Tag Archives: monthlyplaylist

Monthly Playlist – Apr. 2022

15 May

After a short break, we are back with our Monthly Playlist series! This month, we saw the releases of much-anticipated albums from Wet Leg, Fontaines DC and more – not to mention news of perhaps the year’s most anticipated release, Kendrick Lamar’s new album. Read on to find out our picks from the month of April 2022, and let us know if you agree or disagree!

“Down” by Hot Chip

English synthpop band Hot Chip have been around for quite a while now – almost two decades, in fact – and they’ve got quite a few notable albums under their belts. Their second and third albums were particularly successful, with sophomore album The Warning (2006) fetching a Mercury Prize nom and third album Made in the Dark (2008) spawning the massive hit “Ready for the Floor”. Now, a few so-so albums later, the band is back with new single “Down” as the lead single for their eighth album Freakout/Release, set to come out in August 2022. “Down” is a jagged, off-kilter party romp that’s up there with the band’s best works. It’s just a fun dance music with a strong bassline, infectious breakdowns, and an insanely catchy phrase (“Girl, know how to break it on down!”) running through the background – definitely check this one out. 

“About Damn Time” by Lizzo

(Note: This song was actually released in March 2022, but since we missed a Monthly Playlist in that month, we just had to include it in this one. Trust us, you’ll see why when you listen to the track!)

Speaking of irresistible dance music, there are few active artists today who can keep churning out the hits quite like Lizzo. In the latter part of 2021, she released the catchy “Rumors” with fellow artist du jour Cardi B – a track we liked so much that we put it on our year-end list. At the time, she mentioned that “Rumors” marked the start of a new era for her, possibly ahead of her planned 2022 album. Now she’s added another milestone to that new era with “About Damn Time” – a song seemingly about Lizzo re-discovering her confidence after a rocky few months. The world’s foremost flutist / funk-pop star describes how she’s finally in a mood to celebrate and get back out there. “Oh, I’ve been so down and under pressure, I’m way too fine to be this stressed, yeah / Oh, I’m not the girl I was or used to be, Uh, bitch, I might be better,” she says in her classic confidence, all set to a riff that would make Nile Rogers proud. The best thing is that this track also serves as a post-COVID anthem for those that are ready to get back out there after a couple of difficult years; when she says “Is everybody back up in the buildin’? It’s been a minute, tell me how you’re healin’”, we felt that.

“Barely on My Mind” by The Regrettes

The Regrettes are a punk rock band with a couple of albums to their names. But they seem to have taken a bit of a left turn with the dance-pop track “Barely on My Mind”. There are almost Phoenix-like turns of melody on the track, mixed with the magnetism of lead singer Lydia Night’s vocals. The track is part of their third album Future Joy, which was released in April 2022. We’ll surely be checking out the rest of the album with an introduction like this!

“Autopilot” by Dev Lemons

If you’re a TikTok regular, you are probably familiar with the work of Dev Lemons – not as a musician, but as the creator of the popular @songpsych page which boasts almost a million followers and 26 million (!) likes. On the page, Dev Lemons (real name Devon Schmalz) breaks down popular songs into the byte-sized format that suits the preferences of her Gen Z audience. However, not content with just being a music critic of sorts, Dev Lemons has now taken her insights into what makes songs popular (e.g., this video about the new Lizzo song that we also loved above) and has begun releasing original music too. Vaguely reminiscent of acts like Lily Allen, “Autopilot” amps up the synths on the chorus for a fun, catchy romp. Definitely check out Dev Lemons’ music – and of course her @songpsych channel if you’re on TikTok!

“Oh Algoritmo” by Jorge Drexler feat. Noga Erez

Jorge Drexler, the artist behind our final pick “Oh Algoritmo”, is one of the most interesting people you’ve never heard about. First and foremost, he’s a medical doctor – an otorhinolaryngologist (ENT) to be exact. Secondly, as if excellence in one specific skillset wasn’t enough, the Uruguayan won an Academy Award in 2004 for composing “Al Otro Lado del Rio” from the Motorcycle Diaries. This is not counting the numerous Latin Grammy Awards he’s racked up, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year. Suffice it to say, you owe it to yourself to at least give a listen to “Oh Algoritmo”, in which Drexler has paired up with Israeli singer-songwriter Noga Erez. The song immediately draws you in with a funky bassline and Drexler’s vocals set against a lively background of shakes, bops and beeps. By the time Erez’s confident English-language vocals come in, we’d bet that you’re hooked on to the angular, groovy vibes on this track. 

Monthly Playlist – Feb 2022

7 Mar

The second month of 2022 saw the release of quite a few good albums. There was Laurel Hell, the much-anticipated follow-up from indie-folk singer Mitski, as well as new records from stalwarts such as Animal Collective and Spoon. There were also new tracks from artists such as Fontaines DC, Caroline Polachek and more. Read on for our top five picks from February 2022!

“The Loop” by Toro y Moi

We covered the delectable “Postman” with its fun Pharrell-esque vibe, in last month’s Monthly Playlist – and this month, Toro y Moi has treated us once again to a great track. Unlike the upbeat vibes of “Postman”, “The Loop” is much more laidback, and much more jazzy almost. Subtle basslines mesh with Chaz Bear’s playful vocals, leading to a track that’s perfect for spring days that almost, almost feel like summer. Both “Postman” and “The Loop” are precursors to Toro y Moi’s upcoming album Mahal, out on April 29th.

“Held” by Spoon

Technically, “Held” is a cover of a track by eclectic singer-songwriter Bill Callahan under his Smog avatar. We definitely don’t blame you for never having heard of Callahan, Smog or the original “Held”, but do yourself a favor and check out the cover by Spoon on their latest album Lucifer on the Sofa (released Feb. 11th). Spoon’s cover of “Held” is raw, bluesy, and full of the kind of modern-day cowboy vibes that seep through a lot of Lucifer, for which this track serves as a worthy album opener. “For the first time in my life / I let myself be held like a big old baby / And I surrender to your charity,” ruminates lead singer Britt Daniel, and the way he drawls and draws out his thoughts make you ruminate along with him. “Held” was apparently battle-tested by the band in live shows for many years, and it shows – Spoon truly owns this track.

“Crip Ya Enthusiasm” by Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg had a fantastic February. On February 10th, he made the surprise announcement that he is now the new owner of the acclaimed Death Row Records, the label which famously launched his very career. A day later, on February 11th, Snoop announced “Crip Ya Enthusiasm”, the first track from his new album (also released on the same day) quite suitably titled Bacc on Death Row. If “Crip Ya Enthusiasm” sounds to you like a reference to Curb Your Enthusiasm, then you’re exactly right. The track starts off with a sample of the meme-worthy theme song from Curb that is then masterfully spun into the song’s catchy backbone. The rest is standard Snoop flow – as cool as a cucumber, but don’t underestimate the verbal gymnastics of the West Coast OG. Also of particular note is the verse break (“These are words coming from the Dogg / And everything I do is lit / Hoppin’ right along, tryna get my party on / Call my n*, let’s go bust a bitch”) that Snoop actually sings along to the Curb song.

Oh, and on February 13th, he performed at the highly-lauded Half-Time Show at Super Bowl LVI. Not a bad February!

“Kissing Lessons” by Lucy Dacus

Lucy Dacus is a young singer-songwriter with a couple of well-received albums under her belt: her debut No Burden (2016) and two follow-ups Historian (2018) and Home Video (2021). Apart from her own music, she’s also well-known for being one-third of the group boygenius, formed with fellow indie rocker girls Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. Lyrically, “Kissing Lessons” is a short-and-sweet song about a childhood queer romance – an older girl in elementary school called Rachel that gives Lucy the titular lessons. While Rachel moves away by the end of this sub-2 minute track, Lucy still keeps a memento of her childhood more-than-a-friend. We also liked the wall-of-sound guitarwork that almost competes with Dacus’ vocals for the listener’s attention. A true indie rock song, albeit with a sweet edge.

“Angelica” by Wet Leg

Wet Leg’s debut album was one of the five albums that we were anticipating the most out of 2022 at the start of the year, and the Isle of Wight band has just released one more proof point for our case. “Angelica”, released on the last day of February, is in line with the indie rock sensibilities on their runaway hit “Chaise Lounge” and strong follow-up “Wet Dream”. The track is about a cool it-girl called, well, Angelica, who’s observed by the narrator at a party that they’re both attending. Angelica arrives (with lasagna, to boot) and quickly dominates the room, making the narrator wonder why she’s still hanging around with a person like Angelica in the mix. It’s all very young-person ennui, and Wet Leg’s characteristically catchy, upbeat guitars and drums pair well with the subject matter. The two-piece have a big month coming up, headlining as one of the notable acts at SXSW 2022 and performing in about half a dozen venues in the city of Austin during the 10-day festival. All of this buzz is in preparation for their release of their debut album on April 8th – as we’ve said before, we’re looking forward to this one.

Monthly Playlist: Oct. 2021

2 Nov

Well, we’re just a couple of months out from the end of the year, and there’s quite a few albums in the news these days. Adele heralded her big return with a new song this month, and Coldplay has announced a worldwide tour. Speaking of tours, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are embarking on a global tour in 2022, and proved their legendary status by pulling the Strokes as a co-tourer and opener. Meanwhile, the lockdown era continues to deliver collaborations from artists that were creatively cooped up for months at a time, with new collab albums from Elton John and Kylie Minogue announced & planned. With all of that happening, be sure to check out our monthly playlist for October 2021.

“What a Life” by Big Sean and Hit-Boy

American musicians Big Sean and Hit-Boy just released a six-song EP called What You Expect, from which the first single was “What a Life”. The song features a smooth, tight beat that provides the background to an autobiographical monologue of sorts from Big Sean. The rapper reflects on where he is in life (“I’m at the point where a nigga finally famous / Give a fuck about no fame”) and his choice to more or less perform on his own two feet (“And I’m on stage by myself, ain’t with the hype man”). He doesn’t lose sight of what he’s achieved so far, though, leading to the titular statement: “Only get one life, swear I almost died twice / I went triple platinum more than three times, what a life, man.” Overall, it’s a nice, catchy song from the duo and a good impetus to check out the rest of the album.

“The Hardest Cut” by Spoon

Austin rockers Spoon are wading into the limelight once again, with a New Years’ show announced in their hometown and a new single, “The Hardest Cut”, out earlier this month. They are leading up to their tenth (!) studio album Lucifer on the Sofa, set to release on Feb. 11th in the new year. “The Hardest Cut” is a rollicking good time, built on Spoon’s typical driving beats and Britt Daniel’s cool-guy vocals. Here’s hoping Lucifer on the Sofa is a worthy follow-up to 2017’s lovely Hot Thoughts.

“Kiss of Life” by Kylie Minogue feat. Jessie Ware

“Kiss of Life” is the lead single from Kylie Minogue’s Disco: Guest List Edition, an extended play version of 2020’s Disco with tons of goodies – such as collabs with other artists that fit well with her current disco-glam sound. Among other pop stars of the day, foremost in that sonic space are of course Dua Lipa and Jessie Ware. Kylie and Dua have already collaborated on a remix version of “Real Groove”, which is duly included on the Disco: Guest List Edition album. Now it’s Jessie’s turn – and what a turn it is. “Kiss of Life” is a boisterous track straight out of a disco dancefloor, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a banger for today’s tastes. Jazzy horns and a relentless beat provide the perfect foil for the sultry murmurings of Jessie and Kylie, and it’s simply impossible to keep your feet still when the ladies get into the chorus. Disco: Guest List Edition is due to release on November 12th.

“Trouble in Paradise” by The F16s

Indian indie rock band the F16s are back with a new album entitled Is It Time to Eat the Rich Yet? The five-track album features the band’s trademark mix of chilled-out guitars, synths and lead singer Joshua Fernandez’s pop-rock vocals. “Trouble in Paradise” opens with an interplay between jazzy horns and staccato keys, and the band keeps it peppy throughout the track. The F16s have been big in India for years now, with a sizeable cult following throughout the rest of the world, but global recognition is long overdue. Hopefully this is the album that gets them there.

“Secrets (Your Fire)” by Magdalena Bay

Magdalena Bay, consisting of singer-songwriter Mica Tenenbaum and producer Matthew Levin, is one of the most prolific young bands out there. The LA-based duo started steadily putting out singles from 2016, and most of those tracks ended up across two mixtapes and three extended plays between 2019 and 2020. Now the band is out with their debut album Mercurial World – a slinky, synth-heavy album that plays to the 80s vibes in many of today’s top pop stars (see: Kylie / Jessie above). “Secrets (Your Fire)” is like a musical version of the chillwave meme that you may have seen around online – capturing the essence and nostalgia of the synth-pop 80s and technologically nascent 90s, but upgraded for modern times. It’s a blissfully fun track that serves as a great introduction to the young duo, and we can’t wait to hear more. As a bonus: check out their website, made to look pretty much like any poorly designed website from the late 90s. These folks should be friends with Glass Animals.  

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!

Monthly Playlist: May 2021

31 May

This month in music saw a few news-making releases, including Olivia Rodrigo’s Gen Z poltergeist Sour, St. Vincent’s sixth album, further shenanigans from Lil Nas X and more. Below, we pick out our top five songs for May 2021. Read on and let us know what you think!

5. “Die For a Man” by Bebe Rexha feat. Lil Uzi Vert

Bebe Rexha’s sophomore album Better Mistakes released earlier this month, and just running through the tracklist makes it clear that the young pop singer-songwriter is aiming for a different vibe this time around. Featured artists on the new album range from Doja Cat to Rick Ross to Travis Barker – a wide array of artists and genres that ultimately showcase more of her musical chops. One such track is “Die For a Man” featuring none other than Lil Uzi Vert. On this track, Rexha asserts her stance as an independent woman who doesn’t need a man, with fairly predictable lines (“I would never die for a man, die for a man, die for a man / No, I would never cry for a man, cry for a man, change who I am”). Benign lyrics aside, the track is elevated by her cold-symptom voice, the well-produced guitars & beat work, and especially Lil Uzi Vert’s crisp verse.

4. “IN PINK” by CHAI feat. Mndsgn

We’ve previously appreciated nonconformist Japanese girl group CHAI, particularly their 2019 album PUNK. CHAI deals in light, surprisingly genre-defiant songs peppered with their trademark sing-songy lyrics. On “IN PINK” from their May 2021 album WINK, the band teams up with Japanese producer Mndsgn to create a fresh, bilingual electro-dance-pop track. Half lost-in-translation and half purposefully-vague, the song seems to be an homage to the color pink, which clearly means more to the band than just a color. “Ooo pink is the color of the future if you open your eyes forever / Yay, stand up with, stand up with, stand up with pink / Life goes on, so, life goes on / In pink we trust,” goes one line. Overall, it’s a quirky, fun track – if you liked it, be sure to check out the rest of WINK. And if you haven’t already, do take a spin through CHAI’s track with Gorillaz on the extended Song Machine album.

3. “Maré” by Rodrigo Amarante

Clocking in at #5 is a bit of a left-field pick, in the form of Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante. If the name seems unfamiliar, we encourage you to listen to the first few bars of “Maré”. Chances are, the music will seem familiar indeed: Amarante is the artist behind the “Tuyo”, the theme song of the massively-popular Netflix series Narcos. Just like its famous predecessor, “Maré” evokes a feeling of drama, nostalgia, wistfulness and more – with the upbeat guitar and full Latin background instrumentals offset by Amarante’s slightly melancholic vocals.

Also: if this song is your cup of tea, an interesting follow-up pick would be to check out the too-overlooked self-titled album (2008) from Little Joy, a three-piece consisting of Amarante, LA singer Binki Shapiro and the Strokes’ drummer Fab Moretti.

2. “brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo

18-year-old singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo has been a break-through act of 2021 with the record-smashing single “drivers license” and its equally well-received follow-up “deja vu” – so the expectations were high with the release of her debut album Sour earlier this month. We’ll write later about our full thoughts on the album, but suffice it to say that Rodrigo currently holds the mantle as the voice-of-Gen Z. “brutal” from the new album makes it obvious why exactly Rodrigo is being called a beacon for her cohort. The track musically draws from 90s alt-rock, particularly the hell-raising riot grrrl type of acts. Lyrically, Rodrigo alternates between anxiety, angst, impatience and everything in between – as one would expect from essentially a teenager. “They say these are the golden years / But I wish I could disappear / Ego crush is so severe / God, it’s brutal out here,” she sings on the chorus, and damn it if it doesn’t transport you to those awkward, uneasy teenage years.

1. “Down” by St. Vincent

St. Vincent, the stage name for multi-faceted singer-songwriter Annie Clark, released her sixth album Daddy’s Home earlier this month. The album centers around her father, Robert Clark, who went to prison in 2010 for a plethora of white-collar crimes, and was recently released from jail – making the album title very literal indeed. Daddy’s Home was produced by Jack Antonoff, and his high caliber pop-punk-funk fingerprints are all over “Down”, a stand-out track from the new album. Right from the jazzy, fun synth opening, the song immediately catches your attention, and then St. Vincent’s breathy, emotive vocals take front and center. There are fun bits throughout the track, including what a banjo (?) that adds an element of country-lore to what is ultimately just that – an Oklahoman stock broker taking his family down with him. Overall, this is an enjoyable, well-produced track that makes us eager to check out the rest of the intriguing Daddy’s Home.

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!

Monthly Playlist: Mar. 2021

1 Apr

After a slow start to the year, we finally had a deluge of great music this month. It wasn’t easy to whittle down this month’s best tracks to just five – in fact, we actually couldn’t do it, so look for a bonus sixth track at the bottom of the article. Without further ado, here’s our top five tracks for March 2021!

5. “Get Sun” by Hiatus Kaiyote feat. Arthur Verocai

Hiatus Kaiyote is a four-piece Aussie band that melds genres like R&B, soul, jazz and funk into an irresistible mix. The band’s soul lies in the dynamic vocal presence of singer-guitarist Naomi Saalfield (a.k.a. Nai Palm), bolstered by the almost cinematic instrumentation provided by Perrin Moss (drums), Paul Bender (bass) and Simon Mavin (keyboards). The latest track, “Get Sun”, features 76-year-old Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai, whose arrangements provide even more flair to the band’s already flamboyant style. Saalfield’s layered, staccato vocals evoke 90s soul / R&B stars such as Brandy, balancing well against the big-band horns-and-string section on the chorus. In all, the sprightly song is a good sign of things to come – Hiatus Kaiyote release their next album Mood Valiant in June 2021.

4. “The Kiss of Venus” by Paul McCartney feat. Dominic Fike

The original version of “The Kiss of Venus” from Sir Paul was released in December 2020 as part of his 18th (!) studio album, McCartney III. The song is, of course, vintage McCartney – gentle guitar strums that are alternatingly melancholic (a la “Norwegian Wood”) and quirky (a la “When I’m 64”) – but like most of his solo career, it’s perfectly pleasant but doesn’t quite stick beyond a few listens. Now, McCartney has put out a re-take of the song with young, talented singer-songwriter Dominic Fike – and suddenly, “The Kiss of Venus” has transformed into a different song. Fike’s distorted vocals add a catchy rock edge which honestly that works better for the track. Kudos to McCartney for working with new artists – apparently there’s much more of the same to come.

3. “Wants and Needs” by Drake feat. Lil Baby

“Wants and Needs” represents the synthesis of two of rap’s biggest names today, and currently has upwards of 50 million plays on Spotify and 10 million views on YouTube – so chances are, you don’t need us to recommend this track to you. Part of a three-song March 2021 release from Drizzy entitled Scary Hours 2, this track contrasts Drake’s chill, sing-song rap flow with Lil Baby’s fast-paced trap style. Special props for the line on arch-nemesis Kanye West, whose convenient new religion grift deserves Drake’s (and all of our) contempt (“Yeah, I probably should go link with Yeezy, I need me some Jesus / But soon as I started confessin’ my sins, he wouldn’t believe us”).

2. “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” by Lil Nas X

“MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” was released less than a week ago, and like most Lil Nas X songs, it’s already a global hit with a talk-of-the-town music video to boot. Like it or not, Lil Nas X (born Montero Lamar Hill) is nearly unrivaled in today’s music world as a tastemaker and cause celebre, and it’s not by accident. The strangely reggae-sounding “MONTERO” sees Lil Nas X on the chase (“Call me when you want, call me when you need / Call me in the morning, I’ll be on the way”) with sexually-explicit lines that make clear exactly what he wants from his lover. Move over, “WAP” – a new right-wing trigger track now holds the crown. Lil Nas X expertly promoted the song with (what else?) a Bitcoin giveaway and a limited-run sneaker drop, so don’t be surprised if you hear about this track everywhere in the coming weeks.

1. “THE DRAKE” by cleopatrick

For us, the biggest surprise on this list has been “THE DRAKE” by Canadian rock band cleopatrick. Hard-hitting riffs, hard-hitting drums, hard-hitting everything, clearing once in a while for the lead singer’s pronounced vocals – there’s nothing new here if you listen to the likes of Queens of the Stone Age and fellow two-member band Royal Blood. However, cleopatrick make it sound fresh on “THE DRAKE”, where monster riffs and Luke Gruntz’s vocals keep you glued for the entirety of the 3.5 minute run. We’ll certainly be going back into this band’s discography – this is one to keep an eye on.

Bonus: “Boyfriend” by Leah Kate

Leah Kate is an up-and-coming LA-based singer-songwriter with a fairly large hit (“Fuck Up the Friendship”) in 2020. Now she’s back with “Boyfriend”, a catchy 90s-00s meld in the vein of Rina Sawayama and Dua Lipa. Plus, Leah Kate is seemingly backed by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian’s data-driven music start-up indify which brings the venture capitalist world into music, so you know she’s super savvy. Expect to see her around a lot more.

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: Nov. 2020

1 Dec

This month has been a big one for music-related news, from the AMAs to the GRAMMY nominations. While there were certainly moments to celebrate (see: Dua Lipa bagging wins and nominations galore), there were also some notable let-downs (see: the GRAMMYs’ radio silence on Rina Sawayama and the Weeknd!). Awards shows aside, though, there were some great tracks this month. Read on for our top five picks from November 2020.

5. “505 (Live)” by Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys return in December with a studio album – but before you get excited, it’s not new content. In the mythical past known as 2018, the Monkeys performed at the vaunted Royal Albert Music Hall with a set-list drawn partially from Tranquility Base and mostly from their older material (i.e. a palatable ratio). The proceeds from this album, recorded that evening, will go toward War Child, a non-profit focused on helping children from war-torn nations. As a promo for this live album, the band has released the live version of their classic “505”, and we must admit that it sounds great. The acoustics of the famous Hall lend new depths to the song, as do Alex Turner’s vocals – which have unmistakably changed in style since this song’s original version in the mid-aughts. If you can, get this one on vinyl.

4. “Man’s World” by Marina

Marina, formerly known as Marina and the Diamonds, has been a favorite of ours for many years. We’ve always loved the way she does pop – with all the bubblegum sex appeal of Selena Gomez and the like, yet imbued with biting self-awareness that is rare in the genre. With “Man’s World”, the multi-faceted popstar takes on the male-driven world (as the title suggests) with a good measure of COVID- and climate-change-reckoning thrown in. “Don’t underestimate the making of life / The planet has a funny way of stopping a fight,” she warns. The weirdest part of the song is her long interlude about the noted homophobe Sheikh of Brunei buying an LA hotel overtaken by the gays – but hey, she knows her audience.

3. “Therefore I Am” by Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish delivers the ultimate snide cold-shoulder with catchy new single “Therefore I Am”. She delivers the line “Stop, what the hell are you talking about? Ha” with all the iciness of the high school queen giving you a sneering look, and quotes (of all people) Rene Descartes in the chorus: “You think you’re the man, I think, therefore I am”. As with most Billie songs, the magic lies in her brother Finneas’ precise, inimitable production values; we especially loved when the heavy, layered chorus occasionally breaks into Billie’s crystal-clear voice. Reading between the lines, the song seems to be about someone she has been linked with (she mentions being asked about them in interviews and articles) – let us know if you’ve cracked the code.

2. “Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix)” by Miley Cyrus feat. Stevie Nicks

Maverick pop star Miley Cyrus has released her latest album Plastic Hearts earlier this month. Probably the most innovative track off the album is “Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix)”, a mash-up of Cyrus’ own recent hit “Midnight Sky” with Stevie Nicks’ legendary 80s banger “Edge of Seventeen”. And what’s more – Nicks herself performs on the track! “Edge of Midnight” is an electrifying mix of these two ladies’ instantly recognizable voices. Expect to get goosebumps the first time Cyrus sings the famous “Just like the white-winged dove” line in her deep, powerful voice.

1. “HOLIDAY” by Lil Nas X

There is honestly no justification to why Lil Nas X should continue to churn out impossibly catchy songs with no real changes to his formula. “HOLIDAY” follows the same ingredient list as the mega-platinum hit “Old Town Road” – the minor scale, a simple and repetitive beat, his silky-smooth and slightly anachronistic voice; and yet we fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Move over, Mariah – this is our holiday song from now on. (Side note: This song got us talking about a literal “Holiday” playlist, so keep an eye out for that!)

Monthly Playlist: Oct. 2020

2 Nov

As 2020 draws to a close, and we start making the first drafts of our end of year lists, we took a look back at some of the best songs in October 2020. Read on for a quick spin through everything from dance-rock to synth-pop – to whatever Gorillaz is…

5. “I Love It” by Kylie Minogue

The firs of our big-name artists to feature on the list this month is Aussie pop legend Kylie Minogue, who blessed us this month with the 1970s disco-throwback gem called “I Love It”. Readers of Top Five Records will note that this particular aesthetic is rather chic among female pop singers this year, whether it’s Dua Lipa or Jessie Ware or Gaga herself. Kylie carries forward this year’s trend with this bouncy, Technicolor soundtrack to all the parties you wish you’d had this year.

4. “Straight to the Morning” by Hot Chip feat. Jarvis Cocker

Dovetailing right into Kylie’s above track is “Straight to the Morning” by British dance/synth-pop outfit Hot Chip, featuring none other than Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker. As you may expect from this combination of artists, “Straight to the Morning” is a classic heartbeat-speed of a dance track, supported by Cocker’s irreverent drawl. Hot Chip are, of course, famously known for making great music videos, so be sure to check out the one for this track.

3. “Intercontinental Radio Waves” by TRAAMS

British indie rock three-piece TRAAMS is #3 on our list this with their catchy jam, “Intercontinental Radio Waves”. You simply can’t ignore the bluesy, sludgy bassline that hits you right at the start – and before you know it, you’re nodding along to lead singer Stuart Hopkins’ sharp, staccato pronouncements. The band last released an album a few years ago (2015’s Modern Dancing), so perhaps this is a sign of new music to come. If so, they’ve got new fans here at Top Five Records.

1. (Tie) “The Valley of the Pagans” by Gorillaz feat. Beck & “The Pink Phantom” by Gorillaz feat. Elton John and 6LACK

Over the course of this year, Gorillaz have been releasing a song every few months, including the recent ScHoolboy Q collab that we covered here at Top Five. All this new music from the virtual band was a lead-up to October’s Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez. All tracks on this perfectly-titled album (for, after all, these are indeed strange timez) are collaborations between Gorillaz and an eclectic mix of artists, from niche (e.g. CHAI) to arena-filling (e.g. Elton John). Naturally, such a mix has resulted in a number of possible picks for a stand-out track this month, but we decided to go with two, both of which we’d rank as some of the best songs this month.

With its slick, dance-rock embellishments and playful pacing, “The Valley of the Pagans” is reminiscent of the golden Demon Dayz-era Gorillaz. “The Pink Phantom” features the one and only Elton John, whose vocals shine on this slowed-down, melancholy track. Elton’s voice is impressively – and surprisingly – complemented by American rapper 6LACK’s Auto-tuned, R&B-tinged verses. Props to Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn for putting all the pieces together!

Have you started thinking about your Albums of the Year and Songs of the Year? Let us know in the comments below!

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