Tag Archives: little simz

Monthly Playlist: Apr. 2021

2 May

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

5. “Introvert” by Little Simz

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

4. “Boilermaker” by Royal Blood

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

3. “Crawling Kingsnake” by the Black Keys

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

2. “Your Power” by Billie Eilish

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

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

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

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

Top Five 20 Minute Albums From 2020

1 Feb

Much though one might want to escape the idea of music as a commodity, nothing is that free of context and in the streaming era and the era of #content, it’s all too easy to let an album sprawl. Here, we have five albums (and one bonus one) that take only about 20 minutes each.

Bonus: Silversun Pickups by Toy Soldiers

Silversun Pickups are a band with a history for me. They were one of my first ventures into developing a music taste beyond what played on TV. It’s fun to find a band that you can tell people to check out and Silversun Pickups was that for a much younger me. There are worse bands that I could have chosen.

Toy Soldiers achieves what it sets out to do. It’s competent 2000s era alt-rock. It’s not quite up to the standard of their first three albums, and there are points that just don’t quite reach the emotion they grasp for, but it’s still very listenable. They’re in their comfort zone throughout and the result is solid music. It finishes before you really notice anything from it, but there are very few complaints to have and it’s just nice to see this band again.

5. THE ALBUM by BLACKPINK

K-pop is a visual art form and if you’re only listening to BLACKPINK, you’re missing out on a lot of their charm. This is especially true with “Ice Cream” where a delightful Selena Gomez fits into a classic K-pop music video seamlessly.

They’re at their best with “Lovesick Girls.” It’s not really meant to be scrutinized, but it’s a good, frothy time. It’s got a great chorus, a wonderful conceit and it’s excellent pop. Some songs don’t land quite as well. Cardi does nothing in “Bet You Wanna” and “Pretty Savage” is unintelligent. However, the swagger in “How You Like That” is great and “Crazy Over You” is them doing what they do well. Overall, this is a fun album and BLACKPINK are just too likable to ignore.

4. 1999 by Rich Brian

I don’t know if there’s anyone that I’m quite as excited to see new stuff from as Rich Brian. He’s like Aminé in that I just like seeing him do stuff, but somehow even more likable. The singles of “DOA” and “Love In My Pocket” augured well for the album, but sadly the rest just doesn’t hold up. Rich Brian is absurdly talented, especially for someone of his age (guess why the album is titled 1999), but he hasn’t quite found the consistency yet for even a 20-minute EP.

The singles are just so much fun though. He’s got a great ear for sound and an incredible agility in his music. His weaponization of irony is sharp, funny and makes for exceptional music. His music videos are top-tier. There’s no question that he’s going to figure out how to put it all together soon.

3. Drop 6 by Little Simz

When Little Simz raps, there’s a momentum to it. This is in part just the velocity she’s capable of and the absurd degree of comfort she has when rapping, but it’s more than that. It’s the craftsmanship in her bars. The artistry in how each song is put together and how the pieces connect is compulsive and clever.

It’s thus a shame that this is another salvo from this corner of rap that just slightly misses the mark. This particular brand of London rap is skilled and confident and unceasingly cool, but it lacks an approach vector and Drop 6 doesn’t break the mold. In its focus and its purview, it lacks anything to grab on to.

At least, anything save for its prodigious skill. She’s far too good to ignore and there is more than enough in this music for it to stand on its own.

2. Honeymoon by Beach Bunny

Sometimes, a band can just emerge fully-formed with a debut album. Some artists need a while to figure out who they are. Beach Bunny seems to have the complete picture already though. This is power pop able to stand with anything out there.

They do sometimes take a path too easy. “Sometimes I like being on my own / I’m afraid of winding up alone” in “Cuffing Season” is basically cheating and “I always end up in second place” in “Racetrack” is extremely self-indulgent, but the music is done well enough to carry it over the line from puerile to resonant.

With talent like this, it’s easy to overlook minor blemishes. Beach Bunny is fun and exciting and the Honeymoon period is only just starting.

1. Music in Eight Parts by Phillip Glass

2020 marks 50 years from the writing of this score. In 1970, Phillip Glass was still only making music part-time. His heyday as one of the most celebrated composers was still to come, and yet he was making absolutely unforgettable music. Music In Eight Parts was considered lost for nearly half a century until it was rediscovered in 2017 and then released by the Ensemble in 2020.

The music is astounding. A single thread is taken and twisted and teased through the most winding of tunnels. The use of counterpoint is unbelievable. This music starts with something immediately comprehensible and proceeds to challenge you beyond what you should be able to follow. This music is a strenuous listen and it leaves you lathered at the end, but is exhilarating throughout. It feels like it packs in the same 20 minutes as much music as the rest of this list combined and leaves room to spare. The eight parts are not named for nothing. This is a masterpiece and an album well worth its spot in the Phillip Glass repertoire.

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.

Little Simz – GREY Area

17 Mar

There’s a pocket of quiet British rap that’s well worth paying attention to and Grey Area might be the best thing to come from it yet. Little Simz is a very talented rapper and she throws a varied assortment of ideas at you over the course of this album. The cartoon effects over the hard beat and strong rapping in “Offence” and the Eastern-tinged beat of “101FM” are particular standouts.

Unfortunately, I feel that this is not the album to really transcend the limitations of the subgenre. Like the contemporaneous Kate Tempest’s work, the album is very impressive to listen to in the moment but a little forgettable after. I feel it just lacks the few real moments of honesty and personal truth that would have drastically elevated it. It could even use some moments of cleverness. It’s just a little too freewheeling where it would have benefited from drilling down into a couple of points that it developed.

There’s a lot of strong music in the album though. The storytelling of “Sherbet Sunset” and the groove of “Selfish” and beat of “Pressure” are all excellent. Little Simz is already a brilliant rapper going from strength to strength and GREY Area is well worth your time.

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