Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

There were a lot of great new singles worth talking about, but it was pretty clear which was the best of them from the beginning of the week. Unfortunately though, I did have to do some Weezering (listening to an artist’s good old music when a new record is bad) over the weekend, so Lorde fans stop reading before you get there.

BadBadNotGood are back with “Signal From the Noise”, a 9-minute teaser for their new record expected to be coming later this year. The Canadian jazz outfit dabble in some ambient themes at the start and end, but the track peaks in the middle with a frenetic guitar section.

I hadn’t heard of Remi Wolf before this week, but “Quiet on Set” is a fun pop rap track. The beat sounds like a mid-2000’s Usher song with a lot of chaotic zoomer energy infused into it. It feels like it’s made to be taken over by TikTok, all the way through to the incredibly annoying chipmunked outro, but don’t let that scare you away.

Don’t let the incredibly pretentious (word of the week, just a heads up) write-up on Griffith James’ Spotify scare you away either, because “Jesus Honey” is a solid indie pop song. I thought he got completely outshined by Tennis on his debut single “Market & Black”, but he actually sounds awake here. The song is about growing up in religion and eventually feeling disillusioned with the beliefs you were forced into- a relatable topic to a lot of people, myself included. No idea if an album is on the way, but if it is: more of this please.

Another new single from Mild High Club, “Dionysian State”. This song stands on its own better than “Me Myself and Dollar Hell”, with stronger vocal melodies and a nice interplay between the piano and horns.

Proudly woke Post-Punk band Parquet Courts are back with their first new track since 2018, “Walking at a Downtown Pace”. The vocals fall a bit flat, as can sometimes be the case with Parquet Courts, but some nice guitar work and a killer rhythm section make up for it.

“Peach” by Future Islands is the opposite with typically fantastic vocals from Samuel T. Herring, but not a whole lot else going on. It’s got some nice rhythm to it though, and a nice sunny vibe.

I seemed to be one of the only people who liked Banks’ last record “III”, and her new single “Skinnydipped” seems to be a bit of a reaction to that poor reception. With the angsty vocalizations on the chorus and down-trodden synths, it’s the closest she’s come to the Alternative R&B sound that she first gained some recognition for on her debut “Goddess”. Most would say that’s still her best, most interesting LP and even though as I mentioned I liked “III” I’m definitely one of them. Since moving into more of a pop direction, things have been much more hit or miss so maybe a return to that sound isn’t a bad idea.

Favorite New Track: “Life is Not the Same” by James Blake

I may need to apologize to James Blake.

I don’t actually believe in speaking things into existence, or actualization- but I may have done so with James Blake. I enjoyed “Assume Form”- eventually. At the time of it’s release I had just had a break-up and it just so happened the first (and maybe only?) happy James Blake album came out. And yes, I eventually was in a place to enjoy “Assume Form”, but I still don’t think it stands up against his previous records. So it became a bit of a running joke with me and a couple friends that I “hate James Blake being happy” as some of the loose singles he’s put out in the last couple years haven’t floored me either.

Well “Say What You Will” wasn’t a happy song, with some chillingly gorgeous and forlorn falsetto vocals, and new single “Life is Not the Same” has doubled down on that. The track is produced by Blake himself, Take a Daytrip, and since one sad boy apparently isn’t enough, Joji. Even Daytrip tones down his tag at the start.

A simple trap beat opens the track along with some ghostly background vocalizations. Lyrically the track is a pretty straightforward break-up song; James laments trying hard to keep a relationship alive, even changing for the other person. But it’s ultimately pointless, and life feels the same because of that.

Just before the chorus James sings “So if you loved me so much…” before the beat stops and he finishes the line “…why’d you go?” in pitched-up vocals that somehow make the lyric hit harder. Blake belts out “Life is not the same if we’re miles away” on the chorus, his vocals doubled and layered in his trademark style. He’s not showing off any serious technical chops with his singing, but the emotion lands just as well as the falsetto from his previous single.

Two things seem clear about Blake’s upcoming record “Friends That Break Your Heart” based on these two singles: 1) James’ vocal performances will be the true focus in a way that hasn’t quite been the case on his previous studio albums & 2) If it wasn’t painfully obvious from that big oof of a title, he’s maybe just a little sadder than in 2019.

And for that I’m sorry…but also thank you to whoever hurt him.

Favorite Old Track: “Tennis Courts” by Lorde

I was really hoping the chunk of this post above here was going to be about one of the tracks from “Solar Power”, Lorde’s 3rd studio album that dropped last Friday. I’ve enjoyed her older work, though not nearly as much as most fans it would seem (more on that in a bit). So despite disliking the title track which was released as the lead single, and feeling pretty lukewarm on “Stoned at the Nail Salon”, I was excited for this record.

But it’s just awful.

Musically it’s boring- each and every track is meandering, lazy guitars with not much else going on. Her ever so slightly husky timbre is part of what first set her apart, but Lorde adopts this sleepy, nasally tone to her voice for most of the album as she Lou Reed talk-sings.  I felt myself getting progressively more annoyed as bland sound palettes kept coming and coming.

“Solar Power” is deliberately inoffensive in its sound, but thanks to its lyrics and supposed concept, it ends up being a pretty irritating listen. I enjoyed her previous record “Melodrama” quite a bit, but tracks like “Loveless” & “Sober II” felt forced, un-self-aware, and pretentious like they were specifically crafted for people on Twitter to call them ‘a moment’. And to Lorde’s credit, it worked- “Melodrama” is one of the Internet’s favorite albums of all time.

Unfortunately (for me at least), it seems that huge success led to Lorde doubling down on the pretentiousness. This record is apparently a send-up of wellness culture, influencers, and new world spirituality. It’s already an eye roll worthy album concept, and there’s so little effort put into the execution of it. Our generation really seems to struggle with the idea of satire, as  “Solar Power” spends absolutely no time establishing itself as ironic, puts forth no observation or criticism and instead is just as vapid and mind-numbing as what it’s supposedly mocking. You can’t just say ‘I’m doing this ironically’, do the thing 100% straightforward, and then get credit for making some kind of grand statement you made no attempt to make.

Wow, I hated this record more than I thought…

The palette cleanse I needed after giving up on St. Vincent’s “Daddy’s Home” earlier this year is what inspired Favorite New & Old Track of the Week, and I turned to the rest of Lorde’s discography in the same way after hearing “Solar Power”.

I distinctly remember reading about Lorde for the first time on Billboard.com in 2013 and “Royals” was on top of their Hot 100 not long after. I liked the song, but back then I was still buying all my music on iTunes and my money had gone to “Yeezus” and J. Cole’s “Born Sinner” which had both dropped on the same day not long before. So despite rave reviews raining down for “Pure Heroine”, I was a couple months late to the party. But I’ve been a fan of Lorde ever since, albeit a die-easy one.

Going back to her debut last week, I had to laugh at myself. The pretentiousness that had first irked me on “Melodrama” was Lorde’s entire shtick on “Pure Heroine”- the difference was that thirteen year old me was a lot more pretentious too, in particular when it came to music. That’s not to say all of Lorde’s music is self-absorbed trash that doesn’t deserve the praise it’s gotten. Tracks like “Tennis Court” may lack some self-awareness, but they were daring, and genuine. The “anti-pop” pop sound and aesthetic that Lorde created laid the groundwork for artists like Billie Eilish or even Charlie XCX to make pop music that actually tried to innovate. The quietly sassy attitude and sparse production on “Tennis Courts” can be heard all over pop music today, and I just wish Lorde’s music was still as adventurous as those she’s inspired.

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