Monday Mixtape: Post Malone, Bat For Lashes, The Highwomen & Miles Davis
Every Monday, I make myself a playlist of (mostly) new songs. It gets me in the habit of hunting for new music and hopefully gets me embracing fresh trends. This is the Monday Mixtape.
Post Malone feat. SZA, “Staring at the Sun”
Post Malone is one of the biggest names in pop music, and he’s done it by basically combining all of the dominant sounds of the moment into one buffet: Lo fi mumble rap, emo confessionals, bedroom pop intimacy, New Wave revivalism. He’s ostensibly a rapper, but his new album Hollywood’s Bleeding doesn’t have a whole lot of actual rapping on it; rather, he sticks to his off-kilter croon to deliver filthy heart-on-sleeve poetry. Honestly, I find a lot of the new album boring (it has a stately quality that lacks a lot of the inspired chaos of his previous album Beerbongs & Bentleys), but he figures it out on “Staring at the Sun,” a collaboration with SZA (who should really be a bigger star by now).
Iggy Pop, “Loves Missing”
Punk icon Iggy Pop had a nice little career renaissance in 2016 with the album Post Pop Depression, which was produced by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme. (I saw them on that tour, and it ruled.) That was Iggy tapping back into the sound of his classic Bowie-produced albums The Idiot and Lust for Life, though with a rugged desert rock twist. But roughly 25% of Iggy’s recorded output is jazzy spoken-word type stuff, and that’s what Free is. Iggy was apparently completely drained by the tour for Post Pop Depression, and Free is the expression of that existential exhaustion. “Loves Missing” is a good bellwether of the rest of the album, a slow burn of a slam poem with a sneaky little horn blow buried in the mix, all buoyed by Iggy’s unmistakable (and 72-year-old!) pipes.
Barns Courtney, “99”
Barns Courtney is a 28-year-old Brit who has already had a hell of a time in the music industry. He was in a couple of buzzed-about bands in the UK a few years ago, and one of those bands (the terribly named Dive Bella Dive) was signed by a label and recorded an entire album that never got released. He was subsequently dropped and essentially had to start over. He’s slowly been gaining steam as a self-contained singer-songwriter weirdo, and his new album 404 is full of throwback ideas filtered through modern alt-pop sounds. I love this song primarily because of the way he sings “voodoo economics” at the very end, but it turns out there’s a moment like that in just about every Barns Courtney song. There are a ton of singer-songwriter types banging around, but only Barns Courtney makes me think, “Oh yeah, Ed Sheeran would be interesting if he only referenced Sega and Atari more.”
Bat For Lashes, “Jasmine”
Natasha Khan first emerged in 2006 with her debut Fur & Gold that sounded like the arrival of a next-generation Tori Amos. It was all strange instrumentation and songs about heartbreak and mystical creatures. She’s never made the same album twice, and her latest album Lost Girls finds her on some real Kate Bush shit. Lost Girls is a concept album with a story that I haven’t really grasped yet, but “Jasmine” appears to be a main character in the narrative, though I’m more interested in the Miami Vice synths and the way Khan’s voice doesn’t so much carry the melody as much as she haunts it.
The Highwomen, “Crowded Table”
I went to Nashville for the first time over the summer, and I was worried about the trip beforehand because I don’t particularly like country music. (When I left my writing job at Entertainment Weekly, one of the things I said was that I was relieved I didn’t have to pretend country music was good anymore.) But really I just dislike heavy rotation radio country, with it’s cheesy pop leanings and faux honky tonk nonsense and lyrics about trucks. The Highwomen debut is more my speed: Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hembry and Amanda Shires are all stars in their own right (though Morris is the name that most people will recognize first), and their formation is a riff on the country supergroup the Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings). For better or worse, this is authentic dust bowl Americana blues, and their self-titled debut is full of easy melodies and knee-bucklingly swell harmonies. “Crowded Table” has been presented as their statement of purpose: The group was formed partially because Shires didn’t hear enough women on country radio (she’s not wrong), even despite the fact that the best country records of the past decade have all been made by women (and Kacey Musgraves just won Album of the Year at the Grammys). But “Crowded Table” isn’t about fighting for a spot; rather, it’s about inclusion, or as Shires puts it, “About making room.” It’s about the joy of plurality, and it’s delivered with a sweet and powerful collaborative spirit.
Miles Davis, “Rubberband of Life”
Back in 1985, in the midst of a career reinvention for him, jazz legend Miles Davis put together a handful of tracks that he was going to take to Prince so the two of them could collaborate on an album. For one reason or another, that collaboration never happened and the entire project was shelved (Davis ended up recording and releasing the watershed album Tutu, heavy on synths and drums machines). But those tracks were recently resurrected by some of Davis’ collaborators, and it was “finished” even though Davis has been dead since 1991. I’m not a huge fan of albums being finished without the original artist’s input (in general, posthumous albums are almost entirely terrible), but I just love this record too much. It’s got Davis’ natural jazz badass swagger, but it’s also got a ton of underlying funk vibes and acid-jazz loops. The opener is called “Rubberband of Life” and I can’t stop playing it.