Chancelor Bennett’s father, Ken, was deputy assistant to President Barack Obama, but Chance is unlikely to ever enter the political arena, given the number of times he mentions drugs on Acid Rap, his impressive mixtape. The young Chicago rapper “with a literary knack and a shitty little Mac” delivers clever rhymes with a relaxed chuckle, whether mentioning things he loves (LSD, Rugrats) or things he hates (Fox News, the Lakers).
From the horrible city of Syracuse, New York comes this knock-you-down noise band fronted by Meredith Graves, who has well discarded her background in musical theater. Graves’s singing is buried beneath chaos—she has a “weird, high, squeaky voice,” she’s said, and unlike other punk singers, “I can’t scream”—which gives Say Yes to Love a heightened sense of someone being shouted down, buried or unable to find the right words. But the title is a hint: Graves hollers for all the things she desires, and while similar bands are sad or scornful, Perfect Pussy’s clamor is an act of celebration.
“Cheap Beer,” “Wake Bake Skate,” “Stoked and Broke”—FIDLAR makes it easy to get a sense of its bratty, carefree garage rock from its debut album’s song titles alone. The group utilizes the Ramones’ key qualities—cartoonish excess, slam-bash speed and negative energy (“I don’t ever wanna get a job”; “I’m fuckin’ bored”)—but also adds a few West Coast touches: The band name is a skate-culture expression similar to YOLO.
Imagine if Led Zeppelin hailed from West Africa and sang in Tamashek. Over hypnotic, hand-clapping grooves, musician Omara Moctar, nicknamed Bombino, plays distorted electric-guitar lines that can ripple and skip or stutter and attack. Produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the album Nomad grows out of African and Arabian traditions, but it is likely to thrill many fans of Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. Plus, you won’t have to worry about liking the lyrics, because you won’t understand them.
Adam Granduciel loves classic rock (Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen), but he also loves experimental punk (the Fall, Suicide). In his band the War on Drugs, the singer-guitarist combines the two spheres, creating indiscernible anthems that move fleetly, then stretch out into echoing, silvery jams rife with texture and surprises. Only three songs on Lost in the Dream (the Philadelphia group’s third full-length album) end before the five-minute mark. “I’m all alone here, living in darkness,” Granduciel sings with a happy whoop. The later at night you listen to the Drugs, the better they sound.
In their best songs—“Nerve Endings,” “Amber Veins”—Eagulls’ doomy, buzzing guitars seem to be playing not so much notes as the essence of youthful angst and destructive energy. There are musical resemblances to Magazine, the Cure and other bands from the U.K. that started way before these five Leeds lads were even born.
She was discovered on Myspace and had a few false starts, including the group RichGirl, which dropped the hot “He Ain’t Wit Me Now (Tho).” Instead of fading out, Sevyn Streeter came back, setting her wispy vocals to clattering R&B that can be serious (“B.A.N.S.,” about domestic abuse) or frisky (“Sex on the Ceiling”).
He has only two themes—one is bitches, and the other is hoes. His raps can be clever, if mean: “Both of my bitches drive Range Rovers; / None of my bitches can stay over.” Cali’s Ty Dolla also sings numbly, like R. Kelly with a concussion, and his slow R&B tracks are odd and bombed-out, even when he’s bragging about an orgy. As stupid as it is complex.
Because the Lumineers are literally the worst band in the world right now and Mumford & Sons aren’t far behind, we remain skeptical of folk groups wielding banjos and songs about mountains. But we have found a happy exception: Hurray for the Riff Raff, a New Orleans band that is led by Alynda Lee Segarra, a Puerto Rican in her 20s who grew up in the Bronx, and features a transgender violinist. Now that’s Americana! Small Town Heroes showcases Segarra’s understated voice, which has a soft ache but also expresses resilience and strength. On “The Body Electric,” she flips the traditional murder ballad around and vows revenge on the bastard who shot Delia down.
Sorry, Skrillex, but today’s fiercest electronic music is being created by a middle-aged Syrian wedding singer. Wenu Wenu, Omar Souleyman’s latest album—he has made at least 500 of them—updates dabke, working-class Arabic folk music, by transposing it to synthesizer, on which drone notes are wildly bent and twisted, then speeding it up to the tempo of techno. Pray that your own wedding is as ecstatic and unpredictable as Souleyman’s remarkable music.
The men in country music seem to sing about nothing but trucks and boots. Lately, women are making all the best music in Nashville: Ashley Monroe, whose “Two Weeks Late” views an unwanted pregnancy with grim humor; Miranda Lambert, who has a nervous breakdown with the whole town watching in the rowdy “Mama’s Broken Heart”; the sin-loving Pistol Annies—a trio of Monroe, Lambert and Angaleena Presley; the pro-weed, pro-homosexuality, free-thinking Kacey Musgraves (pictured); and Brandy Clark, who sings about cheating, pill addiction and the causal relationship between booze and pregnancy in “Illegitimate Children.” Guys, you have a lot of catching up to do.
To solve the mystery of how so much great R&B came out of a tiny Alabama town, the beautiful documentary Muscle Shoals carts out devoted experts: Bono, Aretha Franklin (pictured), Keith Richards. But the story’s turbine is producer Rick Hall, a stubborn SOB who grew up poor and motherless and turned rejection and tragedy into determination. On the origin of the Muscle Shoals sound, he’s blunt: “I take the credit for starting it.”
Ghettoville, Darren Cunningham’s entrancing fourth full-length album as Actress, could be the soundtrack of a dystopian movie. Three hundred years from now, a survivor of the apocalypse finds a cassette tape of electronic music that’s been buried in a graveyard, where crust and decay have turned it into barely audible clues to the far-distant past. Cunningham says the music is inspired by the drug addicts and homeless people who populate his South London neighborhood, and though tracks are almost catchy (“Corner”) or funky (“Rims”), his preferred mood is distinctly slow and inky—like a muffled voice, or footsteps heard in the distance.
Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl does cocaine at a party and tearfully phones newly married boy to confess her despair. Lydia Loveless, 23, raised on an Ohio farm, places her whirlwind voice in stormy songs that add a tang of twang to bruising rock and roll. Somewhere Else includes “Head,” which she calls the first “really sad song about oral sex.”
Chappelle’s Show co-creator Neal Brennan and sidekick Moshe Kasher quiz jocks, comics and actors on their podcast The Champs, but the best guests are rappers: Big Daddy Kane talking about throwing tampons into the crowd, or Too $hort recalling dealers who sprayed insecticide on weed. Please, Lord, let The Champs book Kanye as a guest.
“You could be laughing 60 percent more of the time,” sings John Grant, a recovering addict with a dazzling ability to calmly mix malice and comedy in his elegant 1980s-influenced electro-pop. If you’re not scared by a guy who uses the words supercilious and callipygian in the same song, start with his recent album, Pale Green Ghosts, and “GMF.” It stands for “greatest motherfucker,” which Grant claims to be.
“I want you to feel distressed and think, What’s going on?” singer Kelela Mizanekristos explained recently. Mission accomplished. On Cut 4 Me, the L.A.-based daughter of Ethiopian immigrants delves into the elastic, alien quality of synthesizers, coolly giving voice to the vagaries of desire—“Please bite me” or “You’re begging me / I won’t do it again”—over tracks made by a select group of underground bass music producers, including Kingdom and Bok Bok. Deliberately cold, clinical and cut up, these metallic commotions are as complex as anything Yes or King Crimson ever did.