We took last week off, but Timely Tunes returns this week with everything from the buoyant future-pop of Charli XCX to a slow-disintegrating Nine Inch Nails stunner. Welcome to August!
Charli XCX “Boys”
Charli XCX is one of the great pop chameleons of her generation, leaping from one boundary-pushing genre exercise to another. She seems comfortable collaborating with SOPHIE on Aphex Twin blender-beat post-modernism (the giddily bizarre “Vroom Vroom”) or creating meta-pop anthems. “Boys” is an example of the latter, a deceptively simple and laid-back earworm; it’s one of the most effervescent pop joys of this summer. The self-directed video (a cheeky eye-candy parade of countless male celebrities including Diplo, Mac DeMarco, Joe Jonas, A.G. Cook, Ty Dolla $ign, et al) is great too.
Jessie Ware “Midnight”
London chanteuse Jessie Ware’s excellent first two albums, 2012’s Devotion and 2014’s Tough Love, were twin pillars of sophisticated, soulful modern R&B. Her latest single highlights those skyscraping, dexterous vocals over ever-tasteful, elegant production, confirming Ware as a powerhouse of the form.
Belle & Sebastian “We Were Beautiful”
An ever-wistful Stuart Murdoch aches over unexpected, but subtle skittering drum & bass on the band’s first release in a couple years. It almost sounds like Aphex Twin remixing a Momus song, and as much as that description reads like a disjointed mess, they make it work.
Rich La Bonte “Bright Yellow Star” (From “Mayan Canals”)
Originally released in 1981, this lost gem has recently been reissued on Josh Cheon’s excellent Dark Entries label (named after the early Bauhaus single). This heavily flanged outré-pop wonder recalls the playfully weird R. Stevie Moore or Robyn Hitchcock, and I would be surprised if Ariel Pink doesn’t have a copy of this album lying around somewhere.
The War On Drugs “Strangest Thing” (From “A Deeper Understanding”)
Adam Granduciel almost sounds like he is writing a Bruce Hornsby track at the beginning of “Strangest Thing”, but just when it looks like the mandolin rain* is about to drown us all, he lifts off into the cosmos on a Crazy Horse guitar solo. No one makes the building blocks of dad rock sound this urgently vital. *No mandolins were actually hurt, or even used, in the making of this excellent track; I was just making a joke.
Nine Inch Nails “The Background World” (From “Add Violence”)
Nearly thirty years into his career leading Nine Inch Nails, an institution of disaffected angst, Trent Reznor could easily have turned into a peddler of greatest hits nostalgia. That he has proven unwilling or incapable of taking the easy road leaves him as one of the few holdovers from his generation who remains potently relevant. The second of a promised three-EP arc, “Add Violence” is both more varied and vital than last year’s predecessor (the interesting, but somewhat slight “Not the Actual Events”). The final track is a stunning, meticulous slow-burner, and honestly one of his best-ever compositions. As it self-destructs over the course of seven minutes of progressively disintegrating loops, 2017-era Reznor proves that he is equally capable of honoring NIN’s past and pushing the project into a terrifying future.
TIMELY TUNES, VOL. 54
1. Carly Rae Jepsen “First Time”
2. Charli XCX “Boys”
3. Missy Elliott (featuring Aaliyah) “Best Friends”
4. Jessie Ware “Midnight”
5. Maxwell “Mello: Sumthin (The Hush) – Live”
6. David Bowie “Right”
7. Ben Folds Five “Selfless, Cold and Composed”
8. Belle & Sebastian “We Were Beautiful”
9. Momus “The Sadness Of Things”
10. Gary McFarland “Because”
11. Rich La Bonte “Bright Yellow Star”
12. The Cars “You Wear Those Eyes”
13. Bruce Springsteen “Two Faces”
14. The War On Drugs “Strangest Thing”
15. The Blue Nile “The Downtown Lights”
16. Coil “Triple Sun”
17. Nine Inch Nails “The Background World”
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