1. Friends – Francis and the Lights (feat. Bon Iver)
My ears deceived me as I listened to Francis and the Light’s single “Friends”. I was so unsure of whether I was listening to the artist himself or the song’s guest feature Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver, Volcano Choir and The Shouting Matches fame). And that’s because the two sound so damn similar to one another. The auto-tuned vocal layering, the song’s wave-like electro-rhythms and the soft celestial beat that pulsates throughout. All of it just further added to my confusion. Nevertheless, “Friends” is a hauntingly good song. Wholly reminiscent of “Beth/Rest” on Bon Iver’s self-titled album with a bit more pep in its step. This is a song you can slowly groove to, as seen by the synchronized dance by both artists in the music video below. Lyrics-wise, there’s a pleading that’s happening here. As the two artists sing, “We can be friends/Put your head on my shoulders”, “Still waiting on your sunshine” or “I can’t remember what it’s like/To never let go”, there’s a desperation that’s vocalized. But all of that is hidden behind the positive sheen of the music itself. While the vocals seamlessly splice in and out, the longing remains palpable and obvious. The song’s emotional pull showcases the human need to be heard and the ineffable desire to be seen.
Watch the music video for “Friends” by Francis and the Lights featuring Bon Iver and Kanye West below:
2. Weekend – Louis The Child (feat. Icona Pop)
“Weekend” is assertive, almost cocky in its delivery. It immediately draws you with its jig-jag tunes and punctuated lyrics. Chalk it up to the vocal swagger of Icona Pop and Louis the Child’s chaotically hypnotizing beats. It’s a fun song, one meant to be played in heavy rotation at weekend house parties and late night dive bars. That’s because there’s a fleeting quality found in “Weekend”, which perfectly fits the nature of its namesake. Just clocking in at under 3 minutes, the song’s fast paced nature zips through and finishes without a hint at its sudden conclusion. And just like the weekend journeys we stumble upon and their half-forgotten memories by Monday, “Weekend” provides us with a good reason to hit that repeat button over and over to start re-remembering all over again.
3. Best To You – Blood Orange
Last week I wrote about Blood Orange and his single “Augustine”. This week I bring you “Best to You”, another standout track off of his new album Freetown Sound. Remember the song “Nothing Better” by the Postal Service? The lyrical pleading and denial delivered by Ben Gibbard (from Death Cab for Cutie) and Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley fame). “Nothing Better” is essentially a break-up conversation told via lyrical delivery. Here, “Augustine” takes that same concept in “Nothing Better” and flips it to the perspective of the female. This is a vision of unrequited love told from the female perspective. Here, Dev Hynes sings “Do you really want to?”, showcasing his half-hearted response to the sung pleas of Lorely Rodriguez (from Empress of). She coos off lists that exhibit her conflicted affection when singing, “I can be the only one”, “I can be the best to you, best to you”, and “I feel my bones crack in your arms”. Here, she reveals the pain caused by her love while continuing to chase after that feeling, unwilling to let it go. And in a devastatingly simple way, Dev Hynes closes out the song by rhetorically asking, “Did he even notice?” Incredible.
4. Higher – The Naked And Famous
The Naked and Famous is a mainstay from my college days. Their singles “Punching in a Dream” and “Young Blood” fueled my ears for tireless nights as I stayed up late writing essays and studying for finals. If I could send them a piece of my diploma without my parents finding out I totally would. And now I’m delighted to find out that the band has returned with a new single called “Higher”. It’s a cleaner and controlled song compared to their earlier works until that chorus. And then the nostalgia washes over me all over again. The cresting vocals cry out, egging each other on as the band sings, “Higher, higher/Tonight we raise the debt/Tonight we bury this in fire”. It’s a return to form for what works for this band A welcomed throwback to the type of songs that slithered into the ears of its fans from the very beginning. The Naked and Famous’ new album Simple Forms is set to be released on October 14, 2016.
5. Rising Water – James Vincent McMorrow
James Vincent McMorrow makes his return with an light electronica (!) single “Rising Water”. The song is a cool, soothing track that assuages all initial trepidations just as the moody bass kicks in with the twangy synth. Artists are humans. They grow as they take in life experiences and then use the medium of music to express that intake process. “Rising Water” is a prime example of what happens when an artist excels at that form of creative “exhale”. There is a subtle R&D type flow in “Rising Water” as the pace keeps kicking at a higher tempo. There is life to be found in the song, a sense of activity that hooks you in while the subtleties of the instrumentation ease your ears into a sense of comfortability. If “Rising Water” is a sign of the evolution of James Vincent McMorrow, I’m excited to hear what else he has in store. His upcoming album We Move is scheduled to be released on September 2nd, 2016.
6. WHateva U Want – ScHoolboy Q (feat. Candice Pillay)
Schoolboy Q just released a new album titled Blank Face LP. It’s good. Really good. And “WHateva U Want” is a standout track amidst an incredibly stacked tracklist. The song breathes a vivid nastiness with its lyrical twists and turns that Schoolboy Q pulls off with a certain finesse. Candice Pillay, a standout feature from Dr. Dre’s Compton, coos in on the background, acting as the foil to the jagged edges found in “WHateva U Want”. This track bumps and grinds. The beat selection in intriguing with a heavy electronica vibe coursing throughout. Then there’s the actual lyrics, a monument to the sheer fun of an excessive existence. Lyrics such as “Cribbo in the Hills/Table full of bills”, “Take my debit and go cray/Spend, spend every dollar, all way” and “Benz, Benz, want the rims on the truck” all but help reinforce that sentiment. Schoolboy Q’s new album Blank Face LP is available for purchase and streaming now.
7. Sinner of the Week – Daniel Wilson
“Sinner of the Week” by Daniel Wilson takes a promising mix of various musical influences, ranging from gospel, R&B, electronica and pop, and neatly packages it into a hit-ready single. Effortlessly catchy and seemingly cool, Daniel Wilson’s voice is the hook, line and sinker of this track. There’s a bit of Gnarls Barkley in his delivery, the way that his voice crests up and down according the song’s cadence without any hint of effort expended. The beat is vaguely MJ-esque and I’m talking the “Bad” Michael Jackson era, which, in my opinion, will always be his best years. A solid entry for the summer season, “Sinner of the Week” is a promising indication of things to come as the release date of Daniel Wilson’s upcoming EP, Sinner of the Week, approaches.