Every 2 weeks, The Aux Cord team adds some of music’s best new tracks to a playlist on Spotify. This week, we take a closer look at some of the best songs released in recent weeks.
“thank u, next”
Ariana Grande has had a roller coaster year, and she knows you know it. In succession, she got engaged, dropped a number one album, saw her ex overdose, was blamed for it on social media and finally called her engagement off—and it’s happened with all of us watching. With all that public scrutiny in mind, it would be easy to read the title “thank u, next” as a bitter, if not empowered “fuck off” to the onlookers. But “thank u, next” is anything but bitter. It’s a sparkling bop that’s as sweet as her last album, with Grande finding power in addressing exactly what everyone’s thinking about. She opens the song with undeniable grace, shrugging off past loves Big Sean and Ricky Alvarez, thanking her ex-fiancee Pete Davidson, and wishing she could thank Mac Miller “… cause he was an angel.” But this all comes as a disclaimer before the real radiance of the track: the bouncy refrain, “I’m so … fuckin’ … grateful … for my ex,” and a second verse dedicated to self-love, playing on her fans’ expectations to find someone new, and choosing herself instead. With a personal life made tragically public, we might expect Grande’s music to become cryptic and reclusive. But with “thank u, next” she’s become a case study for poise, power and resilience. All of us are still watching, and we can’t wait for what’s next.
“Tints (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”
Countless artists are hopping on the synth-funk wave in today’s music scene, but no one is making it sound as effortless as Anderson .Paak. Over four-on-the-floor kicks and a jerky bass line, “Tints” sees .Paak airing his frustrations about his new struggles with the paparazzi, but still having fun with it: “you ain’t gotta flash when you takin’ your picture / You ain’t gotta draw no extra attention / Paparazzi wanna shoot ya.” Kendrick Lamar stops by too, taking a break from his Pulitzer Prize-winning introspection to echo .Paak’s sentiment: “Fuck I’m doin’ fish-bowlin’? One hunnid thou’ on the passenger / Bitch, I’m Kendrick Lamar, respect me from afar.” .Paak showed his versatility on his breakout success, 2016’s “Malibu,” an album praised for its breadth of old school R&B, funk, rap and disco. Though “Tints” is more poppy than nearly anything in his or Lamar’s repertoire, both sound perfectly at home here. They each may be pushing their genre boundaries, but fortunately for .Paak and Lamar, effortless swag is genre-less.
“when the party’s over”
In the past year, Billie Eilish has gone from a little-known wild card to an unmistakable force in pop music. She’s carved a singular vibe, one defined by dark beats, ambient vocal layers and recently, visuals that use tarantulas and demonic imagery and are reminiscent of Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers” video. Oh, and she’s only 16. Eilish’s songwriting is sharp beyond her years; her blunt lyrics range from side-eyed sarcasm to heart-wrenching misery. Her latest single, “when the party’s over,” leans all the way towards the latter. Eilish’s music has always defied comparison, but Lorde is a clear influencer in this ballad about the sadness behind going out. Densely layered vocals swoop over dark piano lines, as Eilish illustrates the emotion that comes with post-party loneliness: “Quiet when I’m coming home and I’m on my own / And I could lie, say I like it like that.” Intertwined with this bleakness, Eilish is a young voice with timeless honesty, and she’s only getting started.
When I heard “Alien” for the first time, it was a leaked version that someone posted on Reddit. I was blown away. Beach House’s last album, “7,” is potentially my favorite album of 2018. I was impressed with the direction Beach House had taken on the new album, favoring new song structures and more present percussion, which shook up the “Beach House sound” that became ubiquitous to the band. “Alien” took that change in style and completely went in the opposite direction. This track is downright shoegaze, a prolific genre of music in the late ’80s that featured pop melodies masked by swirling, distorted guitars. Beach House had dabbled with this sound and clearly showed influences of shoegaze groups like Mazzy Star or Slowdive but had never gone all out with the style like they do on “Alien.” “Alien” is a fantastic track, and further cements their legacy as the greatest dream-pop group since My Bloody Valentine.
I have been waiting so long for this. Earl Sweatshirt, the other reclusive ex-Odd Future member, has been off the radar for about four years, going on and off social media, occasionally playing shows and occasionally showing up on albums to prove that he still is the best rapper of his generation (see “Really Doe,” by Danny Brown). When he dropped a new song, I immediately listened to it on repeat for the next hour. It lives up to the hype. Earl Sweatshirt’s flow drops in and out of the song, showing off his incredible rhyming skills and wordplay. The beat is also fantastic, sounding organic while also being built off of a collage of samples, almost similar to an Avalanches or Panda Bear song. To say the least, this song is excellent, and I anxiously await his new album to drop.
Panda Bear is the master of mood, architect of atmosphere, champion of chillwave. From the long sprawl of songs like “Bros” or “Good Girl/Carrots,” to the heartbreaking beauty of songs like “Tropic of Cancer” or “No More Runnin,” he has created an extremely varied catalogue of songs from his solo career along with his music in Animal Collective. “Dolphin” is far more of the latter. The song drifts along a sample of a water drip, along with a softly strummed guitar. The vocals are front and center, softly sung, like hearing a lullaby but under the sea. It’s a unique and beautiful song that transports the listener into a serene state.
“Run the Bands”
“Run the Bands,” one of the new songs off of Vince Staples’ new album, “FM!”, is a classic Vince Staples track. Staples usually raps within two flows, a deadpan style reminiscent of Earl Sweatshirt or Ameer Vann or a quick higher-pitched flow which he memorably used on songs like “Homage” and “Party People” from his last album, “Big Fish Theory.” Both styles come out in “Run the Bands,” and sound fantastic on the bubbly, snappy production by Hagler.