This week's installment is a mess in the most delectable sort of way. Each artist's work is a collage of styles, influences and time periods - from Daughn Gibson's cowboy hellscapes to Ebony Bones' clipped melodies, to Mali Michael's woozy handiwork. What follows is a collection of artists whose splatterpaint compositions do not just challenge genre boundaries; they thrillingly and decadently mock them.
Daughn Gibson -- "Kissin on the Blacktop"
Is there anyone else that can mash up country, acid rock, and electronica quite as cohesively as Daughn Gibson? "Kissin on the Blacktop," from the Pennsylvania crooner's forthcoming Me Moan release, is at once beautiful and severely overwhelming. Part hoedown, part techno shuffle, it sounds at times like a cowboy being mauled by a swarm of robot spiders. There are debts to The King here, of course, but there's also a bristling, self-conscious impatience that's reminiscent of Mr. Bungle. If that sounds confusing, it's because it is. Repeat listening required.
Ebony Bones -- "I See I Say"
Disguised as a hopscotching club jam, this track is slowly and steadily redeemed by its many strata of baroque menace. As it builds, unexpected layers drift in -- a marauding synth line here, a haunting children's chorus there. By the midpoint, you're faced with something urgent, hypnotizing, and totally unexpected. Granted, there's no real narrative or statement made; but what it lacks in intellectual depth it gains in sheer visceral inertia. More of a meditation than a song, but a worthwhile meditation nonetheless.
Jay-Z, Ft. Justin Timberlake -- "Holy Grail"
Somewhere between 2006's FutureSex/LoveSounds and this year's The 20/20 Experience, Justin Timberlake, who is now in his mid-30s, acquired a modest dusting of gravel in the midrange of his voice. It serves him well on "Holy Grail," as he provides just about the grittiest hook he is capable of: "You play this game/In spite, to drive me insane." Meanwhile, Jay-Z goes about referencing Mike Tyson, MC Hammer, and Kurt Cobain as a means of commenting on the pitfalls of celebrity. More of the same, in some ways, but with a silver lining: As Jay's disastrous feature on "Suit and Tie" demonstrated earlier this year, it's not always enough to have two titans in one room together (indeed, sometimes they end up wreaking a Godzilla/Mothra sort of stylistic havoc). This time, though, it works.
Wale ft. Sam Dew -- "Love Hate Thing"
In a moment in which the boundaries between hyperproduced pop music and hip-hop have never been thinner, it's refreshing to hear an up-and-comer leaning heavily on old soul conventions -- live instrumentation, peppy refrains -- to get his point across. More of a crammer than a conventional wordsmith, Wale has a little ways to go with his flow. But his urgent and slippery verses work well here, adding a rougher edge to the sweet, plaintive beat over which they wriggle.
Mali Michael - Ghost
Those who loved the peculiarities of Miguel's "Adorn" -- its static and squeals and gelatinous, growling bass line -- will find much to swoon over in "Ghost." But where "Adorn" was more of an extended promise, "Ghost" is a psychedelic paean to longing. "You are everything to me," Michael sings, as the beat clicks and burbles beneath him. "I am left with nothing but a memory." He may not exactly have Miguel's vocal chops, but he wears melancholy a bit better -- no erotic squeals, no creamy vocal acrobatics. Just a man, his many synths, and pure heartbreak.