Ed. Note: I just realized that this month never got posted and it’s possible this post is incomplete. My apologies for the lateness, and for the next one…
Last month was pretty above average compared to the last few months. You’ll see a lot of J. Cole here because his entire The Off Season record charted the week it came out. So I think the best way to describe it would be: alright. Cole is at his technical best, and the songs all sound good, but there’s no real radio single here. All the tracks fell into the same decent to good area on my scale. A good listen but I dunno how often I’ll be revisiting it.
Billie Eilish – Your Power
A heavy, minimalistic folksy ballad, the track is a sledgehammer blow against the powerful who punch down instead of up. And it is jarring and impactful with that simple production, letting Billie’s lyrics and wispy vocals with a touch of reverb just bounce around your head.
If I thought March was a middle of the road month on the charts, man, was I in for a surprise just 30 days later. There were fewer new entries to the charts and I think it’s safe to say that its a month right in the middle. Nothing amazing, nothing so terrible that I wrote a page-long, obscenity-laden rant about it.
15. Mooski – Track Star
I can’t get past the mess that is the production here. There are like nine ideas being fleshed out all at once and none of them work together. I think the tempo changes several times, not to mention the fact that Mooski doesn’t bother sticking to any of them. Just a muddle of blah.
You know how in several months in the past when the FKA has gotten together to do our monthly wrap-ups and the album guys are like “this month was a lot of meh” and I have been able to come back with “well actually, the charts gave us a lot of interesting stuff”? Yeah, that’s not how March went. There was some great stuff to hold it up, but the Hot 100 spent most of the month in the morass of mediocrity.
1 – Silk Sonic – Leave the Door Open
Silk is right, good gawd. This song is a love letter to 70’s soul and R&B in all of the best ways, without any of the notes that are best left in the 70’s (see: The Floaters, Float On). Musically it is just tight. You will sit and listen and pick out the artists that influenced each bit of the track. The backing vocals just envelope you in sound, drawing you into the strings, drums and lead vocals. If this is the lead single, I cannot wait to hear the full record.
2 – Drake ft. Rick Ross – Lemon Pepper Freestyle
Is there another pair in the game that guarantee a sick track when they get together? Gold Roses, Money in the Grave, Free Spirit and now Lemon Pepper Freestyle. I’ve seen many fans say this is Drake’s best verse ever and it’s definitely up there. The sample grew on me fast and went from annoying to ethereal over just two spins.
Pop used to be so easy, y’know? It was so one-dimensional, so formulaic. Sure, the formula changed over the years, but most artists would stay in their lanes. Crossovers were rare, as were artists who spanned multiple genres throughout different albums.
Nowadays, I wonder if the term “Pop” is itself a step away from obsolescence. If indeed Pop has one foot in the grave, then that can be partially thanks to the artists who decided that they weren’t going to worry about the neat, tidy boxes that the industry prepared for them. The young artists today are making music, plain and simple. It’s taking a bit for this ol’ codger to get used to, but slow and steady is winning the race – and some new, rad music is awaiting just over the finish line.
For example: Mikael Temrowski, better known by his stage name of Quinn XCII (or Quinn 92, if you’re also allergic to Roman numerals like I apparently am), and his latest release, Change of Scenery II.
(Before I continue, I wanted to say that I have been viewing a TON of Twitch streams over the last year or so, put on by a TON of talented people. None are more talented than the amazing DJKaterTot, who mentioned this artist – and several others! – to me in the first place. Do yourselves a favor and go check out her Twitch streams at https://www.twitch.tv/djkatertot. You’ll get your fill of great conversation, rampant shenanigans, and super-positive vibes, both from her and her fantastic community.)
Quinn XCII is the perfect archetype of a young, successful artist in today’s musical landscape. Quinn started writing and recording in college, and cut his teeth uploading videos of him rapping on YouTube. The beats sampled from other artists eventually evolved into his own, and before long he was blowing up. His first release, the EP Old Fashioned, dropped in 2012; three more EPs followed, leading to inking a deal with Columbia and putting out four full-lengths, culminating with March 2021’s Change of Scenery II.
It’s a much different vehicle than it used to be, in the sense that an artist putting out their “debut” album could have several releases already available on Spotify. There’s a lot to respect with the DIY-ness of today’s artists making their own luck, instead of hoping that a label exec happens to pick them out of the sea of artists to fast-track to the top. Whether you love or hate the music, the hustle is undeniable.
For Quinn XCII, that hustle has led to a refinement of his distinct sound. Change of Scenery II puts forth a mature, polished sound, more than his previous releases. It’s almost as if he took the best parts of 2019’s From Michigan With Love, married that up with the best parts of 2020’s A Letter to My Younger Self, and called it a day. Childhood friend and longtime producer Alex O’Neill, AKA Ayokay, is a large part of the success of the album; the production is crisp and tight, without crossing the line into sameness and boredom.
The lyrics center mainly around love and relationships. I feel that there’s typically such a skew toward the negative parts of relationships in music, but there is a definite highlight of both the sad (“Hey, Goodbye”) and the happy (“My Wife & 2 Dogs) on this album. There are also a few social and political references peppered in, adding an interesting accent to some of the tracks. For instance, in the closing track “Look How Far We Come”:
Watch the stars in Cambridge / ‘Cause you’re way too smart for Boston College
You’re alumni / And my dad wants to know about his gun rights
That’s a conversation never done right / That’s enough conversation for this one night”
Besides “My Wife & 2 Dogs”, which might have the catchiest beat on the whole album, another great track is “SOS”, which gives off vibes of The Chainsmokers and Halsey’s “Closer” – albeit an upgrade. There’s enough variety to keep these tracks fresh, and Quinn’s solid vocal delivery help to tie it all together on every track. There were a few featured artists, including the aforementioned producer, Ayokey, as well as Chelsea Cutler, but I personally didn’t think they added much. This is the Quinn XCII show, through and through.
I admit that I have usually given a pass to the newer crop of artists over the past couple of years, with few exceptions. But I’m definitely gonna try to broaden my musical horizons, with Quinn XCII’s Change of Scenery II being a perfect jumping-off point. Maybe I’ll be completely on-board by time Change of Scenery III drops, whenever that might be.
It should be noted: I am NOT a Belieber. Never have been, and at this point it is unlikely to be the case in this reality. Or in the next. Last year’s unlistenable offerings, led by “Yummy”, had me prepared to light this album a verbal witch’s pyre, making it an effigy of the creator.
I can’t really do that, and I’m disappointed. Justice is a lily-white attempt at what I will call “plebeian car jams”. Honestly, if he was still that prepubescent bowl cut, a few of the tracks might have been forgivably innocuous. “Off My Face” will wind up somebody’s First Dance at their wedding in 2021 or 2022, briefly supplanting Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” for that honor, but that doesn’t make it a good song. The other tunes that are decent all have featured artists, all of whom overshadow The Bieb. That list includes a number of high-rollers: Chance the Rapper, The Kid LAROI, Da Baby, Khalid, Lil Uzi Vert, Jaden, and several others.
The most cringe-worthy thing on the album is the incredibly crass way in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s words about justice and equality are shoe-horned in alongside songs about missing his girl or being loved despite his fragile mental state. It’s disgusting. The Reverend’s speech on the mid-album interlude is even cut short to bastardize the idea of standing up for something you would die for in order to allow JB and Dominic Fike to say, “If your kiss could kill me, you know I would die for you.” Without that lead-in, the song was actually kind of a bop, but I was too filled with righteous indignation to enjoy it.
FFO: Kidz Bop covers of The Weeknd, unsalted popcorn
Start with: “Die For You”, “Holy”, “Know No Better”
Sacred Oath – Return of the Dragon(Angel Thorne Music)
Sacred Oath is not going to start a revolution. They are not stretching the limits of genre. What they do is power-metal, with a few other elements thrown in. Wailing leads, crunchy rhythms, pounding drums, and soaring vocals that recount battles with mythological beings and earning the ire of supernatural entities, be they godlike or demonic.
It is also perfectly done, expertly performed and produced. It is not often that a power metal act makes me smile as much as Sacred Oath, and that probably has something to do with the hints of stoner/doom that dot the songs. You can’t go wrong with anything on the record.
FFO: Iron Maiden (but less irritating), Katatonia, Solace
Start with: “Hammer of an Angry God”, “At The Gates”, “Return of the Dragon”, “Cthulhu Wakes”
Glasvegas – Godspeed (Go Wow)
Right after the odd “Parked Car” intro to the disc, we are treated with a pulsing synth bass and staccato vocals that simultaneously bring to mind the ‘80s brilliance of Thompson Twins and Tears For Fears alongside the dark-pop sensibilities of The Weeknd.
Without question, Glasvegas has mastered the art of the slow build, adding intensity as the song progresses. The next tune maintains that pretense, but adds the leather jackets and swagger of Julian Casablancas and the angular tones of Biffy Clyro.
The album proceeds thusly, changing attitude with nearly every song. But oozing Glaswegian piss and vinegar from every pore.
I know this review makes no sense. Kindly just listen to the songs and ignore me in this moment.
FFO: Biffy Clyro, Duran Duran, We Were Promised Jetpacks
Start With: “Dying to Live”, “Cupid’s Dark Disco”, “Dive”
Demi Lovato – Dancing With The Devil…The Art of Starting Over(Island)
On the heels of some concern for her mental health, and much advocation for those whose plight is the same, Demi presents a collection of songs that detail the emotions and embattled musings that come with bouncing back. The last decade, she has dealt with issues regarding her bipolar disorder and anorexia, some incidents with cocaine, and a few relationship struggles. This record is her reaching a sort of catharsis, working as a companion to the YouTube documentary series of the same title.
From the opening ballad, “Anyone”, her lyrics display the turmoil that plagued her internally while she struggled. With voice straining, almost unhinged, she wonders aloud what the point is of praying, or even talking to people, if no one is listening. “Dancing With The Devil”, the title track, follows that up with more controlled, more pop-accessible discourse on hiding in drugs and alcohol, covering up the torment underneath. The result is a powerful treatise.
Demi has always been one of the most recognizable and strong voices in pop music, but she has never been as POTENT as she is on this record. She’s giving us a glimpse of her mindset as she fell apart, then rebuilt herself, all in the public eye. Particularly captivating is the way she starts the album at track 4. She allows the first 3 songs to be her past self, then reinvents herself to continue the album. It’s sort of like Taylor Swift killing off the old Taylor, but it comes across as endearing and powerful, instead of pompous and self-aggrandizing.
The moments that feel the most vulnerable and pure are the aforementioned first track and “The Way You Don’t Look At Me”, wherein she talks about how the most difficult part of bouncing back is the judgment of those who were around during the fall. Mostly, the rest of the record is filled with beautifully choreographed pop songs, tinged with that hint of darkness or sadness. The collaborations with Sam Fischer and Ariana Grande are particularly accessible. The former, an on-the-nose account of how temptation and pressure are ever-present. The latter, a more allegorical and poetic account of meeting “the devil” at a club.
While a couple songs fall short of wonderful (“The Kind of Lover I Am”, “My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriends”), there is nothing that I would consider drivel. None of this is pandering. None of this is watered down. Demi is strong. Demi is a diva.
Demi deserves our respect.
FFO: Alessia Cara, Kelly Clarkson
Note: The Deluxe Edition of the record has live acoustic versions of the first 3 tracks. It’s miraculous.
Another month on the charts that seemed to be running on fumes.
14. The Kid LAROI – Without You
Another break up song on this month’s list, LAROI comes off as a Justin Bieber clone that likes to curse. But at its core, this is an emo break up song in its most generic form. The song feels like it can’t get out of first gear until about 2 minutes in and there is finally more than an acoustic guitar and a whiny rapper. But even when some drums are finally added, the emotion just isn’t there. It’s a very bad sign when you’re singing a heart-wrenching break up song and it hits with the same emotion of Radio 4’s shipping forecast. The newsreader’s falsetto might be more impressive.
EDITOR’S NOTE: What is Weezer’s best album? Is it their debut, with classics like “Say It Ain’t So” and “Buddy Holly”, as well as their absolute best song, “My Name Is Jonas”? Is it their third album, nicknamed the Green Album, sporting a killer one-two punch of “Hash Pipe” and “Island in the Sun”? Is it Raditude? (It is not.)
Perhaps OK Human will be less Raditude, and more Blue Album or Green Album? Jeremy’s awesome write-up below will provide you with the goods, homie. I realize that I could just tell you, but then I would have to kill you. And if I killed you, then how would you possibly be able to check out our podcast, available on Spotify right freakin’ here?
Also murder is bad and illegal. That bit is more important, but just slightly.
It’s a new year and hopefully, we’ll get some new trends on the charts. However we start a new year pretty much the same way we ended the last one: with a lot of meh. There’s was a decent amount of good and really not too much bad. But there were a large band of tracks that debuted on the charts this month that were extremely medium. But there was a lot of them so let’s get to it, worst to first.
24. Ritt Momney – Put Your Records On
White indie rapper covers a pop song. Hmmm, haven’t heard that one. You couldn’t have heard the first verse of this one either since it sounds like someone singing in the shower. It feels more like an Ableton Live demo. Every vocal has multiple filters, the tempo gets played with. It really comes off as a dare track. Let’s see how many features we can cram into one cover song. Great exercise for producers, shit idea for a single that gets released to the public. But it’s apparently a huge hit in the Philippines, so what do I know?
23. All Time Low ft. blackbear – Monsters
Four or five years ago, this is a Fall Out Boy track. My songs know who to emulate in the dark…