Welcome back to The Verge’s weekly musical roundup. I’m Jamieson, I’m still your host, and if this week’s picks are a little off it’s because every song I heard this week was distorted by the air conditioner whining right next to my desk. Summer finally rolled up and socked me on the chin after a few weeks of tolerable weather, and I’m sure it’s affecting my listening habits in ways I can’t quite understand. Please consider the selection of these jams an act of heroism, because it felt too hot to do just about anything.
There are a bunch of pop stars and near-pop stars gobbling up space in this week’s column. Britney’s back with a trendy new single; Katy’s putting an end to her musical silence with an inspirational Olympic anthem for NBC; M.I.A. put out her catchiest single this decade with help from Skrillex and Blaqstarr. If you thought Taylor Swift’s secret songwriting side hustle was going to be this week’s biggest news, it should give you a little bit of hope. And if you hate the sound of the Top 40, there’s still plenty to enjoy — I promise.
Remember to subscribe to our Spotify playlist if you haven’t already — it’s updated weekly! Let’s go:
Banks, “Fuck with Myself”
Jillian Banks earned plenty of buzz for her 2014 debut LP Goddess, a moody collection of alt-R&B that felt equally inspired by The Weeknd and FKA Twigs. Her new single “Fuck with Myself” revisits those influences, and it adds in a few more for good measure: Selena Gomez’ “Hands to Myself,” Arca’s skin-melting body horror. The result is a song that’s both catchy and discomfiting, if a little derivative.
Beach Slang, “Punks in a Disco Bar”
It hasn’t even been a year since Philly punks Beach Slang released their solid The Things We Do to Find People to Feel Like Us, and yet the band has somehow found time to lose and gain a drummer, tiptoe toward breaking up, and record a new LP that’s coming out in September. “Punks in a Disco Bar” (great title) is the first single from A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings (EVEN BETTER TITLE), and it’s an absolute ripper that’ll make you feel good about guitars and getting older.
Britney Spears ft. G-Eazy, “Make Me”
Britney Spears has her hands full with her children and her insanely popular Instagram account these days, but she still needs to release an album every once in a while to keep the well-oiled Spears machine — Vegas shows, merchandise, a mobile game — running smoothly. “Make Me” is the first single from her as-yet-undetailed new LP, and it’s the best thing she’s released since her Femme Fatale days: low-key, largely unadorned pop-R&B. It’s a far cry from her late-career EDM-cyborg heights, but that’s alright with me.
Crystal Castles, “Char”
Crystal Castles are releasing their first post-Alice Glass album — she’s been replaced by Edith Frances — on August 19th, and “Char” is the best of the singles the band has made available in recent weeks. (Amnesty (I) is also the first Crystal Castles album since 2012.) If you’ve spent any time listening to the band’s old music, you know what you’re getting here: lead vocals that are tough to discern, hollow drum machines, synth melodies that corrode and turn menacing in real time.
Flock of Dimes, “Semaphore”
When Jenn Wasner isn’t cracking skulls as part of Wye Oak, she makes dreamy pop on her own as Flock of Dimes. She’s releasing her debut LP under that name in September, and “Semaphore” is the first single. It’s rich, rumbling, and surprisingly funky, and Wasner sounds a little like Neko Case — that’s a huge compliment in this neck of the woods.
This new single from LA-based musician Kayla Cohen is gorgeous, intricately layered folk, complete with pedal steel and what sounds like the judicious use of a triangle. (She’s releasing a new album, Open to Chance, at the end of September.) Send this one to all the Joni Mitchell fans in your life.
Jamie Lidell, “Walk Right Back”
I’ve always got time to spare for Jamie Lidell’s warped take on soul, and “Walk Right Back” finds the British veteran in vintage form: he’s wailing about a love that’s gone sour, trying to turn back time over a skittering beat. Lidell’s new album Building a Beginning isn’t coming out until October 14th, so you have plenty of time to dive into his fascinating back catalog if “Walk Right Back” is your first taste of his work.
Justice, “Safe and Sound”
Can you believe it’s been almost a decade since “D.A.N.C.E.?” French dance godheads Justice have been working on new music for most of the ‘10s, and the release of “Safe and Sound” this week suggests they’re ready to make another play for club floors around the world. That means leaning heavily on the same tricks that made them stars in 2007: giddy group vocals, funky basslines, and the goopiest disco strings this side of the ‘70s. It’s a perfect piece of Saturday night fromage.
Katy Perry, “Rise”
Is Katy Perry jumping into this year’s crowded pop picture with a new LP? I wouldn’t read that much into “Rise,” her first new song since 2013: it’s attached to NBC’s coverage of the Summer Olympics, not some new album sitting just around the corner. It’s a thundering electro-pop ballad set to footage of Olympic athletes training and competing, and the chorus is enormous. In short, it’s “Roar” on steroids. (Actually, scratch that — the Olympics are troubled enough without a doping scandal involving their new theme song.)
M.I.A., “Go Off”
M.I.A.’s last few albums have leaned toward abrasiveness and inaccessibility, so “Go Off” — co-produced by Skrillex and Blaqstarr — is a welcome reminder of what she can do within the confines of a relatively traditional, catchy pop song. (This might be the most immediate thing she’s released since “Bad Girls.”) She makes jokes about Neymar and a “German called Sven.” It’s a fun time! Here’s hoping the rest of A.I.M. — which might be her final traditional album — finds her working in this vein.
Here’s the running This Is Your Next Jam playlist — have a great weekend!