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Geeked Up: When You Have To Move Your Feet

Feathery R&B glitch-pop, remixed pop lotharios and political icons, plus an unholy mutation of rap-rock

This week: No theme, just songs. I bring blessings from the eternal Intersectional Jesus to all you magnificent freelance pallbearers. Fuck the wretched, live for your dreams. Fakirs over fakers. Down with the mangled apricot hell beasts. Groovy times forevermore.

Demo Taped, “Game On (Demo Version)”

Anxiety, desire, and a host of other conflicted emotions flit through the electronic pop-R&B of Adam Alexander, a.k.a. Demo Taped, an 18-year-old singer-producer from Atlanta. But the elements of “Game On” are tenderly and precisely placed, from Alexander’s feathery, emotive vocals to the Flying Lotus–level collage of percussive synths with deft, glitchy, squishy dabs and clicks. He’s clearly studied his keyboard elders (Bernie Worrell, Herbie Hancock), but flows with a lightness all his own. And from the way he coolly challenges his paramour on the chorus (“Baby, game on”), you’d not guess that he’s been racked by depression for years — which he’s spoken about openly. Having opened for kindred spirit Nao (and set to tour with Wet this fall), Alexander’s got a geeky star power that’s just starting to glow.

Wretch 32, “Antwi” (Polydor UK)

Not yet a beneficiary of stateside hype like boomshot U.K. grime dons Kano, Stormzy, and Skepta, the career of Jermaine Scott has existed in a more reflective, nuanced middle ground (his upbeat, Stone Roses–sampling “Unorthodox” was even a minor U.K. hit in 2011). But none of the above MCs have spit anything more intense than this minimal, grittily lit firestorm of lyrical defiance, recorded and filmed after the death of Scott’s friend/mentor/career counselor Richard Antwi earlier this year. Framed by apocalyptic sound effects, the full-fraught MC barks the refrain, “They say it’s just a game / Well, if this is just a game / Why we dyin’ just to play?” Coming from an area of North London where hostility to immigrants and people of color is the constant grind (not just anecdotal Brexit collateral damage), Wretch wears a palpable, urgent ache and frustration. “This is just another day / Just another race, in a race with the racists / Tryin’ to make it off the slave ship,” he exclaims, haunted by the painful memory of having to physically carry his great grandmother’s body to her grave. “Fuck marrying the fame / This is for my family to gain / And my niece carrying my name.” Undeniable.

Jay Cowit, “Remix: Congressman John Lewis's Speech to Congress” from WNYC’s "The Takeaway"

When Democrats staged a sit-in last Wednesday, literally on the floor of Congress, to demand that Republicans hold a vote on gun control legislation before their July 4 break, the undisputed leader of the movement was Representative John Lewis of Georgia. A civil rights icon, original Freedom Rider, and speaker at the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” oration, Lewis felt compelled to act after the mass murder of 49 patrons at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub on June 12. When he spoke before the congressional sit-in, it was riveting. Here, Jay Cowit, technical director of the WNYC/PRI radio show “The Takeaway,” gives him a more theatrical frame with an ominous hip-hop beatscape that artfully applies pressure to key words and phrases (shouts to Steinski). It brings to mind all the songs that have sampled Dr. King’s voice over the years — especially rousing house music anthems, starting with the 1988 bootleg remix of Mr. Fingers’s “Can You Feel It?” and peaking with Simon’s thunderstorming “Free at Last” in 2001 (which never fails to weaken my knees). Cowit doesn’t attempt to reach such exhilarating heights, and considering the situation, he couldn’t. Lewis speaks plainly on a maddening subject, so Cowit’s remix is somber, meditative. Lewis’s dramatically paused line — “This is the time … when you have to move your feet” — is repeated so that it becomes an eerie riff on dance music escapism. Not saying this is some masterpiece of recontextualization, but I’m glad it exists.

Zayn, “Pillowtalk (Tyler, the Creator Remix)”

In terms of contrived, publicity-stuntin’, social media–driven celebrity flirtations, the Pillowtalk Contretemps between Zayn Malik and Tyler, the Creator has been a diverting amuse-bouche, especially as we’re now entering summer. The saga opened last August with one of pop history’s most millennially definitive bro-mantic exchanges. Of course, it happened via public, all-caps, post-grammar Twittering:

With pop-idol commitments such as they are (or at least how they are for Zayn), the star-crossed pair were neither able to “do some shit” nor create any “epic album cuts.” When a fan demanded an explanation last week, Tyler replied with delightfully brash panache: “CAUSE THAT NIGGA FLAKED ON STUDIO SESSIONS TWICE.” Obviously, he was just smirking with us. Restless after a September 2015 Australian tour was scrapped amid protests by Collective Shout, a group working against “objectification of women and sexualization of girls in media, advertising, and popular culture,” Tyler got to work.

The result is a bold refresh of the ponderously atmospheric coo-and-cry of “Pillowtalk,” the solo hit which finally freed Zayn’s weed-fueled libido from One Direction’s teenybop sugar highs and rebranded him as an international man of mystery with a very particular set of coital skills. Tyler ignores the marketing pose and gives us a more carefree (if not zany!) Zayn, a kid who prefers backyard-BBQ daydreams to stadium-seating screams. With the buzz of a live bass line, some electric-piano sprinkles, and a more uptempo synth-slap groove, “Pillowtalk” sounds like there might be a recognizable personality in there and not just a World’s Most Famous Muslim cardboard cutout for bigoted dolts to pelt with garbage (see: Azealia Banks). After this and his takeover of “Freestyle 4” from Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo — which featured a ferociously focused original rap cheered on by touring partner A$AP Rocky, which even Kanye said “killed” — maybe Tyler’s most promising future (don’t doxx me, bro!) could be as a Dedication-style mixtape rapper. Beats eating cockroaches.

Flasher, Self Titled EP (Sister Polygon)

D.C. hardcore punk has cast a frighteningly long shadow, despite the district’s surrounding area producing tons of DIY bands over the past three decades who have sounded nothing like ye olde ’80s straight(-edge) bro show. In fact, the debut seven-song cassette EP by terrific young D.C. trio Flasher sounds like it could’ve germinated in 1980s Athens, Georgia, with its post-punk rhythmic throb emerging out of robotic, dissonant bursts (see Pylon or their kindred, gothier Brit spirits); at the same time, one could imagine a couple of these songs (opener “Tense” or centerpiece “Erase Myself”) getting a DFA mix à la The Rapture or Radio 4 in early 2000s New York City.

In other words, Flasher are both studied and stunning, consisting of a trio of musicians who play in other D.C. bands, most prominently singer-guitarist Taylor Mulitz of Priests (whose members run Sister Polygon, the label that released this cassette). Here, Mulitz and bassist Daniel Saperstein rumble and squall with a sophisticated discipline, while drummer Emma Baker forcefully pounds away, adapting deftly to each stylistic shift. The group’s capable of a burly indie stampede, as on “Destroy,” but above all, the songs are driven and haunted by Mulitz’s relentless ache (“Love Me” builds to a volatile screech of “Why don’t you? / How could you? / Why don’t you?”). For these punk romantics, it’s clear: Ain’t no party like a stress party.

Nova Twins, “Bassline Bitch” (Robomagic)

Nova Twins’s unholy racket has been floating around the internet for about a year with surprisingly little attention, despite the South London duo signing with new U.K. label Robomagic and receiving enthusiastic support from high-profile site Afropunk. Singer-guitarist Amy Love and bassist-singer Georgia South have been euphemistically dubbed “urban punk,” but don’t buy it. This shit is straight-up rap-rock bubblegum mayhem, with dour guitar swagger, a bombastic rhythmic thud, and deliriously aggro rhymes (all of which may explain the lack of attention). As someone who was permanently scarred by the limp late-’90s barrage of down-tuned dysfunction that found its ultimate “break stuff” expression in the ’99 Woodstock riots, I wasn’t exactly looking for a reboot, even by two charismatic, talented young black women. But so far, these kids are pure flames! The two songs available online — “Bassline Bitch” and “Hitlist” — are tightly structured with a real melodic flair, and while I acknowledge that we may be headed down a treacherously familiar path here, Nova Twins are uniquely intriguing (though you could trace a thin line back to ’90s British rockers Skunk Anansie). Maybe they can benefit from the struggles of black teen metal band Unlocking The Truth, whose novelty appeal superseded their music, especially after signing to Sony for a supposed $1.7 million. Now, the boys are subjects of a documentary before even releasing a debut album. Godspeed, Nova Twins.