New Music Friday: 4/19/24

Never put off until New Music Friday what you can do the day after New Music Friday

New Music Friday: 4/19/24
This bed is on fire with passionate love

Special "free for all" edition! Here are the rules: I listen to all 100 tracks of Spotify's New Music Friday playlist, except for anything that rhymes the n-word with itself more than three times, any screamo or screamo-adjacent stuff, any CCM that reveals its true intentions in time for me to hit the skip button, and any egregiously corny modern country music, typically performed by a dude with two first names. Having sifted through this week's playlist, here's what I actively enjoyed:

"Fortnight," Taylor Swift featuring Post Malone
If you're an active enough music consumer to know and/or care about New Music Friday, you're no doubt aware that Taylor Swift released her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, today — and as an added bonus, revealed it as a surprise double LP in the middle of the night. Among an extremely small handful of artists whose overwhelming success apparently makes it difficult for their music to provoke anything other than Big Binary Reactions, Swift seems certain to dominate the discourse for at least the next 24 hours, which is seven months in 2024 pop culture time. Me? I'm a fan, albeit not a rabid one; I've been writing appreciatively about Swift's music for a long time, and while Tortured Poets probably isn't going to get an essay out of me, I've found what I've heard to be an effortlessly pleasant listen, which might be Taylor Swift's brand in a nutshell at this point. Her lyrics can read like diary entries, yet her music is suffused with a cool emotional distance; there's lots of light, but little heat. This isn't necessarily a bad thing — if you want to relive the highs and lows of your love life without being subjected to the full sting of those memories, Swift's songs come close to serving as the platonic ideal for a delivery mechanism. "Fortnight" is a perfect case in point, with verses that are stuffed with seemingly personal asides that anyone can relate to, pushed along by a catchy melody swaddled in gauzy pop production and vocals that come with a subtly complementary assist from Post Malone. In other words: Not bad!

"HERicane," Lucky Daye
Daye came up writing latter-day songs for veteran R&B acts such as Keith Sweat, Boyz II Men, and Mary J. Blige, and that experience shines through on "HERicane," which captures the sunny bounce of '90s genre hits without ever coming anywhere near falling into pastiche. Solidly written, intelligently produced, and impeccably performed.

"Wreckage," Pearl Jam
For many years, I found it difficult to listen to a Pearl Jam song without imagining I was hearing slowed-down Stevie Nicks, but time has dulled the antipathy wrought by living through the grunge era, and I've come to appreciate the odd effort from this group and its occasionally solo frontman. The narrative around PJ's new LP is that it's a "back-to-basics" affair, which was typically code for "slightly less slick production and maybe one fewer ballad" in the '80s, but based on the evidence presented here, is apparently now code for "pleasantly mid-tempo music that will remind you vaguely of your youth without asking you to do anything with your body that will result in a painful reminder that your youth is long over."

"Starburster," Fontaines D.C.
These guys say they were heavily influenced by Korn, which I absolutely do not hear in "Starburster" — this song strikes me much more as the work of a possibly fictional U.K.-born alt-rock band from the mid-'90s whose greatest claim to fame is that they once opened for Suede or Oasis or maybe the Stone Roses at a London club you've never heard of. This may seem like damning with faint praise, but it isn't; at most, it's darning. Anyway, I find "Starburster" endearing in a heavily Xeroxed sort of way, and I chuckled during the bits when the singer pretended he was having trouble breathing.

"Shudder," Jelani Aryeh
Sounds sort of like "How Soon Is Now" after its mom made it get a haircut and wear a tie, which is to say it's endowed with a certain undeniable sneering grandeur even if the production is a bit too mannered for the song to really kick you in the solar plexus. Short and shimmering; leaves me wanting to hear more.

"Going Home (live)," Tyler Childers
This cut comes from a just-released 40th anniversary celebration for the marvelous Mountain Stage, a venue and live recording series that bears the distinction of bringing music fans countless killer versions of just as many songs. This performance of "Going Home" is raw and ready to rock your ass — not as transcendent as Bruce Hornsby's Mountain Stage-derived cover of "Girl from the North Country," which shall forever remain my favorite version of that song, but still quite a lot of fun.

"Only One," Cassandra Jenkins
If a person wanted to be uncharitable, they could argue that nothing about "Only One" bothers to distinguish itself from a long list of exceedingly similar pop songs, and that even Cassandra Jenkins' name strenuously shies from memorability. I do not wish to be uncharitable at this juncture, however; perhaps this is just a week off from work talking, but I find myself charmed by this song's hazy diffidence, even if it evaporates from the memory moments after it concludes. Fleeting gratification is better than none at all.

"Raat Ki Rani," Arooj Aftab
My formative music-consumption years were spent as a 100 percent Lyrics Guy, and although time and technology have forcibly pried me from the inclination to pore over every line of every song, in general I still prefer to have some idea of what the singer is trying to tell me. That being said, it's still extremely possible to enjoy the hell out of something even if its meaning is unclear, and "Raat Ki Rani" is a case in point — this has the shape and feel of your favorite Sade-scented sweater. Hypnotically relistenable.

"Damn These Forces," Mon Rovîa
As I'm often fond of saying in this space (among others): Personal context counts for a lot, including how a person's art is shaped and how it hits its audience. Mon Rovîa bills himself as an "Afro-Appalachian folk artist rescued by grace from the civil war in Liberia," which underscores my point regarding context — while it's perilously difficult at this point to imagine anything anyone could do to ferret out or invent a fresh slant where Appalachian folk is concerned, Rovîa's personal experience has given him a perspective that can't help but set him apart no matter how well-worn the genre. "Damn These Forces" is as melodic as it is soulful, and it's performed with a sort of steely vulnerability that makes me lean in. I'll be seeking out more from this artist.

"Walk through Fire," Yannis & the Yaw featuring Tony Allen
What do you get when you take a Foals frontman and put him together with a legendary Afrobeat drummer? The highly repeatable "Walk through Fire," which sadly arrives several years after Allen's passing. This is a colorful collage of sound that keeps bubbling up and bursting through the song's muddy production — the type of record the Black Keys would make if they only knew how. Loads of 'tude and funky as fuck.

And that'll do it for this week's New Music Friday! Apologies for being mostly MIA this week — I'll return tomorrow with a new post for paid subscribers, and then I'll be back on the regular grind starting Monday.