Friday Five: It's JoJo's America, FKA Twigs' exquisite falsetto, and more
The five best songs we heard this week.
Every Friday, EW's music team runs down the five best songs of the week. In today's edition, FKA Twigs expands on 2020's Headie One/Fred Again interlude, JoJo adds a little Springsteen to her sound, Porter Robinson overcomes writer's block, Squid makes cacophonous bliss, and Madlib is back to his mysterious ways.
"Don't Judge Me" — FKA Twigs feat. Headie One & Fred Again
One of FKA Twigs' greatest strengths is her ability to seamlessly blend her falsetto into a song's production, giving each work an exquisite, otherworldly tone rarely heard among her contemporaries. She employs it again on "Don't Judge Me," an expanded version of an interlude from Headie One and Fred Again's 2020 mixtape Gang. The new take has a churning groove, detuned sound effects, and atmospheric noise — with Twigs' hopeful pleas for a greater love ("Hold me in your arms, say wе'll make it through/I've got a precious heart open for you") juxtaposed next to Headie's clear-eyed view on racial justice: "We can walk free, but are we really walkin' free here?/How can this be home when I feel I wanna flee here?" —Alex Suskind
"American Mood" — JoJo
The Biden/Harris presidency has given millions of Americans a renewed sense of hope — a sentiment reflected in JoJo's meditative new single "American Mood" (proceeds of the standalone track are being donated to the "I Have a Dream" foundation). "My hands are open/Optimistic for a different way/American mood," she sings over a lightly plucked acoustic guitar, before dropping in a touch of Springsteen-esque Americana: "When I think of where I'm from/Blue-collar daughters and sons/Just trying to plan their great escape." —Malcolm-Aimé Musoni
"Look at the Sky" — Porter Robinson
It was already assumed that Nurture, Porter Robinson's first album in seven years, would be hyper-personal. The former EDM renegade-turned-synth-pop auteur had been open about his mental health struggles as fans eagerly awaited a follow-up to 2014's Worlds. The latest offering from the new project is an explicit meta-commentary about overcoming writer's block and regaining a sense of self-worth. During the second verse, Robinson dwells on naive fan expectations ("Shouldn't it come to you naturally?") and haunting fears ("You're losing your gift and it's plain to see"), but the giddy hook assures everyone that those days are in the rearview. "Look at the sky, I'm still here/I'll be alive next year," he sings with certainty as beaming violin strokes dance atop the pulsing beat. This is victory-pop at its finest. —Eli Enis
"Narrator" — Squid
Going by their previous singles, it was fair game to lump Squid in with the new wave of grimy-yet-still-kind-of-shiny U.K. post-punk led by bands like Idle, Fontaines D.C., and Shame. However, their new single "Narrator" is something else entirely. Although it begins with choppy riffs and babbling yelps from drummer/vocalist Ollie Judge, most of the eight-and-a-half minute track burrows into a tubular groove and patiently builds into one of the most exciting rock payoffs in recent memory. While squalls of guitar noise bubble up behind him, Judge repeats the words, "I play my" dozens of times, his voice ascending from a hypnotic sing-song to a full-throated yell. Suddenly, he drops out, making way for guest vocalist Martha Skye Murphy's dramatic wails, while the music explodes all around her. It's pure cacophonous bliss. —Eli Enis
"Dirtknock" — Madlib
"Dirtknock," the third single off Madlib's new full-length album Sound Ancestors, isn't quite as off-kilter as his previous works, but it has all the hallmarks of the mythical beatmaker's approach: lagging drums, spluttering hi-hats, obscure samples, an undeniable groove. "How can I hope to be/Someone for you to see?" a mysterious singer coos in the distance, while a grinding bassline chugs alongside her. Like any Madlib beat, trying to unwind its roots (Is that a bird call? Did he sample a broken clock to make that hi-hat?) is half the fun. —Alex Suskind