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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?

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.

Monthy Playlist: Mar. 2019

1 Apr

Here’s a crazy fact: we’re already a quarter of the way into 2019! It felt like just yesterday that we at TFR were putting together our end-of-year lists, and now here we are. Wild, right? Anyway, without any further ado, take a look at our top five songs for March. And as always, let us know if you agree or disagree.

5. “In Your Head” – Nilufer Yanya

23-year-old Nilufer Yanya grew up in London, in a creative household with mixed Turkish / Irish / Barbados heritage. With a background that fluid, it is little surprise that Yanya’s approach to music is decidedly irreverent.

On her recently-released debut album Miss Universe, Yanya flits between bat-your-eyelashes pop moments and fuzzy rockstar vibes with an ease that simply can’t be taught. Perhaps the best song from the album is the lead single, “In Your Head”. “And I can do what I like / I’ll never know what it means / Some validation is all that I need,” she says, clear-headed about both her materialism and the lack of substance within. (Fittingly for a song that explores the emptiness of individualism, the music video is shot in Las Vegas.) In a way, she kind of reminds us of the best parts of the erstwhile Marina and the Diamonds.

Yanya stands out with her throaty voice, unique personal style and brazen lucidity. Keep an eye on this one – and take a whirl through Miss Universe while you’re at it!

4. “Patience” – Tame Impala

As die-hard Tame Impala fans, we would of course be remiss if we did not mention “Patience”, the latest song to escape the inimitable workshop of Kevin Parker’s brain.

It takes about 20 seconds for Parker to bring out his signature phaser sounds on “Patience”, but this time it’s different. With its dizzying synth garnishes and heavily processed bongos, the song winks at a sort of disco-by-way-of-world-music that no other Tame Impala song has really explored. Parker’s indecisiveness – and the dreamy psychedelia that results – is the real backbone of the famous Tame Impala sound, as we wrote about in our review of Currents (2015). On “Patience”, it’s clear that he’s still working on it. “Sometimes I get so tense but I can’t speed up the time,” he confesses, flipping around seconds later to ask his lover to take things slow.

Tame Impala are headlining a bunch of festivals this year, but haven’t yet announced a release date for a full album. “Patience” until we hear more, then.

3. “Black” – Dave

In many ways, Psychodrama – the debut album from British rapper Dave – is a spiritual successor to Kendrick Lamar’s good kid M.A.A.D. city (2012). Like K-Dot, Dave is blessed with an otherworldly talent to channel the realities of the world outside him into hard-hitting poetry – and with killer flow to boot. Our stand-out track from this album is definitely “Black”, Dave’s exploration of what it means to be a black man in the world.

With the oversaturation of American media, news and politics into global consciousness, it is almost easy to equate blackness – and the associated struggles – with a negativity-tinged African-American experience. Dave does better, thankfully. On “Black”, he shines light on truly personal experiences of what it means to be of African heritage in a Western country. There’s so many great lines here. On growing out of his surroundings: “Black is growin’ up around your family and makin’ it / Then being forced to leave the place you love because there’s hate in it.” On being divided and ruled: “Her hair’s straight and thick but mine’s got waves in it / Black is not divisive, they been lyin’ and I hate the shit / Black has never been a competition, we don’t make this shit.” And so on.

Psychodrama deserves a full listen, but if you’re going to hear just one song, make it “Black”.

2. “Choose Go!” – Chai

On first listen, the thick bassline and staccato drums of “Choose Go!” sounds like a hidden gem from the heyday of the indie rock revolution on both sides of the pond in the early 2000s. However, the reality could not be further from the truth. You may be shocked to learn (as were we) that the creators of “Choose Go!” are Chai, a four-piece all-girl band from Nagoya, Japan.

This isn’t Chai’s first rodeo, surprisingly enough. Their first album, Pink (2017), was very well-received, but the band has really found its footing with this months’ well-named follow-up, Punk. Sung half in Japanese and half in English, “Choose Go!” combines the relentlessly poppy vibes of, say, the band OK Go, with the lovable weirdness of Japanese culture.

1. “Exits” – Foals

Foals have been around for a while. Their 2008 debut, Antidotes, arrived during an early-2000s crest of the math rock genre, but stood out nevertheless. Songs like “Balloons” and “Cassius”, filled to the brim with frenetic chords and semi-shouted lyrics, shot Foals to fame very quickly. However, on their more recent two albums (2013’s Holy Fire and 2015’s What Went Down), the band took an unexpected turn. The frantic urgency of Antidotes was replaced by a mellow restraint; it felt like they were reveling in their ability to turn a musical phrase or two whenever they wanted (but not, as with Antidotes, all the time).

On their latest album (2019’s Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1), the band has really put two and two together. There’s restraint, yes, but Foals is largely back to their gloriously feverish roots. The star track is “Exits”: a serpent that twists and turns through more moods than you can count on first listen.

The first section, with its deliberate beats and dramatic lyrics (“Now the sea eats the sky / But they say it’s a lie / And there’s no birds left to fly / We’ll hide out”), makes way to a reverberating one-line chorus (“In a world upside down…”). And that isn’t the end of it. At about the four-minute mark, Foals break out into a heady, psychedelic synth solo that truly elevates the song to greater than the sum of its parts.

“Exits” is six minutes long but Foals entertain you every second of the way.

Monthly Playlist: Jan. 2019

31 Jan

As we finish up the first month of the new year, Top Five Records is proud to start what we hope will become a long-standing tradition: a quick, five-song list of the month’s best songs. We’re just thirty-one days into 2019, but we’ve already enjoyed some great music. So, without further ado, here is the inaugural Monthly Playlist – enjoy!

5. “Sex Rich” – CRYSTAL

CRYSTAL is a Scottish punk / grunge act that has been gaining a solid fanbase over the past few years – and for good reason. The band elicits the best parts of 90s alternative mainstays like Nirvana and Pearl Jam – from vocalist Anna Shields’ gauzy vocals to guitarist Blair Crichton’s jagged, heavy riffs – without sounding like a rip-off tribute act. “Sex Rich” is perhaps the best introduction to CRYSTAL. The slight menace in Shields’ opening lines builds to a grungy wall-of-sound that occasionally breaks for some muddy, hard-hitting riffs. Have a listen, and keep an eye on this band.

File next to: Nirvana; Genres: Grunge, punk

4. “Landslide” – Beirut

If you love cinematic pop, you’ve likely been a fan of Beirut for years. “Postcards from Italy”, the band’s break-out track from their debut album in 2006, showcased the best parts of their sound: a folksy take on world music that somehow elicited images of cobbled European villages or cafés in old-town Ankara. “Landslide”, from the band’s upcoming fifth album Gallipoli, continuous this vibe. Zach Condon’s signature sweeping vocals tether the combination of percussion and staccato organ notes to create a lush, uplifting sound. Gallipoli is out on February 1, 2019.

File next to: Grizzly Bear; Genres: Indie, folk

3. “Pure Water” – Mustard feat. Migos

There’s plenty to love about this new track from Mustard and Migos. A hypnotically uneven beat provides the foundation for taut verses that perfectly exemplify why Migos currently rule the rap scene. All three Migos have a flow so unique that it goes beyond the lyrics as an instrument in itself – a feat so inimitable that it is now known ubiquitously as the Migos flow. On “Pure Water”, Offset, Quavo and Takeoff excel in shooting words with precision between the ebbs and flows of a beat, and Mustard provides them the perfect fodder.

File next to: Future; Genres: Trap rap

2. “Juice” – Lizzo

Since her debut in 2013, Lizzo’s music has been known for her gratuitous mix of soul and funk with the beat elements of mainstream of hip-hop. “Juice” is no different – a fun and exuberant take on the phrase “Why should boys have all the fun?” with some great lines that hinge on Lizzo’s self-confidence (“No, I’m not a snack at all / Look, baby, I’m the whole damn meal”). As a mark of her rising star, Lizzo performed this very song this week on Ellen. If that isn’t a testament to the song’s perfect dance sensibilities, we don’t know what is. Lizzo’s third album Cuz I Love You will be out on April 19, 2019.

File next to: Janelle Monae; Genres: Funk, hip-hop

1. “CHARLIE” – MALFNKTION feat. Shayan Roy

Mumbai-based electro-hip-hop act MALFNKTION is one of the most reliable beatmakers in Indian hip-hop. Older tracks like “Rani” (from 2015’s Hindustani Rascal EP) showcased his ability to merge desi elements such as old-world filmi samples onto an ever-changing landscape of beats. Recently, though, he’s really stepped it up a notch – and Shayan Roy, who you may know as the youthful Bengali lad in many Buzzfeed India videos, deserves much of the credit for it.

On “CHARLIE”, Roy’s fluid, swaggering flow meshes perfectly with the maddening beats – complete with an electronic horn section – that MALFNKTION puts together. With his lyrical dexterity and pop culture references, Roy evokes Childish Gambino, and we hear bits of Iggy Azalea’s melodic braggadocio here too. Simply put, we can’t recommend this track enough.

Bonus: If you liked this one, be sure to check out this duo’s other collaboration, “Vincent Chase Slippin”.

File next to: Childish Gambino, Iggy Azalea; Genres: Hip-hop, electronic

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