Quick Thoughts – Imagine Dragons, Calvin Harris and Young Thug

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#1. Evolve by Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons are at the forefront of the wave of pop/electronic rock bands that can make some great anthems and fill up concerts with their sing-alongs, but cannot for the life of them, put together a great album. Every track on the mercifully short Evolve is driven by stadium-sized drums and vocals, and poppy synths that are earworms at best, and ear-gratingly bad at worst.

Dan Reynolds is a talented vocalist, and puts up an earnest performance throughout. He can lift songs to incredibly satisfying highs when done right, such as on the epic Believer, Whatever it Takes, (where Dan employs a hip-hop cadence on the verses) and Rise Up. Whether these songs are good is debatable, but they accomplish what they set out to do – fill your headphones with an overwhelming passion, that stirs something in you, like it or not.

Where Dan, and Imagine Dragons fails, however, are when they veer into electropop territory. Whatever It Takes sounds straight out of the OneRepublic discography, but worse. I’ll Make It Upto You and album closer Dancing In The Dark are atrocious pop songs that sound like Chainsmoker ripoffs (yes, that bad) and criminally misuses Dan’s vocals.

The most interesting track on Evolve is Yesterday. The way the percussion and keys are arranged is quite different from the other tracks, and the vocals sound much rawer and more emotive. And that monster of a chorus is unabashedly optimistic – it’s just so much fun; the sort of fun too much of the album is missing.

Evolve has some truly enjoyable songs that would make for great singles – some already have – but that’s the niche in which it seems Imagine Dragons will forever be stuck in. Quite simply, this album is not greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a shame, really. I thought I’d be true believer at the end of this LP.

#2. Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 by Calvin Harris

Listening to Slide, the first single off Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, was quite the surprise – this was not the kind of massive EDM/pop club track that Calvin Harris typically churns out. It’s a warm, funky track, the Frank Ocean – Migos collaboration worked splendidly, and the result was the sort of summery vibe that his past superhit, Summer couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be. As the singles kept coming, it was clear that the superstar DJ had a sonic shift in mind. Thankfully, it’s a sound that he seems to know to do well.

Schoolboy Q’s opening line on Cash Out ( party like it’s 1980″) reiterates the direction of the album, throwing back to the post-disco and funk elements of the late 70s and 80s. There’s some thick basslines inspired by the era of G-funk , such as on Holiday, with one of the OGs of the sound, Snoop Dogg. John Legend and Takeoff may not be the first collaborative choices for a song like this, but they sound perfectly at home.

This curation of the right features is Calvin Harris’ greatest asset on Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. Heatstroke has three vocalists with wildly different styles, from Young Thug’s sing-rapping, Ariana Grande’s pop stylings and Pharrell’s falsetto, but it all comes together surprisingly well. I’d never have expected Travis Scott to indulge the bounce of Prayers Up. There are missteps, such as the awful Skrt on Me with an autotuned-to-hell Nicki Minaj, and Pharrell’s vocals on Feels are a questionable inclusion.

What’s truly surprising about this album, is that despite its star power, there are no mechanically constructed surefire hits. It sounds fairly organic, and one of the best tracks on the album, Hard to Love, has the relatively-obscure Jessie Reyez delivering some memorable, earnest pop over subdued guitar licks. The song has the sort of lowkey appeal to it that is wholly unexpected of a song with Calvin Harris on the boards. With just 10 tracks on here, the album doesn’t run the danger of getting repetitive. It makes for a worthwhile album listen, but nearly every track on here would still work as a single.
Be prepared for Calvin Harris to once again dominate the airwaves for the next couple of months.

#3. Beautiful Thugger Girls (EBBTG) by Young Thug

Young Thug is a musical anomaly – boxing him into a sound or genre is quite simplistic, with his grasp on melody, incredibly versatile vocal ability and ear for production. But how much of an auteur can Thug truly be with his generic lyrical themes? It’s an odd dichotomy that shows once again on Beautiful Thugger Girls. 

This is Thug’s “singing album,” and it shows. He might not be the most technically proficient vocalist, but whether it be his deep serenading or high-pitched falsetto/squeals, it all sounds so good. There’s some strangely tender acoustics throughout, picking up elements from pop, RnB and even some country (like when he yeehaw’s on album opener Family Don’t Matter or the acoustic-guitar-driven You Said).

Listening in a little deeper, however, takes away some of the sheen of the music. There are some hilarious punchlines, and some unusually emotional one-liners (“I’m so busy it’s making me feel like I’m in and out my kids’ lives off Daddy’s Birthday), and the featured artists are used sparingly, and perfectly. But there’s only so many interesting ways to describe one’s sexual exploits, and Thugga seems to be circling the same ideas.

Beautiful Thugger Girls isn’t the sonic leap forward for Young Thug that JEFFEREY was, but it’s a solid LP that gives us more of the eccentric, and immensely fun music that Thug is so good at making. It might come off as superficial in places, but it’s important to understand that listening to Thug is about enjoying the music without thinking about it too much. And as unexpected as it is for me to say it, I’m a fan.

 

 

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Five Songs for the Weekend – VI

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

#1. Rollin ft. Future, Khalid by Calvin Harris

(full track on Spotify) 

Calvin Harris is on a roll (pardon the pun). With this track, he continues to bring together artists you might not have expected to hear together over warm, bouncy production that is a far cry from his past of big room EDM. Khalid reaffirms his place as a musician to keep an eye on, with an insanely catchy hook that’s a perfect fit for this beat, while Future brings his signature melodic flow and warbly vocals to keep the danceability quotient high. If you’d told me a couple of months back that I’d be heaping such high praise on a Calvin Harris song, I’d laugh; but here we are.

#2. Wildfire by blink-182

Ah, 90s bands that attempt a comeback. They’re always hit-or-miss, and for a while it seemed blink-182 would fall on the side of the misses, which might’ve been a little saddening (All the Small Things is still a great song). But Wildfire is a pretty great track – it’s got the relentless energy of classic blink, but with production and vocals that sound like a band realizing they grew up. Here’s to them finding their place in a new musical landscape.

#3. Shreddy Krueger by MANWOLVES

It’s rare to find a band that makes rap work with live instrumentation – but when it does work, it can make for pretty great music. MANWOLVES takes instrumentation you wouldn’t expect backing most rappers – trumpets and percussion that’s more snares than deep kicks or hi hats. The vocals aren’t the focus – this is truly a band. With that said, they sound at home with the production, and the hook makes for a good sing-along. They might not be the next Twenty One Pilots yet, but MANWOLVES are worth your time.

#4. Whatever It Takes by Imagine Dragons

It’s hard to call Imagine Dragons great – their hits are inconsistent, and not particularly outstanding musically. But every once in a while, they put out songs that are inescapable – epic tracks with anthemic hooks and rousing production. Whatever It Takes is such a record – Dan Reynolds is an accomplished vocalist who knows exactly what the song requires from him, and the electronic-tinged instrumental drives the powerful pre-chorus and chorus to soaring high. They may not make the most innovative music, but they definitely make some of the most memorable mainstream electro-rock.

#5. The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness by The National

It’s been a while since The National put out new music, and it seems like something’s changed in the intermediary years – The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness seems to leave behind the subdued, atmospheric sound of Trouble Will Find Me for a more aggressive, driven sound. Even Matt Berninger’s signature one-liners sound more purposeful – The National seem to have a more definite path ahead, as opposed to the melancholy abstractness of their previous work. I cannot explain it any other way.

 

 

 

Five Songs for the Weekend – VI

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.

Five Songs for the Weekend – III