Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

Kendrick Lamar [Santiago Bluguermann/Getty Images]; Metallica at the O2 [Wikipedia Commons]

The only rapper to ever win a Pulitzer released another good (maybe not great) album this week, so for two weeks in a row a Kendrick Lamar track is my favorite of the week.

A lot of other great hip-hop unexpectedly came out this week too, with singles from a handful of big names:

To start off, Chicago’s favorite weeb Lupe Fiasco is back with “AUTOBOTO”. Yes the hook is built around a Transformers metaphor. Yeah that’s kinda corny. No it’s not obnoxious enough to ruin the song, especially with Lupe finding the perfect pocket for the slick beat.

Staying in Chicago, “Wraith” is a new collab between Chance the Rapper & Vic Mensa (isn’t it amazing how beef got squashed as soon as they fell off?). Things have been hit-or-miss for both of them for years now – they both hit on this track.

We got the first taste of the collaboration album from Black Thought & Danger Mouse with “No Gold Teeth”. It’s a straightforward track – bars after bars after bars, classic Black Thought over a murky beat from Danger Mouse. Excited to hear more.

On the other side of the musical spectrum, Angel Olsen released “Through the Fires” a dramatic piano ballad, that reminds me of tracks like “Endgame” & “Tonight” from 2019’s “All Mirrors”. I haven’t mentioned the previous two singles from the upcoming “Big Time” because, I’ll be real – I hate them. Hopefully the full record sounds closer to this than those tracks.

Google might know me a little too well. I would’ve guessed Mary Halvorson was an elementary school teacher a week ago (just has one of those names), but thanks to a Guardian article I now know she’s a kickass guitarist and composer that released a great new record this week. “Amaryllis” is 6 tracks of subgenre bending jazz, morphing from cool to contemporary to experimental. The title track is my favorite, but seriously, listen to this one in-sequence.

After dropping a couple singles that sounded a lot more danceable than most of their discography, and announcing “Dance Fever” as their new album’s title, I thought Florence + the Machine’s latest LP was going to be a major stylistic shift. I was wrong – for better or worse. The rest of the album is the kind of material we’ve come to expect from the band, with Welch’s songwriting arguably as intimate and vulnerable as ever. “My Love” & “Free” – those bouncy singles – aren’t bad, but they are the lowlights of another strong record from Florence. That being said, the one dance influenced deep cut “Choreomania” is my favorite track on the album. Missed opportunity?

Favorite New Track of the Week: “Mr. Morale” by Kendrick Lamar featuring Tanna Leone

“Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” is…messy.

It’s a lot closer to “DAMN.” than it is “To Pimp A Butterfly” both in terms of quality (almost great, nowhere near a classic) and sound.

I’m enjoying Kendrick’s newest record more than “DAMN.” because this album is basically just Kendrick swinging for the fences over and over and over.

“Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” was not made to ride a wave or be a masterpiece. It was made for Kendrick. He’s doing whatever he wants, and even though every swing isn’t a home run, the misses and doubles are almost just as entertaining.

There’s a lot going on on this record though and there are definitely misses.

The biggest being the well-intentioned, but disappointingly problematic “Auntie Diaries”. Far more intelligent people have been pointing out everything that’s wrong with this track all week, so I’ll just say it really brought down my first listen and it’s been skipped on every one that followed.

Kodak Black is here too. Big miss.

On the other hand, “Auntie Diaries” is immediately followed by “Mr. Morale”, my favorite track of the week, the song that, lyrically at least, best consolidates all of the album’s themes. “United in Grief” is a bombastic opener.

“We Cry Together” is big swing that could’ve been a disaster – Taylour Paige’s incredible performance makes the hyper confrontational track work. “Father Time” is a highlight, always great to hear Sampha.

“Savior” & its interlude have made me a Baby Keem fan, his verse on the latter is the best thing he’s ever recorded. “Mother I Sober” is hard to listen to, in the best way.

Even though the good tracks heavily outnumber the bad, this album pulls itself in too many different directions. Several tracks here, especially on the 2nd disc, are amongst Kendrick’s most vulnerable and while that often makes for good individual songs, the album as a whole is overindulgent. The through line becomes more and more muddled the longer you listen.

I really enjoyed “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers”. Deciding on my favorite track this week was just a matter of picking my favorite of the album’s best tracks.

But there’s a more concise, more focused version of this album somewhere here. It really could’ve used a Rick Rubin type to pare things back.

Still, Kendrick Lamar throwing everything at the wall, seeing what sticks, and even keeping what doesn’t makes for better music than most artists are capable of.

Favorite Old Track of the Week: “One” by Metallica

I did grow up on Metallica, but I don’t have a nostalgic story, critical hill to die on, or dramatic point to make this week. “One” slaps. That’s all.

It’s a bit slow to get going – call me uncultured, but I’m not here for the World War I soldier narrative, I’m here for the insane guitar work.

The breakneck second half of the song (which comes in at a whopping 7:27 in its entirety) wouldn’t land nearly as well without the measured build-up. The first couple verses are some of the tamest moments in Metallica’s early discography, punctuated by the heavier ‘hold my breath as I wish for death’ (much more on brand) refrains.

4 minutes in, the track begins to transition with some pounding kick drums and thrashier guitar lines. I think the soldier ends up in hell or something, I dunno. Again, not what we’re here for.

The main event kicks off hot and fast, picking up the tempo and dropping into an amazing tap-heavy solo from Kirk Hammett. The guitars get heavier and heavier, eventually getting to a distortion level mimicking artillery (metaphors, very hardcore), 3 minutes of the band just going off.

Metallica’s influence on modern rock is huge, and there’s plenty of material to wax poetic about in their discography.

I don’t have that for you today. Guitars are cool. Dismissed.

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