Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

Japanese Breakfast photographed by Ebru Yildiz for Vogue (left); Nelly Furtado photographed by Anthony Mandler (right)

The new track of the week and the old track of the week this time around have very different vibes. You can call me many things, but you can’t call me one-dimensional.

It was kind of a quiet week for music both in terms of releases and for me personally – I’ve probably listened to music less this week than any week in quite a long time, years maybe. Luckily, I’ve once again got friends to inspire my favorite old track of the week. And for the first time, my favorite new track of the week is a cover.

Honorable mentions first, as always:

Breezy bedroom-pop star Rex Orange County sounds breezier than ever on his newest single “KEEP IT UP”. What you see/hear is what you get. It’s an upbeat ‘just keep swimming’ song with the usual charm of Rex’s casual, endearing songwriting.

Denzel Curry tries his hand at an old school, dusty boom-bap beat on “Walkin” – on the first verse at least. The beat switches up to a typical trap beat, but Denzel comes in with a crazy flow and his trademark energy. Hopefully more songs like this to come from him later this year, or maybe even a proper solo follow-up to “ZUU”.

New hyperpop banger by Dev Lemons “One Whole Me” is all about self-love and boundaries in relationships. As a lot of hyperpop tracks are, it’s a little too short for my taste – feels like things are just getting going when the song ends. The controlled chaos is fun while it lasts though.

It feels like we’ve been hearing about Yard Act as ‘the next big thing’ in the British rock scene for years, and that’s because (probably thanks in part to the Rona) we have. Their debut LP “The Overload” finally came out in full this week. Though the band can be a bit heavy handed with their social commentary at times (“Tall Poppies”), casual grooves, some stylistic variety, and otherwise clever spoken word lyrics make “The Overload” an enjoyable debut indie rock record. “The Incident” is probably my favorite track, but “Rich” & the closer “100% Endurance” could maybe take that title too.

Favorite New Track of the Week: “Nobody Sees Me Like You Do” by Japanese Breakfast

Japanese Breakfast’s latest album “Jubilee” nearly made my Top 20 albums of 2021 list. It’s a bright, busy, album that’s far more ambitious than the lo-fi “Soft Sounds From Another Planet” or the shoegaze of her debut solo LP.

Her cover of Yoko Ono’s “Nobody Sees Me Like You Do” is certainly not shoegaze, but it is a return to a more stripped back sound. It’s a simple piano ballad, and yeah you know what it’s about just reading the title, even if you haven’t heard the original. Lyrically though there’s a charm to the song, as lines that could be throwaway cliches are given just enough consideration to avoid sounding overly saccharine. It’s not reinventing the wheel, and it’s certainly not reinventing the pining love song, but it’s genuine.

Michelle Zauner, the mind & voice behind the Japanese Breakfast project, doesn’t have an overpowering voice. If anything you could say she often sounds a bit meek. I’ve always felt like there was something subtly alluring to her vocal style though, oddly able to make ballads like this much more engaging than they maybe should be.

Japanese Breakfast and Ono don’t exactly occupy the same spheres musically, but as someone who usually doesn’t find much interest in covers, this is a nice fit. The idiosyncrasy of Zauner’s voice gives a refreshing new feel to Ono’s writing.

Favorite Old Track of the Week: “Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado & Timbaland

I don’t often get songs stuck in my head.

My good friend Javi, a wildly talented musician himself, can’t say the same. Ignoring my recent 10-month stint in Melbourne, we’ve hung out most weeks at least once for the last 4+ years. Going on our innocuous, often impulsive adventures, he’s constantly consciously and unconsciously dropping little melodies from songs of all moods at all times.

I’ve been hanging out with Javi a lot this week, and instead of passing on the Rona he passed on the little earworm of a chorus from the mid-2000’s classic “Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado & Timbaland. He does both parts, high notes and all, it’s great.

It would’ve been impressive enough for Timbaland to have shaped late 90’s R&B the way he did, but his run taking over pop in the mid 2000’s set him apart as one of the most important producers in music.

His work with Justin Timberlake – in particular “FutureSex/LoveSounds” – will likely be his most enduring work. Rightfully so, since it’s some of the best crafted pop music of it’s time. But linking up with Nelly Furtado, a talented artist in need of a shake-up in her sound as the mainstream pop palette shifted from under her, was almost just as good.

“Loose”, Furtado’s 2006 album mostly produced by Timbaland, is so quintessentially mid-2000’s, from Timbaland’s production to the pop-diva sensibility on full display. But while music by contemporaries like Lily Allen from this time seems to be aging really well in the collective consciousness because of a similar ability to capture the mindset of a decade, Nelly Furtado seems to be slipping through the cracks as music moves on.

She wouldn’t be the first. Artists who were massive in their time for whatever reason just don’t translate past that time in the same way sometimes. Aerosmith has their hits, but people don’t care about them like they seem to still fondly remember Guns ‘N’ Roses. Kate Bush is hugely influential and beloved – I don’t think most people that grew up in the 21st century outside of certain scenes know her music. You could argue that Nine Inch Nails paved the way for a multitude of genres and productions styles even beyond industrial rock/pop. Certainly wrote the manual for what would become hyperpop. But I don’t think my 15-year-old little brother has any idea who Trent Reznor is.

I don’t know what makes some music lend itself to the ‘you had to be there/ y’all don’t know nothin bout this’ cliché, and what makes other music transcend that. It’s not just popularity or how influential the music was. Maybe it’s about who really connected with it actually and carried it forward.

Well I guess Javi is here to carry “Promiscuous” forward.

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