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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.

The Strokes – The New Abnormal

19 Apr

We last saw the Strokes with the three-song Future Present Past EP in summer 2016. The rather on-the-nose concept was that each song represented the eponymous phases of the Strokes, from futuristic “Drag Queen” to stylish “OBLIVIUS” to old-school “Threat of Joy”. With their sixth album The New Abnormal, it feels like the Strokes don’t think of themselves in quite so discrete terms – and the result is an inventive, cool and highly-listenable sixth album.

Famously, there is such a thing as “the Strokes sound”. Most songs on their first two records followed a precise formula: Interlocked guitars from Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi precisely sync with Fab Moretti’s machine-like beats and Nikolai Fraiture’s basslines, with Julian Casablancas’ unstructured vocals adding an exactly asynchronous vocal texture. It’s a carefully free-spirited aesthetic – the sonic equivalent of a get-the-bedhead-look hairspray or a tailored leather jacket (both of which were no doubt in their early wardrobes).

On The New Abnormal, there are certainly songs like these, but they’re often layered with more innovative elements that we first saw in Angles (2011) and Comedown Machine (2013). “Why Are Sundays So Depressing” is a traditional Strokes song – Velvet Underground-esque vocals set to crystal-clear beats – but there’s a pulsing, hypnotic underline that adds unusual heft to the humdrum. Album opener “The Adults are Talking” is as Strokes-y as they come, with a crisp riff that instantly pulls you in, but its latter portions involve jagged zingers from Hammond and Valensi, and, improbably, a Chris Martin-style falsetto half-verse from Casablancas.

And it’s not just the Strokes’ own repertoire that seems to have provided inspiration. In the album-free wilderness years from 2013’s Comedown Machine, every one of the Strokes embarked on a solo career – some successful and some not. As the rock-star cliché goes, these side projects were the result of a growing schism between the band members; but on The New Abnormal, these fractured elements have been successfully pulled into the main act.

For example, Casablancas definitely had his Voidz hat on when he wrote the magnificent “At the Door” –the dense, palpable sadness in his voice contrasted only against sludgy synths. The lyrics (“Use me like an oar / get yourself to shore”) are stark and chilling – a bit unusual coming from the erstwhile kings of nonchalance. “Selfless”, a simple, pretty ditty, is cut from a similar cloth as Fab Moretti’s too-shortlived Little Joy project, while “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” is filled with the sort of irrepressible Hammond riffs last seen on his well-received Francis Trouble (2018).

The overall sonic cohesion on the album, despite so many disparate pieces, is due in large part to Rick Rubin. The master producer has produced for a vast and varied list, from Run-DMC to Metallica to Justin Timberlake, and that genre-bending prowess has left its mark on The New Abnormal. For example, dance-pop track “Bad Decisions” is smoothly segued into the moody Childish Gambino-meets-the-Weeknd “Eternal Summer” – not an easy feat. The production on “Ode to the Mets” is startlingly beautiful – a kaleidoscope of quiet fury, nostalgia, wistfulness and everything in between (per the band, it’s an ode to the idea of a perennial failure).

And finally – the name. When the Strokes announced the album on February 10th at a Bernie Sanders rally, the world was unimaginably different. There was a mysterious virus in China, but they seemed to have controlled it; Bernie was leading the race for President in a bid to finally lift America out of modern-day feudalism; and so on. Exactly two months later, on April 10th – the day of their album release: that mysterious virus had taken more than 18,000 lives in America; Bernie had thrown in the towel two days prior; and a global recession now looms on the horizon. The New Abnormal, the Calpurnia of our times, couldn’t have been more perfectly titled.

Honestly, the only thing the Strokes had to do on their sixth record was to sound like the Strokes. Happily, they’ve overdelivered: a congruent Strokes-plus-plus. The New Abnormal is not the best thing they’ve ever done – Casablancas himself rates it his fourth-favorite output – but it’s proven that there’s more to the Strokes.

Best tracks: The Adults are Talking, Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus, Ode to the Mets

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