And just like that, this strange year is finally coming to an end. Despite 2020 being a bleak, bizarre time for the world, music was a gift that kept on giving, and December gave us highly anticipated releases and even managed to squeeze some shocking new surprises. The Avalanches returned with their first album in four years, while Taylor Swift dropped her second surprise record of the year.
2020 also saw some powerful comebacks from Public Enemy, Gang Starr, Rostam and more, all of whom we’ve added to this week’s playlist, alongside new tunes from Nilüfer Yanya, Channel Tres, Park Hye Jin and more.
Here are all this week’s additions to the NME 1 & 2 playlists:
On the A List
‘fuego’ (feat. Tyler, The Creator)
The longtime collaborators team up on a woozy new track that apparently came together by chance. “[Tyler and his engineer] were in the studio and he just asked me to send him something,” Channel Tres recalls, “and I sent them that track.” But ‘fuego’ doesn’t sound like a song that was made on a whim: Tyler’s warped vocals are weaved into an intricate, head-spinning beat that was inspired by jazz icon Charles Mingus.
‘GRID’ (feat. Cypress Hill & George Clinton)
What happens when three legendary hip-hop acts connect on one song? The answer is an explosion of lyrical wordplay. Over an old-school beat, Public Enemy, Cypress Hill and George Clinton imagine a “back to basics” world rid of social media. “Communication breakdown it’s a take down / Are you awake now or consumed by a fake clown?” they spit. “World Wide Web keep the spiders fed / Looking at my feed, trolls everywhere but knowledge supersedes.”
On the B List
Taylor Swift reunites with The National’s Aaron Dessner for ‘Willow’, the opening track of her latest album, ‘Evermore’. A continuation of the indie folk sound Swift crafted for her July release, ‘Folklore’, it’s romantic lyricism and gorgeous production helps set the tone for the rest of the record.
The Divine Chord (feat. MGMT & Johnny Marr)
Hauntingly beautiful yet bittersweet, ‘The Divine Chord’ is built around a sample of The Shirelles’ 1962 classic, ‘It’s Love That Really Counts’. Led by indie pop duo MGMT, with guitar from The Smiths’ Johnny Marr and backing vocals by The Yarra Voices Choir, it’s a highlight of the band’s new record ‘We Will Always Love You’.
DJ Premier is back with a brand-new Gang Starr song, including a never-before-heard verse from the late MC Guru. The producer created ‘Glowing Mic’ from alternate lines that Guru had initially recorded for a song called ‘Mr. Gang Starr’, which was released soon after the rapper’s death – albeit with different lyrics. Meanwhile, the song’s title comes from ‘For The Record’, a 2011 song Premier produced for Torae: “The line says, ‘I destroy the mic for my glow.’ Instantly ‘Glowing Mic’ became the title simply from hearing that line.”
On the C List
‘Same Damn Luck’
“Don’t miss you, miss you / Don’t assume, assume,” Nilüfer Yanya murmurs on ‘Same Damn Luck’, the poignant ballad from her latest EP ‘Feeling Lucky?’. Over a drum machine, gentle guitar and her own multi-tracked vocals, Yanya reminds herself that ghosts from the past are never too far away – and that they could come back to haunt you anytime.
The ex-Vampire Weekend member puts his own spin on The Strokes’ classic 2003 ballad, ‘Under Control’, from their sophomore album ‘Room On Fire’. For Rostam’s version, the singer traded the guitar-driven melody for a pared-down rendition featuring handclaps and gentle piano, and the results are heart-breaking.
박혜진 Park Hye Jin & Nosaj Thing
Park Hye Jin has been on a collaborative streak lately, working with Blood Orange (‘Call Me’ freestyle) and Galcher Lustwerk (a thrumming remix of ‘Can You’, from her 2020 EP ‘How Can I’). Now, the South Korean multi-hyphenate has joined forces with fellow Los Angeles-based producer Nosaj Thing on a brand-new song ‘CLOUDS’, which floats on a drifting instrumental propelled by gentle percussion and a luminous synth line.
In ‘Superstar’, Sabrina Fuentes – the driving force of Pretty Sick, who’ve just released their EP ‘Deep Divine’ on Dirty Hit – has an understated yet powerful statement on the nature of celebrity. “Oh, to be happy / Oh, to be white,” she mulls in its opening lines, dwelling on how superstars work to “save”, “praise” and “love” their devoted followers – though it’s “so, so easy to self-destruct”.