Listen Up

A Senegalese ekonting recording, a soulful song inspired by Virgil Abloh, featherweight vocals on gentle cello and more

Vic Mensa feat. Thundercat: Strawberry Louis Vuitton

Chicago-based rapper Vic Mensa teams up with singer and musician Thundercat and R&B vocalist Maeta for the glorious “Strawberry Louis Vuitton.” Produced by Mensa, Thundercat, El Michels Affair and Johan Lenox, the soulful love song was partly inspired by Virgil Abloh. “I made ‘Strawberry Louis Vuitton’ while watching one of Virgil’s last LV films; the one with Saul Williams,” the rapper explains in a statement. “When I heard the sample it just spoke to me, so I chopped it, made the beat, and wrote the song on the spot. It was really a freestyle. I always imagined Thundercat doing the bridge… We recorded it when he was on tour and I was doing my art show in Chicago. When Virgil passed away I kind of felt like he had given this song to me; the gift that keeps on giving, in a way.” Fittingly,
he dons a custom recreation of a Virgil Abloh suit as he skydives (while playing guitar) toward his love interest in the accompanying music video.

The Album Leaf and Bat For Lashes: Near

Album Leaf (LA-based artist Jimmy LaValle’s ambient project) teams up with Bat For Lashes (aka singer-songwriter, musician and producer Natasha Khan) on the enchanting “Near.” The luminescent, layered track will appear on Future Falling (out 5 May), LaValle’s first album in seven years, which will also feature Kimbra. He says in a statement that the process of making “Near” with Khan was organic: “I had sent Natasha a song I was working on to see if she’d be up for collaborating. We spent an afternoon in my studio while she sang a handful of ideas over the piece. I took those ideas and created something new inspired by her vocal. I really wanted to create something to support the dreamlike narrative she was painting. It was all very natural.”

Esukolaal: Bapaalaay (Friendship)

Released by Smithsonian Folkways (the Smithsonian Institution’s non-profit record label), the Senegalese ekonting track “Bapaalay (Friendship),” by the band Esukolaa, will appear on the forthcoming album Ears of the People: Ekonting Songs from Senegal and The Gambi (out 4 February). The band includes Elisa Diedhiou—one of only a few women who play the ekonting, which is a musical ancestor to the banjo. The melodic track contains a call for unity between individuals across the African diaspora.

Jana Horn: After All This Time

Jana Horn’s upcoming album, The Window Is The Dream, is set for release in April and from it comes the lead single, “After All This Time.” Horn’s featherweight vocals float over the track’s soft percussion, gentle cello and guitar. The album “began as a failed program,” says the Texas-based artist in a statement. “I wrote these songs in the thick of a writing program. I was reading all the time, sometimes five-hundred pages a week or more, there was no music on, for years maybe; my record player broke, the stereo in my car, my laptop was on its last speaker and then it started twitching. The feeling of those days was holding on, as though centripetal force alone was keeping everything going. Songs spilled. Days go by / they don’t have time. Even the walks I took were circular, around the cemetery and back.”

Lucinda Chua: Echo

Singer-songwriter Lucinda Chua announces her debut album, Yian (meaning swallow in Chinese, paying homage to her Chinese heritage), with the enchanting “Echo.” A minimal, haunting piano ballad, the track comes accompanied by a Jade Ang Jackman-directed video for which Chua worked with movement director Chantel Foo. The London-based artist says it’s “a pop song about ancestral trauma,” and its minimal but powerful lyrics illustrate pain, defiance and resilience.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Layla

Following “I Killed Captain Cook,” Unknown Mortal Orchestra has released “Layla”—both tracks from the highly anticipated upcoming double album, V (out 17 March). Frontman Ruban Nielson, who is of Hawaiian and Maori heritage, says the sound was inspired by “the rich traditions of West Coast AOR, classic hits, weirdo pop and Hawaiian Hapa-haole music.”

Listen Up is published every Sunday and rounds up the new music we found throughout the week. Hear the year so far on our Spotify channel. Hero image courtesy of Unknown Mortal Orchestra