It’s a big week for new releases, and we’re still making our way through some of the biggest ones, but in the meantime, a hearty batch of new Essential Tracks is here to supplement that blockbuster listening—some of these blockbusters themselves.
Plus listen to our ongoing 2022 Essential Tracks playlist.
Kendrick Lamar – “The Heart, Part 5”
Kendrick Lamar’s “The Heart” songs are effectively state of the union addresses with beats. The first entry was released in 2010, back when Lamar was “just a lil’ Compton n****,” jockeying to take an absentee J. Cole’s place on XXL‘s Freshman list. He was still far from “king of hip-hop” status when he released the second installment later that year on his Overly Dedicated mixtape, and the third just days before good kid, m.A.A.d. city, the album that would put him in the conversation; the “Pac reincarnated” reference on the latter could’ve been dismissed as empty braggadocio if Lamar didn’t sound so overwhelmed by the prospect. That comparison felt earned by the time he dropped “The Heart Part 4,” on which he gave his adversaries two weeks to get their shit together before he announced the Pulitzer Prize-winning DAMN. But “The Heart Part 5” is a reminder of how heavy the head is that wears the crown. If it’s a reminder of how far Lamar has come, it’s also a reminder that he can only do so much.
By now you’ve almost certainly seen the song’s music video, in which Lamar’s face morphs into those of O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant and Nipsey Hussle—all of whom have come to represent different things in our cultural consciousness than what they intended. These six men have little in common but the color of their skin, and that their actions illuminate the very conundrum that Lamar wrestles with in “The Heart Part 5”: You can’t change the culture on your own, no matter how much you do for it. Sometimes the culture reacts by changing you.
It’s in the third verse that the song becomes an extended eulogy to Hussle, whose long history of community activism, entrepreneurship and philanthropy came to an end with his murder in March 2019. Even if you’re not watching the video, it’s clear that Lamar is rapping in character as his fallen compatriot—locking eyes with the man who killed him, understanding the pain that brought him to this point, and forgiving him. And in the song’s most moving lines, Lamar (as Hussle) assures his family and friends that he’s in heaven, and that even in death, his memory and the mission he gave his life to will carry on. Kendrick Lamar doesn’t just want the hood—he believes in it and wants the best for it, and wants it to want that as much as he does. It seems as though every day in America is a struggle not to lose one’s heart. But as long as Lamar’s got his, his people will be alright. – Jacob Nierenberg
Editrix – “Hieroglyphics”
Editrix is a peculiar band to pin down, their sound a woozy hybrid of hypnotic, dreamy elements, noise rock agitation and moments of crushing heaviness—all of which swirl together in a disorienting churn in “Hieroglyphics.” The second single released from Editrix II: Editrix Goes to Hell thus far is arguably the less immediate of the two (in hindsight, go ahead and consider “One Truck Gone” an honorary Essential Track), but its shifting tempos, menacing opening sludge lurch and prog-rock groove midsection make it an endlessly entertaining labyrinth to navigate.
From Editrix II: Editrix Goes to Hell, out June 3 via Exploding in Sound
Daniel Villarreal – “Patria”
Daniel Villarreal communes with a whole host of dark spirits on “Patria,” the evocative new single from his forthcoming debut record, Panamá 77. The spectral instrumental pays particular tribute to the late composer Avelino Munoz (a favorite of Villarreal’s father while growing up in Panamá). But its tightly-wound musical landscape casts other long shadows too, summoning Villarreal’s own rich musical past and darker influences; the song’s discerning puzzle-piece arrangement seems informed by his work as a Chicago-based DJ, and its subliminally stormy intensity, raging on the other side of the veil, might just be chalked up to Villarreal’s years as a hardcore drummer. A creaky, soulful organ lead and an eerie snare shuffle “Patria” steadily along, hurtling the stiff waltz into properly funky territory. Villarreal’s shadowy post-modern aesthetic here feels ideally suited to International Anthem, the boundary-defying Chicago-based label that will release his debut next week. – Ben Easton
From Panamá 77, out May 20 via International Anthem.
The Party Dozen – “Macca the Mutt” (feat. Nick Cave)
Australian noise-rock duo The Party Dozen, a fiery ensemble whose sound is heavily defined by Kirsty Tickle on saxophone, have appeared in our Essential Tracks column in the past, and this time, they’ve got good company. “Macca the Mutt,” a booming anthem in which Tickle’s piercing sax leads are juxtaposed against scraggly, steel-wool guitar riffs, and which wraps up with an ad-libbed vocal from the legendary Nick Cave. The group credit it as their most powerful song they’ve ever made, and as it builds up into a fiery monster of an anthem in its final minute, it’s hard not to agree. – Jeff Terich
From The Real Work, out July 8 via Temporary Residence
Mat Ball – “To Catch Light I”
Mat Ball’s full-time gig is playing guitar in Big|Brave, a group whose albums are defined by massive, droning guitars that feel massive even when defined by minimalist structures. To that end, “To Catch Light I” feels very much aligned with the music he makes in his band, but stripped back to simply his own guitar sans rhythmic backing. It feels at once meditative and searching, bits of melody and riff breaking through the heavy presence of drone and ambiance, embracing a kind of graceful form of chaos. Even when performing alone, Ball can’t help but craft something that feels immense. – Jeff Terich
From Amplified Guitar, out July 1 via The Garrote
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