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New Artist Roundup: Apr. 2021

5 May

Welcome to the our New Artist Roundup for April 2021! Below are five songs from up-and-coming artists that caught our eye this month, so be sure to give them a listen. And of course, if you’d like to be featured, be sure to email us at artists.tfr@gmail.com.

“FUZZY” by Bandicoot

To us, Swansea four-piece Bandicoot’s music sounds like the point at which the rockabilly sensibilities of the 50s and 60s merged with the glam rock vibes of the 70s. After putting out two tracks (2021’s “Dark Too Long” and 2020’s “O Heavens!”), the band is back with a new track called “FUZZY”, released on April 9th. “FUZZY” is catchy, wild and brimming with energy: the kind of track that immediately causes some part of your body to start tapping along to the beat. If you happen to live in or near Wales, be sure to catch their upcoming festival dates in July and October – this is definitely an act to catch live.

Website | Label | Press

“Morning Sun” by M. Byrd

With over 200,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, M. Byrd is definitely not a “new artist” for many people around the world. However, we were glad to be introduced to the artist’s indie folk music this month, particularly his new track “Morning Sun” – released on April 16th. Byrd describes the song as a morning mantra, a kind of a musical manifestation of how he starts his day. “The idea came to me a few years ago in the morning right after I got up and it came back to me subsequently over and over again, like a kind of entry into meditation, until I finally recorded it and arranged it into form,” he says, and we can see what he means. With its gentle guitar strums and his crooning voice, almost reminiscent of the late Elliott Smith, the song is a great accompaniment to one’s morning coffee. If you liked this track, be sure to check out his other song, 2020’s “Mountain”.

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“Third Eye Witness” by Scott McKeon feat. Gavin Conder

We admit: Scott McKeon is the furthest entry on this list from being a new artist. We had first heard of McKeon from his feature on Spotify’s highly-popular Modern Blues Rock playlist, where this track was wedged somewhere between the Black Keys, Gary Clark Jr., and other blues mainstays. McKeon is an established sessions guitarist, playing with everyone from Lana Del Rey to Ed Sheeran to Sir Tom Jones, and has put out a couple of albums under his own name and under other bands over the past 20-odd years. McKeon’s third full-length album New Morning, on which “Third Eye Witness” is featured, was released on April 23rd and we didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to highlight this great talent. The song – with McKeon on guitar and Gavin Conder on vocals – is a groovy, chill track that would be perfect to play on a Sunday morning. And don’t miss the dizzying guitar solo from McKeon about 2/3 of the way through. If you liked this song, be sure to check out the rest of New Morning: the album was apparently recorded mostly on the first take, and you can hear that spontaneity throughout the record.

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“Get Up” by Sesame Girl

Canberra pop act Sesame Girl is exactly one song old – having released this very track on April 14th – but they show promise in our eyes. The song is buoyed by the contrast between the happy-go-lucky instrumentation and the lead singer’s melancholic vocals – like looking wistfully back at a childhood memory that, in retrospect, was probably the most fun you’ve ever had. Sesame Girl already caught the eye of Australian tastemakers Triple J, so good things are probably in store for the young band. Keep your eye on this one!

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“Hopelessness of Love” by Waiting for Smith

Waiting for Smith is the stage name for British singer-songwriter Harry Lloyd, who named his act after perpetually waiting for his (presumably ex-) drummer Smith. Lloyd makes lovely, light music that you would have probably heard on your local radio and (in the pre-Shazaam days) waited for years until you serendipitously find it again. “Hopelessness of Love” – released April 29th – is a sweet 3-minute ditty about fighting through a relationship’s rough patches. “It’s about the inevitable collision that happens in any relationship, there’s ups and there’s downs – that’s just life. We can’t fight the hopelessness of love but we can find a way to accept it and use it to become our strength,” explained Lloyd. Overall, this was a sunny, bright introduction to Lloyd’s music and we’ll certainly be back for more.

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

Monthly Playlist: Apr. 2021

2 May

As you may know, we at Top Five Records have our roots in India, with several of our writers located in the country. This past month has seen some of the worst days of independent India with the resurgence of a deadly second COVID-19 wave. For all our readers who may be directly or indirectly affected by COVID – in India or anywhere else – we extend our heartfelt sympathies. Here’s hoping these five songs from April 2021 provide a moment’s relief in these dark times.

5. “Introvert” by Little Simz

Rapper Little Simz is back with another great track from her vantage point as a Black, politically-aware British musician and artist. We loved her previous output Drop 6 (2020) – a confident, well-crafted set of songs including the excellent “Might bang, might not”. “Introvert” is musically a little different from these often-barebones rap tracks, bringing in a certain cinematic quality with lush instrumentation. The track is about her own internal struggle between her outward personality and her inner demons as a confident Black woman. Can she be her true self? Why not? What’s stopping her? Her flow on this track is as sublime as ever, and pairs well with the orchestral background. “Introvert” is the first track from her upcoming album entitled Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.

4. “Boilermaker” by Royal Blood

Rock favorites Royal Blood released their exciting third album Typhoons last week, featuring the great singles “Trouble’s Coming” and “Typhoons”. The last single they put out just before the album release was the hard-rock banger “Boilermaker”. Royal Blood have always sounded like a wirier, leaner Queens of the Stone Age but on this track they ramp it up to 11 – for example, the starting few seconds of the song will make you wonder whether you’re listening to an excellent Royal Blood cover of “The Way You Used To Do”. Simply put, “Boilermaker” is as robust and heavy as the name suggests, with Ben Thatcher’s hard-hitting drums coiling around Mike Kerr’s energetic vocals. It’s classic Royal Blood and a great final lead-in into the new album – look out for a review on that soon.

3. “Crawling Kingsnake” by the Black Keys

Another song on the rock landscape this month was “Crawling Kingsnake”, the first new music from the blues-rock legends since 2019’s “Let’s Rock”. This is apparently the first song from their upcoming Delta Kream, a cover album of blues classics. The original version of “Crawling Kingsnake” has no real birth date, believed to have emerged out of the fertile Mississippi delta sometime in the 1920s, but the most famous version was recorded by legendary blues artist John Lee Hooker in 1948. The Black Keys’ version infuses their signature rock style into this classic track, giving it an almost Doors vibe – and we later found out that the Doors did indeed record their own version of this track. Full circle then; and we can’t wait for discovering more blues history through Delta Kream, out on May 14th.

2. “Your Power” by Billie Eilish

“Your Power” marks the first track of Billie Eilish in her first official pop-star makeover – as a blond; more grown up; and much more vulnerable compared to her rambunctious debut album era. She’s been hinting at this for a while with the intermediate songs like “everything I wanted”, and it’s nice to see the first full emergence of the new persona. “Your Power” is a slow-strummed ballad that essentially depicts the romantic power dynamic between a young woman – perhaps we can presume it’s Billie, perhaps not – and a seemingly older man. “I thought that I was special / You made me feel, like it was my fault, you were the devil,” she says in retrospection on her naivety, along with very specific lines like “Will you only feel bad if it turns out that they kill your contract?” that makes one think that she was perhaps the girl in the song. Musically, as always, her brother Finneas’ production is seamlessly suited to Billie’s voice, falling in and out at the perfect moments to underline her tender vocals. “Your Power” is the third single from Billie’s highly-anticipated sophomore album Happier Than Ever on July 30th, following singles “my future” and “Therefore I Am”.

With Billie, the actual stylization of the song titles are important. There was the all-caps titling of her debut album, filled with subversive, all-lower case songs. There were the more formal outputs like her James Bond theme written in normal capitalizations. “Your Power” is deliberately written with normal stylization, perhaps indicating an inner transition to a more “adult” person. After all, it’s sometimes tough to believe, but Billie is still a teenager that has been in the public limelight for the entirety of her teens, living more in those five or six years than most of us will do in half a lifetime.

1. “Chosen Family” by Rina Sawayama feat. Elton John

The original “Chosen Family” is a heart-rending track from Rina Sawayama’s fantastic 2020 debut SAWAYAMA, about her late-adulthood discovery of a LGBTQ friends group that becomes more family than friends. This is especially important given her rocky relationship with her actual family, which is a theme throughout the album on tracks like “Dynasty”. Rina has now re-recorded the track with the one and only Elton John – an LGBTQ icon himself. In a way, it’s arguably better than the original because Rina’s friends group – the other part of the “we” in the track – is given a voice through Elton John. Lines like “We don’t need to be related to relate / We don’t need to share genes or a surname / You are, you are my chosen, chosen family” hit much harder when it’s a duet, and of course Elton’s piano adds an additional air of sentimentality to this moving song. This track really needs to be experienced through the accompanying music video, so be sure to check that out above!

Monthly Playlist: Mar. 2021

1 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. “THE DRAKE” by cleopatrick

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

Bonus: “Boyfriend” by Leah Kate

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

New Artist Roundup: Mar. 2021

29 Mar

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

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

“Stuck Pig” by EIN SAM

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

“Letters” by Metro

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

“Sinners” by Gede

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

“Angel Follows Me Out” by Gallery 47

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

“Space” by Nuela Charles

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

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

Monthly Playlist: Feb. 2021

2 Mar

We are two months into the Year After. Cases are declining worldwide and vaccines are on the way. However, the cultural issues that rose to boiling point in the turbulence of 2020 are still at a steady roil. It’s a strange, bittersweet time in the world, and in that context, we took a look at the five best songs from this past month.

5. “So Pretty” by Reyanna Maria

Our first reaction to Reyanna Maria’s tinny beat and sultry, swaggering rap on “So Pretty” was vibes of fellow Aussie Iggy Azalea. “So Pretty” was the flavor of the month on TikTok this month – which means this song is already more popular than you can possibly fathom. With all the outright mentions to lady parts on recent cultural phenoms like “WAP”, it’s almost coy to hear Maria talk about her “kitty cat” and all the way it makes her man feel. Even if you’re not listening to the lyrics, though, this one’s a bop. If clubs come back sometime this year, expect this one to be on the playlist – until it’s inevitably dethroned by yet another TikTok super-hit.

4. “Spirals” by Django Django

British band Django Django occupies a strange space in the experimental-mainstream music divide. Although their music is decidedly art rock – strange textures, unpredictable speeds, all that jazz – they also manage to feature regularly on everything from the FIFA 13 soundtrack to, well, the FIFA 18 soundtrack. “Spirals”, from their fourth album Glowing in the Dark (out in February), is a psychedelic romp through what we assume is a timeshare in Kevin Parker’s head. In here you’ll find strong basslines, echoey vocals, punctuating cymbal crashes, and so on. If you like Tame Impala, especially “Elephant”, you would likely like this track.

3. “you were right” by Bass Drum of Death

Bass Drum of Death mixes the lean-and-mean tones of Royal Blood with the bombastic rock of Queens of the Stone Age; so if that sounds like your jam, then read on. If you can believe it, the “band” has even fewer members than two-piece band Royal Blood; for Bass Drum of Death is simply the moniker of one-man drummer/guitarist/singer John Barrett. (There are a few others who join on tour, but it’s all mostly from Barrett’s head.) “you were right” is a tight, bluesy jam with an unmissable bass line, emphatic vocals and some excellent licks – and it’s all from one dude!

2. “CANCELLED” by slowthai feat. Skepta

Reader, if you are a regular on Top Five Records, then you know that we write quite frequently about the reigning British troublemaker known as slowthai. The London rapper is brilliant, funny, incisive, and more than a little problematic. We’ve already written about his fiasco at last year’s NME Awards (which produced a great track called, of course, “ENEMY”) but he wasn’t done being cancelled at that point. After a year of being in the public’s grinder, slowthai reacts by coming out with a song titled (what else?) “CANCELLED”, featuring the inimitable grime legend Skepta.

These two gentleman have collaborated before – on our 2019 Song of the Year “Inglorious” – and the fireworks are in full flow again here. Skepta readies the stage for slowthai with his opening verse (“How you gonna cancel me? Twenty awards on the mantelpiece / Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury / Girls in the crowd got their hands on me,”). And slowthai does manage to get one more in against the pearl-clutchers at NME: “See you throwing stones in your glass house / Evidently nothing is going the way that you said it would be / Middle finger to my enemy.” Classic.

1. “Rainforest” by Noname

As we wrote about in our review of Noname’s debut album Room 25 (2018), the Chicago rapper’s music is really like nothing else out there. Noname (real name Fatimah Warner) is exceedingly literate and blessed with a natural, soulful flow; in fact, she began her career in slam poetry. On “Rainforest”, she centers her thoughts around the damage being done to rainforests and works her way up from there. What causes human beings to trade nature for profit? What makes them believe that that’s a fair trade? What causes that sort of cognitive dissonance?

Through deft turns of phrase, she follows the chain: from exploitation (“They turned a natural resource into a bundle of cash / Made the world anti-Black, then divided the class,”) to forced rehabilitation (“How you make excuses for billionaires, you broke on the bus?”) and all the way to her own full-blown reaction (“Dyin’ on stolen land for a dollar like that ain’t fucked up / It’s fuck they money, I’ma say it every song / Until the revolution come and all the feds start runnin’”). Noname lies at the intersection of rap and spoken-word poetry, and this song is a great example of her output and talent.

Monthly Playlist: Jan. 2021

31 Jan

A new year, a new hope and – depending on where you live – the same old lockdown. One thing keeping us going is of course the music, and so without further ado, here are the top five tracks of this month.

 5. “Vintage” by Blu DeTiger

Blu DeTiger (unbelievably her real name) is a 21-year-old NYC DJ whose added color is that she also plays a mean bass. She released two songs in 2020 (but don’t let the low rate fool you – as a Gen Z DJ-slash-female-bassist, DeTiger is, as you would imagine, big on TikTok). Last week, she followed those up with the expectedly bass-heavy track “Vintage”. The gist of the song is that DeTiger is stuck in a love/hate equation with a throwback boy who loves all things 00s and 90s (which, for someone born in 2000 like herself, is vintage I suppose). Overall, the Tame Impala-esque bass line paired with DeTiger’s slightly aloof vocals makes for a cool, fresh track.

4. “Typhoons” by Royal Blood

After the massive thumping hit that was last October’s “Trouble’s Coming“, Royal Blood have finally expounded further on said trouble. The two-member rock band’s third album Typhoons will be out on April 30th, and the title track was released earlier this month. “Typhoons” is classic Royal Blood from start to finish: a dense, hard-hitting production between Mike Kerr’s bass/guitar gymnastics and Ben Thatcher’s simply tireless drums. Also notable were the Foals-like jagged elements on the chorus vocals, as well as the more layered sounds in the pre-chorus and outro portions. At this point, these two are such a ruthlessly efficient sound machine that any audible change implies significant experimentation, so this is a promising taste of the upcoming Typhoons.   

3. “Tonight Tonight” by Celeste

Almost exactly a year ago, Celeste was named as the BBC’s Sound of 2020 – an annual poll of the most likely new act to breakthrough to the mainstream. The prediction was echoed by everyone from GQ to Gucci, and by all measures, they were correct. The British singer-songwriter has had a glamorous year (despite everything), including an Oscar-nominated song for The Trial of the Chicago 7 and an end-credits duet with Jon Batiste on the new Pixar movie. Earlier this month, Celeste released her hotly-anticipated debut album Not Your Muse, from which “Tonight Tonight” is a standout new track. On this song, Celeste’s nostalgic, slightly melancholic vocals meld seamlessly with brisk, modern jazz instrumentals – something that has been done before, for sure, but there’s a certain undeniable freshness that she brings to the table. Keep your eye on Celeste – she’s on her way to household-name status, if she isn’t there already.

2. “No One Knows” by The Vaccines

“No One Knows” from the Queens of the Stone Age’s landmark 2002 record Songs For the Deaf ranks among the best songs of the decade. It’s no easy feat to cover the track in a refreshing manner that’s also respectful of the original’s relentless, raw energy – but The Vaccines have done more than alright here. “No One Knows” takes QOTSA’s hard-hitting LA-cool-meets-leather-jacket vibes and turns it into a dream-pop, mellow track with a pared-back version of that famous beat. This one-off cover is apparently from their upcoming Cozy Karaoke EP and a prelude to the fifth album that they’re seemingly set to release in 2021 – good stuff so far!

1. “Don’t Be Dumb” by Dizzee Rascal feat. Ocean Wisdom

There isn’t much breathing room on the new track “Don’t Be Dumb”, a collab between UK grime legend Dizzee Rascal and compatriot rapper Ocean Wisdom. The entire track is structured like a no-holds-barred cypher, with Dizzee and Ocean Wisdom exchanging zingers and brags at speeds that your brain can just barely process. And as if that wasn’t enough, the track is loaded with Dizzee’s trademark deep, bouncy grime beats. This is the kind of track that makes you (rightly) wonder why you don’t listen more to UK rap. Our pick of the year’s tracks so far.

Monthly Playlist: Nov. 2020

1 Dec

This month has been a big one for music-related news, from the AMAs to the GRAMMY nominations. While there were certainly moments to celebrate (see: Dua Lipa bagging wins and nominations galore), there were also some notable let-downs (see: the GRAMMYs’ radio silence on Rina Sawayama and the Weeknd!). Awards shows aside, though, there were some great tracks this month. Read on for our top five picks from November 2020.

5. “505 (Live)” by Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys return in December with a studio album – but before you get excited, it’s not new content. In the mythical past known as 2018, the Monkeys performed at the vaunted Royal Albert Music Hall with a set-list drawn partially from Tranquility Base and mostly from their older material (i.e. a palatable ratio). The proceeds from this album, recorded that evening, will go toward War Child, a non-profit focused on helping children from war-torn nations. As a promo for this live album, the band has released the live version of their classic “505”, and we must admit that it sounds great. The acoustics of the famous Hall lend new depths to the song, as do Alex Turner’s vocals – which have unmistakably changed in style since this song’s original version in the mid-aughts. If you can, get this one on vinyl.

4. “Man’s World” by Marina

Marina, formerly known as Marina and the Diamonds, has been a favorite of ours for many years. We’ve always loved the way she does pop – with all the bubblegum sex appeal of Selena Gomez and the like, yet imbued with biting self-awareness that is rare in the genre. With “Man’s World”, the multi-faceted popstar takes on the male-driven world (as the title suggests) with a good measure of COVID- and climate-change-reckoning thrown in. “Don’t underestimate the making of life / The planet has a funny way of stopping a fight,” she warns. The weirdest part of the song is her long interlude about the noted homophobe Sheikh of Brunei buying an LA hotel overtaken by the gays – but hey, she knows her audience.

3. “Therefore I Am” by Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish delivers the ultimate snide cold-shoulder with catchy new single “Therefore I Am”. She delivers the line “Stop, what the hell are you talking about? Ha” with all the iciness of the high school queen giving you a sneering look, and quotes (of all people) Rene Descartes in the chorus: “You think you’re the man, I think, therefore I am”. As with most Billie songs, the magic lies in her brother Finneas’ precise, inimitable production values; we especially loved when the heavy, layered chorus occasionally breaks into Billie’s crystal-clear voice. Reading between the lines, the song seems to be about someone she has been linked with (she mentions being asked about them in interviews and articles) – let us know if you’ve cracked the code.

2. “Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix)” by Miley Cyrus feat. Stevie Nicks

Maverick pop star Miley Cyrus has released her latest album Plastic Hearts earlier this month. Probably the most innovative track off the album is “Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix)”, a mash-up of Cyrus’ own recent hit “Midnight Sky” with Stevie Nicks’ legendary 80s banger “Edge of Seventeen”. And what’s more – Nicks herself performs on the track! “Edge of Midnight” is an electrifying mix of these two ladies’ instantly recognizable voices. Expect to get goosebumps the first time Cyrus sings the famous “Just like the white-winged dove” line in her deep, powerful voice.

1. “HOLIDAY” by Lil Nas X

There is honestly no justification to why Lil Nas X should continue to churn out impossibly catchy songs with no real changes to his formula. “HOLIDAY” follows the same ingredient list as the mega-platinum hit “Old Town Road” – the minor scale, a simple and repetitive beat, his silky-smooth and slightly anachronistic voice; and yet we fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Move over, Mariah – this is our holiday song from now on. (Side note: This song got us talking about a literal “Holiday” playlist, so keep an eye out for that!)

Monthly Playlist: Oct. 2020

2 Nov

As 2020 draws to a close, and we start making the first drafts of our end of year lists, we took a look back at some of the best songs in October 2020. Read on for a quick spin through everything from dance-rock to synth-pop – to whatever Gorillaz is…

5. “I Love It” by Kylie Minogue

The firs of our big-name artists to feature on the list this month is Aussie pop legend Kylie Minogue, who blessed us this month with the 1970s disco-throwback gem called “I Love It”. Readers of Top Five Records will note that this particular aesthetic is rather chic among female pop singers this year, whether it’s Dua Lipa or Jessie Ware or Gaga herself. Kylie carries forward this year’s trend with this bouncy, Technicolor soundtrack to all the parties you wish you’d had this year.

4. “Straight to the Morning” by Hot Chip feat. Jarvis Cocker

Dovetailing right into Kylie’s above track is “Straight to the Morning” by British dance/synth-pop outfit Hot Chip, featuring none other than Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker. As you may expect from this combination of artists, “Straight to the Morning” is a classic heartbeat-speed of a dance track, supported by Cocker’s irreverent drawl. Hot Chip are, of course, famously known for making great music videos, so be sure to check out the one for this track.

3. “Intercontinental Radio Waves” by TRAAMS

British indie rock three-piece TRAAMS is #3 on our list this with their catchy jam, “Intercontinental Radio Waves”. You simply can’t ignore the bluesy, sludgy bassline that hits you right at the start – and before you know it, you’re nodding along to lead singer Stuart Hopkins’ sharp, staccato pronouncements. The band last released an album a few years ago (2015’s Modern Dancing), so perhaps this is a sign of new music to come. If so, they’ve got new fans here at Top Five Records.

1. (Tie) “The Valley of the Pagans” by Gorillaz feat. Beck & “The Pink Phantom” by Gorillaz feat. Elton John and 6LACK

Over the course of this year, Gorillaz have been releasing a song every few months, including the recent ScHoolboy Q collab that we covered here at Top Five. All this new music from the virtual band was a lead-up to October’s Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez. All tracks on this perfectly-titled album (for, after all, these are indeed strange timez) are collaborations between Gorillaz and an eclectic mix of artists, from niche (e.g. CHAI) to arena-filling (e.g. Elton John). Naturally, such a mix has resulted in a number of possible picks for a stand-out track this month, but we decided to go with two, both of which we’d rank as some of the best songs this month.

With its slick, dance-rock embellishments and playful pacing, “The Valley of the Pagans” is reminiscent of the golden Demon Dayz-era Gorillaz. “The Pink Phantom” features the one and only Elton John, whose vocals shine on this slowed-down, melancholy track. Elton’s voice is impressively – and surprisingly – complemented by American rapper 6LACK’s Auto-tuned, R&B-tinged verses. Props to Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn for putting all the pieces together!

Have you started thinking about your Albums of the Year and Songs of the Year? Let us know in the comments below!

Monthly Playlist: Sep. 2020

3 Oct

September 2020 saw the release of a surprise Fleet Foxes album, a much-awaited IDLES follow-up, emphatic returns from the likes of Alicia Keys and Sufjan Stevens, and lots more. Read on for our picks of the top five songs from the month that was.

5. “Love’s Gone Bad” from the Jaded Hearts Club

The Jaded Hearts Club is a supergroup featuring the who’s who of early aughts indie rock. Nic Crester from Jet and Miles Kane from the Last Shadow Puppets share vocal duties, with instrumentation from Muse’s Matt Bellamy (bass), Blur’s Graham Coxon (guitar) and a few other friends. Their music, as the obvious reference to Sgt. Pepper’s suggests, is a mix of these members’ indie rock sensibilities essentially converging into a Beatles tribute band. “Love’s Gone Bad” from early September features classic rock riffs and an energetic Lennon-esque presence from Kane. If you liked the Beatles and/or any of these gentlemen’s bands, it’s likely you’ll like this tune. Incidentally, the Jaded Hearts Club released their debut album You’ve Always Been Here just today, so be sure to check that out if you liked this track.

4. “FRANCHISE” by Travis Scott, feat. Young Thug and M.I.A.

You can recognize a Travis Scott beat anywhere. The dull boom of a thick bass line, paired with hypnotic notes and his lilting flow, became a signature on the well-received Astroworld, and it’s no different here. “FRANCHISE” sucks you right in – not just because of this things, but also because of a fantastic early chime-in from the one-and-only M.I.A. The British-Sri Lankan rapper holds her own with Scott and Young Thug, especially on her onomatopoeic turns with Sheck Wes (yes, he’s on here too). All in all, this is a slick and talent-heavy single from Travis Scott and friends – give it a spin.

3. “War” by IDLES

IDLES, much like their Irish counterparts Fontaines D.C., are key drivers of the rock scene across the pond these days. The British punk band has enjoyed widespread acclaim with striking debut Brutalism and equally-hard-hitting sophomore album Joy As An Act of Resistance. They returned this month with third album Ultra Mono, of which “War” is the opener. And open it does. The song hits like a shot of adrenaline, with brutal drumming that’s inter-cut with relentless guitar riffs. Despite lasting just about three minutes, “War” gives you a feel for senseless battle, from the mentions of Johnny and Sally being sent to their deaths right down to the explicit sound of a sword going in.

2. “Turntables” by Janelle Monae

We didn’t know this before, but apparently Amazon has funded an election-year, straight-to-Prime documentary called All In: The Fight For Democracy. While the thought of a Jeff Bezos vehicle talking about the fight for democracy in the context of billionaire-ridden modern-day America is a dubious proposition (to say the least), we can’t ignore this great track from multi-faceted legend Janelle Monae. The actress-singer-LGBTQ-icon here serves a rousing, patriotic ode to civil rights, liberties and all that the America-of-yore stood for: “I’m kicking out the old regime / Liberation, elevation, education / America, you a lie / But the whole world ’bout to testify”. Her lines work especially well on the music video that features striking visuals of the ongoing civil rights demonstrations in the US; check it out above.

1. “Trouble’s Coming” by Royal Blood

Royal Blood are a two(!)-piece rock band from Brighton, consisting simply of Mike Kerr on vocals / bass guitar and Ben Thatcher on drums. Their self-titled debut album blew us away with the sheer volume and breadth of sound that these two people can produce, as did their sophomore album How Did We Get So Dark?. Now, ahead of their third album next year, The band has released “Trouble’s Coming” – a searing ride through familiar Royal Blood territory. The song of course features all the Royal Blood trademarks (Thatcher’s relentless drums, Kerr’s sneering vocals), but what we found most interesting was its dance-rock undertones, especially on the earworm of a chorus (“I hear trouble coming, over and over again”). Beware while listening, though: this is the kind of song that will make you dearly miss live performances.

Top Five Deep Cuts: Arctic Monkeys Edition

11 Sep

In the fifteen years since Arctic Monkeys emerged on the music scene, they’ve donned a dozen different hats. From their garage rock-style energetic debut album to their most recent space-themed lounge rock album, their sound is incredibly hard to pin down.

They’ve been described as the distilled-down sounds of the Strokes, The Killers and Franz Ferdinand (arguably, three of the most influential rock outfits of the 2000s), but they’re somehow much more than that. With frontman Alex Turner’s expertly written and clever lyrics, and the band’s undeniable musical prowess, the Arctic Monkeys have rightfully dominated the rock scene for years now.

They hit mainstream fame with their 2013 album AM and became a household name, with tracks like “R U Mine” and “Arabella”. These tracks are, no doubt, incredible (and make you feel cool and suave for listening to them), but there are some truly hidden gems in their body of work that showcase a different side of the Arctic Monkeys.

If you’re keeping score, it’s been almost exactly seven years to the day since the release of AM in September 2013. (Note: We at TFR prefer to forget the existence of Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino.) Given the hellscape that is 2020, we thought it was a good time to take a quick, refreshing flashback into the early aughts. Without further ado, here are our picks for the top five Arctic Monkeys deep cuts!

5. “Piledriver Waltz” from the Submarine soundtrack

If anyone should be commissioned to write the soundtrack to a British coming-of-age drama, it’s Alex Turner. He’s incredibly skilled at finding the balance between deeply poignant and casually whimsical: which about sums up the teenage experience for most, we suppose. And how many musicians can write an upbeat heartbreak song with references to Elvis, circuses, Jesus and traffic lights, all while adhering to the incredibly difficult ¾ time signature?

Piledriver Waltz is the least mopey breakup song. It’s certainly wistful in tone, but has a warm fuzziness that leaves you hopeful for the future. The layered instrumental production on this version adds more depth to a starkly three-dimensional portrait of a broken relationship. Though a slightly different version was later released on Suck It and See, this version holds a special place in our hearts and in those of other true-blue Turner fans. Nothing changed too considerably between the two versions: the lyrics and the melody are identical, yet somehow, this one is just a little more cinematic and melancholic than the album version.

4. “Mad Sounds” from AM

Somewhere in the early 2010s, Alex Turner seemingly dropped his Suck It and See-era softboy persona and dove headfirst into a vat of hair gel and leather jackets. The band emerged fully reinvented, as a Proper Rock Band™ that played heavier rock with the catchiest riffs and hooks. It’s no surprise that they blew up with AM; it appealed to fans of rock, hip-hop, pop and R&B all at once. Tracks like “Do I Wanna Know” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” have permanently changed the face of the 2010s indie rock landscape and have quickly become modern classics.

“Mad Sounds”, though, is a sharp deviation from the rest of the album’s British-James-Dean feel. Nestled right in the middle of the album, the track is a gentle, lilting reminder that the Arctic Monkeys are more than a rock and roll band that writes about one night stands and pub culture. “Mad Sounds” feels, instead, like a spiritual sequel to Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”. If the Velvet Underground were still together, this is what they’d have sounded like in 2012.

Turner’s vocals ring sharp and crystal-clear, and though the lyrics aren’t saying much, it’s a much-needed respite from the verbal barrage of the rest of the album. The lines “And out of nowhere, somebody comes and hits you with an ‘ooh-la-la-la-la’” essentially sum up this track’s place in the album, and in their discography.

3. “Temptation Greets You Like Your Naughty Friend” feat. Dizzee Rascal

Possibly the deepest of deep cuts; even most hardcore fans don’t know about this B-Side to “Brianstorm”. The track features British rapper Dizzee Rascal who, at the time, was at the peak of his rap career. Arctic Monkeys have always cited rap and hip-hop as one of their primary influences growing up, but that’s usually a very subtle contextual layer to their music. This track is unique for a number of reasons. The band almost never features any other artist on their tracks, and they never mix genres to this degree. But somehow, they did it for this track, and somehow, it works.

It’s tough to produce art that transports the listener to an exact time and place, but this track does exactly that. The raw energy of the song makes you feel like you’re a frustrated British teen in the 2000s, which is probably exactly what they were going for (and until recently, were themselves). Turner’s lyrics are, of course, beautifully minimal (“The only roads are cul-de-sacs/ The only ends are dead”) and his voice still has the boyish charm of the band’s early work. The strong riff line and the syncopated drums are a perfect match to Dizzee Rascal’s grime-style rap bridge. “Temptation” might be an anomaly as far as AM’s music goes, but it’s a refreshing reminder that the band can dominate in just about any genre.

Bonus: Amazing live version with Dizzee from Glastonbury 2007. Ah, 2007.

2. “Secret Door” from Humbug

Humbug is, in many ways, a transition album for the Arctic Monkeys’ sound, where the line blurs between upbeat post-punk and romantic indie rock. Consequently, it’s one of their most divisive albums. “Secret Door” is the perfect example of this in-between space. While the verses have that classic high-energy style of the older Arctic Monkeys, the chorus and the outro are haunting,  cinematic and beautiful.

Alex Turner’s lyrics have always been good, but with Humbug, he began to write what was essentially poetry set to music (“Fools on parade cavort and carry on / For waiting eyes” ), yet somehow he manages to avoid sounding cloying in the process.

‘Secret Door” is probably frequently overlooked because it’s just such a shock to the system. As the opening track on Humbug, fans expected a huge, over-the-top audio explosion, like “Brianstorm” on Favourite Worst Nightmare. What they got, instead, was this mish-mash track that sounded like the background score to a sentimental scene in a John Hughes movie. But still, the raw talent of Turner’s vocals, combined with drummer Matt Helders’ impressive percussion make this one of the most engaging and musically interesting tracks on Humbug.

1. “She’s Thunderstorms” from Suck It And See

Alex Turner knows how to write a love song. He knows how to turn a phrase that’s romantic but never cheesy, and it shows on this track. Nobody in human history has ever described their love interest as “thunderstorms”, and yet, you know exactly what he’s talking about.

Suck It And See, Arctic Monkeys’ fourth studio album, is another one that’s heavily debated amongst fans: they either hate it with a burning passion or think it’s their best work. There’s no in-between. SIAS, the incredibly stripped down, softpop follow-up to Humbug, begins with the minor-key sinister opening riff on “She’s Thunderstorms”. Immediately, though, the warm vocals and lead guitars kick in, and you immediately feel cheery and comfortable; like you’re in 500 Days Of Summer.

The track showcases an amount of restraint that the band had never demonstrated before. The lyrics are minimalist, the production isn’t heavy-handed, and the instrumental arrangement is just enough. It’s clear that this is a grown-up version of the angry teenage Arctic Monkeys from the first two albums, but it’s mature in a quiet, self-confident way. They’re comfortable enough to tone it down a notch and still get their point across.

Honorable mentions:

Cornerstone” from Humbug

This may be a personal bias, but it’s our opinion at TFR that this is the best love song ever written. Paired with a hilariously low budget music video, this track really shows the Arctic Monkeys at their best.

Mardy Bum” from Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

This is a simple song from their debut about a tiff between a couple, narrated in a ridiculously strong Sheffield accent. The band comes through with a surprisingly strong guitar solo, about midway, that changes the tone of the song entirely.

Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” by Tame Impala (cover)

It’s tough to improve on a Tame Impala track, but if anyone can do it, it’s Alex Turner. The band has a way to make the song sound soulful and complex, seemingly effortlessly.

The Bakery“, B-Side to “Fluorescent Adolescent”

Very similar in theme to “Cornerstone”, but relayed in a British dialect so strong that you probably don’t know what they’re talking about, exactly. (What is a “tatty settee”?) Turner’s voice is delightfully laid back, and the production is so sparse that it feels like you’re watching your college band run through a practice. Its simplicity is what wins you over. 

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!

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