August used to be the doldrums for the music business, a dumping ground for low-priority releases that were usually ignored while everyone was on vacation and/or gearing up for the big Fall releases that would carry through until the holiday season. That model was on its way out even before the pandemic, but now all bets are off: Seven years after Beyonce proved that a gigantic project can drop at any time, anything does. We’ve already covered Holly Humberstone’s awesome debut EP and Weezer’s latest excellent adventure, so without further ado …
Drake (featuring Lil Durk) “Laugh Now Cry Later” While Drizzy teased this song earlier in the week and an album is said to be coming sometime this year, it’s a different sound for him — the song contains flashes of Frank Ocean and J Cole — and the video (which Nike must have funded, considering the epic product placement) will be hilarious even for non-fans. In fact, the clip sets a new standard for humble-bragging and self-deprecating stunting, not to mention meme generation: How many TikTok videos will drop in the next week with someone turning to the camera and saying “BABY”?
Japanese House (featuring Bon Iver) “Dionne” Japanese House — the performing name of British-born electronic musician Amber Bain — has been releasing unassumingly gorgeous music since the mid-2010s, when she emerged alongside Dirty Hit labelmates the 1975 and Wolf Alice. This tag-team with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon is one of the strongest songs she’s released yet, his vocals adding heft to her characteristically dreamy sound.
Orville Peck (featuring Shania Twain) “Legends Never Die” The masked and deliberately mysterious singer Orville Peck’s music is just as hard to pinpoint as his identity: Possessed of a powerful Roy Orbisonesque croon, he’s kind of country but also alt-rock without really fitting into either category, but this track from his new EP “Show Pony” is an uncharacteristically straightforward rock song with a swaying rhythm and an unexpectedly well-fitting duet partner: none other than Shania Twain.
Burna Boy “Wonderful” Nigerian-born Burna Boy has been a superstar virtually everywhere except the U.S. for many years, but his new album “Twice as Tall” (which dropped today) is poised to be the one to introduce him and his sound to a much larger percentage of the population. Unlike many non-Western artists, Burna Boy does little to dilute his very African sound, despite album guests like Naughty by Nature (on a song called “Naughty by Nature”) and, er, Coldplay’s Chris Martin. We could have picked any number of songs from the album (and yes, this song has been out for a few weeks) but “Wonderful” provides the best introduction.
Future Islands “Thrill” This long-running Baltimore-based group had something of a moment a few years back with its synthpop-flavored minor hit “Seasons (Waiting on You),” so it’s a bit of a surprise that their strongest song by far since then is an atmospheric ballad. Singer Sam Herring, whose deep croon and onstage antics have always been an unusual but strong fit for the group’s electronic-based sound, delivers an impassioned vocal that suggests there could be an “Up Where We Belong” global smash in his future.