Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

What are you listening to this week?

Photo: Sampha, Process cover art

Sampha, “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano”

Somehow, someway, it’s already mid-November, which means we’ve officially entered that time of year where everyone is cramming as much media into their heads as possible so they can at least pretend their “Best Of” list has some merit. Of all the music I’ve been digging through, nothing has hit me as hard as “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano,” an emotional standout from Sampha’s excellent debut album, Process. As our own Clayton Purdom pointed out in his review, most of this album falls in line with the kind of mellow, electronic-laced, self-harmonizing R&B you’d expect from someone with Sampha’s list of collaborators, but “Like The Piano” sheds much of that adornment to give Process a raw, pointed thesis statement—about dealing with his mother’s cancer, about the comforts of home, about the music we create being a timeless vessel for our truest selves—with little more than that titular instrument and Sampha’s impassioned voice. [Matt Gerardi]


Penny Diving, “Stella”

One of the more welcome genre resurgences of the past couple of years–to my ears, anyway—has been the surfeit of great new shoegaze bands coming into their own. From brand-new groups like Cincinnati’s Smut to the OGs in Swervedriver putting out strong material, it’s a good time to be a fan of swirling, distorted guitars. The most recent song that’s been stuck on repeat in my iTunes is “Stella,” by the Montreal quartet Penny Diving. The band’s take on darker, mid-tempo moodiness is anchored by the voice of Chantal Ambridge (ex-The Muscadettes), who delivers a dreamy vocal performance that nonetheless manages to retain a potent force and drawn-out melody. With droning keys and spacey licks that shade smoothly into start-stop riffs, it’s like a four-minute time-travel device back to the early ’90s, inside a dark British club, the band sounding like the perfect bridge between Jesus And Mary Chain and Lush. A relatively new act, the band breathes new life into an old sound, making it as resonant as any retro-rock stylings out there. [Alex McLevy]

Jai Paul, “Str8 Outta Mumbai”


Jai Paul crept back into the news yesterday with the announcement that the Paul Institute, his mysterious venture to “support and nurture new British music talent,” had found a home in West London. Great, good for him. It’s been almost a decade since Paul initially released “BTSTU”—on MySpace, for Christ’s sake—and over half a decade since his debut album was leaked to wide acclaim. Like Jay Electronica, Paul seems to be a sort of internet-age phenomenon, a genuine superstar built entirely on pre-release hype that never quite materializes. That leaked record was widely acclaimed upon original release, leading to prayers of a proper release somewhere down the line that has yet to materialize—all while he works, instead, on this damn institute thing.

Anyway, my frustration sent me back to that original leak—it was still on my hard drive from 2010—and it’s just as good as ever: beats phasing over each other; melodies creeping through them like sun through the clouds; samples slipping imperceptibly over each other in a wash of gauzy, lo-fi beauty. When it all comes together, as it does on the perpetually infectious opener “Str8 Outta Mumbai,” the results are so damn lovely you almost don’t care he still hasn’t gotten around to releasing anything else. The leak’s good enough, at least for this decade. [Clayton Purdom]


Mariah Carey, “All I Want For Christmas Is You”

I know the spirit of Christmas—which, in its original form, was the Christian-washing of a Roman holiday—has been completely overrun by commercialism. But even if we hadn’t had such a trying year, I’d be desperate for some cheer in the cold winter months. Which is why I had zero compunction about turning on the Christmas music last week, starting with the new standard for yuletide tunes, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” From its soulful beginning to Carey’s trademark trilling, the song encompasses the best of what this genre has to offer, combining the more somber notes of songs like “The First Noel” with the jazziness of “Jingle Bell Rock.” It’s so well-produced and perfectly performed, it could stand on its own as a pop song. [Danette Chavez]


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