We've made it. We're past that gaudy, synthy summer hump. It's time to settle back into the tasty peculiarities of post-"Summer Music" summer music. Like any July worth remembering, these selections are decidedly non-line-graphable. They vary from the dark and sardonic to the wistful, to the nakedly, unabashedly party-oriented.
"Take Back the Night" - Justin Timberlake
Never before has a song illustrated both the pitfalls and triumphs of a lifetime of hyper-stardom with such coincidental, bewildered ardor. Obvious Pitfall One: When you're rich and famous from tweendom onward, you're less likely to know that "Take Back the Night" is actually an internationally renowned, 38-year-old foundation committed to halting sexual violence. This leads to Obvious Pitfall Two, in which otherwise coquettish (if at times sex hound-y) lyrics take on insidious connotations: "Tonight's the night/Come on surrender/I won't lead your love astray." Or: "Your love's a weapon/Give your body some direction/That's my aim." Shudder.
So what's a manboy to do? In this case, apologize to the organization you wronged and try to raise awareness about the epidemic it seeks to combat. Done. From there, you're free to coo infectiously over a hop-skipping dance jam -- one that thumps its debt to Michael Jackson with the robust gaiety of a be-sequined subwoofer. Additionally, you're free to battle another dark force: the mysterious (though admittedly persistent) disco naysayers who have, since the early '70s, been bent on yukking our collective yums. "They gonna try to shut us down," JT moans meaninglessly, perfectly. Who are these people exactly? No matter, because JT will "be damned if we gonna let 'em."
Testify! Justify! Just please do your goddamn homework next time.
"Hive" - Earl Sweatshirt
How is it that Earl Sweatshirt, at just 19, has the densest, most world-weary flow in all of hip-hop? Who taught this veritable child how to piece together such an impressive cache of acidic tongue twisters? "Hive" is the third single off Sweatshirt's forthcoming LP, Doris. Like "Whoa" and "Chum," its two monosyllabic precursors, it didn't so much "drop" as it did break off the album like a rusty chunk from a barge. And like the other singles, it is sparse, brooding, and rich with imagery. "There's lead in that baby food," Earl warns us, before boasting about how he rides as dirty as "that fuckin' sky you're praying to." So sparse is the song that it slips, at times, into just a tinny ride cymbal, an 808 snare sound, and Earl's voice. This is more than enough.
"Tuolomne" - Incan Abraham
If Incan Abraham's sonic goal with "Tuolomne" was to perfectly recreate the feeling of smoking pot and skipping through a pine forest, it has indisputably succeeded. The song is dense and dreamy, and it moves from one pleasantly layered section to the next with a sneaky ease. So succulently do synths buzz and cymbals shimmer that the rhythmic nuances become a near-afterthought. It's a mistake to overlook these, however: The song's purposeful momentum is what ensures you emerge from the woods, still blazed, still trotting.
"Crime" - Mayer Hawthorne ft. Kendrick Lamar
Mayer Hawthorne has modest ambitions. He just wants to party, and he wants to do it in all the quintessential party-boy ways -- that is to say, he doesn't mean no harm; he doesn't want to hurt nobody; he just wants to rock all night, etc. Just give him a wistfully flicked guitar line here, a four-on-the-floor bass throb there, "a little weed, a little red wine," and he'll do his damndest to entertain you. Give him a particularly agile feature from Kendrick Lamar (admittedly mindless, but percussive and inclusive of a thoroughly pleasing crescendo), and he actually might impress you. Give him a little time (maybe one more album's worth), and he just might start shining brighter than the rappers he brings in.
"Are You Calling?" - Flagship
No frills here, just lush and propulsive pop. If you lean in close, you'll hear lines about "seeing for the first time your violent soul," and "bleeding in the water." These don't exactly square with the surrounding instrumental buoyancy, but that's the point. The song's refrain, a howled "Are you calling?," becomes more pained with each measured swell. Beautiful and powerful and sad all at once.