Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

Harry Styles (photo by Lillie Eiger for the LA Times); Charles Mingus (photo by Tom Marcello, Wikimedia Commons)

The last couple weeks’ releases have been great for wider discussions, with Kendrick Lamar and even the inoffensive Harry Styles proving more polarizing than expected. Some of you will be mad at me after reading this week’s post. I’m ok with that.

Before the pitchforks come out – honorable mentions for my favorite new track of the week:

The title track from his upcoming album “Vinyl Days” is easily the best song Logic has released since ‘retiring’ (I guess it’s just a retirement from touring at this point, although I’m sure that’s got an expiration date too). DJ Premier cooked up a sample heavy, old-school beat. The kind of beat Logic sounds his best over, with a laid-back flow and refreshingly self-assured bars. Spoiler: He catches a stray later in this post, stay tuned haters.

Apparently Migos – Offset = Unc & Phew? Quavo & Takeoff released “HOTEL LOBBY” under this moniker, and even though it pretty much sounds like a Migos song it is apparently not a Migos song. It’s nothing amazing, a little short. Almost like it needed another verse…

Blu DeTiger & Chromeo linked up for a pair of glossy singles “Blutooth” and “enough 4 u”. “Blutooth” is a lot more danceable. “enough 4 u” has a better bassline. Both could’ve used a little something more.

Full of his usual irreverent lyrics and a hook straight out of a 2003 R&B song, bbno$ is back with “piccolo”. Yes, he does make a Dragon Ball reference – several times. It’s great.

Ravyn Lenae’s long awaited debut LP “HYPNOS” was…not worth the wait. It starts well, with the first few tracks up to lead single “Skin Tight” mostly holding attention, particularly “Venom”. Almost everything afterwards feels like wallpaper. The atmospheric quality of Lenae’s sound washes out anything interesting (even Smino sounds bored), especially with how soft her singing is across the whole album.

Favorite New Track of the Week: “Satellite” by Harry Styles

I wouldn’t say “Harry’s House” was disappointing. It’s good.

I didn’t have high enough expectations for the album to disappoint. I did have high hopes.

Harry Styles was and is too big to fail, with teeny-bopper mass marketability and enough craft in his music that snobby assholes like me enjoy him. The tightrope every artist wishes they were balancing on, all the money with all the credibility.

He could’ve done literally anything he wanted with his 3rd album, and probably still would’ve done massive numbers.

I’m still not sure if he did? And that’s kind of the big problem with the album. Hear me out:

I thought his self-titled debut was boring & often derivative but “Fine Line” had enough moments like “Lights Up”, “She” or the singles to win me over. “Harry’s House” is somewhere in the middle.

It’s easily Styles’ most consistent album. I said “Fine Line” had moments because there were unlistenable songs on that record like “Treat People with Kindness” and “Canyon Moon” or immediately forgettable songs like the title track or “Falling” (huh, it really comes apart at the end in hindsight).

“Harry’s House” has “Matilda”, which is literally a cliché-stuffed ballad about a Roald Dahl character that expects to be taken seriously. “Little Freak” tempts me to click skip. Otherwise, there’s nothing bad on this album.

There’s just not much worth getting excited about, nothing unique enough to stand out.

And I think that’s my core gripe with this album, and Styles’ music in general. His voice, his writing, his music – as good as they can be at times – are all so indistinct that I have never said ‘this sounds like a Harry Styles song’ listening to his music, or made the comparison listening to anyone else’s.

I was hoping, at least, “Harry’s House” would make it clear what a Harry Styles album sounds like. I still have no idea.

I hate the ‘anyone could’ve made this’ argument people levy at pop music. Sure, anyone could make a song, but anyone didn’t. Simple or obvious music can be (and often is) great.

Styles is quickly becoming the pop version of Logic to me though, successfully emulating lots of different sounds like a derivative chameleon but never setting himself apart as a unique artist. There are artists making this music, and doing it in a lot more interesting ways.

I didn’t sit down to write something this negative. I do like this album. It’s well-produced, slick, charming, catchy, versatile but still cohesive. “Satellite” is my favorite song, with a great groove & hook but largely because it’s one of the few songs Harry does more than talk-sing on (wait, did I like this album?).

It’s the only Harry Styles record I’d play front to back, although I think the higher peaks of “Fine Line” make it a better album.

But I guess I did actually have higher expectations. I guess I was disappointed.

Favorite Old Track of the Week: “What Is This Thing Called Love ” by Charles Mingus & John LaPorta

I’m reading Charles Mingus’ autobiography at the moment. Whenever I read a musician biography I like to listen to their music while I do. Works best with jazz musicians, you really get into a comfortable flow.

Anyway. Charles Mingus was a weird dude.

I’m not very far into “Beneath the Underdog” but it opens with a fictionalized (I think?) session between Mingus and his therapist where Mingus claims to have attempted suicide by having sex with 23 women in one night, to which his therapist basically says ‘bullshit’.

That is truly just the tip of the iceberg, but I’ll save that for the review.

I will say now, as eccentric of a character as Mingus obviously was (Miles Davis corroborates some wild shit in his own autobiography), as most musicians worthy of getting autobiographies published tend to be, it’s fascinating to me that so many of them pivot structurally on their love lives.

I wouldn’t read a Daryl Hall (and/or John Oates) autobiography, but if his focused almost entirely on his love life, I’d understand. I love Hall & Oates, but cheesy love songs are their whole shtick. That makes sense, ‘the who behind the songs’ as an angle would sell.

Jazz innovators, I don’t get. I guess at our core we’re all messy and love gossip. But at my core I’m a big music nerd and want to know what John Coltrane was doing when he recorded “Blue Train”…and who he was tryna fuck. I am human.

I’m about 50 pages into Mingus’ autobiography. He’s fallen in love 3 times and he’s 12. This is not what I’m here for.

He told a crazy, probably not entirely true story, about how he first learned the realities of colorism, but it was all because he was trying to get with a girl.

The chapter I just finished was about how he started to learn judo, again, largely motivated by not wanting to be embarrassed in front of a girl.

This man is literally writing this book from the perspective of one of his multiple personalities. I’m invested. I’m interested. Please, stop telling me about the 10-year-olds that rejected you.

The distance provided by biographies means they tend to not have this romantic fixation as much as autobiographies, and there are exceptions with the latter. The aforementioned Miles Davis autobiography is pretty indifferent about the lovers in his life, but that’s because he was a massive misogynist.

It is nevertheless incredible to me that when given the chance to tell their own stories, so many of the most recognizable, often most respected humans to ever live choose to frame it around the hearts they broke or the people who broke theirs.

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