Twenty years after its initial release, “Rock The Boat,” and the rest of Aaliyah’s self-titled third and final album, is available on streaming services. Aaliyah died the month after the album dropped, in a plane crash on the flight from the Bahamas back to Malibu after filming the music video for “Rock The Boat.” This context — her tragic death, and the recent witness testimony to R. Kelly’s sexual abuse when she was just 13 or 14 years old — inseparably clouds the celebration of the release of her catalog.
But in tracks like “Rock The Boat,” we can still find joy. This song, with its smooth groove and straightforward sexual agency, feels ahead of its time and in league with contemporary tracks like “Pressure,” up next on this playlist.
Ari Lennox, like Aaliyah before her, is unafraid to provide a manual for her sexual pleasure. In line with her contributions to Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales, “Pressure” is three minutes entirely devoted to sex and foreplay. After her debut studio album, 2019’s Shea Butter Baby, Lennox has released several loosies (including “Bussit” and “Chocolate Pomegranate”) but “Pressure” is her first solo release of 2021.
The Dreamville artist leans on Dreamgirls aesthetics in the music video, which oscillates between various retro visual references, with Lennox flanked by women. The sonic influences also lean on girl groups, Motown and earlier R&B, melded with more modern beats — a unique sound Lennox achieved with collaborators Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox.
Kacey Musgraves’ star-crossed is our Album of the Week, but if you can’t spend time with the whole album, “breadwinner” gives you a solid window into the divorce record as three-act Shakespearean tragedy. On “breadwinner,” Musgraves says it plainly, “He wants a breadwinner / He wants your dinner / Until he ain’t hungry anymore.”
“breadwinner” is a typical pop song, a tad repetitive and full of synths, but it’s undeniably catchy and Musgraves’ authenticity saves it from potentially trite territory.
Syd’s solo debut, Fin, certainly had its sensual moments, but it’s moodier and darker than her latest singles, “Fast Car” and “Right Track,” which are downright cheerful romps. Earlier in 2021, Syd released “Missing Out,” a ballad about the end of a relationship, but now she’s on to love songs. Although, that romance may be imaginary: The visuals for “Right Track” have Syd dreaming up a relationship with an attractive mechanic, “on the right track” made literal with them speeding around a race track together — with a smooth guest appearance from Smino.
From the first lines, “Baby, I’ma need your trust, if we’re gonna be in love / Picture you and me in love,” whether it’s too good to be true or not, the new relationship glow is palpable.
In line with “Right Track,” “Silk Chiffon” keeps the queer love going. LA-based trio MUNA told Rolling Stone, “We often write such dark music, so it felt really exciting to explore a light and colorful world. We hope the powerful sapphic energy of this song summons the ghost of Lilith Fair.”
The band’s first release on Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records — featuring Bridgers, as well — is all earworms and soaring vocals. The music video draws heavily on cult classic film But I’m A Cheerleader, with vocalist Katie Gavin being sent to a satirical conversion camp where she falls in love with a fellow camper.
MUNA will soon be touring with Kacey Musgraves, and there are some clear similarities in sound between “Silk Chiffon” and the production on star-crossed.
Houston rapper Maxo Kream’s latest single with Tyler, The Creator, “Big Persona” is exactly what it sounds like: an ego-driven victory lap. For Tyler, riding the success of his latest, Call Me When You Get Lost, and Kream, with enough success of his own to move his mom into a mansion, the celebration feels justified.
Punctuated with growls from Tyler and full of punchy alliteration (“big money, big cars, big jewels,” etc.), “Big Persona” is casual, cocky and satisfying. Those big cars are on full display in the music video, with Maxo and Tyler doing donuts in a parking lot, with plenty of cash and jewels making an appearance, too.
Angel Du$t are a Baltimore rock group with members from Trapped Under Ice and Turnstile, but their upcoming project Yak: A Collection of Truck Songs isn’t just a melding of the two band’s sounds. Singer Justice Tripp said in a statement, “People get really married to the idea of making a record that sounds like the same band. If one song to the next doesn’t sound like it’s coming from the same band, I’m OK with that.”
And their latest track, “Big Bite,” is much more indie-pop than hardcore. The music video has the band as whimsical vampires eating popsicles and otherwise engaging in costumed shenanigans.
Test Subjects are a Brooklyn-based experimental pop duo made up of opera singer Melody English and producer Sam Glick. English put out her debut album, Melody, in 2020, with some collaboration with Glick. “Boy Next Door” is Test Subjects’ debut single as a duo.
If you’ve ever had an obsessive crush, “Boy Next Door” hits the mark with instant synth-assisted nostalgia. The music video for the song ratchets up the slightly creepy lyrics to a stalker level — although the boy in question does wind up throwing rocks outside her window, too. It’s easy to catch yourself humming along with lines that could be relatable and endearing, but also might take things just a bit too far.
With only a few singles and his EP Good Tea out, West London’s Finn Foxell still made it onto Compex’s list of the 20 British emcees to watch in 2020, on the strength of his already strong cult following.
Now, after a COLORS Studio performance, Foxell released “The Night” in anticipation of his next EP, Alright Sunshine. “The Night” features a smooth, lyrical flow over a beat that sounds a little salsa-inspired, and has dreamy saxophone throughout that rises up especially in the bridge. Similarly dreamy, the music video showcases a surreal night on the town.
BADBADNOTGOOD have shared “Beside April,” the second single from their upcoming album, Talk Memory, a stunning collaboration with drummer Karriem Riggins and composer Arthur Verocai. Verocai’s influence on the track is heard immediately as the strings sweep in. The Brazilian composer also was a notable collaborator this year on Hiatus Kaiyote’s latest record, Mood Valiant.
The visuals for “Beside April” are particularly cinematic, directed by Camille Summers-Valli and heavily featuring a galloping white horse. Summers-Vali said, “The band wanted to do something with horses and equestrians. That’s where this begun. Funnily enough, I am petrified of horses. But it felt like a good way to overcome my fears. Subconsciously through a process of reading, finding references and discussing with my team, I started to piece together the puzzle of what this video could be.” She added, “We just wanted to do this beautiful creature justice.”
Out of context, Moses Sumney covering a T-Pain song is a surprising turn for the artist. But Sumney connected the dots in a statement: “When I moved to California at 16, T-Pain’s ‘Can’t Believe It’ was one of the first songs I heard on the radio … I learned to associate T-Pain with newness, half because his music soundtracked a transitional point in my life, half because his sonic exploration was so fresh. Much like Suzanne Ciani, Herbie Hancock, and Laurie Anderson before him, T-Pain has remained an aesthetic beacon for me as I’ve explored the ever-thinning boundary between the human voice and technological augmentation of it. As I enter yet another life transition with my new label Tuntum, a tribute to T-Pain felt like the most fitting beginning of a new era.”
Sumney’s new creative label that he mentioned, Tuntum, produced the music video for “Can’t Believe It,” filmed in the Appalachian Mountains. Featuring saxophonist Sam Gendel, the cover is relatively faithful to the original, with light Auto-Tune throughout the R&B groove.
Kate Bollinger described her musical universe as “relaxed, tender, and unassuming” and that’s a pretty good way to sum up her latest single, “Shadows.” The Richmond, Virginia-based artist has released two EPs, most recently 2020’s A word becomes a sound. That EP was finished in lockdown, and “Shadows,” written by Bollinger in collaboration with John Trainum and guitarist Chris Lewis, is her first release since.
The visuals for “Shadows” are actually filled with light and color, with some surreal elements but essentially just showing Bollinger and friends on a sunny day, and literally reflecting in a mirror. Bollinger’s airy vocal delivery and the distorted guitar riffs echo some of the earlier work by indie rockers Slow Pulp, especially their single, “Preoccupied.” Referring to the abstract nature of the song, Bollinger said, “Maybe the last year made me want to hide a little.”
Summer may be turning into fall, but Pachyman, the dub artist one-man band of Pachy García, is making music full of summertime. As Pachyman, García records vocal, guitar, drum, bass and keyboards himself — and if you don’t believe him, you can watch the video for the latest single for the album, “Strictly Vibes,” in which he demonstrates three out of five.
The Puerto Rican LA-based artist “grew up obsessed with old Jamaican dub records from King Tubby and Scientist and the Puerto Rican reggae giants Cultura Profética,” according to a statement, and those influences come through clearly on “Strictly Vibes.” Although the song title sounds more like a meme than an authentic label, the track really is, well, just vibes.
“Cimmerian Shade” is remarkably soothing, despite being inspired by The Silence of the Lambs with Sufjan Stevens singing from the perspective of serial killer Buffalo Bill. The refrain of “I just want you to love me” is a haunting echo throughout the track. “Cimmerian Shade” (released in tandem with “You Give Death A Bad Name”) is the latest single from A Beginner’s Mind, Stevens’ collaboration with Angelo De Augustine, with each track inspired by a corresponding film.
About “Cimmerian Shade,” De Augustine said: “Many authors have emotional attachments to the characters they create. But in this instance, I was interested in how a character felt about being created. In my imagination I was giving consciousness to someone else’s creation. The song is essentially a dialogue between creation and creator that seeks to find understanding to some of the same questions that we ask ourselves about existence, free will, fate, purpose, guidance and if anyone or anything out there is listening or cares.”
From the first notes of “Marchita,” Silvana Estrada’s captivating voice, full to the brim with emotive power, takes listeners out of time. This timelessness has to do with Estrada’s storied influences — Mexican son jarocho and baroque choir music, alongside formal training in jazz — and eerie visuals filmed in black and white.
Estrada, who has been called the new face of Mexican music, released “Marchita” as a single for her forthcoming album of the same name, which will be her debut with Glassnote Records (as the first Latin artist signed to the label, according to Billboard). Her first project, Lo Sagrado, was a collaborative album with Charlie Hunter, a guitarist known for working with Frank Ocean, D’Angelo, John Mayer and Norah Jones.
In an interview with American Songwriter, Estrada said of “Marchita”: “I wanted to show the connection between heartbreak and the innocence of believing in love. It was important to connect the sensation of innocence, and childhood — the way we make ourselves through life, and in that process, we can hurt other people.”