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When asked to curate an hour of new music for Atlantic readers to listen to while walking, my mind immediately went to Sophie Xeon, the brilliant electronica producer who died at age 34 in January. Sophie, a pioneer of the zany new sound known as hyperpop, once told Rolling Stone that “all pop music should be about who can make the loudest, brightest thing.” That’s an appealing idea in this late-pandemic winter when life—not to mention the music business—feels like it’s in a holding pattern.
Accordingly, I’ve been on the lookout for music that will go to extreme lengths in the name of pleasure. The songs below, all from the past year, are pep rallies that celebrate music’s ability to puppeteer emotion.
Bomba Estéreo, “Deja”
The tingling guitars of this ever-adventurous Colombian psychedelic band evoke a watercraft skimming through a bioluminescent sea and casting purple ripples.
Dawn Richard, “Bussifame”
Strut along to this explainer—from one of the most idiosyncratic figures in R&B—about the brilliance of New Orleans dance culture.
Dry Cleaning, “Scratchcard Lanyard”
The rising punk poet Florence Shaw imagines herself as “a woman in aviators firing a bazooka” while her band chugga-chugs along.
D0llywood1 featuring Acounta, “Human Nature”
For a rare couple of minutes, hyperpop’s glitchy chaos gets used not to vent angst, but to endorse chillaxing.
Jxdn, “Drivers License”
This pop-punk cover highlights the strength of the songwriting in Olivia Rodrigo’s hit ballad. Prepare for goosebumps and fist pumps in the bridge.
SG Lewis, Robyn, and Channel Tres, “Impact”
Welcome to the clubbing portion of your walk, with a swirl of house bass, deep-voiced raps, and sweet singing from a Swede offering a glimpse of how fun post-pandemic nightlife might be.
Itzy, “Dalla Dalla (English Ver.)”
This K-pop group’s hits have just been reissued with English lyrics, though the band’s cheer-squad blend of energy and intricacy was already accessible to all.
Tkay Maidza and Yung Baby Tate, “Kim”
Two emerging rappers team up to cosplay as Kim Possible, Kim Kardashian West, and Lil’ Kim, with clanking production supporting all of the cartoonish ferocity.
Maluma, “La Burbuja”
Bubbling sounds and bubble-related lyrics give this Latin-pop superstar’s dancehall explorations an intriguing sci-fi glisten.
Cardi B, “Up”
Amid a flurry of assonance and alliteration, the head honcho of pandemic pop culture coins the fun new dis: “Breath smell like horse sex.”
Rita Ora and Imanbek, “The One”
Here’s a hair-raisingly efficient blast of house pop whose lyrics you can quote at couples therapy.
Octo Octa, “Find Your Way Home”
For eight minutes, travel to a ’90s acid-rave-slash-transcendental-meditation. You’ll emerge understanding that cheesiness is just a funny way to describe blissfulness.
Accept the gift of radical sincerity from a gospel-folk experimentalist who really, really loves his friends.
Valerie June featuring Carla Thomas, “Call Me a Fool”
Joined by a Memphis-soul legend, a cult-beloved country singer trains her one-of-a-kind rasp on debunking the idea that unconditional love is naive love.
Sophie, “Bipp (Autechre Mx)”
Weeks before Sophie’s death, a remix by the legendary beat makers Autechre put a mournful spin on pop’s central promise: “I can make you feel better.”