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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. 

Immanuel Wilkins – The 7th Hand

8 May

There’s a lot to like about The 7th Hand. The music is immaculate. There is obscene skill behind the whole thing. There are moments of transcendence. For all of its strengths though, it is just short enough of challenge to mire the whole album.

It oscillates quite sharply between pleasant and aggressive throughout and in the opener “Emanation” you have some very energetic sax work followed by a relaxing piano solo. They both end up flat however. The sax starts strong and is played very well, but it lacks challenge and ends up going nowhere you wanted to visit. The piano solo is a little off-kilter but needed to be fully askew. It’s the same story in “Lift.” There’s a lot of sound and fury, but it’s ends up signifying nothing.

Sometimes, the album takes a turn more towards the pleasant, such as in “Fugitive Ritual, Selah” and it does it well. It may have done better with stronger focus on that side, but that does nothing to help the lack of challenge.

The 7th Hand has moments though. The opening of “Witness” evokes a deep, verdant, arboreal scene and thread some ominousness through it to great effect. These moments just are not enough to lift an album that can never quite escape falling flat.

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.

Rosalía – MOTOMAMI

29 Mar

MOTOMAMI is the greatest reggaeton album ever made. Rosalía was already a superstar and yet she has found a way to be larger still, and even more impressively, to do so on her own terms. MOTOMAMI does not fall cleanly into any box, but instead draws from apparently every influence that Rosalía can bring to the table and the result is dizzying.

This shows up well in the fun “CANDY.” She brings great emotion and fascinating sounds from a range uncompromising in its scope and makes the song fun to boot. She is every bit as fun in “CHICKEN TERIYAKI.” The music is clever, lively and so very individual.

For all of that though, she is still capable of “HENTAI,” a slower indie rock cut. She does it well, even if I prefer the reggaeton and her versatility is stunning. This is what allows for the standout “LA FAMA,” not only the best track on the album, but also The Weeknd as good as he has ever been, but somehow in Spanish.

MOTOMAMI is everything you could ask for and yet does not have a single fragment of pandering from Rosalía. This is her album entirely and we are all the better for it.

Nilüfer Yanya – PAINLESS

20 Mar

PAINLESS is an imperious album. It’s effortless in its ability to capture. you. Many of the other great albums of the present work with intricate details. PAINLESS just finds the right grooves, adds the right textures and is rightly confident in their ability to keep you captivated. Yanya then adds to this with insistent and undeniable storytelling that runs as a dark whisper underneath the shimmering dream pop.

In something like the standout “L/R”, the narrative both powerful and sparse. “Sometimes it feels like you’re so violent, autopilot” is a strong line for the chorus and contrasts very satisfyingly with the languor of the music.

Similarly “anotherlife” is buoyant, dreamy and resonant and then it will absolutely lacerate you the moment you let it in. “try” is very compelling and very relaxing music and Yanya’s voice is perfectly restrained and sublimely emotive.

PAINLESS is a consistently cohesive album. There’s nothing here that detracts from the vision or compromises the quality and both are unparalleled.

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.

Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

5 Mar

Big Thief has always been a band for whom I’ve had more respect than liking and there have been plenty of albums where I’ve had neither one. This is the first album of theirs that I really enjoy. It is somehow both deeper and more detailed than their previous work. It’s more intelligent and a little off-kilter as in the spectacular “Simulation Swarm.”

More enjoyably though, it’s also much more fun than their earlier work. The two hands clapping in “Time Escaping” is hilarious and on just the right side of camp and the song itself is nothing short of excellent. The country twangs that never move too far into the background of “Spud Infinity” are similarly just funny.

With this humor and humanity, they are more poetic than their usual and more resonant as well. This is really good music with none of the remoteness that often plagued their earlier albums. In fact, it’s hard to think of any real flaw to hold against the album at all.

Saba – Few Good Things

20 Feb

I certainly didn’t expect such a relaxed Saba on Few Good Things. I’m used to a rapper more caught up in the throes of emotion. Here, we see him stretch out a little. He broadens his musical range as a result. “If I Had A Dollar” has him channel Kendrick and “Soldier” brings in something of an Outkast feel. He does well enough with both of them and with the album as a whole. There’s nothing here with much heft, but also nothing here that misses the mark.

Where CARE FOR ME was passionate and heartfelt, Few Good Things is much more muted. Saba is talented enough to make solid music nonetheless, but the album still ends up unfocused and unmemorable.

Mitski – Laurel Hell

14 Feb

Laurel Hell will cut you if you let it. It’s a quiet album and that just makes the cuts deeper still. “Working for the Knife” is painfully sharp and very resonant. It’s great indie rock and pairs clever, evocative rock with clever, evocative lyrics. Her storytelling is top-notch throughout and unmatched in its subtlety. There’s something persistently elusive in the story of “Should’ve Been Me.”

Her music also doesn’t particularly worry about being noticed. The details are often stunning though. She tries sounds that are just a little off-kilter and puts a lot of care into some very small pieces. It’s unfortunate then there are also broad swathes of music that just don’t do anything particularly interesting and not all that much that truly transcends into the magnificent. However, there is still a lot that is quite good and some parts so clever they cannot help but linger.

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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