The Monthly Music Mix: February
By Drew Renner
February was a cold month, but ended up being hotter than expected in the music scene. There were a few very strong albums by artists I had already liked and also some terrific songs by people I hadn’t really liked before. The right person won at the Grammys (the best of the 8 nominated at least) while the Oscars totally blew it. How often in history could that be said? Extra congratulations to Kacey Musgraves though. And Donald Glover too I suppose, for winning record of the year, though he didn’t even bother to show up and accept it. I wonder if he will show up when he wins the Oscar for playing Michael Jackson. Whatever happened to the Thriller movie anyways? I bet it would kill at the box office too, just look at Bohemian Rhapsody. Queen has become Earth’s favorite music due to its massive success, a status that I did not ever expect the King of Pop to lose, even if temporarily.
Ari, Ari, Ari. I could probably end it there and everyone would understand. 7 Rings reigned at #1 every week in the month, and after the release of her album she became the first artist to have the entire top 3 all to herself. She was not able to match Drake’s seven songs in the top ten record, but it was still pretty damn impressive. She also broke every streaming record for females, though to be fair Taylor Swift did not release her last album to Spotify right away, instead opting to sell a million and a half copies on itunes. I wonder if Ariana Grande could have matched that. It will be one of the great music what-ifs, but our wallets are $10 richer because of it, so thank u, next (album please).
The album side had a few other #1s since Ari did not release until the middle of the month. Turns out I was right about the lack of hype around Future’s album Future Hndrxx Presents: The Wizrd, as it only spent that one week at #1 before Boogie Wit da Hoodie’s Hoodie SZN knocked it off for his third week at #1. Definitely the surprise success story of the year so far on these charts. The other #1 album, the week before thank u, next dropped, was by the Backstreet Boys of all people with DNA. They, the never-ending touring of New Kids on the Block and the huge success of the B2K reunion tour show that people will stay loyal to their favorite boy bands, even if pop culture on the whole has left them behind.
Song of the month:
“Ready to Let Go” by Cage the Elephant
I have been waiting for the return of Cage ever since the second their brilliant 2015 album Tell Me I’m Pretty ended. They had always been a pretty solid rock band, but Dan Auerbach’s production took them to the next level and delivered a true 5-star album. I was wondering what was taking so damn long (also looking at you Vampire Weekend) but turns out they had a decent excuse. Singer Matt Schultz got divorced and it hit him pretty hard. The band wasn’t sure he would ever come out of it. But, like all of the best musicians, he turned his pain into art with this excellent lead single about coming to terms with the change in his life.
Runner-up #1: “Low” by Wage War
That guitar riff is killer and the poppier hook shows an evolution in their sound from just the screamcore they used to do. Last month I highlighted Bring Me The Horizon as a band who had dramatically changed their song for the better and I hope Wage War will follow those footsteps. They are hitting most of the big rock festivals this summer and have a chance to massively expand their fanbase along with their song quality.
Runner-up #2: “Last Hurrah” by Bebe Rhexa
Another artist I would have placed in the Meh category before now. Bebe blew up last year as a part of Florida Georgia Line’s annual summer song about falling in love while driving. So it was forgivable to dismiss her and someone just there. And while Last Hurrah is certainly not a totally unique song, it hits hard and that hook is unbelievably catchy. You can use it is a song to workout with or a shoulder to cry on. That’s a quality of all the best pop music so here is hoping she can continue this path and deliver an album that lives up to its lead single.
Album of the month:
“thank u, next” by Ariana Grande
Well she has won everything else this month so why not add one more victory? Though it was closer than I expected it to be (more on this next paragraph). This is her best album since My Everything, which had more fun jams but lacked the total authenticity Ariana brings to her music now. While artists like Taylor Swift have done very well for themselves by incorporating their public lives into their songs, I can’t remember anyone ever recording their life in real-time like Grande is. We don’t need to sift through the metaphors to figure out who she is talking about because we can flip the channel and see it on the news. And putting all of herself into this record has really elevated an already mammoth pop star. Just a few years ago she was the chick who spit on donuts and thought she was better than everyone else. Now she is beloved industry wide. None of this would matter if she hadn’t back it up though. The stretch of NASA, Bloodline, Fake Smile and Bad Idea is killer, giving you beats to bounce to and situations to relate to.
Runner-up #1: “This Land” by Gary Clark Jr.
I didn’t expect this album to come out until later in the year, so it was a very pleasant surprise to see it in the New Music section on February 22. Gary expands on the promise of his titular single, looking at present-day racism in the deep south from the point of view of a rich black man. He knows he can drive off elsewhere in his Cadillac, but instead chooses to stand his ground for what he considers to be his homeland. Very understandable and what is more American than fighting for your land? Musically, Gary hits the perfect balance between rock and soul, just as he did on his debut Black N Blue album. I know there were a lot of fans of The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, but this is Gary Clark Jr. exactly where he needs to be. Giving rock a sorely needed new perspective that challenges others to do the same.
Runner-up #2: Strange Creatures by Drenge
Returning from a four year hiatus, Drenge returns with their strongest album to date. They are a British rock band with emphasis on darker riffs, the first band that comes to mind as a comparison is The Dead Kennedys, but less aggressive and even more brooding. They bring that back in loads, but new elements as well. One song, Prom Night, heavily features a saxophone for instance. Jazz and Blues are usually nice compliments to rock n roll and I wish people would fuse them more often.