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Monthly Playlist: Aug. 2021

7 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

3. “Rumors” by Lizzo feat. Cardi B

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

2. “Oxytocin” by Billie Eilish

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

1. “Take My Breath” by The Weeknd

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

Top Five Songs of 2020 – Neeharika’s List

31 Dec

As a complement to my Top Five Albums of 2020 list, here are the songs whose endless replays helped me get through this year.

Honorable mentions

And now for my top five songs of the year:

5. “Your Love (Déjà vu)” by Glass Animals

Clocking in at #5 is this early single from British pop band Glass Animals’ Dreamland album that was released this year. As we talked about in our review of the album, the singles from Dreamland were really good and everything else was so-so. Well, “Your Love (Déjà vu)” is one of those ridiculously good songs in the first category, featuring crisp hip-hop like beats, electric vocals from singer Dave Bayley and an all-around fun vibe. This is as catchy as the Glass Animals get – don’t miss this one.

Read our full song review in the Monthly Playlist: Feb. 2020 edition.

4. “The Adults Are Talking” by the Strokes

Over the year, we’ve highlighted “Bad Decisions” and “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” from the Strokes’ The New Abnormal (2020) album on our Monthly Playlists; but as we come to the close of the year, it’s the album opener “The Adults Are Talking” that most stands out to me. The Strokes get your feet tapping and your head bopping along from the first seconds of the classic, clean drum line, and it only gets better from there. The icing on the cake is a particularly good vocal effort from Julian Casablancas, especially in the sky-high falsetto at the end. As the first sound you hear on The New Abnormal, “The Adults Are Talking” provided a symbolic sigh of relief to Strokes fans everywhere that the band is alive, well and perhaps better than ever.

Read our full album review here.

3. “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year (which, let’s admit, not a bad plan for 2020), you would have heard Dua Lipa’s mega-hit “Don’t Start Now” at some point. The irrepressible dance-pop number has graced radio stations, talk shows, award shows and all other COVID-ready media; in any other year, it would have likely been on the playlist of every club in the world. Dua Lipa’s entire Future Nostalgia album is an homage to the fun and vivacity of 1970s and 1980s music. And “Don’t Start Now” is the album’s shining disco ball of a crown jewel, with its pulsing bass line, Dua’s staccato vocals, random cowbell, handclaps and so on.

Read our full album review here.

2. “WAP” by Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion

Perhaps the most talked-about song of the year – for one reason or the other – is “WAP” by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion. The powerhouse song by the two reigning queens of rap instantly shot to fame with its sexually-explicit lyrics, inciting the wrath of right-wing ghouls everywhere. I consider “WAP” to be iconic, unapologetic and more feminist than most things that claim to be. Cardi and Megan spend the entire song detailing exactly what men should do to please them. The reverse has been covered in songs by men about women ad infinitum; so why should boys have all the fun?

Read our full song review in the Monthly Playlist: Aug. 2020 edition.

1. “XS” by Rina Sawayama

As I mentioned on my AOTY list, Rina Sawayama’s SAWAYAMA was undoubtedly the best debut album of the year, and the brightest star on the tracklist is the gaudy, poppy “XS”. Rina’s whole vibe is a cool mixture of 90s / early 00s music across all genres, and this song follows that make-up too. Her breathy, slightly nasal vocals – reminiscent of Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears – sync perfectly with the rock-tinged instrumentals brings to mind the early 00s pop-rock acts (Good Charlotte, Simple Plan) which were all the rage back in the day. Lyrically, too, “XS” does well. As the name cleverly suggests, is a critique on the excesses of capitalism (“Cartiers and Tesla X’s, Calabasas, I deserve it / Call me crazy, call me selfish, I’m the baddest and I’m worth it”) – to which Rina cleverly alludes in the song’s music video. All in all, a great effort and – for me – the song of the year.

Read our full song review in the Monthly Playlist: Apr. 2020 edition.

Monthly Playlist: Aug. 2020

2 Sep

We certainly had an overload of great tunes this month, with new releases from the likes of Cardi B, billie eilish and more. Below is a run-down of our top five picks for the month that was. Take a look and let us know if you agree!

5. “30 People” by Token

Clocking in at #5 is “30 People” from Boston rapper Token. The song features deep, mysterious bass tones that syncs perfectly with Token’s confident flow. Although he’s just 21, Token (born Ben Goldberg) has had literally a decade of experience, having started writing raps at age 10. It’s impossible to downplay the smoothness of his non-stop, clear lyrics – and he writes well, too. The entire song is essentially a diss track for all those who secretly wish for the talented rapper to fail. “Congratulation messages always blowing my cell / But I can name you thirty people who hoping I fail,” he says on the main hook, and you don’t doubt it for a second.

4. “my future” by billie eilish

Technically, this was released at the very end of July, and we missed it in that month’s playlist – but we absolutely couldn’t let this song pass by. Vibe-wise, “my future” differs greatly from billie’s chart-busting debut album, with notable focus on the vulnerable side of billie’s angelic voice. The song starts off bare, with just her ethereal notes floating across gentle guitar strums. Halfway though, a smartly-produced beat changes the pace to a lovely, light pop song. The pace change is symbolic too, with the poppier back half featuring some rare self-love from the gothic billie (“I’m in love with my future / and you don’t know her”). Props to billie’s brother (and multi-Grammy-award-winner) Finneas for pulling off yet another seamless production.

3. “Vampire” by Dominic Fike

“Vampire” sounds like the Song of the Summer™ had this been a normal summer. Creating such content isn’t new to 24-year-old singer-songwriter-rapper Dominic Fike, who was the subject of a bidding war after six-song EP a few years ago. What those labels saw in him then can be seen on “Vampire”; essentially, Fike innately understands how to mix the best bits of genres together into a catchy track. The track meshes pleasant guitar strums with Fike’s easy-going bars and chorus, with tons of little lilts and details that make it surprisingly repeatable.

2. “Tangerine” by Glass Animals

As our readers know, we didn’t rate the new Glass Animals too highly (and we certainly heard from some of you about that!). Overall, Dreamland is made up of fantastic singles that have been out in the public eye for months (think “Tokyo Drifting” or “Your Love”), interspersed between so-so new tracks. However, one of the great new tracks that came out with the August release of the album was “Tangerine”, a light, summery track that’s as well-produced as anything in the Glass Animals repertoire. And no, you’re not the only one who thought the beach-y intro sounds like Drake’s “Hotline Bling”.

1. “WAP” by Cardi B feat. Megan thee Stallion

In truth, the August 2020 Monthly Playlist was really an exercise in figuring out positions 5 through 2, because it was unlikely that anything could beat the phenomenon that is “WAP”. Not a full month has passed since this Cardi B / Megan thee Stallion collab landed, but the song has already cemented an iconic status in the annals of female rap (and really, rap in general). In case you have been living in an Internet-free deep quarantine, here’s a quick rundown. Cardi and Megan (arguably the two biggest female rappers of our times; sorry, Nicki) trade line after line of raunchy boasts and sexual requirements, all in their signature whip-smart rap styles. In that way, they completely flip the script on the sexual power equation, especially in rap, simply by specifying exactly what they want as women.

Naturally, the song has drawn the ire of sexually-repressed right-wing halfwits everywhere, but Cardi and Megan are not writing this song for any man’s pleasure, sexual or otherwise. Men will mansplain to you that “WAP” isn’t about female empowerment, but take it from women everywhere: “WAP” is fun, powerful, and just a damn good track.

Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

23 Dec

Chances are, you’ve heard Cardi B rap at some point this year. Maybe you’ve heard her chart-topping hits, “Bodak Yellow” or “I Like It”. Maybe you’ve heard her guest spot on Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You”, or her collaboration with Bruno Mars on “Finesse”, or her verse on Migos’ “MotorSport”. The point is, she was everywhere this year, and for good reason: Invasion of Privacy is the best debut album of 2018.

Part of Cardi’s allure is her stranger-than-fiction, modern-day origin story. At 19, Cardi B (born Belcalis Almanzar in the Bronx) was fired from her humdrum job in a supermarket, and turned to stripping to help pay her way through school. The stripping job led to a buzzy social media persona, which landed a spot on a VH1 reality TV show, which in turn opened up an opportunity in rap. This extraordinary series of events, combined with her livewire personality, have created a brand so strong that sometimes it’s unbelievable to think that Cardi’s been a rapper for only two years.

Of course, as anyone with fifteen minutes of fame can tell you, brand alone is never enough. On Invasion of Privacy, Cardi B pairs this outsize brand with a gift for great beats, amazing delivery, self-confidence and playful wordplay. The result is a fun and surprisingly repeatable album.

Let’s get the famous tracks out of the way first. Unless you’ve been living under a rock this year, you’ve heard “Bodak Yellow” and its numerous instant-classic lines (“I don’t dance now / I make money move”, “These expensive, these is red bottoms / These is bloody shoes”). With its mystical lilt, gunfire flow and inimitable accent, this is essentially Cardi B’s warning shot to the world: “Lil bitch, you can’t fuck with me, if you wanted to”.

The other ubiquitous Cardi B hit, “I Like It”, switches it up with a Bronx take on a classic Latin American vibe. In between the infectious earworm of a chorus, Cardi B lists out some of her favorite things, like a garish, contemporary Maria von Trapp. Any two-bit rapper can list their choice luxury goods – Balenciaga and what-have-you – but Cardi takes it a step further by listing out her favorite power plays: “I like texts from my exes when they want a second chance / I like proving niggas wrong, I do what they say I can’t”. True wealth is power, and Cardi – the self-confident stripper, the viral social media sensation, the reality TV star – is all power.

At all points of her chameleon career, fascinated eyes have fallen on Cardi’s body – and she knows what works best. On “Money Bag”, she gives herself the best compliments: “With them pretty ass twins, you look like Beyonce”, she brags in third-person, following it up later with “I’m like a walkin’ wishlist”. It’s a breath of fresh air from other female rappers whose brags seem to focus solely on bedroom performance (lookin’ at you, Nicki).

All braggadocio aside, however, the best moment of Invasion of Privacy lies perhaps on the stripped-back “Get Up 10”. At over 800 words long and with hardly a repeating line, this is Cardi’s life story told through a raw and passionate voice. From the opening couplet (“Look, they gave a bitch two options: strippin’ or lose / Used to dance in a club right across from my school”) to the chorus (“Knock me down nine times, I get up ten”), Cardi paints her remarkable backstory in equal swathes of motivation, humor and outright defiance.

In his 2008 book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000-hour rule: once you put in 10,000 hours of practice into anything, you suddenly start to notice incredible results. Even though Invasion is a debut, Cardi knocks it out of the park because she’s clever enough to laterally combine bits and pieces of her past into that magic number. She’s already got 10,000 hours of sheer self-confidence, of succeeding under long odds, of monetizing popularity in the digital age. If “Bodak” was the warning shot for Cardi, then Invasion is the warning shot for her entire career. We’re going to be hearing much more from Cardi for sure.

Best songs: “Bodak Yellow”, “I Like It”, “Get Up 10”

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