What We're Listening To This Week 3/14/19

Image Courtesy of James Brooks

Image Courtesy of James Brooks

main pop girl 2019 - Default Genders

How do you describe an album that evades categorization at every turn? Default Genders’ genre bending second album draws stylistic inspiration from jungle all the way to jangle pop to craft songs that tap into the most nostalgic parts in your brain. James Brooks’ lyrics focus on memory, sleep, daydreams, and all the subjective aspects of the human experience that distort reality. Reflecting its lyrical content, the music on main pop girl 2019 revels in distortion: breakbeats are repurposed, synth lines are mutated, voices are pitched up or down to sound androgynous. The result is a record with the sampling prowess of the Avalanches, the audacious pop tendencies of the 1975, and a  dash of Owl City’s introverted electronica. “when it’s over” mourns lost time while “black pill skyline” reinterprets the melody from “Hey There Delilah” to create something much more cynical. Considering that no track on the album sounds entirely like the last, main pop girl 2019 is as baffling as it is brilliant. ~John Martin

Image Courtesy of Lil Nas X

Image Courtesy of Lil Nas X

“Old Town Road” - Lil Nas X

To me, few genre fusions seem as unlikely as trap and country, but truly I have never been happier to be proven wrong. Lil Nas X is the man who forced me to face this truth with his song "Old Town Road," and lyrics like "Cowboy hat from Gucci/Wrangler on my booty." Poetry. You might recognize this certified bop from the TikTok memes that helped launch it into popularity, a phenomenon that Lil Nas X is very cognizant of and grateful for. That momentum propelled it to #1 on the Apple Music country charts, and also sent it to #1 on the Spotify US Viral and Global Viral charts. Even country superstar Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line has hopped on the bandwagon. The song itself takes the best parts of the country and rap genres and blends them beautifully. In the country camp, it's plucky guitar, lyrics about horses, hats, and tractors -- the simple things -- sung in a deep Southern drawl. From rap, that means production right out of a Migos album combined with hedonistic drug use, "Ridin' on a tractor/Lean all in my bladder," and hip-hop's most preeminent refrain anchoring down the chorus, "Can't nobody tell me nothin'." ~Henrique DaMour

Image Courtesy of Knxwledge

Image Courtesy of Knxwledge

WT.PRT.8_ - Knxwledge (2015) 

Amidst the constantly growing output of the beat tape community, Knxwledge has remained consistent since 2009 with his Bandcamp database of nearly 100 tapes. His WrapTaypes series consists of remixes of rap acapellas paired with his own instrumentation, usually based around a sample. Part 8 is especially compelling due to its lush arrangements and remixes of Jadakiss, French Montana, and Danny Brown, among others. These remixes are enhanced by their soulful beats, where Knxwledge focuses on building an ambiance between each of his remixes, usually with minimal percussion. Standout track “14. mywordk[blurri][TWRK]_” makes use of a soulful string and piano piece from the Etrian Odyssey game series to underpin the battle rap cipher that is used as the song’s lyrics. This track is a prime example of what Knxwledge does best: mix melodic lo-fi instrumentals with high energy acapellas. ~Jordan Pytosh

Image Courtesy of Saint Records

Image Courtesy of Saint Records

“Things I Imagined” - Solange

The brilliance of Solange’s new album, When I Get Home, largely lies in its fluidity, the way in which its wisps of musical ideas cocoon the listener and form a soft home in which to rest. As a result, parsing out individual tracks seems almost antithetical to the experience of the album, like inspecting a bucket of water scooped out of a stream. Indeed, when divorced from their context, many of these songs lose their significance, their understatement mistaken for triviality, their weightlessness taken for a lack of substance. So instead of searching the LP for catchy highlights, I’ll simply recommend its dreamy opener, “Things I Imagined,” which functions as a sort of thesis statement for the album. Over soft electric piano and meandering synth arpeggios, Solange repeats the song’s central mantra, “I saw things I imagined,” over and over, new instruments casually entering and leaving the track’s frame, each adding a new splash of color to her words. The remainder of When I Get Homefeels like an actualization of this mantra, a winding journey through Solange’s imagination, her thoughts, memories and passions all on cryptic display. While the beauty of this album can hardly be encapsulated by one song, “Things I Imagined” is perhaps the LP’s best entry point, a mysterious portal into the dazzling mind of Solange Knowles. ~Steven Norwalk

Image Courtesy of RCA

Image Courtesy of RCA

“Walk Me Home” – P!nk

P!nk is probably one of the most underrated artists of our generation. I mean, who else could literally dangle from a skyscraper in Los Angeles or perform aerials over the crowd at the Grammys, all while delivering killer vocals? Her last album, 2017’s Beautiful Trauma, strayed from her typical rock sound and showed us a more mellow and reflective side, but was met with lukewarm critical and commercial success. However, her new single “Walk Me Home” from her upcoming eighth studio album proves that this queen is ready to regain her throne. What amazed me most about this song from the first time I heard it was how it seems to effortlessly synthesize multiple genres. Though dominated by a pop/rock sound, traces of country, electronica, and even some gospel influences can be found on the track. On the surface, the lyrics seem to long for the comfort and security of another person (it is still cuffing szn, after all). But on a deeper level, they speak of a need for healing during tumultuous times, making the song particularly poignant in today’s climate. P!nk is one of the industry’s finest performers, and as she enters her 20th year in the music industry, she shows no signs of slowing down. ~Chris Donohue

Once on This Island

A middle school production of "Once On This Island" was the first musical I ever played a significant role in. The soundtrack is a huge source of nostalgia for me and I've always been attracted to the unconventional combination of the 1980's-influenced Broadway mega-musical elements combined with Caribbean musical influences. However, the 1990 musical always felt a little dated, down to the original album cover. This week I finally gave the 2018 Broadway reboot a listen and I am hooked! I can't even express how incredibly hyped I am for their upcoming Fall 2019 tour! My favorite of the revamped songs is "Forever Yours", a love duet between the musical's two main characters that is suddenly cut short by a visit from the island's god of death, Papa Ge. However, instead of casting a male baritone in the reboot, a female mezzo-soprano goddess takes over the track with a jarring entrance on a C5 belt, raising the song's original melody in an octave leap. Merle Dandridge adds her rich timbre and impressive range to the enhanced orchestration that simultaneously stays true to the original version while elevating the scene to an entirely new level. (Do yourself a favor and go compare the two cast recordings). ~Lexi Vollero

Image Courtesy of RCA

Image Courtesy of RCA

“Talk” - Khalid

In “Talk,” the first single from Khalid’s upcoming sophomore album, the R&B crooner pairs up with Disclosure to deliver a track that is reminiscent of the singer’s collaboration with Calvin Harris, “Rollin,” featuring Khalid’s iconic deep soul vocal over a electronic beat. Disclosure’s  production on “Talk” is a mix of staccato synth notes during the chorus that give way to cascading synth arpeggios during the verses to create a beat that is oceanic and airy at the same time. To go along with the stop-and-go flow of the beat, Khalid's singing mirrors it in sections of smooth transition between notes and short punctual ones. As always, Khalid’s vocals shine as he showcases his passionate, soul-filled singing, while adding a new element that I really enjoyed: alternating the classic Khalid sound with high pitch falsetto notes in the chorus. I thought it was a welcome change and make the song fun in the way that Khalid uses multiple sounds within the same song. If this song is any indication of the upcoming album, then I am very excited and looking forward to what Khalid is going to put out next. ~Kevin Chan

MusicSteven Norwalk