Archive | July, 2021

Monthly Playlist: Jul. 2021

31 Jul

This month’s top five tracks are an eclectic mix of hip-hop, indie pop, punk and everything in between. Read on for our picks:

5. “Wasting Time” by Brian Faiyaz feat. Drake

What’s Drake doing on a feature with a relatively unknown artist like Brian Faiyaz? That’s what we thought going into this song, but just a few bars made us see why Drizzy chose him. “Wasting Time” is a supple, smooth R&B track by singer Brian Faiyaz (real name Christopher Wood), tapped by the magic wand that is the Neptunes’ production. Drake’s verse layers decently well on the mellow R&B, shaking up your ears at just the right time so that Faiyaz’s vocals sound even smoother afterward. Come for the Drake, stay for the Brian Faiyaz on this one.

4. “INDUSTRY BABY” by Lil Nas X feat. Jack Harlow

At this point, Lil Nas X is an one-man industry juggernaut. We’ve spoken in the past about his ability to harvest outrage from outrage-mongers for his own benefit and, ironically, embodying the supposed right-wing ethic of pulling himself up by the bootstraps – all from a song about horses on a road. “INDUSTRY BABY” is an unabashed self-crowning by one of the biggest hitmakers of our times, and the fanfare horns in the background do add a lot to the coronation vibe. “Get your soldiers, tell ’em I ain’t layin’ low / You was never really rootin’ for me anyway,” he says, ostensibly taking aim at the industry suits trying to knock this self-made artist off his flashy perch.

And yes, the video is risque. Would you expect anything else from Lil Nas?

3. “Blouse” by Clairo

Singer-songwriter Clairo (real name Claire Contrill) has been making gentle waves in the indie pop community since her sparse electro-pop single “Pretty Girl” way back in 2017. Since then, her sound has refined to more on the acoustic and folk edge of pop, and that’s the ethos that she’s brought to her second album Sling which was released earlier this month. “Blouse”, the lead single from Sling, is as pretty as it gets, with a subtle violin that evokes green Irish pastures – or something of the sort. This is a wonderful, calming song that was the perfect gateway for us into the rest of Clairo’s album, and we hope you feel the same.

2. “BDE” by Shygirl feat. slowthai

“BDE” stands for exactly what you think it stands for. The raunchy combination features British DJ Shygirl and ubiquitous British presence, the rapper slowthai. This track is a bop, with its bouncy, club-ready beat, and it turns up to 11 with slowthai’s trademark staccato verse. “BDE” needs to be playing in every club that’s open right now. Be the star of your house party and add this to your party playlist, stat.

By the way – July has been a great month for slowthai features in general. Don’t miss out on the old-school vibes on “SLUGGER” by American rappers Kevin Abstract and $NOT featuring slowthai, and also his presence on the excellent remake of “MODEL VILLAGE” by his good friends IDLES.

1. “Clash” by Dave feat. Stormzy

Honestly, just having Stormzy on a featuring spot is one of the best indicators of a great hip hop track from the UK. And when you have British hip hop darling Dave – recently off of winning Album of the Year for Psychodrama at the 2020 Brit Awards – on the same track as well? Killer. “Clash” loops on a hypnotic piano melody layered with deliberate beats, as Dave and Stormzy talk about their lives and riches. In Dave’s case, life has changed substantially since his rise to fame. In particular, he now lives in a much richer area – to which he alludes in a number of intriguing metaphors. “Freaks, I got more than one, fuck, daddy and daughter one / Tory puttin’ in labour, this that Jeremy Corbyn one,” goes the hook, instantly bringing to mind a posh Tory girl with daddy issues. Seen in that light, even the background piano seems like a subversion of the stereotypically status-symbol instrument into a grimy beat for this duo.

Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

29 Jul

If you haven’t heard of Olivia Rodrigo yet, we hate to break it to you but you are living under a musical rock. The singer-songwriter – not even out of her teens yet – is comparable in her pop culture heft to other voices-of-the-generation; think Britney, Miley and so on; so powerful, in fact, that she recently received a highly-covered White House invite. After a break-out year of songs permeating every corner of TikTok, Rodrigo has finally released her much-awaited debut album SOUR – and happily enough, it lives up to the hype.

At its essence, SOUR is a break-up album – but don’t let the cliché fool you. Where Olivia excels is in capturing every shade of the period after a young person’s break-up, from the heartbreak to the misery to the angst.

Her famous single, the one that put Olivia on the map, is the chilling “drivers license” (all caps and no punctuation, as is the wont of Gen Z). There is very rarely a song that’s catchy, well-written, truly heartfelt and universally beloved; and no song in recent times has come as close as “drivers license”. The song essentially follows Olivia’s train of thought after getting her driver’s license. Her initial motivation in wanting to drive to her now-ex’s house; imagining what the ex must be doing while she’s aimlessly driving around; and finally to her sad-schmuck jaunt around suburbs imagining a parallel-universe life with him. The backstory behind the song, and who the guy was, is the subject of many a gossip rag page, so we won’t bore you with the details here. What really sells the song is Olivia’s tenor – moving from warbly near-tears to straight-up misery at a forever-lost love. Of course, she’s young and probably won’t remember this heartbreak in as much detail ten years hence; but for a moment, the listener is transported to the dramatic, emotional turmoil of their late teens.

But it’s not all misery after the break-up. The pop-punk banger “good 4 u” is Olivia at her most sneery with some great burns (“And good for you, I guess that you’ve been workin’ on yourself / I guess that therapist I found for you, she really helped”) and an insanely catchy 90s-style chorus. However, she’s still hurting behind the sneer (“Well, good for you, you look happy and healthy, not me / If you ever cared to ask”). It’s perhaps a perfect pop song in its endless relatability. The softer “deja vu”, with hints of Lorde-style vocal stylings – cleverly claims the upper hand in the bitter break-up. “She thinks it’s special but it’s all reused / That was our place, I found it first / I made the jokes you tell to her when she’s with you,” she croons, and you can’t help but be on her side. The piano-driven “happier” sees Rodrigo at her most jealous and insecure: “But she’s so sweet, she’s so pretty / Does she mean you forgot about me?”

Beyond the core material around the break-up, there are several other great tracks; for example the would-be teenage anthem that is “brutal”. We’ve already spoken about this track back when the album first came out, but “brutal” is essentially a teenager’s look at the world. The hard-hitting riffs are straight out of a 90s teen movie where the young lass or lad slams the door on the parents’ faces and plots an escape to a nearby rock venue (yes, we’re channeling Freaky Friday on this one). The lyrics are somewhere between a rant session and a diary entry, with Rodrigo listing out various things that she’s not good at (making friends, parallel parking – see: “drivers license”).

Overall, the subject matter is undoubtedly a little limited, but it’s content that really speaks to her generation. Moreover, her voice is quite undeniably powerful, with an ability to switch between sugar-sweet and angst on the flip of a coin. Plus, her Disney Channel experience ensures that she has the connections – and commercial wit – to keep churning out hits and make it far in the industry. SOUR is a great start, and we’d be curious what the sophomore album would like – assuming there’s not another break-up to write about.

Rating: 7/10

Best tracks: “drivers license”, “brutal”, “good 4 u”

Tyler, The Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

23 Jul

I don’t know if you follow the sport, but NBA season just finished. I follow the NBA fairly closely and one of the things that keeps coming up is the “if X would do Y” pattern. If Ben Simmons would shoot the three, he’d be unstoppable. If Joel Embiid could stay healthy, he’d dominate the league. For years, it was “if only Tyler would mature a little, he would make some of the best music out there.” This is Tyler’s third album in his more mature vein and all three have been excellent.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is strong music with the kind of freewheeling variety that you expect from anything out of Tyler’s mind. Songs like “CORSO” and “LUMBERJACK” just go hard. Pairing with DJ Drama works really well for Tyler. He brings a little extra fun, a little extra chaos and a little extra energy to the album. It’s not that Tyler is ever short of these, but having someone else to bounce off adds fizz. Similarly, bringing in Weezy for “HOT WIND BLOWS” makes for a standout track. Wayne just adds so much pace to the song.

He also does well for getting so personal in this album. Learning about his mother in “MASSA” is a strong moment and recontextualizing an old feud in “MANIFESTO” is a very interesting change in perspective. He doesn’t really have anything to say in his political jaunt in that song, but I appreciate the honesty he brings. The song has a sick beat too.

It’s in “WILSHIRE” though that he really has the scope to tell his story. A lot of what makes for Tyler’s best work is just letting him be himself. He’s very smart and very sensitive and when he’s just talking to you those come through. His story about his friend’s girlfriend is the strongest thing in this album. When he drops lines like “And they say, “Bros over hoes,” I’m like, “Mm, nah, hey/I would rather hold your hand than have a cool handshake,” it’s really hard not to agree.

This trilogy from Tyler has been brilliant throughout. He’s always had the talent, but now that he’s got the direction as well, he’s just making really good music. There really is nothing that this man cannot do.

Jihye Lee Orchestra – Daring Mind

11 Jul

This album does a lot to recommend itself. It’s got substantial pieces of good, strong, aggressive jazz. “Dissatisfied Mind” is fun and energetic and delivers on the chaos promised by the title. “Relentless Mind” has some great moments that grab attention and complex, rewarding subthemes behind it. There are some interesting thoughts made more interesting for their interweaving, but they suffer a little from slightly predictable conclusions. It’s a very fun piece though and that does a lot for it.

Even where the album is not as strong, such as in “Suji” which is overlong and a little shallow, it’s just such lovely music that my complaints are minor. Similarly, although “Unshakeable Mind” is too placid and doesn’t do anything of interest, it doesn’t really need to for it to still be a pleasant listen. I may have preferred an album that did more to stand out, but this is an album that left me with a smile after every play. I’m glad I picked this one up.

Monthly Playlist: Jun. 2021

3 Jul

We are officially halfway through 2021 – somehow that feels too short yet not long enough. It’s been a rough year for some, a better year for others, but no matter where you are in life, these five tunes are sure to set your daily life on pause, even if for just a little bit.

5. “You Right” by Doja Cat feat. The Weeknd

Honestly, we are surprised that it took this long for Doja Cat and The Weeknd to collab. Both of these massively popular artists have a similar low-key, 80s-influenced vibe, and the confluence plays perfectly on this surprisingly poppy track from Doja’s new album Planet Her. Doja Cat carries the bulk of the first half of the track with her slightly raspy rapping style, and then The Weeknd steps in for his trademark wavering vocals. The entire track is a back-and-forth between two folks who are still in love (or at least lust), despite the fact that one of them is in a relationship. A tale as old as time, but not a bad version overall.

4. “LAW OF AVERAGES” by Vince Staples

Most people would have heard LA-based rapper Vince Staples from his star turn w hen a remixed version of his song “BagBak” soundtracked the landmark trailer for Black Panther. Since then, Vince has released his third studio album FM! in 2019, and is now set to release his next album – apparently self-titled Vince Staples – sometime in 2021. The first track from the new album is “LAW OF AVERAGES”, a meditative, slow-burn of a rap track that covers everything from bad friends to the heaviness of sudden wealth. You’re hooked from the first line: “Fuck a friend, I don’t want no friends with no open hands / Count my bands, all alone at home, don’t you call my phone / Everyone that I’ve ever known asked me for a loan.”

3. “Lost Cause” by Billie Eilish

The latest single from Billie’s upcoming sophomore album Happier Than Ever is very much on brand with the image that she’s beginning to cultivate. Earlier this year, Billie unveiled a newer, more adult, more body-confident version of herself, one that has outgrown the teenage angst and errors of her Apple TV documentary-era self. “Lost Cause” is a sneering goodbye to an ex that, in hindsight, was just not good enough for her. As always, props to Finneas’ fantastic, trip-hop production that amps up the cool detachment in her vocals.

2. “Venus Fly Trap” by MARINA

Welsh singer-songwriter MARINA (Marina Diamandis) has been leading up to her fifth album Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land for quite some time. Back in November 2020, we loved her track “Man’s World”, which was apparently the first single from this new album. Like most of Marina’s songs, “Venus Fly Trap” features her throaty vocals and a distinctive sense of outsider self-awareness that’s very unusual for a pop artist. “I never quite fit in to that Hollywood thing / I didn’t play that game for the money or the fame / I did it my way, baby / Nothing in this world could change me,” she boasts – although you could be forgiven for not paying much attention to the lyrics on this dance-pop track.

1. “Solar Power” by Lorde

Lorde is back! The young New Zealand singer first burst onto the scene with her debut album Pure Heroine, featuring the smash hit “Royals”. We quite liked her sophomore effort Melodrama as well, so we were excited to learn about her new track “Solar Power”, from the eponymous upcoming album. What we love about this track is the totally synchronous sunny vibe, from the title to the subject matter (“I hate the winter, can’t stand the cold… But when the heat comes, something takes a hold”) to Lorde’s bright yellow outfit on a sunny beach. This is a summer ditty about the simpler things in life, which hits particularly well after the bracing past year or two that most folks have had.

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