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Jody Rosen’s Songs of the Week: CHVRCHES, Context, and Thundercat

Chvrches, “It’s Not Right But It’s Ok
Give the Scottish trio Chvrches bonus connoisseurship points. It’s one thing to cover a Whitney Houston song like, say, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” It’s another to dig up Houston’s great but relatively unsung 1999 single — a defiant kiss-off to an emotionally abusive lover. CHVRCHES, whose fine debut album was released this week, also steer clear of the smarm that hinders so many indie covers of pop and R&B hits. Their rendition reimagines the song as clattery synth-pop but preserves the emotions; Lauren Mayberry’s vocal is lovely and sharp but — wisely — she never tries to sound like Whitney.

Context, “Small Town Lad Sentiments (Mike Skinner Remix)
Context, a rapper from Norwich, England, has garnered critical praise and a growing following in the U.K., with songs that tell sad, slightly scuzzy tales of contemporary twentysomething life. Context’s unglamorous subject matter, his deadpan flow, and his preference for uptempo club beats all call to mind Mike Skinner, a.k.a. the Streets, and Context has made no secret of his hero worship of Skinner. But Context, whose real name is George Musgrave, has his own voice, if not quite style: He’s a poet of hard times, a grim chronicler of, as he calls Norwich in “1.4 at 12,” “a city hooked on debt.” His latest single, “Small Town Lad Sentiments,” offers more of the same, with flashes of gallows humor, in neatly stacked-up rhymes: “We grew up being told that actions speak louder than words / But you need cash to act, and I'm skint / Fractions speak louder than verbs.” The song was remixed by none other than Skinner himself, who also appears in the song’s video, in a cheeky bit of stunt-casting that makes his endorsement official: Skinner plays a middle-manager type grilling Musgrave in a job interview.

Thundercat, “Bowzer’s Ballad
The week’s best requiem for a video-game mogul comes from Thundercat — bass demigod, Questlove favorite, and, apparently, gamer extraordinaire. The song is dedicated to Hiroshi Yamauchi, the longtime president of the Nintendo Company, who died on September 19 at age 85. “Bowzer’s Ballad,” so named for the Super Mario Bros. villain, begins as dirge and opens into a jazzy fantasia, before returning to ruminative stillness. It’s as lovely as it is geeky.

Photo: David Wolff - Patrick/Getty Images