June began with pain, protest and political awakening, and has continued apace. In echo, the new music released this month that’s finding true purchase are those songs that speak to feelings of anger, healing, frustration, intensity. Most other years, June is when the inevitable “song of the summer” battle starts to heat up, and listeners turn to light, dance-worthy fare to soundtrack parties and sweaty, late nights. But 2020 is different. Still mired in a pandemic, with many marching against police brutality daily, the tone isn’t pure celebration: it’s perseverance, with a dose of fortitude and joy. Here to help us on the way are Beyoncé, John Legend, Run the Jewels, Noname, Chloe x Halle and more powerful voices.
“Walking in the Snow,” Run the Jewels
Brooklyn’s El-P and Atlanta’s Killer Mike teamed up again for June’s RTJ4. It’s an album that doesn’t sand down its edges. It’s timing couldn’t feel more right: every song is an indictment of injustice and a wake-up call. “Every day on the evening news, they feed you fear for free/ And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me/ And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper ‘I can’t breathe’/ And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV/ The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy.” That’s Killer Mike on “Walking in the Snow.” Written in late 2019, according to interviews, the song is just one of many powerful entries on an album of music feeding a revolution.
“Ungodly Hour,” Chloe x Halle
There is something supremely angelic about sister duo Chloe x Halle. Their voices, distinct and pitch-perfect, are made to harmonize. On their sophomore album Ungodly Hour, which they delayed for a week in honor of the Black Lives Matter protests they wanted to devote more attention toward, the young protégés of Beyoncé explore newly mature territory. If their 2018 album, The Kids Are Alright, was about two girls on the cusp of adulthood, still enjoying the sweetness of teendom, then Ungodly Hour has them openly facing what the next phase of life means. Mostly, it’s fun: “Tipsy” and “Busy Boy” are just what their titles suggest. The title track, a love song with a twist, is a collaboration with British duo Disclosure, which adds a wavering, refreshingly complex production to their nimble vocals.
“Ooh Laa,” John Legend