The defining quality of the A$AP Mob, the Harlem-based crew of rap-world stylists, is a sort of louche effervescence. This year’s debut by A$AP associate Playboi Carti is the perfect example, breezy and insubstantive and just swelteringly hot. The new A$AP Ferg mixtape Still Striving operates on the same principles, flitting through styles based largely on who’s guesting on them. Yachty gets a minor-key sing-song Yachty track; Migos gets thudding bass pulses and twinkling pianos; NAV gets a track you skip, because NAV sucks.
Anyway, the highlight comes early: “Rubber Band Man,” featuring rap’s weirdo godhead Cam’ron, who has entered that late-career twilight some rappers do, with a permanently delayed “final album” that has changed titles no less than three times. Earlier this year he released a remarkably mirthful semi-cover of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” and here he joins Ferg for a terse, low-key scorcher. The beat, by Frankie P, turns sonar pings and far-off sirens into an almost ambient backdrop; Ferg floats on top of it before Cam slouches in, rapping in his filthiest leer about getting into an argument with the Waldorf’s valet—you know, Cam stuff. Nothing here is necessarily essential, except for the fact that everything Cam’ron does at this point is essential, if only to watch the rapper ride into the sunset of his career still utterly, singularly himself. [Clayton Purdom]
With so many beloved buzz bands of the ’00s making splashy returns this year, I feel like Wolf Parade has almost been lost in the shuffle. Of all the albums that led the mid-decade indie-rock boom, Apologies To The Queen Mary is one of the few that I still listen to routinely; the flimsy paper-cased CD release hasn’t left my car since I started driving a decade ago. After two more solid but not nearly as earth-shaking albums, the band went on a five-year long hiatus that ended in 2016 and has since announced a comeback LP that’s set to release in October. Its lead single, “Valley Boy” has grabbed me more than any of the new material from returning contemporaries like Grizzly Bear and The National.
It’s a triumphant romp from the very start, with a duo of guitars ringing out to herald in the band’s return, but despite sounding like a victorious reemergence for Wolf Parade, especially as an army of guitars and vocal tracks scream out during the final chorus, the song is dominated by its inspiration, Leonard Cohen. Spencer Krug sings to the late icon on the day of his death—and the day before Donald Trump was elected president—asking if he left us because knew “it was all gonna go wrong,” that everything was about to fall out of order and “be more than you could bear.” But unlike Krug hypothesizes as he looks for some way to explain this potential calamity that lay ahead (and has come to pass), something tells me Cohen wouldn’t have observed what was happening to the world and resigned himself to becoming “that bird on that wire.” [Matt Gerardi]
Confession: I don’t listen to as much new music as I probably should, given my occupation. My rotation is probably one new album or track for every seven I’ve heard before—this is bad, I know, but I am almost always in the mood to listen to Bloc Party. Anyway, to correct this bad habit, I’ve been making use of Spotify’s Discover feature, which is how I stumbled upon Dua Lipa’s self-titled debut. This Brit’s dream-pop has been the perfect listen for this unusually mild summer (temperature-wise, not in politics). She’s a prepossessing pretender to the pop throne, melding a Charli XCX vibe with throaty vocals, and showing the same penchant for girl-focused videos as Taylor Swift. The biggest tracks off Dua Lipa include Sean Paul and Miguel collaborations, but I can’t think of a better song to listen to while driving through the city with the windows down than “Blow Your Mind (Mwah).” [Danette Chavez]
You may remember Electric Youth from the thoroughly mined Drive soundtrack, where its “A Real Hero” (a collaboration with French electronica artist College) lent a romantic, if appropriately glazed, aura to those lovey-dovey scenes of Ryan Gosling smirking at Carey Mulligan. Movie scores suit the Canadian synth-pop duo; its sound is almost entirely airy mood, which both makes it ideal for hanging out in the background and demands images to give it some weight. So it’s only natural that its next album would be another one. Unfortunately, as the full title reveals, the forthcoming Breathing is the Soundtrack From A Lost Film: It was meant to score a movie from director Anthony Scott Burns, but Burns walked away during post-production, and Electric Youth soon followed. Nevertheless, the 23 abandoned tracks it created work surprisingly well in their unmoored state, a dreamy, sci-fi suite that is, according to the striking cover art, about… a guy’s house getting abducted by aliens? Maybe? Whatever. It’s plenty cinematic enough on its own. Opener “This Was Our House” conjures instant chills with its insistent synth pulse, soft piano, and a haunting children’s chorus, evoking the many forgotten ’80s horror films that the never-to-be-realized Breathing now joins. Hear it/see it. [Sean O’Neal]
Folks familiar with the name of the singer and multi-instrumentalist Wilbert Harrison probably know it from his 1959 rock ’n’ roll hit “Kansas City,” or from his infectious, widely covered 1969 comeback single “Let’s Work Together.” This is actually an earlier version of that song, one of several obscure gems that Harrison cut in the early 1960s. It’s busier, bluesier, barroom-ier, and more foot-stomping than the later recording, with a more contagious rhythm and a genuine garage sound. Harrison is an under-appreciated, eclectic talent; I’m pretty sure he plays all of the instruments on this recording. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]