A lot of good not great music was released this week, and I was once again bamboozled by an artist I had high hopes for.
To quote the endlessly-cerebral former president George W. Bush: ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me you can’t get fooled again’. Well, I got fooled again.
More on that in a bit, first my many honorable mentions for favorite new track of the week:
Kicking off the good not great is Jessie Ware’s new single “Free Yourself”. The piano-heavy disco is well executed, there’s just something missing to put it over the top. Even so, this single isn’t too far removed from stylish maximalism of 2020’s stellar “What’s Your Pleasure?”. If you liked that album, you’ll like this.
Genesis Owusu is back with “GTFO”. You wouldn’t think it would be the case with that title, but strong lyrics like ‘I strove just to temper my soul into bite-size pieces/ For you just to chew and to swallow/ Digest in a rush just to shit out tomorrow’ make up for a lackluster hook and middling beat.
“Middle of a Breakup” is Brendon Urie’s best shot at making an early Queen song. His performance is just too weak to make the campy tune land. The lyrics are also lacking any cheeky wit, kind of essential for a song like this. It’s disappointing, since Urie’s one of the few singers in rock with the chops to pull off such an homage. You might like this more than I did, it’s certainly not a terrible track.
With 3 genuinely great singles, Steve Lacy had me hyped for an LP full of songs of a similar quality. He did not match the hype. Music can be Lo-Fi without being half-baked but “Gemini Rights” just like “Apollo XXI” feels unfinished. Most of the non-single tracks are marred by awful songwriting and more annoyingly demo-quality production and mixing that does nothing to improve the songs if it is intentional. Maybe Steve will be a bit more patient and put in more time on a full album one day. Last Friday was not that day.
The first 5 tracks of Lizzo’s “Special” are anything but, with the exception of viral single “About Damn Time”. Truly some of the most nothing pop that’s dropped all year, lacking any musicality whatsoever and so shamelessly built to be chopped up for TikTok. Things pick up from the title track forward, Lizzo’s unique charisma coming through thanks to much better songwriting, production…just everything. If it wasn’t for such a trainwreck opening leg “Special” could’ve been one of the better pop records of the year. As it is it’s fine. “Break Up Twice” was my favorite deep cut, probably thanks to the clever Lauryn Hill interpolation.
Favorite New Track of the Week: “The 30th” by Billie Eilish
With Steve Lacy and Lizzo dropping I really didn’t expect to be writing about Billie Eilish this week.
She released a split single titled “Guitar Songs”, one of which, “TV”, she’s been playing live on the most recent leg of her tour.
The other, “The 30th”, is entirely new (as far as I know). It’s the superior track of the two, but both are very good somber guitar ballads written with the same DNA.
On “The 30th” Billie sings to someone who’s recovering from an unspecified accident which was traumatic enough to cause amnesia.
The song is literally just Billie singing over a tender handpicked guitar. Refreshingly, her performance is what makes the track stand out, rather than the sonic ambition most of her music sells itself on.
“TV” and “The 30th” are two of the best vocal performances Billie has recorded to date. “The 30th” is a notch more enjoyable with a more focused arc and structure to the song.
These songs won’t win over anyone who isn’t a fan of Billie Eilish, but if you’ve enjoyed most of her work up to now like I have, they’re a charming little detour.
Favorite Old Track of the Week: “Banquet” by Bloc Party
I also didn’t grow up in the UK. So, my experience of Bloc Party’s music up to now has been “Banquet”, their only track that made it across either pond to the US or AUS, and the mostly awful “Alpha Games” that came out earlier this year.
I somehow ended up watching a very well put together YouTube mini-documentary about the recording of the band’s 2005 debut “Silent Alarm” this week.
I’m a huge sucker for that VH1 style behind the scenes stuff. Shows like “Behind the Music” were hugely influential on me building my music knowledge and taste.
This video scratched that same itch, and I had to educate myself.
“Silent Alarm” is very much a dance-punk/post-punk album of it’s time. Kele Okereke’s yelpy vocals, angsty lyrics, jittery riffs.
Bloc Party set themselves apart with their songwriting sensibilities and the stand-out talent of then-drummer Matt Tong, whose incredible ability to mix classic disco & dance rhythms with punk guitars feels effortless.
I really enjoyed “Luno”, “This Modern Love”, “Helicopter”. The only dud on the album is the closer “Compliments”, an unfortunate bi-product of it’s era, when all garage rock or punk albums felt the need to end with an uncharacteristically lowkey song.
Still, “Banquet” sits head and shoulders above the rest, clearly the peak of the album and by many accounts, Bloc Party as a band. I liked “Silent Alarm” enough to pique my interest in the rest of the band’s discography, so I’ll see for myself if their most popular track really is their best.