Welcome back to The Verge's roundup of the most important music from the week that was. I'm Jamieson, I'm still your host, and this week's collection is all over the place: liquid jazz-funk, romantic country, breathy synth-pop, and everything in between.
There's a Spotify playlist at the very end for your listening convenience, and I'd love it if you shared some of your own favorite cuts from this week in the comments. (I'll hop in there later.) Let's do this:
Bully, "Too Tough": This week, Nashville quartet Bully released their pummeling debut full-length Feels Like. "Too Tough" is a nice introduction to lead singer / creative force Alicia Bognanno, a vocalist with plenty of power to spare and a sprinkle of snarling, Sleater-Kinneyan charisma. It's also one of the best songs on the album, a plodding evisceration of crappy dudes who let masculinity get in the way of basic human decency.
Class Actress, "GFE": Do you count yourself among the fans of Steven Soderbergh's 2009 experimental escort epic The Girlfriend Experience? This one's for you: a coke-crusted glider ride that puts the "action" in "transaction." Elizabeth Harper co-produced this with chillwave O.G. Alan Palomo (better known as the brains behind Neon Indian), and you can hear it in that glossy synth tone. This song makes me want to spend money like an investment banker...
Desaparecidos, "Golden Parachutes": ...behavior which would surely earn the ire of Conor Oberst and Laura Jane Grace! I love this hooky 2-minute romp from Desaparecidos' comeback uppercut Payola — Lizzie Plaugic wrote a fine review of the record for us earlier this week — because it doesn't sacrifice melody on its way to completely incinerating Wall Street fat cats. Oberst and Grace sound great together too, full of piss and vinegar and having a ton of fun. This brought me right back to 2003, a time when Bright Eyes ruled the internet (and my headphones).
Elijah Blake, "Uno": This cut from Blake's new record Shadows & Diamonds was first premiered a few weeks ago in advance of the album's release, but I'm including it here because it's the best showcase for what I like about his voice. A veteran songwriter for superstars like Usher and Rihanna, Blake's vocals are agile and flecked with a little rasp, equally comfortable sharing songs about love and pain (and sometimes both). This is a nice piece of the former, spacious and nocturnal. I still think Blake has a little bit of work to do — Shadows & Diamonds is more interested in atmosphere than melody, to its detriment — but there's a real spark here.
Janet Jackson, "No Sleeep": Then again, who needs sparks when you can turn the dial right to "smolder"? I wrote a little bit about Janet's comeback earlier this week, but I want to appreciate again just how confident this sounds. This is the most matter-of-fact you could possibly sound about staying up all night with your lover after an indeterminate period of separation. It's "fait accompli"! This is how you imagine your anniversary going down before you both drink one too many glasses of Malbec and fall asleep watching Orange Is the New Black on the couch.
Kacey Musgraves, "Late to the Party": Speaking of anniversary anthems, here's Kacey with one of the most gorgeous songs I've heard this year. I'm a stickler for arriving places on time, but I'm also a notorious party grump and hopeless romantic, so this one leaves me feeling a little conflicted. The lyrics are perfectly pitched, dancing out there on the edge between heart-piercing and hopelessly cliché — "Oh, who needs confetti? We're already falling into the groove" — but this song could be wordless and it'd be almost as effective. It's all in that sigh of a melody: gentle and autumnal, the soundtrack of a dream where you're dancing with someone you love. It's hard to write a song like this.
Mas Ysa, "Arrows": Thomas Arsenault, the Canadian who records as Mas Ysa, is one of those producers who doesn't really get the concept of distance. His songs are right up in your face, painfully intimate and all too comfortable with intense, unfiltered emotion. "Arrows" fits that description, but it also breaks some new ground for Arsenault by marrying that rawness to an unabashedly cheesy European mega-club beat, like a B-side from Destroyer's Your Blues hooked up to a molly water IV.
Leon Bridges, "Lisa Sawyer": This highlight from Bridges' simple, soulful debut Coming Home isn't completely new — it was floating around back in February — but it's my favorite song on the album by far, mostly because it takes Bridges' smooth vocals and gives him something meaty to sing about. In recounting his mother's life story, Bridges is tender and audibly affected by the weight of that rich personal history. The song makes for a lovely tribute.
Thundercat ft. Herbie Hancock, Flying Lotus, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson & Mono/poly, "Lone Wolf and Cub": And now for a transmission from beyond the astral plane! Stephen Bruner is a virtuoso bassist and a pretty talented songwriter to boot, and his release of new mini-album The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam this week was a pleasant surprise. "Lone Wolf and Cub" is its most ambitious track by far, a mutating odyssey that turns into a wicked jam alongside a group of musicians that are just as gifted as Bruner. It's going to demand your full attention.
Wolf Alice, "Freazy": Let's roll into the weekend with something a little more relaxed. Wolf Alice is a young British rock band set to top the album charts in their home country with My Love Is Cool, their decent debut effort. "Freazy" is my favorite song on it, shaggy and sun-dappled.
Here's this week's full playlist. Have a wonderful weekend!