Justin Timberlake, "Filthy" (RCA). I'm not in the habit of spotlighting musicians whose Grammy awards number in the double digits, unless it's under duress, but, hey, it's a slow time of the year. Justin Timberlake—whom I liked for his role in Inside Llewyn Davis—is a perfectly adequate R&B song-and-dance dude, and "Filthy" is totally functional big-budget funk that's up there with your Bruno Marses and Mark Ronsons for high-definition groove and state-of-the-art sound design. (It was co-written and co-produced by Timberlake, Timbaland, and Danja, with additional writing from James Fauntleroy and Larrance Dopson.) The video boasts a blinged-out robot with enviable moves—a foreshadowing of our brave new future where pop stars will be replaced by automatons with super-human reflexes and lower contract demands. "Filthy" can be found on Man of the Woods, out February 2. Two days later, you can catch Timberlake performing at halftime at the Super Bowl. I'll probably punt on that one.
Chick Quest, "Savant Garde" (label). A smart, linear, new wave-inflected dance song with trumpet, "Savant Garde" (off the 2017 album Model View Controller) is instantly lovable. I rarely make predictions in this space, but I'd venture to say that the Vienna, Austria-based Chick Quest (not a great name, btw) will become the indigent individual's LCD Soundsystem this year, and by 2019 they will be playing all the medium-sized festivals. Mark my words.
Mukqs, “Al Saiduq” (Doom Trip). "Mukqs" looks like it could be an Aphex Twin track title, but it's actually the nom de musique of Hausu Mountain co-founder Maxwell Allison, who also plays in the freewheeling experimental group Good Willsmith. "Al Saiduq" reminds me of those heady days when IDM reigned as the dominant engine of electronic-music innovation (about 20-25 years ago). Which is not to say this track is retro, but rather to suggest that Mukqs embodies the same questing spirit that imbued so many of the '90s' most radical producers—think the best category-defying acts on labels like Mego (Farmers Manual), Sub Rosa (Bisk, Freeform), and Irdial (Anthony Manning). There's the sense in this music that anything can happen and that the element of surprise is paramount. "Al Saiduq" appears on the album 起き上がり, out January 29.
EXEK, "Weight Loss (Henry's Dream)" (W.25TH/Superior Viaduct). A modern Australian band who sound like 4AD enigmas Dif Juz and painter Jean-Michel Basquiat's group, Gray? Yes, please! Melbourne's EXEK execute a stark, dour DIY strain of dub that sounds like grimmest 1981 post-punk, and in 2018, that's paradoxically fresh. "Exercise with some exorcists/I wouldn't have a clue how to lose/Boost confidence with a silicon chest/Baby wants milk but mother knows best" are my favorite lyrics of the year so far. Peep EXEK's forthcoming album, Ahead of Two Thoughts, on January 26.
Gary War, "Windows and Walls" (Feeding Tube). Back in the late '00s/early 2010s, Gary War was out-weirding Ariel Pink and John Maus in the hypnagogic-pop sweepstakes. Releases like Horribles Parade and Jared's Lot ran Gary Numan-esque electro-pop through an even more alienating filter, as queasy textures and grotesquely warped vocals prevailed. With the new "Windows and Walls," Gary War (aka Greg Dalton, now accompanied by a full band) cleans up his sound and attempts something like 21st-century bubblegum glam. It's upbeat and anthemic in a way that may shock long-time Gary War fans... and it's over in a teasing 101 seconds. "Windows and Walls" comes from Gary War's Gaz Forth LP, out February 9.
Noteworthy January 5 album releases: Profligate, Somewhere Else (Wharf Cat); Watain, Trident Wolf Eclipse (Century Media); Sinistro, Sangue Cassia (Season of Mist); Giancarlo Guerrero/Nashville Symphony, Terry Riley: The Palmian Chord Ryddle; At the Royal Majestic (Naxos).