Looking to impress your friends with a hip new jam? Searching for the in-road to musical nerd-dom? If so, Scene is here to help. Here’s what our staff is listening to right now.
King Krule — “Czech One”
By Adrian Mark Lore
Sometimes, I lament that the potential of rap as poetic art remains underexploited; the mainstream is flooded mostly with decadent themes, which — though reinvented by innovative musicians like Danny Brown and Kendrick Lamar — often have more currency than they warrant. So, it’s always refreshing to see rap’s impassioned vocal-delivery method employed in other music circles as well. While there’s an uncanny racial dimension to King Krule’s “rock” genre tag, Archy Marshall’s smooth, jazz-tinged beats do straddle the boundary between hip-hop and guitar rock.
Marshall perfected the “quiet storm” aesthetic on his 2015 soundtrack record “A New Place 2 Drown,” but he has remained relatively quiet since. While his recent cameo on Mount Kimbie’s moody record “Love What Survives” was disappointing, lacking any of the chemistry that carried his earlier collaborations with the duo, Marshall’s latest single as King Krule demonstrates that the former track was merely a mishap — the exception to the perennial quality of his music.
“Czech One” essentially summarizes everything one could want of a King Krule track in four immediately memorable minutes. He doesn’t reinvent himself, and — although it’s nicely dark and emotionally stirring — it’s simply on par with previous work at best. Then again, when speaking of King Krule, that’s saying a lot.
Rostam — “Half-Light”
By Charlie Kenney
Rostam Batmanglij’s last five singles showcased the talent as an instrumentalist and producer — strengths with which we have come to identify him — that he developed during his time with one of the world’s most popular indie bands, “Vampire Weekend.”
His most recent single, “Half-Light,” flaunts these talents as well, but it also illustrates a different musical skill set — vocal and songwriting ability.
The single is his first “genuine” solo release where he — not his guitar, violin or piano — is the main act. Yes, Kelly Zutrau adds vocal harmonies during the outro of the song, but those are just an afterthought.
His voice meets expectations. It echoes, flutters between baritone and alto — all while mimicking the unique afro/tribal sound with which he has become synonymous. His voice may not have fit the Vampire Weekend smash hits “A-Punk” or “Diane Young,” but it’s perfect for “Half-Life.”
In this single and others, Rostam has taken his best from Vampire Weekend and beautifully integrated it into his solo sound — something his ex-bandmates Koenig, Baio and Tomson have yet to do.
Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile — “Over Everything”
By Adam Ramos
One of life’s most unique pleasures is the joining of two friends from different areas of one’s life. There’s something warmly reassuring about the unity evoked from such a blending. You can probably guess my excitement, then, when I heard the news that two of my favorite artists, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett, were releasing an album together. The duo, along with their new band “The Sea Lice” — comprised of musicians from various groups including Sleater-Kinney, Warpaint and The Violators — spent eight days (spread out over the course of 15 months) recording their collaborative album, solidifying their mutual admiration turned friendship. Earlier this month, the first fruit of their union — a gleaming single titled “Over Everything” — confirmed the pair’s chemistry.
A sunny, almost Real Estate-esque, guitar melody and simple drum beat carries throughout the breezy track, as Barnett and Vile seamlessly trade verses and choruses like the perfect indie-rock tag-team. It’s refreshing to hear how well Vile and Barnett meld as songwriters, sharing goofy but pensive lines like, “Don’t wanna talk about it/Simultaneous I shout it.” The single, as all effective singles should be, teases us with an inviting taste for the upcoming album — one sure to be among the most interesting records this year.
Injury Reserve — “North Pole”
By Owen Lane
Injury Reserve is the rap group you never knew you needed. After releasing the best mixtape of 2016 with “Floss,” the Phoenix trio — consisting of two rappers and one producer — showcase their softest sound yet on “North Pole.” The two MCs, Ritchie with a T and Steppa J. Groggs, rap incredibly well over the track’s slow, smooth beat. Steppa’s lines are a genuinely poignant reflection on his personal struggles before success. Ritchie with a T frames his verse as a phone call to a dead friend. Ritchie reminisces to a fellow rapper who will never answer, and then breaks your heart when he rhymes, “Maybe pass my pops the phone / yeah so I can hear him / Everyone says I sound just like him / But s—, man, I don’t hear it.”
Most rappers’ “I used to be poor but now I’m rich” tracks neglect the dark feelings and mistakes from the days when their bank accounts were empty. Injury Reserve, conversely, are both haunted and empowered by their pasts. The no-holds-barred honest verses match perfectly with a stripped-down beat from producer Parker Corey. The beat is one of the best in the young producer’s career, and it somehow manages to simultaneously work in the shadows and steal the show. This single may not be “Oh S—!!,” but it’s just as good, making the prospect of Injury Reserve’s next project all the more tantalizing.
BROCKHAMPTON — “GUMMY”
By Brian Boylan
“How I’m gon’ move at your pace? I’m busy settin’ the tone / You think we runnin’ together? I’m in a lane of my own.” These are big words coming from Dom McLennon of BROCKHAMPTON, a rap group whose first mixtape just dropped last year. But, despite its lack of experience, the swagger is warranted. Both June’s “SATURATION” and August’s “SATURATION II” have received impressive critical acclaim — especially considering the short time between them. The albums are chock-full of catchy tracks where the BROCKHAMPTON members simply glide over chill, well-produced beats.
This is especially true for “GUMMY,” the first single off of “SATURATION II.” The song kicks off with a brief, fairytale-soundtrack sounding intro before dropping into a heavy beat accompanied by a shrill yet pleasing synth. The hook features group front man Kevin Abstract doing his best M.I.A. impression while dropping lines about valuing friends over money — this emphasis on staying by one another’s side is a recurring theme on many BROCKHAMPTON tracks. The actual rapping on “GUMMY” — and most BROCKHAMPTON songs for that matter — is clean and enjoyable, but it is ultimately overshadowed by the impressive production. While this is not a huge problem to me personally, I would love to see some more standout verses on “SATURATION III.”
Radiator Hospital — “Pastoral Radio Hit”
By Mike Donovan
The word pastoral recalls vast homely regions where a person can wander, slowly getting lost in his or her shambolic thoughts. The term also frames a culture of guidance. Pastoral advice, for some, offers much needed spiritual direction. Sam Cook-Parrott’s latest single, under his Radiator Hospital project, combines these two definitions into a concise but unkempt package.
“Pastoral Radio Hit” deviates little from Cook-Parrott’s trusted formula, a straightforward style honed in the vibrant Philadelphia scene that gave rise to bands like Hop Along, Waxahatchee, Allison Crutchfield and Cayetana. The song’s compact length (clocking in at 2:44) and humble guitar-centric arrangement (reflective of its Philly-based influences) add a directional feel to the song. Cook-Parrott, as usual, leads us to our spiritual destination via sonic economy.
Lyrically, Cook-Parrott employs words like needle pricks, tactfully unlocking expansive emotions at a reasonable verbal cost. Like many top-40 radio hits, the song toys around with the obsessive infatuation that marks a budding relationship — “I’ve been on your head, been on your mind” — but it also incorporates indie rock’s adversarial preoccupation with unrequited love — “Losing you, and I open my eyes.”
As Cook-Parrott weaves these and similar mantras around the song’s predictable path, he primes the waters for lyrical and instrumental closure. Yet, before the track’s seemingly inevitable climax, Cook-Parrott ceases to sing and winds down his arrangements.
He avoids closure because, in life, it’s a luxury we rarely experience.