I have a feeling that one day Francis And The Lights’ collaboration with Chance The Rapper “May I Have This Dance” will become the wedding song of choice for musically savvy couples. It is the most unabashedly romantic track I have heard in quite some time, but it crucially also manages to avoid being grossly sentimental. It tempers the swelling emotion of the chorus—“May I have this dance? / Can I say something crazy? I love you”—with verses about the burdens of life: “We are bound to inherit / The sins of our parents.” It first appeared on 2016’s Farewell, Starlite!, but has now been appended with a funny vocal turn from Chance and a video highlighting his always-excellent dance moves.
I’m certainly not the only person to remark that some of the appeal of “May I Have This Dance” is generated from its Peter Gabriel-esque sound. To that end, I have another use for it aside from first dances: It sounds tailor-made for a scene in The Americans in which Elizabeth and Philip Jennings commit a horrible crime for the good of their country that also, morbidly, reaffirms their love for one another. Hey, Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, it’s a free idea.
Like most fans of the mysterious U.K. producer Burial, I’ve spent the past decade and change wondering whether he’s going to make a proper follow-up to 2007’s Untrue, an album that still sounds like a ghostly transmission from the future, no matter how many imitators it’s spawned. There’s still no word on if that’s in the cards, but the new Subtemple/Beachfires suggests that he’s at least thinking in terms of long-form composition again, rather than the standalone singles that were 2015’s “Temple Sleeper” and last year’s Young Death/Nightmarket. The new tracks, spread over nearly 20 minutes, are Burial’s most free-form yet—an experimental excursion into full-blown ambient desolation. “Subtemple” contains some of his hallmarks (warm vinyl crackles, a female vocal loop), but he withholds his usual click-clacking beat, instead creating a haunted house collage of distant rumbles, warning pings, reverbed wind chimes, rewinding tape recorders, and an insistent, creepy ratcheting sound. It’s a uniquely engrossing and unsettling listen. And even though I don’t really want an entire album of this stuff, it does feel like his most cohesively singular statement since 2013’s Rival Dealer.
The debut album by the British psych-rock band July has been building a cult following ever since its release and commercial failure in 1968, so much so that the band got back together in 2009 to tour and record some new tunes. But before crafting the spaced-out globetrotting sounds of its only album, the members of July were in a bog-standard beat band called The Tomcats. Last year, Cherry Red Records put out a 23-song compilation of the band’s brief discography. It’s mostly covers of British-invasion era classics (including a really solid “19th Nervous Breakdown”), but the best stuff on there—and what makes the compilation worth checking out—was specifically recorded for the band’s time in Spain. “A Tu Vera,” for example, is a cover of a song from the 1962 Spanish musical The Balcony Of The Moon, where it was sung by the legendary Lola Flores. The band transformed this powerful, traditional tune into a crunchy rock number. Peter Cook’s fuzzed-to-hell-and-back guitar is a thing to behold, but singer Tom Newman’s menacing growls are the real star, as the Englishman somehow manages to capture a bit of Flores’ burning passion and inject it back into The Tomcats’ abrasive reimagining.
The Tennessean duo Starlito and Don Trip has made three well-regarded mixtapes—all named after, yes, a Will Ferrell comedy—but its third, this year’s Step Brothers THREE, is the first to really make it into regular rotation for me. It’s got me revisiting its whole damn catalog. They’re virtuosic, writerly rappers, painting their ever-present anxiety with lived-in specificity and wry turns of phrase, with Lito’s sly groan dragging just behind the beat while Don Trip’s raspy, emotive voice seems to ride on top of it. There isn’t a bad track on the record—it’s the sort of mixtape packed with low-key genius that ends up steadily climbing my year-end list—but “Good Cop, Bad Cop” was around the point I realized it had that sort of power, a three-minute blast of oscillating soul samples and characterful storytelling. The two emcees finish each other’s bars as they almost impassively detail a police corps raised on a steady diet of Cops, Hollywood gunfights, and systemic racism (“Craig don’t wanna be like Don Cheadle in Crash / Rather be Don Cheadle in Traffic”). The two just calmly keep going as that crime-saga sample rises and falls, a breathing exercise against a swell of real-world anxiety.
Post-punk trio Two Inch Astronaut is back just a year after releasing its last record, teasing out snippets of the forthcoming Can You Please Not Help. I’d originally intended to write a bit about its lead single, the certified jam “Snitch Jacket,” which features a jagged intro, whiplash dynamic shifts, and echoes of producer J. Robbins’ output with Burning Airlines. But that was before the group released a second song from Can You Please Not Help, “Play To No One,” which showcases an evolution toward what I selfishly hope are greener pop pastures, as least in terms of musical accessibility. (I doubt the lyric “thank you for watching us masturbating” will make it to top 40 radio anytime soon.) “Play To No One” sees the band move from the D.C. post-punk of Rites Of Spring to something more like the D.C. pop-punk of Ted Leo. This poppiness has always hidden beneath the surface of the band’s work, even as far back to 2014’s Foulbrood, but it’s bringing it to the forefront. It’s a promising hint of what the band could accomplish in 2017.