Each week, our staff consumes a ton of media (like: so much)—everything from the latest Netflix adds to our favorite new indie albums to the game we’ve been meaning to play for a year now. But because we listen and watch so much, we can’t always get to everything. Here, however, editors and writers from across our staff will share their listening recommendations in this column every week. Everything from every era is welcome, be it an album, song, playlist, podcast or some demo tapes your dad’s band recorded in college. This week, our collective playlist includes some classic reggae, a couple folk-pop masterpieces and more. Now, more than ever, it’s important to share, to truly connect with people in a different way, and one way we can do that is through music. Here’s what our staff is listening to this week: May this music bring you a little dose of joy (or whatever it is you need) during another week in this new isolated world.
Ever since Frederick “Toots” Hibbert announced his band’s first album in a decade, I’ve been revisiting their reggae and rocksteady classic Funky Kingston (the Mango version from 1975, that is). Their brand new song “Got To Be Tough” which came out last week—approximately 45 years after this celebrated album—is pretty glaring in the sense that Toots would’ve never opted for a flashy synth line (especially one this prominent) back in the day, but it still retains the vocal warmth and lyrical perseverance that characterizes moving reggae music. Funky Kingston, on the other hand, is a staple reggae and Toots record. It bursts with the highs of Jamaican life and the lows of class struggle, and it’s also stylistically rich—nodding to funk, gospel and soul just as much as the ska and rocksteady sounds that defined the band’s career. Its downtempo rhythms, funky guitars and joyful horns are all wonderful and easy on the ears, but the crown jewel of Funky Kingston is undoubtedly the expressive and lion-hearted voice of the Toots frontman, understanding full well the staggering power of the blues. —Lizzie Manno
Leslie Feist is one of those artists I return to again and again mostly for comfort, though I’ll stand by my belief that she’s one of the most underrated folk-pop musicians of the last 15 years or so. May she never be defined only by her Apple commercial (a great commercial, though)! Her 2017 album Pleasure is probably my Feist album of choice, followed closely by its predecessor, 2011’s articulate Metals, but this week I revisited 2007’s The Reminder (home to that infamous Apple song, “1234,”) for the first time in a while and it delighted me to no end. Feist’s quick-witted attitude, desperado vibes cloaked in glitter and acoustic magic make The Reminder a lovely re-listen (and a fairly unchallenging one at that, which is sometimes just what the doctor ordered in challenging times). When I hear the sway of “Brandy Alexander,” I’m taken straight back to Limited Too stores and plaid Bermuda shorts: Ahh, 2007! —Ellen Johnson
This week I chronicled my love for a very important, if often under-acknowledged, album in American pop music history: Tracy Chapman’s 1988 self-titled album, which is aging a little too well (many of the album’s protest and political songs are hitting really close to home this week, and that’s definitely not a positive thing in regards to our racist culture’s lack of evolution). But the relevance of Tracy Chapman also speaks to her sharp eye for detail and narrative and ability to craft timeless songs that leave you feeling hopeful and remind you of your own humanity. You can read my appreciation of the record right here. —Ellen Johnson
The first time I heard this song, I knew immediately it would become one of my favorites of the year. For one thing, one of my other favorite musicians (Sara Watkins, of Nickel Creek, Watkins Family Hour and I’m With Her fame) plays fiddle on this gorgeous, gut-punch-of-a-song, and there’s no shortage of banjo, either (an instrument Bridgers has implemented lightly on songs in the past like “Demi Moore,” but never like this). This is a bluegrass-emo-banjo banger, and while some of the lyrics could sound, at first listen, like a quote pulled from an Etsy poster with mountains in the background (“She could do anything she wants to), Bridgers owns it so hard—and still manages to convey that sense of wanderlust. There’s mention of southern hallmarks like Elvis and his Memphis habitat, plus eerily descriptive details like “a sleeve of saltines on my floor in my room.” It has what makes many great songwriter so great: overly personal, descriptive details matched with some prevailing human emotion that could apply to almost anyone. Bridgers is the real deal, and I’m thrilled she dropped her new album, Punisher, a day early so I have some extra time with this song. Listen here. —Ellen Johnson
I first wrote about Kiran Leonard back in 2018, just after he released Western Culture, his first studio album and first with his backing band. The Manchester, U.K. singer/songwriter has been uploading music to Bandcamp since 2013, and he’s released three albums with Moshi Moshi Records—quietly becoming one of the most fascinating singer/songwriters and gifted artists of our time. His brand new release, World Argument Live, includes live recordings with his old band from 2016 and 2018, along with newly-recorded versions of previously-shared tracks. Leonard codes the song titles in abbreviated capitals, so it might be difficult to decipher for anyone unfamiliar with his music, but fear not, I can help—highlights include “Öndör Gongor” from 2016’s Grapefruit (“ÖN/GO”), “An Easel” (“EAS”) and “The Universe Out There Knows No Smile” (“U/OUT”) from 2018’s Western Culture. By the bold titles, you can tell Leonard isn’t your average artist—he has a unique sonic and thematic imagination that becomes apparent immediately. This new release merges chaotic art rock jams with regal and pastoral compositions that border on chamber-pop and psych-folk. Such a combination of experimental clamor and pretty subtleties is precisely what makes Leonard such a dramatic force of nature. File World Argument Live under “albums so incredible that you have to pace around the room in deep thought.” Leonard is donating the funds from this release to The Music Venue Trust and the United Families & Friends Campaign, so please consider purchasing it on Bandcamp here. —Lizzie Manno
Beyoncé protégés (can you imagine starting your career with that title?) Chloe x Halle released their new album Ungodly Hour—a fitting title for this timeline—last week, and one particular bop has been swimming around in my head for the last seven days. “Do It,” which benefits from angelic synths and a steady trap beat, recalls the best of the aforementioned Queen Bey’s early R&B/pop hits. Like Bey, Chloe and Halle Bailey can reach soprano notes that are unachievable for most vocalists, and their tag-team singing sounds especially great on “Do It.” Megan Thee Stallion declared summer 2019 a “Hot Girl Summer,” saying ”[Hot girl summer] is basically just about women—and men—just being unapologetically them, just having a good-ass time.” While we’re faced with a dramatically different and certainly less carefree summer in 2020, “Do It” seems to shoulder the same idea: Get with your girls, pour some drinks and strut into the night for some scorching summer fun (even if that fun can only be had on your couch with a White Claw in hand). —Ellen Johnson
Only recently I dipped my toes into Ovlov’s wonderful brand of emo-shoegaze only to then submerge myself completely. The one fault on their 2018 LP TRU is that cringey title, but the rest is magic. Somehow the album art—canyons glazed over in a light purple shade—looks how the music sounds and feels. With the opener “Baby Alligator,” the nostalgic, poignant ambiance is already established, and it’s all-encompassing and endearing. It pulls the listener deep in a memory—one tinged with love, sadness, or just general sentimentality. It’s almost like TRU opens up a portal for those to step in when wanting to be overcome with emotions. The tracks range from meditative and calm to chaotic and unhinged—the biggest highlight is probably “Short Morgan,” which contains both of those extremes, and a killer guitar solo. The following track “Grab It From the Garden”—the closer—stands out as well, as a sprawling, vulnerable finale. Please release more music, Ovlov. —Danielle Chelosky