Tag Archives: rock

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. 

Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

5 Mar

Big Thief has always been a band for whom I’ve had more respect than liking and there have been plenty of albums where I’ve had neither one. This is the first album of theirs that I really enjoy. It is somehow both deeper and more detailed than their previous work. It’s more intelligent and a little off-kilter as in the spectacular “Simulation Swarm.”

More enjoyably though, it’s also much more fun than their earlier work. The two hands clapping in “Time Escaping” is hilarious and on just the right side of camp and the song itself is nothing short of excellent. The country twangs that never move too far into the background of “Spud Infinity” are similarly just funny.

With this humor and humanity, they are more poetic than their usual and more resonant as well. This is really good music with none of the remoteness that often plagued their earlier albums. In fact, it’s hard to think of any real flaw to hold against the album at all.

Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power

17 Dec

Some albums are more than ready to just come out punching. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power rocks hard and unapologetically. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross do stellar production work, giving the whole album a strong edge, but it’s really in the emotion that Halsey herself brings to the table that makes the project so strong.

At it’s best, in songs like the magnificent “I am not a woman, i’m a god,” the music is maximal and anthemic. “I am not a woman, I’m a god / I am not a martyr, I ‘m a problem / I am not a legend, I’m a fraud / So keep your heart ’cause I already got one” is a good, strong, feminist chorus for a good, strong, feminist song.

“Girl is a gun” has a lot of the same strengths, but is fun and sexy to boot. “In The Lighthouse” has Halsey punch out a chorus over an absolutely filthy riff. It’s very grunge and very clever.

This is unfortunately balanced by a lot of filler though. “Darling” is forgettable, “You asked for this” has nothing interesting in it and some music that grates. “honey” is fine, but predictable and I want to get to the more interesting songs.

Additionally, it often falls into triteness. The surprisingly Foo Fighters cut “Easier Than Lying” is quite a good song, but the lyrics fall more into trite than truthful and that hurts it. “Whispers” features a fascinating flow and has a nice gear shift in it, but the clever music is once again undercut by the uninspired lyrics.

That there are flaws is undeniable, but when the music gets going, it more than overcomes any weaknesses. “I am not a woman, i’m a god” is a sublime achievement and the kind of song that defines an artist. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is unafraid to just rock and the result is nothing short of stellar.

Xenia Rubinos – Una Rosa

30 Nov

There’s no question that there is now space for music that would never have earlier seen the light. Una Rosa is too Caribbean, too Latin and too individual to have been successful earlier. It’s also proof as to how lucky we are that we get music like this now.

The most interesting music here actually reminds me of Laurie Anderson more than anyone else. With tracks like “Did My Best,” Xenia Rubinos goes deep into a very experimental sound. She takes notes and just sees how far they will go. She takes this base and brings in a lot of Latin for “Si Llego” and the mixture is heady.

The centerpiece of “Don’t Put Me In Red” is far more approachable music. It’s still magnificent, her dragging through each word in the chorus is spectacular. It ends up very reminiscent of Fiona Apple’s last album both in terms of being excellent music and, much more strangely, of internalizing the white gaze too deeply in her politics. There’s a powerlessness in the lyrics that I don’t understand.

The same can be said for “Who Shot Ya” but naming Breonna Taylor holds power in itself and that power can be felt throughout the album, especially in the music. It is, after all, a bold and inventive album from a bold and inventive musician and likeable to boot.

Bartees Strange – Live Forever

29 Oct

There are some time-worn traditions when it comes to being a music fan. At some point, you realize that you’re older than the hot new popstars, you begin to appreciate some of the music your parents liked (although ABBA is still garbage) and some clever new musician takes your formative music and remakes it for the modern world. I’ve never seen someone take as much of it as Bartees Strange though.

“Stone Meadows” feels like a more cerebral Foo Fighters or like TV On The Radio at their best and Bartees Strange spends most of his time in this space, but then there’s plenty of art-pop and jolts of rap and house. “Kelly Rowland” is more emo-rap than anything else, but with some very intricate threads running through it.

The variety and the scratchiness give this album the feel of a personal mixtape, something compiled mostly from the sounds of the early 00s, but with snatches from other eras as well. For all of that variety though, Strange keeps the album cohesive. It’s a remarkable achievement.

For someone who came to music then, someone ever closer to their thirties, this album is undeniable. It doesn’t feel like nostalgia though, it doesn’t make me feel like I did back then. It is just very good music that speaks to something fundamental in me.

HAIM – Women In Music Pt. III

18 Jul

HAIM’s debut album in 2013, Days Are Gone, instantly made them the most likeable thing in music. It just felt good to see three sisters making really good pop-rock together, like a Jackson 5 without all of the ugliness. Now, with their third album, the novelty is gone, but instead they have a sophistication to their music that wasn’t there before.

The core is still the L.A. pop-rock that they’ve always unabashedly been, but now more experimental than most of their earlier sound. There are excellent screams in “All That Ever Mattered”, for instance, that feel like something they wouldn’t have tried before and which elevate the song now.

The album highlight “3 AM” has a deep funkiness that they have flirted with before, but never fully committed to. It’s a sound that they pull off expertly though. The stuttered cadence is compelling and the groove is undeniable.

None of this pushes them to let up in their more comfortable songs though. “Man from the Magazine” is fairly straightforward guitar rock, but impressively stark, which works very well with the chorus of “I don’t want to hear / it is what it is, it was what it was.” I really like their single “I Know Alone” despite a mild dislike for the music video. It’s both gentle and heartfelt and the electronic twinges are very nice. “Summer Girl” is a standout with a memorable brass lick and clean, understated singing and is matched perfectly by the other bookend “Los Angeles” with its still-funny gratuitous put-down of New York winters.

Women in Music, Pt. III is exactly the album I wanted to see after HAIM’s mild sophomore slump. It’s bold, it’s confident, it’s intelligent and it’s very listenable music.

@murthynikhil

Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

12 Jul

It’s a little bit against the spirit of the man, but listening to Bob Dylan in 2020 is reassuring. His voice has just been a part of my life for my whole life, as with practically everyone else with access to American music and born anytime in the past 50 years. Despite the irony, Dylan is an institution.

Rough and Rowdy Ways may not be quite at the standard of his absolute best, but it’s not that far either. It’s alive and accomplished and empathetic and funny all at once.

The opener “I Contain Multitudes” contains the wonderfully bald line “I paint landscapes and I paint nudes / I contain multitudes.” that still makes me laugh. He drops in excellent body-horror in “My Own Version of You” that takes the high concept of the title and makes it an earthy thriller of a carnival.

For all of that though, he can still rock hard as in “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” and even throws a couple of harmonica licks in there. He follows it up with an equally good treacly ballad in “Mother of Muses” and goes from there to a strong laid-back blues rock track with “Crossing the Rubicon.”

The album ends with the 17 minute “Murder Most Foul” which naturally is quite a ramble, but Dylan has always been at his best when rambling. He has a gift for phrases with exceptional resonance and it’s always enjoyable to just float with him and let thoughts bubble up from the music.

It has been close to 60 years of Dylan now and with Rough and Rowdy Ways, we don’t have Dylan at his most urgent or meaningful, but we do have a wonderful, quiet and very human album to listen to and as I listen to it, there’s nothing more that I could want.

@murthynikhil

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

8 Dec

It’s immediately apparent that this is the album after the death of Nick Cave’s son. The melancholy is beautiful and everywhere. It’s much more of an ambient album than is standard for him and, if anything, benefits from the move outside. It does however also suffer a little from what becomes a slightly unvarying sound as a result though.

However, the grief comes through poignantly throughout. In particular, the retelling of the Buddhist parable of the house that knows no death in “Hollywood” is heart-rending. It’s a touching, beautiful album and one that you will not leave unmoved.

Nilufer Yanya – Miss Universe

18 Oct

This is a striking debut album. Nilufer Yanya immediately grabs your attention with her iridescent voice and bold music, both of which are used to great effect in songs like the excellent “Heat Rises.” She has a gift for combining that captivating voice with unexpected music to make very compelling music as in “Paradise” and in “Paralysed.” She keeps you off-balance expertly and does so with such brash strokes as too take your breath away. Additionally, her voice is really just fascinating in itself and she already has the ability to use it well like in “Tears.”

The album has a little too much air to fully recommend and her skits don’t do anything to help, but there’s already so much here to recommend. Miss Universe is both the promise of great things to come and, more surprisingly, the deliverance of those in itself.

Sleater-Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold

26 Aug

It’s not just that Sleater-Kinney are cool, it’s they’ve always been cool. They’ve always been really cool. They’re the kind of band that makes songs that can define who you are for a phase of your life. They’re the kind of songs where you should let them.

Things change though. Times change. Riot grrrl doesn’t mean the same thing now that it meant in the early 2000s. Sleater-Kinney is just too smart not to change too and The Center Won’t Hold is definitely a shift slightly to the side. They’re still super-cool though.

The obvious difference is bringing in St. Vincent, but how much of the change in the music is from her and how much is from the band is impossible to dissect. “LOVE” starts as though it was Devo doing punk, which is new and interesting, but also maybe not quite as good as it would have been as a pure riot grrrl track. Especially with the rawness of a line like “There’s nothing more frightening and nothing more obscene / Than a well-worn body demanding to be seen / Fuck,” this could have been done as a harder track, but the backing works well with the sung chorus and the track is unquestionably novel.

However, some of the other tracks don’t do anything new musically despite being separate from the standard Sleater-Kinney songbook. “Restless”, “The Dog / The Body” and especially “Can I Go On” feel like they could have come from much lesser indie rock groups.

“RUINS” feels like modern riot grrrl though. The distortions are very sharp and the song carries so much attitude that you can forgive it being slightly stretched. “Reach Out” is excellent and Janet Weiss’ drumming in it is spectacular. The standout though is “Hurry On Home”, which is easily one of the strongest tracks of the year. It’s frenetic and so much fun and topical and so smart. It’s the reason that you fall for this band in the first place.

The Center Won’t Hold doesn’t quite merit a shrine in the Sleater-Kinney discography, but it is still a strong album and an interesting look at what might come next.

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