Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now

26 May

Pop is the medium of the present. Other genres can try to make an album that future generations will love or something that speaks to the older generation of established critics or just to be something their parents would listen to. Pop is about the now. Sometimes, like photos of ourselves from the nineties, we can only look back in bemusement, but that’s missing the point. how i’m feeling now is about just that, how I’m feeling right here and right now.

Make no mistake though, this is music of the present done very well. “claws” is a propulsive stream-of-consciousness with a chorus that extends exactly one beat longer than expected and is perfect for doing so. It forces the listener to pay attention and pulling out the phrase “I like” into the conclusion of “everything about you” is cute and yet intense in the way feelings are when you’re young. It’s some of the best pop that she has ever made.

She’s got that aesthetic down pat by now. “7 years” and “party 4 u” are good pop and very cute for that feeling of young love. Similarly, “i finally understand” puts a smile on your face for how well it expresses the feeling of being understood yourself. It’s upbeat and energetic and just feels happy. For an album about living in a pandemic, this is mostly a joyful album and it achieves that through just being honest. There is still a lot to celebrate in the now.

That’s one of the biggest strengths of how i’m feeling now, Charli brings the sincerity that great pop needs. It feels raw, it feels unpolished and it even feels a little rushed, but none of these detract. It’s not sloppy, it’s authentic. It’s straight from the feelings. It’s not an album to study, it’s one to experience in the moment. “pink diamond” opens the album strongly with just how uncompromising it is. The harsh noise and unforgiving beats hit you from the jump. It’s a very aggressive sound.

It’s also just masterful pop. Charli has been one of the most interesting musicians in pop for quite a while now and how i’m feeling now continues to prove how good an ear she has for pop. “detonate” is proper club pop in an age of no clubs and the breakdown at the end is genius for how it reminds you of that. “c2.0” has her at her most playful with her sounds. She lets pieces bubble into each other and burst through and it’s very clever. “enemy” has bright, blinding synths and while the lyrics never deliver on the promise, it doesn’t matter. It’s a shimmering, not a textbook.

This is an album of the moment and it’s transient in the way all pop must be. I don’t know if it will hold up at the end of the year or if it’s the kind of thing that I’ll ever come back to, but right here and right now, it’s perfect.

@murthynikhil

Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA

23 May

Nostalgia in pop is having a moment. The Weeknd and Dua Lipa, for instance, have mined this vein heavily, but no one has done it with the intelligence of Rina Sawayama. The trick to nostalgia is not to sound like what music used to sound like, but to sound like what you remember things to feel like. It’s not about the sound. It’s about the feel. I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t the most sophisticated of listeners in the early nineties and much of what I was listening to wasn’t that sophisticated either. Sawayama draws from wells like Korn, Evasnescence and above all Britney for the album, but through an astonishing alchemy serves something as sharp as any of the most experimental pop today.

The best tracks, “XS” and “Comme Des Garcons” have all of the energy of Britney, but with a complexity that it’s hard to imagine Britney bringing. “STFU!” is as hard and as fun as any Korn track, but it’s not dumb and that’s a pretty big difference. Her upbringing further sharpens the album. “Akasaka Sad” and “Dynasty” both layer in her personal story and in doing so further evolve the music. The pop she draws from never thought to speak of the immigrant experience. She astutely and cuttingly speaks of tourists in “Tokyo Love Hotel” and the storytelling there is made better for the earlier contrast of “Bad Friend.”

It does occasionally slip too close to the well and so “Paradisin” has nothing interesting. The sax there almost sticks it, but is just too cheesy and her voice is not enough to carry the song through. Similarly, “Chosen Family” is just a traditional pop ballad and can’t hold up to the more interesting music here.

At its best though, this is absolutely incredible pop. It’s whip-smart and yet highly approachable from its sources. Outgrowing old tastes has never been this fun.

Drake – Dark Line Demo Tapes

11 May

Dark Lane Demo Tapes does one thing in particular, it reminds you that Drake has talent. That talent gets lost a little in all of the stuff around him. He’s a superstar in a real sense. He is the upper echelon of the upper echelon of fame and it can be easy to forget the music what with the shoes and the viral videos and all that, but even with a loosie like this, Drake just puts out very good music. 

“Toosie Slide” has the viral dance that it was built around and the virtual tour of his mansion and it’s probably already something I can do in Fortnite, but it’s the song that’s stuck in my head, not the accessories. His flow is excellent. He’s greyed the area between singing and rapping so thoroughly by now that the question of what is what feels empty, but it’s still incredible. The pauses in his chorus are nothing short of genius. The song is infectious and every bit as good as anything Drake has ever put out.

He’s got a great sneer in this album. “When To Say When” takes well-placed shots at the people biting at his heels. The stunting in “From Florida With Love” is excellent bragging, even if the jetsetting lifestyle seems a little quaint at this exact moment, as is also the case in the fun “Landed.” Drake wears his superstardom well.

However, this is where the mixtape fails a little. Drake sticks to comfortable poses throughout. He plays superstar in the ones above, he plays Toronto sadboy in the rest, and I’d like to see him try something new. “Pain 1993” gestures at that growth, but it still feels like the old Drake. “Losses” talks about changing, but he’s still as quick to mope and as petty as he has ever been. “D4L” is quite good trap, but the man has worn these topics through. Even reimagining “Superman” in “Chicago Freestyle” while clever and solid rap feels a little pointless at the end.

Drake is a father now, and while it’s trite to expect family to change a man, it’s unbelievable that it doesn’t. Drake only ever shows us what he wants to show us, but his music suffers for running the same themes again.

Musically though, he’s as inventive as ever. His proficiency at trap is no surprise anymore, but “War” is excellent British rap. Drake has been both willing and able to experiment with everything in rap and beyond and he does it with consummate skill. His shapeshifting is as much a part of his legacy as any of the shinier parts.

This is where the mixtape ends up falling overall. This is some of the most consistent work that Drake has ever put out. It’s all good, high-quality rap. Drake has perfected his molasses sound, it’s sugared, but dark and viscous and it sticks to you, but he adheres to the same limited issues and it’s beginning to hold him back. Nevertheless, he’s good enough to make this mixtape stand out. This has some of the best music of the year and while Drake is definitely capable of more, he still delivers in a way that most cannot.

Childish Gambino – 3.15.20

8 May

Today is the 8th of May , which marks exactly 54 days since 3.15.20 was released. Numbers are a recurring theme on this album, which is both intriguing and frustrating, because it is legitimately difficult to remember tracks – most of the track names are the actual timing at which they appear on the album, such as “42.26,” more familiar as last year’s Feels Like Summer. A nightmare for people like me with 0 memory ability.

But (as dozens of other critics have already pointed out) it does fit well with the current culture and our bizarre time-dilated COVID-19 shared lockdown experience. Day, date, time have all lost meaning in our socially-distant reality, just as the process of listening to this long flowy interwoven album renders time into a True Detective reference.

Meta-relevance aside, is it good? Short answer… yes?

We are, we are, we are…

3.15.20 is complex, rich, conceptually heavy. It is both musically challenging and easily consumed. It continues Childish’s ability to mix hard topics with soft sounds, complimented by long-time collaborator Ludwig Goransen’s steady producer hands. It is perfectly in sync with Gambino’s current downbeat vibe. It is critically and artistically important. It proves Gambino’s unchallenged dominance in the rapper/actor scene (suck it, Drake), and will no doubt be on pretty much everyone’s best-of- lists for the year, if not decade.

And yet…

I miss the old Childish. The straight from the go Childish.

The younger, more fire-fueled Childish ceded space to this new, chill Gambino years ago, but each new release still makes me miss that version. The kid still young and hungry and trying to prove himself with a high voice laden with anger and desperate braggadocio. The artist has long since moved on.

But I haven’t.

– Karthik.

Jimmy Greene – While Looking Up

4 May

Jimmy Greene has made something of a name for himself in jazz circles since 2014’s Beautiful Life and while the sequel wasn’t quite as brilliant, it’s still always exciting to see new music from him. Unfortunately though, While Looking Up leaves too much to be desired.

There are some definite stand-out moments. “While Looking Up” has a very nice sax solo and some unexpected diversions in the piano solo and there’s good energy in “Always There.” I always like a vibraphone solo and the one in “April 4th” is a delight, even if would have benefited from some tightening. Jimmy Greene’s sax work is also excellent in the slower “Good Morning Heartache” and the equally heartfelt “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).” He’s good at getting emotion through, but the song stays too long without enough to say.

This happens with some regularity in the album and it pushes the whole thing too far into easy listening for my taste. There are some clever bits, but the album tends to predictability, a trait made worse by a number of songs refusing to end. It’s an often beautiful album, but one without depth and one ultimately that’s hard to recommend.

Stepping About with Tushar Mathur: An Interview

1 May

Bangalore-based Tushar Mathur has made quite a splash in the short time since he’s gone solo. With two singles out already, “Mend” and “Groove Pool”, he’s earned a sizable following for his signature chill R&B sound and sharp production quality. He’s been featured on BBC, VH1 and countless media publications for his fresh and unique sound.

But as laid-back and breezy as his music may sound, Tushar Mathur’s work ethic is quite the opposite. In launching his music career, he’s learned to don many hats: songwriter, producer, video editor and social media manager, to name a few. Fittingly enough, his upcoming track “Stepping About”, talks about our generation’s struggle to strike a balance between hustle culture and self-care. The track features Shayan Roy, a Mumbai-based rapper and producer of Buzzfeed fame and releases on May 1st.

We sat down with Tushar Mathur last week for a detailed chat about his music, his influences and what it means to be a musician in the social media age.

Tell us about yourself!

Let’s start with the name. My name is Tushar Mathur and I’m originally from Coimbatore. I’m a chemical engineer. I finished my degree and didn’t want to pursue engineering at all. I moved to Bangalore around three years ago to do music full time.

I have a band that mainly plays blues-rock, and now I’m working on launching my solo career. The song I’m coming out with, “Stepping About”, is my third single; “Mend” and “Groove Pool” were my first two tracks and they released last year.

We really enjoyed your first two tracks! What made you interested in music? What would you say is the starting point for you?

The starting point for me, I’d say, is my family. I have a very musical family. My parents and grandparents sing Hindustani classical music. But the moment I really got interested in English music was when my brother went to Jaipur for his summer vacation and he came back with a CD. That CD had 12 tracks – mostly hits by Guns and Roses and Deep Purple. We’d sit down and listen to that CD on repeat, the entire day. That sparked an interest in me and I took it forward from there.

My dad also used to play a lot of John Denver and country music around the house. I grew up listening to a lot of guitar-centric music. My brother would also introduce me to a lot of metal and rock. My music has been centred around the guitar ever since.

So would you say these are your primary influences? Or has this evolved as you’ve evolved as an artist? What would you say your main influences are now?

Right now, I’m hugely inspired by Tom Misch. He’s a guitarist and producer from London. My music has been hugely inspired by him- the style that I have now is mainly because of how much Tom Misch I listen to. Another recent influence of mine has been FKJ. When I start touring and playing live, my idea is to incorporate a lot of loop work onstage. FKJ has sort of been a pioneer in that field.

Your first two tracks feel so effortless and breezy! How was the process of writing, producing and releasing these songs?

My first track Groove Pool” is about an introvert at a party who wants to let loose. I’m not exactly why I wrote about it.. I’m not usually an introvert, but maybe I felt that way and just wanted to write about it. (Laughs)

My writing always starts off with simple guitar work. I usually start with a basic chord structure and build on top of that. The vocals, for me, usually come at the end. I tend to work on all the instruments and then sit down at the end of the day with the finished instrumentals, and write the lyrics and put in a nice vocal melody. That’s my process.

“Mend” was pretty similar. Groove Pool was released in July 2019 and Mend was out by November 2019. “Mend” was special because I worked quite hard on the music video for it. I had dancers, directors and photographers coming in so that took quite some time, but I’m happy with the result.

And how has the reception been for these tracks?

It’s been great! The songs have been on BBC Radio, both my videos were featured on VH1, and I’ve been featured on radio stations across the world. The response has been phenomenal, and people have been so supportive!

As a musician who’s transitioned between cities, how would you say the Bangalore scene compares to the Coimbatore scene?

The scene in Coimbatore is basically non-existent, which is why I moved to a city like Bangalore. Even before, we’d always travel to Bangalore for shows and competitions with my band. Bangalore has always been a great place for music; there are always people who play and appreciate different styles of music, especially when it comes to English music. Coimbatore’s scene is slowly developing as well, but the live music culture is yet to pick up. I’d say Bangalore is a hundred times better, in that aspect.

It must be an interesting experience to have to release music during this pandemic. Has it been a challenge to work on and promote your new track in these times?

I’ve actually been working on this third song for the last six months. It’s been a very long process. I’m usually very picky about my music, and with “Stepping About”, I was even more particular. It’s about our generation’s battle between hustle culture and self-care. Productivity has become a measure of self-worth, and it took me a while to gather my thoughts and pen them down, given how much this affects our generation.

The pandemic hasn’t really affected my release schedule- I’d say I’ve been going about my work as usual. Whenever I release music, I give myself an entire month to promote. I’ve been doing what I’ve done for every song. But I think during this pandemic, a lot of people are sitting at home and consuming more content than they usually would. I don’t think it’ll negatively affect the reception of the song per se; but my touring and live sets have definitely been impacted.

Even though it wasn’t written recently, the song’s subject matter seems more fitting than ever.

Somehow it’s become very relevant. Even in this situation, everyone’s constantly doing something, or learning something new. People of our generation constantly make themselves feel bad about not being productive enough, and that’s something I had felt six months ago when I came up with this song as a concept. It’s suddenly become way more relevant to the situation that’s going on right now.

Your track also features Shayan Roy, who’s popular for his viral Buzzfeed videos and his burgeoning rap career. How did this collab happen, and how was it working with Shayan?

I was looking for a rapper for my track. I got in touch with a lot of people but it wasn’t working out. Somehow I came across Shayan and I just sent him an email. That’s all I did. I attached my track and told him “Your part would be between these timestamps”, and asked if he’d be interested in laying something down for me. He actually got back to me instantly saying he loved the track and he would give it a shot.

It was that easy! A lot of people have asked me this: “How did you end up working with Shayan? How did this happen?” I’ve actually never met him- this has entirely been through email, Instagram and WhatAapp. And this all happened because of a single email. People don’t realize how important an email can be. That’s how I’ve got VH1, BBC and interviews like this.

You seem like quite the hustler!

(Laughs) Technically yes. It sounds a bit ironic that I’m writing a song about self-care. You’re right, I do hustle, and I do a lot of things. But there are times when I feel that I do need to chill out and take it easy. This song is to remind me to take a break. One of the lines actually is “At times I need to chill out” – that’s me telling myself I need to chill. So it’s very relatable to me and kind of a message to myself.

I’m always telling people to take it easy, but my friends tell me that I don’t follow my own advice and that I’m constantly doing something or the other. So I think that this song would be good for me as well, as a reminder that sometimes, I should take it easy.

Do you find it challenging to be a musician at this time? Between the music, the promotions and the social media, it feels like you’re doing the work of a three or four-member team!

That’s true, but the thing is: I love doing this! The music part is amazing, of course, but I believe that if you’re a musician, you need to see that music is a business. I think a lot of newer musicians think they’re above everybody, and think “I’m not going to learn how to promote myself, who wants to do that?” or “I’m just going to send this song out to a couple of my friends and it’ll blow up on its own.”

But I feel that with the music industry nowadays, the actual music makes up 30-40% of your success- the remaining 70% is just marketing and promotion. You might write the best song in the world, but if nobody’s going to hear it then what’s the point?

You’re right, it definitely is a three-person job, but I enjoy it, and I find the producing, marketing and promotion aspect of it extremely interesting.

Do you produce all your own tracks? How did you get into that?

Yeah, I’ve produced all my own tracks. I’m such a fidgety person, the type that loves to mess around with controls and buttons for hours, and that’s how I got into producing. I have a friend called Sandeep who’d take my calls and kind of guide me through some of the questions I had, but apart from that there’s always YouTube and Google. You can literally learn anything on the internet! This was essentially a product of me having a lot of time on my hands and being able to sit down and figure out how to achieve different sounds.

There was another advantage of getting into producing. I was already a musician at that point. Earlier, when we’d jam, I’d know what I want from the sound. Now it’s become easier to achieve that sound on my own and manage the different aspects of the final product. It’s given me more control over my music, in a way.

So you’re a self-taught musician as well as a producer!

I actually did go to guitar classes for a year, but I didn’t like it back then. It was mainly Carnatic stuff, and all I wanted to do was play Zeppelin. So yeah, I’d say I’m self-taught.

I’ve also taught myself video editing- all the videos you see are edited by me. I also take up a couple of freelance projects on the side, to support myself financially.

Wow, so it’s more like you’re doing the work of a six-member team!

Yeah I do quite a lot, you’re right. But I really enjoy the whole process.

RAPID FIRE:
Top Five Desert Island Album/Songs:

1. Beat Tape 1 by Tom Misch

2. Geography by Tom Misch

3. Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd

4. Led Zepellin 1 by Led Zepellin

5. My own music!

What are you currently listening to?

I really make use of Spotify’s daily mix feature- lots of times I’m not really sure who the artists even are!

I’ve been very excited about FKJ’s new album, Tom Misch’s stuff and this artist called Raveena.

Describe your sound in two words.

Let’s make it three: Smooth. Like. Butter. (Laughs)

What’s been your favourite gig? And why?

My favourite gig is actually my very first one. I had a gig back in Coimbatore, in this Punjabi Association that we were a part of and my dad had pushed us to go play a show there. A lot of my friends and family were at the show, and they still fondly recall the gig to this day. That was the first-ever time I got up on stage to perform and it felt magical- it’s my most cherished performance that I’ve given.

Dream collab?

Tom Misch, if I could, but I wouldn’t be able to function if that happened. If not him, then I’d really like to collaborate with a Hindi rapper – maybe Divine (I love his style) or Raja Kumari.

Is there anyone you’d like to shout out for helping you along the way?

I’d like to shout out my friend Pavithra. She’s been with me the entire way, and she’s supported me throughout!

You can visit Tushar’s website here for more information. His music is available wherever you regularly stream music. Listen to “Stepping About” now!

Monthly Playlist – Apr. 2020

28 Apr

We say this almost every month, but April 2020 was truly one of the best months of music that we’ve ever been through. There was, of course, Fiona Apple’s universally-lauded Fetch the Bolt Cutters; on the very same day, English pop star Rina Sawayama released what is easily the best debut album since Invasion of Privacy (2018). We even got new tracks from reclusive acts like The Strokes and Jamie xx. Read on for a round-up of the best five songs from this month.

5. “Young and Beautiful” by Glass Animals

This is technically not a new song, but we love Glass Animals’ gauzy cover of Lana del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful”, released as part of a growing collection called, fittingly, Quarantine Covers. Dave Bayley’s spindly, whispery voice and bare production lends itself perfectly to the track – the result being a fresh yet respectful cover of a truly classic song.

As a bonus, check out another song in Quarantine Covers – a hypnotic take on Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box”.

4. “Shameika” by Fiona Apple

 Fiona Apple has had a sparse but monumental career, spanning five increasingly unrestrained albums from her debut Tidal (1995) to Fetch the Bolt Cutters (2020). This latest album currently enjoys an unprecedented perfect score on Metacritic. Is it worth the fawning all-round praise? Somewhat – but not entirely (see our in-depth review here).

Perhaps the most widely-shareable song on the album is “Shameika”, a rollicking tale about schoolgirl Fiona getting some tough love from a slightly older girl. The eponymous Shameika tells Fiona that she has potential, and Fiona uses that mantra to get through the bullying and boredom of middle-school life. We particularly love the rolling piano and Fiona’s jazzy storytelling on this track. Fiona recently shared that Shameika, indeed, turned out to be a real person (and not a figment of her imagination as she initially thought), so that’s cool too.

3. “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” by The Strokes

On April 10th, the Strokes released their much-awaited sixth album and thankfully, it lived up to expectations. The presciently-named The New Abnormal (in-depth review here) certainly featured some new direction for the band, but there were also some classic, old-school Strokes tracks. The fun and catchy “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” falls squarely in the later category. Kicked off by a bouncy, synth-heavy riff, the song features Julian Casablancas singing about the good old days over feel-good guitar work from Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi. It’s just a great tune.

2. “Idontknow” by Jamie xx

Idontknow”, a new single from English producer and DJ Jamie Smith (and one-half of The xx), is a revelation in its sheer use of beats. The track starts off with almost African-like beats that are sure to get you tapping along with some part of your body. Just when you think that’s all there is to it, the track ramps up into overdrive at approximately the 78-second mark. And when we say overdrive, we are not joking. The beats double in speed, and Jamie Smith expertly overlays mysterious vocals snippets, with the effect being a frenetic, craze-inducing romper of a track. It’s addictive in its simplicity, and we highly recommend it.

1. “XS” by Rina Sawayama

It may seem like Japanese-British pop singer Rina Sawayama comes to us fully-formed, but the 29-year-old has been working on her sound for some time. She had a couple of well-received tracks between 2013 and 2016, followed by a self-produced mini-album in 2017. This month, she finally released her official debut album – the eponymous SAWAYAMA – and it was well worth the build-up.

Sawayama’s sound is a beguiling mix of late-90s pop (think Britney and Mariah) and early 2000s moody rock (think Evanescence): nostalgic in its components parts but wholly original in its combination. The best song this month was definitely “XS”, a commentary on late-stage capitalism with a killer pop hook (we told you it’s original). “Luxury and opulence, Cartiers and Tesla X’s / Calabasas, I deserve it,” says Rina, before begging for “just a little bit more, little bit of excess”. Even if you don’t listen to the words in detail, you just can’t miss the pop sounds from the millennial Rina’s 90s / early 00s childhood.

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