Archive | May, 2021

Monthly Playlist: May 2021

31 May

This month in music saw a few news-making releases, including Olivia Rodrigo’s Gen Z poltergeist Sour, St. Vincent’s sixth album, further shenanigans from Lil Nas X and more. Below, we pick out our top five songs for May 2021. Read on and let us know what you think!

5. “Die For a Man” by Bebe Rexha feat. Lil Uzi Vert

Bebe Rexha’s sophomore album Better Mistakes released earlier this month, and just running through the tracklist makes it clear that the young pop singer-songwriter is aiming for a different vibe this time around. Featured artists on the new album range from Doja Cat to Rick Ross to Travis Barker – a wide array of artists and genres that ultimately showcase more of her musical chops. One such track is “Die For a Man” featuring none other than Lil Uzi Vert. On this track, Rexha asserts her stance as an independent woman who doesn’t need a man, with fairly predictable lines (“I would never die for a man, die for a man, die for a man / No, I would never cry for a man, cry for a man, change who I am”). Benign lyrics aside, the track is elevated by her cold-symptom voice, the well-produced guitars & beat work, and especially Lil Uzi Vert’s crisp verse.

4. “IN PINK” by CHAI feat. Mndsgn

We’ve previously appreciated nonconformist Japanese girl group CHAI, particularly their 2019 album PUNK. CHAI deals in light, surprisingly genre-defiant songs peppered with their trademark sing-songy lyrics. On “IN PINK” from their May 2021 album WINK, the band teams up with Japanese producer Mndsgn to create a fresh, bilingual electro-dance-pop track. Half lost-in-translation and half purposefully-vague, the song seems to be an homage to the color pink, which clearly means more to the band than just a color. “Ooo pink is the color of the future if you open your eyes forever / Yay, stand up with, stand up with, stand up with pink / Life goes on, so, life goes on / In pink we trust,” goes one line. Overall, it’s a quirky, fun track – if you liked it, be sure to check out the rest of WINK. And if you haven’t already, do take a spin through CHAI’s track with Gorillaz on the extended Song Machine album.

3. “Maré” by Rodrigo Amarante

Clocking in at #5 is a bit of a left-field pick, in the form of Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante. If the name seems unfamiliar, we encourage you to listen to the first few bars of “Maré”. Chances are, the music will seem familiar indeed: Amarante is the artist behind the “Tuyo”, the theme song of the massively-popular Netflix series Narcos. Just like its famous predecessor, “Maré” evokes a feeling of drama, nostalgia, wistfulness and more – with the upbeat guitar and full Latin background instrumentals offset by Amarante’s slightly melancholic vocals.

Also: if this song is your cup of tea, an interesting follow-up pick would be to check out the too-overlooked self-titled album (2008) from Little Joy, a three-piece consisting of Amarante, LA singer Binki Shapiro and the Strokes’ drummer Fab Moretti.

2. “brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo

18-year-old singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo has been a break-through act of 2021 with the record-smashing single “drivers license” and its equally well-received follow-up “deja vu” – so the expectations were high with the release of her debut album Sour earlier this month. We’ll write later about our full thoughts on the album, but suffice it to say that Rodrigo currently holds the mantle as the voice-of-Gen Z. “brutal” from the new album makes it obvious why exactly Rodrigo is being called a beacon for her cohort. The track musically draws from 90s alt-rock, particularly the hell-raising riot grrrl type of acts. Lyrically, Rodrigo alternates between anxiety, angst, impatience and everything in between – as one would expect from essentially a teenager. “They say these are the golden years / But I wish I could disappear / Ego crush is so severe / God, it’s brutal out here,” she sings on the chorus, and damn it if it doesn’t transport you to those awkward, uneasy teenage years.

1. “Down” by St. Vincent

St. Vincent, the stage name for multi-faceted singer-songwriter Annie Clark, released her sixth album Daddy’s Home earlier this month. The album centers around her father, Robert Clark, who went to prison in 2010 for a plethora of white-collar crimes, and was recently released from jail – making the album title very literal indeed. Daddy’s Home was produced by Jack Antonoff, and his high caliber pop-punk-funk fingerprints are all over “Down”, a stand-out track from the new album. Right from the jazzy, fun synth opening, the song immediately catches your attention, and then St. Vincent’s breathy, emotive vocals take front and center. There are fun bits throughout the track, including what a banjo (?) that adds an element of country-lore to what is ultimately just that – an Oklahoman stock broker taking his family down with him. Overall, this is an enjoyable, well-produced track that makes us eager to check out the rest of the intriguing Daddy’s Home.

Rubén Blades with Roberto Delgado and Orquesta – Salswing

21 May

I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything like SALSWING! The album takes Latin Jazz and Big Band standards, places them side-by-side and calls it a day. You’ve got standards like “Pennies From Heaven” and then it’s immediately followed by the Tito Puente classic “Mambo Gil” and both are done very well. There’s naturally tremendous similarity between the two styles and between that and the band’s clear competence, it only makes sense how comfortable they are in both styles.

It’s a fun album both ways too. “Contrabundo” in particular is a highlight. It is bright and sharp and has great Latin percussion and an excellent piano solo. Meanwhile, “The Way You Look Tonight” is a classic rendering of a standard.

If you’re looking for either some Latin Jazz or some Jazz standards, this is good and if you’re open to both, this is great. There’s nothing particularly surprising in it and there’s no interesting intersection of the two styles, but as a collection of top quality music from both, there are no complaints to be had.

Xiu Xiu – OH NO

11 May

I’m so used to feast-or-famine with Xiu Xiu that it’s kind of hard to deal with OH NO. This certainly has none of the sheer brilliance of Fabulous Muscles or A Promise, albums which can define a career and forever make a fan. It is however listenable, something that can’t be said for at least half of Xiu Xiu’s music. OH NO is strangely relaxed and surprisingly likable. There’s nothing that tries too hard and so nothing that just falls flat. Instead, it’s just a solid collection of experimental pop.

There are definitely moments that stand out. There’s a percussive crash to echo the line “don’t trip on your skates” that then melds unexpectedly with the song. “Rumpus Room” is unironically a lot of fun and “Fuzz Gong Fight” is a beautifully edged evisceration. It’s a song with weight behind it. It has nothing for me to return to in the way his best music does, but it was a pleasant listen and as such a mildly unexpected surprise.

New Artist Roundup: Apr. 2021

5 May

Welcome to the our New Artist Roundup for April 2021! Below are five songs from up-and-coming artists that caught our eye this month, so be sure to give them a listen. And of course, if you’d like to be featured, be sure to email us at artists.tfr@gmail.com.

“FUZZY” by Bandicoot

To us, Swansea four-piece Bandicoot’s music sounds like the point at which the rockabilly sensibilities of the 50s and 60s merged with the glam rock vibes of the 70s. After putting out two tracks (2021’s “Dark Too Long” and 2020’s “O Heavens!”), the band is back with a new track called “FUZZY”, released on April 9th. “FUZZY” is catchy, wild and brimming with energy: the kind of track that immediately causes some part of your body to start tapping along to the beat. If you happen to live in or near Wales, be sure to catch their upcoming festival dates in July and October – this is definitely an act to catch live.

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“Morning Sun” by M. Byrd

With over 200,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, M. Byrd is definitely not a “new artist” for many people around the world. However, we were glad to be introduced to the artist’s indie folk music this month, particularly his new track “Morning Sun” – released on April 16th. Byrd describes the song as a morning mantra, a kind of a musical manifestation of how he starts his day. “The idea came to me a few years ago in the morning right after I got up and it came back to me subsequently over and over again, like a kind of entry into meditation, until I finally recorded it and arranged it into form,” he says, and we can see what he means. With its gentle guitar strums and his crooning voice, almost reminiscent of the late Elliott Smith, the song is a great accompaniment to one’s morning coffee. If you liked this track, be sure to check out his other song, 2020’s “Mountain”.

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“Third Eye Witness” by Scott McKeon feat. Gavin Conder

We admit: Scott McKeon is the furthest entry on this list from being a new artist. We had first heard of McKeon from his feature on Spotify’s highly-popular Modern Blues Rock playlist, where this track was wedged somewhere between the Black Keys, Gary Clark Jr., and other blues mainstays. McKeon is an established sessions guitarist, playing with everyone from Lana Del Rey to Ed Sheeran to Sir Tom Jones, and has put out a couple of albums under his own name and under other bands over the past 20-odd years. McKeon’s third full-length album New Morning, on which “Third Eye Witness” is featured, was released on April 23rd and we didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to highlight this great talent. The song – with McKeon on guitar and Gavin Conder on vocals – is a groovy, chill track that would be perfect to play on a Sunday morning. And don’t miss the dizzying guitar solo from McKeon about 2/3 of the way through. If you liked this song, be sure to check out the rest of New Morning: the album was apparently recorded mostly on the first take, and you can hear that spontaneity throughout the record.

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“Get Up” by Sesame Girl

Canberra pop act Sesame Girl is exactly one song old – having released this very track on April 14th – but they show promise in our eyes. The song is buoyed by the contrast between the happy-go-lucky instrumentation and the lead singer’s melancholic vocals – like looking wistfully back at a childhood memory that, in retrospect, was probably the most fun you’ve ever had. Sesame Girl already caught the eye of Australian tastemakers Triple J, so good things are probably in store for the young band. Keep your eye on this one!

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“Hopelessness of Love” by Waiting for Smith

Waiting for Smith is the stage name for British singer-songwriter Harry Lloyd, who named his act after perpetually waiting for his (presumably ex-) drummer Smith. Lloyd makes lovely, light music that you would have probably heard on your local radio and (in the pre-Shazaam days) waited for years until you serendipitously find it again. “Hopelessness of Love” – released April 29th – is a sweet 3-minute ditty about fighting through a relationship’s rough patches. “It’s about the inevitable collision that happens in any relationship, there’s ups and there’s downs – that’s just life. We can’t fight the hopelessness of love but we can find a way to accept it and use it to become our strength,” explained Lloyd. Overall, this was a sunny, bright introduction to Lloyd’s music and we’ll certainly be back for more.

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Interested in getting featured in our next New Artist Roundup? Don’t forget to email us your music at artists.tfr@gmail.com!

Monthly Playlist: Apr. 2021

2 May

As you may know, we at Top Five Records have our roots in India, with several of our writers located in the country. This past month has seen some of the worst days of independent India with the resurgence of a deadly second COVID-19 wave. For all our readers who may be directly or indirectly affected by COVID – in India or anywhere else – we extend our heartfelt sympathies. Here’s hoping these five songs from April 2021 provide a moment’s relief in these dark times.

5. “Introvert” by Little Simz

Rapper Little Simz is back with another great track from her vantage point as a Black, politically-aware British musician and artist. We loved her previous output Drop 6 (2020) – a confident, well-crafted set of songs including the excellent “Might bang, might not”. “Introvert” is musically a little different from these often-barebones rap tracks, bringing in a certain cinematic quality with lush instrumentation. The track is about her own internal struggle between her outward personality and her inner demons as a confident Black woman. Can she be her true self? Why not? What’s stopping her? Her flow on this track is as sublime as ever, and pairs well with the orchestral background. “Introvert” is the first track from her upcoming album entitled Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.

4. “Boilermaker” by Royal Blood

Rock favorites Royal Blood released their exciting third album Typhoons last week, featuring the great singles “Trouble’s Coming” and “Typhoons”. The last single they put out just before the album release was the hard-rock banger “Boilermaker”. Royal Blood have always sounded like a wirier, leaner Queens of the Stone Age but on this track they ramp it up to 11 – for example, the starting few seconds of the song will make you wonder whether you’re listening to an excellent Royal Blood cover of “The Way You Used To Do”. Simply put, “Boilermaker” is as robust and heavy as the name suggests, with Ben Thatcher’s hard-hitting drums coiling around Mike Kerr’s energetic vocals. It’s classic Royal Blood and a great final lead-in into the new album – look out for a review on that soon.

3. “Crawling Kingsnake” by the Black Keys

Another song on the rock landscape this month was “Crawling Kingsnake”, the first new music from the blues-rock legends since 2019’s “Let’s Rock”. This is apparently the first song from their upcoming Delta Kream, a cover album of blues classics. The original version of “Crawling Kingsnake” has no real birth date, believed to have emerged out of the fertile Mississippi delta sometime in the 1920s, but the most famous version was recorded by legendary blues artist John Lee Hooker in 1948. The Black Keys’ version infuses their signature rock style into this classic track, giving it an almost Doors vibe – and we later found out that the Doors did indeed record their own version of this track. Full circle then; and we can’t wait for discovering more blues history through Delta Kream, out on May 14th.

2. “Your Power” by Billie Eilish

“Your Power” marks the first track of Billie Eilish in her first official pop-star makeover – as a blond; more grown up; and much more vulnerable compared to her rambunctious debut album era. She’s been hinting at this for a while with the intermediate songs like “everything I wanted”, and it’s nice to see the first full emergence of the new persona. “Your Power” is a slow-strummed ballad that essentially depicts the romantic power dynamic between a young woman – perhaps we can presume it’s Billie, perhaps not – and a seemingly older man. “I thought that I was special / You made me feel, like it was my fault, you were the devil,” she says in retrospection on her naivety, along with very specific lines like “Will you only feel bad if it turns out that they kill your contract?” that makes one think that she was perhaps the girl in the song. Musically, as always, her brother Finneas’ production is seamlessly suited to Billie’s voice, falling in and out at the perfect moments to underline her tender vocals. “Your Power” is the third single from Billie’s highly-anticipated sophomore album Happier Than Ever on July 30th, following singles “my future” and “Therefore I Am”.

With Billie, the actual stylization of the song titles are important. There was the all-caps titling of her debut album, filled with subversive, all-lower case songs. There were the more formal outputs like her James Bond theme written in normal capitalizations. “Your Power” is deliberately written with normal stylization, perhaps indicating an inner transition to a more “adult” person. After all, it’s sometimes tough to believe, but Billie is still a teenager that has been in the public limelight for the entirety of her teens, living more in those five or six years than most of us will do in half a lifetime.

1. “Chosen Family” by Rina Sawayama feat. Elton John

The original “Chosen Family” is a heart-rending track from Rina Sawayama’s fantastic 2020 debut SAWAYAMA, about her late-adulthood discovery of a LGBTQ friends group that becomes more family than friends. This is especially important given her rocky relationship with her actual family, which is a theme throughout the album on tracks like “Dynasty”. Rina has now re-recorded the track with the one and only Elton John – an LGBTQ icon himself. In a way, it’s arguably better than the original because Rina’s friends group – the other part of the “we” in the track – is given a voice through Elton John. Lines like “We don’t need to be related to relate / We don’t need to share genes or a surname / You are, you are my chosen, chosen family” hit much harder when it’s a duet, and of course Elton’s piano adds an additional air of sentimentality to this moving song. This track really needs to be experienced through the accompanying music video, so be sure to check that out above!

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