2019 release radar: the good, the bad and the average
March 1, 2019
Chris Ritter ’21 picks:
Zacari – “Don’t Trip”
You might not know Zacari’s name, but you’ve definitely heard his voice. It probably caught you on Kendrick Lamar’s “LOVE,” where it soars in a falsetto riff adapted from his own song, “Lovely.” Or maybe you heard him on “Redemption,” a dancey afrobeat highlight from the star-studded “Black Panther” album. “Don’t Trip” is Zacari’s first solo offering since each of those high-profile features, and it’s clear he’s found a vibe of his own. The song plays to the singer’s strengths: he’s got the rhythmic sensibilities of a rapper and a falsetto nothing short of ethereal. “Don’t Trip” highlights them both, as Zacari hazily laments over disappointing love: “Yeah, I’m through / Everything’s moving in slow motion.” The emotion here isn’t sure-footed, but it fits. Zacari crafts a song so bright and hazy that when the sound of a seagull shows up in the verse, it falls right in place.
James Blake, Metro Boomin, Travis Scott – “Mile High”
James Blake, Metro Boomin and Travis Scott are the trio no one knew we needed. On “Mile High,” the three are an absolute unit, doing everything a supergroup should, highlighting all of their respective talents without a worry of stepping on toes. Blake, the British producer-songwriter, has made a living mostly through glitchy piano balladry but has co-produced some of the most idiosyncratic rap beats of the past three years (see “King’s Dead,” Kendrick Lamar’s “ELEMENT,” Vince Staples’ “War Ready” and countless others). Blake is joined here by Metro Boomin, perhaps the most prolific architect of trap music. Travis Scott is an accomplished producer in his own right, and delivers a masterclass in murky vocals. Blake tries his hand at that too, mimicking Scott’s line, “Fell in love overseas” and adding his own twist, “Fell in love like it’s easy.” Blake sounds a bit sweeter in his attempt at trap, but the result is fun to watch. At its best, “Mile High” sounds like three masters performing at their peaks, and they’re playing off each other.
Vampire Weekend – “Harmony Hall”
It’s been 11 years since we first heard them and six years since we heard them last, but Vampire Weekend still hasn’t disappointed us. “Harmony Hall” is one of two tracks the New York indie staple has released from their upcoming album, “Father of the Bride”—their first album since their all but universally acclaimed “Modern Vampires of the City.” Not too far removed from that record is “Harmony Hall,” which borrows a line from one of its tracks, capturing the same joy-tinged struggle, “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die.” The line seemed more anguished in 2013, but Ezra Koenig sings it with a shrug here. The instrumental is just as breezy. With a busy Afro-pop rhythm section and a piano bouncing through it all, the song seems to harken back to the classically inspired “Modern Vampires” and the band’s lively debut album. Koenig makes it feel current too, musing about snakes in dignified places and people who sing too loud to hear anything at all. In 2019, Vampire Weekend still seems up to the impossible task of doing everything we expect of them.
Tierra Whack – “Only Child”
Of the many rappers who broke into the mainstream in the past year, none have done it quite like Tierra Whack. In 2018, Whack broke out with “Whack World,” an album of 15 one-minute songs, displaying an impressively wide array of talent in a tiny timeframe. “Only Child” gives her a little more space and showcases all that made “Whack World” great: frank lyrics, clever bars and a melodic delivery that ranges from sweet to bitterly sassy. Whack raps and sings with a sincerity you can feel, like she is speaking directly to you and has no trouble maintaining eye contact. It makes her lyrics all the more sharp, whether she’s telling her ex to literally stop breathing or snapping out a laugh with “You done turned my heart so cold, I should work at Friendly’s (Ain’t shit sweet!)” Without a doubt, Whack is unique, but her success is no gimmick.
Sebastian DeLasa ’22 picks:
Rico Nasty – “Roof” From the moment Rico Nasty says “Kenny,” you know “Roof” is going to be a banger. The Kenny that Rico is referring to is Kenny Beats, a frequent Rico Nasty collaborator and the hottest producer in hip-hop at the moment. Rico’s hilarious lyrics, ad-libs and aggressively in-your-face beat make this song the most fun of 2019 so far. It’s a whirlwind of a track and demands to be played again and again.
Rex Orange County – “New House”
It’s not that bad, but “New House” is not exactly the return I expected from Rex Orange County. 2017 was Rex Orange County’s year, featuring the excellent album “Apricot Princess” and a string of massive singles (my favorite of which is “Sunflower”). “New House” has a lot of the aspects of a Rex Orange County song that I expect—gushingly romantic lyrics, piano, strings, multi-layered vocal harmonies—but it’s less immediately impactful than many of his other songs. While I will say that I appreciate the first half of the song, it gets a little boring by the end of the track. The song slows down but doesn’t have nearly as exciting a climax as a song like “Television / So Far So Good,” and it ends up feeling slightly dull and borderline morose.
Slowthai – “Peace of Mind”
Slowthai is one of the most exciting things about the London-based genre Grime at the moment. Hailing from Northampton, England, he brings a massively different perspective to his music compared to most Grime artists. On most tracks, he shows off a dexterous and fast flow, similar to artists like Wiley or Dizzee Rascal, but on “Peace of Mind” he slows down his syllables. It’s a fantastic track by an artist who has been on a massive hot streak since dropping the incredible “T N Biscuits” in January 2018. If you’re a fan of Grime, you should’ve been listening to Slowthai for a while now, but his consistently fantastic music appeals to all hip-hop fans.
Big Thief – “UFOF”
Big Thief is back with its first song since 2017’s “Capacity,” and it lives up to the band’s very, very high standards. The group has been busy over the last few years, with constant touring and lead singer and guitarist Adrianne Lenker releasing a solo album to critical acclaim. “UFOF” is beautiful. Lenker’s vocals are hushed and intimate, singing about a “UFO friend,” using the metaphor of an alien abduction for a past romance. The instrumentation includes acoustic guitar, warm synthesizers and a tight drum rhythm, bringing to mind a combination of Belle and Sebastian and Japanese Breakfast. It’s a fantastic track and just another highlight of Big Thief’s stellar discography.
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