This Week’s Model — Mitski, “Cop Car”

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Officially, “Cop Car” is the first new original song released by Mitski since the stellar Be the Cowboy, and plenty of music scribes have already touted it as a hopeful sign that the artist’s recently announced hiatus won’t be as long as initially feared. The veneer of brand-newness is perpetuated by Lawrence Rothman, the producer of the soundtrack album that is officially home to the Mitski track. In discussing the how “Cop Car” found its way into Floria Sigismondi’s new horror film, The Turning, Rothman enthuses about Mitski’s ability to meet precise dramatic demands.

“There is a pinnacle scene where Kate’s mind starts to unravel while in her car and we needed a cinematic but grunge influenced song shadowing the scene,” Rothman said in a statement quoted across a few sources. “I reached out to Mitski to see if she wanted to get involved as Floria and I had a feeling she would deliver a song that was guitar-based but cinematic. ‘Cop Car’ went beyond what we imagined and we were ecstatic when she sent it to us!”

In reality, Mitski didn’t strive painfully and tirelessly to come up fresh art suited to the protagonist’s mind trip. She reached into a drawer and rummaged to find a song that’s been around for at least five years. “Cop Car” is less creative rejuvenation and more a clearing of closets.

Of course, Mitski’s leftovers are stronger than most artist’s grandest new dishes. Casually sinister and melodically intoxicating, “Cop Car” is a cut worth celebrating, no matter is genealogy. If it’s going to take a while before Mitski starts in on whatever the new phase of her career might be, at least she’d got a few gems like this in reserve to provide comfort during the wait.

This Week’s Model — U.S. Girls, “Overtime”

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“Overtime,” the new song from U.S. Girls, isn’t all that new. A version of the song cropped up earlier, on the 2013 EP Free Advice Column. Meg Remy, the creative force behind U.S. Girls, decided to revisit “Overtime” for the forthcoming album Heavy Light, giving it a perfectly formed studio sheen and a full-to-bursting pop soul that contrasts nicely with the stark lyrics of romantic betrayal. It’s heartbreak, and you can dance to it.

“Overtime” is one of three older songs U.S. Girls revisits, reconceptualizes, and re-records for the new album. Tracing the evolution of an artist is one of the record room pastimes of any music fan, and Remy’s approach makes it easier to engage in the task. What better way to think about where a performer has been and where they’re now at than hearing their take on an older song; not just on the concert stage, where reinvention is a given, but back in the studio, where several years of learned lessons come to bear, giving a song an entirely different sound and outlook. And maybe sparking ideas for new songs in the process. On “Overtime,” U.S. Girls illuminates the evolution.

This Week’s Model — Celeste, “Stop This Flame”

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In my time as a student leader in college radio, I loved the breaks. As stewards of the public airwaves, we felt an obligation to keep our humble broadcast outlet running, even when the rest of the university shut down. The castaway feeling was especially pronounced during winter break, when the skeleton crew of institutional staffing dwindled down to the barest of bones. For the couple weeks around the December holidays, it could seem like those who volunteered to click on the microphone and build music playlists were the only people to set foot in the Communication Arts Center, a sensation compounded by the gray days and snow-smothered streets outside.

The only downside to this stretch was the halting of the steady flow of new music into the new station. The record labels knew everyone was diverted by an array of other activities, meaning anything new that showed up would likely get lost. For the kind of material favored by college radio, at the time anyway, there were additional reasons to hold back the new stuff during this part of the calendar year, usually leading to an onslaught of great new records right as the second semester of the academic year got underway. Giving a listen to the sheer number of outstanding new tracks that hit this week reminded me of those old days. The onslaught looms.

Having so many songs to choose from can make it difficult to get down to just one to plop into this digital space to properly end the working week, but the decision would up being easy to make. Though I bypassed several favorite artists with fine new material, it was clear to me that nothing else this week was as immediately arresting as “Stop This Flame,” the new single from Celeste.

A performer of British and Jamaican descent who is California-born and British-raised, Celeste has been championed heavily by the BBC the past year or so. “Stop This Flame” all on its own makes the case for the taste of the the state-funded media apparatus. Opening with a bright, jazzy piano line, the track moves with a soaring R&B energy and piercing pop sensibility, Celeste’s evocative, emotive vocals delivering lyrics about romantic perseverance. It’s the kind of song that quickly gets under the skin, mostly because it’s burrowing straight to the soul.

This Week’s Model — Wild Nothing, “Foyer”

wild nothing
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Jack Tatum recently passed his ten-year anniversary creating dream pop music under the moniker Wild Nothing, a span that included four full-length studio albums, one live album, two EPs, and slew of singles, remixes, and collaborations, according to his own tally. Perhaps to help commemorate, he closed out 2019 by releasing a new single. Culled from the upcoming EP Laughing Glass, “Foyer” is built on tinny synths and moves with a cascading rhythm. It’s pop that shimmers and seduces. Another decade’s worth of music at this level would be a very welcome development.

 

This Week’s Model — Burna Boy, “Money Play”

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For those still trying to settle on that perfect resolution to launch themselves into the new year, perhaps Burna Boy can help. About six months after the Nigerian performer’s fourth album, African Giant, was released, he’s brought out a new track to cap off what’s probably been his most successful year to date. And the song itself is specifically about not resting on amassed successes, according to a press release.

“‘No dey carry money play’ is a word of advice/stern warning to never lose the hustle mentality,” Burna Boy explains.

So for those using the flipping of the calendar to spur self-improvement, the message is clear: In 2020, never lose that hustle mentality.

This Week’s Model — Wilco and Robyn Hitchcock, “Tomorrow Never Knows”

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I have spent more time than I should admit dealing with fresh flare-ups of jealousy. Thanks to the punishing wonders of social media, I was privy to the delight a select few of my friends felt when they recently attended shows that were a part of Wilco’s regular winter residency and discovered, to their evident surprise, that Robyn Hitchcock was booked to be the opener. I believe the youths refer to the feeling that washed over me as FOMO.

Now, I have no real cause to cry about misfortune when it comes to seeing live performances by my favorite artist in recent years. I’ve been gifted with fabulous Robyn Hitchcock shows in small, sterling venues, including a couple in a place that teen-aged me never would have expected. But the Chicago show is also the second time this I’ve pined from afar while reading overjoyed digital dispatches of people who are dear to me watching Hitchcock winningly ply his trade.

But, look, I’ve never been in the room when Hitchcock joins Wilco for a cover of a Beatles song that perfectly suits the iconoclastic performer’s swirling, soaring musical sensibility. In the spirit of the holidays, I’m mostly glad for my friends who were there. Really, I am. The sulky expression I wear as I watch the video embedded below should be disregarded.

This Week’s Model — Phoebe Bridgers (featuring Fiona Apple and Matt Berninger), “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night”

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Indie rock covers of holiday songs are plentiful enough (those YouTube channels and Bandcamp pages have got to get filled up somehow) that I’m amazed it’s taken this long for a prominent artist to take a pass at “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night.” Simon and Garfunkel’s melding of that tenderest of class Christmas ballads with a simulated evening newscast first appeared on the 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

The harsh juxtaposition found in the sound collage must have been absolutely mind-blowing for the era. If the structure feels more familiar now, the basics of the song couldn’t be more fitting our information-drenched age and day, when any attempt to retreat into the familiar safety of lifelong ritual is painfully disrupted by the relentless intrusion of horrible bulletins of police violence and government malfeasance. In this new version, Phoebe Bridgers harmonizes on the song with Fiona Apple, their voices blending elegantly, as Matt Berninger, frontman for the National, calmly reads off new stories of society erosion. It’s beautiful and brutal at the same time.

Maybe best of all, the song is part of the 7-Inches for Planned Parenthood project that Berninger helped launch. Any profits generated by this track are going straight to a vitally needed health care organization that, by one measure, has served around twenty percent of women in the U.S. It’s the season of giving, and few organization are more deserving (and, because they’re regularly pilloried by the opportunistic jackals of the right wing, more in need) than Planned Parenthood.