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Monthly Playlist: Aug. 2022

6 Sep

Our playlist for August 2022 is an eclectic mix of artists you definitely know about and those that you probably should know about. Come along with us for a spin of the top five tracks last month – read on below!

“STEPMOM” by DACEY

DACEY is a Canadian duo consisting of the eponymous lead singer Dacey Andrada and instrumentalist Justin Tecson. The duo has had a few minor hits in the flavor of indie / R&B, including “Sidewalks” (2019) and the mellower “Broccoli’s Keeper” (2020), culminating in a short album including those two songs in 2021 called Satin’s Keeper. They’ve had a few tracks since then, but “STEPMOM” immediately stands out with its Hot Chip-esque opening beats and frantic pace. The tempo hardly slows down for the rest of the fun three-minute track, showcasing Dacey’s expressive vocals and the drum machine-like beats in particular.

“strawberry chainsaw” by JAWNY

Indie pop singer-songwriter JAWNY first gained prominence with 2019’s “Honeypie” – one of those inherently catchy pop songs that you’ve likely heard on one of countless Spotify-created playlists. He parlayed that track into a signing with Interscope Records and a major label debut (2020’s mixtape For Abby) which saw moderate success as well. Now he’s back with “strawberry chainsaw”, a jangly, feel-good pop track that immediately evokes summery nostalgia. Imagine this song on the soundtrack for the Gen Z coming-of-age teenage movie like Juno, and you’ll have a good idea of the vibes on these two-and-a-half minutes. 

“New Gold” by Gorillaz feat. Tame Impala and Bootie Brown

We already loved the first new Gorillaz track “Cracker Island” back when it came out in June. Last month, Gorillaz announced that the song was actually the starting point for an entire album (also called Cracker Island) which is expected to be released in Feb. 2023. As part of the announcement, the virtual band released “New Gold” featuring psychedelic rock act Tame Impala and longtime Gorillaz collaborator, American rapper Bootie Brown. “New Gold” is an old-school Gorillaz song with equal measures of deft beats, peppy rap verses, and an air of psychedelia – naturally helped along by the masterful Kevin Parker. We’ll see whether Cracker Island matches the brilliance of 2020’s Song Machine – but with a track like this, signs sure are positive.

“SEX APPEAL” by BLACKSTARKIDS

BLACKSTARKIDS are an alternative hip-hop trio from Kansas City consisting of TheBabeGabe, TyFaizon, and Deiondre. They gained some prominence with the more pop-rock track “FRANKIE MUNIZ” on their third mixtape Whatever, Man (2020), but the sounds on their new “SEX APPEAL” blow that previous song out of the water. The track starts off with a bouncy, fun intro that’s almost reminiscent of Black Eyed Peas, and the siren-based beats and jagged rap verses remind the listener of The Neptunes – in a great way. Take it from us: BLACKSTARKIDS are about to make it big.

“Sweet Tooth” by Maya Hawke

Actor Maya Hawke is not just your favorite member of the older kid crew on Stranger Things. She’s also a singer-songwriter with decent indie pop credentials to her name – and she showcases that beautifully on the lilting, gentle “Sweet Tooth”. Maya’s vocals may be radio-ready, but the lyrics on closer inspection are wackier than your typical pop song. They center around teeth, as the title suggests, but there are plastic teeth, cherries replacing the gap where her molar used to be, and all sorts of other stream-of-consciousness thoughts. The fact that all this weirdness seems endearing is a testament to the sweetness of her voice and jangly guitars. 

Beyoncé – RENAISSANCE

22 Aug

Whenever Beyoncé releases new music, it’s an Event™ – especially as she has a penchant for dropping music out of the blue. RENAISSANCE, her seventh album, was actually released on July 29th with a heads’ up by way of an announcement on July 16th. Expectations were high, and the first single “BREAK MY SOUL” raised them even further.

So how good is RENAISSANCE? Does it best Lemonade, her acclaimed sixth album from 2016? Probably not. But there are more than enough highlights on this album – not to mention an exciting new turn for Queen Bey – that makes this one well worth the listen.

By and large, RENAISSANCE celebrates the disco and house sounds of the 1970s, especially from Black America. We’ve already written about “BREAK MY SOUL”, a raucous Afropop-tinged disco track seemingly soundtracking the Great Resignation. “ALIEN SUPERSTAR” is another early stand-out with club-ready beats against Beyoncé’s sweetly-sung vocals. “CUFF IT” offers a funky disco sound with the unmistakable Chic touch – and no wonder, because Nile Rogers himself was involved on the track. “VIRGO’S GROOVE” is another disco-funk classic: a seamless, six-minute ode to the desire that Beyoncé still feels for her husband. 

When we looked back at these standout tracks, what jumped out was that all except “BREAK MY SOUL” come courtesy of a production & songwriting duo Nova Wav, consisting of Brittany “Chi” Coney and Denisia “Blu” Andrews. Chi and Blu first worked with Beyoncé on her Grammy-winning “BLACK PARADE” track in 2020. On RENAISSANCE, they have contributed to eight of the best tracks from this album. “MOVE” featuring Grace Jones and Tems is sparse and dramatic with an opening section reminiscent of “Tokyo Drift”, while “PURE / HONEY” is an irresistible track that brings to mind early-90s dance-pop hit “I’m Too Sexy”. “SUMMER RENAISSANCE” is a classic disco / house song that samples none other than Donna Summer’s iconic disco hit “I Feel Love”. It’s not a stretch to say that Nova Wav is the actual powerhouse behind the marketing & vocal genius of the Beyoncé brand on this album.

The other thing that really strikes you about RENAISSANCE is the sheer perfection of the song transitions. They are beautifully done in a way that makes the entire album feel like one cohesive whole, with different sections corresponding to different moods and tracks. In particular, the entire stretch from “CUFF IT” to “ENERGY” (featuring Jamaican rapper Beam) to “BREAK MY SOUL” is a kaleidoscopic ten-minute ride with no discernible stitch whatsoever.

Apart from the core tenets of disco and house, Beyoncé does a good job of highlighting other sub-genres – for example, the dancehall vibes on the aforementioned “ENERGY” and on “HEATED”. Gospel and trap intersect on the Megan thee Stallion-like “CHURCH GIRL” with its insistent drumline and a lot of quotable lyrics, while “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA” is the closest thing to sweet pop on this album that’s otherwise aggressively sensual.

While there are definite weak points on RENAISSANCE (for example, the tryhard “THIQUE” and the forgettable “ALL UP IN YOUR MIND”), it’s clear that Beyoncé has spent considerable time, energy, and skills in creating the distinctive throwback sounds on this album. The production values are sharp and her vocals are as on point as ever. RENAISSANCE doesn’t have the emotional range of Lemonade (and to be honest, people like Jessie Ware have already made better disco albums in recent years), but Beyoncé’s seventh album is certainly worth a listen. 

Rating: 7/10

Best tracks: “BREAK MY SOUL”, “VIRGO’S GROOVE”, “CUFF IT”

Monthly Playlist: Jul. 2022

8 Aug

We are back with our best tracks from the month that was. Read on to hear some great tracks from Billie Eilish, Beyonce and more. And let us know your thoughts in the comments!

“TV” by Billie Eilish

After her sophomore album in 2021, Billie Eilish is back with her first pair of new tracks from a short EP entitled Guitar Songs. “TV”, one of these two tracks, is a haunting ode to Billie’s disappointment and depression about the current state of political reality, particularly in the US. She doesn’t want to much beyond watching TV (which no doubt exacerbates the problem), and bemoans how the American people around her are focusing on the Depp-Heard trial and other trivial things rather than on fundamental rights being revoked. The depressive, guitar-driven “TV” continues the tonal shift transition away from the electro-pop of her debut album and further into the more introspective journey that she’s been on since Happier than Ever.

“Free Yourself” by Jessie Ware

Modern-day British disco queen Jessie Ware is back with another banger after 2020’s excellent What’s Your Pleasure? “Free Yourself” – the lead single from her upcoming fifth album – is a funky, synth-driven modern disco track, complete with dramatic violin-note accentuations. Jessie’s vocals are as powerful as ever, ranging from soul on the chorus bits to sweet and sultry on the verses. Catchy as ever from the London-based singer-songwriter.

“Bitch I’m Nice” by Doechii

July presented a double-whammy from the up-and-coming Florida rapper Doechii (real name Jaylah Hickmon) whose rap style runs somewhere between Nicki’s loudmouthed arrogance, Little Simz’s beat-heavy flow and Doja Cat’s ability to turn a melody anywhere. “Bitch I’m Nice” starts strong and doesn’t let down anywhere on its short one-and-a-half runtime. Doechii’s monotone chorus is vaguely menacing, especially when paired against the oscillating synth staccatos in the background. Then in the same month, there was also “Persuasive”, a track featuring none other than SZA. That track showcased her sweeter R&B style vibe interspersed with the rap chops displayed on “Bitch I’m Nice”. Overall, July 2022 proved that Doechii is one to keep an eye on for sure.

“2 Be Loved” by Lizzo

In July 2022, Lizzo released her fourth studio album Special to moderate fanfare. The lion’s share of attention from the album has of course been on the mega-hit “About Damn Time” (we challenge you to turn on a popular radio station without the song coming up within the hour), but second and final single “2 Be Loved” is another notable track from the new album. “2 Be Loved” is a fun, synth-pop track that belies a darker undertone – lyrically, it’s about Lizzo’s journey of self-love that runs through embarrassment, low self-worth, shyness and more. Interesting track and probably the second highlight from the largely mediocre Special.

“Hold the Girl” by Rina Sawayama

“Hold the Girl” is the third single from Rina Sawayama’s sophomore album, entitled Hold the Girl, set to release in September 2022. The track is trademark-Rina – a mix of 90s and 00s music trends paired with Rina’s powerful vocals. This song in particular pays homage to early 00s pop with recognizable elements like dramatic violin-and-piano interludes and a dance-pop break-down in the chorus. Rina sounds more confident in her own skin on this track, and even more skilled at melding her own style with the early aughts vibes that she seeks to emulate. Good signs for the upcoming album! 

Harry Styles – Harry’s House

1 Aug

Of all the solo careers coming out of One Direction, there’s no doubt that Harry Styles is just a notch above. He didn’t necessarily start out that way: his eponymous debut album showed promise with its 60s-tinged classic pop sounds, but ultimately proved to be fairly mediocre. Things got better with his second album Fine Line (2019) which featured earworm-of-the-decade “Watermelon Sugar” and bagged Styles his first Grammy (for the same track). 

In the years since that album and third album Harry’s House (2022), a lot has happened in Styles’ personal life. Most notably: actress and now award-winning director Olivia Wilde famously left her partner and father of her two children for Harry Styles. Olivia’s presence features subtly throughout the album’s lyrics – appropriately so, since Harry’s House is apparently meant to be about a day in his brain. 

“Late Night Talking”, the album’s second single, is a bright R&B track with a ridiculously catchy chorus that features the title words. With the references to breaking cameras and following his lady to Hollywood, we guess that the late night talks in question were with Ms. Wilde. If “Late Night Talking” bases itself on oblique references, “Cinema” gives it to us straight as the most direct ode to Olivia. The track lays bare the equation between them – she, the worldly cool older woman and he, the eager-to-please and madly in love. “I just think you’re cool, I dig your cinema / Do you think I’m cool, too? Or am I too into you?” he simpers. Also notable: his voice may be sweet may be sweet but the lyrics on this track definitely veer into some spicy territory with his thoughts about her.  

There are other tracks on this album that are great outside of referencing his new lady love, though. Opening track “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” immediately grabs your attention with the heavy bass lines and Styles’ charming falsetto. The bright and brassy chorus makes for an altogether irresistible track – one can even call it a “song of the summer”. Of course, it would have to share that title with Styles’ other big hit from the album – first single “As It Was”. It’s not “Watermelon Sugar” in terms of sheer virality but it’s as great of an addition to his discography. The instrumentals are bright but muted, and his vocals have a melancholy edge to them – if the whole album is about a day in the life in his brain, this is about a not-so-good day where he’s sitting at home, alone, on the floor, and possibly with drugs, to numb his loneliness. 

Daydreaming” is another sunny and bright track with horns, a thick bass and almost a disco feel in its exuberance, while “Satellite” is a decent track with some interesting drums and a space analogy to the distance between two individuals – kind of in the same spiritual tone as Ariana Grande’s “NASA”. Finally, “Matilda” is a sweet track ostensibly written for the title character of Roald Dahl’s classic novel (or at least someone like her). The quality of his vocals shines in its warmth and understanding on the chorus: “You can let it go, you can throw a party full of everyone you know / And not invite your family ’cause they never showed you love, you don’t have to be sorry for leavin’ and growin’ up”.

Beyond these tracks, though, the album has its fair share of weaker tracks – not duds, especially, but low on the notability scale. A lot of these tracks seem to be about a failed romance that, in retrospect, judging by the relative quality of these tracks, hasn’t provided the best inspiration for him. “Daylight” is a largely forgettable track about a withholding girlfriend while “Grapejuice”, “Little Freak” and “Keep Driving” are mild, vague tracks about the missed love interest, albeit with some interesting visual cues (red wine; ginger ale; tracksuits hiding a yoga-toned body). Album closer “Love of My Life” caps off this series of tracks with a final ode to this lost love; distance seemed to have been the death knell (“It’s unfortunate / Just coordinates”) so at least we have the full story there.

All in all, Harry’s House opens invitingly enough with some bright, brassy hits, but things get milder and less interesting the deeper you go in. To stick with his chosen house-as-mind analogy, perhaps there’s some finetuning and self-work that’s still pending on Styles’ end – and hopefully the next album will be even better.

Rating: 7/10

Best tracks: “Music for a Sushi Restaurant”, “As It Was”, “Late Night Talking”

Monthly Playlist: Jun. 2022

11 Jul

Hello, and welcome to the Monthly Playlist for June 2022! We are halfway through the year and have had some big album releases already. Kendrick Lamar dropped his much-awaited new album, as did Bad Bunny. There were big albums from Radiohead-side project The Smile, superstar The Weeknd and hyped newcomers Wet Leg. For now, read on for our top picks for the sixth month of the year – and look for a mid-year list soon!

“BRAND NEW BITCH” by COBRAH

COBRAH is a Swedish musician specializing in the genre of hyperpop. If that makes you think of Charli XCX (side note: check out our album review of Charli’s latest!), you’re spot-on – COBRAH’s music falls in the same vein of pulsing, club-ready bangers that blur the line between pop and EDM. “BRAND NEW BITCH” is a party track about COBRAH’s ability to switch between fashionable looks – whether it’s Mugler or Versace – but always looking new, shiny, polished and (use your imagination) slimy. Of course the lyrics don’t really matter because ultimately this song is about the beat and how COBRAH’s vocal-fry pronouncements add a layer of freneticism that perfectly suits the post-COVID club scene. 

“<maybe> it’s my fault” by WILLOW

We’ll be honest – we haven’t been giving WILLOW her musical due. The singer-songwriter (and daughter of a famous and dare we say infamous couple) has been steadily coming into her own, especially over the past year or so. She had a feature from resurgent pop-princess Avril Lavigne on last year’s Lately I Feel Everything, and also put together a great track (“psychofreak”) with Camila Cabello earlier this year. With “<maybe> it’s my fault”, WILLOW has expertly combined a few of those elements, and the result is a pop-punk track about the confusion and angst of early-adulthood relationships. “It’s all in my mind, it’s all in my mind, I try to rewind and all of the while / I’m hurtin’ inside, it’s your fault, Maybe it’s my fault,” she sings, in between surprisingly heavy guitar riffs. Definitely a track that will put WILLOW on your radar if she isn’t there already.

“BREAK MY SOUL” by Beyonce

From the first 10 seconds of “BREAK MY SOUL”, you can instantly tell that this isn’t your father’s (or mother’s) Beyonce track. Afropop house music segues smoothly into Queen Bey intoning the title phrase a few times – apparently with the intention of soundtracking the Great Resignation. “Now, I just fell in love and I just quit my job / I’m gonna find new drive, Damn, they work me so damn hard,” she says and honestly – same. It’s a surprising, new sound for Beyonce, and one that makes us excited for the July 29th release of her new album Renaissance.

“Cracker Island” by Gorillaz feat. Thundercat

After a fantastic album in 2020, Gorillaz are back with another track, just in time for the summer / fall leg of their worldwide tour (and hopefully the release of Song Machine Vol. 2). “Cracker Island” features the jazzy bassist Thundercat on a track seemingly about a cult that sets up shop on their own island (?). In true Gorillaz fashion, the famously multimedia band announced “Cracker Island” in a press release where they have also encouraged fans to join “The Last Cult” – whatever that may be. Mysterious lyrics aside, the song itself is pitch-perfect Gorillaz, with catchy synths, Damon Albarn’s filtered vocals, and beautifully crisp production – with the added bonus of Thundercat’s irresistibly funky bass. Here’s hoping for a lot more soon from everyone’s favorite virtual band.

“Betty (Get Money)” by Yung Gravy

Who knew that the old Internet meme-slash-80s-hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” would work so well as a rap track sample? Not us, but apparently Yung Gravy did. “Betty (Get Money)” is a ridiculously catchy track that starts off with the chorus and unmistakable synth-violins of Rick Astley’s iconic hit, and it only gets better from there. Yung Gravy shines throughout the whole fun track with cool verses and clever flipped lines (try it yourself: sing “Never take a L no more, never take a damn thing slow / All I know is chase this dough And get money” to the original chorus). We hadn’t heard of Yung Gravy until this track, but he’s certainly on our radar now!

Monthly Playlist – Apr. 2022

15 May

After a short break, we are back with our Monthly Playlist series! This month, we saw the releases of much-anticipated albums from Wet Leg, Fontaines DC and more – not to mention news of perhaps the year’s most anticipated release, Kendrick Lamar’s new album. Read on to find out our picks from the month of April 2022, and let us know if you agree or disagree!

“Down” by Hot Chip

English synthpop band Hot Chip have been around for quite a while now – almost two decades, in fact – and they’ve got quite a few notable albums under their belts. Their second and third albums were particularly successful, with sophomore album The Warning (2006) fetching a Mercury Prize nom and third album Made in the Dark (2008) spawning the massive hit “Ready for the Floor”. Now, a few so-so albums later, the band is back with new single “Down” as the lead single for their eighth album Freakout/Release, set to come out in August 2022. “Down” is a jagged, off-kilter party romp that’s up there with the band’s best works. It’s just a fun dance music with a strong bassline, infectious breakdowns, and an insanely catchy phrase (“Girl, know how to break it on down!”) running through the background – definitely check this one out. 

“About Damn Time” by Lizzo

(Note: This song was actually released in March 2022, but since we missed a Monthly Playlist in that month, we just had to include it in this one. Trust us, you’ll see why when you listen to the track!)

Speaking of irresistible dance music, there are few active artists today who can keep churning out the hits quite like Lizzo. In the latter part of 2021, she released the catchy “Rumors” with fellow artist du jour Cardi B – a track we liked so much that we put it on our year-end list. At the time, she mentioned that “Rumors” marked the start of a new era for her, possibly ahead of her planned 2022 album. Now she’s added another milestone to that new era with “About Damn Time” – a song seemingly about Lizzo re-discovering her confidence after a rocky few months. The world’s foremost flutist / funk-pop star describes how she’s finally in a mood to celebrate and get back out there. “Oh, I’ve been so down and under pressure, I’m way too fine to be this stressed, yeah / Oh, I’m not the girl I was or used to be, Uh, bitch, I might be better,” she says in her classic confidence, all set to a riff that would make Nile Rogers proud. The best thing is that this track also serves as a post-COVID anthem for those that are ready to get back out there after a couple of difficult years; when she says “Is everybody back up in the buildin’? It’s been a minute, tell me how you’re healin’”, we felt that.

“Barely on My Mind” by The Regrettes

The Regrettes are a punk rock band with a couple of albums to their names. But they seem to have taken a bit of a left turn with the dance-pop track “Barely on My Mind”. There are almost Phoenix-like turns of melody on the track, mixed with the magnetism of lead singer Lydia Night’s vocals. The track is part of their third album Future Joy, which was released in April 2022. We’ll surely be checking out the rest of the album with an introduction like this!

“Autopilot” by Dev Lemons

If you’re a TikTok regular, you are probably familiar with the work of Dev Lemons – not as a musician, but as the creator of the popular @songpsych page which boasts almost a million followers and 26 million (!) likes. On the page, Dev Lemons (real name Devon Schmalz) breaks down popular songs into the byte-sized format that suits the preferences of her Gen Z audience. However, not content with just being a music critic of sorts, Dev Lemons has now taken her insights into what makes songs popular (e.g., this video about the new Lizzo song that we also loved above) and has begun releasing original music too. Vaguely reminiscent of acts like Lily Allen, “Autopilot” amps up the synths on the chorus for a fun, catchy romp. Definitely check out Dev Lemons’ music – and of course her @songpsych channel if you’re on TikTok!

“Oh Algoritmo” by Jorge Drexler feat. Noga Erez

Jorge Drexler, the artist behind our final pick “Oh Algoritmo”, is one of the most interesting people you’ve never heard about. First and foremost, he’s a medical doctor – an otorhinolaryngologist (ENT) to be exact. Secondly, as if excellence in one specific skillset wasn’t enough, the Uruguayan won an Academy Award in 2004 for composing “Al Otro Lado del Rio” from the Motorcycle Diaries. This is not counting the numerous Latin Grammy Awards he’s racked up, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year. Suffice it to say, you owe it to yourself to at least give a listen to “Oh Algoritmo”, in which Drexler has paired up with Israeli singer-songwriter Noga Erez. The song immediately draws you in with a funky bassline and Drexler’s vocals set against a lively background of shakes, bops and beeps. By the time Erez’s confident English-language vocals come in, we’d bet that you’re hooked on to the angular, groovy vibes on this track. 

Charli XCX – Crash

6 Apr

Words by Raksha Thakur

Charli XCX knows that pop music isn’t about reinventing the wheel. In the age of social media ubiquity and its accompanying cult of authenticity, she doesn’t just play with the deja vu quality of pop music, but leans into it fully— a master of the art of making chart-friendly bops. In Charli’s hands, veering into radio-friendly territory is anything but conventional.

Charli is no stranger to pop music. She is a vocal fan of Britney Spears and the Spice Girls, and her smash hits “Boom Clap”, “I Love It” with Icona Pop, and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” dominated the 2010s. As a bankable songwriter, she has also penned some of the most indelible earworms sung by other singers like Selena Gomez, Camilla Cabello, and Blondie among others. Pushing against the constraints of being a Hyperpop singer – a genre she pioneered – Crash sees her return to form in a slick pop music vein.

Playing with the decidedly mass market image of the pop diva, Charli revitalizes mainstream pop through Crash. Anointed the queen of “the future of pop,” Charli slyly challenges this legacy with references to older pop music and audaciously sampling some of the most recognizable hits of the past twenty years. The album is informed by the illusion of the singularity of the major label pop star, all by herself at the very top. Charli hurtles into self-aware pop, with a sonic palette ranging from the ’80s, 2000s and 2010s. The result is an instant classic pop album.

Crash is bangers from the outset, clocking in at a little over half an hour, and opens with the slow, rhythmic adrenaline injection of the title track. The warm, synthy, and ‘80s inspired “New Shapes” featuring Christine and the Queens, and Caroline Polachek (formerly of Chairlift fame) may as well be a tongue-in-cheek kiss off to Hyperpop, if only for the time being. “Constant Repeat” is an arena-sized dance floor scorcher. Its title alludes to the behavior of someone obsessed with a person the way one would be with a song. “You could have had a bad girl by your side,” sings the iconoclast who has proven that she can play the pop game with finesse. “Good Ones” has an intro resembling Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and embodies a catchy ’80s revival sound of the 2000s that Charli grew up on.

Thematically, Crash spans a broad swathe, ranging from aesthetic odes to the witchy, from the occult to David Cronenberg’s risqué, critically-acclaimed movie of the same name. There is also a full circle aspect to Crash having an association with cars: many of her past songs have been about cars, such as “Vroom Vroom”, “White Mercedes” and the unreleased fan favorite “Taxi”.

Charli’s songwriting presents the pop staple of love and romance in all their different dimensions. Through the tracklist, she regularly interplays between provocative songs and softer, more ballad-like tunes. “Move Me” is a ballad with the tempo of a Justin Timberlake & Timba joint with some delicious R&B “oohs”. It is followed by the effortlessly sultry “Baby”, designed to make one do something between dancing and stripping. An unexpected guitar makes a startling appearance and contrasts beautifully with the melodious staccato of Charli’s occasionally manipulated voice at the end of the Kate Bush-by-way-of-New Order anthem “Lightning”.

Charli’s gift of using decade-defining sounds from synths to the scant use of autotuned vocal creates a sound all her own and totally new in the XCX world. For example, the posturing of a pop star in all its manufactured mass appeal goes one step further when Charli sings the chorus of “Beg For You” in a manner that’s a perfect mondegreen of the song she’s sampling from (“Cry For Me” by September). This track in particular (featuring our favorite Rina Sawayama) has all the best elements of Britpop aided by Charli’s touch: a nostalgic disc scratch, Jamie XX-like bass, the sampled breakbeat and melody of Milk Inc.’s “Don’t Cry”, and a duet about heartache that is irresistible to avoid dancing to. “Used To Know Me” takes the recognizably ‘90s club sound of “Show Me Love” and transforms it into a Britney-esque danceable bubble-gum pop bop.

In 2020, Charli released the raw, vulnerable how i’m feeling now – an album that closely involved Charli’s fans (or Angels, as they’re known across the internet), including features in in her music videos. In comparison, the contrast to her new era as a main pop girl baddie couldn’t be more extreme. With its carefully manufactured mystery and allure, this album is nothing short of an enormous pivot.

Pop stars are part of a larger commercial music machinery: cogs in collaborative efforts from record labels to songwriters, singers, and producers. In contrast, Charli is known for her collaborations with other musicians and producers as much as for her signature glitchy sound. Long resistant to the singularity of the pop star, Charli’s new album dives headlong into the illusory concept of the lone pop star while serving the very finest pop music out there. Crash shows a departure for a musician who refuses to be boxed into a genre at the top of her game making timeless catchy pop.

Monthly Playlist – Feb 2022

7 Mar

The second month of 2022 saw the release of quite a few good albums. There was Laurel Hell, the much-anticipated follow-up from indie-folk singer Mitski, as well as new records from stalwarts such as Animal Collective and Spoon. There were also new tracks from artists such as Fontaines DC, Caroline Polachek and more. Read on for our top five picks from February 2022!

“The Loop” by Toro y Moi

We covered the delectable “Postman” with its fun Pharrell-esque vibe, in last month’s Monthly Playlist – and this month, Toro y Moi has treated us once again to a great track. Unlike the upbeat vibes of “Postman”, “The Loop” is much more laidback, and much more jazzy almost. Subtle basslines mesh with Chaz Bear’s playful vocals, leading to a track that’s perfect for spring days that almost, almost feel like summer. Both “Postman” and “The Loop” are precursors to Toro y Moi’s upcoming album Mahal, out on April 29th.

“Held” by Spoon

Technically, “Held” is a cover of a track by eclectic singer-songwriter Bill Callahan under his Smog avatar. We definitely don’t blame you for never having heard of Callahan, Smog or the original “Held”, but do yourself a favor and check out the cover by Spoon on their latest album Lucifer on the Sofa (released Feb. 11th). Spoon’s cover of “Held” is raw, bluesy, and full of the kind of modern-day cowboy vibes that seep through a lot of Lucifer, for which this track serves as a worthy album opener. “For the first time in my life / I let myself be held like a big old baby / And I surrender to your charity,” ruminates lead singer Britt Daniel, and the way he drawls and draws out his thoughts make you ruminate along with him. “Held” was apparently battle-tested by the band in live shows for many years, and it shows – Spoon truly owns this track.

“Crip Ya Enthusiasm” by Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg had a fantastic February. On February 10th, he made the surprise announcement that he is now the new owner of the acclaimed Death Row Records, the label which famously launched his very career. A day later, on February 11th, Snoop announced “Crip Ya Enthusiasm”, the first track from his new album (also released on the same day) quite suitably titled Bacc on Death Row. If “Crip Ya Enthusiasm” sounds to you like a reference to Curb Your Enthusiasm, then you’re exactly right. The track starts off with a sample of the meme-worthy theme song from Curb that is then masterfully spun into the song’s catchy backbone. The rest is standard Snoop flow – as cool as a cucumber, but don’t underestimate the verbal gymnastics of the West Coast OG. Also of particular note is the verse break (“These are words coming from the Dogg / And everything I do is lit / Hoppin’ right along, tryna get my party on / Call my n*, let’s go bust a bitch”) that Snoop actually sings along to the Curb song.

Oh, and on February 13th, he performed at the highly-lauded Half-Time Show at Super Bowl LVI. Not a bad February!

“Kissing Lessons” by Lucy Dacus

Lucy Dacus is a young singer-songwriter with a couple of well-received albums under her belt: her debut No Burden (2016) and two follow-ups Historian (2018) and Home Video (2021). Apart from her own music, she’s also well-known for being one-third of the group boygenius, formed with fellow indie rocker girls Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. Lyrically, “Kissing Lessons” is a short-and-sweet song about a childhood queer romance – an older girl in elementary school called Rachel that gives Lucy the titular lessons. While Rachel moves away by the end of this sub-2 minute track, Lucy still keeps a memento of her childhood more-than-a-friend. We also liked the wall-of-sound guitarwork that almost competes with Dacus’ vocals for the listener’s attention. A true indie rock song, albeit with a sweet edge.

“Angelica” by Wet Leg

Wet Leg’s debut album was one of the five albums that we were anticipating the most out of 2022 at the start of the year, and the Isle of Wight band has just released one more proof point for our case. “Angelica”, released on the last day of February, is in line with the indie rock sensibilities on their runaway hit “Chaise Lounge” and strong follow-up “Wet Dream”. The track is about a cool it-girl called, well, Angelica, who’s observed by the narrator at a party that they’re both attending. Angelica arrives (with lasagna, to boot) and quickly dominates the room, making the narrator wonder why she’s still hanging around with a person like Angelica in the mix. It’s all very young-person ennui, and Wet Leg’s characteristically catchy, upbeat guitars and drums pair well with the subject matter. The two-piece have a big month coming up, headlining as one of the notable acts at SXSW 2022 and performing in about half a dozen venues in the city of Austin during the 10-day festival. All of this buzz is in preparation for their release of their debut album on April 8th – as we’ve said before, we’re looking forward to this one.

Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa

2 Mar

There are few artists that have maintained a certain level of quality over several decades – Bob Dylan or Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example – but perhaps the most underrated of these unerringly consistent artists is Austin, Texas-based Spoon.

Founded by singer and guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno in 1993, the band has remained a force in their hometown, with notable presence at SXSW, ACL and other cultural touchpoints that the city has to offer. The other members of the band have gone through several rotations, but the current roster includes Ben Trokan (bass / keyboards), Alex Fischel (keyboards / guitar) and Gerardo Larios (guitar).

Since their inception almost 30 years ago, the band has released a steady stream of great albums, notable of which include 2001’s Girls Can Tell, 2005’s Gimme Fiction, and many more. (In fact, ask a group of Spoon fans what their favorite album is from the band’s discography and you’ll likely get different answers from each – that’s how consistently good Spoon is.)

Now, the band is back with their 10th studio album, Lucifer on the Sofa, which, we are happy to announce, continues the band’s lifetime streak of catchy and highly-listenable albums.

Although we loved the band’s previous album – 2017’s Hot Thoughts – it was one of the more divisive albums in their discography; with old-time fans discouraged by the decidedly electro-pop edge that the album took. Lucifer on the Sofa is a back-to-basics rock album, almost as a direct rebound from Hot Thoughts. While both auras of Spoon have their musical highlights, the band definitely sounds more at ease on Lucifer.

The album starts off with “Held”, a cover of a 1998 track by Bill Callahan in his Smog avatar. “Held” serves as a perfect starting point to Lucifer, with a bluesy live-recording vibe that permeates the rest of the track-list. In fact, so good is their cover that you would not be remiss in thinking that it’s a Spoon original. “Held” melds coolly into “The Hardest Cut”, the best track on the album (and lead single) that easily made our end-of-year list upon its release in 2021. Here, Spoon take on the rock-and-roll mantle further than almost any other active band today – close your eyes and you can see this track in a Cadillac commercial in place of Led Zep’s “Rock and Roll”.

There are a few others here that come close to the vitality on “The Hardest Cut” – for example, the devilishly-good blues-rock track “The Devil & Mister Jones”. Another great track is “Feels Alright” with its melodious hooks and warm guitars, where we find Daniel’s charisma at a maximum. Jangly second single “Wild” is an homage to wanting to break free, which Britt Daniel expresses through some well-wrought lyrics. “I got on fine with modern living, but must I be such a citizen?” he asks, before confessing on the chorus: “And the world, still so wild, called to me.”

In fact, many of Spoon’s songs have to do with this feeling of restlessness – wanting to leave, skip town, run away and so on. Some others deal with his general sense of nostalgia and introspection – for example, the keyboards-driven classic indie rock track “On the Radio” – while still others are (surprisingly enough for a slick rock band) sweet love songs. The vaguely 1960s-tinged “Satellite” is one such song, with Daniel calling himself the namesake satellite to his lover.

Lyrically, though, the soul of the album lies in the title track and album closer, “Lucifer on the Sofa” – which is essentially a stream-of-consciousness poem of what it was like to wander through mid-pandemic empty streets. “Looking through the windows as you’re passing by / And I’m chasing every thought / And I’m walking over water / Thinking about what I lost,” he croons – and who can’t relate to their own experiences in 2020. Also, the song is very much set in Austin with references to Lavaca Street, West Avenue and others. “Lucifer on the Sofa” also clarifies the meaning of the namesake devil: a manifestation of the negativity in our own minds, freezing you into a disheveled state to the extent that it literally feels like an unwelcome guest crashing on your sofa.

With few drawbacks throughout the track-list – the weakest being perhaps “Astral Light” and “My Babe” – Lucifer on the Sofa is a thoroughly entertaining rock record.

Rating: 8.5/10

Best tracks: “The Hardest Cut”, “Wild”, “Held”

Monthly Playlist: Jan. 2022

7 Feb

2022 is well underway with new albums from The Weeknd, FKA twigs, Mitski and more. We’ve already covered our picks for the most anticipated albums (that we know of) in 2022. Below, we take a closer look at the top five songs of January. Read on and let us know your thoughts!

“Strung with Everything” by Animal Collective

Animal Collective released their new album Time Skiffs in the early days of February. Prior to the album release, the experimental pop group released three singles: “Walker” and “Prester John” earlier in 2021, and the new track “Strung with Everything” in January. The song begins with a slow build-up that introduces key motifs – randomized percussion, the meandering keyboard melody, and the echoing guitar notes. Suddenly, amidst the meditative elements, the song bursts into full focus, complete with surf-rock style drums, guitars and vocals. Although “Strung with Everything” could have used tighter editing (meandering at almost 7 minutes long), the track highlights Animal Collective’s career-long skills at walking the line between commercial and experimental.

“papi bones” by FKA twigs feat. Shygirl

“papi bones” is an energetic Afro pop-tinged track from FKA twigs’ January mixtape entitled CAPRISONGS (full review here). The track highlights the British pop star’s sensibilities at arranging a song for maximum impact: hype-men introducing a club-friendly beat, a sparse dancehall-esque couple of verses from FKA twigs, and finally a joint verse between her and the excellent Shygirl. Readers will recall that we loved British artist Shygirl’s collaboration with another nouveau British export – slowthai – last year, and her energy is just as plucky and vivacious here. All in all, “papi bones” is a fun and infectious track that’s a perfect starting point for FKA twigs’ new mixtape.

“Jackie Down the Line” by Fontaines DC

We talked about this new track from Irish post-punk band in our recent roundup of 2022’s most anticipated albums, and for good reason – “Jackie Down the Line” is a great track that heralds the beginning of the band’s Skinty Fia era. Fontaines DC has proven that they’re an act that keeps busy, quickly following up their 2019 debut Dogrel with the well-received A Hero’s Death in 2020. But don’t think they’re just churning out run-of-the-mill tracks: the band has used both albums to build up a definitive Fontaines DC sound. What does this sound consist of? Well, there’s the fulsome drum beats, rumbling basslines, and (more than anything), lead singer Grian Chatten’s unapologetically Irish vocals – lyricism, accent, idioms and all. “Jackie Down the Line” is a continuation of this same style. In typically Chatten style, the lyrics are poetic, somber and rather difficult to decipher; but we gather that it’s a meditation of the loss of Irish culture (a common theme in the band’s lyrics) as represented by “Jackie” or Jackeens – Irish fans of the Union Jack.

“Sacrifice” by The Weeknd

Although The Weeknd’s new album Dawn FM failed to blow us away (full review here), there were certainly a couple of bright spots on the track-list. One, of course, is the masterpiece that is “Take My Breath” (even better on the album’s extended version), but we already knew that. Of the new songs that were introduced on the album this month, “Sacrifice” really stands out. Here, Abel utilizes a chunky, disco bassline and funky modulations on his vocals, all resulting in a catchy addition to the megastar’s dance-pop repertoire. You’ll be humming this song in no time.

“Postman” by Toro y Moi

“Postman” is a funky, fun track that was released alongside the announcement of Mahal, the seventh album from American lo-fi dance-rock proponent Toro y Moi. Musically, “Postman” is almost like a stripped-down Pharrell song, pairing a bouncy bass and catchy drums with semi-sung vocals – think something along the lines of a very chillwave “Blurred Lines”. The music video is equally fun and plays homage to Toro y Moi’s Filipino heritage – definitely check it out.

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