Our favorite things this week include hip-hop from Chi-raq, Hurray for the Riff Raff from the Ed Sullivan Theater, a podcast from the days of yore, and EDM from bitter tears.
All the Cat Powers When Alison Fensterstock wrote about Hurray for the Riff Raff’s appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, a commenter at Nola.com wrote, “One of the most overrated groups out there (how many Cat Power-lite singers are too many?), but this is admittedly a nice arrangement.” I’ll take all the Cat Power-lite singers who can write songs as bold as “The Body Electric.” Americana bands rarely suffer from a surplus of nerve, and fewer ask a centuries-old tradition to explain itself. Few artists of any stripe choose to present their most polarizing selves on a platform as big as Late Night, where many at home were likely hearing Hurray for the Riff Raff for the first time. I’ll take all the Cat Power-lite singers that can make a song that interrogates murder ballads—which often come dusty and vine-wrapped, no matter who sings them—contemporary and complicated by making the gun control question concrete and personal. And I’ll take all the Cat Power-lite singers who can make the song as engaging musically as it is lyrically and conceptually. I understand with the commenter’s allergy to the Chan Marshalls that aren’t Chan Marshall, and the arrangement was nice, but Alynda Lee Segarra and Hurray for the Riff Raff are taking meaningful chances with real stakes and making them pay off, and there’s nothing overrated about that. (Alex Rawls)
A Consolation Cup: World Cup heartbreak has wreaked havoc on soccer fans across the globe including EDM producer Nicolas Jaar. On Saturday, the American-Chilean tweeted that he would share a new track if Chile won its quarterfinal match against Brazil. Alas, extra time and a penalty shootout didn't see Chile through to victory, and it seemed that the knockout round had dealt Jaar a double blow. Thankfully, his promises were as capricious as some World Cup referees' calls. Jaar tweeted "fuck it" and released "Consolation," his edit of a song by 1980s gospel group The Hellen Hollins Singers, anyway.
Jaar's edit opens with The Hellen Hollins Singers' triumphant, soulful tune but, a minute in, abruptly drops off. It resurfaces as a morphed, stuttering line that finds the tension between exultation and melancholy before dissolving into mournful horn tones that extend all over, as if the song doesn't know where to go but onwards. It sounds like night traffic under city lights, like finality and possibility. The song's consolation is that there is a next time. (Stephanie Chen)
The New Soul of Chicago: Right now, some of the best hip-hop is coming out of Chicago, or “Chi-raq” as many locals call it, referring to the violence in the city. As blood flows, so does creative energy it seems because the dangerous environment has yielded similar sounding, tight-knit groups, including the SaveMoney crew—Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Joey Purp, Alex Wiley, and more. Other individuals seek out distinctive footholds in the Chicago hip-hop scene; one such artist is Calez, a young rapper who has created an insanely organic sound with the help of his close friends. Not a single name on his mixtape, Ceito, is well-known. As a result, their work is new and refreshing, a conglomeration of jazz, spoken word, R&B, hip-hop, and rock. It is chill enough to be played in the background for dinner or carefully explored alone. This can be attributed to the deeply rooted soul that is a product of his environment, Chicago being the birthplace of blues and house music. Ultimately, it is the soul combined with Calez’s swagger that makes Ceito so savory and relevant. (Justin Picard)
A Weird Welcome: Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast that harks back to the storytelling roots of the radio medium. Since its inception about two years ago, the show has developed a cult following that has prompted its creators to do a tour of live shows around the country including New Orleans last March. Each 20-30 minute episode is presented as a broadcast from the radio station of a small desert town called Night Vale, where unexplainable things happen and the body count is higher than a Quentin Tarantino movie. Though presented as scary, the show is more absurd than anything else. With quirky story lines that develop over time, much of the the appeal of “Night Vale” lies in its laid back, mysterious vibe, accented by the soothing low tones of a personable narrator. While the show’s pure and unabashed weirdness might be off-putting to some, others will enjoy its innovative quirkiness for all it’s worth. (Lauren Keenan)