Five Songs for the Weekend – III

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. Slide ft. Frank Ocean and Migos by Calvin Harris

The excitement for this unlikely collaboration has been extremely high since it was first teased, and thankfully, it delivers. Backed by shimmering retro-pop production courtesy of Calvin, Frank Oceans delivers some fantastically smooth vocals – think sipping on some rum in a hammock by the beach – before the track transitions seamlessly to the melodic rap of Quavos and Offset. It’s reminiscent in parts of of 90s/early-00s rap-RnB collabs, with some distinctly trap stylings. Summer it is not, but it’s one of Calvin’s best songs in a while, and perfect for the summer. (Find the full song on Spotify)

#2. 2 Lovin U by DJ Premier and Miguel

This was unexpected. Premier hasn’t lost a step with the beats – the funk on this is crazy with some rich guitars, the scratched vocal samples adding that signature Preemo touch. Miguel lays on the silken vocals, floating over the production with unmatched swagger. Everything about this song screams a hit.

#3. Incredible by Future

Damn, Future went from underground trapper to straight up alt-RnB superstar in a week with HNDRXX. A true tropical jam, the synths are vibrant, with just a little edge, and the bass-heavy drums give this a deep house vibe. Future’s vocals are at their cleanest, crafting a trap-RnB ode to his woman in a way only he can. This has the potential to be in heavy rotation in the coming months.

#4. Anoxia by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is decidedly one of the weirdest bands out there, and thankfully, also one of the most prolific. No two of their albums sound the same, and their latest, Flying Microtonal Banana is no different. Finding a strange middle ground between desert and psychedelic rock, Anoxia sounds like a snake charmer on acid. Coupled with their lo-fi vocals, esoteric lyrics and impeccable mixing, the track sounds like one’s stumbled into a dimension that straddles the nomad and the shaman. What could they possibly come up with next?

#5. Walk On By ft. Kendrick Lamar by Thundercat

Thundercat is possibly one of the most creative purveyors of the new wave of RnB, and his collaborations with Kendrick are always phenomenal – Walk On By is no different. While Bruner reflects on the disorientation following the end of a relationship, Kendrick continues to paint striking images of the lives of the disenfranchised. The hazy production is an appropriately melancholy backdrop to their verses, and ties together a track that would be a perfect soundtrack to a plodding, sad walk.

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Five Songs for the Weekend – III

Process by Sampha

Sampha is an enigmatic musician, working from the shadows with the upper echelon of the industry (Kanye, Drake, Frank Ocean) – he doesn’t have much music out, but he’s left an indelible mark on everything he’s been a part of. But it’s clear that he’s taken his time finding his voice, so to speak, opting to quietly work on a body of solo work that wears its heart on its sleeve, delving into heavy introspection with a maturity rarely seen in debut albums. Sampha’s confessional songwriting style is wistful, exploring his anxieties and regrets with imagery that can be disarming and affecting in turn. Few songs have the emotional brevity of tracks like (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano, a melancholy reflection on times gone by, or the strange, listless sensuality of Under. His vocal range is effortlessly expansive, with a knack for coaxing out vestiges of emotion in the listener, while making his own explicit. The music should sound familiar to those who have listened to his work with SBTRKT, and his (slightly underwhelming) Dual EP, maintaining an atmosphere of evocative electronica with smatterings of delicate piano.
The process that the title refers to then, seems to be one of contemplative reconciliation, a conversation with himself and the people in his life about his growth as a person, and where he seeks to go from here, ending with an assurance to himself that he can “always come home,” a sentiment which we all aspire to.
Process by Sampha

Five Songs For the Weekend

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

1. Believer by Imagine Dragons

 

 

An anthemic earworm of a hook, rousing electro-rock production, and lead vocalist Dan Reynolds’ powerful vocals – Believer has all the ingredients of an Imagine Dragons hit. There’s an interesting bit of hip-hop influence here, with Dan adopting a rap-like flow over marching drums reminiscent of the ones on Kanye’s Black Skinhead; after a mediocre sophomore album, this is almost enough to make one a believer in Imagine Dragons again. 

#2. BagBak by Vince Staples

Vince Staples is undeniably one of the best, and smartest, rappers of this generation, and BagBak continues his streak of fiercely unapologetic sociopolitical rap, standing up for people of colour and sticking it to the Man over booming production bubbling with aggression – proclaiming quite succinctly “Tell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the government to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the president to suck a dick, because we on now.”

#3. Comb My Hair by Coast Modern

The aptly-named Coast Modern is a wonderful new band that’s been putting out consistently great, summery tunes reminiscent of the beach rock of Wavves, and Comb My Hair is their latest. There’s a hint of psychedelia, and the drawling vocals deliver the decidedly weird lyrics in an oddly endearing manner. Quite the trip.

#4. (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano by Sampha

This gorgeous track from Sampha’s long-awaited debut album is a testament to the intense emotions the incredibly talented musican can evoke – accompanied almost entirely by the titular piano, Sampha reminisces on times gone by, using the full breadth of his stunning – yet somehow delicate – voice. It’s nearly impossible to listen to this without a lump in your throat.

#5. Random Haiku Generator by Sin Fang, Sóley & Örvar Smárason

The video description for this beauty perhaps describes this song better than we could: it’s a “confusing commentary on modern life” that is “one part electronic power ballad, one part delusional fantasy.” It’s just as wonderfully weird as it sounds, and thanks to musicians like Örvar Smárason (from múm) who are adept at making the weird sound serene, this track is bound to be on the soundtrack to your ruminative evenings. 

Five Songs For the Weekend

From Great Albums to Great Songs: The Weeknd’s Reinvention

My introduction to The Weeknd was the salacious Wicked Games, a track that spoke of adultery in an almost guilt-free manner, justifying Abel Tesfaye’s hypersexed hedonism with a dismissal of any real love in his relationship. It turned me off, seeming to me rather hollow and destructive, despite his silken voice – one of the best around – and gorgeous production. However, its musical beauty beckoned me, and I continued to give it a few more intermittent spins, without truly appreciating it.

That is, until I listened to Wicked Games‘ source mixtape, House of Balloons in its entirety. The lyrical content remained just as obscene, with a dark, often nihilistic perspective on love and relationships, marred in copious amounts of drugs and sex. The stunning voice and sensuous production was there too, just as enticing as ever. However, this was a mixtape merely in name – this was truly an album, an experience to be played from front to back. The very first time I heard the project in its entirety, I was hooked. Contextualized here, The Weeknd seemed less like a full-blown asshole, and more like an amorphous character, dwelling in, and absorbing the depths of humanity’s carnal desires. There was no light to be found here, no upliftment, no conscience. The traces of guilt that Abel felt were sidelined by anecdotes of sniffing lines of coke off women’s naked bodies.

It was terribly fascinating. I could not morally condone it, but in some way, it felt like Abel didn’t either. He wasn’t looking to be a good guy; it seemed to me that The Weeknd was a character, one that represented the parts of himself he didn’t quite nurture, but were too intrinsic to ignore. And so he reveled in them. House of Balloons, despite myself, quickly became a regular in my rotation, and I now consider it one of my favourite albums. The musical quality of the album is unlike any other of its time – epic and sensuous all the same, written by a haunted man, and sung in a voice just as divine as it is depraved. These hedonistic themes continued through the trilogy of mixtapes, including Thursday and Echoes of Silence. Everyone loves the anti-hero, don’t they?

With each release thereafter, Abel’s profile was growing, along with that of his collaborators, including early supporter, Drake. It soon became clear that The Weeknd was intent on being a musical star, not content with bubbling below the mainstream. The attempt to make this crossover came with Kiss Land, his debut album. Abel maintained his musical aesthetic for the most part, but there was an uneasy ropewalk quality to it. There were attempts to make pop records, especially with respect to the production, with mixed results. Additionally, either as a consequence of reaching for a mainstream audience or being unsure of his own sound, the lyrics became shallower, less nuanced. Kiss Land ran overlong, it sounded a little tired. It was easier to listen to the better songs individually, than as an album. Consequentially, the album never quite translated into the sort of commercial success Abel had set out to achieve: there really weren’t any monster singles on here.

The Weeknd needed a new image. He couldn’t be the one singing fucked up love songs in the corner, he had to be the one singing slightly less fucked up love songs – about women, drugs and fame – in stadiums. He soon found his way onto collaborations with Sia and Diplo for The Hunger Games soundtrack, in the form of the pop anthem, Elastic Heart, and contributed the black tie sexy Earned It for 50 Shades of Grey.  While the latter was more classic Weeknd – think Twenty Eight – the former hinted at a serious shift in his sound, one more in tune with his supersized aspirations. With the arrival of singles from his sophomore album, Beauty Behind the Madness, these doubts were confirmed.

Alongside Earned It, two of the singles from BBTM, The Hills and Can’t Feel My Face, are the biggest hits of Abel’s career. They also represent the sound of an artist who’s relentlessly seeking superstar status, and little else. The Hills wasn’t a radical departure from his previous music, but had a much more repeated, extremely catchy hook, and brevity was the name of the game when it came to the lyrics. Can’t Feel My Face, on the other hand, was pop music at its finest. Working alongside pop maestro Max Martin on production, The Weeknd served up an MJ-esque hit that seemed innocuous enough on the surface, with drug references that were far less pornographic than his past music, almost to the point of innocence. It worked. The song was played everywhere, with radio listeners lapping it up. Simultaneously, The Hills and Often had enough of old Weeknd in it to keep his core fanbase satiated, if not particularly happy.

The singles from BBTM were winners. The album, on the other hand, not as much. With his mainstream aspirations, The Weeknd went across the board in sound, from electropop records such as In The Night, to pop ballads such as Shameless, and completely unexpected collaborations with Ed Sheeran and Labrinth. The project was clearly, not an album. It was a collection of several terrific songs, mostly the singles, and it seemed like there was some serious padding. Each of the better songs were meant to lift Abel up on their musical wings into the mainstream stratosphere. It made little sense, then, to listen to BBTM from front to back beyond an initial spin. It seemed like Abel wanted the playlist to be his home now. He’d thus rule the charts, and had few reservations in jettisoning the idea of a cohesive project along the way. This was clearly in line with Abel’s long term vision, and it’s evident he’d understood the music business well. In an age that looks at singles’ charting positions as the metric for an artist’s success, The Weeknd knew that unabashed, relevant pop music was his ladder up.

The release of Starboy, The Weeknd’s newest single from his upcoming album of the same name, is a clear indication of his path. With a new hairstyle, production from musical auteurs Daft Punk, and possibly his most ‘fun’ lyrics to date, Abel has officially laid to rest his past, dark persona – as evident in the positively upbeat music video for the song – and brought in its stead, electropop perfection. There’s a suave cockiness in Abel’s voice and lyrics, the cadence purposefully more BBTM than House of Balloons. It’s a terrific song, and a great lead single. But the question remains if The Weeknd will be a full-blown singles artist – albeit a spectacular one – or if his vision will see him balance artistry and business to create a masterful pop LP, with more coherence than his past work. As a fan of his music, I’m hoping for the latter, but if he puts out more consistently great songs like this one, I don’t think I’ll be complaining when the album comes out

Either way, The Weeknd is now a muhfuckin’ starboy. It would be wise to watch his moves.

 

 

 

 

From Great Albums to Great Songs: The Weeknd’s Reinvention