Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

“King” single cover art (left) [Republic Records]; Better Friends (right) [photo by Isaac Sterling for HoneyPunchMag]

A very popular artist released an album this week.

Even if I had someone in my life who was dumb enough to waste money on a Donda Stem player, I would not have listened to “Donda 2”. It was hard for me too, but y’all gotta stop supporting that man.

There was better music to be listened to, made by better people (or at least people who haven’t proven themselves to be wildly problematic). Metronomy’s new album wasn’t great, but Methyl Ethel’s nearly was. A new single from an old favorite was my new favorite track of the week. And I nearly made it 2 months into 2022 without calling a song from 2018 ‘old’, but hey, there’s a good reason behind it this time (not really).

I couldn’t tell you why Nothing But Thieves writing a song for Gran Turismo feels supremely on-brand, but it does. “Life Coming In Slow” is going to be included on the Gran Turismo 7 soundtrack. It’s pretty typical NBT modern rock through the first 2 minutes, before an instrumental break bridge followed by a little vocal change-up that I wish they fleshed out a little more. Otherwise, the most surprising thing about this song is that Gran Turismo games are still being made. Another solid, if predictable, single from Nothing But Thieves.

I didn’t love Toro y Moi’s previous single “Postman”, presumably the lead single in the lead up to “Mahal”, his new album dropping at the end of April. I can’t say I loved “The Loop” either. There’s some nice bass & guitar playing towards the back half and it’s definitely the kind of song that will sound better within the context of the full album.

I’m not very familiar with Monica Martin’s music. I wasn’t even aware of her until she popped up on James Blake’s newest record “Friends That Break Your Heart”, on the duet “Show Me”, one of the highlights of a great album. The pair have collaborated again for a duet version of “Go Easy, Kid”, Martin’s latest single. She still carries the bulk of the track, Blake mostly providing back-up vocals. With similar songwriting styles, as well as their shared breathy, falsetto heavy vocal style, the collaboration is even more fitting than on Blake’s latest record.

Perth indie band Methyl Ethel’s new album “Are You Haunted?” is a bit of a departure from their most popular, groove centric hits. There’s a more anthemic approach to most of the songs, more synths, sparser instrumentation, more melodic focus. I can imagine the album will be divisive, but I don’t think it’s striking enough to be worth debating. I’ve been enjoying it, I get it if you aren’t. “Something to Worry About” & “Matters” have been getting the most listening time from me.

Favorite New Track of the Week: “King” by Florence + the Machine

Florence Welch & Co. (aka the Machine) have been re-releasing lots of their deep cuts from across all their albums mixed up in new sequencing, making playlists with common themes from songs across their discography.

Making playlists of one artist’s music based on a theme is far from groundbreaking (Bomani Jones’ ‘Stevie In Love’ playlist of Stevie Wonder love songs is a great one, check it out). Getting playlists straight from the artist is just a cool way to conceptualize how they view their music. I’m sure I’m not the only one who started itching for new material because of these playlists though.

Well, our wish has been granted with “King”. Changes in Florence’s sound from album to album have always been pretty subtle, rather than hopping on trends or making a grunge album that no one asked for. “King” is no different, firmly positioned in mid-tempo chamber pop like so many other lead singles from the band.

Subtle as they might be, fresh ideas are there, which is what has kept Florence + the Machine’s music from growing stale over the last decade. Through most of “King” rhythm section has more of an old rock & roll sound than the usual jangly, kitchen sink percussion the Machine is usually associated with. Eventually in the closing thirty seconds things build up to the cacophony of strings, bells & whistles as they so often do on Florence & the Machine songs. Overall it’s a quieter experience musically, with a mix that makes the track feel much closer than usual.

Just as often as the percussion section goes nuts on a Florence song, Welch’s lyrics – a mix between a diary entry & a poem – are the real highlight of her music. This is the case here, as she pens lines attacking gender norms like “I am no mother, I am no bride, I am king”. Florence’s struggle to feel inspired when she’s stable & happy, a common topic on 2018’s “High As Hope”, is touched on too (“But you need your rotten heart, your dazzling pain like diamond rings. You need to go to war to find material to sing.” – fantastic).

It’s not a huge leap to think the pandemic has maybe provided some of that much needed pain. If Welch has managed to find inspiration, we can probably expect this to be the start of a new album cycle; the band’s never really done loose singles, with the exception of writing for soundtracks a couple times. I wouldn’t hate to hear a more bold shift, a bigger swing, but I won’t start complaining until the band strikes out at least once.

Favorite Old Track of the Week: “Affection” by BETWEEN FRIENDS

So our boy Boris has decided, at least in the UK, the pandemic is over.

As many have pointed out, we’ve barely had any restrictions for months now. The ones that remained in place, like mask wearing on TFL, had already reached the point of being personal preference regardless of what the law said.

It probably won’t surprise you that I don’t agree with pretending COVID has just disappeared, nor do I often agree with Boris Johnson about anything. I could complain and roast the dandruff dusted buffoon for 5 minutes, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about something far more interesting.

Café etiquette.

Those of you who know me know that I spend far too much time in cafes. I can’t write at home unless I’ve started elsewhere, and I can’t write in places prescribed for work like libraries. Quiet doesn’t help me and I enjoy having activity around me. I read a lot in cafes as well.

Café culture has been a bit odd in the 5 months since I’ve been back in London. People (who care) are clearly unsure if they should wear a mask when they come in, or at the till, when they sit down is it cool to have it off after they’ve finished their coffee? Most cafes haven’t been using real cups/mugs, everyone gets takeaway cups. Plexiglass galore. You still even get distanced tables every once in a while.

One unwritten, unspoken rule that’s been agreed upon though – we aren’t talking to strangers anymore.

As it is anywhere in public, you don’t strike up a conversation without a real reason. But if you ask someone for sugar because you don’t have any on your table (or just feel like pretending you live in 1940’s suburbia), and they seem friendly & interesting, striking up a conversation was approved before the Rona. I’ve met a few interesting people this way, plenty of not so interesting people who thought I was interesting (one of the downsides of having a pretty obvious accent).

In post/mid/who-the-hell-knows pandemic times though, these kinds of interactions have disappeared. I’ve missed them. Even just 5 minutes trading small talk about what the other person was working on could make a foreign space feel friendly, or give you an idea.

But I’d be lying if I said I don’t still feel some apprehension talking to complete strangers, even after moving back to the other side of the world and spending plenty of time changing the strangers on my MA course into friends, or at least less than strangers.

Well, Londoners seem to have to decided I need to get over myself (and y’know the pandemic) because my visits to cafes this week have been full of friendly people a bit too eager to chat for my taste.

I was in the Coffee Room in Deptford last Friday, reading, minding my own business. In came a mother with 2 kids, one playing a game on a smartphone that sounded like the most obnoxious PS2 era first person shooter you can think of. I did that thing you do, when you don’t want to say anything, but expect a parent to do something about their kid, y’know glance at the parent…glance at the kid…glance at the parent, as if to say ‘really…you’re letting this happen?’.

A pair of people across from me were employing the same tactic, the MLG gamer pinned between our passive-aggressive glares. Going back and forth between the family members we ended up making eye contact with each other.

The family left pretty quickly, but the shared annoyance had apparently invited interaction. The other two yelled across the café ‘hate when that happens haha’. I echoed their sentiments, smiled, and got back to my book immediately after. They were apparently expecting more because then it was my turn to catch some glares.

The second one was on me actually – I was sitting at a table that seated four and a family of four came in. The Coffee Room had gotten much busier since I’d first arrived so there weren’t any other tables to fit them. The father, mother, adult daughter & adult son quartet looked like a pack of lost puppies so I offered my table up to them and moved to sit in a single seat in the back.

They accepted with effusive praise, the daughter insisting they ‘owed me one’. My back was to them in my new seat as I went back to reading. Over the next half hour, the daughter made a few different offers to square off her self-imposed debt, including buying me a new coffee, cake, or joining them. I guess she still owes me – I declined them all with a polite smile.

Monday night I was holed up in the Starbucks next to Tottenham Court Road, plowing through the last chunk of “Another Country” by James Baldwin (more on that tomorrow, that book is a lot). Even on a Monday night it started to fill up fast. I was joined at a small table not meant for two people by three other people, all of whom decided to ask me what I was reading as they joined me. I offered up the same pleasantries to each of them with a smile, diving back into Baldwin’s downer of a masterpiece as quickly as I could.

They left and a man came to charge his phone next to me, refusing to sit with me (I did say it was fine, with a smile), but happy to crouch like a frog two inches away from me. He said he liked Baldwin. I didn’t believe him.

After he left a string of couples joined me at the miniature table, all too close for comfort, at least one eyeing me like they were about to ask to buy me a drink because they liked my vibe. I did not smile at them.

Ironically, “Affection” started playing when that pair were doing the bulk of their leering. See, I got there eventually.

Boris said Covid ended yesterday. Café people said it ended a week earlier. Who’s to say who’s right?

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