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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.

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