Yeah!: Usher, Lil Jon, Ludacris, “SexBeat” - The triple-threat alliance that is Usher, Ludacris, and Lil Jon has worked wonders in the past, making the sort of classically dirty R&B that turns out magical: 2004's “Yeah!” “Lovers and Friends,” and now their new joint, “SexBeat,” which Lil Jon previewed during his Instagram Live battle with T-Pain. The song follows the same Atlanta-bounce formula (it’s about two years old, according to Lil Jon), replete with dreamy keys and soft, orgasmic (I’m sorry) vocals performed by Usher. This is just as apropos for body rolls as the trio’s previous hits, and I can’t complain. —Clover Hope
Meh: Selena Gomez, “Boyfriend” - I wasn’t crazy about Selena Gomez’s latest album, Rare. I appreciate the growth it symbolized, but the extramusical elements—her cult of personality, even where that personality is “someone whose finally come to realize her self-worth”—it just doesn’t stand to justify a sleepy pop record. That said, the songs are pleasant to listen to, and “Boyfriend,” one of her leftover cuts released for the deluxe edition of her album and partially for covid-19 relief, is fine. It’s a nice little ditty about not needing a boyfriend to make you happy while still desiring one, but the explicit line of “there’s a difference between a want and a need,” strikes me as too clunky. There’s a way to be clear without being heavy-handed, and this misses the mark. Still, I really mean it when I say it is... fine. —Maria Sherman
Y: The Beths, “Dying to Believe” - I’ve sung the praises of New Zealand indiepop punks the Beths in this space before, and damnit, I’m going to do it again. In case you need a distraction in the form of a charming breakup song littered with lyricism about deceit, one that can be easily internalized and refocused on, say, the current state of the world, “Dying to Believe” is it. Shake off your bad mood. —MS
Everyone be quiet, I only want to hear from Hayley Williams right now: Hayley Williams, “Over Yet” - How long has Hayley Williams soundtracked a life worth living, through its many peaks and valleys? Unsure, but I’d love it if she kept at it as long as she wants! “Over Yet,” her latest solo single, positively shimmers with the earnest optimism that sustained Paramore through countless lineup changes since the band’s debut in 2005. But like each offering since All We Know Is Falling, “Over Yet” charts a clear progression for Williams, in its sonic and emotional interiority.
Take the progressive drum layers that build throughout each verse, exploding into the chorus, underscored by ’80s synths and grooving base lines. All the while, she chants: “It’s the right time to come alive/baby, if you want to try!” Unlike the other mid-aughts pop rock ex-pats of her graduating class, and with each new chapter in her career, Williams proves that she is a master of blending her rock sensibilities with her pop aspirations, a fraught line to tread for most. “Over Yet,” conversely, makes the enterprise look easy—a small feat for Williams, a insurmountable achievement in pop rock brilliance for the rest of us. —Joan Summers
Y: 2nd Grande, “Velodrome” & “My Bike” - The final evolution of ironic slacker indie rock is earnest, tender, and familiar—the spirit of new Philadelphia band 2nd Grade, featuring members of Friendship, Remember Sports, and Free Cake for Every Creature. (I realize the second half of that sentence might’ve lost a few people in the room, but bear with me.) The first two songs from their debut album, “Velodrome” and “My Bike,” are wistful while avoiding obvious whimsy—a tough line to skirt. I’m delighted, and excited to hear more from them. —MS
God, yes: Aphex Twin, “qu 1” - This isn’t an “official” Aphex release—instead it’s one of six recent uploads to a Soundcloud account long rumored to belong to the legendary electronic composer (basically, anyone who knows anything about him knows this is his account). The metadata of the downloadable file of “qu 1” reads, “See you on the other side dad,” and the Soundcloud account’s bio recently featured a now-deleted note in its bio announcing, “I lost my father recently and it’s been really tough.” (There was also weird conspiratorial stuff in the message about shelter in place restrictions voiding democracy.) Anyway, this apparent instrumental eulogy is among the most straightforward of Aphex’s recent offerings, a gorgeous ambient track without a second of self-consciousness to rival the prettiest tracks from Selected Ambient Works Volume II (namely, Track 3, known as “Rhubarb” and Track 20, known as “Lichen”). Face-crumpling stuff that is basically unparalleled. A staggering tribute. —Rich Juzwiak
:’) Yes: Phoebe Bridgers, “Kyoto” - Let me get this out of the way now: Phoebe Bridgers rules. She’s great on Instagram, and she’s a genuinely talented musician who deserves all the accolades lobbed her way. But sometimes her music only really feels appropriate to listen to when I’m staring out the window feeling mournful, or when I need a soundtrack to accompany a bleak story I’m reading. Bridgers makes great “having a good cry rn lol” music, a genre I gravitate towards but am admittedly not always in the mood to indulge in, especially right now. But “Kyoto” offers something a little different: It’s a song that leaves me with an oddly warm, soaring feeling instead, despite the sardonic lyrics (“I wanted to see the world through your eyes until it happened/Then I changed my mind”). Paired with the goofy, low-fi green screen music video, “Kyoto” is what I want as I enter day who-the-fuck-knows of covid-19 isolation: Something relatively light that speaks to the value of independence amidst all this chaos. —Ashley Reese