SPIN Singles Mix: Dawn Richard Gets ‘Physical,’ Screaming Females Surge, and More
Our staffers handpick the week's must-hear tracks
Welcome to the SPIN’s Singles Mix! Every week SPIN’s staff writers pick their favorite, must-hear tracks for your mid-week playlists. From electro-juiced R&B to muscular fuzz-punk to earthy trip-hop, these are the songs you need to hear right now.
Aurora, “Under Stars”
“Under Stars” kicks off with intense and glitchy warble, catching your attention right from the start. Aurora Aksnes’ hazy vocals float over the turbulence to draw you in further, but as the track progresses, it transforms, eventually reaching smooth and soaring heights. The techno feel of the beginning subsides into the anthemic second half, but the electric energy remains. This harmonic dichotomy isn’t all that dissimilar from CHVRCHES, so if you’re a disciple of that outfit, give this young Norwegian singer a shot. JAMES GREBEY
Ultimate Painting, “Ultimate Painting”
Invoking the musings of daydream heroes Real Estate (with a touch of the Velvet Underground), this self-titled song from the Ultimate Painting’s eponymous album injects the duo’s addictive melodies into a tried and true, warm-and-fuzzy formula. Intertwining guitars ramble through lackadaisical vocals as members Jack Cooper and James Hoare share a mic on the chorus, and, with wandering enthusiasm declare, “I don’t know what I’m thinking” — a believable confession that only furthers their laid-back vibe. On this sunny single, Ultimate Painting offers the ease of your favorite sweater: timeless, cozy, and a welcome staple. MAGGIE ROGERS
Eva Bowan, “Haunted Maya”
Included as FatCat Records featured demo this week, Eva Bowan’s serene track “Haunted Maya” is an oceanic soundsystem of digital swishes and swirls accented by actual recordings from a creek/river/body of water, giving it a nature-oriented ambiance. What’s more, the Brighton-based artist’s atmospheric vocals offer a truly tranquil listening experience. LUIS POLANCO
Gwen Stefani, “Spark The Fire”
From its staccato opening chords to its white-girl rapped chorus and verses, “Spark the Fire” is prime goofball Gwen. This is the return to music she should’ve made, rather than testing the waters back in October with the tepid “Baby Don’t Lie.” If this is the first taste of what the Voice judge’s as-yet-dateless new solo album will actually sound like, we’re for it, if only because it’ll stop Iggy Azalea right in her tracks. BRENNAN CARLEY
Beacon, “Only Us”
Brooklyn duo Beacon’s entire L1 EP is a mesmerizing blend of pensive R&B vocals and anxious electronic production, running the gamut from deep house to old school IDM to modern-day trap. EP highlight “Only Us” starts off like a minimal, ambient closer, singer/producer Thomas Mularney III moaning, “I can still dream it’s only us” over droning dial-tone synths. It would have been plenty captivating left as such, but halfway through, the song’s rhythm explodes into a rapidly ticking time-bomb, almost approaching a footwork beat in its skittering mania, as the synths start growling and Mularney’s vocals begin folding in on themselves. It settles back in for a more moderately paced coda, but the damage on your nerves is done. ANDREW UNTERBERGER
Dawn Richard, “Physical”
In October, Danity Kane released their self-declared final studio album as a group, though its three members had already fallen out months earlier. The best of the bunch, Dawn Richards, has carved out an electro-funk niche for herself on her solo releases, and her new single, “Physical,” is as compelling as it is thumping. Richards stirs in some Grace Jones darkness, a dash of Robyn dance-pixie charm, and some gurgling synthesizers to complete the picture. Olivia Newton-John who? B.C.
Screaming Females, “Empty Head”
New Jersey’s Screaming Females wear their fuzz proudly on their newest single, “Empty Head.” Vocalist Marissa Paternoster roars over chunky guitar chops — her iconic snarl driving above colossal riffs — and the outro’s face-melting licks are the frayed ribbons that tie it all together. MATTHEW LEVINE
Chelan, “Pretend We Live Forever”
Jennifer Grady and Justin Hosford’s madrigal trip-hop on “Pretend We Live Forever” blends the skipping-rope feel of Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” with a more upbeat, autumnal folksiness. DAN WEISS
DJ Slugo, “GHETTO”
Chicago’s DJ Slugo recites a powerful spoken word piece in “GHETTO,” a new track released via his “serial label,” Other People. Layering powerful rhymes about his childhood over a pulsing, synth-lined house beat courtesy of Nicolas Jaar, Slugo spends eight minutes “questioning himself,” commenting on the sorry state of “16-floor projects” in “the great state of Illinois,” and wondering “why God has allowed me to win.” Maybe because he doesn’t fight over “the smallest things you can imagine”? RACHEL BRODSKY
Sleater-Kinney, “Surface Envy”
The most important band in the world returns with the high-octane “Surface Envy,” chords melting into each other grungily as the trio chants, “We win / We lose / Only together/ Do we make the rules!” It could be a school fight song or a paean to couples’ consent but either way, they’re back and it rocks. D.W.