With spring arrives a fresh blossoming of seasonal metaphors to suggest new birth. A sprouting of unheard music arriving after months of cultivation. Proverbial butterflies crawling out of their cocoons. Bears stretching after deep sleep. In the immortal words of Peter Sellers' character Chauncey Gardiner in "Being There": "In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again."
So it goes in late April, with the arrival of young music throughout the marketplace, the best of which is gunning for song-of-the-summer punch, making early moves toward July ubiquity.
Below are five good ones that hint at a pending summer bounty.
Prince, "The Breakdown." Question to ponder: Had Prince not announced a repaired relationship with his former label and longtime nemesis Warner Bros. Records and instead released this new song on his own, would it merit as much notice? Only Prince knows, but the slow groove that flows through "The Breakdown" is undeniable, and the fact that it features stereo-panned laser sounds adds a level of weirdness that transcends business transaction or second guessing. This is prime Prince, with a lyric, melody, arrangement and vocal performance that are undeniable. It's as if the haunting ballad were a four-minute retort to the recent batch of Prince inheritors such as Miguel, Frank Ocean and the Weeknd bringing slow-burn male sensuality back to R&B. A massive win for Prince.
Jamie XX, "Girl." A loping midtempo track about "the most beautiful girl in Hackney" with the kind of massive echo, a dubby bass-line and manipulated vocals that's come to define British blue-eyed rhythm & blues, Jamie XX's new single is heavy on the bottom-end and haunting throughout. As with the group he cofounded, the xx, and kindred spirits James Blake and Jamie Woon, Jamie XX prefers gentle suggestion to abrasion, finding tension not in overwhelming aural assault but with tempered grace. "Girl" is as much meditation as pop song, a roaming examination of texture with a vague structure both fluid and rubbery.
Jack White, "Lazaretto." Last week Jack White set a new record, literally. As part of the annual Record Store Day celebrations, the singer took the stage at his Third Man Records compound in Nashville to bang out the title track to his forthcoming album "Lazaretto." With tape machine running, he recorded it and immediately ferried it to a nearby vinyl pressing plant, which made a limited edition 45 to sell at his shop. Just under four hours later the record, featuring a freshly printed sleeve with a live shot of the gig as its art, arrived back at the store.
Quite the publicity stunt, yes, but with the song's muscle to back it up, the maneuver worked. "Lazaretto" is as beefy and funky a song as White's ever done, one that offers his typical way with both guitar and lyric lines. Red flag: This is also the closest White has ever come to sounding like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, even if he's been edging this way for a while now.
Lykke Li feat. ASAP Rocky, "No Rest for the Wicked (Remix)." One of the most hotly anticipated full-lengths of 2014 is Lykke Li's forthcoming "I Never Learn." Featuring the wonderful ballad "Love Me Like I'm Not Made of Stone," the Swedish pop singer's new record is buzzing due to that and a string of other teasers. The most recent entry is a remix of "No Rest for the Wicked" featuring ASAP Rocky, kingpin of New York's ASAP Mob. An extra large track that offers both Phil Spector-esque bombast and the frenetic high-hat rhythm of hip hop sub-genre trap music, the song's made more breathtaking by Rocky's intro and verses. Who knew Sweden and Harlem could intertwine so seamlessly?
Listen here -- but be forewarned, it contains cussing: "No Rest for the Wicked (Remix)."
Tune-Yards, "Water Fountain." A Trojan horse of a jam that invades with a majestic beat only to explode with an intense message against colonialism, "Water Fountain" is an exuberant protest from the artist born Merrill Garbus. Taken from her forthcoming record "Nikki Nack," the video for "Water Fountain" is equally joyous; if you watch nothing else today, spend the 3:22 absorbing the clip. It's as solid and confident a pitch for a kid's TV show as it is for the new record.