Welcome to the penultimate FN&OTOW of 2021. There was a lot more new music this week than last week, with some of the last big acts dropping before the holidays. My favorite new track of the week though is from a pretty small indie act I only discovered earlier this year that surprise released an album. Childish Gambino supplied my favorite old track of the week, a song so good it makes me sad it’s one-of-a-kind. Honorable mentions first:
After years and years of teasing a new album being held ransom by Top Dawg, SZA seems to be in full album rollout mode. Her newest single “Hate You” is a pretty straightforward ‘screw you’ song with SZA’s distinct songwriting style that’s made her so popular. It’d be a great Christmas present to finally get the new album this month, but I think it’s more likely to come early next year.
We know Cordae will be dropping his sophomore album “From A Bird’s Eye View” early next year because he announced the January 14th release date a couple days ago. Along with that announcement came the Lil Wayne assisted “Sinister”. Cordae’s at his best here, and Wayne matches that effort. If anything, I wish his verse was a little longer – the song’s only 2:28 long.
Another Khalid project, another collection of tepid R&B. “Scenic Drive (The Tape)” is fine while it’s on, but not much sticks with you once it’s off. The title track which closes the tape is the highlight, with great features from Ari Lennox & Smino, whose energy makes Khalid’s sleepiness less grating.
The Mysterines released “The Bad Thing”, their 3rd single in promotion of their debut album “Reeling” coming out in Spring next year. The first half of the track is heavy and slow before a guitar solo transitions into the up-tempo second half. Echoey vocal effects used in both sections create a foreboding tone that links things together. Looking forward to this debut LP.
Favorite New Track of the Week: “End of the Road” by Alice Phobe Lou
I had no idea Alice Phoebe Lou existed until I stumbled upon her single “Dirty Mouth” early this year. I liked it. As the name would suggest it’s cheeky, a fun indie track with some punk sensibility. She hadn’t blown me away as a talent I really needed to keep an eye on though.
Not long after, the track “Lonely Crowd” popped up in my Spotify release radar. I liked it. Moody, an unusual yet charming vocal performance. Alice Phoebe Lou was standing out a bit more in my mind. I went to have a look at her artist page and found “Lonely Crowd” wasn’t a new single, but an album cut from “Glow”, the singer-songwriter’s newly released 3rd LP that Spotify had randomly selected to show me.
I don’t like “Glow”. I love “Glow”. It’s going to place highly on my end of year album list I’ve started compiling. The instrumentation is simple and often quite sparse, it’s not the most ambitious album. But it’s undyingly honest & atmospheric, with lyrics lovingly crafted to capture heartache, loneliness and coming out of it on the other end. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ album – several tracks are stellar on their own, particularly after multiple listens. It’s an album where every track sounds its best in sequence, all at once. Not all that common in 2021.
I was very happily surprised this week to have had a similar experience, finding the track “Underworld” in my release radar, only to find it’s the opener to “Child’s Play”, Alice Phoebe Lou’s latest LP released with no promotion whatsoever.
The Beyonce-style release is an odd mood for a relatively small act, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. While not as focused or polished as “Glow”, “Child’s Play” is another helping of thoughtfully written, emotive guitar music. The production is even more simple, almost every track keeping to just Alice & a six-string with a few embellishments here and there.
One track where this isn’t the case is “End of the Road”, the penultimate track and the best one in my opinion. The instrumentation is simple to open: just a pair of guitars, one playing a basic chord progression the other playing a lazy lead. Their recording is muddied to the point where they sound like they’re drowning. Alice’s vocal is clean, but her performance is forlorn to match the lo-fi production. The 3/3-time signature only adds to the downtrodden tone. Drums come in eventually along with another guitar line, this one clearer & just as lazy as the lead.
It probably sounds a bit too busy, but Alice’s vocal is mixed so close to the ear that it cuts through everything. She’s not doing too much, letting the lullaby quality of her voice do most of the work as she paints an uncertain picture about her worries – things going wrong, or not being what she thinks they are. Despite being unsure of how her troubles will be resolved, she takes some comfort in knowing closure will come.
Favorite Old Track of the Week: “Me and Your Mama” by Childish Gambino
I’ve mentioned before there are a handful of artists I expected to quickly speak about here when I started writing Favorite New & Old Track of the Week, and maybe atop that list was Childish Gambino. I’m a big fan of most things Donald Glover creates, but his music first & foremost. “Because the Internet” is probably one of my 3 favorite albums of all time, and his show at the O2 in March 2019 is the best concert I’ve been to.
Despite also being great, his subsequent projects since “Because the Internet” definitely haven’t hit that peak as a whole. There have been plenty of standout songs though, most popularly “Redbone” and “This is America”; or, the less well known “U Don’t Have to Call” “Centipede” “12:39” and, my favorite ‘old’ (2016, we’re stretching it again) track of the week “Me and Your Mama”.
“Me and Your Mama” is the opener to “ “Awaken, My Love!” ”, Gambino’s 3rd studio album, the record that cemented him as a critical darling and renaissance-man superstar. Before all that, before “This Is America” broke the internet, before “Redbone” exploded, “Me and Your Mama” was released as the 1st single to the follow-up to Childish Gambino’s mainstream breakthrough “Because the Internet”.
I was a senior in High School and I fucking loved it. It’s a psychedelic funk tour de force, plunked from the 70’s and re-engineered with modern production. After opening with a pair of back-up vocals doing musical conversation for 90 seconds, the track finally starts to build. Trap high-hats start twittering, a massive booming drum kicks in. It all hypnotically builds and builds before bursting into fuzzy guitar line, drum break, and literal sinister laughter.
Gambino comes in with what is easily his best vocal performance ever recorded, as the instrumental thumps along and a church choir joins him for the anthemic ‘Let me in… to your heart’ refrain. He is furious, he is unstable, it’s the moment he was fully unlocked as a performer. It’s a song you can be angry to, you can dance to, you can be sad to, or you can just sit back and be blown away.
I was so ready for the psychedelic-funk-rock magnum opus from Childish Gambino.
What followed was not quite that. “ “Awaken, My Love!” ” is great, but it is nowhere near this ambitious on any other track. The rest of the album is a more toned down reimaging of old school psych-funk music & R&B that lands the plane on almost every track (let’s not talk about “California”). Childish Gambino’s performance ability & versatility is on full display, as he successfully stripped down the complexity & wordiness of his past few records, finding a new way to captivate his audience. But to this day, I still wish Donald had gone this hard on a whole album.