FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

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

#1. I Promise – Radiohead

Listening to an album for the first time and realizing it will end up being one of your favourites is an astonishingly wonderful feeling. That’s what I felt with OK Computer, and to relive that wave of emotions with I Promise, a track tellingly recorded between The Bends and OKC is something a fan usually only dreams of experiencing. With melancholy strummed guitars and marching percussion, Thom brings us back to the delicate and intimate promises of a relationship in danger of tearing apart. It’s an emotional, beautiful track. And it’s quintessentially Radiohead.

#2. Perfect Places – Lorde

Pounding kicks open the track, followed immediately by the existential lyric  “Every night I live and die;”  akin to Green Light, this is a complex song, juxtaposing a dance-y electronic instrumental with exploratory lyrics. Tackling the escapist party culture of alcohol and casual sex with a nuance that acknowledges both the desire for mindless euphoria, as well as the resultant ennui, Lorde once again captures the seemingly-contradictory dichotomy of our youth like few artists do.

#3. Run – Foo Fighters

Given how long the Foo Fighters have been around, there isn’t much in the way of surprises they can throw at you – but that doesn’t mean they can’t make some damn good music their own way. Run begins with Dave’s voice – melodic, yet tinged with a growl bubbling underneath – before launching into classic Foo; the aggressively infectious guitar riffs, driving drums and snarling vocals. It’s a mosh-pit worthy fireball of energy that belies the musicians’ age (which is also the theme of the music video). Thank the musical gods for it.

#4. Everything Now – Arcade Fire

The sunny,  melodic production – co-production credits go to Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter – and the indie everyman vocals of Win Butler on the title track of Arcade Fire’s upcoming album, Everything Now, offer an essentially personal narrative in the overwhelmingly populist reality of the world, where the human struggle is lost to consumerist, majoritarian agendas. It’s a bleak message, and more relevant than ever.

#5. 4 AM ft. Travis Scott – 2 Chainz

2 Chainz has come a long way – his flow’s gotten better, there’s some substance to it, and he sounds more reassured and confident in his rapping. With a smooth banger of a beat and a trademark Travis hook adding to the concoction, this has the potential to be a hit. Either way, it’s a legitimately great track.

 

Advertisements
FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

The 59th Annual GRAMMYs – A Rundown of the Nominees

grammy-awards

The GRAMMYs, till date, remains one of the biggest musical events of the year (even though it has its fair share of detractors) making it a good time to take stock of the biggest artists and music of the past year. With that in mind, we’re doing a quick rundown of the major nominees and their chances to take home that golden gramophone.

#1. Record of the Year

Adele is undeniably one of the most successful musicians on the planet, and Hello is one of her biggest hits. It mostly sticks to her formula of powerful, emotional vocals and sparse instrumentation to deliver a pop behemoth. As with most of her work, this has a solid chance of being a winner.

With similar odds of winning is Beyonce’s Formation  – a fierce, political record that uses of-the-moment references and trap production to deliver an unapologetic statement by a Black feminist and a legendary artist. Given the record’s controversial nature, (among angry conservatives, mostly) giving Bey this award would make for quite the moment.

Stressed Out by twenty one pilots – how far Twenty One Pilots have come – arguably the biggest song of their career is probably the least pop song in contention, but also one of the strongest songs. The sparse but fitting production and contemplative mood have tapped into the psyche of the generation its written for – possibly a surprise winner?  7 Years by Lukas Graham and Work by Rihanna, featuring Drake have been inescapable pop songs throughout the year, but their snatching this victory is doubtful.

#2. Album Of The Year

25 by Adele was the fastest selling album of 2015, and a massive success in every way. You know what you get with Adele, and she has few naysayers. Strong contender. Bey’s Lemonade  was similarly successful – for multiple reasons – and is considered one of, if not the, best album(s) of her career. And she’s a Grammy favourite, so there’s a solid shot.

Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is the standard left-of-field contender in the AotY category. A beautiful album with some of the best songwriting of the year, it has the potential to be one of those surprise victories.

Justin Bieber’s Purpose and Drake’s Views were both mediocre albums that were presumably slotted in because of their creators’ stature. Pass.

#3. Song Of The Year

Adele’s Hello is a great song, but its strongest suit isn’t its penmanship. This could go either way. Formation is raw, unfiltered and makes powerful statements in sharply delivered verses. Possible winner. Mike Posner’s I Took a Pill in Ibiza was a smash hit, but owing to the popularity of its remix, the lyrics were (unfortunately) secondary. Still a great song, though.  7 Years by Lukas Graham and Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself aren’t written as strongly as the others – standard pop fare.

#4. Best New Artist

Ideally, this should go to either Chance the Rapper or Anderson .Paak – .Paak came out with one of the best RnB/soul albums in recent times and is incredibly talented, while Chance has finally been recognized as a mainstream artist, along with having an insurmountable year of success. There is, however, a chance that The Chainsmokers will take this one home, given the success of their singles and the Grammy’s tendency to be myopic with these choices.

#5. Best Pop Solo Performance

This is Adele‘s all the way home. No other nominee has her vocal chops, and Hello has her using them at their best. Hold Up is a great song, but it simply doesn’t have the same levity.

#6. Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

This is truly a tough pick. Closer by The Chainsmokers is pop perfection, while Cheap Thrills by Sia featuring Sean Paul and Work were pop songs with distinct dancehall flavour that made for some immensely danceable music. But both 7 Years and Stressed Out were driven largely by their vocal performances, which brings them closer to the victory than the others.

#8. Best Pop Vocal Album

Nearly every contender here (sorry, JB) has a vocal style their own that puts them in contention for the prize, but as with the Pop Solo Performance, the clear victor here is Adele’s 25. You can fault her songwriting and production as much as you’d like, but you cannot deny the emotive strength and range of her voice.

#9. Best Dance Recording

This is one of those categories that doesn’t have much to sift through – fortunately or unfortunately – since it typically goes to the most popular of the lot, the honour here belonging to The Chainsmokers’ Don’t Let Me Down featuring Daya. With that being said, Flume’s Never Be Like You featuring Kai is the better of the successes, with shimmering bass-driven production complementing Kai’s fuller vocals. Maybe the jury will think the same way.

#10. Best Rock Song

Please give this to Blackstar . The David Bowie track is a reminder of Bowie’s genius, with its surrealist lyrics backed by intricate jazz-rock instrumentation – this is a tribute Bowie deserves. With that being said, Burn The Witch and Hardwired are brilliant tracks, w in their own right, by two of the best rock bands around, with the former’s imagery being particularly compelling. Heathens is a solid song, but it simply can’t match up to the other contenders.

#11. Best Rock Album

It would seem, like it’s happened so many times before, that the Grammy committee has missed out on several gems this year in this category. However, among the albums that make the cut, the cult favourite Gojira’s Magma is the strongest contender for the prize, although Cage The Elephant’s Tell Me I’m Pretty could make the cut too – it’s got the alt-rock sound the jury loves, and it’s far more emotive than the other records here.

#12. Best Alternative Music Album

Easily the hardest choice to make here. David Bowie’s Blackstar, Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, and Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool are some of the finest albums of 2016, each uniquely brilliant. Blackstar is an experimental masterpiece, and a fitting close to Bowie’s legendary career. 22, A Million is Bon Iver’s most left-field album yet – which is saying something – and creates a space in music all their own. But A Moon Shaped Pool is perhaps the strongest album here, its atmosphere capturing cosmic moments like none of the others do. The jury is out on this one.

#13. Best Rap Performance

Say what you will about Desiigner and  Panda, its energy is undeniable – this is truly a rap performance. No Problem, All The Way Up and  That Part are memorable, inspired tracks and some of the best work the respective rappers have been involved with – but purely based on how Desiigner sounds, the winner seems pretty clear.

#14. Best Rap/Sung Performance

Another tough category; while it is clear, unfortunately, that Drake will take this one home with Hotline Bling because of its unparalleled success, Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam is some of the finest music he’s created (Famous was pretty great too, if the jury can get past that Taylor lineand D.R.A.M’s Broccoli, featuring Lil Yachty’s best verse to date, is arguably catchier than even Hotline Bling. Maybe the Grammys will throw up another surprise here, though.

#15. Best Rap Song

Give Drake his Rap/Sung gramophone, but this one must go to Ultralight Beam. There is no other track in this category that matches up to its musicality. Kanyeezy did it again.

#16. Best Rap Album

Drake’s Views, as it happens, might be given the award simply because of his pop appeal, while Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo is a great album, but fat from his best. ScHoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP , on the other hand, is his best work, but it doesn’t have the numbers or notoriety to win, sadly.

But Chance the Rapper has lobbied for, and won the right to be included in the Grammys, a moment that will change the face of the music industry. He’s a trailblazer, and Coloring Book is one of his finest hours. He deserves this trophy.

 

The 59th Annual GRAMMYs – A Rundown of the Nominees

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #5 to #1

2016 was a phenomenal year for music, with musical releases spanning the array of genres, artists drawing from the old and infusing it with the new, and taking up strong personal and political stances, implicitly or explicitly. This made it incredibly hard to pick 30 albums, let alone sort them. With that being said, 2016, thank you for the music. These may not be the 5 best albums of the year, but they’ve left an indelible mark on me. I’m also skipping the Listen to section because each one of these albums deserve to be heard in their entirety.

#5. Lemonade by Beyoncé

33238a0dbe6470fde82c5fea51ff69e2-1000x1000x1

Let’s put aside the possible real-world implications of this album. Purely in terms of the music, this is quite simply one of the best pop albums to be released in recent times. Lemonade stands out as a testament to what a mainstream artist can accomplish when they envision art, rather than a product. This is the collaborative work of some of the best musicians in the industry, with Bey as the conductor and curator. In terms of pure musicality, Lemonade is outstanding: the sharp production, Beyoncé’s stunning vocals and lyrics that effortlessly blend an array of sentiments, come together in a way many musicians of Bey’s stature have forgotten to do.

Quite simply, this album is a powerful statement from one of the biggest musicians of our time. To put together a record such as this needs a commanding presence at the helm. And in that regard, Beyoncé has just proven she’s the cream of the crop.

#4. Awaken, My Love by Childish Gambino

awaken_my_love

There’s only a handful of mainstream artists that defy boxes across mediums, be it in music, film or television, and Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino is one of them. In the context of his music alone, his evolution has been a sight to behold, from a geeky punchline rapper who took after Weezy, to one who could create a uniquely conceptual project, to a musician who’s abandoned every previous sound of his to deliver one of the most musically stunning albums of the year, and possibly his career.  And this progression is important to note – it’s resulted in a body of work that examines the world through the personal lens he’s consistently employed, but is also expansive in terms of musical variety, while reaching into one of the golden ages of music – 70s soul and funk – for inspiration. Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins and even a bit of Prince.

True to its influences, and its consequential presence in modern music, Awaken, My Love is detailed with intricate instrumentation, threads of sound interwoven so meticulously that it takes multiple listens to begin to decipher its components, all layered together with a ear for stunning cohesion. Gambino’s vocals are, of course, one of the key components here: he pushes his voice to its absolute extremes, and occupies every space in between just as comfortably , with lyrics that ground the space-opera sound in human terms. True to its album art, this album is a cosmic trip. It’ll be worth the wait to see where Bino goes next.

#3. We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest

we_got_it_from_here_thank_you_for_your_service

It’s tragic how many albums in 2016 are associated with the death of a phenomenally talented musician – in this case, the Five Foot Assassin, Phife Dawg. Their terribly long hiatus was broken with his death, with a commitment to honour his memory with one last resurrection of the group, in more ways than one. And what a fitting tribute it is.

This is ATCQ at their finest, with Q-Tip, Phife and the “4th member,” Jarobi White laying down smooth, thinking-man’s rhymes over classic jazzed-up hip-hop instrumentals, courtesy of Tip himself. It harkens back to the mid 90s, and the time of the Native Tongues collective, in style and sound, capturing a youthful, exuberant vibe that’s optimistic while acutely aware of the injustices against their community. Translated into contemporary America, ATCQ expand their lens to the travails of an array of minorities in the country, while drumming up a message of steadfast hope. Through all this, Phife’s memory lingers – there’s no obituary truer to him than his own rhymes, self-assured as they were on their first album. This is his, and the Tribe’s final album, but their legacy is inseparable from hip-hop’s; and they couldn’t find a higher note to go out on. Kick it one last time, in their remembrance.

#2. A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead

088055831

There are few bands that can commit to a concept like Radiohead can, and A Moon Shaped Pool is proof of the surreal spaces to which they can take these concepts. The dreamy atmospherics that is created through delicate instrumentation grounds epic swells of sound in intimacy, as Thom Yorke’s reedy voice stirs intensely human emotions. And while the imagery evoked by the soundscape is often transportative and grand, the esoteric nature of the words Thom employs to speak to the listener, as well as to himself, brings about a certain open-endedness to the themes of this album, that seem to range from heartbreak to sociopolitics.

The result is a sweeping, expansive masterpiece populated by existential meanderings, a soliloquy that feels extraterrestrial in scope, but meditative in intent. There may never be appropriate language to capture every mood of an album such as A Moon Shaped Pool, but immersing yourself in it is the only way to begin to discover its tongue. Let the waves of Radiohead’s singularly haunting musings wash over you. True Love Waits.

#1. Blonde by Frank Ocean

5f06f7f6

No 2016 album felt as stunningly complex, layered and human as Blonde felt. From its initial title, Boys Don’t Cry (referenced by the album cover), to its current body of contents, this is an album with Frank Ocean’s beating heart at its core, one that’s been assaulted and ruined and rebuilt, and continues to react to the human experience. It’s terrifyingly personal, each note resonating with emotion clearly felt by the man in its deepest depths, the soundscape subdued, yet imbued with the same mood Frank is singing about. Each song is a musical thread in this inextricably linked yarn, each touching upon an aspect of humanity with shades of love and heartbreak. Each licked wound, each loss wept over, each ray of light shining through is given space to breathe, but not always to resolve itself. This interminable vortex of cause-and-reaction to the spectrum of Frank’s soul swallows the album, and releases a mangled, yet somehow beautiful experience. All the listener can, and need do is let themselves be consumed by it. This is the only way to begin to understand this musical masterpiece like no other, and it is rewarding in a way little else is.

 

 

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #5 to #1