What We’re Listening To This Week 04/20/17

“Guillotine (feat. Travis Mendes)” by Jon Bellion:


The penultimate track off of Jon Bellion’s debut album The Human Condition, “Guillotine” serves as both a powerful end to an album and an effervescent stand-alone single. It’s pop music, but the type of pop that you can feel secure in recommending to your friends. It showcases rich, yet hubristic vocals from Bellion, who sings like he knows that he has a beautiful voice. The song also features Travis Mendes, who fuses elements of soul into the pop song, transforming it into something much more than your average over-played pop song about love. Mendes’ voice, as well as increasingly intensifying instrumentals, help Bellion create a self-described “dark, sweet love song”. In addition to the powerful voices and instrumentals, there are lyrics like, “The secrets you tell me, I’ll take to my grave / There’s bones in my closet, but you hang stuff anyway” that all together make the song resonate deep within your body. There’s also a certain liveliness and brio that Bellion infuses into “Guillotine”, which gives the song a unique energy that never tires, even after the 100th listen. This liveliness undoubtedly comes from Bellion’s propensity for experimentation when crafting his songs, which also gives the bonus of improvisational beauty that shines through the pop facade. -Peter Pribyl Pierdinock


“GOD.” by Kendrick Lamar:


Honestly, when I first heard this track, my first thought was that it sounded an awful lot like Drake. It seems to be biting at Drake’s new sound in songs like Passionfruit or Ice Melts. I don’t really want to get into a conversation about whether Kendrick or Drake is king of the rap game right now — that’s a topic for a later post. All I’m saying is that when hearing “GOD.” for the first time, I recognized that it was definitely a new sound for Kendrick. Closer to singing in an R&B style than the traditional rap we heard on his previous studio albums, “GOD.” shows Kendrick expanding the borders of the sound that defines him. Lyrically, the song is about playing up his success, stating “This what God feel like.” At the same time though, he humbles himself, “reminding other rappers who see themselves as God that they’re not in charge,” as one Genius annotator puts it. Kendrick performed this track to a massive crowd Sunday at Coachella, where he performed most of the tracks from his new album. Sadly, we didn’t get to see a second surprise album on Sunday as the internet predicted, but “DAMN.” will still make sure whoever is in charge of the AUX cord this summer will have fresh music get poppin’. -Kevin Chan


“Ascension (feat. Vince Staples)” by Gorillaz:


Many of the best protest songs are also the best hidden. Countless pop singers have covered John Lennon’s “Imagine” at world peace events without noticing the communist values lying at its core; many flag-waving patriots have sung along to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” without registering its scathing criticism of America’s treatment of war veterans; and every day, pre-school teachers across the country lead choirs of toddlers in renditions of “This Land Is Your Land” without detecting the song’s ironic denouncement of income inequality. Following in the footsteps of these covert protest songs, “Ascension,” the recent collaboration between the Gorillaz and Vince Staples, couches racial indignation within a sugary techno beat. It’s easy to ignore the content of Staples’ lyrics as his words bounce playfully off of the track’s sparkly synths and frenetic drum machines; even the song’s chorus, “The sky’s falling, baby/Drop that ass ‘fore it crash,” might sound like a typical hedonist party anthem until you process its apocalyptic implications. But don’t be fooled. As fun as it is to listen to, “Ascension” is a dark song that stares police brutality and racial violence straight in the face. The Gorillaz and Vince Staples know something that John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and Woody Guthrie all knew well: no matter how important your message is, if you don’t put it in a fun song, no one will bother to listen. -Steven Norwalk