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Monthly Playlist: Nov. 2019

2 Dec

Before we swing into the final month of the year – and the decade! – we wanted to do a quick review of a few songs that made our November. Read on below:

5. “Kiss Like the Sun” by Jake Bugg

Jake Bugg has been our radar for about the last seven years, when we covered his fantastic, eponymous debut album. Even back then, the young (1994-born) singer-songwriter had a unique sound, evocative of the good old days (think Bob Dylan) but often ratcheted up to a modern-day streetwise setting (a la the Arctic Monkeys’ debut).

His sparkly debut, unfortunately, was followed by a rather middling series of three albums, with the last being released in 2017. Happily, though, it looks like Jake is making a foray back into music. On the new track “Kiss Like the Sun”, the Nottingham lad taps into a sort of amalgamation of the jangly tunes of a Feist track, and the rollicking bluesy good times of the Black Keys. We loved it, and hope there’s more to come.

4. “holy terrain” by FKA twigs

“holy terrain” is, in our opinion, the stand-out track from FKA twigs’ overall brilliant album from this month, MAGDALENE. Over a glitchy trap beat, twigs’ airy voice seems to speak of a soon-to-be love-hate relationship in its tumultuous early days. “Will you still be there for me once I’m yours to obtain? / Once my fruits are for taking and you flow through my veins?” she asks, hitting about ten emotions and twenty notes on the way. Her lover, here played by rapper Future, doesn’t have a great answer: “Throw loads of gold on you just to fall asleep, yeah / I hope you never take my love, yeah, in vain, yeah,” he answers, putting materialism and love in doomed equal footing. Ouch – good luck, folks. If you loved this track, be sure to check out our full review of MAGDALENE.

3. “Tokyo Drifting (with Denzel Curry)” by Glass Animals

Florida rapper Denzel Curry seems to be having a Brit-heavy collab year. After a joint track with British rap’s reigning king slowthai earlier this year, Curry has a notable stint on “Tokyo Drift” by British act Glass Animals.

For those who are new to Glass Animals, the four piece creates essentially a genre-bending musical mix of pop, R&B, trip hop, and everything in the middle – think Mazzy Star meets Portugal the Man over woozy electronic beats. On “Tokyo Drifting”, the dizzy trap beats and disorienting lyrics do indeed bring to mind a fast, nighttime drive through the glittering streets of Tokyo. And the best part, honestly, is Curry’s fast-and-furious verse right in the middle.

2. “Don’t Look at the Sun (Or You’ll Go Blind)” by Pond

So we’re cheating a little bit here: “Don’t Look at the Sun (Or You’ll Go Blind)” by Perth-based psych rockers is technically a song from their debut, Psychedelic Mango, way back in 2009. However, the song was rerecorded and released as a single on their Sessions live album from earlier this month, so we are considering it fair play.

With the heady reverb and thick basslines, “Don’t Look at the Sun” right from the outset sounds a lot like Tame Impala. We know we make that comparison that a lot – Tame is a solid reference point for lots of new music – but in Pond’s case, the comparison is not accidental. Pond and Tame Impala enjoy a revolving door of Perth-based musicians that play pretty much across both bands, including Kevin Parker himself, who used to drum for Pond. Basically, it’s no accident that “Don’t Look at the Sun”, with its groovy breaks and Doppler-effect vocals, feels like it would fit right in on Lonerism.

If you liked this song, we highly recommend you check out Pond’s 2019 album Tasmania – the eighth (!) full-length album from the good folks Down Under.

1. “Arabesque” by Coldplay

Like the Pond song earlier, this one is a little bit of a cheat too. As our avid readers would no doubt recall, we mentioned “Arabesque” as the paired single with “Orphans” in last month’s Playlist. However, since both songs feature on the band’s new album Everyday Life, out on November 22nd, we are once again considering this fair play.

Everyday Life overall is imbued with the mystique, romanticism and inimitable beauty of the Mediterranean-meets-Middle-East – the broad swathe of countries across the culturally complex top half of Africa. In fact, the essence can be summed up precisely by the name of this very song, “Arabesque” – a little Arabic, a little French, and many other things too.

On “Arabesque”, Chris Martin and the lads do justice to this complexity with a jazzy, bilingual track that elicits a Casablancan air of exotic joie de vivre. The lyrics themselves are not complex: “I could be you, you could be me / Two raindrops in the same sea,” sings Martin across English and French, perhaps speaking to the ultimate commonality in the basic human experience. But it’s the delivery – the band at their liveliest and most exuberant – that really makes the song for us. The best way to experience this song is through its accompanying live music video (which, in fact, was released this month, so I suppose we get points for that?):

Monthly Playlist: Oct. 2019

3 Nov

We are back with another edition of our Monthly Playlist. Read on for a list of five songs that caught our fancy this month, from old favorites to newer entries.

5. “Hit Me Where It Hurts” by Caroline Polachek

Caroline Polachek is one half of Chairlift, an erstwhile two-piece synth pop from the early 00s. They toured with the decade’s darlings – the likes of Phoenix and The Killers – but ultimately called it quits. And just as well, because Polachek’s own music stands out more than most of the stuff she made with her band.

From her new album Pang, “Hit Me Where It Hurts” is somewhat of a modern pop classic. It boasts all the key elements of any pop song worth its salt – a hurtful yet magnetic relationship, occasionally sultry vocals and so on – but Caroline’s synth pop history gives the tune an unusual edge. The best part of the song is the hypnotic opening couplet – “I’m feeling like a butterfly trapped inside a plane / Maybe there’s something going on, I’m not insane” – and she takes a good call in peppering it throughout the song. “Hit Me Where It Hurts” may underscore the vulnerability of loneliness, but it looks like Polachek is doing just fine on her own.

4. “Professor X” by Dave

UK rapper Dave is having a really good year. In March, he released his debut album Psychodrama, a sharp, autobiographical look at growing up black and poor in the United Kingdom. A mere six months later, Psychodrama won the Mercury Prize, the biggest music award a British artist could receive. Like his compatriot slowthai, whose debut album was also nominated for the prize, Dave captures the zeitgeist of the UK today: rifted and divided in every sphere of life.

Professor X”, his first song since the Mercury Prize win, is part of the soundtrack for Top Boy, a grungy UK Netflix show where Dave incidentally made his acting debut this year (we told you he was having a good year). It’s as sharp as anything on Psychodrama, and his flow meshes perfectly with the layered beats. If you need an intro to Dave, this song is probably it.

3. “Dexter & Sinister” by Elbow

To say Elbow is underrated would be an understatement. The English rockers have been around for quite a while. Over their two-decade-plus career, they’ve won prestigious awards like the Mercury Prize (for 2008’s The Seldom Seen King) and Best British Group (2009’s Brit Awards). They’ve even soundtracked their home country’s Olympics in 2012. Yet they are hardly a household name, at least outside of the UK.

Therefore, we consider it our obligation to showcase “Dexter & Sinister”, the opening track from their eighth (!) studio album, Giants of All Sizes. A heavy bass-and-drums riff leads into heady, vaguely apocalyptic vocals. About halfway through, the song suddenly takes a dreamy, melancholic turn – complete with elven female vocals – before segueing into a meditative guitar outro. These twists may seem abrupt on paper, but the high production value makes them seamless.

The fine print to the song’s ethos, apparently, is Brexit, per lead singer Guy Garvey. He described the song as “a great, big, bewildered question dealing with my feelings on Brexit, the loss of family and friends and the general sense of disaffection you see all around at the moment,” and we do see what he means.

2. “Orphans” by Coldplay

British mainstays Coldplay were in the news a fair bit this month with the announcement of their new album, Everyday Life, out next month. The beloved band released two singles in anticipation: “Orphans” and “Arabesque”. While both are as emotive as one may expect from Coldplay, it’s “Orphans” that has wormed its way into our heads.

Centered around jangly guitar riffs and Chris Martin’s trademark head-cold vocals, “Orphans” seems to be a sad paean to the continuing unrest in Syria. As with many Coldplay songs, the lyrics are moving and meaningful. In this case, the story revolves around Rosalene, a young girl raised by her father in a Damascus orchard. The “missile monsoons” of the Syrian bombings are implied to have killed her father and later, her, too.

It’s a lovely song that speaks tenderly about an ongoing horror in our world – with a good melody to boot. The music video, released last week, is definitely worth a spin, too, for a peek into how Coldplay built out this song. Watch below:

1. “Wash Off” by Foals

As our readers are well aware, Foals have blessed us this year with not one, but two, fantastic full-length albums. Fans hardly had time to absorb Everything Not Saved Will be Lost, Pt. 1 in the first half of the year before the Oxford fourpiece announced a quick follow-up. Two great singles – “Black Bull” and “The Runner” – primed listeners for Pt. 2, which officially released on October 18th. “Wash Off”, the third track off the new release, is a deserving addition to the list of great Foals songs from 2019 (of which, happily, there are many).

Foals’ longevity over the past decade rests on their ability to evolve their sound while keeping their essence intact. In our opinion, nowhere on the new album is that more apparent than on “Wash Off”. The song starts off with an agile guitar riff that is quickly met by timely drums. Whereas the old Foals would have kept dialing up the frenzy, the Foals of today wisely move the song along into a catchy chorus. The good part, though, is that they do dial it up when they need to – for example, just before the final chorus where all the pieces of the song finally come together in an exhilarating 30-second solo.

Another Monthly Playlist, another Foals song at #1. But can you really blame us?

Top Five Deep Cuts: The Strokes Edition

14 Oct

By now, the Strokes’ trajectory is well-known: an impossibly perfect debut album; overnight global success; and the subsequent chase for a repeat of all that. Amidst personality clashes and competing side-projects, the latter half of the Strokes’ history is murky; and by then, a slew of Strokes-inspired bands (see: Arctic Monkeys, The Killers) began stealing the limelight from the OG. No wonder, then, that the Strokes’ best-known songs are still the ones they released in the first five years of their career.

But nestled deep in the Strokes’ catalog are some truly underrated gems. With rumors of a sixth album releasing very soon – gaining more and more credibility with the just-released 2020 gig dates – we figured it’s time for a closer look at some deep cuts: The Strokes edition.

5. “Razorblade” from First Impressions of Earth

As we mentioned above, the Strokes’ biggest obstacle to their career was their own debut album. Is This It (2001) was an instant classic, and answered its own question almost immediately – yes, this was it. This was the album that saved rock music from the tepid irrelevancy offered by the likes of Linkin Park and Nickelback (don’t @ us). The Strokes’ sophomore album, Room on Fire (2003), successfully stuck to the script.

It was with the third album, First Impressions of Earth (2006), that things started unravelling. The Strokes shtick was a little overdone after two albums nearly identical in tone and style; besides, by then, copycats were a dime a dozen. The third album did produce a few famous songs – “You Only Live Once” and “Juicebox” most notably – but the rest of the album was deemed too weird and cynical by many.

Understandable, then, that a gem like “Razorblade” often gets overlooked. Anchored by a pleasant pop-rock riff, Casablancas’ lyrics cynically review a relationship gone sour. He derisively mimics the girl (“You’ve got to take me out, at least once a week / Whether I’m in your arms, or I’m at your feet”); and he just doesn’t care any longer (“Oh, drop dead, I don’t care, I won’t worry / There you go”). Listen also for the excellent sync between drummer Fabrizio Moretti’s beats and the dual guitars.

4. “Games” from Angles

First Impressions of Earth lost a chunk of casual Strokes fans with its experimentation, but not nearly as much as the fourth album Angles (2011). The Strokes took a five-year break to sort out their struggles, and the resultant album was spiky as the name suggested. By then, the kids who’d obsessed over the debut in high school were fully-functioning adults, and Angles didn’t have the raw energy to attract a legion of new fans (unlike what Arctic Monkeys did with their fifth album AM). Consequently, there are some great tracks on this album that just never got the airplay they deserve.

One of those tracks is “Games”, a synth-pop ode to the 80s. The song starts off interestingly enough – bouncy keyboards contrasted against Casablancas’ whiny croon – but eventually segues into an even more interesting one-two punch of a solo from Hammond Jr. (keyboards) and Moretti (drums). Our favorite version of this song is their live performance on Conan – check it out here.

3. “Chances” from Comedown Machine

Comedown Machine (2013), over six years ago, was the last full-length album from the Strokes. The album dropped with no advance notice and the band didn’t even bother going on a press tour afterward. It was highly suggested that they released it only to get out of their five-album contract with RCA (a contract that the label had won twelve years prior in a hard-fought bidding war).

Comedown Machine barely had any radio play, and all but the most hard-core Strokes fans pretty much ignored it at the time of release. But the album has since become something of a sleeper hit; a low-key mix of 80s synth pop with a level of experimentation that the Strokes – at the end of their RCA leash – could finally afford to indulge.

“Chances”, the ninth track on the album, is a hauntingly beautiful love song. “I waited for ya, I waited on ya / but now, I don’t,” sings Casablancas, in a new-found falsetto, no less, before sadly accepting his fate: “I’ll take my chances alone”. “Chances” could easily soundtrack a scene of heartbreak in an 80s teen-romance flick; in that and in many other ways, it is truly unique among the Strokes’ repertoire.

2. “Life is Simple in the Moonlight” from Angles

As you might guess if you read this far, it’s no wonder that most of the Strokes’ underrated tracks come from their last two albums – when few folks were paying attention and the band members themselves were going through some serious issues.

“Life is Simple in the Moonlight”, the album closer on Angles, is unlikely to have enchanted the casual Strokes fan, but there’s no reason to keep it that way. By that point, the band was so fractured that they physically couldn’t get themselves together: Julian Casablancas apparently emailed his recorded vocals for the sound engineer to stitch together with the rest of the band’s recordings. “So we talk about ourselves and how / To forget the love we never felt,” he wistfully notes, before confessing, perhaps too late: “I didn’t wanna tell you I was jealous, jealous, jealous, what’s the point?” (He writes the lyrics as though it was about a girl, but he’s been happily married since 2005 – who else could it be about?)

Introspective lyrics aside, “Life is Simple in the Moonlight” has some remarkable experimental patches from the other members. Lead guitarist Nick Valensi whips out an almost jazzy guitar solo supported by Moretti’s perfect drum time. Albert Hammond Jr. shines with rhythmic strums and Nikolai Fraiture’s bass is, as usual, the oft-overlooked Strokes secret sauce. Check out their performance of the song on SNL here.

1. “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” from Comedown Machine

As the very last song on the Strokes’ very last album, “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” is the definition of a deep cut. Even some hardcore Strokes fans no doubt forget this song exists. A pity – for this is a true beauty unlike anything else in their entire catalog.

From the fuzzy guitars to Julian’s especially gauzy vocals, the entire song has the aura of a classic black-and-white movie – perhaps in Parisian speakeasy, perhaps in the 1930s. The chorus is just out of this world – a light, waltzy dream that somehow seems to reach more senses than just your ears. Put it this way: “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” sounds like something that inspired the Amelie soundtrack.

“Call It Fate, Call It Karma” is a miraculous transplant from another place and another era that was created, somehow, by a then-dying New York City garage rock band. If there’s only one song you hear from this list, make it this one – and be prepared to see the Strokes in a brand-new light.

So that’s the end of this list, but happily, it looks like it’s not yet the end for the Strokes. If you’re as excited as we are for the rumored Album #6, let us know below! We’ll count down the days together.

Monthly Playlist: Sep. 2019

1 Oct

We’re back with another edition of Monthly Playlist! Read on to see the five songs that caught our gaze this month:

5. “Whitsand Bay” by Metronomy

Whitsand Bay” is an interesting track from English electronic five-piece Metronomy’s sixth studio album, Metronomy Forever. There seems to be a duopoly of emotions at play here. On one hand, the upbeat cymbals and pulsing bass line march the song snappily along. On the other, the melancholic, slightly-above-mumble-volume vocals cast the mood down. What results is an engrossing, vivid landscape of sounds that really catches one’s attention from first listen. Metronomy Forever released earlier this month – do give it a whirl.

4. “Context” by Temples

We’ll admit, we hadn’t heard of English rockers Temples before “Context”. However, through the inscrutable power of Spotify playlists, we were sent this song on a silver platter, and we are now converts to the cause. On “Context”, Temples present a dreamy, slow-burning sound that lies somewhere between Tame Impala and the Beatles. And as you may expect from that description, the song offers its fair share of mysticism. “Fool, carry the wise / Are you divine?” goes the catchy chorus, before delving into a more mysterious couplet: “Are you afraid of being defined? / When you put it context, it makes sense.” Not sure that it does – but this is definitely a great track, lyrics aside. Temples’ third album, Hot Motion, released earlier this week; be sure to check it out if you liked this song!

3. “Psycho” by slowthai and Denzel Curry

From the first few seconds of the song, it’s easy to see where “Psycho” gets its name. Ghastly squeals clash maddeningly against what seem to be a pulp-horror-movie soundtrack, spurring the listener into palpable chaos – and that’s even before a word is said. Great production meets some knife-sharp verses on this ripper of a track from British rap star slowthai and American rapper Denzel Curry.

 Our favorite line on this track, from slowthai’s verse, is a kaleidoscope of emotion: “Spliff is exhaust, I put your friend in the morgue / Olympics, I run with the torch / mum should’ve pressed the abort”. In just one sentence, slowthai veers from braggadocio about a giant spliff (which can be used as an Olympic torch shortly after putting someone to death to boot) to unapologetic self-hatred; it’s either madness or genius, and the line between those blurs quite often. “Psycho” is an exhilarating roller-coaster, and we highly recommend. (Also, if you liked this track, do check out our review of slowthai’s debut album.)

2. “Don’t Call Me Angel” by Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lana del Rey

Regular readers of Top Five Records are well-aware of our enduring love for saccharine (but immaculately-produced!) pop songs; the likes of Ariana Grande and Marina & the Diamonds have long entranced us. Well, we are unashamed to proclaim our love for this song from the upcoming Charlie’s Angels reboot (which we are sure will be a flop – our love of the saccharine sadly does not extend to the silver screen).

Each of the three superstars on this track excel with a memorable, iconic verse. The merry-go-round-gone-awry sounds at the outset make way to a characteristically-husky verse from resident bad-girl Miley Cyrus – say what you will about her, but girl’s got killer attitude. Ariana Grande churns out an effortlessly powerful verse. Lana del Rey, in the limelight recently due to a fantastic new album, brings up the rear with a heady, R&B-tinged section.

The stand-out star on this track, though, is not Ariana nor Miley nor Lana – it’s the production. The three ladies’ styles and tones are seamlessly matched, both with each other and against a beat that just slaps. It’s a great track.

1. “The Runner” Foals

Foals have been blessing us time and time again this year. The Oxford four-piece rock outfit released a fantastic fifth studio album, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1, just months ago (read our review here); and, happily, the second part of the double-album is set to release in October this year. “The Runner” is the first song from the upcoming album – and judging from what we have here, it looks like 2019 is truly Foals’ year.

From the hard-hitting opening riff to lead singer Yannis Philippakis’ ringing vocals, “The Runner” is pure Foals through and through. Like almost all Foals songs, the song is meticulously arranged – each layer of each section seem to be exactly where it needs to be. Philippakis’ wandering, emotive chorus is especially well-placed against solidly-measured drums and guitars.

In our opinion, Foals have been underrated on the global scale their entire career. While they’ve been fairly well-recognized in their native England – thrice-nominated for “Best Album” at the prestigious Mercury Prize awards – it’s a shame that they don’t enjoy the same household-name status everywhere. Hopefully, with the double-wallop of Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Foals will make their mark in indelible ink.

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: Apr. 2019

2 May

We’re back with another edition of the Monthly Playlist! This month’s songs range from Los Angeles lo-fi to Japanese indie rock and more – read on for all the deets.

5. “38’s” by The Vanities

“38’s”, by Glaswegian garage punk band The Vanities, is a whiskey-soaked vignette about drunken nights that last so late you miss the bus back home (ostensibly, the 38 in Glasgow). Within the first few seconds, Vanities drummer Craig Fellowes bursts in at a frenetic pace that never quite lets off over the song’s entire three-minute mark – but don’t let the percussion overwhelm you. The winning element here is the Vanities’ ability to paint a witty, entertaining picture of an inebriated evening. “Wasteland sights, apart from prozzies and rubble / Thirty quid for the night, far from subtle, she’s trouble / I’m coming down now, I wish I’d made my vodka a double,” goes the tune, perfectly encapsulating that no-man’s-land age between late teens and early adulthood (the band’s four members are all in their early twenties).

If you get the feeling that the Vanities’ experiences are cut from the same cloth as the gin-soaked, unsuccessful-clubbing escapades that shaped Arctic Monkeys’ debut album, you are absolutely right. There is a lot more to anticipate from the Vanities, and we are here for it.

4. “Why’d You Have to Act Like That Though” by Inner Wave

Why’d You Have to Act Like That Though”, by LA-based five-piece Inner Wave, is a chill, lo-fi psych rock track that brings to mind a mix of Mac de Marco and Lonerism-era Tame Impala. The track starts off with a slightly off-kilter melody, layered under spoken-word musings in the style of Julian Casablancas (it’s no accident – the five bandmates apparently grew up listening to the Strokes in the early aughts). Seamlessly, lead singer Pablo Sotelo melts into a hypnotic, repeated chorus – “I’ve been missing you, I’ve been missing you, I swear”; and before you know it, the song’s over. It’s loopy, lo-fi and catchy as hell, and had us pressing the replay button more than a few times. Be sure to keep an eye out for Inner Wave’s upcoming album, wyd, out on May 17.

3. “This Life” by Vampire Weekend

By this point, Vampire Weekend have an unmistakable sound to them. Whether it’s Ezra Koenig’s earnest voice, the Beach Boys-esque pleasantness of the guitars, or the harmonic choral elements, it is fairly straightforward to pick out a Vampire Weekend song from any random lineup. On “This Life”, from the upcoming album Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend takes their cornucopia of congeniality to a gloomy tale of broken dreams. “Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain / I just thought it didn’t rain in California,” sings Koenig, hiding the darkness behind a veneer of jangly Americana. It gets worse: “You’ve been cheating on, cheating on me / I’ve been cheating on, cheating on you,” he confesses a few lines later. With its genial music and its weighty lyrics, “This Life” is a great tune that works across two very different angles. Highly recommend this song and album.

Father of the Bride is out on May 3.

2. “Pretty Old Man” by No Buses

No Buses are a Japanese indie rock band heavily influenced by the 2000s garage rock revival sound. Of course, they aren’t the first with that set of influences. It’s easy enough to write a simple, easygoing tune, but what really surprises the listener about No Buses is their ability to create an instant earworm. On “Pretty Old Man”, No Buses weave a love story with at least one geriatric participant, in between roving guitar riffs and steady-as-can-be drums. The result is an earnest homage to the likes of early Arctic Monkeys (even down to the band’s name) and Oasis without coming off too saccharine. A tough feat, but one that No Buses manage well. We’re excited to hear more from them soon.

1. “Power is Power” by SZA, The Weeknd and Travis Scott

Ten years from now, in the annals of pop culture history, April 2019 will be heralded as an historic month, for two book-to-Technicolor transformations: the end of Marvel’s Avengers comic book saga with Endgame, and the final season of the record-busting Game of Thrones. For GoT fans who want to augment their visual and cinematic experiences, the TV show released For the Thrones, a soundtrack inspired by the characters and thematic elements onscreen. “Power is Power”, featuring three of the world’s biggest stars, is an ode to the reluctant hero of the entire series – Jon Snow.

What we love about this track are the interlocking yet distinct contributions from the three featured artists. The Weeknd’s echoing beats bring to mind his chart-topping “Pray for Me” from the Black Panther soundtrack, but his lyrics are far-removed from the African savannah of Wakanda. “I was born of the ice and snow / With the winter wolves and the dark alone,” he sings; a perfect battle hymn for the oft-wallowing Jon. SZA knocks it out of the park with a fluid, strong verse that further explores the self-doubt / heroism clash within Jon’s psyche. And Travis Scott, as usual, switches it up with a verse that contrasts but complements the rest of the song.

All in all, “Power is Power” is a treat whether you’re a Game of Thrones fan or not.

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