Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Body Electric
Of all the artists I experienced during my year in New Orleans, nothing stood out to me like the band Hurray for the Riff Raff. While HFTRR is technically a band, it’s really the heart and brainchild of Alynda Lee Segarra, a Bronx-raised woman (and self-described “queer”) who led the true vagabond life before landing in NOLA and making it her home. The music she writes doesn’t sound timeless, it sounds old. And that’s why I love it. It’s not a hip re-imagining of a bygone musical era or an attempt to merge genres, it’s just straightforward country/folk. The new album, Small Town Heroes, dropped on Tuesday and it’s already on heavy rotation in my playlist (along with their previous album of originals, Look Out Mama), especially this track, a feminist reworking of classic revenge songs. I worry that if Alynda finds the success and recognition she deserves, the infamously insular Crescent City music scene might reject her as a sellout, but the fact is, the world deserves to know what New Orleans has known for years: Hurray for the Riff Raff is the real deal.
Janelle Monáe – Primetime (ft. Miguel)
R&B doesn’t get much sexier than this. Janelle Monáe has been finding fascinating new corners of this original genre for a while, but this song aims straight and true at the classic center. There are questions that swirl around Monáe’s sexual preference, which is bound to happen with someone who’s as coy as she is on the subject, but whether you’re male or female, straight or gay, or somewhere in the middle of it all, this song is pure seduction. Miguel’s guest verse amps it up, but everything comes down to Janelle, part Android, part fantasy, all woman.
Lorde – Tennis Court
This 17-year-old girl from New Zealand sold a bunch of albums, won some Grammys and earned accolades as one of 2013’s most buzzed new artists. And good for her. She’s goth, a little weird, a little different, and very young. Who knows what will come of her career? Plenty of prognosticators are already analyzing her potential career trajectory (“Will she be Avril Lavigne or Fiona Apple?”), but for this moment in time, she’s just a young woman writing incredibly infectious songs with lyrics that betray a maturity beyond her years. “Royals” was the first song that broke here in the US, and if that had been her only single, I’d probably never given her a second thought. It wasn’t until I heard “Tennis Courts” that she grabbed my attention, enough for me to purchase her album and realize that whatever happens in her future, there’s no denying, she has a wealth of talent.
Phantogram – Don’t Move
This is one of those artists whose catalog I’m largely ignorant of, but the songs of theirs that I do know (this and “When I’m Small,” in particular) suggest to me that this is the next band with which I should invest some serious time. Their sound comes across like a spiritual niece of Portishead, and while I know they’ve been around for a few years, something tells me that their real breakthrough could still be just around the corner. Or, maybe not. It’s kind of hard to tell with an artist of this ilk, which makes them all the more interesting. Whether or not I do come to embrace their whole oeuvre, this song will, at least, always be a welcome addition to my playlist.
Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
I’m gonna come out of the closet on this one: I love this song. I really always have. In my mind, this song is about as good as pure pop songs get. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” has been recorded by plenty of artists over the years, but Lauper’s version will always be the one I love the most. That’s probably because I was born in the 80s and I have an older sister, but I really just don’t think there’s any denying that when this song comes on, you feel good. It might not be a song about the fortunate ones, but it is a song about all the girls (and women) I love.