontier in reissue culture: following the Kankyō Ongaku compilation earlier this year, and albums by Yutaka Hirose, Midori Takada, Takashi Kukobo and Hiroshi Yoshimura all recently returning to circulation, next up is Toshifumi Hinata, whose best bits have been collected as the album Broken Belief this month by the Music from Memory label. There are big synth-y fantasias, drifting chordscapes and pristine piano notes, but the best moments are the more fleshed-out rhythm tracks. Atarashii Yuhbokumin has a bossa nova energy to its drum machine pulse, creating a sensual space for its affecting central piano melody and jazzy bass solo. BBT


Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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