Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

“Dawn FM” by The Weeknd album artwork (XO & Republic Records); Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong (Photo: Phil Stern/Gilles Petard/Redferns)

With the 1st FN&OTOW of 2022, I had a pretty good idea of what old track I wanted to write about – stick around for that. Looking at what had been announced for this week, the first proper week of new releases, I wasn’t so sure about the new track. I didn’t have high hopes, but The Weeknd’s latest, “Dawn FM”, exceeded my expectations and the Toronto native once again released my favorite new track of the week.

The first set of honorable mentions of the year come first of course:

Azizi Gibson dropped the Freddie Gibbs assisted “Hate to Say It”. Bar for bar, Freddie’s verse bodies Azizi’s but a slick hook over a beat that lends itself to a little melody and a charismatic performance keeps him from being outshined completely on his own single.

Keeping up the pace of a busy 2021 that saw them release 3rd LP “WINK” along with a few loose singles and a collaboration with Jpegmafia & Gorillaz, CHAI released “WHOLE”. It sounds pretty similar to a lot of “WINK”, just a bit more groovy – love that rhythm guitar.

“Love Me More” is the new single from Mitski. It’s by far the most 80’s inspired single from this latest album rollout and in the best way. She fully leans into the melodramatic Bonnie Tyler-esque synth pop of the decade on the chorus, and it works really well.

Speaking of 80’s inspired music…

Favorite New Track of the Week: “Out of Time” by The Weeknd

The Weeknd is widely credited with starting the 80’s synth pop revival we’ve had over the last couple years, and rightfully so. “After Hours” was a landmark release, and no one was diving that deep into the retro sound when it first came out in early 2020. Everyone from Ed Sheeran to the aforementioned Mitski has hopped on the trend ever since.

But I wasn’t into “After Hours”. It was a refreshing, bold choice for The Weeknd to take his melancholy sound and infuse it with colorful synths, not only fully committing to the pop sound he’d been flirting with through most of the mid-to-late 2010’s, but taking on a vintage aesthetic at the same time. The record just didn’t do anything particularly interesting beyond that to me. The songwriting felt undercooked, despite how ambitious “After Hours” was.

Last year’s “Take My Breath” made it clear The Weeknd was doubling-down on the 80’s sound. Even though that song was much more fleshed out than most cuts from “After Hours” I was still not that excited about “Dawn FM”.

Well I’m happy to report I should have been – the more understated “Dawn FM” plays much more to The Weeknd’s strengths, making for a much more consistent, well-executed sound. “Take My Breath” is the only unabashed dance song, as most of the songs have at least a bit of an R&B flair paired with the 80’s synths. Quite a few tracks could’ve been my favorite like “Less Than Zero” or “Sacrifice”; with a better feature from Tyler, the Creator “Here We Go… Again” could’ve taken the top spot.

But I love “Out of Time”. It reminds of the ballads from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” like “Lady in My Life”, without sounding like a blatant re-hash. It’s the best vocal performance from The Weeknd on “Dawn FM”, as the synth embellishments feel perfectly coordinated with the melody. If you told me The Weeknd was going to do an 80’s inspired album back in January 2020 (such simpler times), this is what I would’ve thought it would sound like.

Favorite Old Track of the Week: “A Foggy Day” by Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

This is my pick for favorite old track of the week and it remarkably has nothing to do with the crappy weather we’ve had most days to start the year here in London; it’s January, the sun hates London in January, we know this.

I’ve been listening to Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong’s seminal “Ella & Louis” this week for far more sentimental reasons, in particular “A Foggy Day”. It was one of my grandfather’s favorite songs, performed by two of his favorite jazz musicians.

Gramps was a man of many talents and impressive qualities & accomplishments. He had a long, successful career he was able to end on his own terms so he could enjoy retirement for a couple decades. He still holds the title of smartest person I’ve ever met, and honestly there’s never been much competition.

Still, the thing that always impressed me the most about Gramps, the thing I still envy the most, was his ability to find joy – real joy – in the most innocuous, incidental things. He took genuine interest in any tidbit of opinion you offered him, and always had one of his own to present in return, usually with a much more entertaining story to go along with it.

“A Foggy Day” is far from the best song Ella Fitzgerald or Louis Armstrong have recorded, together or separately. In fact, the very next track on “Ella & Louis”, “Stars Fell on Alabama”, features a much prettier vocal performance from Ella, and the pair compliment each other on the song much better.

But “A Foggy Day” paints a much more novel picture. A much more Gramps picture. It’s about making the most of a typical, grey, foggy day in London – deciding to make the most of the day – and unexpectedly being rewarded for the optimism.

One of my last memories of Gramps was doing my duty as tech-literate grandson and showing him how to use Spotify. We hadn’t bothered previously because Gramps wasn’t one to sit still for long, but he was spending much more time doing so since getting sick. We set him up with an account, and I picked out a couple musicians I knew he loved to give him a sense of just how much music he’d have access to.

“A Foggy Day” was his first request, and as soon as Louis kicked things off, Gramps was beaming. A song he’d undoubtedly heard hundreds, maybe thousands of times still put a huge smile on his face as he sang along.

Most people only learn to appreciate the little things when they know they don’t have much time left. Gramps knew he wouldn’t be here much longer, but he didn’t need to learn to appreciate the minutia of life. He’d been doing it his whole life.

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