A country kiss-off, a throw-back curio, a Midwest protest, a grim remix and some minimal hypnotism: Below, five new songs of note you may have missed this week.
Maddie & Tae, “Your Side of Town.” One of the most promising pop songs of the year is “Girl in a Country Song,” Maddie & Tae’s buoyant, witty rejection of latter-day dude-country music stereotypes. The duo, signed with the Taylor Swift-affiliated label Big Machine, has just released the track as part of a four-song EP, and the three others bode just as well for their future. The best is “Your Side of Town,” catchy, up-tempo dance-twanger about love, heartbreak and home turf.
"You better just pretend there's a barbed wire fence and a barricade," they sing to a lying, cheating ex who's been roaming their neighborhood. As a banjo line teams with fiddle run to add mid-range tension, a hand-clapped rhythm pounds. It's an exuberant piece of pop craftsmanship, and further confirms Maddie & Tae's promise.
Listen here: Maddie & Tae, "Your Side of Town"
Captain Beefheart, “Blabber N' Smoke." The polar opposite of female country sass: the growling, sublimely weird throat of the late Don Van Vliet, who performed as Captain Beefheart, is the subject of a loving, perfectly imagined box set reissue of three unsung albums of avant-blues classics, and a fourth of outtakes. It's called "Sun Zoom Spark: 1970-1972."
Consisting of his Warner Bros. albums "Clear Spot," "The Spotlight Kid" and "Lick My Decals Off, Baby," the box tackles work that Van Vliet and his marvelous, long-suffering Magic Band recorded after it stunned and confused the rock world with "Trout Mask Replica." That double album, originally released on Frank Zappa's label, deconstructed blues and rock.
The three records repped on "Sun Zoom Spark" are the closest Beefheart came to making commercial music, and at its best, the stuff outranks the more difficult late '60s music.
I like "The Spotlight Kid" the best of all of them, especially "Blabber N' Smoke." A relatively accessible song about about a loudmouth lover - or humanity in general -- the song spins in strange rhythmic circles, and offers proof that despite his avant-garde leanings, Van Vliet knew how to build a mesmerizing groove, one that he could make weak-kneed with his guttural yowl.
Listen here: Captain Beefheart, "Blabber N' Smoke"
Tef Poe, "War Cry." As Ferguson, Mo., braces for more protests, a rapper named Tef Poe has staked his claim as the movement's most vital musical voice.
The writer and emcee has drawn a devoted Twitter following as he's documented the area's unrest in the wake of the killing of unarmed resident Mike Brown by policeman Darren Wilson. With an announcement pending on whether charges will be filed against Wilson, the entire St. Louis area is on edge.
Into that tension arrives his new track "War Cry," a raw invective that names names: he repeatedly slams Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon with many unprintable cusses, invites the politician to "come to the North Side, see if you survive like me." Tef Poe calls out longtime Democratic Mayor Francis Slay, describing him as "a slave master." He lets loose repeatedly, calling out "white rappers in the city hesitant to get involved." He demands attention, as does the utterly weird beat that supports it, produced by DJ Smitty.
Whether you agree with his harsh incitement or not, "War Cry" is a track that simply can't be denied. When he bellows, "My voice is like a shotgun," you'll likely want to step away from the speakers for fear of ricochet.
Listen: Tef Poe, "War Cry" [Warning: contains much cussing]
Lorde, "Flicker (Kanye West Rework)." New Zealand singer Lorde can currently do no wrong, a point further confirmed through her keen curation of the forthcoming "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" soundtrack, which comes out Monday. In its initial incarnation, her first single from it, "Yellow Flicker Beat," is a striking, if straightforward, banger, one that starts quiet before jumping into a consistent dance groove.
As reimagined by Kanye West in a new remix, though, "Flicker (Kanye West Rework)" hums, crawls, echoes with "Yeezus"-style minimalism. He distorts one of her moans until she sounds like a devil doll, augments it with cavernous piano tones and layers of distant Lorde's whispering in the background.
Here's hoping this is the beginning of a beautiful collaborative relationship.
Listen here: Lorde, "Flicker (Kanye West Rework)"
Dean Blunt, "50 Cent." Taken from Dean Blunt's ragged experimental pop record "Black Metal," "50 Cent" might or might not be about the rapper of the same name; it's hard to tell. It begins with a soft strum, a simple synthetic beat and Blunt in hushed monotone singing a minor-chord song about a breakup and what may or may not be the murder of her new man.
A song that's tough to crack but equally tough to shake, it sticks regardless, especially when vocalist Joanne Robertson arrives to offer haunting musical and thematic counterpoint.
Listen here: Dean Blunt, "50 Cent"
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit