Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

Rayvyn Lenae photographed by Paul Boucher for The Chicago Reader; Ahmad Lewis Spotify profile picture [Lookalive/Gotee/EMI Records]

The longest mid-year break I’ve had as an adult has finally ended – my programme was off from December 14th until this Monday. As someone who loves to stay busy (I genuinely cannot wait to get back to working full-time), I’m very happy to be out of this extended post-holiday limbo time.

Returning to a full schedule is not all rainbows & unicorns though. More on that with my favorite old track of the week.

There was plenty of great new music to soundtrack the return to normalcy though. Honorable mentions for my favorite first, as always:

James Blake & Labrinth released a gorgeous duet for the upcoming “Euphoria” soundtrack called “Pick Me Up (Euphoria)” – bit on the nose. The pair trade gorgeous falsettos over some floaty, atmospheric, classic James Blake production making for a lovely little ballad.

The guitars are as huge and overblown as ever on Psychedelic Porn Crumpets’ new single “Bubblegum Infinity”. By the end at least. They take a backseat through the first half where the band sounds a bit like 2000’s Green Day, in a good way. These latest singles (especially “Lava Lamp Pisco”) have me excited for their 5th studio album “Night Gnomes”, which the band just announced is coming April 22nd.

Kamasi Washington has a new single out called “Garden Path”. Cinematic, busy, frenetic – it’s a Kamasi Washington joint. The trumpet solo does go on a bit too long for my taste, the only real gripe I have. He’s been dropping loosies or contributing to soundtracks here and there since 2018’s “The Choice”, so who knows if we should expect this to be the start of a new album rollout.

It is dark and cold here in London, but down in the southern hemisphere the sun is shining bright. Kiwi singer-songwriter Benee dropped “Beach Boy”, a breezy summer bop that I’m sure will be a big hit with the ANZACs. Still, it has the same sonic identity as the much demurer “Doesn’t Matter” that came out late last year, which has me excited for a more guitar focused sophomore album from Benee.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed “Three Dimensions Deep”, Amber Mark’s newest album. But – say it with me kids: “like so many streaming-era albums, it’s got a lot of fat that could’ve been trimmed”. 17 tracks are way too many for an album with prototypical R&B subject matter, no overarching concept and not as much sonic-diversity as the singles had me hoping for. A tight 10 or 11 would’ve been so much better. “On and On” is my favorite deep cut, although that might just be because it reminds me so much of “Super Rich Kids” by Frank Ocean.

Favorite New Track of the Week: “Skin Tight” by Ravyn Lenae featuring Steve Lacy

Back in 2018 when Ravyn Lenae dropped her EP “Crush” it felt like everything you read or heard about her was ‘next big thing’ buzz.

With every track produced by Steve Lacy (who was also getting plenty of ‘next big thing’ buzz at the time, having just produced tracks for Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” the year before), the EP had a really unique, homespun, left-field R&B sound. Along with charismatic performances from Lenae & her distinct, slightly nasal voice, “Crush” overcame some occasionally uninspired songwriting to still be memorable. I saw the hype.

We haven’t heard much from Ravyn Lenae since though, and the hype seems to have unfortunately died.

Pairing with Lacy again might be the best way to build up some momentum again, and Lenae has done just that on “Skin Tight”. Lacy’s production is pretty bare bones as usual: his trademark guitar chords and some Fugees-esque drums covered in a layer of fuzz. Vocal embellishments here and there.

“Skin Tight” really stands out because it avoids the songwriting pitfalls that several songs on “Crush” fell into. None of the lyrics feel borderline gimmicky, or over/under written to bend to a melody. The track lets Lenae and the atmosphere shine. Her performance lands across the board, Steve Lacy’s bridge/refrain adds some much-needed bookending structure, the chemistry is still there. It all comes together.

Favorite Old Track of the Week: “Back in the Day” by Ahmad Lewis

This pick may seem a little contradictory because, quite frankly, I hated being a kid.

I had a pretty tumultuous, unusual childhood, but even if I hadn’t I think I still would’ve felt the same. I’ve been an independent person my whole life, aware of what I can and can’t do, and happy to do whatever I can on my own. Now a lot of the time that was out of necessity – needing to figure things out on my own much younger than I probably should have – but I’m naturally most content when I’m self-sufficient and free to hold myself to whatever level of accountability I want.

All that being said, I’m still only 22. I’m young and will be young for a while longer. I usually only ever feel old when my little brothers hit milestones, finishing high school or going to their first real party.

This week was a little different.

I think anyone would agree a big part of being an adult is dealing with things that are unequivocally, unnecessarily complicated. Whether it’s the monumental challenge of coordinating schedules to spend time with more than 2 people, dealing with fully-grown adults incapable of basic human communication, or the Northern Line closing at four integral stations (yes, this is partly me complaining about commuting, is there anything else more adult?).

Basically, I’ve thought to myself ‘this doesn’t need to be this hard’ a lot lately. And midway through my closure-induced extended commute, while having this thought for what felt like the 5086th time this week, this song coincidentally played last night.

The cherry on top came today when a group of schoolkids stopped me to do a survey for their class trip to Canary Wharf, which I happily did and then walked away feeling absolutely ancient as I filed back into the swarm of middle aged business suits heading for lunch.

Being a child was wack. I maintain that position. I am young, I’m not a kid anymore, but I sure as hell don’t sit and wish I was a kid again (sorry Ahmad). Some days I just wish the little things about being an adult weren’t obnoxiously difficult for no good reason.

P.S. Even with the Northern closure, the District & Circle line is still more annoying to use. Don’t @ me.

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