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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: Feb. 2020

2 Mar

We are back in the new(ish) year with our Monthly Playlist feature! Read on for the five songs that caught our ears this past month.

5. “Cars in Space” by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

We last covered the uniquely named Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever in a Monthly Playlist about a year ago, and we’ve had our eye on them ever since. “Cars in Space” is a jangly, upbeat tune from the Aussie indie pop-rock band. It’s funny – some songs don’t necessarily have a hook but earworm their way into the listener’s mind nonetheless. “Cars in Space”, with its memorable phrasings and high energy, is definitely one of those songs.

4. “Corduroy” by Monks

Liverpool-based Monks are, as of yet, quite the undiscovered gem, so we feel grateful that we’ve come across their diamond-in-the-rough of a track, “Corduroy”. The song starts off with the lead singer’s melancholy, chill-wave vocals – with a reverb that Kevin Parker might want to nick – before quickly transitioning into a chaotic-good riff that seems to pay homage to “Take Five”. Psychedelia with a jazzy temperament – what’s not to love?

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

Image result for your love glass animals

Our readers will be well-aware that Glass Animals scored the top honor for our best songs of 2019, and we are happy to let you know they are already back with a banger this year. “Your Love (Déjà Vu)” starts off with an instantly-danceable beat that might have come out of the Justin Timberlake-Timbaland in the Futuresex heyday. The “déjà vu” here is ostensibly about avoiding a needy ex that the main character is still torn about; a stretch, for sure but it is a banger from start to end.    

2. “Bad Decisions” by The Strokes

In 2020, one of the savviest ways to see the who’s-who of today’s music is by simply livestreaming the opening acts of Bernie Sanders rallies. So far this year, the Sanders campaign has welcomed everyone from Soccer Mommy to Vampire Weekend as rally-opening acts, but on Feb. 10, Bernie himself opened for famed NYC quintet, the Strokes. Over their hour-long set, we found out many things: that they do know how to play songs from Comedown Machine; that their new album is releasing on April 10th; and that new track “Bad Decisions” could really be one of the greats.

Bad Decisions” is essentially a back-to-roots track that would fit quite well on Is This It. It also takes inspiration – apparently with full intention – from Billy Idol; an on-brand nod to the band’s turn to ‘80s nostalgia over their previous two albums. If you’re a Strokes fan, you’ll love the song; even if you aren’t, chances are high that you’ll like it. All in all, “Bad Decisions” gives us great hope for the upcoming Album No. 6.

1. “Breathe Deeper” by Tame Impala

After an almost five-year hiatus, psych-rock mainstay Tame Impala is back with a new album, The Slow Rush. The Australian act, comprising primarily of singer / songwriter / madcap-genius Kevin Parker, hits it out of the park with the entire album (our review incoming shortly!) but probably the best track on the album is the hypnotic bop, “Breathe Deeper”.

The track essentially sounds like someone – Parker, we suppose – applied a gauzy psych filter to an old-school R&B song. The result is a track that somehow sounds like a fresh remix of a classic track, even though it’s all original. If you’re familiar with Tame Impala, you’ll recognize the lyrical content: Parker’s lifelong struggle between anxiety and success, and his notes-to-self about how to survive that chasm (in this case, to breathe deeper).

Although the entire song is a sonic treat, the best part comes on at about the five-minute mark, when the R&B elements are suddenly stripped off to reveal the Daft Punk-esque acid house underneath. It’s magical, and definitely one of the best moments on the entire album.

The Top Five Songs of 2019

31 Dec

If making a great album is one unique combination of skills, making a great song is another – sometimes complementary, sometimes not – skillset. Below is a look at the top five songs that defined our editor’s year. Let us know if you agree!

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

“Tokyo Drifting”, an unlikely collaboration between British psych rockers Glass Animals and Southern rapper Denzel Curry, is – even more improbably – the best trap song this year. Hazy beats and Curry’s swaggering verse make this the perfect soundtrack to a nighttime chase through a city that never sleeps – just as the title suggests.

This song also appears on our Nov. 2019 Monthly Playlist.

4. “Exits” by Foals

With its slightly off-kilter beats and the lead singer’s enigmatic vocals, “Exits” casts a hypnotic spell on the listener’s mind. This lead single from Foals’ Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt 1 also offers a trippy synth solo, cryptic music video, and much more. Don’t miss out!

This song also appears on our Mar. 2019 Monthly Playlist.

3. “Dexter & Sinister” by Elbow

Much like Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE” last year, this opening track from British band Elbow’s eighth studio album is actually several songs in one, stitched together by impeccable production quality. Over six minutes, “Dexter & Sinister” skips from bass-heavy alt-rock, to ethereal pop, to meditative guitar – apparently as a musical metaphor to Brexit.

This song also appears on our Oct. 2019 Monthly Playlist.

2. “Inglorious (feat. Skepta)” by slowthai

If there is a zeitgeist for the political minefield that is today’s United Kingdom, it is slowthai’s debut album, Nothing Great About Britain. And the core of that album – the zeitgeist of the zeitgeist – is this track, featuring another UK man-of-the-moment, Skepta. “Inglorious” is about what it means to be poor and overlooked, and how that feeling sticks with you whether your fortunes change or not. This is the essence that informs and guides the rest of the album, which sees slowthai peeling apart the layers to Brexit with snark and irreverence. Rap with the spirit of punk.

This song also appears on our May 2019 Monthly Playlist.

1. “The Runner” by Foals

 “The Runner” is Foals at their finest: cryptic lyrics, heavy-hitting riffs and sharp production turned up to the max. It’s also just great music: endlessly listenable in all moods, whether it’s on the radio or on a superfan’s 500th spin. Foals have had a great year, but this song may be their best work ever.

This song also appears on our Sep. 2019 Monthly Playlist.

Honorable mentions: “CHARLIE” by Malfnktion feat. Shayan Roy; “Juice” by Lizzo; “7 rings” by Ariana Grande

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?):

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