Tag Archives: spoon

Top Five Songs of 2021

1 Jan

If you’ve been following our Monthly Playlist series throughout the year, then you’re probably familiar with most of the songs on this list. The songs below cover the gamut across rock, pop, blues and more– take a spin below and let us know what you think!

5. “Boilermaker” by Royal Blood

Clocking in at #5 is the hard-hitting collaboration between British two-piece Royal Blood and desert rock veteran Josh Homme. Royal Blood’s 2021 album Typhoons was somewhat of a hit-or-miss effort (read our full review here), but the best part of the album is undeniably this high-wire track. “Boilermaker” is heavy, energetic, and comes with a fun music video – one of the best rock tracks of the year.  

Read more in our Monthly Playlist.

4. “The Hardest Cut” by Spoon

Speaking of great rock tracks – in our opinion, the best one of the year is “The Hardest Cut”, the first single from Austin, Texas band Spoon’s upcoming Lucifer on the Sofa album. With its thick bass lines, rangy vocals and dance-rock beats, this is by far one of the catchiest songs we’ve heard all year. If this is an indication of what the rest of the new album is going to sound like, then we sure are in for a treat.

Read more in our Monthly Playlist.

3. “Oxytocin” by Billie Eilish

It’s funny – Billie has been releasing singles for her sophomore album Happier Than Ever for a full year before the album released in July 2021, but the best song on the album (and one of the best songs of the year) is the electro-pop non-single banger “Oxytocin”. The song brings together all the best parts about the Billie Eilish act – breathy vocals, out-of-this-world production from her brother Finneas, and a general feeling of devilish provocation.

Read more in our Monthly Playlist.

2. “Take My Breath” by the Weeknd

At this point, the Weeknd probably does the 80s better than musicians in the actual 80s. “Take My Breath” is another synth-disco killer track that sits right at the junction between the classic 80s sound and a transition into the Britney-inspired 90s era. This is the first song from what is ostensibly the “Dawn era” (naturally coming after his After Hours era), perhaps signifying a new album from the Canadian singer in 2022. Here’s hoping!

Read more in our Monthly Playlist.

1. “INDUSTRY BABY” by Lil Nas X feat. Jack Harlow

The best song of the year comes from the debut album of Lil Nas X, but he’s far from a debut artist. The man has been racking up great tracks nonstop since his worldwide hit “Old Town Road” but “INDUSTRY BABY” is potentially his best track yet. The fanfare horns throughout the track signify a self-coronation for one of the biggest hitmakers of our time, who’s especially unique in the sense that he’s truly a self-made man.

Read more in our Monthly Playlist.

Looking for more great tracks? Here are our runners-up for the top songs of the year, in alphabetical order:

Listen on Spotify:

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: Jun. 2019

2 Jul

And just like that, we’re halfway through 2019. So far, the year has given us some great music already. There have been some fantastic albums from well-established bands (Vampire Weekend, Foals) and break-out debuts from true diamonds-in-the-rough (see: slowthai). Read on for our picks this month – spanning old-school indie rock, beautiful folk-pop, and two of the best tracks all year from the Indian subcontinent.

Read on below for the goods:

5. “No Bullets Spent” by Spoon

As our readers know well, we at Top Five Records are huge fans of Austin-based indie rock veterans Spoon. Their 2017 album, Hot Thoughts, made it onto our year-end list that year, and “No Bullets Spent” perfectly espouses all we love about this band. In spades are the laid-back vibes undeniably sourced from their hometown of Austin, TX; lead singer Britt Daniel’s lackadaisical lyrics; the unmistakably subtle-yet-groovy Spoon chorus; and so much more. “No Bullets Spent” was released to hype up the release of the band’s greatest hits album (Everything Hits at Once) on July 26th. Whether you’re already a Spoon fan or not, we encourage you to check out this track, and of course the greatest-hits compilation when it’s out.

4. “Love Yourself” by Sufjan Stevens

Love Yourself” is an electronic-tinged slowjam that works in two ways: one, as a plea to your lover to appreciate themselves more (“Love, can you love yourself”); two, as a note-to-self with the same message. Either way, it’s a gorgeous, lushly-produced song that perfectly features Sufjan’s emotive pipes. Sufjan Stevens has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity, in part due to the vital inclusion of a couple of his songs on Call Me By Your Name, 2017’s sleeper art film hit. With “Love Yourself” – released as part of a four-song Pride Month EP – Sufjan fans both new and old are likely to be more than satisfied. We sure are!

3. “My Baby’s Beak” by the F16s

In the early part of this decade, something magical was happening in Chennai’s indie music scene. There were suddenly a swathe of very good, very unique and very closely-knit artists coming out of the southern port city. Everyone seemed to know each other. Everyone wanted everyone else to succeed. Everyone came out to each other’s shows. Was there something in the Chennai water?

Over the years, we’ve spoken to and closely covered several of these bands, and what we’ve gleaned is the following. The city’s strong musical streak, combined with the centering of the Indian indie music away from Chennai to other metros (Mumbai, Bangalore) and the piteous lack of venues in town, meant that Chennai’s independent musicians had a truly DIY approach to their craft. People practiced in home spaces. Bands shared band members. And there was a strong support system that helped bands thrive and maintain their wholly unique sounds.

One of these bands is the F16s. For many of us at Top Five Records, songs like “Light Bulbs” and “Avalanche” (from 2013’s Kaleidoscope) exemplified the careful balance between restraint and decadence of our millennial existences back in the day. The band’s follow-up album, 2016’s Triggerpunkte, had a few stand-out tracks, but it felt like a stepping stone to the F16s’ next great output: and WKND FRNDS is it.

All four of the songs on this crisp new EP are great, but “My Baby’s Beak” really clicked with us. We can best describe the song as the soundtrack one might choose while writing desperate love letters, from a tropical island, pina colada in hand – in the 1980s. “Oh mama, can you tell me if I made it / My ego gets inflated with you,” croons lead singer Josh Fernandes, complementing the luxurious sounds from the rest of the band. The song’s a true treat for fans eagerly awaiting new F16s music, and for new listeners alike. P.S. If you liked this one, we’ll also take this time to recommend the EP’s eponymous track as a follow-up.

2. “Speedway” by black midi

The four young members of black midi met at BRIT School, the UK’s premier music school that has produced legends such as Amy Winehouse and Adele. Centered somewhere between the Foals’ math-rock and Animal Collective’s asymmetric ethos, black midi enthralls with a ridiculously ready-out-of-the-gate sound. Our favorite track off their debut album Schlagenheim is “Speedway” – a pulsing, hypnotic song filled with feverish stops and starts. Slightly nerve-wracking and more than slightly ominous, “Speedway” is testament to what the lads can pull off in a mere three minutes. If you like this song, check out “953” from the same album for some bewilderingly good punk rock.

1. “Floated By” by Peter Cat Recording Co

There is no other way to say this: Peter Cat Recording Co is one of the best bands to ever come out of the Indian subcontinent. With meticulous detailing and inimitable style, the Delhi-based gypsy / jazz band has long excited us here at Top Five Records. The band’s new album, Bismillah, dropped earlier this month, and suffice it to say, we cannot get enough of it.

Bismillah’s stand-out, in our opinion, is “Floated By”; a song so good that we wrote the rest of this list with it in a firm #1. “Floated By” finds the band in their element – a melancholic wedding band letting loose after a drink too many in hand and an hour too long on stage. (The twist here, as seen in the song’s music video, is that the wedding in question is lead singer Suryakant Sawhney’s own, real nuptials.)

As with most Peter Cat songs, the real star of the song is Sawhney’s powerful voice. In between the wedding-procession drums and slightly off-kilter horns, his voice rings out: true, wistful and imbued with astonishing range. A simple line (“I know that I should / I know that I would”) takes him ages to enunciate, as his voice floats across the vocal spectrum.

Simply put, “Floated By” is one of the best songs we’ve heard all year. Look for a full review of Bismillah soon – and until then, please give the album a listen.

The Top Five Albums of 2017

1 Jan

2017 has been a good year for returning legends and young upstarts alike. On the former front, Jay-Z released his side of the story behind the infamous elevator fight in 2014, following albums by his wife and sister-in-law in 2016. Spoon released yet another great album, and indie darlings LCD Soundsystem came back from self-imposed retirement with a surprise album.

As for the upstarts: we got some amazing debut albums from buzzy artists like Moses Sumney and Sampha, but we were also graced with surprisingly strong follow-up records from Lorde and Vince Staples. And of course, there was Kendrick Lamar, who simultaneously fits both categories (and, really, all categories) with his third major-label full-length album.

Read on for our take on the top five albums of the year past.

5. The OOZ – King Krule

the ooz_king krule

According to King Krule (the stage name of 23-year-old Archy Marshall), the “ooz” mentioned in the album’s title is an homage to the various solids and liquids that ooze out of the human body – the primordial “creations” that we make and refine to fit into society. The vowel is lopped off at the end as a tip of the hat to the backwards-form of Marshall’s previous avatar, Zoo Kid.

If all of this seems strange and circuitous, then we’ve given you an apt welcome to the world of King Krule. The OOZ lies somewhere along the spectrum between jazz, punk and grunge, and Marshall’s brilliance lies in elevating this sonic kaleidoscope into a seamless new genre.

“Dum Surfer” opens like a menacing surf-rock song, crisp guitar bouying Marshall’s half-remembered boozy stories. About a third of the way through, the song segues into a skillful jazz guitar solo, complete with backing brass, but the beat never changes – it’s the same song. “Czech One” is a heart-breaking jazz-R&B song, complete with melancholic saxophone. Two songs later, “Vidual” is the hypothetical output of the Libertines penning a ska song.

Aside from his obvious musical aptitude, King Krule also happens to be a pretty good writer. Specifically, his allure lies in his ability to shuttle between precise anecdotes and profound reflection without losing the overall plot. For example, on album opener “Biscuit Town”, Marshall transitions from plaintive young-adult angst (“I seem to sink lower, gazing in the rays of the solar / In fact, we made a pact, but now I think it’s over”) to name-dropping Coca-Cola and Chelsea player Zola in the same verse. Somehow, this mishmash of story structures deepens your investment in Marshall’s emotions – with the effect that you are left feeling sorrier for him than deserved for what is essentially a yearning post-break-up tune.

The OOZ is a unique, woozy picture of Archy Marshall’s wide-eyed sadness. If there is a flaw, it’s that 19 tracks is a bit too long, but that’s just our opinion. File this one next to Mac DeMarco, early Nirvana, jazz classics, or pretty much anywhere else on your shelf – it’ll work.

Best tracks: “Dum Surfer”, “Biscuit Town”, “The Locomotive”

4. Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

Vince-Staples-Big-Fish-Theory-Album-cover-art

In direct contrast to current radio-reigning rap stars, Vince Staples is not boujee at all. He does have a lot of new money, but he certainly isn’t wasting it on stupid shit. In fact (just like a great man once warned), more money brought Vince more problems, in the way of an inability to be happy despite achieving everything he’s ever wanted. Vince battles the ennui by making more music, which in turn brings more money and – you guessed it – more problems. It’s a vicious cycle, but happily for us, it results in great music from Vince Staples.

Don’t get us wrong – Big Fish Theory is no sob-fest. Vince Staples’ lyrics may speak of an inner tedium (“Human issues too strong for tissues”) but damn, can he lay a strong boast over a sick beat when he needs to. On “Big Fish”, Vince describes his bad-ass self-control over a club-ready trap beat – not only is he good at getting rich, but he is damn good at staying rich. On “Yeah Right”, Vince sneers at the priorities of today’s rap stars – money, women and then musical fame – all over a sludgy, sexy beat that could replace any one of these stars on the charts.

Full review here.

(If you’re wondering where you’ve heard his music before, it’s probably “BagBak” on the soundtrack for the Black Panther trailers.)

Best tracks: “Big Fish”, “Yeah Right”, “BagBak”

3. Hot Thoughts – Spoon

Hot thoughts

There’s a certain consistency to Spoon. The beats are always crisp; the guitars alternate expertly between nervy energy and rock-star confidence; the lyrics are slightly peculiar, matched by Britt Daniels’ idiosyncrasies. That may sound like formulaic, but Spoon is anything but. The essence of the band remains constant – the Austin-y quirkiness especially – but Spoon is actually very adept at updating the rest of their sound with each subsequent album.

Hot Thoughts, the band’s ninth (!) album since their formation in the mid-90s, is no exception. Keeping with the times, the album gets an almost hip-hop treatment, most audible on the sly overconfidence of “Can I Sit Next to You”. Hot Thoughts also benefits from the guiding hand of Flaming Lips producer David Fridmann, resulting in the sonic dreamscapes on “Pink Up” and the free-jazz masterpiece of album closer “Us”.

The best tracks, though, are still the Spooniest ones. “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” is all big drums and Daniels confidence, and “Shotgun” could soundtrack a bar fight in your early 20s. It’s the kind of music that makes the Strokes seem frumpy.

Full review here.

Best tracks: “Do I Have to Talk You Into It”, “Can I Sit Next to You”, “Shotgun”

2. Melodrama – Lorde

Melodrama

Lorde started working on her debut album, Pure Heroine, when she was a 13-year-old in small-town New Zealand. The album, which released a few months before her 17th birthday, was set in suburbia, with a close set of friends and nothing really to do, and it was so good because the songs reflected those circumstances so well.

Melodrama is very different, because Lorde herself is very different. In between the two albums, Lorde became extremely famous, originally through her break-out track “Royals” but later supported by a slew of well-received singles. She moved from New Zealand; she made new friends. Fortunately, Lorde’s skill at transcribing the moods and phases of her life into song have grown with her. Melodrama is the result of spending an already melodramatic period of life – late teens – under the auspice of immense fame.

Every song on the album is a standalone story; a slice of Lorde’s life, shuttling between New York and New Zealand and everywhere else in the middle. On the whole, Melodrama is a break-up album – in a very real sense, from her New Zealand boyfriend James Lowe, and in a deeper sense, from the starry-eyed naivety of her late-teens.

Melodrama is a near-perfect, infinitely enjoyable pop album, and you’re losing out on a real musical treat if you haven’t given it a full listen.

Full review here.

Best songs: “Homemade Dynamite”, “Sober”, “Perfect Places”

1. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick-Lamar-DAMN-album-cover-featured-827x620

As we speculated in May, it has basically become an assumption that a new Kendrick Lamar album will be the best album of the year. For the remaining seven months, we looked far and wide – from post-rock to punk-jazz, from hip-hop to pure pop – but nothing comes close.

Like its predecessors, DAMN. is a masterpiece because Kendrick Lamar is bigger than life. He is a born-again Christian, and genuinely believes that he has been put on this Earth with a greater purpose. His literally godlike self-confidence lets him do things that others simply cannot do. On “DNA.”, he explores black heritage from a blinding barrage of angles (“I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA / I got hustle though, ambition flow inside my DNA”). Like many rap songs, “HUMBLE.” is boastful (“I blow cool from AC / Obama just paged me”); but by masterfully balancing the brags with too-real pictures of the very recent past, Kendrick keeps himself humble. “FEEL.” is a free-fall through Kendrick’s complex feelings on his newfound fame, delivered in a flow so fluid that the words almost become beats.

The hundreds of words in Kendrick’s verses are so full of wordplay, imagery and thematic elements that each song basically needs its own Cliffnotes. Kendrick Lamar is a masterful poet and storyteller who just happens to have the lucrative gift of making chart-topping hits. DAMN. is not even the best album of his career, but it’s still the best album of 2017.

Best songs: “HUMBLE.”, “ELEMENT.”, “DNA.”

 

Spoon – Hot Thoughts

12 Dec

Hot thoughts

No band embodies the idea of independent rock better than Spoon. Since 1996, the Austin band has churned out a great album every two to three years (see: Gimme Fiction, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga).

Every other band with similar discography and enduring success (U2, RHCP) inevitably seems to fall prey to arena rock and millions-strong fan followings. Not Spoon though. They don’t wear leather pants. They don’t talk about their fame in songs. They never moved en masse to LA or NYC; one of them still lives in Austin, where he’s been a key element of the city’s music scene for decades. After all these years, Spoon’s self-worth seems to stem not from the limelight, but from an innate source of cool. And that’s what makes them truly indie rock.

Lead man Britt Daniel doesn’t like the “indie rock” label, though, and it kind of makes sense. In in our present understanding of the term, indie rock often refers to great-sounding upstarts that shot to fame through a combination of luck, marketing and the Internet – but whether their fame endures beyond the debut is a different matter. Spoon grew up in a different world, painstakingly building their sound (and fan base) without sacrificing their passion.

Hot Thoughts, their ninth full-length album, is the latest fruit of this passion. It’s full of the typical Spoon sound – punchy drums, wailing guitars, feverish bass lines and Daniel’s megaphone-via-voicemail singing style – peppered with a certain Spoon-y quirkiness that makes it a unique new album in their discography.

It’s the quirky details that make the songs stick: the first listen may entertain, but the fourth will truly intoxicate. On “Do I Have to Talk You into It”, the swaggering drums over a nervy piano are enough to make a great song, but Daniel’s idiosyncratic renditions of the song title is what stays with you. He shimmies up and down the scale one time; shout-asks in another; fades into the overpowering drums in a third; a magnetic presence on a magnetic track.

One of the verses on “First Caress” talks about a girl who likes to tell Daniel that coconut milk and coconut water are the same thing; it’s such a weird detail, but you somehow end up replaying the song just to hear him say that line. “Pink Up” has a dreamy, atmospheric sound, full of light xylophone touches and folksy maracas, as Daniel exhorts the listener to live life in the moment by taking the train to Marrakesh.

Of course, Spoon isn’t all about the quirk – some of their songs are just pure rock classics. The eponymous song is a good old-fashioned paean to a girl who gives Daniel some sexy ideas, set over fretty licks and Jim Eno’s confident drums. The frenetic energy of the drums and bass on “Shotgun” could and probably will incite a riot at some point, which is fitting because it’s about getting into fisticuffs. “Can I Sit Next to You” thumps along to a funk guitar and dance beats, a strutting theme song to Daniel’s unabashed pick-up line (“Can I sit next to you? Can you sit next to me?”).

Hot Thoughts is a very enjoyable album through and through by the guys who basically invented the genre. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t give it a listen.

Best songs: “Do I Have to Talk You Into It”, “Can I Sit Next to You”, “Shotgun”

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