Despite all its ratchet excess, My Krazy Life left a lot of space for YGâs mom: Itâs her voice on the intro, giving the rapper holy hell for falling into the same gang-banging pattern that put his daddy in jail, and itâs her being apologized to on the albumâs emotional closer. She shows upâin spirit, at leastâthroughout, keeping her son smart and self-aware while he indulges the benefits fame has afforded him. She doesnât always get through to him, but her words and his reverence for them lent YGâs party album an affectingly personal appeal.
With Still Brazy, the rapper largely trades the personal for the politicalâand gives up very little of the partying. Itâs no coincidence that the hook âfuck Donald Trumpâ works in each of these contexts: âFDTâ is an uncompromising diss track that honors the object of its ire by never mincing words. YG and featured artist Nipsey Hussle ruthlessly mock Trumpâs policies and lob the kinds of schoolyard-worthy personal attacks the presumptive Republican nominee has made a hallmark of his campaign. Unsurprisingly, their taunts are way funnier (âWhereâs your L.A. rally?/We gonna crash your shit!â), and their off-the-cuff, freestyled flows (along with the protest march and picket signs of the songâs video) make the raw sentiments resonate with their irrepressible outrageâand our own.
YGâs moral compass is pointed as truly north as itâs ever been, but his good sense elsewhere is sometimes contested by his biggest bugaboo: females. âShe Wish She Wasâ finds YG directing the same character-assassination aptitude he righteously brought against the Donald at various unfaithful women, and the pettiness is off-putting. It helps that, musically, the track isnât the joyous party cut âFDTâ is; Dr. Dreâs abrasive snare blasts, subterranean bass, and moody keyboards insinuate paranoia, making the bitterness and hate of the song feel almost symptomatic of the albumâs sociopolitical vexation. It also helps that most of Still Brazyâs coiled aggression is saved for better occasions, like the tense, noir-ish scene depicted in âWho Shot Me,â YGâs detail-oriented internal monologue mulling the circumstances that couldâve led to an attempt on his life, or the finale, âPolice Get Away wit Murder,â which sends the album out on a blistering condemnation of cop-perpetrated violence.
These tracks represent some of the best-produced hip-hop music of the year. While My Krazy Life got a lot of mileage out of executive-producer DJ Mustardâs minimalist G-funk, the new album draws from more diverse collaborations. The rudimentary melodicism of âWord Is Bondâ and âBool, Balm & Collectiveâ register merely as convincing Mustard imitations, but flourishes like the springy guitar hook on âWho Shot Me,â drunk drum programming on âWhy You Always Hatinâ?,â and simmering high-hat on âGimme Got Shotâ all feel as much true to YGâs aesthetic as they are an advancement of it. But itâs âTwist My Fingaz,â with its P-funk talk-box and âForgot About Dreâ synth line, that feels like Still Brazyâs most accomplished song, one worried to greatness. YG doesnât waste its sonic bounty, projecting more personality as a performer than he did anywhere on his debut, especially in the drawled earworm of a chorus.
After My Krazy Life, it wasnât immediately clear, especially amid the deluge of SoCal luminaries like Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples, if YG would make a lasting impression, or if his success might be limited to its momentânot unlike his former partner, DJ Mustard, whose own star has faded since their split. Still Brazy presents an almost too-perfect answer: Right down to its title, its tactic feels familiar. But make no mistakeâmusically and lyrically, this is an expansion. If there were only more ways one could feasibly imagine spelling the word âcrazy,â youâd almost think YG could keep doing this forever.
Label: Def Jam Release Date: June 17, 2016 Buy: Amazon
The 25 Best Albums of 2019
The more borders you cross, the more potential for discoveryâand 2019, as eclectic a year as any, has demonstrated that.
In times of divisiveness, itâs nice to see one cultural front actually willing to disregard its self-defined borders. With Rolling Stone recently handing their album of the decade honors to a non-rock artist, Kanye West, and Pitchfork dedicating a whole week to (mostly positive) reviews of Taylor Swiftâs discography, change seems to be afoot. And as a publication thatâs always prized a broader definition of popular music than mostâand viewed the divide between âpopularâ and âindieâ as overblownâSlant sees this as a welcome development.
So, in the spirit of âOld Town Roadâ and its year-defining horse/Porsche similitudeâand of the growing embrace of a democratized music criticismâour best albums of the year hail from all over the map. Veterans Bruce Springsteen and Madonna tether our list to popular musicâs past, even as both artists challenge their established sounds, and sitting comfortably alongside those legends are many of their younger counterparts (Alex Cameron, Carly Rae Jepsen), hewing perhaps even closer to forms their forebears helped popularize.
There are also artists on our list who crash together their disparate influences with the guide of a less discernible compass (FKA twigs, Holly Herndon, even Tyler, the Creator) in pursuit of arriving at a music thatâs genuinely new. And, pointedly, a love and appreciation for those mavericks doesnât have to preclude us from falling for the rock-guitar pyrotechnics of bands like Big Thief or the Regrettes, nor for the blockbusting hip-hop beats of Freddie Gibs and Madlib. The more borders you cross, the more potential for discovery and surpriseâand 2019, as eclectic a year as any, has demonstrated that. Sam C. Mac
25. Bonnie âPrinceâ Billy, I Made a Place
The word âapocalypticâ is frequently applied to Will Oldhamâs work, and with good reason: His worldview has been haunted by some unnameable or just unnamed cataclysm, from the recent past or lurking over the horizon. I Made a Place finds his fascination with catastrophe and collapse alive and well, though the subject is addressed here more elliptically than on past albums. Instead of a dystopian depiction of civilizationâs collapse, the album is autumnal in its resignation to death as a necessary part of life. Oldham is, for all his oddities, a deeply human songwriter, and throughout I Made a Place his tone is alternately celebratory and comforting. Seth Wilson
24. Brittany Howard, Jaime
Brittany Howardâs Jaime is a true solo album in every senseânot just musically intrepid and distinct from her work with Alabama Shakes and Thunderbitch, but also intensely personal in a way that the album would only make sense coming from her alone. Howard bravely confronts the memories at the very core of her being, from her family being victims of a racist hate crime (âGoat Headâ) to her first crush on a girl (âGeorgiaâ) to the liberation of religious epiphany (âHe Loves Meâ). Befitting of an album that deals with the multitudes of Howardâs racial, sexual, and religious identity, Jaime is musically fluid and eclectic as hell. Disparate styles crash into each other and become something new; funk melds into power pop on âStay Highâ and then hip-hop on âBaby.â âShort and Sweet,â a sparse Billie Holliday-like ballad, is followed immediately by â13th Century Metal,â which pretty much sounds like its title. This is prime musical postmodernism. Jeremy Winograd
23. Tyler, the Creator, Igor
Just when we thought we had Tyler, the Creator figured out as a shock-rapper, he zigs and zags in wilder and more fulfilling directions. The Odd Future leader followed up his soulful Flower Boy, which also happened to out him as queer, with an even deeper, more confident dive into his R&B influences and lovesick feelings. âEarfquake,â originally written for Justin Bieber and Rihanna, is a credible step into pure pop. The more windy âA Boy Is a Gunâ and âAre We Still Friends?â reveal layers of the searching, complicated desire that once seemed impossible from hip-hopâs favorite cockroach eater. Paul Schrodt
22. Chromatics, Closer to Grey
The Chromatics have always looked to the cinematic past through an apocalyptic lens. De facto frontman Johnny Jewel is deeply influenced by classic horror film scores by composers such as John Carpenter, Tim Krog, Charles Bernstein, and Angelo Badalamenti. The groupâs nostalgia trips continue on Closer to Grey, but the album also finds Jewel stretching beyond these familiar touchstones. âMove a Mountainâ is run through with elements of elegiac folk, and âTouch Redâ and âThrough the Looking Glassâ are two of the groupâs most chilling and sparse tracks to date. Jewel and company are more unabashed in their approach this time out, even right down to the albumâs indiscriminating track sequencing, a welcome change for the typically fastidious band. Closer to Grey is another haunting synth-pop house of mirrors that transcends the nostalgia of the Chromaticsâs prior work. Kyle Lemmon
21. Holly Herndon, Proto
Rejecting the trend of using algorithms to recreate the work of past composers, electronic musician Holly Herndon, artist and technologist May Dryhurst, and developer Jules LaPlace instead set about to create a different kind of collaborator to make something new. Together they birthed Spawn, an âAI babyâ who interprets sound to create her own music. Like any child, first she had to learn language, and throughout Proto Herndon documents that learning process: a choir sings a line for Spawn to sing back on âEvening Shades (Live Training), while on âBirthâ Spawnâs attempts at mimicry recall the gurglings of a baby. For all the new technology used to create Proto, and despite its moments of ecstatic electronic maximalism, the album is in many ways Herndonâs most deeply human: Voices cry out in unison, ritualistic and primal, and on songs like âCrawlerâ we hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, the soft patter of rain. Perspective shifts throughout, but itâs the songs that seem to be sung from the point of view of a machine striving to feel more alive that are the most deeply affecting. At one point, a robotic voice laments her loneliness on âFear, Uncertainty, Doubt,â expressing her desire to belong in processed arpeggios that shimmer with feeling. Anna Richmond
The 50 Best Songs of 2019
If thereâs one unifying theme of the best songs of 2019, itâs a genre-less sense of exploration.
Where a song comes from, and how it becomes a hit, is more muddled than ever. In 2019, Lil Nas Xâs âOld Town Road,â a country-trap novelty built out of a Nine Inch Nails sample by an erstwhile Nicki Minaj stan, became a TikTok meme and then the biggest and most surprising smash of the year.
Or was it so surprising after all? As the world careens in wilder and wilder directions and the music industryâs rules have long since been abandoned, a hip-hop/Nashville crossover No. 1 by a young gay black man in Atlanta boasting about the âWrangler on my bootyâ seems somehow natural. And, in its own absurd way, liberating.
Defining what we used to call singles, much less ranking them, doesnât make much sense now. For the first time ever, Slant has ranked the best songs of the year, from radio darlings and streaming juggernauts to gorgeous deep cuts. So, Lil Nas X and Billie Eilish (the other commercial breakout no one could shut up about) sit comfortably alongside a quieter Taylor Swift, Bat for Lashesâs mind-melting atmospherics, the drifting grief of Nick Caveâs latest work, and the weirdest shit Madonna has ever put out. FKA twigsâs electronic-pop ballads and Lana Del Reyâs revisionist take on â70s singer-songwriter material, complete with nods to Sublime and Kanye West, are practically programming categories of their own.
If thereâs one unifying theme in this set of tracks, itâs a genre-less sense of exploration. These self-possessed artists have decided to push against old formulas in search of something more transparently reflective of who they are and whatâs happening inside their brains during a remarkably chaotic time. The masses, or at least fiendish cult audiences, are listening. Paul Schrodt
50. Bat for Lashes, âPeach Skyâ
Natasha Khanâs latest album, Lost Girls, conjures an all-woman biker gang riding around some hazy, menacing version of Los Angeles. Although âPeach Skyâ isnât nearly as blood-thirsty as all that, its warm â80s-style synths evoke the magic of driving through darkness with the volume cranked to 10. Bathed in the glow of passing headlights, Khanâs vocals heave with longing: âOh, you and I know/I know it ainât right/So, so I/want a long goodnight.â Anna Richmond
49. DJ Shadow featuring De La Soul, âRocket Fuelâ
The first time I heard âRocket Fuel,â it sounded so warm and familiar that I assumed it had to be sampling something ubiquitous but anonymous. It turns out that the only well-worn sample was taken from Neil Armstrongâs moon landing speech. DJ Shadow and De La Soul have crafted an instant classic, the type of jam that should be central to every summertime block party from now until the apocalypse. âRocket Fuelâ seems destined for pump-up soundtracks and highlight reels, the kind of song that gets you ready for 12 rounds in the ring. Seth Wilson
48. The National, âI Am Easy to Findâ
Seemingly standard-issue songs on the Nationalâs I Am Easy to Find are made more rewarding by the guest singersâ eye-opening interpretations. Best of all, they occasionally empower the band to do something completely new, most notably on the stunningly beautiful title track, with its male-female harmonizing and atypically delicate vocal cadences. Itâs one of the most uncharacteristic, and finest, songs the National has recorded to date. Jeremy Winograd
47. Carly Rae Jepsen, âJulienâ
Carly Rae Jepsen has a knack for casting the pangs of love in a glamorous light, a far cry from mopey, post-breakup ice cream binging. With âJulien,â she goes a step further, making her reminiscences of a fling she canât shake off seem enjoyable and exhilarating over a fusion of throwback disco and slick synth-pop. âMore than just lovers, I/Iâm forever haunted by our time,â she breathily coos over heavy-hitting synths that bleed into sun-soaked guitar. Sophia Ordaz
46. Jenny Hval, âAshes to Ashesâ
Itâs not every day that a song about a dream about a song about a burial should compel its listener to dance. On âAshes to Ashes,â abundant synth strings and a hypnotic bassline cohere with singer-songwriter Jenny Hvalâs honey-sweet voice into a kind of beautiful Trojan horse for a meditation on innocence and experience, sex and death. Richmond
45. Sofi Tukker and ZHU, âMi Rumbaâ
From the epic âSwingâ to the quirky âPurple Hat,â there was no shortage of Sofi Tukker bops to choose from this year. But itâs the New York-based jungle-pop duoâs collaboration with EDM artist ZHU, âMi Rumba,â that ekes out a spot on our list, thanks to the trackâs mix of dark funk and unapologetic sexuality. Trading the groupâs usual Brazilian influences for a more Cuban flavor, punctuated by distorted horns and a fleet-footed bassline, the track captures the paradoxical nature of sexual freedom in just one sadomasochistic line: âYou can put me in a bind âcause Iâm already free.â Sal Cinquemani
44. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, âGhosteenâ
By typical pop music standards, âGhosteenâ is a preposterously structured song. Itâs 12 minutes long, and 11 of those minutes are Nick Cave murmuring abstract musings on the nature of love over a quiet synthy drone. But compositionally, âGhosteenâ is much more classical than pop, with a three-part structure that tells a story of its own. The first movement is exotic and tense, as it builds to the secondâa spectacular, swirling burst of radiant beauty that seems to come out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. And it seems to take everything out of Cave: The minimalist final movement sounds like the singer retreating into a long, much-needed sleep. Winograd
43. Mark Ronson featuring Miley Cyrus, âNothing Breaks Like a Heartâ
Beneath sweeping strings, a cyclical acoustic guitar line recalls the looping pattern of âJolene,â but where the object of Dolly Partonâs pain was singular, Miley Cyrusâs is more universal: âThis world can hurt you/It cuts you deep and leaves a scar.â This is producer Mark Ronson at his most lushly cinematic, and Cyrus in the best voice sheâs been in for years.
42. Broods, âEverytime You Goâ
An unassuming deep cut from New Zealand duo Broodsâs third album, Donât Feed the Pop Monster, âEverytime You Goâ is a textured synth-pop ballad in the form of a dance song. The trackâs 4/4 pulse, electric synth stabs, clattering percussion, and delicate piano flourishes gradually build in service of singer Georgia Josiena Nottâs simmering anxiety. The frenzy in her voice slowly increases as she reaches the bridge, laying out in stark terms the most universal of fears: âIs it good enough to know itâs enough?/âCause I need to know that you need my love.â Cinquemani
41. Kanye West, âUse This Gospelâ
While itâs fair and useful to question Kanye Westâs motives in suddenly declaring himself a servant to God, thereâs no denying the sincerity of âUse This Gospel,â a maximalist, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-worthy swirl that incorporates Clipse and a Kenny G sax solo that, if there is a God, will certainly be admitted into heaven. Schrodt
The 12 Worst Christmas Songs of All Time
Here are 12 of our least favorite holiday songs, one for each day it took the three wise men to reach the baby Jesus.
Itâs that time of the year again. Black Friday sales. Last-minute treks to the gym to absolve your guilt over that third slice of pecan pie. And Mariah Carey playing on every radio station and in every shopping mall for the next 26 days. Unfortunately, weâll also have to endure a litany of ill-conceived and poorly executed Christmas songs that are inexplicably resurrected every year, and will likely be until time immemorial. Here are 12 of our least favorites, one for each day that it took for the three wise men to reach the baby Jesus after he was born.
Editorâs Note: This article was originally published on November 28, 2011.
12. Jimmy Boyd, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
This Saks Fifth Avenue potboiler from 1952 about a child catching his mother being sexually assaulted by an elderly home invader only becomes even creepier when you realize the kidâs mom isnât cheating on his dad, but that Mommy and Daddy have a Santa fetish.
11. Sia, âPuppies Are Foreverâ
A track from Siaâs 2017 collection of holiday originals, Everyday Is Christmas, âPuppies Are Foreverâ is a reggae-vibed public service announcement about, well, how puppies are not forever: âTheyâre so cute and fluffy with shiny coats/But will you love âem when theyâre old and slow?â The repetitive wannabe-earworm is, at best, an admirable message about the responsibilities of pet ownership. And it comes complete with the sound of barking dogs. (Earplugs not included.)
10. Lou Monte, “Dominick the Donkey”
Lou Monteâs 1960 holiday jingle about Saint Nicola outsourcing his Christmas present deliveries in the Italian mountainside to a dim-witted donkey feels more prescient than ever. But that doesnât make it any less irritating.
9. Dan Fogelberg, “Same Old Lang Syne”
The concept is touching enough: Fogelberg runs into an old flame at the grocery store on Christmas Eve and they grab a drink and reminisce. But melodramatic lyrics (âShe went to hug me and she spilled her purse/And we laughed until we criedâ) and gratuitous details (âWe took her groceries to the checkout stand/The food was totalled up and baggedâ) make âSame Old Lang Syneâ a cloying annual annoyance.
8. Neil Diamond, “Cherry Cherry Christmas”
In this addition to the schmaltzy, nonsensical holiday song canon, Neil Diamond wishes you âa very, merry, cherry, cherry, holly-holy, rockinâ-rolly Christmas,â before idiotically exclaiming, âCherry Christmas, everyone!â at songâs end.
7. Cyndi Lauper, “Christmas Conga”
Holiday cheer has always been all-inclusive. Hell, even the Jewish Neil Diamond has released three Christmas albums. But Iâm going to go out on a limb and say a Latin house anthem with lyrics like âBonga, bonga, bonga, do the Christmas conga!â probably wasnât necessary. But we still love you, Cyn.
The 25 Greatest Beck Songs, Ranked
For all his humor, Beck is consistently thoughtful and earnest in building his checkered monuments.
Beckâs breakout hit, âLoser,â represented the sound of the nationâs youth wearing their slackerdom as a badge of honor. Itâs a rather dubious fate for the workmanlike track, considering that if Gen X ever âhadâ a sound, it was the slow, snarling grunge roiling out of the Pacific Northwest, a genre far too self-possessed and clumsily aggressive to match the decidedly goofy appeal of Beckâs patchwork style. If anything, âLoserâ was a middle finger to the self-serious headbangers, Beckâs own shrug at the angsty masses before ignoring them altogether and staking his career on offbeat lonerism.
The lonesomeness that results from possessing such an individualist streak is explored rather profoundly on albums like Sea Change and Morning Phase, but regardless of the personal costs, heâs become a folk hero, having built his legacy on championing near-forgotten strains of Americana at every turn. Constructing a list of his best tracks can thus be likened to assembling a mosaic pieced together from several generations of music. The songs themselves arenât simply attention-starved amalgams strung together randomly though: For all his humor, Beck is consistently thoughtful and earnest in building his checkered monuments, empathetic to the point where his creations often cease to be facsimiles at all, but heartfelt creations born from the same cultural conscious that inspired them. You canât write if you canât relate, indeed. Kevin Liedel
Editorâs Note: Listen to our Beck playlist on Spotify.
Midnite Vultures exists largely as satire, but it also serves as an opportunity for the usually cryptic Beck to let his freak flag fly. On the epic, cheesy âDebra,â he hoists it way, way up, further establishing the absurdity of the albumâs seedy narcissism by attempting to pick up sisters. The greatest moment here, however, is the supreme elasticity of Beckâs voice, sprinting from husky whispers to erotic falsettos with the kind of joie de vivre worthy of Prince. Liedel
24. âSoul Suckinâ Jerkâ
Beckâs sense of humor has always been prevalent in his music, but whatâs less well-established is how his absurd, juvenile setups often dissolve into black-hearted non sequiturs. âSoul Suckinâ Jerkâ is one such reversal, a slacker tale that traces Beckâs working stiff from the food court into the edges of civilization just as its verse descends from quiet basslines into raucous drum stomps. âFor 14 days Iâve been sleeping in a barn,â Beckâs suburban drone-cum-backwoods anarchist observes, right before a guttural, bottom-heavy font of distortion hammers home the desperation in his wisecracks. Liedel
23. âHollywood Freaksâ
Beck lays claim to legitimate skills on the mic, and theyâve never been stronger or more precise than on âHollywood Freaks.â Of course, this being Beck, the rhymes come with a twist, delivered in a lisping, nasal drone thatâs part Truman Capote and part Sylvester the Cat. All the better for it, considering the slick, springy track boasts the weirdest combination of allusions Beckâs ever concocted: Ripple, No Doz, Norman Schwarzkopf, tricked-out Hyundais, and the songâs ubiquitous, drunken tagline, âHeâs my nun!â Liedel
Given Beckâs recent lavish productions, itâs easy to forget that in the early- to mid-â90s he was a lo-fi master. This is nowhere more evident than on 1994âs One Foot in the Grave, a barebones album steeped in folk and blues. Its centerpiece is âForcefield,â a song built on three simple yet haunting acoustic guitar notes and intertwining vocals by Beck and Sam Jayne of the sadly unheralded post-hardcore band Lync. The lyrics are largely enigmatic, but the chorus poignantly summarizes the necessity of a metaphorical forcefield: âDonât let it get too near you/Donât let it get too close/Donât let it turn you into/The things you hate the most.â Michael Joshua Rowin
âRowboat,â from 1994âs Stereopathetic Soulmanure, is a gently strummed, classically constructed ballad of rejection and loneliness that features Beckâs early penchant for lyrics that alternate between deadpan melancholy (âRowboat, row me to the shore/She don’t wanna be my friend no moreâ) and humorous non sequitur (âDog food on the floor/And I’ve been like this beforeâ). Late Nashville legend Leo Blancâs stunning steel pedal work provides just the right amount of additional sorrow, and, as if to give it the country stamp of approval, Johnny Cash covered the song in 1996. Rowin
Review: Beckâs Hyperspace Is As Lyrically Vague As It Is Sonically Minimal
Most of the albumâs songs blend into each other so nebulously that they become collectively anonymous.2.5
Throughout his varied and unpredictable career, Beck has achieved constancy in one respect: an almost unrelentingly bleak worldview, a portrayal of pre- and post-millennium America as a Bosch-like inferno of indignities. It was there early on, in his adherence to the folk and blues tradition of biblical prophesying (âThere must be some blueprint, some creed of the devil inscribed in our minds,â he sang on 1998âs Mutations), and itâs in his more recent work, darkening avant-pop efforts like 2008âs Modern Guilt and adding a global sense of sadness to ostensibly more introspective albums like 2014âs Morning Phase.
Which is why 2017âs Colors was so surprising: Aside from one or two tracks, it was Beckâs first unabashed, unironic feel-good party album. But if Colors was a million-dollar bash, then Beckâs follow-up, Hyperspace, is the comedown. While similarly heavy on beats and electronics, the album lacks its predecessorâs bounce and exuberance. This trade-in would initially appear welcome since, unlike Beckâs past genre experiments, which always contained an unmistakable personal touch, Colorsâs glossy, airbrushed fun bordered on inhuman. By comparison, Hyperspace represents something at least relatively thoughtful, its skeletal beats and somber synth washesâa result of Beck working with co-producer Pharrell Williamsâsuggesting a period of midlife self-examination against a backdrop of perpetual twilight.
For a few moments early on in the album, Beck follows through on this premise. Opener âHyperlifeâ acts as a brief prologue by announcing the albumâs core theme of melancholic and disconnected excess, the phrase âcrushing lifeâ qualifying a desire for âmore and more beauty, lightâ amid several interweaving synth textures. This leads into âUneventful Days,â with deep keyboard washes and effervescent twinkles playing over a modest trap beat as Beck continues the theme with a lovely melodic vocal: âNever-ending days, never-ending nights/Everything I say, I know I canât get right.â The mood is dreamy, numbed, and yet somehow hopeful.
But tracks like the albumâs lead single, âSaw Lightening,â return both to the forced enthusiasm of Colors and to the hybridization of blues and hip-hop that Beck explored with far more wit on early hits like Odelayâs âHotwax.â As one of the only âupâ songs on Hyperspace, its forward momentum is undermined by a conventionally programmed drum track, popcorning keyboard blips, an annoying Pharrell verse, and faux-gospel background yelps that transform a lyric about the end of the world into what sounds like soundtrack music for an action movie.
What follows is a series of slight midtempo electro-pop ballads: âDie Waitingâ sways with a brightness augmented by acoustic guitar strums, âSee Throughâ emphasizes bubbling electronic percussion, and âStarâ uses video game-esque bloops and a gently pulsing bassline as a nest for Beckâs falsetto vocals. Itâs all in the chillwave vein and, while not oppressive like Colors, itâs also all extremely soporific. Aside from the ascendant airiness of âChemical,â the gospel grandeur of âEverlasting Nothing,â and a few interweaving vocal lines that call back to the aural density of Midnite Vultures, most of the tracks blend into each other so nebulously that they become collectively anonymous. When something stands out itâs usually for an ugly reason: The title trackâs rap breakdown is exceedingly cornball, and a few songs fade out so abruptly and awkwardly it seems like theyâre embarrassed at their own meagerness.
Beck might have redeemed Hyperspace with his underappreciated lyrical genius, and he could have gone in two different directions in doing so: a return to the pared-down confessional songwriting that made 2002âs vulnerable Sea Change so universally resonant, or else the absurdist wordplay, apocalyptic imagery, and pop-cultural detritus that typically fill Beckâs songs to the bursting point with vivid portraiture and singular turns of phrase. (Even Colors achieved some, well, color with lines like âI want to see you with the pharaohâs curse/The apple flower doggerel, the batteries burst.â) But thereâs little of either throughout Hyperspace, which is as lyrically vague as it is musically minimal.
Instead of creating a unique world of characters, Beck populates too many songs with first-persona clichĂ©s (âI donât care what I have to do/You know that Iâm gonna wait on youâ), and, elsewhere, his metaphors are rote and obvious (love is a drug on âChemical,â disorientation becomes the directionless heavens on âStratosphereâ). By the time Beck finally gets to an original, gut-punching metaphor in âEverlasting NothingâââAnd I washed up on the shoreline/Everyone was waiting there for me/Like a standing ovation for the funeral of the sunââitâs too late to make up for an albumâs worth of platitudes.
Beckâs 2006 album The Information is a better example of his unrivaled funhouse approach to style and tone: By blending techno, folk, punk, hip-hop, Krautrock, blues, ambient, and groove-oriented rock, that album is by turns strange, aggressive, hilarious, disturbing, eerie, and fun, all while expressing wry dismay over our current cyber-Armageddon. In comparison, and for all its apparent now-ness, Hyperspace feels inconsequential and incomplete.
Label: Capitol Release Date: November 22, 2019 Buy: Amazon
The 20 Best Rihanna Singles
We took a look back through the singer’s catalogue of hits and picked her 20 best singles to date.
Like Madonna before her, Rihanna possesses a shrewd ability to sniff out percolating trends and a willingness to zig when sheâs expected to zag. âRussian Roulette,â âDiamonds,â and âFour Five Secondsâ were all surprising moves for an artist who could have safely preserved the status quo. The Barbadian singerâs wild success, which includes 11 solo #1 hits in the U.S., can also be attributed to her seemingly steadfast work ethic, yielding seven albums in just the first eight years of her career. That streak ended with 2012âs Unapologetic, and sheâs only dropped one album since then, 2016âs ANTI. While we wait out another dry spell in one of contemporary popâs most unexpectedly enduring careers, we took a look back through Rihannaâs catalogue of hits and picked her 20 best singles to date.
Editorâs Note: Listen to our Rihanna playlist on Spotify.
20. âFour Five Secondsâ
The reverberations of a âella-ellaâ or âna-naâ now feel something like a big bang: There would be no âWe Canât Stop,â no âCome & Get It,â without the syllabic tongue games Rihanna used to galvanize pop in the latter half of the aughts. Of course, hashtagging your way through vocals only gets a career so far, and if âStayâ saw RiRi try to demonstrate greater range through familiar forms, âFour Five Secondsâ does so the way she knows best: by inventing her own. Paired with Kanye West in his rough crooner mode, the two bleat bluesy woes over Paul McCartneyâs best Lindsey Buckingham impression. Itâs an oddly affecting formula thatâs unlikely to prove quite so imitableâthough Miley and Selena are welcome to try. Sam C. Mac
To say the world wasnât exactly thrilled to hear Rihanna, after just having bared her soul in Rated R about (among other things) âthat incident,â singing about how much chains and whips excite her would be a gross understatement. Career momentum, and a little assist from Britney Spears on the remix, thrust âS&Mâ to the top of the charts anyway, but youâd be hard-pressed to find many admitting that they, too, like the smell of sex in the air. But screw it, weâll say it. âS&Mâ might be the boldest of all Rihanna house jams, the moment when she truly found her Janet Jackson-circa-âThrobâ stride. Eric Henderson
18. âLove on the Brainâ
No one would ever confuse Rihanna with Amy Winehouse, but the doo-wop-inspired fourth single from 2016âs ANTI channels the late singerâs brand of throwback pop with its juxtaposition of retro instrumentation and, one might say, retrograde lyrics: âIt beats me black and blue, but it fucks me so good that I can’t get enough.â Rihanna shows off her vocal versatility throughout the track, at turns cooing in falsetto and dropping to a growl, as she unabashedly puts her heartâand her brainâon her sleeve. Sal Cinquemani
17. âMan Downâ
Rihannaâs follow-up to ANTI will reportedly be more reggae-influenced than any of her previous efforts. Of course, the singer has already paid homage to her roots countless times over the course of her career. One highlight is âMan Down,â about a woman who shoots a man in the public square, putting a feminine twist on Bob Marleyâs âI Shot the Sheriff.â Rihannaâs vocals are surprisingly agile, and âMan Downâ is one of her most confident performances to date. Alexa Camp
If âUmbrellaâ was a good girlâs gesture of generosity, âRehabâ is her reeling from the abuse of a bad man who squandered it. âIâll never give myself to another the way I gave it to youâ is one of the saddest Rihanna lyrics, but a blow blunted by the singerâs signature resigned delivery, deployed here as a coping mechanism. What might be a typical lovelorn ballad becomes tough and resilient, a tone well complemented by Timbaland snapping percussion and dramatic strings, and the anonymity Rihanna had been criticized for suddenly matures into a mode of vocalizing repressed emotion that sheâd never before explored. It only took a crummy metaphor to get her there. Mac
Through the Years: Madonna’s Iconic “Like a Virgin” at 35
Weâre taking a look back at the song the Queen of Pop has perpetually made shiny and new.
Confession: Iâve never cared much for âLike a Virgin.â Madonnaâs 1984 single may be the first, if not the, signature song of her career, but itâs a trifleâa novelty, reallyâwith its plucky, noncommittal guitar licks, sub-âBillie Jeanâ bassline, and the singerâs helium squeak of a voice. That last, integral element in particular has always irked me, as, from âExpress Yourselfâ to âDonât Tell Me,â Madonna has proven sheâs capable of some deep, soulful performances. Of course, the vocals on âLike a Virginâ were allegedly employed by design, sped up to render Madonnaâs voice more childlike and âvirginal.â (Itâs a trick sheâs lamentably reprised on some of her more recent recordings.)
Iâm in fairly good company, however, since both producer Nile Rodgers and Madonna herself arenât particularly fond of âLike a Virginâ either, and sheâs chosen to completely reinvent the song in masterful ways nearly every time sheâs performed it. The single was released on Halloween in 1984, and this week also marks the 35th anniversary of the album of the same name. To commemorate this milestone, weâre taking a look back at three and a half decades of a song Madonna has mercifully, perpetually made shiny and new by sheer force of will and ingenuity.
MTV Video Music Awards (1984)
Feminists angered by Madonnaâs choice of a belt buckle during her performance at the MTV VMAs in 1984 seemed to miss the fact that her groom was a mannequin and that she chose instead to consummate her vows with her wedding veil. By the time sheâd descended her giant wedding cake, hit the floor, and rolled around on the stage, showing her knickers to the world, there was no confusion about what the M stood for in the giant MTV logo towering above her.
Music Video (1984)
Shot largely in St. Marksâs Square in Venice, Italy, the music video for âLike a Virginâ found Madonna playing Beauty to a man dressed as a Beast, specifically a lion (which not coincidentally happens to be the symbol of Mark the Evangelist). The singer is depicted as both virginal brideâsauntering impatiently through the basilica, undressing the furnitureâand street harlot, hungrily prowling the bridges and canals of the Floating City.
Blond Ambition Tour (1990)
Ostensibly growing weary of her biggest hit, Madonna reinterpreted âLike a Virginâ with a Middle Eastern-inspired arrangement for her Blond Ambition Tour, casting herself as harem girl (the other âgirlsâ being male dancers, natch, dressed in conical bras designed by Jean Paul Gautier). Having long shed her âBoy Toyâ image for a more empowering, self-reliant brand of post-feminism, the Queen of Pop once again made it clear that âLike a Virginâ is first and foremost a paean to self-love.
The Girlie Show (1993)
The story goes that Madonna looked up Gene Kelly in 1993 to ask him to give her notes on her Girlie Show Tour, the sets and choreography of which were inspired by Hollywood musicals from the 1950s like Kellyâs Singinâ in the Rain. âLike a Virginâ was originally intended to be sung by a man, and Madge had been toying with the idea of paying homage to Marlene Dietrich and French cabaret singer Maurice Chevalier by dressing in drag for a slapstick-and-vaudeville version of âLike a Wirgin.â Kelly, then in his 80s, gave his stamp of approval, and the rest is, as they say, history.
MTV Video Music Awards (2003)
After putting the song into retirement for a decade, Madonna dusted âLike a Virginâ off for the 20th annual VMAs, this time playing the groom to Britney Spears and Christina Aguileraâs not-so-blushing brides in yet another gender-bending performance of her iconic hit.
Confessions Tour (2006)
In 2005, Madonna was thrown from her horse while riding at her country estate outside London, breaking her hand, three ribs, and her collarbone. The accident served as inspiration for her Confessions Tour the following year, which opened with an equestrian-themed segment. A knowing wink to the suggestion that there was nothing left of the pop star to reveal of herself, x-rays of her cracked bones were projected onto giant screens as she mounted a carousel horse, stroking the giant pole, and performing near-acrobatic moves to the beat of a discofied revamp of âLike a Virgin.â Back in the saddle, indeed.
MDNA Tour (2012)
Madonna ended up back on the floor for this striking, unexpectedly poignant rendition of âLike a Virginâ for 2012âs MDNA Tour. The delicate piano waltz was juxtaposed with the singer flashing her lady parts, defying those whoâd for years squawked that the fiftysomething performer should put on her clothes and take a bow. Asking fans who likely paid a pretty penny for their front-row seats to throw money at her like a stripper might seem crass, but then this tour-de-force segues into MDNAâs âLove Spent,â a song about the dissolution of the so-called Material Girlâs marriage to Guy Ritchie, who reportedly got millions in a divorce settlement.
Rebel Heart Tour (2015)
After more than three decades performing the hit that made her a household name, Madonna took things back to basics for her Rebel Heart Tour, delivering a somewhat faithful rendition of âLike a Virginâ for fans around the globe. She didnât roll on the floor and show the world her underwear, but she did hump the stage in homage to her infamous VMA performance and at one point stripped off her shirt.
See where âLike a Virginâ landed on our list of Every Madonna Single Ranked.
Review: Celine Dionâs Courage Digs Deep But Largely Comes Up Empty
In terms of both length and theme, the singerâs 12th English-language album can feel exhausting.2.5
In recent years, Celine Dion has been less likely to generate headlines for her music than for her eccentric fashion choices and personal developments (her husband of over two decades, RenĂ© AngĂ©lil, died in 2016). And the French-Canadian singerâs first English-language effort in six years, Courage, is unlikely to change that. The album opens with the club hit âFlying on My Own,â a rousing house anthem thatâs a bit of a red herring. With the exception of âLovers Never Dieâ and âNobodyâs Watchingââwhich deliver just enough peripheral urban-leaning pop and funk, respectively, to not offend Dionâs core audienceâthe rest of the albumâs 70-minute runtime is filled with boilerplate balladry.
Though Dion doesnât write her own material, much of Courage features lyrical references to loss and mourning. âI would be lying if I said Iâm fine/I think of you at least a hundred times,â she sings on the title track, a heart-wrenching piano ballad whose lovely versesââI talk to you like I did then/In conversations that will never endââare put into stark relief by its schmaltzy hook. Co-penned by Sam Smith, âFor the Lover That I Lostâ is expectedly mopey, though itâs less so in Dionâs hands, her vocals erring on the side of understatement. Sheâs in fine voice throughout the album, though signs of wear are obvious (and welcome) in her scratchy belt on âChange My Mindâ and the husky lower register she employs on âLook at Us Now.â
Co-written by Sia and David Guetta, the string-laden âLying Downâ feels both modern and classic, while âBest of Allâ comes closest to recapturing the timeless quality of Dionâs peak output. Perhaps intentionally, itâs not until the albumâs last third that true joy breaks through, on the soulful, doo-wop-inspired âHow Did You Get Hereâ and the gospel-infused closing track, âThe Hard Way.â In terms of both its length and themes, the 20-track Courage can feel exhausting, alternating between platitudes about grief and self-empowerment that, with only a few exceptions, make what should feel cathartic sound empty and even anonymous.
Label: Columbia Release Date: November 15, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Review: DJ Shadowâs Our Pathetic Age Paints a Grim Picture of Modern Life
The double album speaks to the hyper-distracted way we live today.3.5
Imagine a magician. He walks on stage and wordlessly holds up a canister of gasoline, which he then drinks from. He then places a stick of dynamite in his mouth and lights it like a cigar. The fuse burns down and the magician explodes, blowing a huge hole in the stage and soaking the audience with blood and viscera. As everyone is shocked and terrified, their ears ringing, the magician appears on a nearby balcony. Ta-da! You might ask how he did it. But a better question is: What does he do to equal if not to top himself?
Such is the problem thatâs faced DJ Shadow since 1996âs EndtroducingâŠ, which was genre- and era-defining in a way that few other electronic albums have ever been. His later output simply hasnât been as innovative or exciting, destined to be read in the context of that triumphant debut. Perhaps thatâs why Shadowâs sixth album, Our Pathetic Age, announces in its very title that his concerns are immediate. The cover, rendered in Pop Art style, shows a woman in semi-profile gasping as she looks at a smartphone. The cover art and title, taken in tandem, suggests that this double album is a stinging critique of our age of technological proliferation. Despite this, Shadow has said that he doesnât intend his latest to be an indictment of modern life as much as a comment on it, one that speaks to the hyper-distracted way we live today.
Our Pathetic Ageâs first half showcases Shadowâs renowned ability to build songs entirely out of samples. The best of these evoke clear referents through their soundscapes: âIntersectionalityâ layers synths on top of an icy, spare beat until it builds to a neon-lit climax that might make you wish you were riding in a spinner from Blade Runner, while âSlingbladeâ matches glitch-poppy drum programming to a fluttery, Koji Kondo-esque synth melody.
More compact than its sprawling title suggests, âBeauty Power Motion Life Work Chaos Lawâ shows Shadowâs continued ability to wring humor out of his work. The track starts with a funky synth figure that morphs into something more jazz-inspired, with jittery piano on top of splash-heavy drumming. Everything except for the drums drops out as the song comes to its conclusion, and Shadow delivers the punchline with a voice telling the drummer to âshut the fuck upâ against a polite smattering of applause.
On the albumâs second half, Shadow takes a back seat and welcomes an all-star cast of guests to bring their own identity to bear on the songs. De La Soul infuses the catchy, high-energy party anthem âRocket Fuelâ with their trademark infectiousness, while Nas and Pharaohe Monch trade furious verses on âDrone Warfare,â the most explicitly political track on Our Pathetic Age. The rappers address mass surveillance, economic inequality, corporate malfeasance, and racial injustice over an explosive, take-no-prisoners beat.
Ghostface Killah, Inspektah Deck, and Raekwon contribute verses to âRain on Snow,â which starts with a tired Game of Thrones reference but recovers by showcasing the trioâs dexterous lyricism. Shadow lays their vocals over a ghostly hook (âRain on snow makes it melt awayâ) and the juxtaposition makes their lines pop even more. âKings and Queensâ gives Run the Jewels another chance to make the case that theyâre one of the best rap duos in history, and the gospel choir chorus tethers the song to the groupâs Dirty South roots.
The title track and closer is a four-on-the-floor disco jam that makes excellent use of Future Islandsâs Samuel T. Herring, whose delivery splits the difference between Tom Waits and Bill Withers and settles perfectly into the groove. His lyrics paint a picture of a relationship recalled through the haze of time, his memories framed by years of emotional decay. Balanced against the propulsive music, the song is as effecting as anything Shadow has ever done.
Less successful is âC.O.N.F.O.R.M.,â which is peppered with boilerplate carping about Twitter and social media from Gift of Gab, Infamous Taz, and Lateef the Truth Speaker, while âSmall Colleges (Stay with Me),â featuring Wiki and Paul Banks, feels like something youâd hear in a grocery store. As is frequently the case with double albums padded with filler, Out Pathetic Ageâs biggest problem is that too much of it feels disposable, anodyne, or tossed off. But Shadow still manages to get some strong work out of both himself and his guests, and he deserves credit for not trying to merely recreate the same trick over and over.
Label: Mass Appeal Release Date: November 15, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Review: I Made a Place Finds Bonnie âPrinceâ Billy at His Most Existential
The album is autumnal in its resignation to death as a necessary part of life.4.5
“You need to knock this one out of the park,â Will Oldham sings on âNew Memory Box,â the rollicking opening track of I Made a Place, his first album of original material in six years. If it sounds like heâs suffering from diminished confidence, donât be fooled: Oldhamâs albums as Bonnie âPrinceâ Billy always achieve a cohesiveness that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts, and I Made a Place is no exception.
The 13 songs here feature straightforward folk arrangements of guitar, drum, bass, fiddle, strings, horns, and the odd synth part. This is a song cycle with cosmic concerns in mind, and the simplicity of the music renders Oldhamâs voice (and lyrics) that much clearer. âLook Backward on Your Future, Look Forward to Your Pastâ is made up of a gently strummed acoustic guitar and the singerâs indelible yowl. The lyrics tell a story about a man named Richard who undergoes a transfiguration as his materialistic worldview is reshaped both by quantum physics and spiritual renewal. Itâs weighty stuff, but Oldham sings the song with the playful shimmy of a George Jones tune. His ability to be profound and uproarious at the same time is on full display: âGet your sense of self from a hydrogen blast.â
The word âapocalypticâ is frequently applied to Oldhamâs work, and with good reason: His worldview has been haunted by some unnameable or just unnamed cataclysm, from the recent past or lurking over the horizon. I Made a Place finds his fascination with catastrophe and collapse alive and well, though the subject is addressed more elliptically than on past albums. Instead of a dystopian depiction of civilizationâs collapse, though, the album is autumnal in its resignation to death as a necessary part of life. Oldham is, for all his oddity, a deeply human songwriter, and throughout I Made a Place his tone is alternately celebratory and comforting.
Images of darkness, shadow, and fire pervadeâthough itâs unclear whether that fire is a conflagration or merely the worldâs sole remaining light source. Yet the tone is rather ruminative. âThis Is Far from Overâ finds Oldham contemplating âshorelines gone and maps destroyed, livelihoods dissolved and void,â but he reassures us that ânew wild creatures will be bornâ because âthe whole worldâs far from over.â Oldhamâs gentle warble is set to a softly plucked acoustic guitar, and a flute solo closes things on a hopeful note.
Throughout, Oldham serves as our Virgil, shepherding us through the shadowy worlds he builds. Sometimes heâs funny and sometimes heâs sad, but heâs always there to keep the listener safe. âSquid Eyeâ delights in some Seussian wordplay and features the albumâs funniest lyricsââIâll drive right in as if I were Aquamanâs kidââset to a Bob Wills-esque swinging bluegrass song, while âThe Glow Pt. 3,â the title of which nods to Phil Elverum, wrestles with love, impermanence, and dread from the vantage of the bottom of a bottle.
Some artists seem to have an uncanny ability to gesture to the infinite, to wring out from their chosen medium a staggering amount of profundity. Oldham is one such artist, having created an archive of songs that conjure the entire spectrum of human experience: hilarity and terror, joy and desolation, birth and death, and everything in between. I Made a Place is an apt title, as Oldham has carved out a niche for himself thatâs not quite like any of his contemporaries. He unpacks the darkest and brightest parts of life with an unblinking candor. On the title track, the singer speaks about creating a home in a world you didnât ask for. His thesis is simple: âI donât know why I was born, but I have made a place.â In that one, softly delivered lyric, Oldham resolves a philosophy seminarâs worth of existential crisis.
Label: Drag City Release Date: November 15, 2019 Buy: Amazon