Ok I’m late again, but I’ve got a better excuse this time- Thursday was my birthday and as a present Dan Andrews gifted us all a new Melbourne lockdown (disclaimer: I’m far from Dan’s biggest fan but this was the right call. You may be done with Covid, but Covid’s not done with us, so stay safe and think of others). So I wasn’t quite feeling the creative juices Friday night after work. I’m here Saturday though and keeping the streak* alive.
We’ve got our second undeniably old old track of the week, and this time by an artist I’m a lot fonder of, the Queen Nina Simone.
The only honorable mention for this week goes to none other than your little sister’s favorite artist, Billie Eilish with “NDA”. Up to this point I’ve been disappointed by the singles from her upcoming sophomore record. A change in direction is expected and welcome, but not when you go away from most of what made Billie interesting in the first place. This track sounds a lot more like her debut record sonically and in terms of quality. While the “it’s hard to be famous and have a social life” subject matter is not exactly cutting edge, it’s new ground for Billie and she makes it her own.
This week’s new track of the week was definitely not on my radar going into last week- it’s an album cut from a record I didn’t even realize was coming out. Vince Staples won’t be going back to back but a few tracks from his self-titled were in the running. As a whole I enjoyed the record but Vince didn’t break that really, really good but not great album streak I talked about.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Rejjie Snow’s 2nd LP “Baw Baw Black Sheep”, and even more surprised that the cohesion of the album was the biggest highlight rather than a few standout tracks.
Cohesion was more of an issue with Tkay Maidza’s 3rd installment of her “Last Year Was Weird” series, but it did produce my favorite new song from this past week.
Favorite New Track: “High Beams” by Tkay Maidza
“Last Year Was Weird Vol. 3” comes just a year after Vol. 2 , and although the title has never been more fitting, this 3rd and (apparently) final volume doesn’t hit quite as hard as the last. The brevity that worked so well on Vol. 2, where nothing overstayed it’s welcome, actually works against some of the more lowkey tracks here. In particular the opener “Eden” and closer “Breathe” which could both use a bit more time to breathe (yeah I did it). As I alluded to, this kind of makes for a disjointed tracklist, and I don’t love the awkward hook on “Syrup” as much as Pretty Little Thing obviously does.
The rest of the album is pretty solid, with softer cuts that land a bit better like “Onto Me” that has a great UMI feature, or “Cashmere”. There are familiar Tkay bangers like “Kim” and my favorite track from the album “High Beams”.
Tkay Maidza is a versatile performer, able to go bar for bar with Jpegmafia on a track like “Awake” and deliver a controlled falsetto to pair with contemporaries like the aforementioned Umi. She shines the most though over a bouncy but not bombastic beat where her personality doesn’t get overshadowed by the bass, and “High Beams” joins tracks like “24k” & “You Sad” that fit this mold.
The track opens with a snippet of a choir that sounds like it was plucked right out of a Tim Burton movie. This flows into a vocal loop, which is quickly joined by some twitchy trap high hats and bass. Tkay delivers a hook backed with more choir vocals, immediately creating an anthemic, cinematic vibe. She follows this up with a couple verses about staying focused on her goals, brushing off pressure, and feeling free with an effortless flow to match. I’d love to hear something more conceptual or layered from Tkay one day, but if she keeps putting out joints like this I can’t be too upset if that never comes.
Favorite Old Track of the Week: “Sinnerman” by Nina Simone
Speaking of layered and conceptual, my favorite old track of the week should need no introduction and the pillar of music that is Nina Simone certainly doesn’t.
Most people would probably attribute “Sinnerman” solely to Simone, and her version is certainly the most famous for good reason. For those that don’t know, it’s actually an old negro spiritual. I could only think of a couple other versions of the song I’d heard in my life, so after listening to it one day this week I decided to peruse the internet for other versions to see how they stack up. I tried to set aside my bias as best I could, but I think even if I’d never heard Simone’s version it would stand out against the others. She was such a singularly unique performer, somehow able to take a song that was hundreds of years old that had belonged to multitudes and make it her own.
Nina Simone is on my shortlist of artists who are no longer with us that I most wish I’d been able to see perform. A lot of black artists like to call their shows “church” these days, in an effort to get fans off their phones and truly immerse in the experience, but I can’t think of an artist whose performance would feel more like church than Simone. She even breaks into speaking tongues towards the end of the studio recording of “Sinnerman”, and as someone raised in the church it’s ironically one of the few times I’ve heard this and it didn’t feel disingenuous or performative. She would often close concerts with the classic, and the energy in those buildings must have been incredible.
Gravitas drips from every recording or video I’ve ever seen of Ms. Simone, whose voice was never the most powerful or dexterous, but absolutely one of the most emotive ever captured. I could speak for ages about how important she was as not only a musician but as an activist and symbol, but I couldn’t do her justice. I’ll only say that if you’re unfamiliar with the bulk or even all of her work, please sit down and dedicate a night to immersing yourself in Nina Simone’s discography. It’s versatile, it’s touching, it’s excellent and it’s one of my favorites of all time.