Listen to these songs and more on The A.V. Club’s Spotify playlist, updated weekly with what we’re listening to.
Frank Black, “Headache”
Something I’ve never been able to explain about myself as a music consumer: I’ll get into a band with a ferocious intensity, but once I’ve exhausted their studio albums, I won’t dig much deeper. And if I do happen to delve into B-sides or live tracks, I’ll barely dip a toe into the band members’ solo outputs. I’ve made exceptions for the leaders of my favorite groups (David Byrne, Lou Reed, Stephen Malkmus, Jenny Lewis), but there are untold songs by songwriters I love just floating out there, waiting for me to love them—until I, say, hear “Headache” in the end credits for a third-season episode of Love. I think I get too hung up on the myths of chemistry and tension: Why would I want to listen to music made by a Pixie when the explosive acrimony that existed between Pixies makes up so much of what I love about Surfer Rosa and Doolittle? And that’s when my wife drops her well-worn copy of Last Splash on my head, or a Judd Apatow TV show crams its heart into my cranium—and it turns out Charles Thompson still knew how to pound after he faxed Kim Deal and David Lovering their walking papers. Then I remember Sean went out to Massachusetts a few years ago to talk to Frank Black about “Headache”—a conversation in which he calls it one of the greatest pop songs of all time, and with that soaring hook, how could you disagree?—and I think about how I should really pull my head out of my ass and get my own copy of Teenager Of The Year (and maybe a copy of its self-titled predecessor, too). [Erik Adams]
.O.rang, “Little Brother”
Most of Talk Talk’s music—particularly the rightfully revered latter-day stuff on Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock—was defined by frontman Mark Hollis, who spent many hours directing the band and myriad guest musicians through a highly disciplined, tightly controlled improvisation (“arranged spontaneity,” he later called it), then many more weaving together those recordings with producer Tim Friese-Greene. But drummer Lee Harris and bassist Paul Webb (who left Talk Talk after Spirit Of Eden) had a locked-in chemistry and their own considerable command over mood and texture, and they used it to continue creating unconventional rock by reforming as the short-lived .O.rang. That group’s 1994 debut, Herd Of Instinct, has a lot in common with those landmark Talk Talk albums: improvised with guest musicians—including Graham Sutton, leader of the very Talk Talk-inspired Bark Psychosis, as well as a pre-Portishead Beth Gibbons—it was all then meticulously stitched together, giving it a similarly organic ebb and flow. But .O.rang’s muse is far more mysterious; flecks of dub and Eastern mysticism float around the band’s relentless Can-inspired pulse, creating a hazy swirl that obscures genre and region. The song “Little Brother,” for example, feels like a blues spiritual played as a particularly murky form of exotica, a midnight creep through the desert that suddenly explodes around minute seven with a wild, distorted harmonica solo. It’s mysterious, often surprising stuff—not as intimate and moving as Talk Talk, but equally engrossing and unique. [Sean O’Neal]
BlocBoy JB featuring Drake, “Look Alive”
If you are sick of hearing rappers warble endlessly Auto-Tuned melodies over over-orchestrated production, may I recommend to you BlocBoy JB, a Memphis rapper who sort of shouts everything over menacing, minimalist beats. It’s bracing stuff, without a hint of affectation to it; BlocBoy often sounds like he’s tearing the music out of his body. After a handful of viral hits, like the abrasively lo-fi “Shoot,” he’s found his big moment with the Drake collaboration “Look Alive,” ostensibly a remix of the earlier “Rover” but really a wholesale transformation. Tay Keith’s beat is rendered in eye-popping high definition, and he cuts it out to emphasize BlocBoy’s emotive verses. It’s a great look for him, but not exactly indicative of his previous tapes, which are murky, moody affairs. The extremely famous guy acquits himself well, too, matching the tenor of his hosts but blessing them with an earworm of a hook (“Oh well, fuck ’em, dog / We gon’ see how hard they ride”) and dropping a suave, unflashy verse that nevertheless steals the show. Together with the Scary Hours EP and a handful of higher-profile collaborations, it’s been a solid year already for Drake. Here’s hoping he’s got something as fun as these in store with the album he’s apparently working on. [Clayton Purdom]