i’m really excited by a lot of the names on the list this week, particularly the new ariana grande features, the return of alessia cara and some new songs by some of my other favourites. here’s hoping some of these tracks will get us through the summer months, even though it looks like summer has already come and passed.
i saw demi lovato on wednesday, which is the last gig i’ve got lined up for a while since the festival season is upon us and i’m too skint to go to any of them. i had to go it alone because the friend i was going with pulled out the morning of and since it was designated seats i didn’t have it in me to find a stranger to buy the ticket off me and then sit next to them for three hours, so i had an empty seat to my right and some teenager’s mum on my left who, bless her, was trying her best to have a good time.
lovato put on a good performance considering she’d called off her last two shows in london and brighton due to illness, even giving some impressive vocal licks albeit only in the closing moments of final song tell me you love me. the highpoint, surprisingly, came when support act jax jones, whose own set was distinctly painful, made his re-entry for a high octane performance of instruction and woke me up for the second half of the show.
since last week was a double feature there was a lot to get through, but i just want to re-highlight groceries by mallrat, fast slow disco by st vincent, and better by the academic (which I have since discovered is a cover but i stand by it) as the standouts. obviously some other good stuff in there too, i’ve just not had a lot of time to revisit.
anyway, i’ll get to it then, shall i? here’s the links to the playlists:
- the new music reviewed this week
- all the music from all the weeks
- all the songs i told you are worth a spin
- the best songs of 2018
5 seconds of summer – valentine
s w a y. this is just boyband fodder. it’s a quote unquote love song with a quirky vibe and a slow chorus that doesn’t go anywhere, and i just don’t have enough to say about it.
alessia cara – growing pains
i’ve loved alessia cara since i heard her perform here on a radio 1 piano lounge session and so i’m already biased because arguably she’s just the same as a hundred other female pop vocalists, but she keeps getting it right so sue me but i like it. growing pains doesn’t overdo it on the production which is what drew me to her music in the first place, it’s a simple enough song that i’ll need to play again to get the full clout of because after one listen it has hit some subconscious nerve that is screaming at me to play it again. i have a little gripe with how it sounded like she was building a bridge to the final chorus and the bridge just played out until the end of the song, but i feel like that might just make it easier to play on repeat.
alt j, twin shadow + pusha t – in cold blood
alt j always fell into that category of indie-rock act that i’ve got about one song’s worth of time for (left hand free) and very little beyond that, so it’s interesting to hear them collaborating with twin shadow and pusha t and doing something different than i would expect. it’s electronic-y and i don’t know what part of the song twin shadow come in on, the binary speak gets very grating very quickly, i’m sure it’s saying something clever but i’m not engaged enough to look up what it is.
bebe rexha – i’m a mess
there was a minute there a few years ago when i heard a bebe rexha ep and i really enjoyed it, her song pray wormed its way into my ears for a couple of weeks and still gives me pause whenever I’m gearing up to say how much I don’t like her, but the strength of her songs just can’t overcome that whiney tone that is her singing voice. maybe i’ve been spoiled by all the inoffensive sounding singers with a concept of range that doesn’t involve shrill squeaks, but i can’t get over it here which is a shame because it could have otherwise been a good pop song.
betty who – just thought you should know
once again this falls into the dreampop category that is everywhere (and nowhere if you’re looking at the charts) right now. just thought you should know feels melodically similar to heaven is a place on earth, it’s breathy in all the right places and has that shimmering, carly rae jepson thing that is just so silvery and nice and it feels like your ears have been on a magic carpet gliding in an out of cotton candy clouds.
catherine mcgrath – lost in the middle
it’s official, the old old taylor isn’t dead, she’s actually right here in the body of catherine mcgrath putting out country bops for days. lost in the middle is the exact right amount of pop and country, it’s got a glistening bridge, a great chorus, cliché country lyrics about blue ripped jeans, small towns, and little red dresses and i’m pressing play one more time right now.
dnce – tv in the morning
it’s nice to hear something a bit less cake by the ocean from the jonas-brother-helmed band. tv in the morning has that perfect morning-after-stay-as-long-as-you-want-lets-just-hang-out kinda vibe, the “just unplug with me” sentiment is something i’m feeling super hard at the moment so i’m big into this. there’s some really nice vocals in the bridge that really grounds it as a jonas brothers spin off, it’s simple and inoffensive and super sweet.
dotter – heatwave
another well-constructed scandipop number that stretches a single word concept into an entire song. the strength here is definitely the music rather than the lyrics, and you know you’ve heard this song before by someone else, but those bass drums are empowering me just the right amount to trick me into thinking this is good. i’ll look out for more from dotter, but considering how brimming the music landscape is with this genre i can’t be adding anything else to my playlists unless it’s a solid 9/10.
eilish gilligan – patterns
i like that almost-phlegmy london grammar style vocal applied to commercial pop music. the lyrical concept for the song feels a little thin, “i’m sensing a pattern” feels very on the nose levels of ironic, and i know there’s something potentially good here but it’s not enough to stick out on the first spin.
grace – clap your hands
grace, of you don’t own me fame has a song on a soundtrack for a movie i’ve never heard of and may not even have come out this week, but i came across clap your hands by accident and i couldn’t overlook it because it goes off. louisa johnson would be frothing to have gotten her hands on this, it’s very loud and shouty and full of sass and i reckon this would be a huge moment in a live show if the crowd were to do as instructed. isn’t it funny that some of the biggest songs get lost on b-list movie soundtracks?
grace carter – half of you (demo)
i really, really, really like grace carter. we’ve almost hit the middle part of the year and her singles haven’t taken off yet, which is fair since they’re piano balladry generally, so i’m guessing this isn’t her year unless she turns something around dua-lipa-levels of success in the latter part of the year and has a sudden mini explosion but i’m calling her as one to watch 2019. half of you may be demo but it is, once again, absolutely gorgeous. a pretty piano ballad, where carter’s voice is so rich and controlled and i feel blessed to have just heard it.
island club – talk it out
i feel like it’s that meme with the guy and the butterfly where the butterfly says “any-male-fronted-indie-pop-band-with-a-synth” and the caption says “is this the 1975?”. talk it out has that good musical quality that you only really get with a well practiced, conceptually-cohesive band, the only thing lacking is a hook that makes me want to come back to it.
kodaline – shed a tear
i swear that x-ambassadors, onerepublic, the script et al. are just the same band of shapeshifters performing under different guises. shed a tear is alternative-rock music at it’s most generic. it ticks all the vaguely-anthemic, clap-a-long, choir-backed-chorus that makes every song in this very pedestrian-friendly you-would-pay-35£-to-see-at-a-mid-level-venue genre a success.
kvr + twan ray – summer solstice
the sheer levels of over explanation that is embedded in the phrase “3am in the morning”, (as opposed to 3am in the afternoon?) is a clear indication of how clever this song can proffer to be. dance music filler that comes on intheclub whilst your getting a drink or a breath of fresh air and you don’t even notice played in the first place.
kygo + imagine dragons – born to be yours
i love imagine dragons, so it’s frustrating to hear them as a feature artist because everybody always misuses them. they’re strength is in their band, they are such a perfect unit and their music is so grounded in their sound that whenever dan reynolds vocals enter into a slightly different genre of music it just feels wrong. the chorus for born to be yours is really quite sweet, and actually doesn’t do a bad job of using reynolds’ falsetto, but mixed in with that edm i just feel like this is a remix of an infinitely better song that the dragons could do themselves. anyway.
nao – another lifetime
glittery funk-pop/r&b with a vibe that’s got me rolling my shoulders in appreciation, another lifetime is slightly sexy track that reminds me of square one by moss kena from back earlier this year. definitely demands a second listen.
nicki minaj – bed feat. ariana grande/rich sex feat. lil wayne
nicki is such a gift, i feel like i’m at the point with her that i don’t care what she’s saying i just want the privilege of hearing it, so yes this is a little biased. bed is very low key banger and i’m already much more into it than i ever was on side to side, grande is lending her name and her voice but i’m not battered over the head with it so it feels organic, like you know this didn’t have to be her on the track but it is. i’m not as up on lil wayne but i’m not too mad about him being on the second track. rich sex is a little less accessible conceptually and aurally, it’s heavier than i know i would listen to but in the context of her pending album i’m sure it fits.
SKIP rich sex
noah cyrus + tanner alexander – lately
from what i’ve heard from noah cyrus, her sound has been a little all over the place, i don’t know where lately falls in tonally with the rest of her music, but irrespective of her constant lane switching i’m very down with this, not least because guitar prominence in new music is so thin on the ground and i’m a sucker for its leading role here. it’s also nice that this is a real gen-u-ine duet, cyrus and alexander’s vocals blend very nicely, save for a little shrillness in the final third from the former, and the result is a really lovely, sweet pop-folk song that i’ll probably give a few more runs through.
noah kahan – come down
kahan’s julia michaels duet was a bit of a sleeper hit for me, and i realised it’s the third-longest-surviving song released in 2018 on my current playlist, which i’m putting down to my pedestrian taste for white guys with guitars and wispy voices. come down is more album filler that i’d not playlist, it’s very basic and there’s not a lot actually too it beyond the plucky guitar, layered vocals and strong finish, but i know myself well enough to know that this is going to join its predecessor in my current mix for months to come.
novo amor – birthplace
three songs in a row with prominent strums feels like a dream and makes me want to rescind my earlier comment about the apparent death of guitar. this feels very much like the background light indie-rock track to a scene in a british comedy-drama where one of the main protagonists is doing some self-reflection and you see a pensive montage of them after some mistake that they’ve made, coming to the conclusion of what needs to be done to fix it, grabbing their keys and making their way to wherever it is they need to go and finishes with their arrival. nice but i don’t hear myself playing it again somehow.
picture this – when we were young
if you like irish pop-rock bands like kodaline and walking on cars then picture this are for you! there’s something inherently likeable to this slightly cheesy attempt-at-anthemic track, the kind i might save for when i’m out running and i’ve hit that high and feel like i’m soaring. don’t know where to call it after one play so i’m going to give it a second listen and so should you.
roo panes – ophelia
roo panes is the indirect reason my bike was stolen four years ago but his soft voice soothed that sting and all was forgiven. ophelia is peak panes: lots of harmony, pretty guitar and a gorgeous vocal, and in this case makes you feel a bit like you’re either drifting down the french riviera or that you’re that boy from the life of pi witnessing all those colourful fish. charming folk rock that you can and should be very into if that genre is for you.
ruel – not thinkin’ bout you
did i profess my unwavering backing to ruel last week as the next big teen male vocalist in pop? yes i did. does not thinkin’ bout you go any distance to convincing you of that more? it feels like a song that shawn mendes rejected, has some pretty dated sound bites, a been-done-too-many-time concept but i’d like to remind you that charlie puth once helmed see you again and look at how good his new album is. give it time, i’m right, i know i’m right.
sam fender – leave fast
it’s nice to hear something from fender that isn’t quite so pacey, least of all because you can really hear how technically good his voice is. leave fast is a love letter to fender’s home, the emotion is stark and the sentiment is so beautiful (which the video accelerates tenfold), and i really feel everything he’s singing to me. the kind of song that feels like the last episode of a series of skins where everyone is deciding if they should move on. truly gorgeous and quietly heartbreaking.
sigrid – focus (demo)
ah man, demos are dangerous because they’re usually so raw and get you right in the gut with the emotion that they pack in. i feel like it’s easy to disentangle that fact that this is sigrid and appreciate the simple but beautiful singing and piano balladry that’s at play. the sentiments here are very engaging, you can tell the heartbreak is real and i feel genuine sympathy to her for the time in her life when she was struggling to move on.
so below – crying on the bathroom floor
melancholy dream pop and after two distinctly heartfelt songs in a row i’m feeling this really really hard and i’m struggling to have a thought other than ‘this is beautiful’ about this muna cover. crying on the bathroom floor feels just about right.
tom odell – if you wanna love somebody
i wasn’t really prepared for odell’s second album so i only very recently listened to it in full and i fully unashamedly loved it as much as his first. yes, odell is a very cringeworthy person to stan, i don’t know how you’re supposed to take the blonde posh boy seriously, but his style is just ungraciously tempting in a very elton-john-but-in-2018 way and i’m weak. if you wanna love somebody is another very thematically primary-school-mentality track but i’m so lifted by all the piano and the soaring vocals and i’d like to go and see that sweaty, long-haired blonde boy destroying his piano with enthusiasm all over again.
troye sivan + ariana grande – dance to this
i slightly loathe being told what to do by a song’s title, but considering the pairing i’d have been willing to make an exception. i will admit that i was wishing for something more grabbing, it’s very inoffensive and grande is a healthy inclusion, but to the final product feels like such a non-event, even with that drum tease around the two and a half minute mark. but look, i’m not going to write off what i’m sure is a very considered track from two of pop’s more interesting acts, so i’ll grudgingly listen to it again.
the vamps – just my type
this is definitely a song by the vamps.