Archive by Author

Lorde – Solar Power

24 Sep

New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde (real name Ella Yelich-O’Connor) is back with third studio album Solar Power. The album follows the four-year intervals set by her monumental debut album Pure Heroine in 2013 – which featured chart-busting single “Royals” – and then her synth-led party album Melodrama in 2017. A notoriously camera-shy and anti-pop star individual, Lorde uses the time away to recharge, mostly in her native country; both times, she’s come back with a starkly different sound.

In 2017, we were blown away by Melodrama – the pulsing electro-pop sounds, a greater diversity in her vocals, and the surprising focus on the piano throughout the party songs. Melodrama was a concept album, documenting the whirlwind of emotions that goes through the mind of a young twentysomething at a house party. The album was in direct contrast to Pure Heroine which focused on a can’t-be-bothered teenaged rebellion against popularity, trends and, yes, house parties. Between Melodrama and Pure Heroine, Lorde’s range was astounding, and the future looked rosy for fans of the reclusive young artist.

Lorde has said that each of the two albums is based on the different vices she was hooked on at the time – alcohol for the first (despite the seeming reference to heroin) and MDMA for the second. With Solar Power, the vice of choice was apparently weed (she attempted it to be LSD but that didn’t quite work out). While musical history has no shortage of iconic albums that were invigorated by marijuana, the results are mixed for Solar Power.

It’s is not a bad album by any stretch. The title track, which we’ve previously covered, is a pleasant summery track with a catchy outro hook (“That solar-olar-olar power / Solar-olar-olar power”) and lyrics about unhooking oneself from the outside world (“And I throw my cellular device in the water / Can you reach me? No, you can’t”). “Dominoes” is a stripped down track that’s pretty much her voice and a plucky guitar – in a way, it’s the closest match to her Pure Heroine discography. Her voice is bright and shiny when it’s unencumbered by too much production.

Fallen Fruit” is beautiful with its folksy vibe and guitar strums that are part Renaissance Faire (think Greensleeves) and part Laurel Canyon singing circle. “Mood Ring”, the third and final single from the album, is a light, airy track that apparently critiques another peak California culture – wellness culture. “I’m tryna get well from the inside / Plants and celebrity news, all the vitamins I consume / Let’s fly somewherе eastern, they’ll havе what I need,” is perfectly fair satire of new-age Californian hippies. (We must note that the satire is a little hypocritical when Lorde herself just came off from what seems like a four-year recovery-from-fame break on New Zealand beaches, but we’ll save that for another day.)

Speaking of California, “California” is an interesting take compared to the thousands of other odes to the Golden State; this one’s a break-up song. California – or specifically, Hollywood – proved to be the fertile ground for this album, but Lorde’s had enough of the place and who she is there. “Goodbye to all the bottles, all the models / Bye to the clouds in thе skies that all hold no rain,” she sings in the lilting pre-chorus, “Don’t want that California love”. It’s a nice, pretty song that somehow evokes Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (which is also how the song starts) while rejecting the pop cultural idea of California as a success metric.

That’s the thing though – they’re all nice, pretty songs. And if that’s what you were looking for, then Solar Power is the Lorde album for you. “Big Star” is a sweet yet ultimately featureless track. Ditto with “Leader of a New Regime” – it’s pretty tough to latch onto a detail in the song’s 2 ½ minute run. Second single “Stoned at the Nail Salon” is yet another gentle track that features Lorde on multi-level harmonies with herself and also a truly telling lyric: “’Cause all the music you loved at sixteen you’ll grow out of”.

And really, that’s the whole story: Lorde grew out of who we thought she was. She isn’t the rebellious young teenager who made Pure Heroine, and not even the partying early-twentysomething who made Melodrama. She’s a blissed-out, media-phobic young woman with a strong love for folksy guitar music, and that’s what’s reflected in Solar Power. Props to her for putting out exact reflections of her life stages; unfortunately, for us, this one just didn’t stick all the way through.

Rating: 6.5/10

Best songs: “Solar Power”, “California”, “Dominoes”

Worst songs: “The Man with the Axe”, “Big Star”, “Leader of a New Regime”

Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever

20 Sep

Happier Than Ever is the highly-anticipated sophomore album from superstar Gen Z singer-songwriter Billie Eilish. Her debut album, cryptically entitled WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (2019), rocketed her to worldwide fame and success – highlights include sweeping the Grammys, creating a flagship AppleTV+ documentary, and meeting her idol Justin Bieber (after all, she was until recently just a teenager). Happier Than Ever is in many ways a snapshot of Billie at this moment, that encapsulates all of those things that happened to her (and for that matter, to any huge pop star) in the past few years of her crazy life. Is it as earth-shattering to the world of popular music as her debut was? No. But it does have its moments, and points to a new direction for the still-growing artist.

Although Happier Than Ever released on July 30th, 2021, Billie’s been leading up to the album for exactly one year prior. Moreover, she’s been carefully laying down the foundational tone of Happier Than Ever – especially the confident and, well, happier persona – through the numerous singles that she released in that one year timeframe. These singles kicked off on July 30th, 2020, with the light and tender “my future” – which we mentioned at the time was a rare light-pop departure from the usually gothic Billie. In November 2020, she released “Therefore I Am”, which further highlighted her bloom out of the larger-than-life teenage years into a life where she has more control. “Your Power” (April 2021), “Lost Cause” (June 2021) and “NDA” (July 2021) spoke to adult themes like betrayal, power dynamics, growing out of substandard teen relationships and more.

Outside of this admirable singles-driven chunk, the album has other great tracks too. We’ve already spoken about “Oxytocin”, a heady electropop song that grips you from the first second. “OverHeated” is in the same vein, a sultry and intoxicating track that plays like the soundtrack to every bad romantic decision you’ve ever made (“Stop being flirty / it’s kinda working,” she says with a laugh). Another stand-out track is “Billie Bossa Nova”, which as the name suggests is jer pitch-perfect take of the seductive genre of bossa nova. It’s not just her musical knowledge that is growing; Billie is a woman now and not a teen any longer. “I’m not sentimental, but there’s somethin’ ’bout the way you look tonight, mm / Makes me wanna take a picture, make a movie with you that we’d have to hide,” she croons on this track.

And a note on the suggestive lyrics here in general. On this album, they actually sound like they’re really her words, in contrast to the vaguely edgy lyrics from her debut album (e.g. “bruises on both my knees for you”) – which often came across as performative given that she was a teenager still living in her childhood bedroom.

On the eight or nine tracks that we haven’t called out above, there are definitely a few winning moments – for example, the reverberating pre-chorus break-down on “GOLDWING” – but on the whole, we’d be hard-pressed to remember too much of them. Billie is still discovering her voice as an adult, as a woman, and as a teen pop idol who’s experimenting with other genres, and hopefully the proportion of “forgettable” tracks will be much fewer on future albums.

Billi’s debut album clicked so well with so many millions of people for a few reasons. First – the truly unique beats courtesy her genius producer slash brother Finneas O’Connell; second – her creepy yet old-timey vocals; third – the multimedia experience that she offered for each hit track, including a typically creepy music video. All of these parts are still there where it counts, and she’s also added a few things to her arsenal, such as an authenticity to her lyrics that only comes with more grown-up experiences and life choices. Happier Than Ever is a fine addition to her discography, but she definitely has room to grow.

Rating: 7.5/10

Best tracks: “Oxytocin”, “Therefore I Am”, “Billie Bossa Nova”

New Artist Roundup: Aug. 2021

13 Sep

This month’s New Artist Roundup includes everything from indie rock to psychedelic, through submissions from all over the world. With the transition from summer to fall (or fall to summer) for much of the world, it’s a very fruitful period for songwriting in general, and this month’s submissions proved that to the tee. Read on for our top five picks from new artists this month!

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

“Place I Stay” by Funeral Lakes

Funeral Lakes is a two-piece outfit based out of Kingston, Ontario – “a small city where the St. Lawrence and Cataraqui rivers meet”, in their own words. Their background in a mid-tier town in the Great White North seems to seep into their folksy, jangly tunes. On August 20th, the duo (consisting of Chris Hemer and Sam Mishos) released their third album Redeemer – which “explores the meanings of faith and justice, interrogating the tension between them”, according to the artists. Our pick from the album is “Place I Stay”, which creates a quirky folk / rock vibe by mixing driving drums and guitars against gentle, echoing vocals. Lyrically, the song features themes of divine retribution “Descend, Holy Father / Cut them down like flowers” but there seems to be multiple parties at play. Interesting track and an interesting sound from the Ontario band.

Website

“Cosmic Saturation” by The Velveteins

The Velveteins describe their sound as a bridge between the bright psychedelia of the 1960’s and the indie rock explosion of the new millennium – and we must say, the first song of theirs that we heard fits that description to a tee. “Cosmic Saturation” features surf-rock guitars, relaxed vocals and a harmonized chorus that instantly elicit a throwback to the Beatles and such. But also, as the band themselves point out, the song’s guitar solo melodies and soft drums are definitely pulled from the catalogs of the Strokes, the Vines or any number of early aughts indie rock bands. This is definitely a band to watch, folks – don’t sleep on the Velveteins!

Website | Press

“Busy Body” by Cassie Marin

Cassie Marin is a young vocalist, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Los Angeles. She spent much of her childhood training for Olympic-level gymnastics until an injury cut short her aspirations at 13. Since then, Marin has found solace in her music, and says that she carries the same grit and self-discipline that inspired her Olympic dreams into her new chosen field. On “Busy Body”, you can start to see what she’s talking about. The song is meticulously produced, with woozy synths that somehow add melody and layers at the same time. Her dusky vocals – think Awkwafina’s speaking voice – give the track an air of unruliness. Lyrically, “‘Busy Body’ is about being a loner in a world where cliques never cease to exist,” says the young singer.

Website | Press

“Bubblegum” by Tommy Newport

Tommy Newport is a young Kansas-based musician with a surprisingly long list of commercial mentions under his belt. Last year, his song “Future Man” was featured in an ad for Apple’s iPad. Some of his other tracks have even been reportedly been used in TV shows such as What/If and Ballers. The sound behind his success seems to be a mix of groovy basslines, sharp drums and occasionally a hazy, Glass Animals-esque vibe. His latest track, “Bubblegum”, is a great example of that specific sonic profile. “Bubblegum is a love song about wanting to be wrapped up together like a piece of candy and keep all the sweetness inside…The message on this one is simple: Love is sweet,” said Newport. “Bubblegum” is a chill, sweet song that perfectly encapsulates an end-of-summer vibe.

Website | Press

“Moonbeams” by Fulton Lee

Fulton Lee seems like what one would call an old soul. The Nashville, Tennessee-based musician bills himself as a retro soul / pop artist, and seems to dress exclusively in ‘50s rock and roll outfits and associated hairstyles. But don’t let looks deceive you – his music has a very modern take on an old classic sound. The vocals on “Moonbeams”, his latest track, wouldn’t be out of place in a Buddy Holly tribute band’s repertoire, but the crisp production and multi-instrumental pop hook are definitely sounds of today. Fulton Lee is the freshest of fresh finds with the voice, production and aesthetic vision to make it big; and we recommend you take a spin through this song immediately. If you liked this track, be sure to check out the John Mayer-esque “The Wire”, which already has almost 2 million (!) streams on Spotify.

Website

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: Aug. 2021

7 Sep

Better late than never, we always say. We may be a little late with our Monthly Playlist for August 2021, but we now have the goods for you below. Check out our top five picks below!

5. “Walking at a Downtown Pace” by Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts is a four-piece hailing from New York City by way of Texas, where Andrew Savage met Austin Brown. The two share lead vocals and guitar duties in the band, with Andrew’s brother Max on the drums and Sean Yeaton on bass rounding out the group. In the past, we favorably compared their third album Sunbathing Animal to the Strokes’ debut album (albeit edgier), and this new track from the band has the same NYC effortless-cool that enthralled us then. “Walking at a Downtown Pace” has a driving guitars that reminded us of Led Zep’s “When the Levee Breaks”, and a sing-along chorus that is going to do wonders in trendy venues in Brooklyn and around the world. This is the second track from the band’s upcoming seventh (!) album Sympathy for Life, scheduled to release on October 22nd.

4. “Meanwhile” by Gorillaz feat. Jelani Blackman & Barrington Levy

Three-quarters of a year after the near-perfect Song Machine, Damon Albarn is back with his virtual band and canny artist features with a new, three-song Gorillaz EP entitled Meanwhile. As we found out over the course of the Song Machine tracklist, Albarn is turning into a premier launchpad of talented British rappers to audiences outside of the UK; and that trend continues on the title track from this mini-album. London-based up-and-coming rapper Jelani Blackman’s catchy, sing-song style gels well with the dancehall stylings of Jamaican legend Barrington Levy. Throughout it all, Albarn lends his aloof vocals and his unique ability to meld all the disparate pieces into a great new track. If this is gearing up to Song Machine Vol. 2, we’re all for it. And if you liked this, check out “Jimmy Jimmy” from the same EP!

3. “Rumors” by Lizzo feat. Cardi B

“They don’t know, I do it for the culture, goddamn / They say I should watch the shit I post, oh goddamn / Say I’m turning big girls into hoes, oh goddamn / They say I get groupies at my shows, oh goddamn,” intones Lizzo at the start of her new track “Rumors”, listing out all the supposedly bad things that she’s been rumored to do. Nothing beats the humor of the first time you listen to the track, where she immediately follows up this verse with “All the rumors are true, yeah / What ya’ heard, that’s true, yeah”. This is a larger-than-life, catchy as hell track from two of pop culture’s reigning hit-masters that speaks to the incessant rumors at that level of public spotlight. Cardi B joins in with her own set: “Fake ass, fake boobs, yeah / Made a million at [strip club] Sue’s, yeah,” and the general vibe of the song is that these ladies just don’t care anymore about what’s being said of them on social media or gossip rags. Musically, “Rumors” is peak Lizzo, complete with funky synths and a rollicking horn section. One last thing: the music video is a modern take on the Disney movie Hercules, with Lizzo and a very pregnant Cardi, and should belong in an art museum somewhere for its extremely high production values alone.

2. “Oxytocin” by Billie Eilish

Technically, this song came out in the very last hours of July 2021 and hence didn’t make it into our July playlist, but we couldn’t not include it in this one. “Oxytocin” is one of the non-single tracks that were released as part of Billie’s highly-anticipated sophomore album Happier Than Ever. We’ll have the full album review out for you shortly, but this electro-pop song is definitely one of the highlights from the track-list. Finneas (Billie’s brother-slash-producer extraordinaire) really knocks it out of the park with this one. The lone beat at the start builds into a cornucopia of bits and beeps that adds a manic energy to the track – fittingly, for lyrics that lay bare her addictive relationship to her partner. Speaking of Billie’s lyrics, the singer takes the risqué factor from her debut album to a different level on this track about toxic addiction: for example, “’Cause as long as you’re still breathing / Don’t you even think of leaving” in the verses and the repeated “I wanna do bad things to you / I wanna make you yell” in the outro. “Oxytocin” is the kind of track that hooks you from the first second of the first listen, but it’s Billie’s creepy lyrics (in both delivery and meaning) that keep you hooked.

1. “Take My Breath” by The Weeknd

A couple of months ago at the Billboard Music Awards, The Weeknd accepted yet another popular music award with a somewhat cryptic message: “I just want to say, the After Hours are done and the dawn is coming”. In early August, the Canadian R&B phenomenon released the electro-dance record “Take My Breath”, signifying what he’s taken to calling The Dawn era. We have some clues about what this is going to be like, and boy it’s good. “Take My Breath” is a non-stop dance party that has the potential to be remixed into a million other dance tracks. A week after this song was released, The Weeknd compiled a list of songs that inspired “the new Dawn era” on his Apple podcast / radio show Memento Mori (yes, he has an Apple show) and readers – the list included not one but two Britney Spears songs. Here’s hoping that “Take My Breath” was our introduction into an upcoming electronic music-inspired 90s-throwback pop record from the Weekend!

New Artist Roundup: Jul. 2021

3 Aug

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had tens of submissions from aspiring young artists from all over the world – thank you! It was a monumental task to pick these out, but here are our top tracks from New Artists for July 2021.

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

“The Absence of You” by The Islas

The Islas are a young band from Norwich whose sound is characterized somewhere between the Killers and the Smiths. Their most recent single “The Absence of You” features a gentle, lilting guitar melody that supports Nathan Baverstock’s slightly-nasal vocals quite well, and the song takes an even more Coldplay turn in the upbeat, high-energy chorus. “The single is not really a love-sick song about wanting someone back, just the sensation of feeling empty and realizing that that chapter of your life has gone,” says the band – a feeling to which any young person can relate, no matter their age. “The Absence of You” is the first single from the band’s upcoming 6-song EP Oblivion. Be sure to keep an eye out for that if you liked this track!

Links | Press

“Generations” by Gede

As eagle-eyed readers may realize, Gede has already been on our radar since our March 2021 edition of the New Artist Roundup, where we loved his electric blues meets rap meets jazz track “Sinners” from 2021 album Forward. The Washington DC-based artist cites a wide array of musical references from Gary Clark Jr. to Tame Impala. He’s now out with another EP, the two-song Generations. The title track from this EP starts off with Latin trap beats that bring to mind a sunny Miami summer, and the rapper’s almost grime-style verses are perfectly produced to sync with the music. “Generations” is a vibrant, catchy song that lies somewhere between Stormzy and Bad Bunny – a tough bridge to connect, but Gede somehow pulls it off.

Links

“Mercy” by KiNG MALA

KiNG MALA (born Areli Castro) is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, California who’s just on the verge of a break-out hit. Spotify listener counts, which often precede mainstream fame, confirm our thesis: this young artist that you may never have heard of has over 350,000 monthly listeners. Her stage name, KiNG MALA, is actually carefully chosen: “Both [her] music and visuals experiment with masculine tropes.. and these masculine threads weave throughout everything [she] does, hence King rather than Queen and ‘MALA’ which roughly translates to ‘bad bitch’ in Spanish,” she said.

A lot of her Internet fame came through her TikTok hit 90s-vibe pop hit “she calls me daddy”, but new track “Mercy” proves that she’s no one hit wonder. This is a lushly produced track that belies her relatively-underground status, with her soft melancholic vocals reminding the listener of Billie Eilish. The song itself is about her mental health struggles with the darker side of herself. “I have said things I will regret forever and every day I search for the good within me and search for the proof that those things are not who I really am. Sometimes all you can do is forgive yourself and look for the good… that’s what this song means to me.”

Links | Press  

“Brand New” by TARYN

TARYN is an Atlanta-based singer-songwriter whose music is influenced by old soul and modern pop, in her own words. “Brand New” is a beautiful track from the clear-voiced singer, beginning with striking finger snaps that transition into lushly produced, warm vocals. TARYN grew up in a music-loving household. Her parents “filled the house with the sounds of artistic greats like Norah Jones, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, and Cat Stevens,” and it’s easy to see those influences in her ethereal, timeless yet radio-friendly music. TARYN wrote “Brand New” while driving on the freeway and worked with producer Joey Burcham to turn it into a fully-formed track – and honestly, it’s the perfect feel-good summertime drive song.

Links | Press

“Headlights” by Sgmaniak

Sgmaniak (pronounced S. G. Maniak) is a hip young artist from New York whose music lies somewhere in the summery sounds of neo-soul jazz. The lovely “Headlights” is the diary of a budding, summertime romance. “We met a club downtown last week… got out at the curb then we got between the sheets,” he describes about their meet-cute. “Laying on the roof under the blood-red skies, I know we just met but I think we might just last…” Ah, young love. “Headlights” is a summery, light track that really showcases Sgmaniak’s lyrical prowess and storytelling ability. This track comes off the artist’s recent nine-song album The Global Heart Awakens.

Links | 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: 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”

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”

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