No theme, no death, no grief. Just music. Vámonos!
Miranda Lambert, “Vice” (Sony)
Because of sexism — and absolutely nothing else — Miranda Lambert’s been burdened with the blame for the dissolution of her Nashville Babylon marriage to Blake Shelton, but very few of us have any idea what was going on in the country singers’ relationship, so maybe we should be a little bit more human and fall back and show a modicum of compassion and stop being voyeuristic creeps. Wait, I forgot I lived in America there for a second! My bad, guys!! Regardless, this song is Lambert’s public rejoinder, the first single from her as-yet-untitled, much-awaited post-divorce album, and it’s gaspingly, unsparingly intense (shouts to top-shelf cowriters Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne). She’s back at the mirror again, groggy with regret, as on last album’s “Bathroom Sink,” but this time she can’t even look up: “Don’t know where I am or how I got here.” The lyrics play off the double meaning of “vice” and “vise,” while the slow lurch and squawk of the guitars emphasize the feeling that the world is tightening around her neck. Go hip-deep in the tabloids if you must, but when you shower off the slime, crank this up because Miranda is the motherfucking truth.
Gucci Mane feat. Kanye West, “P**sy Print” (1017/Atlantic)
Mike WiLL Made It’s production feels like a trap house gradually crushing your bones to dust while Gucci’s post-prison rhymes methodically flow like an earth mover: “I only featured Kanye because we both some fuckin’ narcissists / Narcissistic tendencies with psychopathic pockets, bitch / My bank account is crazy, bitch, I think it needs some medicine / My straitjacket Givenchy-enchy-enchy / I can’t even pronounce that shit.” Honestly, what more do you want out of this wildly compromised life?
Katy Goodman and Greta Morgan, “Bastards of Young” (Polyvinyl)
“Bastards of Young” was The Replacements' most thunderously impotent spurt of desperation. If not their greatest moment, it was certainly their most representative. Paul Westerberg’s guilty-Catholic lyrics are the exquisitely offhand poetry of never believing you deserved shit. The bracing lead riff — a sheet of teen-anthem guitar screech — could’ve been as synonymous with the ’80s as any number of grungy growls were with the ’90s, but because The Replacements were sloshed fiends who believed that only shitbirds won anything (which was true, of course, to an extent), the recorded version was a botched hodgepodge. Guitars meandered out of tune on the verses, the solo on the bridge remained half-formed, and the ending was only salvaged by tacking on an alternate take with Westerberg yelling and drummer Chris Mars shelling the room with shards of rimshots. Live, if it locked into place for even 30 seconds at a time, it could convulse your world, like the band’s hurtling, unlikely performance on Saturday Night Live in 1986. But in typical Mats fashion, when Westerberg screamed “Come on, fucker!” at now-deceased guitarist Bob Stinson (so Stinson wouldn’t forget the solo he’d blown at rehearsal), the censors missed it, and SNL’s crabby daddy Lorne Michaels erupted and helped crater the band’s career (check out the entire episode in Bob Mehr’s recent bio Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements).
Thirty years later, this low-key version by indie-pop aficionados Goodman and Morgan connects because it doesn’t attempt to nail what the Mats failed to execute. They focus on the twinkling loveliness of the melody and chin-first ache of Westerberg’s lyrics, bathing it all in a drowsy hum of organ and twilight reverb. In many ways, Mehr’s empathetic, levelheaded book and this touching, thoughtful tribute evoke the band’s core better than any well-meaning, workmanlike reunion show. Behind the noise of what never was, there remains a wounded beauty ready to be found.
Lil Yachty, Keep Sailing, directed by Petra Collins
The Virgin Suicides of trap.
“Carpool Karaoke” with Michelle Obama, Late Late Show with James Corden
I know, I know, “Carpool Karaoke” is the most basic, low-expectations, cubicle time-killer this side of Jimmy Kimmel’s tweet shtick, and the start of this clip, where marginally tolerable late-night Build-a-Bear James Corden enacts an awkward, non-life-threatening interaction with an uptight security guard is basically #AllLivesMatter propaganda. BUT when luminous First Lady Michelle Obama steps into Corden’s car and says blithely, “Wanna go for a spin?” the scene suddenly becomes sprinkled with stardust. As they circle the White House driveway, she lets loose an “owww” and giddily shouts “Here I am, baby!” along with Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours,” indulges some small talk, then bursts into Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” twirling her ring finger, drinking her cup, clapping her presidential hands, and making some Beyhive “honey to put in her lemonade” (YES SHE DID!). After hyping up the Obamas’ #62MillionGirls campaign to educate young women around the world (because she is an international player), they bust into her jam, literally, in the form of the all-star theme song for the #62 initiative, “This Is for My Girls.” If you ain’t grinnin’ when Missy Elliott pops up in the backseat to drop her verse, then you must be in exile on Hater Island with Ted Cruz. Never leave, FLOTUS, and never change — we need you.
Aminé, “Caroline” (Self-released)
Coming on like a kid who just heard The Pharcyde’s first album, jumped out the window, and started rapping when his crispy crepes hit the ground, Adam “Aminé” Daniel, the son of Portland-settled Ethiopian immigrants, is a rhythmic whirlwind. The way he spits syllables, stops and jerks, croons playfully, collapses into the pocket, and scoots off again, is mesmerizing. The song’s a typical bonehead thirst ode, but the beat’s a minimal quilt of kinetic sound effects (co-produced by Daniel and local pal Pasqué), while the colorful video (also created by Daniel) captures the clever how, not the trite what. After more than 3 million Spotify plays and co-signs from Kaytranada and Miguel, Aminé is a bona fide summer splash.
Mothers, live at the Pinhook, Durham, North Carolina, July 6, 2016
This Athens, Georgia, band conjures pensive, dramatic settings for the despairing songs of singer-guitarist Kristine Leschper, and on Mothers’ powerful debut album When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired, those indie-folk atmospherics help nudge the music forward, even when Leschper’s at her most embittered: “You say you need me now / Shut your dirty mouth / When I was only a child / I sold my name for a small price” (on “Nesting Behavior”). But at the Pinhook, on the first date of a three-month tour, Leschper’s voice was a piercing, ancient-sounding moan that never gave an inch, unfurling its wrecked emotion at an incremental pace. Often it was unclear where she was taking us, seeming to wander purposefully, which just heightened the unrelenting effect. She didn’t even play the band’s most accessible song, “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t,” maybe because it would’ve broken the stubborn spell. For the closer, “Easy as Possible,” the band left the stage and Leschper, alone with her guitar, sang in a barely shifting wail, the words tumbling out, one by one, in a stolid descent. Nobody moved.