Essential Tracks This Week: Arooj Aftab, Fontaines D.C., and more

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Arooj Aftab

The week’s wrapping up and you need a soundtrack to get the weekend started right. We’ve got you covered. This week’s roundup of Essential Tracks covers a broad spectrum of haunting ambient pop, tense gothic rock, explosive industrial hip-hop and more. Turn up our picks for the week’s best new songs.

Blurbs by Jeff Terich (JT) and Mia Euceda (ME).

Arooj Aftab – “Raat Ki Rani”

Arooj Aftab is a versatile vocalist whose music intertwines folk, jazz and even spacey ambient pieces, as she did with last year’s Love In Exile, the largely improvised studio album she made with Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily. “Raat Ki Rani” is more structured and elegantly composed than the sprawling pieces on that heady collaboration, but it offers a similarly mesmerizing ambience, built around twinkles of harp and haunting piano melodies. Aftab’s own voice is filtered through Auto-Tune in a subtle manner, its digital warble only occasionally appearing in the in-between spaces of her gorgeously expressive performance, serving to highlight the rare moment of imperfection on a song that, to these ears, sounds flawless. – JT

From Night Reign, out May 31 via Verve.

Fontaines D.C. – “Starburster”

Fontaines D.C. are preparing to release their fourth album in five years’ time, but even more impressive than the rate at which they’re moving is the degree of leveling up they’ve done in that time, achieving a career best with 2022’s Skinty Fia. “Starburster” suggests that bar is only raising ever higher, with a haunting arrangement juxtaposing the darkness of gothic rock against the atmosphere and rhythmic snap of trip-hop. It’s the most sinister kind of maximalism, escalating in tension and dread as the song itself grows richer and more intense. Back in 2019, singer Grian Chatten swore that he was going to be big—well, Fontaines have never sounded bigger. – JT

From Romance, out August 23 via XL.

Cassandra Jenkins – “Only One”

Three years ago, Cassandra Jenkins’ An Overview of Phenomenal Nature landed on our list of the best albums of 2021 on the strength of its affecting songwriting and gorgeous arrangements. With “Only One,” Jenkins’ first new single from the the follow-up to that album, all those elements remain firmly in place. A gauzy ballad rich in sublime production layers, including some mesmerizing flourishes of horns, “Only One” is reminiscent of late ’80s sophisti-pop greats The Blue Nile and offers a kind of winking, ironic take on heartbreak: “You’re the only one I’ve ever loved/The only one that I know how to love.” Gorgeous, charming, even romantic in its own smirking way. – JT

From My Light, My Destroyer, out July 12 via Dead Oceans

Backxwash – “Wake Up”

WAKE THE FUCK UP!” Backxwash is back with a brash call to go against the systems that harm and dehumanize her. The Montreal rapper packs a punch on this track, calling out performative activism against a rumbling beat. “Nah, I don’t give a fuck ‘bout either/ all you did was just use it and played your part cause you need it,” she rightfully screeches. This abrasiveness is broken up in the latter third of the song with an angelic gospel choir supporting a heart wrenching epiphany—while she may not love herself, she refuses to be shaken down by white patriarchy. – ME

Out now

Full of Hell – “Coagulated Bliss”

Full of Hell are expert artisans of chaos, known for their noise-caked grindcore freakouts and sensory overload blasts of static and distortion. But on every record they release, there are at least a handful of genuine bangers loaded with big riffs and deep grooves, and the title track to their latest, Coagualted Bliss, is one of them. At 85 seconds long, “Coagulated Bliss” leaves no room for fucking around, just a nonstop blast of searing guitar leads, screeching vocals and more than a little swagger for good measure. – JT

From Coagulated Bliss, out April 26 via Closed Casket Activities

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