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Monthly Playlist: Jun. 2020

2 Jul

We are now past the halfway mark of this hellish year. One silver lining, though, is the sheer volume of great music that seems to be coming out of artists young and new. Living legends Neil Young and Bob Dylan both released new albums, days of each other, as did rising stars like Phoebe Bridgers and HAIM. Read on for our breakdown of five standout tracks from June 2020.

5. “Kitchen Sink” by Nadine Shah

British-Pakistani singer-songwriter Nadine Shah has what one would call a striking voice: deep, resonant and able to convey as much with her notes as with her pauses. On the eponymous song from her fourth album Kitchen Sink, Shah’s voice precisely fills the gaps between two piano notes, discordant guitars and gospel-like handclaps. In the lyrics, Shah seems to be giving herself a sermon – to let go and stop caring about the mean things that people say. “Don’t worry about what the neighbors think / They’re characters from kitchen sink,” she states mysteriously, before breaking into the song’s chant of a chorus: “And I just let them pass me by.”

4. “I’m Alive” by TTRRUUCES

TTRRUUCES have all the markings of a future breakout act. Like many a musical star, they are unusual with a conviction.  Leaving aside their lackadaisical name, they describe their self-titled debut album as an operatic story of Sad Girl Sadie and Lost Boy Syd in the search for, strangely, a drug called TTRRUUCES. Beyond the character names and thematic elements, there’s a sense of seedy psychedelic underbelly (think Charles Manson) on “I’m Alive” that just draws you in. It’s just a catchy tune overall and we aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed – “I’m Alive” is on the FIFA 2020 soundtrack.

3. “JU$T” by Run the Jewels feat. Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha

Just the sheer combined talent of Killer Mike, El-P, Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha would lead one to think that “JU$T” would be a straight-up hit, and thankfully the song doesn’t disappoint. We’ve already spoken about it in our review of this year’s most important record, RTJ4, but it’s worth rehashing. “JU$T” is packed with hard-hitting critiques (as are most RTJ songs) with lines such as “The Thirteenth Amendment says that slavery’s abolished / Look at all these slave masters posin’ on yo’ dollar”. Moreover, with Pharrell in the mix, these lines are hidden in crisp, swaggering beats that could almost make you think this is just a summertime banger.

2. “EXHALE” by Kenzie feat. Sia

Speaking of Pharrell, young pop singer Kenzie channels Skateboard P himself on the highly enjoyable “EXHALE”. On the surface, it’s a pop song, but once the bass and drums-loaded chorus pumps through, you know this is a different kind of deal. To sweeten the pot, the song features Aussie hitmaker Sia on a choice verse or two. And let’s be honest, with the way 2020 is going, everyone needs to hear their advice here: “You need to, you need to exhale so let everything go / Baby, you in control”. Fun fact: Kenzie aka Mackenzie Zeigler is the younger sister of Maddie Zeigler, the famous dancing wunderkind in Sia’s break-out track “Chandelier”; we’re definitely glad the family connections got Sia involved here!

1. “False Prophet” by Bob Dylan

In June, Bob Dylan released his 39th (!) feature album, roughly half a century (!!) after his debut album. There is possibly no other living artist who could pull this off, but this 39th album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, is quickly turning out to be one of his best (yet). “False Prophet” features a fairly sparse instrumentation and Dylan’s truly inimitable voice. He growls, laughs, boasts, flirts – sometimes all within a ten-second stretch. If you heard this track out of nowhere, you would think it’s at least a couple of decades old; it feels that well-worn and classic. For a song that sounds like it could have by itself birthed the blues, it’s almost fathomable that it was released just this year; but that’s Dylan for you. At 79, this guy sure is alive and kicking, the end times be damned.

Be sure to check out all of our 2020 song picks on our handy Spotify playlist!

Monthly Playlist: May 2020

1 Jun

We are now far enough into the coronavirus pandemic for this new abnormal to percolate deep into our psyches. Artists are starting to contemplate the differences between Life Then and Life Now. For example: Little Simz, who we cover in the list below, wrote and released an entire mixtape in spite of – and in some ways, because of – her lockdown experiences. Equally as interestingly, we as listeners are starting to consume music differently. Perhaps that slick, braggadocio rap track now soundtracks your daily allotted fast-walking time. Perhaps punk rock pumps you up in the precious time between Zoom meetings where you really, actually do your office work. And so on.

The point being: our surroundings are perhaps irrevocably changed, at least for the near future, but music’s importance has not dimmed the slightest. And here are five tracks that were embedded deep into our daily lives this past month.

5. “Noize” by Iyer’s Filter Coffee

Clocking in at #5 this month is a tune from Iyer’s Filter Coffee, a garage rock band from India consisting of Rushil Mishra (guitar / vocals), Pushkar Ravindra (guitar / vocals), Dennis Dey (bass / vocals) and Sachin Iyer (drums). The band lists the Strokes and the Black Keys as musical touch-points, and does well to justify those influences. After a well-received first EP coldturkey last year, the boys are back this month with their first-full length debut, Is This How You Do It.

First single “Noize” from Is This How You Do It really caught our ears. The song could slot perfectly well on Arctic Monkey’s Humbug– sporting an uncannily similar mix of the same hard-hitting riffs and Queens of the Stone Age-style production as that 2009 album. “Noize” shines especially on the segues featuring rolling drums and fuzz-laden guitarwork which stick with you long after the song is over.

4. “Shook” by Tkay Maidza

Tkay Maidza, a Zimbabwean-origin Australian rapper, has been circling fame for some time now. Her 2014 single “Switch Lanes” made it to the prestigious Aussie radio channel Triple J’s Hottest 100 list (at #100, but still) – back when she was just 17. In 2016, her debut album Tkay reached #20 on the Australian charts, and included a track with the one and only Killer Mike. Tkay’s star has been rising for several years now, and all that comes to a head with the slick new track, “Shook”.

On this track, Tkay clearly channels Missy Elliott, from the brash enunciation to the butter-smooth, non-stop flow. She also has some great lines – “Then these frauds tryna fit in, got ’em playin’ tetris” comes particularly to mind. “Shook” puts Tkay high on our list of artists to watch for in 2020.

3. “Enemy” by slowthai

Speaking of slick rap, we have been blessed this month with a new track from the reigning king of British rap, slowthai. In the Before Times (February 2020), slowthai made news for a thorny NME Awards show – featuring thrown glass, thrown insults and ultimately a thrown-out slowthai. The incident resulted in a typical PR apology but slowthai hinted (aggressively) at his true feelings with a tweet that said, simply, “Keep my name out ur dirty mouth”.

Turns out, he wasn’t done reacting – he turned that tweet into a chilling riff on the new “Enemy”. Wonky, slow-burning beats interlock perfectly with that unmistakable slowthai bad-boy swagger – a mix of London attitude and unpredictable emotion on the delivery from line to line.

2. “Might bang, might not” by Little Simz

May 2020 was fantastic for British rap. Some truly memorable new acts are coming out of that rainy island, and one of those is Nigerian-origin, London-bred Little Simz. “Might bang, might not” is a smooth track from her new, economically-titled five-song mixtape Drop 6.

On this track, Little Simz shows off a clear, crisp flow, set over even crisper layers: a three-note bass line, basic beats and a pace set by what sounds like a single, digitized gasp. What’s most notable about this song and the entire mixtape is that Little Simz wrote and mixed the whole thing herself during quarantine lockdown, often battling mental health issues. If you liked this track, you should read about what it took for her to put it out – check it out here.

1. “A Hero’s Death” by Fontaines DC

After a ripper of a year with perhaps 2019’s best debut album, everyone’s favorite Irish punk band Fontaines DC are back with new single “A Hero’s Death”. This song lies somewhere between a poem and a speech, set to unyielding punk. Lead singer Grian Chatten snaps off line after line of advice, toeing the line between schoolmaster and preacher: the couplet “Don’t get stuck in the past, say your favorite things at mass / Tell your mother that you love her and go out of your way for others” is just one example. The song’s central line – “Life ain’t always empty” – especially sticks in your head, almost like a mantra. All in all, “A Hero’s Death” is the rare song that is equal parts hypnotic and raucous.

The song’s accompanying music video features fellow Irishman and prestige television star Aidan Gillen – a sign of the young band’s rising profile. “A Hero’s Death” is the eponymous first single off of their new album, which is scheduled to be released in July – we can’t wait.

Check out these songs and all others from our 2020 Monthly Playlists on our Spotify playlist here.

Monthly Playlist – Apr. 2020

28 Apr

We say this almost every month, but April 2020 was truly one of the best months of music that we’ve ever been through. There was, of course, Fiona Apple’s universally-lauded Fetch the Bolt Cutters; on the very same day, English pop star Rina Sawayama released what is easily the best debut album since Invasion of Privacy (2018). We even got new tracks from reclusive acts like The Strokes and Jamie xx. Read on for a round-up of the best five songs from this month.

5. “Young and Beautiful” by Glass Animals

This is technically not a new song, but we love Glass Animals’ gauzy cover of Lana del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful”, released as part of a growing collection called, fittingly, Quarantine Covers. Dave Bayley’s spindly, whispery voice and bare production lends itself perfectly to the track – the result being a fresh yet respectful cover of a truly classic song.

As a bonus, check out another song in Quarantine Covers – a hypnotic take on Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box”.

4. “Shameika” by Fiona Apple

 Fiona Apple has had a sparse but monumental career, spanning five increasingly unrestrained albums from her debut Tidal (1995) to Fetch the Bolt Cutters (2020). This latest album currently enjoys an unprecedented perfect score on Metacritic. Is it worth the fawning all-round praise? Somewhat – but not entirely (see our in-depth review here).

Perhaps the most widely-shareable song on the album is “Shameika”, a rollicking tale about schoolgirl Fiona getting some tough love from a slightly older girl. The eponymous Shameika tells Fiona that she has potential, and Fiona uses that mantra to get through the bullying and boredom of middle-school life. We particularly love the rolling piano and Fiona’s jazzy storytelling on this track. Fiona recently shared that Shameika, indeed, turned out to be a real person (and not a figment of her imagination as she initially thought), so that’s cool too.

3. “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” by The Strokes

On April 10th, the Strokes released their much-awaited sixth album and thankfully, it lived up to expectations. The presciently-named The New Abnormal (in-depth review here) certainly featured some new direction for the band, but there were also some classic, old-school Strokes tracks. The fun and catchy “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” falls squarely in the later category. Kicked off by a bouncy, synth-heavy riff, the song features Julian Casablancas singing about the good old days over feel-good guitar work from Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi. It’s just a great tune.

2. “Idontknow” by Jamie xx

Idontknow”, a new single from English producer and DJ Jamie Smith (and one-half of The xx), is a revelation in its sheer use of beats. The track starts off with almost African-like beats that are sure to get you tapping along with some part of your body. Just when you think that’s all there is to it, the track ramps up into overdrive at approximately the 78-second mark. And when we say overdrive, we are not joking. The beats double in speed, and Jamie Smith expertly overlays mysterious vocals snippets, with the effect being a frenetic, craze-inducing romper of a track. It’s addictive in its simplicity, and we highly recommend it.

1. “XS” by Rina Sawayama

It may seem like Japanese-British pop singer Rina Sawayama comes to us fully-formed, but the 29-year-old has been working on her sound for some time. She had a couple of well-received tracks between 2013 and 2016, followed by a self-produced mini-album in 2017. This month, she finally released her official debut album – the eponymous SAWAYAMA – and it was well worth the build-up.

Sawayama’s sound is a beguiling mix of late-90s pop (think Britney and Mariah) and early 2000s moody rock (think Evanescence): nostalgic in its components parts but wholly original in its combination. The best song this month was definitely “XS”, a commentary on late-stage capitalism with a killer pop hook (we told you it’s original). “Luxury and opulence, Cartiers and Tesla X’s / Calabasas, I deserve it,” says Rina, before begging for “just a little bit more, little bit of excess”. Even if you don’t listen to the words in detail, you just can’t miss the pop sounds from the millennial Rina’s 90s / early 00s childhood.

Monthly Playlist: Mar. 2020

31 Mar

March 2020 will forever be known in the history books as the month that COVID-19 really stuck its hypothetical flag into Earth. Over a billion people are now in quarantine, leading to stranger-than-fiction outcomes like kindergarten classes over Zoom. There is, however, one silver lining to this whole scenario: humanity’s ability to find artistic outlets seems to have gotten sharper. Either that, or this was just independently a really good month for music. Read on for our top five tracks this month – and stay safe!

“just a boy” by Alaina Castillo

Houston, Texas-based Alaina Castillo has been making her moves for a while now. Castillo shot to fame the new-school way, by racking up a massive YouTube following, before transitioning into her first traditional EP (2019’s antisocial butterfly). Three months into the year, the English-Spanish bilingual singer has already released five singles but it’s “just a boy” that may just give her the mainstream break-out she deserves. The song features Alaina’s silky smooth, pitch-perfect vocals that can give Ariana Grande a run for her money, layered over stripped-down guitar work. It’s the best of pop: sugary-sweet vocals, relatable lyrics, and heartfelt emotion.

“Ooh LA LA” by Run The Jewels (feat. Greg Nice & DJ Premier)

Rap duo Run The Jewels, consisting of Killer Mike and El-P, are back with a new jam called “Ooh LA LA”. The track has a laid-back, 90s rap vibe that perfectly complements the comfortable-brag lyrics. In particular, Killer Mike’s “First of all, fuck the fucking law, we is fucking raw / Steak tartare, oysters on the half-shell, sushi bar” is a standout, but really, the whole song is filled with such lines. What’s more, the song is well-served by a catchy-AF chorus. Run The Jewels are scheduled to release a new album this year, and had an amazing double-bill tour with Rage Against the Machine (titled, appropriately, “Public Service Announcement”) planned for 2020 – time will tell how much of that tour they are actually able to embark upon.

“P2” by Lil Uzi Vert

In 2017, Lil Uzi Vert shook up the world with, of all things, an emo rap song, entitled “XO Tour Llif3”. “Push me to the edge, all my friends are dead,” says Uzi on the chorus , throwing in side-note one-liners like “I might blow my brain out / Xanny numb the pain, yeah”. Late 90s emo rock bands probably ate their hearts out – here was a genuine and successful emo song, parceled in talented rap no less. In 2020, Lil Uzi Vert released his much-awaited (and much-lauded) album called Eternal Atake (read our review here). “P2”, coming in just before the end of the behemoth one-hour 18-track album, is in essence the follow-up to “XO Tour Llif3”, both lyrically and musically. Uzi retains the hypnotic, slightly-off kilter minor beats, and his lyrics take on an after-the-fact vibe: “I don’t really care ‘cause I’m done”. Great song, and great album.

“Faith” by The Weeknd

“Faith” is an atmospheric, textured track from The Weeknd’s new album, After Hours (read our review here). While most of the spotlight right now is on the lead singles – “Blinding Lights”, “Heartless” – it’s really “Faith” that finds The Weeknd (a.k.a. Abel Tesfaye) at his most genuine, fractured self. Set on heavy choir-like synths, “Faith” really explores the various pieces of Abel’s self-destructive tendencies. He goes sober for his new love, but threatens to go back to his old ways if she leaves him. When given a choice between Heaven or Las Vegas (a reference to a previous song, btw), he chooses Sin City. And if he ODs? “But if I OD, I want you to OD right beside me / I want you to follow right behind me,” he requests. “Faith” is almost a psychological study of a chronic drug abuser and what makes one stuck that way. Good music too – check it out.

“Break My Heart” by Dua Lipa

Technically, British-Albanian rising star Dua Lipa’s new album has been in the public sphere for a few months already. Unless you live under a rock, you must have heard her massive global hit, “Don’t Start Now”. The next single, “Physical”, did the rounds well too. This month, the new album Future Nostalgia was finally released, and it proved to be on par with both of those bangers. In particular, “Break My Heart” really encapsulates the vibe of the whole album: nostalgia for the early 2000s (when Dua was a teeny-bopper) masked in the touchpoints of today’s pop hits. Synth-pop beats and her signature husky voice bring back memories of Titanic-era Cher, perhaps, with some busy Gwen Stefani-esque attitude – but it’s all done in a way that feels modern, not retro. The perfectly-titled Future Nostalgia as a whole is a great ride, and “Break My Heart” is a good place to start.

Monthly Playlist: Jun. 2019

2 Jul

And just like that, we’re halfway through 2019. So far, the year has given us some great music already. There have been some fantastic albums from well-established bands (Vampire Weekend, Foals) and break-out debuts from true diamonds-in-the-rough (see: slowthai). Read on for our picks this month – spanning old-school indie rock, beautiful folk-pop, and two of the best tracks all year from the Indian subcontinent.

Read on below for the goods:

5. “No Bullets Spent” by Spoon

As our readers know well, we at Top Five Records are huge fans of Austin-based indie rock veterans Spoon. Their 2017 album, Hot Thoughts, made it onto our year-end list that year, and “No Bullets Spent” perfectly espouses all we love about this band. In spades are the laid-back vibes undeniably sourced from their hometown of Austin, TX; lead singer Britt Daniel’s lackadaisical lyrics; the unmistakably subtle-yet-groovy Spoon chorus; and so much more. “No Bullets Spent” was released to hype up the release of the band’s greatest hits album (Everything Hits at Once) on July 26th. Whether you’re already a Spoon fan or not, we encourage you to check out this track, and of course the greatest-hits compilation when it’s out.

4. “Love Yourself” by Sufjan Stevens

Love Yourself” is an electronic-tinged slowjam that works in two ways: one, as a plea to your lover to appreciate themselves more (“Love, can you love yourself”); two, as a note-to-self with the same message. Either way, it’s a gorgeous, lushly-produced song that perfectly features Sufjan’s emotive pipes. Sufjan Stevens has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity, in part due to the vital inclusion of a couple of his songs on Call Me By Your Name, 2017’s sleeper art film hit. With “Love Yourself” – released as part of a four-song Pride Month EP – Sufjan fans both new and old are likely to be more than satisfied. We sure are!

3. “My Baby’s Beak” by the F16s

In the early part of this decade, something magical was happening in Chennai’s indie music scene. There were suddenly a swathe of very good, very unique and very closely-knit artists coming out of the southern port city. Everyone seemed to know each other. Everyone wanted everyone else to succeed. Everyone came out to each other’s shows. Was there something in the Chennai water?

Over the years, we’ve spoken to and closely covered several of these bands, and what we’ve gleaned is the following. The city’s strong musical streak, combined with the centering of the Indian indie music away from Chennai to other metros (Mumbai, Bangalore) and the piteous lack of venues in town, meant that Chennai’s independent musicians had a truly DIY approach to their craft. People practiced in home spaces. Bands shared band members. And there was a strong support system that helped bands thrive and maintain their wholly unique sounds.

One of these bands is the F16s. For many of us at Top Five Records, songs like “Light Bulbs” and “Avalanche” (from 2013’s Kaleidoscope) exemplified the careful balance between restraint and decadence of our millennial existences back in the day. The band’s follow-up album, 2016’s Triggerpunkte, had a few stand-out tracks, but it felt like a stepping stone to the F16s’ next great output: and WKND FRNDS is it.

All four of the songs on this crisp new EP are great, but “My Baby’s Beak” really clicked with us. We can best describe the song as the soundtrack one might choose while writing desperate love letters, from a tropical island, pina colada in hand – in the 1980s. “Oh mama, can you tell me if I made it / My ego gets inflated with you,” croons lead singer Josh Fernandes, complementing the luxurious sounds from the rest of the band. The song’s a true treat for fans eagerly awaiting new F16s music, and for new listeners alike. P.S. If you liked this one, we’ll also take this time to recommend the EP’s eponymous track as a follow-up.

2. “Speedway” by black midi

The four young members of black midi met at BRIT School, the UK’s premier music school that has produced legends such as Amy Winehouse and Adele. Centered somewhere between the Foals’ math-rock and Animal Collective’s asymmetric ethos, black midi enthralls with a ridiculously ready-out-of-the-gate sound. Our favorite track off their debut album Schlagenheim is “Speedway” – a pulsing, hypnotic song filled with feverish stops and starts. Slightly nerve-wracking and more than slightly ominous, “Speedway” is testament to what the lads can pull off in a mere three minutes. If you like this song, check out “953” from the same album for some bewilderingly good punk rock.

1. “Floated By” by Peter Cat Recording Co

There is no other way to say this: Peter Cat Recording Co is one of the best bands to ever come out of the Indian subcontinent. With meticulous detailing and inimitable style, the Delhi-based gypsy / jazz band has long excited us here at Top Five Records. The band’s new album, Bismillah, dropped earlier this month, and suffice it to say, we cannot get enough of it.

Bismillah’s stand-out, in our opinion, is “Floated By”; a song so good that we wrote the rest of this list with it in a firm #1. “Floated By” finds the band in their element – a melancholic wedding band letting loose after a drink too many in hand and an hour too long on stage. (The twist here, as seen in the song’s music video, is that the wedding in question is lead singer Suryakant Sawhney’s own, real nuptials.)

As with most Peter Cat songs, the real star of the song is Sawhney’s powerful voice. In between the wedding-procession drums and slightly off-kilter horns, his voice rings out: true, wistful and imbued with astonishing range. A simple line (“I know that I should / I know that I would”) takes him ages to enunciate, as his voice floats across the vocal spectrum.

Simply put, “Floated By” is one of the best songs we’ve heard all year. Look for a full review of Bismillah soon – and until then, please give the album a listen.

Monthly Playlist: May 2019

1 Jun

What a month May has been for great music. Stalwarts made a strong mark, with Vampire Weekend releasing a highly-lauded fourth studio album and Tyler the Creator releasing a fifth – and his best-rated – record. Newcomers, too, blew it out of the water: notably, British rapper slowthai and relative newbie Jamila Woods, who has put out one of the best albums of the year. With all this great music, we really had our work cut out this month picking five great songs to share: but here goes.

5. “We Belong Together” by Vampire Weekend feat. Danielle Haim

As longtime readers would know, anything with one of the Haim sisters is almost always alright in our books. “We Belong Together” – the second Danielle Haim collab from Vampire Weekend’s fifth album, Father of the Bride – is a great, old-school duet love song with a quintessentially-Ezra-Koenig melancholy twist. Black and white, day and night, left and right, bowls and plates – Koenig and Haim list off the timeless and kitschy ways pairs the two lovers belong together. But wait, what’s this? “Baby, there’s no use in being clever / Baby, it don’t mean we’ll stay together,” they say, on a sugary-light bop, following it up with a devastating “We go together like lions and lambs / Oh, we go together”. This is another irresistibly great song from what has been a solid album front to back. Look out for a full review of FOTB from us soon – until then, take a listen through this track (and the other we’ve covered in our playlists!).

4. “Doin’ Time” by Lana del Rey

Speaking of melancholy crooners, the absolute queen of mournful murmuring is back. Lana del Rey has announced a new album in 2019 (the brilliantly-named Norman Fucking Rockwell), and “Doin’ Time” gives us a good taste of the excellent things to come. A cover of the ska / punk band Sublime’s 1996 single – and itself sampling the jazz standard “Summertime” – “Doin’ Time” is a head-fake that starts off like a cheery hit and segues into an adult-contemporary drive through Lana’s, well, sublime vocals. The result, as you may expect from a story about feeling trapped by an unfaithful partner, is a mixture between fuzzy contemplation and spiky regret. More to come from Lana this year, and we couldn’t be more pumped.

3. “Record Collection” by Kaiser Chiefs

In another throwback to the mid-aughts, Kaiser Chiefs are back with “Record Collection”, a song that’s basically an updated version of every one of your favorite songs from your high school years (think Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs themselves, and so on). According to lead singer Ricky Wilson, the band recorded their seventh studio album Duck, slated for July 26th (featuring this new track) after going back and reminiscing over their own first few records. You can hear it too: after a forgettable couple of records in the middle, Kaiser Chiefs finally sound rejuvenated. A thick bassline and poppy drums elevate Wilson’s vocoder-style vocals on “Record Collection”, and the song is peppered with the sort of supple hooks that made “Ruby” all the rage more than a decade ago. (Has it really been that long?!) With “Record Collection”, it looks like we have yet another great summer album to await – mark your calendars!

2. “Vacancy” by Havelock

With so many releases from well-known artists this month, it’s easy to miss tracks like “Vacancy”, the second track (ever) by English singer Havelock. But, wow, are we glad we didn’t miss it – and we are so happy to recommend it to our readers, too. “Vacancy” tells a tale well-known by young people around the world – hustling until you make it, with an end in mind but not in sight. Beyond his chill vocals and the warmth of the production, what Havelock really cracks is that clever yet effortless turn of phrase. In fact, there’s a line on here that we loved so much that we’ll transcribe it here in full: “’Cause you got a brand-new vacancy, and I want to join the agency; I hope that it can give me something that I could hold, somewhere that I could go, without working to the bone: can you give me that?,” he asks; achingly poetic in his naivety. “My snooze is on repeat / I know I’d better wake up or I’ll wake up in the streets” goes another splendid couplet. We haven’t been this excited for a new artist in a long time – and we hope you feel the same way, too. (If you liked this tune, you’ll love “Pig Latin”, his debut single.)

1. “Inglorious” by slowthai, feat. Skepta

From an arrangement standpoint, “Inglorious” has a very simple layout: a short intro, followed by a verse by slowthai and the hook, followed by another verse by Skepta and the hook. But what happens in those five parts may well have changed the topography of British rap. Of course, Skepta is already famous; his unapologetic display of British culture – in a genre dominated by American culture – has placed him on a 2017 list of the most influential people in the UK. On “Inglorious”, his talents and persona are put to the best possible collaborative use with newcomer – and inevitable star – slowthai. A dreamlike intro leads into one of the best beat drops we’ve heard all year, along with a volley of British-isms and descriptions of struggle (“Remember when they wouldn’t let me in / Now their wages just a day’s per diem”). “Inglorious” features on slowthai’s debut album, Nothing Great About Britain, which is honestly one of the best albums we’ve heard all year. Listen to “Inglorious” – if you like it, you’re in for a treat for the rest of the album.

Monthly Playlist: Feb. 2019

1 Mar

Last month, we started a new feature here at Top Five Records: a run-down of the top five songs from every month. We heard from quite a few of you that you loved it – so without further ado, here’s our list for this month!

5. “Body Chemistry” – The Drums

Don’t let the unrelenting bassline on “Body Chemistry” fool you into thinking it’s a harmless, upbeat bop. On this new track from the NYC-based indie-pop band The Drums, lead singer Jonathan Pierce provides a peak-millennial take on anxiety, romance, and the crippling self-awareness in between. “I know some good luck, and a good fuck, a nice glass of wine and some quality time is gonna make you mine,” he acknowledges, “but it’s not what I’m trying to find.” The song itself reminds us of some of the best tracks on Spoon’s last album, so that’s always a good thing as well. The Drums are set to release their fourth album in June.

4. “In the Capital” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Melbourne-based pop-rock quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (there’s a mouthful!) had a very well-received debut album (Hope Downs) last year. Their sound is essentially a cross between the woe-is-me melancholy of Deerhunter and the sparkling pop of Real Estate – but it’s not as odd a combination as you would think. “In the Capital”, a new track that was released earlier this week, apparently came about as lead singer Fran Keaney was swimming. “I can’t neatly describe it, but something like connection despite distance. I was thinking about transience and water and death and big cities and fishing towns and moon river,” he says. Have a listen for yourself – we think he’s got it down spot-on, actually.   

3. “Fast Times” – Albert Hammond Jr.

Albert Hammond Jr.’s third full-length album, Francis Trouble, won us over last year with its boisterous yet clean-cut vibe. With “Fast Times”, Hammond is back with a track that is equal parts nostalgic and melancholic. “I was over there, completely unaware / It was me, that you saw / How little did I know / All the things would go,” Hammond sings, wistfully reminiscing about carefree days long gone. The music is of course immediately evocative of the early 2000s-heyday of crisp, fast-paced rock, for which Hammond’s past (and present!) band, the Strokes, were a primary driver. After “Fast Times”, we’re certainly keeping an eye out for more music from Hammond.

2. “GummyBear” – Mini Mansions

Mini Mansions are an LA-based three-piece band comprising The Last Shadow Puppets’ bassist Zach Dawes, QOTSA bassist-turned-singer Michael Shuman and Tyler Parkford. If that line-up sounds like the band would make fun, bass-driven tracks that could fit well within Humbug-era Arctic Monkeys, you are exactly right. In fact, Mini Mansions are just coming off of a supporting tour on that band’s North America leg, and something great seems to have rubbed off of on them. “GummyBear” is an instantly accessible dance-rock track about a love-hate relationship (“Boy, I thought you was sweet, girl, but you’re just sugar-free”). Mini Mansions plans to release their third full-length album, Guy Walks into a Bar… in July – look for them!

1. “NASA” – Ariana Grande

This month, Ariana Grande released thank u, next, her much-awaited follow-up to 2018’s blockbuster hit, Sweetener. New converts to Arianaworld, such as yours truly, were skeptical that a brand-new album mere months after the monstrously successful Sweetener could live up to the hype that Ariana has created for herself. However, those thoughts can be laid to rest and buried under six feet of earth, because Ariana is almost definitely the new queen of pop music.

The title track from the new album, of course, has been in constant rotation on radio stations and Spotify playlists since late last year, but there are actually a shockingly high number of other great songs on there, too. The best of these, in our opinion, is “NASA”, a space-themed ode to modern romance. “I’d rather be alone tonight / You can say ‘I love you’ through the phone tonight,” she says, an on-the-head flip of decades of popstars who’ve told us that they need to be around their men 24/7. Of course, being an Ariana track, there is also a maddeningly catchy chorus – this one involving a playful spell-out of the titular government agency. We’d be surprised if this song alone doesn’t play a part in raising the brand value of NASA.

Read our full review of thank u, next here.

J. Cole – Middle Child

20 Feb

This song is easily one of the best of the new year. First things first, it’s a good beat and a good flow. That opening feels like trumpets before a war and the song itself is a salvo.

What’s shocking though is the positivity. His lines on Drake giving him a watch as a gift are strong and rejecting manufactured beef are interesting in the genre famous for war being mutually beneficial. The game seems to be turning away from the aggression that once codified it and it’s a fascinating development to watch.

I also appreciate him talking about bringing your people up with you. I appreciate him sending love to the new rappers and sending love to the OGs. Generational strife almost always feels like both sides are out of touch. J. Cole stepping away from that, despite the many calling for him to kill trap or take the torch or whatever other narrative du jour is floating around, is heartening to see.

The contradictions here are interesting. He claims all love, but there are still shots at Kanye and Drake here. The lines are barely subliminals. This makes some sense as he criticizing actions like theirs, but this seems to be swallowing your beef and having it too. Also, look at the refrain “Niggas been countin’ me out / I’m countin’ my bullets, I’m loadin’ my clips / I’m writin’ down names, I’m makin’ a list / I’m checkin’ it twice and I’m gettin’ ’em hit.” It’s this aggression that makes the song though. This isn’t a call for ahimsa, it’s a militant call for love.

On that note, the hook is amazing. The drawn out “feel” with the sung notes is excellent. It lets him put a lot of emotion into very few words. That said, the words of the hook are extremely clever. I love the image from contrasting a pistol in the hand and money in the palm. Playing the drink in his hand giving him something to feel against his foot on their neck is similarly strong. Also, the hook just gives the song a swagger. It’s a boastful song for something meant to bring people together and that’s why I love it.

The corniness is a bit of a sour note though. His advice to the young rappers is painfully cliche when it comes to specifics. Also, is he really Jay-Z’s younger brother? It made sense when Kanye took that epithet in 2007, but J. Cole really feels like Jay’s grandson. He’s always made a habit of giving himself titles that I don’t feel he’s fully earned and it comes off as grasping.

This is the song that makes the case for him though. This is really strong rap and uniquely J. Cole’s. I hope we see a lot more like this from him soon.

@murthynikhil

Snoop Dogg: “No Guns Allowed”

29 Apr

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There is a lot to talk about when reviewing “No Guns Allowed” from Snoop Lion’s latest album Reincarnated. The transformation from Dogg to Lion, the messages of peace, the imagery of the video and the news clips littering the song. This album is more than a new reggae release, this is a watershed moment.

More important though is whether it is good music. It’s okay. Diplo provides a solid background and Snoop, whose voice was always one of the most mellow in rap, sings quite decently throughout. His daughter Cori B provides a solid chorus and while Drake is nothing special, he does well enough. The song is quite listenable, just not outstanding.

The message though comes through quite strongly. The music video may be a tad overblown, but it says what it intends to. While his singing is not quite Bob Marley’s, it is certainly earnest. It feels good to see quite so positive a message from someone as large as Snoop Dogg and his past makes the statement stronger.

All told, this is a pleasant listen and made much more so due to the message. It may not revitalize reggae but it puts Snoop back on the map and not in a bad way.

The Strokes: “All the Time”

22 Feb

All the Time

In 2011, an impeccable ensemble of talented musicians contributed to a Strokes tribute album, entitled Stroked, to commemorate the ten year anniversary of Is This It?. Also in 2011, the Strokes released their fourth studio album. Wrap your head around that for a second: the Strokes elicited this voluntary, collective homage despite being a band that is young enough to add fresh material to its own discography. There are very few bands as iconic, as beloved, and as representative of a time and place in music history – while being fully functional – as the Strokes are. So how do you react when a vintage-yet-active band releases new music? Well, it depends on what kind of Strokes fan you are.

Type 1: The Uber Fan

Cooler than you'll ever be.

Cooler than you’ll ever be.

In 2001, the Strokes released an album that changed the face of music. Is This It? was and continues to be a flawless record, pushing thousands of kids into their garages to create bands that would never be as cool as Julian and the boys. But in a way, the very kids that played the Strokes’ debut all day every day made it rather difficult for the Strokes to move on as a band. Any deviation from ‘the quintessential Strokes sound’ was denounced; any song with more effort than ‘effortless’ was deplored.  Synths? Forget about it. (I’m looking at you, Angles.) “All the Time” is definitely no “Hard to Explain”, “Reptilia” or even “You Only Live Once”, but it has that undeniable, wholly inimitable Strokes vibe that’s sure to satisfy the most ardent of fans. In fact, it almost sounds like it could be wedged right into Is This It?, and that’s always a good thing.

Type 2: The Casual Fan

The Strokes perform on Ellen

If you didn’t spend the better part of your musically formative years analyzing every trough and peak of the Strokes’ debut, then you are going to like this song. Why? Because even if you’ve only heard a few of their songs, even on a bad day, even on a weak track, the Strokes are effortlessly cooler than anything you’re going to hear all day. On “All the Time” , the uber fan might think that the outro is too long, or that Julian’s voice isn’t crisp enough, or that the guitar solo lacks the sheen of the old days. All you’re going to notice, though, is how great this song is. Enjoy!

Type 3: The Non-Fan

Watch the following videos, and please let us know if you don’t convert to Type 2 or even Type 1.

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… we could go on.

Five long years passed between their third and fourth albums; just over two years will transpire between the fourth and the fifth. “All the time that I need is never quite enough/ All the time that I have is all that’s necessary,” sings Julian on “All the Time”, and we couldn’t be happier about that. Long story short, drop whatever you’re doing and listen, because the Strokes have released a new track. “All the Time” is the first single from the Strokes’ fifth studio album Comedown Machine, releasing on March 26th, 2013. You can listen to the song (with lyrics!) here.

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