I Owe Calvin Harris An Apology – Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

Blondshell for Nylon [photo by Lauren McCarthy]; “I Created Disco” by Calvin Harris Album cover art [Fly Eye, Columbia]

It was a productive week for punk music and no one else, myself included. More on that later.

First, the songs that slipped in between the cracks of disappointment:

If lounge pop with a percussive kick is your thing, Ginger Root’s new single “Over the Hill” will do it for you. He’s beginning to find a really interesting sound outside of the retro-camp aesthetic and I hope there’s a full album on the way soon.

“Safe House” is Isaac Zale’s most structurally and sonically unique song in a couple years, even if he’s still hitting all the same topics in his bars. DVRLENE’s production is spacey and layered, much more interesting than the beats Zale usually picks.

Red Hot Chili Peppers really disappointed with their album “Unlimited Love” earlier this year. It seems they’re looking to make amends with another album already on the way, “Return of the Dream Canteen”, announced with lead single “Tippa My Tongue”. It’s nothing new for the band, I just really enjoy the pre-chorus refrain.

25+ year synthpop veterans Hot Chip released “Freakout/Release” this week, preceded in the last few weeks by singles I’ve enjoyed more than anything they’ve put out in a long time. I can’t say the same about the rest of the album. The singles are all frontloaded in the tracklist and everything afterwards is toothless. Outside of the cringefest that is “The Evil That Men Do”, the LP is offensively inoffensive and bland. “Hard to Be Funky” was probably the most stand-out deep cut.

“Viva Las Vengeance”, the latest Panic! At the Disco LP, is…a lot. Not sure I’d go so far as calling it a mess, but I wouldn’t argue with someone who did. I think it’s got ‘shoutiest album of 2022’ in the bag. Brendon Urie spends almost the entire tracklist knocking on the door of his falsetto, belting, and it becomes grating very quickly. He clearly had the time of his life starring in “Kinky Boots”, because this entire album is made up of showtunes sprinkled with glam rock, Urie doing his best Queen impression on several tracks. Like I said, it’s a lot. And not much of it lands in sequence. Taken on their own, several of the songs are listenable, maybe even good. “Say It Louder” is the best example. As a whole, this album is too unfocused and too one-note all at once.

The best album of the week came from New York punk trio THICK with their sophomore LP “Happy Now”. My biggest gripe with the band’s debut “5 Years Behind” was the lead vocals. That’s still the case, especially on the 1st half of this record with most of the songs featuring slightly melodic talking rather than a compelling performance. Clever drumming and some great guitar riffs make up for that, not to mention the band’s unique brand of endearing lyricism. The best vocal performance on the album, “Disappear”, was nearly my favorite new track of the week.

Favorite New Track of the Week: “Sepsis” by Blondshell

But it isn’t. “Sepsis” is.

If you’re wondering who Blondshell is, so was I about a week ago. Real name Sabrina Teitelbaum, she hails from New York, is based in LA and has 3 singles available to the public.

“Sepsis” is the latest, one part make-up song, one part dejected diary entry. The opening lines ‘I’m going back to him. I know my therapist’s pissed’ sets the tone perfectly. The single is full of darkly comic lyrics, light on the surface, heavy if you give them even a tiny bit of thought.

The titular sepsis is – you guessed it – love. Or to be more specific, settling for lackluster love in place of self-validation.

The songwriting is allowed to take center stage through the first half of the song, as the downtrodden guitars feel indistinct at first. As Teitelbaum continues to lather on details of this dead-weight relationship, the picture she paints subtly enhances the instrumentation.

By the time the second chorus comes, it all feels so much bigger, so much more doomed.

At the bridge the cliché ‘I don’t care ‘cause I’m in love’ strikes a completely different sentiment, delivered in a dejected monotone by Teitelbaum and preceded by ‘The sex is almost always bad’. Oof.

The last chorus is the most explosive, multiple guitar lines, drums going off, layered vocals. There’s a reluctantly anthemic quality to “Sepsis” that all culminates here.

Hopefully this level of craft goes into all of Teitelbaum’s songs and not just the romantic ones. I’m a big fan of punk flavored music with sharp songwriting and I’ll definitely be keeping Blondshell on my radar.

Favorite Old Track of the Week: “Disco Heat” by Calvin Harris

I have a Master’s dissertation due in 6 days.

I also have a completely irrational dislike of Calvin Harris.

I can tell you why I don’t like The Chicks, or Two Door Cinema Club or Taylor Swift. I think it’s important to know why you do and don’t like things, to think about the art that you interact with. I wouldn’t write this every week if I didn’t.

But I dunno man, 10 year-old Jax just didn’t like the look of the name Calvin Harris and it’s stuck. He’s been catching strays ever since.

Deadline looming, I spent yesterday ‘working’ on my work in progress, hopping around cafes in Bermondsey with a friend who also has an impending deadline for his own Master’s thesis.

Working is in quotes because the 2nd café we ended up in wasn’t exactly fostering literary genius.

My friend suggested an ‘edgy girl’ café (his words not mine, but accurate), Fuckoffee Bermondsey. Going to City, UOL I’ve been a regular at their sister location on Goswell Road (shout out to the homie Kermit) so I was down.

Fuckoffee Bermondsey is not Fuckoffee Goswell Road.

There is a phallic cat on the menu with a Donald Trump head on its scrotum. Margaret Thatcher with a Hitler moustache in the bathroom. Incredibly specific and insulting mugs I could not bring to work.

And on top of that, they played the entirety of Aqua’s debut album “Aquarium”. Yes, that’s the Barbie girl band. Yes, that song is on that album.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love all of this. I’m glad the 2 Fuckoffees aren’t just carbon copies of each other. They offer wildly different atmosphere along with the same high-quality coffee and vegan sausage rolls.

But don’t tell me “Doctor Jones” blasting out of a speaker next to a beheaded Chucky doll wouldn’t be distracting.

Distracting or not, we were having a good time so we stuck around. Productivity be damned.

And like all good things must come to an end, eventually so did “Aquarium”. The baristas on that day clearly had very particular taste, because more high energy dance music followed.

Eventually “Acceptable in the 80’s” by Calvin Harris played after a couple other similar sounding, not as good cuts.

‘This is the only good Calvin Harris song’ I said to my friend, who was just shocked it was a Calvin Harris song.

“Acceptable in the 80’s” ended and more dance music played…dance music I was kind of into. Into enough to Shazam…and find out that it was Calvin Harris. They’d followed “Aquarium” with his debut LP “I Created Disco”.

By the time we got to “Disco Heat”, I was wracking my brain trying to remember why I decided I was co-chair of the ‘fuck Calvin Harris’ club all those years ago. I couldn’t come up with anything.

So, I am putting my apology in writing. If you’re reading this Calvin Harris – I’m sorry. You got some bops. You’re also distracting, I got nothing done in that café man.

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