We all have multifaceted emotions, and so does this column. As Justin Bieber once said on Instagram: “Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation. Rescue me from the deceitful and wicked.” Oh, wait, no, that was from Psalms, my bad! Love ya, mean it, bye!
Mykki Blanco, “The Plug Won’t” (Dogfood Music Group/!K7)
The first single from Mykki Blanco’s upcoming album Mykki, “High School Never Ends,” came with a magnificently staged video that swanned and torqued and testified beyond steamy drama, forming into a bloody fist of Euro art-film pathos and vicious tribalism, drawing on Blanco’s background as a teen playwright and performer growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina. Now Blanco is an established international playa/spitta, as “The Plug Won’t” (produced by production partner Jeremiah Meece) displays, with the artist teetering and spiraling around a vortex of stippled synths, declaring bluntly to a mystifying lover: “I don’t want the runaround / Just wanna wear the crown with you / Fuck the thunderclouds / Yeah, I’m loud and proud with you.” Switching up flows to depict an addict’s gnawing need and volatile moods, she never loses control. But by the end, you may feel like you’ve been spinning with her, dizzy and hallucinating: Is that a fat-bottom synth-bass doing squats in an alley, like a grimy Buddha beckoning you to be mindful? Breathe in, be very aware of your whole body collapsing in a puddle of blood.
Chris Montez, “Let’s Dance” at Piggly Wiggly, Beaufort, North Carolina
When I turned the corner of the frozen-foods aisle in this beach-town grocery store, I heard it: The voice of Mexican-American singer Ezekiel Montanez, a.k.a. Chris Montez, hitting and quitting the initial sounds of his 1962 hit’s title phrase, rollicking over a Farfisa, so the chorus essentially came out as Le Da, with a hint of Spanish-language intonation. Suddenly, I stopped by the Eggos and mouthed to myself, “Joey Freaking Ramone!” Not like others haven’t heard it and written about it, I’m sure, but it had never totally clicked for me until that point. Not because the Ramones covered “Let’s Dance,” but because that’s how Joey sang all the time, via Queens, of course. Duh. Meanwhile, go down a Chris Montez rabbit hole on YouTube sometime. That dude had the gift of a heavenly boyish tenor, which he refined and reshaped over the years like an old master.
Sex Stains, “Land of La LA” (Don Giovanni)
Fired by the charmingly barbed chants of ex-Bratmobile singer Allison Wolfe and Sharif Dumani’s funky guitar screech, this is essentially the “Sex Stains Theme,” a confidently scrappy post-punk dance blast serving as an invitation to Los Angeles’s sprawling multiculti punk scene by a sprawling multiculti crew featuring members of Warpaint and other local bands. In Wolfe’s ’90s heyday, I can imagine a kid clutching a 45 for dear life. Here, you can imagine the band texting her/him/them an urgent dance-floor alert.
Masculin Féminin, directed by Jean-Luc Godard (1966)
Frank Ocean’s feels-drenched themes of gender binaries, race, and the deadening alienation that can result from trying to navigate such limits in our FUCKED-UP WORLD RIGHT NOW sent me back to this allusive, frivolous, passionate, sometimes thrilling film, and its questioning jumble of youthful sexual/political identity. (The characters often flock to the movies, looking for “the film we wanted to live.”) Paul, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, is an unmoored idealist in the age of “Vietnam and James Bond” who drifts into the career swirl of pop singer Madeleine, played by real-life “yé-yé girl” Chantal Goya, as her fame is ascending. Halfway through an extended series of vignettes, a title card announces, “We are the children of Marx and Coca-Cola,” and Godard’s playful yet caustic critiques of consumerism’s numbing effects abound. The couple never quite connects and there’s a randomness to events, though Godard tightly controls and configures all the situations. At one point, when Goya refused to do a nude scene, she claims the director shouted, “You will never be an artist!” I have no idea whether Frank Ocean has ever seen Masculin Féminin, but if he has, I can easily imagine his mind spinning at how the politicization and exploitation of youth culture and sexuality, et al., still has us trapped in a similarly numbing swirl 50 years later. Above is a song about pinball and infidelity.
Rae Sremmurd feat. Gucci Mane, “Black Beatles” (EarDrummers/Interscope)
I really can’t add much more to Meaghan Garvey’s brilliant summation of this song, except to say that when Swae Lee says, “Young bull livin’ like a geezer," he gives the world-weary, double-cup ATL trap pose a self-aware wink that breaks open the sky like a sunrise. Also, it’s a riot that the #MigosBetterThantheBeatles hashtag was such an absurdly contested topic about a year and a half ago, yet it was the Sremmurds who actually took it all the way there, with flair.
The Body, “The Fall and the Guilt” (Thrill Jockey)
A wave of crushing, eternal static greets you, feedback fading in and out, a piano adds doleful texture, and the low, haunting coo of Chrissy Wolpert (leader of the Assembly Light Choir) wafts in like the voice of a ghostly Lady of the Canyon who slowly leads you through a vast, reverberating roar. In other words, it’s stupefyingly romantic. “Misery and joy / Tell the world this / Sing to our love, the only truth,” she intones. Desolate nihilism has always been the organizing philosophy of Portland doom-metal duo Chip King and Lee Buford, a.k.a. The Body. But the song’s video, directed by Joe Martinez Jr., who has created memorable clips for Ryley Walker and Tortoise, fleshes out the notion that something intensely human and exhilarating could emerge from the dread and cacophony. Shot in black-and-white, a man and woman face each other, ever so lightly caressing and then kissing with a touching intensity that outstrips the music. Even if they’re the last people on earth, you envy their connection. Another, more ominously disorienting clip for the song “The Myth Arc,” from the band’s new album No One Deserves Happiness, features Keir Gilchrist, of the terrifying, body-as-death-vessel horror film It Follows. It’s basically a prequel to “The Fall and the Guilt,” or at least that’s what I hope. Happy endings and all, emphasis on the ”endings.”
Young M.A, “OOOUUU” (M.A Music/3D)
I really can’t add much more to Doreen St. Félix’s brilliant summation of this song, except to say that when the New York MC’s hit comes on my fave North Carolina hip-hop station, which is pretty often these days, I can practically smell deep Brooklyn, in all its yet-to-be gentrified grill-smoke and steaming asphalt and exhaust-fuming wooze. Plus, she makes “bozo” rhyme with “boatload,” so there you have it.
Between the Beats: The Black Madonna, Resident Advisor short film
There are a bunch of interviews and videos online of Chicago DJ-and-much-more Marea “The Black Madonna” Stamper, both behind the turntables and on the move from job to job. If you’re not familiar, use this 28-minute energy shot as an intro to the Kentucky-born, ex-teen-rave mixtape hustler, loud-speaking feminist who now tours the world spreading the gospel of history-stoking, soul-deepening house music while exultantly freaking the fuck out on a regular basis. At age 38, Stamper has struggled for years and is relatively early on in her career as a truly legit DJ/producer, but that also might be why she’s one of the most convincing dance-music ambassadors that America has ever produced — she’s in a hurry to make up for lost time. I wouldn’t argue that you’ll wanna party for life after watching this thing, but you’ll respect the hell out of her grind. And about that name (Stamper is white), she’s got an extended “soliloquy” related to her family’s deep-rooted Catholicism that might blow black some snap judgments.
JPEGMAFIA, “I Just Killed a Cop Now I’m Horny”
First of all, this is in no way a joke. In fact, it’s an extremely tender and brooding reflection on an endangered, nomadic African-American life. JPEG, a.k.a. Barrington Hendricks, has lived in New York and Alabama and served in the military, but perhaps it’s appropriate that he landed in Baltimore, where his scratchy, crooning, scowling raps exist in a context of constant, highly visible police-community conflagration. There are lots of voices here, some high off Xans, some off gunpowder, all worth a listen.