I have not one but two excuses as to why I’m late this week.
First, I attended a Zoom wedding last night- congratulations to the lovely couple if you’re reading this. Second, I’m typing this on a brand new laptop that arrived just last night. I’m in love, but these things take some time to set up properly. So sorry not sorry.
The first new track I listened to Friday night ended up being my favorite, but deciding on an old track to talk about this week took a little bit of a journey. I’ll get to that, but I’ve got a couple honorable mentions that dropped this week first.
We finally got to hear more from Silk Sonic, the super duo of Anderson .Paak & Bruno Mars with new single “Skate”. The song isn’t as polished or full of personality as “Leave the Door Open”, but both members of Silk Sonic are such great performers that they can carry a middling track to above average.
Mild High Club is back sounding just as breezy as always despite “Me Myself and Dollar Hell” being a lot more instrumentally busy than past releases. It’s not going to blow you away but the band has always made music that sounds best within the context of the whole record so I’m excited to hear “Going Going Gone” next month.
“That Life” is the second single from Unknown Mortal Orchestra in 2 months, so hopefully this is an album rollout too. It’s centered on a fuzzy guitar riff, mid-tempo, wordy verses and a snappy hook. It’s the usual UMO formula, although the vocal delivery on the chorus is more energetic than anything on “Sex & Food”.
It’s not difficult to find something to criticize in Weezer’s 30 year-long discography. But whether it’s garage rock or baroque pop, you know a Weezer song when you hear one. That’s somehow still true even when covering Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and keeping pretty true to the original. The cover’s a bit toothless, as Weezer can often be, with Rivers Cuomo sounding about as threatening as a declawed squirrel. Still if you’re a fan of both bands it’s worth a listen, and with combinations like this “The Metallica Black Album” is shaping up to at least be a fun listen if nothing else.
Favorite New Track of the Week: “Getting Older” by Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish’s music isn’t for everyone, but how someone criticizes her music is very telling. A common criticism of her music is that “anyone could make that song”, and I immediately lose a lot of respect for the music opinions of anyone who says that. Having the level of vocal control Billie Eilish has at a whisper is very difficult, and if you couldn’t hear the incredibly detailed and labor-intensive production from Finneas on “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” you need better headphones or better ears. That’s without even going into the tongue-in-cheek songwriting that often goes underappreciated.
I’ve mentioned before I was a big fan of Billie’s debut LP that exploded her into superstardom, and at least early on I’m enjoying “Happier Than Ever” almost as much even though it’s not quite as impressive. The two albums feel surprisingly distinct from each other, as outside of a couple tracks (“NDA”, “Therefore I Am”) the Hot Topic flavored bedroom pop has been left off this new release. “Happier Than Ever” is far more sonically and stylistically diverse, which works both for and against it at times. The “omg I’m so weird and edgy lol” aesthetics & lyrics that felt so forced and occasionally dragged down good songs are gone, but it took with it the consistency and flow “WWAFAWDWG” had. There was some level of acting as a character on that album, but the character gave it a clear identity.
Without that acting though we get a much more vulnerable and personal album from Billie. Where her debut often felt like a Billie Eilish & Finneas album, “Happier Than Ever” feels like a Billie Eilish album produced by Finneas. It’s a bit up and down- I think the first five tracks stack up against just about any 2021 album’s opening five tracks, but there’s definitely some fat to be trimmed from this nearly hour long album. It’s a bit unfocused, not totally sure what it wants to be- it’s what you’d expect from any piece of work crafted by an 18 year-old. But there’s always been more self-awareness in Billie’s music than with other teenage phenoms, injected by Finneas more than Billie herself though.
That’s not the case anymore, as clearly set out on opening track “Getting Older”. The production from Finneas is fittingly nearly non-existent- outside of some heavily effected piano chords this track is Billie and nothing but Billie. She talks about feeling alone, stalkers, pressure from the media, enjoying making music less. These are familiar “reactions to becoming famous” themes that have ended up on thousands of 2nd records, and they’re key themes to the rest of the LP.
But there’s no gloss or sugarcoating here. Billie ends the first verse calling her most obsessive fans “deranged”- bold in the age of stan culture. She opens the 2nd verse by calling herself out for performativity & attention seeking, and closes both the 3rd and 4th verses directly addressing being abused in the last couple years. Billie’s songwriting across this record has matured a lot, replacing some disingenuous ego with surprisingly raw confessions, and this track is the best example of that growth. I’m also a huge sucker for opening tracks that actually function as opening tracks. An underrated side-effect of streaming is artists putting no effort into satisfyingly bookending their albums. “Getting Older” is refreshing both within Billie’s discography and in modern pop music, and serves as a great opening thesis statement to a really good sophomore LP.
Favorite Old Track of the Week: “Holding Back the Years” by Simply Red
Alright, I’ll admit there were a lot of artists I thought I’d be talking about in this column (can I still say column if it’s not in print?) long before I talked about Simply Red. Let me explain myself.
I spent last Saturday with my single-people social bubble, my cousin & her housemate, and we ended up watching a couple music videos. After a couple Doja Cat videos played by the housemate, my cousin proclaimed that “music videos have gotten so weird”.
Now if we’d just watched “Moo!” I would’ve seen her point (if you know you know). But this was 2021 “I’m famous now and have real money to make” Doja Cat we were watching. The weirdest thing here was a fruit-fellatio metaphor.
But it did get me thinking about back when I was younger and I used to watch music videos all the time. I watched Fuse more than any other channel back when I was 13 or 14, knew the video for every popular song, and found a lot of music that way. Trust me, they got way weirder than an implied threesome with SZA & an astronaut.
The next night I found myself channel surfing, probably during the 476th replay of the Titmus-Ledecky race, and ended up on “rage”. For the non-Aussies in the audience, rage is a TV show that’s basically just wall to wall music videos that plays on our equivalent of the BBC each night of the weekend. Like all Australian TV it’s obnoxiously nationalist, so you’ll see a lot of (rightfully) obscure Aussie bands that had one hit in 1991 but some gems are peppered in every once in a while. On this particular night, the gem was a live version of “Holding Back the Years” by Simply Red.
It’s a good ol’ blue-eyed soul ballad and sounds just about as 80’s as possible- only thing it’s missing is an overproduced snare drum. But I’d never seen/heard the live version, and honestly it’s superior. Simply Red’s ginger heartthrob lead singer they’re named after (right?) Mick Hucknall shows off some pipes that are present on the studio version but just don’t land as well. The live performance hits in way that would make my great granddaddy say “damn that white boy can sing!”
A couple days later I went looking for the live version I saw on YouTube, and to my surprise I only found versions with the band looking more like Simply Grey than Simply Red. Now it’s a Simply Red song, so I didn’t put that much effort into looking for it, but it seems rage has some obscure cuts the internet hasn’t made easily available (maybe, probably not).
The point is, I’m 22 years old and I now record rage every weekend. The Rona has officially won.