Yes, there were two acceptable Carly Rae Jepsen singles released this past week. But they don’t make it on the City Pages 2019 playlist. These six cuts do.
Dessa – “Grade School Games”
“Love, drugs, sex, pain”—these are not a few of Dessa’s favorite things, but the frustratingly unchanging core elements of life that the melancholy polymath muses over here with somber reserve. The clipped, worrying guitar at the core of this track could’ve accidentally blossomed into a Coldplay song if producers Andy Thompson and Lazerbeak weren't careful. Instead, snares drop in to slice Dessa’s syllables apart, strings add heft but not grandiosity, and finger snaps out of classic Timbaland syncopate the beat.
Solange – “Almeda”
As will happen on a Solange track, the guest spots aren’t features so much as cameos: The-Dream slides in cordially over a piano break, Playboi Carti darts around in the back. At the center is Solange herself, conjuring up a catalog of images, from “brown liquor, brown skin” to “black days, black baes,” before landing on a conclusion—“Black faith still can't be washed away/Not even in that Florida Water”—that only the foolhardiest Genius annotators would rush in to explain away, instituting a nearly mystical sense of ownership over spiritual aspects of African-American culture, which she insists can never be assimilated.
Big Thief – “UFOF”
(Partially) Minnesotan(-raised) Adrianne Lenker has a gift for delicate yet sturdy melodies that favor emotional flexibility over brittle catharsis. In lyrics that nearly work as poetry on the page, Lenker uses alien abduction to metaphorically evoke the inexpressible internal ripples borne out of a commonplace estrangement.
Maddie & Tae – “Tourist in This Town”
This country duo emerged in 2014 with the bro-baiting, thinkpiece-friendly “Girl in a Country Song,” but their less thematic follow-up singles were even better: “Shut Up and Fish,” which seeks to silence an amorously gabby city boy, and “Fly,” about leaping before you look. Their less aggro take on Eric Church’s “Give Me Back My Hometown” is a worthy addition to their songbook, capturing the disorientation of a new life alone after a breakup in subtle strokes.
Little Simz feat. Cleo Sol – “Selfish”
To be honest, it’s the sung hook and not Simz’s verses that make this a standout track on the British rapper’s new album, GREY Area. But her rhymes are hardly filler—they’re dense with the lived experience of a conflicted relationship, tense with apprehension.
Bea Miller feat. 6lack – “It’s Not U It’s Me”
This pouty-voiced X Factor alum’s hit-seeking has grown more desperate as the years pass—her last single awkwardly fashioned a sassy acronym from “sweet little unforgettable thing.” But here she nicely flips the title maxim so it’s not a passive-aggressive sidestep but an Ariana-like expression of self-love—though Miller’s “I’m the only one for me” is much pettier than “Thank U, Next,” and that’s all part of the fun.
Every week, music editor Keith Harris scours the vast musicscape for six worthy tracks to add to City Pages' ever-expanding 2019 playlist.