It’s a big week for albums: British grime star Stormzy releases the triumphant Heavy Is the Head and fellow Englishman Harry Styles gives California-style rock ‘n’ roll a go on Fine Line. Canada’s heavyweight producer Kaytranada also sets loose his new project Bubba. Meanwhile, Grimes finds her sweet spot in a song that’s both a futuristic pop blend and part of a video game soundtrack. And Cub Sport strike a bittersweet — but still euphoric — note on the Australian pop group’s new “Hearts in Halves.”
These are the 5 best songs of the week, from “Bronze” by Stomzy to “The Worst In Me” by Kaytranada feat. Tinashe.
There’s a lot to like on Stormzy’s jam-packed new album Heavy Is the Head, as the British grime star grapples with the double-edged sword of fame and success. Over 16 tracks, he swings from aggressive rap flows to soulful duets, bringing in fellow artists like H.E.R., YEBBA and Aitch to assist. But he doesn’t need much outside help to shine on the strength of his multi-layered delivery and storytelling. “Bronze” is one of the most straightforward new tracks: a boastful and insidiously dark song that sees him flexing about his many wins. “I’m the king of grime by default,” he insists. “Big like John this year, ball like Lebron this year.” He’s set himself up in the tradition of stars at the very top of their game — and it feels appropriate. That he remains lyrically playful and emotionally vulnerable even while discussing the details of his latest victory laps makes his music all the more appealing.
“The Worst In Me,” Kaytranada feat. Tinashe
Kaytranada sits at the intersection of house and hip-hop, a place that sounds — especially on the Haitian-Canadian DJ and producer’s newest release, Bubba — like the future. “The Worst In Me” is woozy and bass-heavy with a persistent beat, leaning towards R&B with Tinashe‘s echoing vocals slithering nimbly around and through the clubbiness. Sometimes she’s a separate instrument, and sometimes she blends in with the production as just another layer in Kaytranada’s vision. The infectiousness of the song is the mood he makes, one that’s rich with innuendo and sharp synths.
Grimes calls herself a CEO — “Chief Ethereal Officer.” Like Lana Del Rey, she has crafted a persona that pervades every element of her presence on the cultural stage; it’s hard to see where Grimes the artist ends, and Claire Boucher begins. Her brand of cyberpunk futurism — earlier solidified on critically-acclaimed works like 2016’s Art Angels — has only grown and gotten stranger over time, thanks to her personal life and advertising tie-ins. So it makes sense that her best release lately is the oddly-titled “4ÆM,” which she debuted as part of the soundtrack to a new video game, Cyberpunk 2077, in which she also voices a character. It winds together two melodies: an eerie, shimmering intro with Middle Eastern flair, and a more traditional electropop section with a grunge edge. Throughout, her voice is but a beyond-falsetto whispery sliver. The effect, like watching her career morph as she doubles down on her image, is hypnotic.
“To Be So Lonely,” Harry Styles
In terms of career choices, Harry Styles could always go a couple ways: cash in on his mega-stardom with chart hits, or take his time to explore an indie side. He’s primarily done the latter, with his new sophomore album Fine Line tracing its inspirations to classic acoustic rock and 70s influences. Yet it’s in his mellowest moments — like on the heartache ballad “Falling” and the intimate, guitar-trilling “To Be So Lonely” — that Styles seems to have found his most comfortable territory. Styles has been famously coy about his personal life, but “To Be So Lonely” manages to slip in enough narrative details to sketch a sharp, self-aware picture of pain. “And I’m just an arrogant son of a b-tch /
Who can’t admit when he’s sorry,” he shares lightly, all winking, sing-song regret. And yet when he sounds like this, you want to forgive him.
“Hearts in Halves,” Cub Sport
Twinkling and tenderly bittersweet, “Hearts in Halves” from Australian four-piece pop band Cub Sport is the first in a trilogy of weekly song releases that are meant, according to the group’s frontman Tim Nelson, to “conjure a feeling of deep and healing euphoria.” That’s certainly the chord they strike here: from the jump, it’s a rich, velvety pop tune sprinkled with moments of brightness and pain. “I hate myself right now / I’d change but I don’t know how / I’ll dance it out for now” works as both a resigned motto and a promise of potential.