Rae Sremmurd – Unlock the Swag
Two boyish rappers, new princes of rap: Atlanta's Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy, encapsulated in a Pitchfork interview where Lee was asked his favourite day of the week. "Late Friday, right when it's on the verge of Saturday," the 19-year-old said. "It's like you're enjoying Friday and Saturday at the same time: Fraturday." Listen to this, then, on a Fraturday. Either as motivation, dully pumping you up, or as a punching bag, absorbing your frustrations. "I'm drenched in money, she hate me, she love me," Lee wheezes. Three decades after the Beastie Boys' Hold It, Now Hit It, young men are still rhyming about parties and suppressing their bewilderment.
Tobias Jesso Jr. – Without You
For a long time now, sounding like the Beatles has been a musical liability. A Fab Four feel is most often the domain of uncool dads and innocent juveniles – artists who don't realize that even great sounds go out of fashion. Alas, uncool dads, they do. But here's some good news for you: Maybe classic pop is hip again? After a decade of grooves over refrains, beats over hooks, Migos over mop-tops, a handful of acts are making a strong case for the revival of John and Paul, Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson, "classic songwriting" with scare-quotes as big as the baby boomers' pensions. Tobias Jesso Jr., from Vancouver, is neither a dad nor an innocent. Now 29, he was discovered by indie svengali JR White and signed to hipster label True Panther. Yet his debut record, Goon, is an unabashed throwback. It evokes a bygone form but also the reason that form became popular in the first place. Without You is compositionally perfect, wistful and warm. It's a slow, pretty climb, a singer filled with longing. It's everything we used to want from our piano ballads, and maybe what we still want, or at least I do, for two or three or four or 100 afternoons.
Mag & the Suspects – Thousands Dead
The SXSW music festival is on now. For those who aren't in the biz, SXSW may sound like some rock 'n' roll paradise: 2,000 bands in summery Austin, Tex., with gratis beer and tacos. The reality is much less charmed: sunstroked acts playing sans soundcheck, for next to nothing, to crowds who care more about suds and salsa than anybody's delicate art. And even sadder: that every band on Earth feels they ought to probably be in Austin, that they're sabotaging themselves if they don't, that the best way to get their break is to plead for attention at the most ambivalent showcase in the world. Not that I've ever been to South By. Maybe everyone's been lying to me. Maybe it's inspiring and beautiful. Still, while the publicists work on their tans, I'll be listening to the Suspects' sly, 30-year-old post-punk. While the music industry gets eaten alive by sponsors, my apocalypse will cavort to a worthier song.
Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.