Released just a couple of weeks ago, “Die Young” is the third (and probably last) lead-up single to Sylvan Esso’s forthcoming What Now. It’s also the one that’s gotten me most excited to hear the full thing. “Die Young” is a darkly romantic track about someone coming along and spoiling the narrator’s shortsighted plans, and sonically, it does its own subtle upending of expectations, particularly in that post-bridge moment where the surging chorus is abruptly cut off in favor of building out the beat for just a little longer. I love that it commits to only a few strong ideas in its minimalist, midtempo groove, drawing the most out of every element—especially that killer chorus.
Over the course of the past decade, the electronic musician CFCF has continued to quietly explore a variety of moods, from downtempo club music to windswept ambient to a trilogy of essential mixtapes exploring a hazy shadow genre called “night bus.” Last year, he put out a slim, 30-minute volume called On Vacation, which takes its name very seriously, a stretch of light-hearted adult-contemporary funk that comes down somewhere between Sade, early Massive Attack, and Oneohtrix Point Never. The centerpiece is “Pleasure Centre,” a soft-rock journey through an Epcot-like utopia that, at almost six minutes, is the longest track on the album. It doesn’t do anything grand with that extra run time, though, gliding as smooth as a moving walkway through waterfalls of electronic keyboards and tropical splashes of hi-hats. Like everything else CFCF has released, it’s immaculate without being distant, funny without being snarky, gentle without being passive. Answer some emails to it, is what I’m saying, and you will feel like you are in an ’80s utopia.
A simple four-chord progression anchors Camp Cope’s “Footscray Station” as singer-guitarist Georgia Maq surveys the mile markers of a relationship, from its fumbling beginnings to its hardships and seemingly contented present. All of it taken together could sound like coffeehouse background music, but Camp Cope has riot grrrl in its DNA (especially bands like Excuse 17 and Heavens To Betsy). Maq’s pointed lyrics—dotted with references to her hometown outside of Melbourne, Australia—drive “Footscray Station” as much as its ambling guitar, bass, and drums, as her voice cycles through mournfulness, anger, and hope. “Footscray Station” sneakily punches listeners in the gut.
Prisoner’s subject matter is sad, but it’s not a sad-sounding album. Much has been written about Ryan Adams’ divorce from Mandy Moore and how it begat this, Adams’ 16th album. But ignore the lyrics momentarily about “heading for a breakdown” or “we are like a book and every page is so torn”—this is sonically down Adams’ center divider, with one side Gram Parsons and the other The Replacements. Prisoner continues his streak of masterful pop songwriting, in particular the track “Doomsday,” with Heartbreaker-evoking wailing harmonicas and a circa-’80s LinnDrum machine backbeat punctuated with bursts of shimmering guitar. The song almost sounds uplifting, except for, you know, the name of the song and what it’s about.
Electronic producer Kedr Livanskiy (the working name of Yana Kedrina) makes music suffused in mystery—and not just because she primarily sings in Russian, and I don’t understand a word of it. Her debut EP January Sun, which I regrettably overlooked when it was released last year, has the displaced feeling of an underground radio show bleeding through the stations, catching dribs of ambient techno, Chicago house, 4AD dream-pop, and the Ersatz Audio’s coolly detached electro. On “Sgoraet” she touches on all of these in the span of just over five minutes, beginning with slow synth sweeps reminiscent of the 1980s Twilight Zone theme over a basic, burbling drum machine; building to a gorgeous, gothic grandeur that recalls This Mortal Coil; then exploding into a curveball breakbeat just because. Again, I have no idea what she’s singing about—for all I know it’s a detailed list of payments rendered to Trump’s campaign team—but it catches my ear again and again.