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David Bowie — “Where Are We Now?” (Iso/Columbia)

This month, David Bowie proved he could still surprise us when he abruptly announced the release of a new single and a forthcoming album, his first in a decade. Even more surprising than the un-hyped release of “Where Are We Now?” is the song itself. The artist who built his career on constant reinvention and frequently rejuvenated expression, allows himself to sound old and worn. The stripped down music (strings and piano and a light snare pattern) accompanies Bowie’s faint voice, almost quivering as it delivers short but overloaded lines. Even so, a fire slowly ignites in him as the song wears on, a wearier foil to the building intensity of “Heroes” that culminates in a soaring but reflective guitar solo that fades out just as smoothly and quickly as it enters. It is an eerie, enigmatic track from an artist many thought could never pull off such a feat again, and it more than whets the appetite to hear the rest of his new album. – Jake Cole

Mystikal – “Hit Me” (Cash Money)

You know what’s great about Mystikal’s “Hit Me?” Absolutely everything. Channeling James Brown (and riddled with subtle James Brown references making me doubly thankful I read the painstakingly detailed James Brown biography The One last year) hip-hop veteran Mystikal absolutely obliterates a KLC (of production team Beats By the Pound, most known for their classic productions on Master P’s No Limit Records) production with one of the most potent rap singles this decade. We’ve been fortunate enough to get a slow stream of new Mystikal singles for about two years now, but absolutely nothing compares to the sonic explosion that is “Hit Me.” Excelling in every possible way one could measure a rap song, Mystikal’s delivery, lyrics, message, energy, presence, etc., are all on-point to an absolute dizzying degree. I honestly can’t begin to imagine what horrible childhood trauma one would have to suffer in order to grow up and not absolutely love this record. Feel free to delete everything else in your music player after downloading this one, you won’t need those “other” records for quite a while. HIT ME! – Chaz Kangas

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w0tzbKtRuA

Thao & the Get Down Stay Down – “We the Common” (Ribbon)

At the risk of going on and on about them, I’m really excited for Thao & the Get Down Stay Down’s third album, We the Common. Their second single and title track is playful and ambitious; Thao Nguyen’s voice is uncharacteristically energetic as she whoops from verse to chorus and wields her banjo with rock star verve. With band shakeups and a collaboration with indie singer-songwriter Mirah in her wheelhouse, Nguyen, alongside the Get Down Stay Down, continues to entice us with glimpses of another solid record. – Katie Bolton

Cy Dune – “Just Kids” (Family Tree Records)

It may be inspired by Patti Smith’s autobiography, or it might simply be about kids shooting Roman candles at each other, but whatever it is, “Just Kids” is a harbinger of good rock to come from the alter ego of Akron/Family’s Seth Olinsky. Recording under the name Cy Dune, he’s dropped two tracks so far from his forthcoming EP No Recognize via a WordPress blog. Starting out with a descending riff that’s ingeniously mirrored on the drums, “Just Kids” motors along a proto-skiffle blues track with a very distorted vocal workout from Olinsky. In both his solo work and his output with Akron/Family, Olinsky has stripped away some of the latent elements’ stylistic silliness, evolving more and more into straightforward rock and roll grooves. No Recognize appears to be the logical end of that progression. The two teaser tracks Olinsky has released so far (“Where the Wild Things” is the other) are raucous and concise, neither going much past the three minute mark, laden with riffs and bombast. The result is some really infectious rock that begs to be played loud and often. – Tom Volk

The Sword – “The Veil of Isis” (Razor & Tie)

Although the technology behind it is sort of creepy, I actually appreciate it when Amazon recommends stuff to me based on my browsing and buying history. For instance, they know I have a taste for progressive metal and are constantly recommending I check out myriad bands I’ve never heard of. Admittedly, most of them do nothing for me, but the garish, spaced-out cover of the Sword’s latest CD tickled my inner teenager and I just knew I had to check it out. The first track on Apocryphon, “The Veil of Isis” was all I needed to hear before clicking the “buy” button. ¬Sure the chugging riffs and Ozzy-ish vocals are purely derivative, but the slick time-signature changes and bluesy, psychedelic guitar solos match the fantastical lyrics to make for a supremely satisfying slab of prog-metal goodness. Maybe the Sword is not up to the god-like standards of, say, Mastodon at their peak, but Amazon was right: they’re pretty darn close. – Rodger Coleman

Big Boi – “She Hates Me” (Def Jam)

Ever since OutKast decided to split their talents on Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Antwan Patton (aka Big Boi) has gained increasing respect as a hip-hop innovator in his own right and not just the “street” half of the Atlanta hip-hop duo. While his previous two albums were stellar outings packed with club jams and filthy neo-funk, his most recent release Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors was a more hit-or-miss affair thanks to his flirtation with indie rock and electro-pop. Although the new formula wasn’t universally successful, “She Hates Me” was the perfect blend of his old style with new elements. KiD CuDi’s vocal hook has the sweetness that soul samples might have brought to previous Big Boi albums while the light electronic touches sound novel without being jarring. Big Boi himself oozes po’ faced charm as he mixes boasts of verbal prowess with heartfelt vows to be a good partner and father. Although Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors was released too late to make any best of 2012 lists, this track should be a mainstay on your early 2013 mixtapes. – John M. Tryneski

Woodpecker Wooliams – “Sparrow” (Robot Elephant)

Though none of the seven tracks on Woodpecker Wooliams’ new album The Bird School of Being Human sounds exactly like you might expect, “Sparrow” is perhaps the strangest and most captivating. Gemma Williams shifts from style to style throughout the album, and “Sparrow” does the same in only moments. The song opens with a humming pulse, then a nervous, Casiotone beat breaks in, strange scratching noises hissing over the rhythm. Williams’ own voice, pitched to a keen, enters and turns the whole thing into a rapid, eerie rush. The music only builds and builds as the song goes on, becoming almost unbearably intense in just over four minutes. It’s a bizarre, beautiful song that’s creepy and fascinating in equal turns. – Nathan Kamal

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