Before this horrible year, one of the most common complaints you’d hear from touring artists was how long album cycles could take. After writing and recording an LP, musicians usually had to wait several months or even years before the general public got to hear anything, thanks to set-in-advance label release schedules, mastering, and other hurdles that hold up releasing music. But now, as the pandemic has hit the eight-month mark and artists are unable to tour, having a full-length in the vault is a blessing.
That we’re still getting an avalanche of great music is a gift. Whether it’s something an artist has been sitting on for a long time, like Kevin Morby’s excellent Sundowner, or something they made in quarantine like the lovely double album from Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker, songs/instrumentals, there's been a ton of incredible songs that have kept us going throughout October. As we brace for what’s sure to be another turbulent month, here’s hoping November’s music can continue to be a brief salve. Below, check out the VICE staff’s favorite songs from this month including the funk-forward new single from Knox Fortune, the return of Ariana Grande, and the quarantine tranquility of Adrianne Lenker’s “zombie girl.”
Bathe, "Better Off"
Last year, the Brooklyn-based duo took us on a trip to the beach we would never forget on I'll Miss You. While many of our beach days are over, Bathe returns with a glimmer of the heat of their self-proclaimed "surf R&B" with "Better Off." The 70s flair of Corey Smith-West's production could make Miguel, Lucky Daye, or any other groove enthusiast sound at home over its slow, exaggerated bass. Still, it's tailor-made for bandmate Devin Hobdy's benevolence. Following I'll Miss You's fleeting romance, Hobdy even makes a break sound polite. "We always have calloused hands from carrying baggage that we came with," he sings. In the end, he realizes she's not only better off alone; he is too. —Kristin Corry
Rose Gold, "Soon As You Get Home"
Mumbling isn't only reserved for rappers. Baltimore singer Rose Gold barely enunciates on the hook of her sleepy bedroom jam, "Soon As You Get Home." Although you might not be familiar with Rose Gold, she summons the energy of Aaliyah and Faith Evans through her lyrics. It's a song of very few words, but very few words are needed to describe what Rose Gold anticipates doing to her partner when they return home—or in the case of a global pandemic, from the next room. —Kristin Corry
Sturgill Simpson, “Turtles All the Way Down”
“Turtles All the Way Down'' isn't a new song. It’s the opener to Sturgill Simpson’s 2014 best of the decade contender Metamodern Sounds in Country Music that’s been reimagined as a bluegrass track for the country trailblazer's new career retrospective, Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1: The Butcher Shoppe Sessions. Recorded with some incredible bluegrass performers with astounding technical chops, the barnstorming band gives Simpson’s old songs new life. Where Simpson has excelled through reinventing his sound like on the raucous rock of 2019’s Sound & Fury or his 2016’s brassy A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, this LP isn’t just a sonic shift but a reminder of how versatile and strong his catalog already is. —Josh Terry
Victoria Monet featuring Kehlani, "Touch Me (Remix)"
When Victoria Monet spoke to VICE about Jaguar, she revealed that "Touch Me" was a special song because she wrote it about a woman, unlike most of her other songs. "Girl, it's been too long / And when you rock them short nails, that's lowkey sentimental," she sings. This month, she added Kehlani to the seductive track, causing fans to speculate about the lyric that follows: "And I love them tattoos, I still gotta learn them all." And then, as we were all waiting for confirmation, Monet gave us the new plot for fanfiction about the duo we didn't know we needed. "It feels good to have music WITH you and not just about you," she wrote in an Instagram post. We have gushed about "Touch Me," Victoria Monet, and Jaguar all year, but the song gets so much better hearing both perspectives. —Kristin Corry
Ariana Grande, "Positions"
Ariana Grande albums usually signify a new sonic era for the pop star. "Positions" swaps frequent pop architects and Ariana collaborators like ILYA and Max Martin for credits that are more familiar in R&B and rap circles. Songwriter Nija Charles and producer London on the Track helm "Positions," which almost sounds like a throwaway from Summer Walker's Over It, which the two also worked on. "Positions" is not the suggestive song the title may imply, but it finds Grande bending over backward to be all things to the one she loves. —Kristin Corry
Knox Fortune, “Gemini”
As a producer and solo artist, New York via Chicago’s Knox Fortune has always excelled at locking into a party-starting groove. Whether it’s his guest vocals on Chance the Rapper’s single “All Night” or his own blissed out summer song “Lil’ Thing,” there’s an undeniable charm throughout his catalog. But his latest, “Gemini,” which will be on his new album Stock Child Wonder is his most fun yet. Boasting a pummeling bass line, wavy synths, and astrology-referencing lyrics, Fortune's voice soars over the hook, which evokes the best songs from the Go-Team. —Josh Terry
Saweetie featuring Jhene Aiko, "Back to the Streets"
Saweetie wasn't shy to tell us about her type, and now "Back to the Streets" lays out the blueprint for what could get you cut off. "My ex used to act like he owned me / Ain't enough just to treat me like a trophy," she raps, detailing a relationship so controlling she was asked to change her passwords. But prefers to dump him than become jaded. This level of nonchalance, chill, zen—whatever you want to call it—can only be heightened by Jhene Aiko, who doesn't care much to indulge in anything beyond pleasure. "Had a good time, now I'm ready for some new d*ck/Pass it to Saweetie, now you hit it," Aiko raps. Hearing men rap about passing women around like objects was the norm, but Saweetie and Aiko and turning that trope on its head. —Kristin Corry
Sen Morimoto featuring Joseph Chilliams, “The Box”
Though they both live in Chicago, Sen Morimoto and Joseph Chilliams are a pretty confounding collaboration. As a member of the Saba-featuring Pivot Gang, Chilliams makes hilarious and virtuosic pop-culture and inside joke filled rap songs while the jazz-trained Moritmo makes future forward and genre-defying experimental pop songs. But together on “The Box,” a mellow highlight from Morimoto’s new self-titled LP, they’re a perfect fit. Over a woozy arrangement, Morimoto’s velvety croons make the perfect foil for Chilliams’ laid back flow. —Josh Terry
Adrianne Lenker, “zombie girl”
Adrianne Lenker is a brilliant songwriter with a sincere commitment to music and a deeply rooted work ethic. Her writing, vocals, and guitar have helped power Big Thief, the band with which Lenker has released four albums—but she's spent the turning of the season crafting a modest and meditative double solo album, Songs and Instrumentals. The project is home to eleven consoling and cathartic tracks, but “zombie girl” stands out as a one-way conversation in which Lenker tries to understand emptiness. “Oh emptiness, tell me ‘bout your nature, maybe i’ve been getting you wrong," she sings "I cover you with questions, cover you with explanations, cover you with music." Lenker is a deeply gifted poet whose songs are simultaneously gentle and completely honest. “zombie girl” meets emptiness with tolerance and curiosity. —Jaime Silano
Brent Cobb, “Sometimes I’m a Clown”
Even though Georgia's Brent Cobb has streamlined and stripped down his adventurous country sound on his latest album Keep Em On They Toes, he’s still as strong of a songwriter as ever. There’s the politically resonant “Shut Up and Sing” which takes aim at regressive way country artists are discouraged from speaking up on left wing causes, but another highlight comes in the personal “Sometimes I’m a Clown.” Backed by a twinkling acoustic guitar riff, Cobb sings of working class malaise on the opening line: “She works a job, I work another / Too rich to be broke, too broke to be covered / In case of an emergency, call God / Tell him we're fine.” —Josh Terry
A frank look at the ways vulnerability feeds relationships and how establishing trust is a continual process, “Damage” is a loving but direct warning of the consequences of trust being broken. The track is built on a foundation of deep bluesy horns and gentle piano, and its lyrics unpack the sacrifice of revealing yourself to someone else. H.E.R.'s precise falsettos and Ant Clemons’ warm harmonies meet in a commanding vocal performance on “Damage,” which seems to be destined for H.E.R.’s upcoming full-length album. H.E.R., an acronym for Having Everything Revealed, is consistently growing and delivering her truth through her music; she is an immensely deserving artist who is gracefully unveiling her next project. —Jaime Silano
Pass Like Pollen is the debut album from Los Angeles-based independent band, Cartalk. It’s the first record from the group and it's full of brutal and emotional rock songs. Chuck Moore channels Americana while singing about unhinged confusion, thoughtfully reconciling heartache and hauntings. The album dissects the duality of making peace with life’s endings while struggling to transcribe their lessons. “Driveway” is the spot on the record where Moore baked their questions and their wrestling match with forgiveness (“Is this how we evolve? Is this how I get on?”). The last three songs on this album are a good place to meet yourself when you’re ready to cut the losses and calm the “hurricane in your heart.” —Jaime Silano
Ty Dolla $ign featuring Kanye West, Anderson .Paak, and Thundercat, “Track 6”
It’s nearly impossible to pick just one highlight off of Ty Dolla $ign’s latest album, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, a cleverly named project from an artist who frequently writes songs for other musicians and often guests on them too. The symphonic album flows so well it demands to be listened to as one, uninterrupted piece of music. However, “Track 6,” which features verses from Kanye West and Anderson .Paak, an outro from Thundercat, and flourishes from Mr. Talkbox, is the kind of song that makes you wish Ty might one day make a full funk album. Since his father was a member of the funk band Lakeside in the 70s and 80s, the genre is clearly in the younger Ty’s DNA. You hear it all over Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, especially here.
Arlo Parks, “Green Eyes”
Arlo Parks' music takes a deeply compassionate approach to storytelling. “Green Eyes,” laced with vocals from Clairo, is an ode to queer love and a gentle reminder of how difficult the process of accepting your truth can be, and how okay that is. "I wish that your parents had been kinder to you / They made you hate what you were out of habit," she sings. "Remember when they caught us makin' out after school / Your dad said he'd felt like he lost you.” Parks uses timeless symbols of love and acceptance, like holding hands in public, to represent the freedom that belongs indiscriminately to people in love. Arlo Parks is patient, invested, and empathetic. Like her first single “Black Dog,” this one is a beautiful and devastating human story, written by someone with wisdom beyond their 20 years. Parks just announced that her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, is coming in January. —Jaime Silano
Xavier Omär, "want/need"
Not enough people sample Dru Hill. Lucky for us, Xavier Omär has reached deep into his bag of 90s nostalgia, borrowing the R&B group's 1996 hit "Tell Me." Dru Hill might have been deciphering dirty messages sent through their beepers, but Omar has the instant gratification of a stream of risky texts. "On the phone, you was textin' like a different person/Like how you couldn't wait to try to move them hips in cursive," he says. Just like the flirt he sings about, "want/need," which clocks in at under two minutes, is an absolute tease. —Kristin Corry
Chase B featuring KentheMan and OMB Bloodbath, "For Me"
The last time we caught up with Chase B he was figuring out how to pivot from DJing live shows to making Instagram Live sets work for him in the wake of quarantine. Now, he's uniting Houston on "For Me," which he produced, with buzzworthy rappers OMB Bloodbath and KenTheMan. The two turn "for me," the new phrase tacked on to just about every Instagram caption and meme this year, into a full-blown song. Just off the heels of 4 Da 304s, an EP she released in August, Ken is the star of the show. Her presence on "For Me" reiterates what we've already come to know about the audacious rapper. "It be the blues for me, purses and shoes for me / Even though I'm just tryna get to know ya / What you gon do for me?" she raps. —Kristin Corry
Blacc Zacc, “Tennis”
South Carolina rapper Blacc Zacc is setting the record straight. He’s been rapping since he was a teenager, refining his skills in crafting bars and founding his own entertainment company before signing to Interscope. On “Tennis,” the rapper and entrepreneur lays sticky southern flows over a smooth, melodic beat produced by Rico Love and Don Corleon. Blacc Zacc unpacks wealth and success, and his relationship with both, stemming from necessity and the desire to put South Carolina on the map. Blacc Zacc is not going back and forth about his purpose and his legacy in hip-hop or being told how to spend his money. —Jaime Silano
Benny Sings featuring Mac DeMarco, “Rolled Up”
Since Mac DeMarco put out his 2019 album Here Comes The Cowboy, he’s mainly been focusing on one-off collaborations. Earlier this year he joined British crooner Yellow Days for single “The Curse,” and just this week, he guested on French producer Myd’s “Moving Men.” But the best of his duets so far comes in Benny Sings’ “Rolled Up,” which plays up both artist’s strengths with Sing’s silky falsetto and DeMarco’s unhurried vocals. While Sings said in a press release that “the song is about being in the dumps without a particular reason,” the two work so well together that the track will actually elevate your mood. — Josh Terry