Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

Lil Nas X at the 2021 Met Gala [left] (John Shearer/WireImage); Lianne La Havas [right] (Photo by Gus Stewart/WireImage)

I’m making the move back to London tomorrow, and I was kinda hoping I’d have an angle with the old song of the week to talk about that. Ironically, I actually ended up talking about leaving London about 10 months ago. It’s a good read, stick around.

On the favorite new track of the week side, the first new track I listened to this week ended up being my favorite- it’s nice when that happens. A few honorable mentions first:

Mild High Club’s newest LP “Going Going Gone” came out this week. It’s a lot less dreamy than past releases, leaning more into grooves and in spots the jazzier side of the band’s sound. Most of the time it works. Discussing the singles I mentioned that Mild High Club records are best listened to in full, but if you’re looking for another teaser before jumping into the full thing, I’d recommend “Waving”.

“405” is a new collab between Metronomy & Biig Piig. The breathy, quiet vocals juxtapose well against the bright Metronomy synths to create an interesting nocturnal vibe. Feels like it should soundtrack a scene in a movie where the main character is sad about something and takes a drive on the highway at midnight.

Snail Mail hasn’t released any new music since her 2018 debut album “Lush”- until now. The album “Valentine” will come in November, and the title track was released as the first single. At first it sounds like more of the same sound from “Lush”- not necessarily a bad thing. But then it explodes with some pop-punky guitars for a chorus bigger than anything on Lindsey Jordan’s debut. I enjoyed “Lush” particularly for the quirky songwriting, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the Snail Mail project has grown sonically.

Alongside Sex Education Season 3 releasing last week, Ezra Furman dropped an EP of songs featured in the show like in seasons past. There are a couple songs from Furman’s days fronting The Harpoons that have been out for almost a decade to close it, but the first 3 tracks are all new. “Trans Mantra” is the highlight here. A lot of Furman’s solo work feels like it’s rushing to me, but here she takes her time and crafts a narrative that pairs really well with the cello refrain.

Favorite New Track of the Week: “Dead Right Now” by Lil Nas X

So I expected “MONTERO”, Lil Nas X’s debut album, to be ok. I’ve enjoyed all of the singles he’s released so far, especially “Industry Baby” with Jack Harlow which has only grown on me since it dropped. But to be honest I had him pegged as a singles artist. His “7 EP” was fine, but mostly forgettable. I wanted to be wrong, but went into my first listen of Lil Nas X’s long awaited full length album with middling expectations.

I am so glad to be so wrong.

“MONTERO” is through and through a pop rap album, but it’s so polished and personal that the label feels like a back-handed compliment. If you came expecting bangers you won’t be disappointed, but there’s so much more vulnerability on almost every track of the album, that “Industry Baby” or the title track are actually outliers. For the first time Lil Nas addresses his childhood, his parents, and struggling to make ends meet in-depth. Tracks like “Void”, “Lost In the Citadel” & “Life After Salem” give him a chance to show off his surprisingly solid vocal chops, but “Dead Right Now” is the best mix of bars and melody on the record.

As the 2nd track on the album after the title track “Dead Right Now” is a great tone setter, letting the listener know this isn’t just going to be flashy pop rap all the way through. Immediately the ambition of the album is put on full display, with a church choir even joining Lil Nas at the end of the 2nd verse. He raps over a southern trap beat, horns accenting the chorus and some subtle synth chords underneath everything reminiscent of Travis Scott’s “Astroworld”. The production all over “Montero” is super crisp and mixed really well, dabbling in different genres like pop punk and art pop.

On the surface “Dead Right Now” is a classic “where were you when I wasn’t famous?” track, but it goes a lot deeper than fake friends. Lil Nas talks about both his mother and father letting him down as parents with lines like: “My momma told me that she love me, don’t believe her. When she get drunk, she hit me up, man, with a fever, like, woah ‘You ain’t even all that pretty, you ain’t even all that, nigga. You ain’t helpin’ out with me, God won’t forgive you’ “. He’s not pulling any punches diving into his personal life, and he doesn’t throughout the album.

Lil Nas’ self-awareness has been his biggest asset in self-promoting, and it’s also his strongest skill musically. He knows what he’s good at, and he kills shit within his wheelhouse. This album is full of bars that won’t be winning any Pulitzers but still feel like quotables because they make you feel something, or just stick in your head like the earworm bridge here: “You know you never used to call. Keep it that way now”. I expected “Montero” to be an album full of songs under 3 minutes for streaming numbers. Songs that were fun but had an obvious shelf life. Instead, it’s one of the better hip-hop records of the year and there can’t be anyone left that thinks Lil Nas X isn’t here to stay.

Favorite Old Track of the Week: “He Loves Me – Solo In Paris” by Lianne La Havas

My love of the singer-songwriter genre begins and ends with Jeff Buckley.

When I started writing this piece 16 weeks ago (woo), I would’ve been shocked if you told me I’d gone this long without talking about one of his songs. It’s pretty hard to be into music and not listen to any singer-songwriter type music, but I was a bit late coming to truly appreciate what the genre can be. Jeff Buckley was “the Hallelujah guy who drowned that people love” to me until I got into high school. Eventually I educated myself, had my mind blown, and he’s been one of my favorite artists ever since, despite dying before I was even born.

I’m sure you’ve noticed he’s not who I want to talk about today- I only mention all of that to say that classics like “Live at Sin-e” & “Grace” are pretty much my entry points for the genre and it probably spoiled me. There are not many artists that fall into this odd singer-songwriter niche that I’d say I’m a fan of.

This time last year I was midway through two-months of being stuck in London, overstaying a visa, unable to work, unable to get into Australia and sharing a flat with a strange Romanian-Italian couple who constantly screamed at each other (they didn’t even have the decency to speak English so I could at least be entertained). Most of my friends had been unable to stay in London after we’d graduated or were now starting full-time jobs, so I was spending a lot of time alone and listening to even more new music than usual. I like to focus 100% on new music on the first listen, and as someone who used to work a lot and likes to keep busy, there was only so much time in the day to dedicate to whatever album fell in my lap. But in that weird limbo I was in, unsure when it would end, I had all the time in the world. And one day, on my way to a café on Brick Lane, I found a Lianne La Havas poster for her self-titled album.

It had been out for months already, so I was late to the album, but even worse I was late to this incredible talent. Lianne La Havas’ voice is limber, smooth, and sounds just as effortless when she’s belting out a chorus as when she’s whispering a love song. There’s only so much depth I can go into with the music around her voice, because the appeal is in the simplicity and craft. There’s nothing sonically innovative, she’s a very skilled, not virtuosic guitarist. But she breaks out different styles from song to song, matching the charisma of her voice with guitars that have just as much personality.

If you’re a fan of Lianne La Havas you might notice (again) the song I want to talk about isn’t from her self-titled album. And that’s because I eventually stopped having all the time in the world to listen to music and going back to listen to her (highly acclaimed) older music got put on my long, long list of music I need to listen to. And still hasn’t really been checked off. I’ve got a 35 hour trip to London starting tomorrow though and thanks to “He Loves Me” I will definitely be checking “Is Your Love Big Enough?”, Lianne’s 2012 debut, off my list. I guess I can’t really call that coming full-circle, maybe it’s coming full-oval?

I found the song watching some choreography from a dancer I follow on Instagram, and immediately recognized Lianne’s silky voice. I didn’t recognize the song. But it was gorgeous.

There are no surprises with “He Loves Me”- it is an unabashed love song, recorded live with just Lianne and her guitar. The lyrics are incredibly simple (‘Your smile, your intelligence. You woo me, you court me. You tease me, you please me.’) but the song isn’t underwritten. It’s just not overthought. It captures the idea that love can be a very basic feeling, and at it’s best it often is. But without Lianne’s incredible, patient performance that flows and builds organically, that point doesn’t come across. I can tell you she’s a fantastic performer thirty different ways, but her appeal and this song’s appeal aren’t on paper. You just have to listen.

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