I have been overwhelmed by new music this week, last month and for the entire year. I’ll probably do a retrospective post on music when the year ends with all bops that entered my radar in 2018 — obvious slays like Ariana Grande, awakenings like 88rising and releases I’ll need more time to form an opinion on, like that of Brockhampton and Lil Wayne.
Most of what I’ve had on repeat are old faves coming to claim their crown. But there was a surprise upset from an artist whose discography I’ve cherry-picked, demanding I sleep on them no longer. Here are my takes on the new music now frequenting my earbuds.
Twenty One Pilots, “My Blood and a Few Others from ‘Trench’” EP
Bops to bump: “Nico + the Niners,” “My Blood,” “Levitate”
Best line: “But a curse from you is all that I would need right now.” (“Levitate”)
We knew it was on and poppin’ when Joshua Dun and Tyler Joseph retired red and black for moss and neon yellow. It’s emo, but it’s an emo très sophistiqué.
“Nico + the Niners” is the earwormiest of TOP’s new releases. It’s strange and sparkly. There’s whimsical alliteration. There’s internal rhyme scheme for days and there’s that ska punk homage that made “Lane Boy” so likeable.
“My Blood” is a warm hug serving disco teas, à la Phoenix or Passion Pit. Meanwhile, “Levitate” balances resonance and rhythm in mind-boggling way. As someone who’s risked it all to see TOP twice, I can’t wait to risk it all again and watch Josh Dun really Do That on the drums during “Levitate.”
Like much of TOP’s music, I know I’m not even unpacking everything present. That’s for the stans to do. But what I do know is there’s some upbeat, obscure narratives these peculiar Ohio men are feeding me. And I can’t wait to put “Trench” on repeat and figure it all out.
The 1975, “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships”
Bop to bump: “Sincerity is Scary”
Best line: “And why would you believe / you could control how you’re perceived? / When at your best you’re intermediately / versed in your own feelings?”
There’s no doubt The 1975 has the chops to pull off a song like this. See “Pressure” and “If I Believe You” for instrumentation borrowed out of African-American tradition.
But damn. I don’t know if Matt Healy went to the same black church that Hayley Williams went to when Paramore made “Ain’t It Fun,” but that choir is blowing!
A tangled and passionate situationship is already the perfect foundation for a post-modern break-up song. Add morning jazz, Kirk Franklin piano, manic pixie dream girl accusations and a realization that the whole damn conversation is misguided. This song sent me.
The Neighbourhood, “Ever Changing” EP
Bops to bump: “Kill Us All” ft. Denzel Curry; “Paradise”
Best line: “Before you rise like a phoenix / Gotta play Jean Grey.” (“Kill Us All”)
From jump, the breakbeats, ample wah-wah pedal usage and moody bassline suck you into a ‘90s subcultural landscape. It sounds like a mouth full of pizza rolls, feet firmly planted on a penny board and your fingers curled around the trigger of a Nerf gun — with a vinyl TMNT backpack as your quiver. A handful of cartoon and comic book references confirm this.
The song’s flippant energy makes it a suitable opener for “Ever Changing:” if not setting precedent for an anti-establishment attitude, then for the vintage hip-hop nods.
Somehow, The Neighbourhood translates hip-hop percussion and alien distortion to the down-tempo songs on “Ever Changing,” too. We see that in “Paradise.” It’s a wry ode to the draining oasis that is Los Angeles. The song sounds like the “H” in the Hollywood sign.
Hozier, “Nina Cried Power” EP
Bops to bump: “Nina Cried Power” ft. Mavis Staples, “NFWMB,” but really “Moment’s Silence (Common Tongue)”
Best line: “If I was born as a blackthorn tree: / I’d wanna be felled by you, / held by you, / fuel the pyre of your enemies.” (“NFWMB”)
I’ve been happy to usher TOP back into the fold with their new color pallette and rekindled energy. It’s been satisfying to watch The 1975 evolve and The Neighbourhood grow. These have all been welcome music developments. What I wasn’t expecting was some gangly Irish man to run up and push my wig back with a four-song EP.
“Nina Cried Power” reaches into the roots of black culture riffs. There’s a Negro spiritual element to the song. But it’s still exactly what you’d expect from an alt rock tribute to Nina Simone. Hozier also explicitly credits gospel singer Mavis Staples.
On top of the “Take Me to Church” vid being about queer persecution, I think this is grounds for co-signing Hozier. Although, not everyone is going to let ol’ boy come to the cookout unscathed.
After I secured my wig, I checked out “NFWMB” — because everyone who’s about it seemed to be posting this track in particular. And then I found out why. It sounds like mist-covered hills, tea with a splash of whiskey, wood smoke. It made me uncomfortable.
Why was Hozier, a meme of independent-music-gone-mainstream, exhibiting signs of being… boyfriend goals?
I found myself going to re-investigate what Hozier looks like. I was vulnerable and that’s when he went in for the kill with “Moment’s Silence.”
I couldn’t really discern what he was saying, but I liked the bluesy-ness of it and the sounds he was making: the slew of slippery S’s, the agony of accented syllables. The song slapped so severely that I decided to look up the lyrics.
That’s when I was scandalized! Because “Moment’s Silence” by Hozier? Yeah, this man is talking about getting head. Plain as day.
“Me and my babe relax and catch the manic rhapsody
All reason flown, as God looks on in abject apathy
A squall, and all of me is a prayer in perfect piety
A moment’s silence when my baby puts the mouth on me.”
I don’t want to ever hear an older, white conservative talk shit about rap music being vulgar ever again.
That being said? “Hozier… Hey, big head!”
Bop to bump: “Backin’ It Up” ft. Pardison Fontaine
Best line: “Fuck a condom, I’mma bring Saran Wrap; / I can’t let no good pussy go to waste.”
This song caught me by surprise. Not because I didn’t expect to enjoy a Cardi B song, but because the textual tone of the song is precise. Pardison Fontaine’s admiration for Cardi B verges on reverent. Yes, he uses refers to women as “bitches,”but it’s less about gender and more about warding off Cardi’s enemies. There’s a duality to this stance, too. . He desperately doesn’t want any harm or ill will to befall Cardi B, but praises Cardi for knowing how to take care of herself (the trait is attractive to him).
As far as hood ballads go, it’s refreshing. It’s flirty, but not crass. Cardi is painted as an out-of-your-league love interest and not just a sexual object. She’s a subject who spits about her autonomy. If there’s any hierarchy, it’s not a gendered one: it’s that Cardi is the boss bitch and Pardison is merely an opening act.
Maybe this (platonic) chemistry stems from the fact that Pardison Fontaine is a longtime ghostwriter co-writer and collaborator with Cardi B. Whatever is the case, I hope they keep making this magic.
Moving up to the top spots soon: “Without Me” by Halsey, “1999” by Charli XCX + Troye Sivan
The queen of modern concept albums becoming the queen of vulnerability? I’m here for it. As far as “no character, no cinematography, no gun fight” goes, my girl Ashley nailed it.
I’m glad she got to have a little bit of a “Lemonade” album, a little bit of a “Cry Me a River” moment.
And as soon as I’ve pulled myself out of existential cynicism, Charli XCX is there to drag me into the rave. “1999” is wildly catchy and the kind of song you can play twice at a pre-game without irking anyone. The 90s club sound — holla at Charli’s affinity for the PC music wave — and the old-school pop culture name-drops are just yummy.
Ever since the Matrix-inspired cover dropped, I’ve been lit at the song’s visual potential. Here’s the promise of cropped halter tops, pleather pants, marabou heels, frosted lips and rhinestone chokers.