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Music Criticism Is Still Alive in This Week’s New Music Playlists

5 great new local songs, 5 great new songs from everywhere else.

11:15 AM CST on January 22, 2024

Danielle Neu; YouTube|

Kim Gordon; VIAL

Condé Nast’s gutting of the Pitchfork staff last week, along with the publisher’s announcement that it was folding the music site into GQ, has once again spurred talk of the death of music criticism and the dwindling number of non-algorithmic ways to find out about new music. Without belittling the loss here—it’s bad, it’ll get worse, and the decline is systemic—I like to take the long view of the situation.

The thing about music critics is, nobody has ever liked us. We’ve always been slighted by our bosses, even the ones who kinda liked us. In the “good old days” of alt-weeklies, before Pitchfork was even born, editors and publishers were constantly pressuring us to run less criticism and more phoners with touring musicians while regularly cutting back on our allotted pages.

Me, I’ve been as true a believer as there ever was in the value of music crit for a quarter-century now. I’ve never expected anything but a fight to do what I wanted to do. And I hope I can do my little part here at Racket to keep the spark alive.

Local Picks

Taylor James Donskey, “Diogenes”

Over nicely layered guitars that drive the track forward, the singer-songwriter has a few questions for the ancient Greek Cynic, such as “Is your whiskey barrel-aged?” and “Do you sleep all day?” And then he probes deeper.

Finesse, “Without U”

Once again, ’80s synthpop revivalism done right, as Patrick Donohoe aches with stylized desperation and Jeff Cornell makes all the right noises, especially that dry synthbass.

Porcupine, “Character Flaws”

A knotty little rocker that burrows inward on its verses and that furls outward on its choruses, equally memorable in both instances and spiked by adroit guitar noises and brawny drumming. 

Mike Rudh, “Number”

Rudh may dive voice-first into the Auto-Tune, but there’s nothing hyper about this punster’s pop. Witty, playful, even silly, he claimes “Love is just a number” while asking for just a fraction of yours. And he makes it count.

Vial, “Falling Short”

A headlong punk tune about not measuring up to some loser’s expectations, with a chorus that’s eloquent in a way that only a sentiment as exasperated “Whatever/I don’t care anymore” can be. From their upcoming album burnout, due at the end of March.

Nonlocal Picks

Kim Gordon, “Bye Bye”

Tom Breihan compared the anxious, distorted squiggle ‘n’ stutter of this track to Playboi Carti, and why not? As on her 2019 solo LP, No Home Record, Gordon’s working with Justin Raisen, whose credits include Lil Yachty’s much-praised Let’s Start Here and work with Sky Ferreira back when she was making music a thousand years ago. Someone’s figured out that the avant-garde is hardly limited to fellas with mistuned guitars.

Adrienne Lenker, “Sadness as a Gift”

Lenker’s solo material can be more straightforward, even craftier, than her work with Big Thief—what seems to emerge from the group gestalt there really does sound like more of a practical, individual effort here, offering another side of a songwriter who’s enjoying that golden moment when inspiration feels unlimited. Big fan of that country fiddle, too. 

Nia Archives, “Crowded Roomz”

What’s great about the still ongoing jungle/drum ‘n’ bass revival, from this non-clubber’s perspective at least, is how pop it is. This UK singer/producer feels lonely in the club, which is maybe why this one sounds like its meant to be danced to at home. I can’t promise that she’ll follow PinkPantheress to the top of the charts, but I hope the algorithm is nudging “Boy’s a Liar” addicts in her direction. 

Shygirl feat. Boyz Noise, “Tell Me”

On the third single from her upcoming EP, Club Shy, due on February 9, the singer coos “I’ll do anything you want” with a seductive compliance that’s far from passivity. She makes the most of a production assist from the featured German producer, whose hi-hats slice against tactile, bubbly synths to evolve into perky house track.

Yard Act, “We Make Hits”

Self-referential lot that they are, the British are always giving songs winky little titles like this; fortunately, these Leeds lads have only tautened their rhythm section since their debut, The Overload. “I'm still an anti-C-A-P-I-T-A-L-I-S-T/It just so happens that there's other things I happen to be,” James Smith protests, while giving himself an out with this coda: “And if it's not a hit, we were being ironic.”

Wanna get a local song considered for the playlist? To make things easy on both of us, email keith@racketmn.com with MONDAY PLAYLIST in the subject header. (Don’t, as in do NOT, DM or text: If I’m in a good mood, I’ll just ask you to send an email; if I’m in a bad mood I’ll just ignore it.)

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