Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

“Disco Ric in London Town” by Ric Wilson & Yellow Days Official Album Artwork (left) [Sugar Loaf Records/Free Disco]; Alicia Keys in 2001 [Getty images]

Another week, another pair of good, not great albums I was really looking forward to. Silk Sonic & Idles highlight a small but strong group of honorable mentions for my favorite new track of the week, with deep cuts I enjoyed that didn’t quite blow my mind. And I want to remind you that Alicia Keys is dope. All my recommendations from the week’s releases before that:

The beat feels focused-grouped, but Rick Ross’ “Outlawz” featuring Jazmine Sullivan & 21 Savage has a couple nice verses from the best parole officer turned rapper in hip-hop. I’ve never thought to myself ‘I wish Big Sean was on this track’, but there’s a 1st time for everything, and I oddly feel like he would’ve delivered a much more fitting verse than 21’s, which is fine. Jazmine Sullivan’s hook & bridge are slick. There’s enough to enjoy here to overcome the predictability.

It’s not a debut solo single, but “S.Y.K.” by Merlyn Wood (featuring production from CONNIE) kind of feels like it is since he hasn’t put out any solo material since Brockhampton blew up in 2017. This track doesn’t sound identical to Brockhampton, but it is the kind of beat you’d imagine would be on a Merlyn solo record. It’s hard hitting, in your face, the energy never lets up. I would love to hear more solo material.

Silk Sonic’s debut “An Evening with Silk Sonic” is a fun, charismatic R&B record, though it doesn’t take many chances. The project is banking on nostalgia and the star power & performance ability of Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars, who of course come through on every track. Just don’t expect to hear anything anywhere near as cutting edge as Anderson .Paak’s last couple albums. He’s been flirting with the mainstream for a few years now without fully breaking through- hopefully this gets him some well-deserved attention & exposure. “Put On A Smile”, a ballad to mirror the last single “Smokin Out the Window”, is the best deep cut here.

The new Idles album “CRAWLER” starts with some of their strongest material ever. Opener “MTT 420 RR” is another example of the band finally nailing a slower, lower energy song and that sets up the next track “The Wheel” really well. The first half of the record up to lead single “The Beachland Ballroom” is all great…and then the LP really tails off. It’s a little disappointing, but the album is still worth a listen.

Favorite New Track of the Week: “LIFE’S BEEN GOOD TO ME” by Rick Wilson & Yellow Days

I went to a Yellow Days concert at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith a couple years ago. I wouldn’t have called myself a big fan or anything- the tickets were cheap, I enjoyed his EP “Harmless Melodies” enough, and I was curious how his dreamy, slightly psychedelic R&B sound would translate to a live performance.

It didn’t really- Yellow Days’ live performance was a lot more analog and guitar based than the recorded versions of his material. A shift I, again, enjoyed enough. I didn’t come out of the concert with merch, now a full-fledged Yellow Days fan though. The sonic qualities of his music have continued to be really interesting, and have made for catchy singles like “Getting Closer”. Still, it was all better in concept than execution.

With the release of “Disco Ric in London Town”- a collaborative EP with Ric Wilson- the Yellow Days sound finally feels more realized. Ric Wilson takes the lead vocally, with Yellow Days usually providing just a hook or a bridge, but his sonic palette is all over the 5 tracks. On the opener “LIFE”S BEEN GOOD TO ME”, Yellow Days kicks things off with a chorus sung in falsetto over a psych-funk inspired groove & synth keyboard stabs. Ric Wilson keeps things light but with an eye on more serious topics through most of the EP. That’s especially true here with lines like “remember when I was a kid and I ain’t have shit, still the same shit but I’m just not kid” and “the world keep on turnin’ and I watch how it burns, and I try to focus on how I’m good”.

That’s the last bar before a beat switch, as the groove slows down, a guitar lick comes in that lazily mimics the chorus, and everything sounds like the duo just dropped a tab of acid. This 2nd section sounds more like Yellow Days’ music, but Ric’s presence adds more energy that was often lacking in previous releases.

The rest of the EP is more of the same, but each track sets itself apart. These two have some great chemistry, with the back & forth keeping things dynamic. It gives me the urge to dive into Ric Wilson’s older stuff, and makes me excited to hear Yellow Days do more production for other artists. Highly recommend if you want some refreshing synth funk.

Favorite Old Track of the Week: “You Don’t Know My Name” by Alicia Keys

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like Alicia Keys gets forgotten way more often than she should. She didn’t quite reach the level of superstardom as Beyonce or Usher in the landscape of 2000’s R&B, but she was absolutely massive for a while. And for good reason.

Post “Empire State of Mind” the only real mark she’s made on the mainstream is “Girl On Fire”, a song you either love or makes you want to actually set Alicia on fire (I’m the second one). That was almost 10 years ago, an eternity in music, and we’re somehow now at the point where she’s currently best know for a really annoying TikTok sound that uses “My Boo”.

Well I remember that “The Diary of Alicia Keys” slaps, having heard it played in the car all the time when I was tiny, and this is my favorite track from that record. It’s a big-time ‘I miss the old Kanye’ track, with a classic chopped up soul beat from the then producer-rapper who hadn’t even dropped “Slow Jamz” yet. Alicia adds some simple, but gorgeous piano embellishments to the 70’s soul sample too. Her performance is on point as it always was on this album, passionate & rangey without over-singing and killing the low-key energy.

I really love this era of hip-hop mixing with R&B, producers like Timbaland & Kanye leading the trend of drum machines and samples crossing over. Since the short-lived Alternative R&B wave fizzled out (in the mainstream), the lines between hip-hop & R&B have blurred  way beyond white people calling it all urban music. Now R&B singers are either going full pop like The Weeknd, or just singing over hip-hop beats like 6lack. Which hasn’t been all bad- I just wish more melodic R&B still got shine like it used to.

I will not cape for the 2 minute ‘skit’ in the middle of this song though- glad we’ve left shit like that in the 2000’s.

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