Tag Archives: pop

Monthly Playlist: Feb. 2019

1 Mar

Last month, we started a new feature here at Top Five Records: a run-down of the top five songs from every month. We heard from quite a few of you that you loved it – so without further ado, here’s our list for this month!

5. “Body Chemistry” – The Drums

Don’t let the unrelenting bassline on “Body Chemistry” fool you into thinking it’s a harmless, upbeat bop. On this new track from the NYC-based indie-pop band The Drums, lead singer Jonathan Pierce provides a peak-millennial take on anxiety, romance, and the crippling self-awareness in between. “I know some good luck, and a good fuck, a nice glass of wine and some quality time is gonna make you mine,” he acknowledges, “but it’s not what I’m trying to find.” The song itself reminds us of some of the best tracks on Spoon’s last album, so that’s always a good thing as well. The Drums are set to release their fourth album in June.

4. “In the Capital” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Melbourne-based pop-rock quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (there’s a mouthful!) had a very well-received debut album (Hope Downs) last year. Their sound is essentially a cross between the woe-is-me melancholy of Deerhunter and the sparkling pop of Real Estate – but it’s not as odd a combination as you would think. “In the Capital”, a new track that was released earlier this week, apparently came about as lead singer Fran Keaney was swimming. “I can’t neatly describe it, but something like connection despite distance. I was thinking about transience and water and death and big cities and fishing towns and moon river,” he says. Have a listen for yourself – we think he’s got it down spot-on, actually.   

3. “Fast Times” – Albert Hammond Jr.

Albert Hammond Jr.’s third full-length album, Francis Trouble, won us over last year with its boisterous yet clean-cut vibe. With “Fast Times”, Hammond is back with a track that is equal parts nostalgic and melancholic. “I was over there, completely unaware / It was me, that you saw / How little did I know / All the things would go,” Hammond sings, wistfully reminiscing about carefree days long gone. The music is of course immediately evocative of the early 2000s-heyday of crisp, fast-paced rock, for which Hammond’s past (and present!) band, the Strokes, were a primary driver. After “Fast Times”, we’re certainly keeping an eye out for more music from Hammond.

2. “GummyBear” – Mini Mansions

Mini Mansions are an LA-based three-piece band comprising The Last Shadow Puppets’ bassist Zach Dawes, QOTSA bassist-turned-singer Michael Shuman and Tyler Parkford. If that line-up sounds like the band would make fun, bass-driven tracks that could fit well within Humbug-era Arctic Monkeys, you are exactly right. In fact, Mini Mansions are just coming off of a supporting tour on that band’s North America leg, and something great seems to have rubbed off of on them. “GummyBear” is an instantly accessible dance-rock track about a love-hate relationship (“Boy, I thought you was sweet, girl, but you’re just sugar-free”). Mini Mansions plans to release their third full-length album, Guy Walks into a Bar… in July – look for them!

1. “NASA” – Ariana Grande

This month, Ariana Grande released thank u, next, her much-awaited follow-up to 2018’s blockbuster hit, Sweetener. New converts to Arianaworld, such as yours truly, were skeptical that a brand-new album mere months after the monstrously successful Sweetener could live up to the hype that Ariana has created for herself. However, those thoughts can be laid to rest and buried under six feet of earth, because Ariana is almost definitely the new queen of pop music.

The title track from the new album, of course, has been in constant rotation on radio stations and Spotify playlists since late last year, but there are actually a shockingly high number of other great songs on there, too. The best of these, in our opinion, is “NASA”, a space-themed ode to modern romance. “I’d rather be alone tonight / You can say ‘I love you’ through the phone tonight,” she says, an on-the-head flip of decades of popstars who’ve told us that they need to be around their men 24/7. Of course, being an Ariana track, there is also a maddeningly catchy chorus – this one involving a playful spell-out of the titular government agency. We’d be surprised if this song alone doesn’t play a part in raising the brand value of NASA.

Read our full review of thank u, next here.

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Ariana Grande – thank u, next

25 Feb

It’s an unlikely thing to say about someone who’s already pop royalty, but thank u, next is Ariana Grande taking herself to the next level. She’s already a superstar and a household name, but this is the album that really pushes herself as maybe the most important act in pop today.

This felt clear from the moment the title track dropped. There’s a maturity to “thank u, next” that was expected at this stage of her career but is no poorer for that. This could have easily come off as cynical and trite but Ariana has an effortless sincerity here that carries the song. Her conclusion of self-love would have been cliche in less skilled hands but instead you find yourself happy for her. Pop has always played out at least in part in the E! News of the day but Ari has made it service her music and not the other way around.

Her voice is the centerpiece of the album. Powerful when it needs to be, delicate when it needs to be, it gets the showpiece here that it long deserved. Her musical instincts are likewise impeccable. “7 rings” felt like a misstep at first as repurposing “My Favorite Things” needs to be handled with care and her interpolation is unconventional. She pulls it off though and pulls off the tonal shift of flossing as well. This is a large part of what makes this album such a statement. She’s built the confidence to inject some strength and variety into her work and the result is eye-popping. 

Unsurprisingly, I also really like the sexy, playful Ari you see in songs like “make up.” “NASA” is a lot of upbeat fun. It even feels a little retro and I’m always a sucker for spelling titles out like it’s the 80s again. Also, the metaphor still makes me smile. “needy” reminds me pleasantly of the last SZA album.

I like her harder stuff more though. “bloodline” has a great, assertive beat and the callousness is delicious. “bad idea” is very sharp. “break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored” is supercilious and excellent for it. This is the Ariana Grande that I am now here for.

This album is Ariana’s best yet and hopefully a blueprint for what is to come next. This album apparently only took a few weeks from alpha to omega and the result is more free-flowing, more honest and more confident than ever before. It’s time to crown a new pop queen.

@murthynikhil

tUnE-yArDs – i can feel you creep into my private life

2 Feb

I can feel you creep into my private life.jpg

This is definitely a pop album with enough going on to make for an interesting couple of listens. It draws from a staggering variety of sounds and keeps them reasonably coherent. Unfortunately however, once the early novelty wears out, there’s just too much that doesn’t work and the album as a whole is dragged down.

“Hammer”, for instance, starts slow but becomes quite good disco-pop in a style very reminiscent of Broken Bells and something like “Coast to Coast” is similarly just good pop. The eccentricities of “Private Life” and “Home” just don’t work that well however. The experimentation of “Colonizer” likewise fails despite the high initial promise and ends up just sounding banal.

While the weaker songs do detract substantially from the album, there is enough here of interest to reward a few listens and if you’re looking for a new pop album that puts some work into being new, this is a good place to start.

@murthynikhil

Charli XCX – Pop 2

18 Jan

Pop 2 is a pleasantly experimental mixtape from the now huge Charli XCX. This willingness to experiment is what got me interested in her debut album True Romance and what was missing in both SUCKER and Number 1 Angel.

It could use a real banger however. None of the songs are up to the standard of her best such as her also recent and absolutely fantastic “Boys”. “Femmebot” is close, but doesn’t quite have the energy it needs. It, like a couple of other songs in the album, is unfortunately let down by the feature. Tommy Cash does very well in “Delicious” though, and Charli herself is more than able to carry the album anyway. Songs like “Out Of My Head” are just really good pop and I love the bubblegum in “Unlock It”. The album’s production is relentlessly innovative and Charli effortlessly pushes it further still to the extent of there being literal screeching in the background of “Tears”, a move as unexpected as it is excellent, an epithet as apt for the album as for the song.

@murthynikhil

Los Campesinos! – Sick Scenes

20 Aug

Los Campesinos! exists in a very specific space and it’s not a space for everyone. The cleverest line there, “31, and depression is a young man’s game” really tells you how much you’re going to get out of this album. It’s easy to dismiss if you’re not the kind of person it hits, but there’s some good music here.

It’s glossy clever-clever pop that is pleasant to listen to, but is largely forgettable. There’s a plethora of catchy tunes, and something like “Got Stendhal’s” is completely ready for radio play. However, despite the braininess that Los Campesinos! feels the need to exhibit at every turn, there’s no standout line and a lot of what they pass off as profound feels naive. While I like “I Broke Up In Amarante”, I feel that their refrain of “It seems unfair to try your best, but feel the worst” to be banal instead of cathartic. Even the music, while solid, lacks the innovation to help it stand out. Songs like “The Fall of Home”, while solid slow alt-rock, never really lives up to its potential.

This is an album for a time and a place, and it does an admirable job at that. It’s unable to transcend that as the best albums do, but it never needed to.

@murthynikhil

Dua Lipa – Dua Lipa

11 Jun

This is a good, strong pop debut. Songs like “Be The One” and “New Rules” are classic dancefloor pop and have rightfully been monopolizing airwaves for quite a while now. Her voice is stellar, holding its own against Miguel just fine in “Lost In Your Light.” Despite its many strengths however, the album lacks any factor that distinguishes it enough to make it a must-listen. It is a good, strong pop album and makes for a reasonable listen, but that is all it does. It’s still fun though.

@murthynikhil

Grimes: Art Angels

19 Nov

Grimes_-_Art_Angels

Art Angels is entirely the album of an auteur. That means a care and dedication to the craft that, while increasingly common in pop, is still rare and noteworthy. It also means a number of idiosyncrasies. This is very much an album of an individual. That should be fantastic and mostly is, but this is an album with personality and I have yet to find a person with nothing to dislike.

I love so much about this album though. “Kill V. Maim” and “Flesh Without Blood” for instance are just perfect pop, effortless to fall into and deep enough to keep you in. There are so many ideas in these songs and all of them are good. Grimes here presents an unapologetic idea of pop that she completely owns and that is both imaginative and exceptional.

For all of that though, the album has flaws. For one, the lyrics are throwaway. This is largely fine for an album that is clearly not focused on them, but it is hard not to be a little disappointed when they turn out insubstantial. Additionally, given the variety in the album, it would be hard not to find some things to kick against. “Venus Fly”, for instance, lets down an energetic chorus with a muddled and repetitive song. Similarly, “California” and “Butterfly”, while both great songs do have moments where they seem to try to skate by a little. Also, I honestly just dislike “SCREAM”. This is the album of a person and it’s hard not to find little things about people that grate.

Overall though, this is a great pop album and it fits neatly into the current advent of female pop auteurs. I would call it a mold, but given how individual each of these artists and their albums are, that just seems disrespectful. I highly recommend this album.

@murthynikhil

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