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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.

The Black Keys – Delta Kream

9 Jun

Less than two years after their 9th studio album “Let’s Rock” (2019), blues two-piece heavyweights the Black Keys are back with another album – kind of.

Delta Kream, released on May 14th, consists of eleven classic blues songs as covered by Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney of the Black Keys, along with various industry veterans on supporting instrumentals. As the album’s name suggests, the tracks here all originate from the Mississippi river delta, and the great blues tradition that has been institutionalized there for the past century. Delta Kream – beyond serving as the Black Keys’ 10th album – also acts as a fantastic primer into the very specific Mississippi hill country blues sound.

Seven of the eleven songs here are from North Mississippi contemporary blues legends RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. The other three songs here are from Mississippi hill country blues progenitors Ranie Burnette, Mississippi Fred McDowell and John Lee Hooker, and Delta blues musician Big Joe Williams. Between these six original songwriters, one can truly feel the essence and tradition of the Mississippi hill country blues – the hypnotic groove, the steady repeating riffs, the lilting vocals and so much more. On Delta Kream (and really, in their whole career), the Black Keys have paid respectful homage to these classic blues songs, and elevated them for modern times with their own signature electric blues style.

We have already written about the album’s first “single” – if you can call it that – called “Crawling Kingsnake”, a rollicking, Doors-esque take on a blues standard that was born sometime in the 1920s. However, that’s far from the only stand-out track on here. “Poor Boy a Long Way Home”, a traditional blues song that has been around since at least the 1920s, sets the record on fire with the boisterous slide guitar taking center stage. “Going Down South”, an RL Burnside classic, centers on a surprisingly good falsetto from Auerbach, with the entrancing guitar and steady drums providing almost a rail car sound – as if one really is traveling down south in the olden days.

Probably the two best songs on the record are both by Junior Kimbough. On the yearnful “Stay All Night”, Auerbach’s soulful vocals run as a common thread through the mesmerizing exchanges between the various musicians on the track. “Do the Romp” has already been covered by the Black Keys as “Do the Rump” in their 2002 album The Big Come Up, but on the Delta Kream version, they strip it back to a much cleaner, bouncier, classic sound.

According to the Black Keys, the album was recorded in “about 10 hours” in a sans-rehearsal jam session with guitarist Kenny Brown and bassist Eric Deaton, who have literally worked with some of the aforementioned hill country blues legends over the course of their careers. In its own way, Delta Kream is more iconic than just a cover album. It is an honest distillation of musical history spanning ten decades; a living, breathing artifact of a storied, hyperlocal musical tradition. The more you dig into it, the better this album gets.

Delta Kream retains all of the spontaneity and charm of a recorded live concert – which is essentially what it is – while adding the signature Black Keys touch to a truly classic blues repertoire. Highly recommend for anyone with even a passing interest in blues rock.

Rating: 9/10

Best tracks: “Crawling Kingsnake”, “Do the Romp”, “Stay All Night”

Royal Blood – Typhoons

7 Jun

Typhoons is the third studio album from British two-piece band Royal Blood, following the eponymous debut (2014) and the sophomore album How Did We Get So Dark? (2017). The band’s signature sound comes from singer Mike Kerr’s vocals and hard-hitting guitars, paired by the machinery that is Ben Thatcher’s drum kit – the result being a catchy, lively output of songs. On the third album Typhoons, the boys have infused this sound with a more dance-rock vibe (reminiscent of the Kaiser Chiefs and other such bands of the mid-00s).

The album has been a long way coming: their first single “Trouble’s Coming” came out in late 2020, and as our readers would know, we loved that track. Title track “Typhoons”, released in January of this year, similarly caught our fancy, as did fourth single “Boilermaker”.

All signs were pointing to a fantastic album. The question was, would the rest of the album stand up to the monster singles? Our answer – not really.

Oblivion” is definitely the best of the new tracks, wedged right in between two lead singles but standing up to their weight. Ominous synths lead into a beastly opening riff and Kerr’s apathetic vocals, all leading up to an explosion of beats and riffs in the main chorus.

By the time you run through the first three tracks, you’re pumped up and ready to go – and unfortunately, the largely unremarkable fourth track “Who Needs Friends” doesn’t pack enough of a punch for the adrenaline to land.

A few other tracks on the album are in the vein of this so-so track. For example, “Hold On” sounds like a mash-up of the average parts from their other songs, mixed with tunes from any forgettable bands from mid-00s alt-rock radio stations. “Either You Want It” is interesting for Kerr’s falsetto style vocals and slight lead into wailing psychedelic-esque guitars, but ultimately it doesn’t quite click. The slow, piano-led “All We Have Is Now” is quite unusual for the band, but the overt focus on the piano as opposed to the too-ethereal, too-echoey vocals makes the song feel like it’s missing an element. Maybe someday Royal Blood can put out a legitimate rock ballad, but this isn’t it yet.

Now that we have had a chance to listen to the full album, it’s clear that the best song on the album is “Boilermaker”, which was produced by Queens of the Stone Age singer and desert-rock purveyor Josh Homme. It’s an absolute riot of a track, all sludgy guitar riffs that showcase Kerr’s sneering vocals. Another great track is third single “Limbo” – filled with traditional guitar-and-drums in the verses but drifting into a hypnotic, psych-rock vibe in the chorus. The band recently did an orchestral version of the song that’s definitely worth checking out!

All in all, Typhoons produced a good number of decent additions to the Royal Blood repertoire, and perhaps marks the start of the band’s more dance-rock edge. The singles are definitely still the best songs on the album, but there are a couple of notable additions for it to be worth your while.

Rating: 7/10

Best tracks: “Boilermaker”, “Oblivion”, “Typhoons”

New Artist Roundup: May 2021

1 Jun

We are back with another edition of our New Artist Roundup feature! Thank you so much to all the artists that submitted music to us over the past few weeks. It’s getting tougher and tougher to choose just five from all the great submissions – and we couldn’t be more excited about that!

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

“Golden Sophism” by Glasgow

“Golden Sophism”, released in late April, is the debut single from Puerto Rico-based indie rock band Glasgow. Lead singer Marcos Del Moral has a crisp yet lackadaisical voice, with an almost sing-song quality – evoking the vocal styles of The Killers, Passion Pit and other indie darlings. With its upbeat drums, funky bells and whistles, and surf-rock guitars, “Golden Sophism” is an instant foot-tapper. If you liked this track, be sure to check out the next release from Glasgow entitled “Claire”, out May 28.

Links

“Winter Love” by Abhibyanjana Rubhi feat. Peeyush Nepal

“Winter Love”, from Sikkim-based singer-songwriter Abhibyanjana Rubhi Thatal, is a guitar-driven track with a surprisingly lush production. Abhibyanjana describes her musical state of mind as “a perpetual state of dreaming”, and it’s easy to see that on this track. “Winter Love”, featuring fellow Sikkimese singer Peeyush Nepal, is a pleasant, bright track that does justice to Abhibyanjana’s resonant vocals. The young artist has an EP coming up later this year, and we’ll be keeping an eye out for that.

Links

“Daisies” by Raye Robinson

“Daisies”, released on May 7, is the debut single from Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Raye Robinson. The track features Robinson’s breathy, crystal-clear vocals that are reminiscent of Gen Z superstar Olivia Rodrigo. The sharp production alternates between simple piano chords and bouncy bass-heavy beats, for an effect that the artist describes as somewhere between Lily Allen and Billie Eilish. “Daisies” is about overthinking after a break-up: “I couldn’t stop wondering ‘Does he miss me too? Does he hate me now?… I immediately loved using the word ‘daisies’ in the hook, and from there the rest of the song came together pretty quickly!” she explains. For a first single, this is a great start – excited to see what else is on the horizon for Raye.

Links | Press

“Feedback” by BINNY

The first time we heard “Feedback” (released May 6) by Maryland-based artist BINNY, we were a little taken aback by the production value – in a good way. The song was described by the artist as “hyperpop”, and it is admittedly quite an effective term for this smooth, catchy bop. From the opening few seconds, “Feedback” bustles with thick synths, driving bass and BINNY’s made-for-clubs vocals. BINNY has described the track as “a sexy and playful song about being receptive to love and needing that feedback to feel confident”, and his Britney-meets-Gaga vocal style exactly matches that lyrical sketch. The song was produced by Zhone, who has worked with up-and-coming artists like Slayyyter and Chaos Chaos.

Links | Press

“Bloom” by R.I.Pablo

If you pay a visit to R.I.Pablo’s Internet presence, you would likely get an image of a young, brand-new artist making his initial foray into music. But dig under the Pablo Navarro stage name, and you’ll find that this is actually the project of one Pablo Bowman – a prolific UK songwriter with hundreds of songs under his belt, for musicians like Bebe Rexha, Little Mix and Anne-Marie (including the mega-hit “Friends”). “Bloom”, the debut single from R.I.Pablo (May 12), is a hazy, synth-heavy bop that melds the line between R&B, pop and hip-hop. What’s most remarkable is the judicious use of Auto-Tune – an artistic choice so often reviled, but here used to great effect to elicit a dream-like, glitchy experience.

Links

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: 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.

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.

Website | Label | Press

“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”.

Website | Press

“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.

Website | Press

“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!

Instagram

“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.

Website | Press

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!

Monthly Playlist: Mar. 2021

1 Apr

After a slow start to the year, we finally had a deluge of great music this month. It wasn’t easy to whittle down this month’s best tracks to just five – in fact, we actually couldn’t do it, so look for a bonus sixth track at the bottom of the article. Without further ado, here’s our top five tracks for March 2021!

5. “Get Sun” by Hiatus Kaiyote feat. Arthur Verocai

Hiatus Kaiyote is a four-piece Aussie band that melds genres like R&B, soul, jazz and funk into an irresistible mix. The band’s soul lies in the dynamic vocal presence of singer-guitarist Naomi Saalfield (a.k.a. Nai Palm), bolstered by the almost cinematic instrumentation provided by Perrin Moss (drums), Paul Bender (bass) and Simon Mavin (keyboards). The latest track, “Get Sun”, features 76-year-old Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai, whose arrangements provide even more flair to the band’s already flamboyant style. Saalfield’s layered, staccato vocals evoke 90s soul / R&B stars such as Brandy, balancing well against the big-band horns-and-string section on the chorus. In all, the sprightly song is a good sign of things to come – Hiatus Kaiyote release their next album Mood Valiant in June 2021.

4. “The Kiss of Venus” by Paul McCartney feat. Dominic Fike

The original version of “The Kiss of Venus” from Sir Paul was released in December 2020 as part of his 18th (!) studio album, McCartney III. The song is, of course, vintage McCartney – gentle guitar strums that are alternatingly melancholic (a la “Norwegian Wood”) and quirky (a la “When I’m 64”) – but like most of his solo career, it’s perfectly pleasant but doesn’t quite stick beyond a few listens. Now, McCartney has put out a re-take of the song with young, talented singer-songwriter Dominic Fike – and suddenly, “The Kiss of Venus” has transformed into a different song. Fike’s distorted vocals add a catchy rock edge which honestly that works better for the track. Kudos to McCartney for working with new artists – apparently there’s much more of the same to come.

3. “Wants and Needs” by Drake feat. Lil Baby

“Wants and Needs” represents the synthesis of two of rap’s biggest names today, and currently has upwards of 50 million plays on Spotify and 10 million views on YouTube – so chances are, you don’t need us to recommend this track to you. Part of a three-song March 2021 release from Drizzy entitled Scary Hours 2, this track contrasts Drake’s chill, sing-song rap flow with Lil Baby’s fast-paced trap style. Special props for the line on arch-nemesis Kanye West, whose convenient new religion grift deserves Drake’s (and all of our) contempt (“Yeah, I probably should go link with Yeezy, I need me some Jesus / But soon as I started confessin’ my sins, he wouldn’t believe us”).

2. “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” by Lil Nas X

“MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” was released less than a week ago, and like most Lil Nas X songs, it’s already a global hit with a talk-of-the-town music video to boot. Like it or not, Lil Nas X (born Montero Lamar Hill) is nearly unrivaled in today’s music world as a tastemaker and cause celebre, and it’s not by accident. The strangely reggae-sounding “MONTERO” sees Lil Nas X on the chase (“Call me when you want, call me when you need / Call me in the morning, I’ll be on the way”) with sexually-explicit lines that make clear exactly what he wants from his lover. Move over, “WAP” – a new right-wing trigger track now holds the crown. Lil Nas X expertly promoted the song with (what else?) a Bitcoin giveaway and a limited-run sneaker drop, so don’t be surprised if you hear about this track everywhere in the coming weeks.

1. “THE DRAKE” by cleopatrick

For us, the biggest surprise on this list has been “THE DRAKE” by Canadian rock band cleopatrick. Hard-hitting riffs, hard-hitting drums, hard-hitting everything, clearing once in a while for the lead singer’s pronounced vocals – there’s nothing new here if you listen to the likes of Queens of the Stone Age and fellow two-member band Royal Blood. However, cleopatrick make it sound fresh on “THE DRAKE”, where monster riffs and Luke Gruntz’s vocals keep you glued for the entirety of the 3.5 minute run. We’ll certainly be going back into this band’s discography – this is one to keep an eye on.

Bonus: “Boyfriend” by Leah Kate

Leah Kate is an up-and-coming LA-based singer-songwriter with a fairly large hit (“Fuck Up the Friendship”) in 2020. Now she’s back with “Boyfriend”, a catchy 90s-00s meld in the vein of Rina Sawayama and Dua Lipa. Plus, Leah Kate is seemingly backed by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian’s data-driven music start-up indify which brings the venture capitalist world into music, so you know she’s super savvy. Expect to see her around a lot more.

New Artist Roundup: Mar. 2021

29 Mar

Hello, and welcome to a brand-new feature here at Top Five Records! Today, we wanted to dive into five great songs that we’ve heard from new artists who have submitted music to us from all over the world. Without further ado, here’s our inaugural New Artist Roundup from Top Five Records!

Interested in submitting music to us? Please email us at artists.tfr@gmail.com.

“Stuck Pig” by EIN SAM

EIN SAM is a young electronic musician based out of Bristol, UK with three songs so far under his belt. The second of these tracks, “Stuck Pig”, was released at the start of the year. The track features a meandering bassline and slow-paced drums that form a great foundation for EIN SAM’s deliberate vocal style. The song itself is, in the artist’s own words, “about inner and outer divisions”, and he does well in portraying that through his lyrics about being neither here nor there (see lyric video above). The song’s fuzzy psychedelic rock gives us vibes of Mazzy Star, so if that’s your cup of tea, be sure to give this a listen.

“Letters” by Metro

Metro is a young four-piece band hailing from Palo Alto, California. “Letters”, the band’s second song so far, starts off with dreamy instrumentals that are joined by singer Marina Buendia’s folksy, quivering vocals. The entire song is built on a concept of personified Winter and Summer writing letters to each other, and kudos to Metro for making that seem much more quaint than you’d expect. The band’s dream-pop vibes sound like a sweeter, stripped down version of Tame Impala – not bad for a bunch of teenagers. If you liked this track, you can check out their first song “Her”.

“Sinners” by Gede

Washington D.C.-based Gede makes music that defies neat little genre boxes. Gede describes his own music as a combination of big beats, distorted guitars, bass and much more, and cites artists as diverse as Tame Impala and Gary Clark Jr. as his inspirations. “Sinners”, from his 2021 album Forward, is a great example of that. The track features Gede’s contemporary rap bars set against electric blues-rock – with jazzier interplays that could easily feature on, say, a heist movie montage. If you liked this track, you should definitely give the rest of the new album a spin.

“Angel Follows Me Out” by Gallery 47

British musician Gallery 47 (real name Jack Peachey) makes introspective, acoustic guitar-driven music reminiscent of folky artists such as Elliott Smith or Nick Drake. His latest track, “Angel Follows Me Out”, is a two-and-a-half minute ditty with pretty acoustics that play well with the quiet, melancholic vocals. The song really focuses on the deft guitar work with not more than four to five sentences of actual lyrics; but the end result is a clean, simple but haunting piece of music. If you liked that track, then you’re in luck: Gallery 47 is a highly prolific musician with four (!) albums in 2020 alone.

“Space” by Nuela Charles

Canadian singer-songwriter Nuela Charles has been slowly making a name for herself since her debut album Aware (2012). Her sophomore album, The Grand Hustle (2016), featuring the slow-burning pop track “Crumbling Down”, was even nominated for the JUNOs (the Canadian equivalent of the GRAMMYs), and she’s garnered numerous awards and charting positions in her native Canada over the years. Charles’ signature sound seems to be contrasting her silky-smooth vocals – think Ariana Grande or our new fav Celeste – against a big-band bass, horns and drums type of production. Her latest single “Space” (created with Juice WRLD producer her Don Mills) falls squarely in this niche. Much like Grande’s “NASA”, space here refers to the physical and emotional distance between Charles and her lover, except as a twist, it seems like Charles is the one trying to pull the other person back in (“I don’t need space / you told me you needed space”). Great entry point into a singer that is bound to break big very soon.

Interested in submitting music to us? Please email us at artists.tfr@gmail.com.

Tyron – Slowthai

22 Mar

Tyron, the sophomore album from punky British rapper slowthai, is a twin-headed beast. On the first half, with titles in all caps, slowthai (real name Tyron Frampton) comes to the listener with full braggadocio. The second half, with titles all in lower case, finds slowthai in introspection – about his music, his journey and most of all who he is as a person.

A lot of the context for this album comes from a singular day in the Before Times – February 12th, 2020, the day of the NME 2020 awards. Slowthai was nominated for everything from Best Song to Best Album, and even won the famous Hero of the Year award – so far so good. However, things took a left turn when the inebriated rapper proceeded to hit on the comedian-host Katherine Ryan, and then, when folks started throwing drinks at him, tried to jump into the audience for a fight. Ryan soon after said that she was in on the “joke”, but the damage was done. Slowthai was to be cancelled; but unfortunately for his detractors, the lad wasn’t having it.

Swiftly following the event, Slowthai put out a thinly-veiled diss track called “ENEMY” – which is, of course, phonetically identical to NME (“Keep my name out your dirty mouth / Fightin’, don’t know what you keep on cryin’ ’bout”). In a way, Tyron’s first half represents a further exploration of the themes from that song; including his assertion that his steep rise to fame could not be cancelled by one bad night (really, a few bad minutes).

We’ve already talked about the Skepta-featuring hit “CANCELLED” which finds the grime legend joining slowthai in hitting back against today’s often-too-harsh cancel culture. On “MAZZA” featuring American rapper A$AP Rocky – no stranger to controversy himself – slowthai explores the mantra of “Any press is good press”. “Gin and tonic, I’m a bigger topic / Bigger pocket, can’t close my wallet,” he boasts, tongue-in-cheek reference to his boozy bad day. And he has a point; recent events have done nothing but fuel slowthai’s punk image, on which much of his music is based – surely that can’t be bad for business.

The few others on this half of Tyron see slowthai at peak bluster. “VEX” explores his refusal to get ruffled by things that would earlier bother him (“I used to get vexed, now I just, mmh / Been bad since I stepped out the womb”) while “DEAD” speaks to his legacy that, according to slowthai, is irreplaceable whether he’s alive or not. In line with the twist on the death theme, there are some YOLO lyrics on this track: e.g. “My vida loca, true I lead this crazy life / Tune banging in the motor, gun-fingers to the sky”.

After all that bravado, slowthai switches things up on the more hard-hitting second half. It’s not just the titles that are in lower case; these seven songs find the music toned down, his raps slower. If the first half was the drunken, belligerent NME evening, the second half was the morning after – with a heartfelt explanation of the personal events that led to an embarrassing show like that.

i tried” is a heartbreaking tale of a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who wants to be loved but is shunned by a world that only sees the stereotype. It’s a tale as old as time, but the sharpness of his writing lends new texture to the story. “Hug the world with open arms and they treat me like a pest,” he says, followed soon by “Life got me in a headlock, back and forth like a hockey puck / Always wanted muscles, lack of strength made me headstrong”.

terms” sees slowthai realizing the destructive patterns in his life: “Early bird wakes, catches the worm then reverts to its base, regurgitates / And nothing I’ll change / Do it again and I do it the same again and again.” Musically as well, the track’s a stand-out, featuring a surprisingly evocative chorus from rapper Denzel Curry and up-and-coming rapper / musician Dominic Fike. “push” sounds nothing like any other slowthai song, featuring the gentle vocals and guitars of LA singer-songwriter Deb Never. “I grew up ’round toxic / And people can’t see ’cause they live in a pond with some dumb fish,” writes slowthai, wrapping that pearl of truth with coming-of-age snippets from his rough background.

The best of this bunch is “adhd”, which sees slowthai at his most honest and vulnerable. On this track, he paints his hard persona as a shield to deflect from his varied and self-harming internal struggles. If the line “Tryna protect so I project / Deflect and they call it self-defence,” doesn’t get you, this one will: “Overthink, sink in my seat / Eat, sleep, repeat, what you know about T? / Smoke weed only way I fall asleep / Same routine, drink ’til I can’t speak”.

Overall, Tyron adds depth to the slowthai persona, offering up intriguing and well-penned origin storylines that further explain why this lad from Northampton ended up creating a debut album called Nothing Great About Britain. The introspective second-half of the album is far more interesting than the typical braggart first-half, and hopefully slowthai explores that side further in future albums.

Best tracks: “CANCELLED”, “adhd”, “i tried”

Rating: 7.5/10

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