The Monthly Music Mix: April
By Drew Renner
When pop culture Historians of the future look back on April 2019, it will not be because of its musical contribution. Not to say it was a bad month for music, it was actually surprisingly good considering there was only one artist I really liked releasing an album. I had a difficult time narrowing it down to a top 3. The hype of Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones just dwarfed anything trying to compete though. Even Taylor Swift, perhaps the most famous singer on the planet, could barely make a dent against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the threat of the Night King. Hopefully by now, everyone has seen the conclusion to the Infinity Saga and the Battle of Winterfell, so maybe it is the perfect time to check out some new tunes.
Before we get to that, we must discuss some things happening outside of the studio, such as the new feud between Chris Brown and Chvrches’ singer Lauren Mayberry. Chvrches recently did a (not very good) song with the DJ Marshmello, and he chose to follow this up by doing a song with Chris Brown and Tyga. Lauren took a liberal stand against this, citing Chris’ (domestic abuse) and Tyga’s (some statutory issues with a then 16 year old Kylie Jenner) previous legal and moral setbacks and wondering why her new pal would work with these people. Needless to say, the internet did not take it well. To be fair, Tyga was pretty cool about it, but Chris Brown said “these are the type of people who I wish would walk in front of a speeding bus full of mental patients”. And Lauren has since been posting extremely hateful direct messages she has received from their fans in response to her comments. This has been a wild ride to observe as you would never expect these two to even cross paths at Coachella. And it encapsulated our relationships with these celebrities too. Chris Brown fans are extremely sensitive to these matters, they stuck with their man through the worst of it and don’t wanna hear anything about not forgiving his past sins. Then again, celebrities are socially banished every week for much lighter offenses than what Chris Brown did to Rihanna. But Ri-Ri forgave him, worked with him again and they might have even rekindled their romance. Fists and stones may break her bones but whips and chains excite her. I’ll side with Lauren here, since I don’t think good looks and talent should completely excuse every bad action you’ve ever done, even if the victim disagrees. And the whole ‘speeding bus full of mental patients’ business makes me think Chris hasn’t really changed at all. She didn’t need to publicly rip them so hard though, she chose to do what she thought was right and there were consequences to it. Hopefully nothing serious comes of it, and the added security Chvrches haven taken on is just a precaution born of never receiving a death threat on the internet before.
We’ve spent enough time on this so let’s check out some actual music that came out this month!
I’ve got only one thing to say about this month’s Billboard Hot 100 singles list: I Got The Horses In The Back. Yes, a man named Lil Nas X (who is not Nas’ 10th son so far as we know) claimed the top of the charts with none other than Billy Ray Cyrus in the year 2019 with Old Town Road. And while one may think “I just don’t think he’d understand” (regarding the brain instead of the heart) , this hip-hop country crossover hit is not as out-of-nowhere as it would seem. We have to once again journey into another medium, shrink into the quantum realm and emerge in October 2018, when Red Dead Redemption 2 released and instantly became the biggest title of the PS4/Xbone generation. Lil Nas X was not only inspired by the game, but he used clips from it to make a fully animated music video. Add in a Nine Inch Nails sampled-beat and the remixed verse by Billy and now everyone is hearing this song. It would even be #1 on the Country charts if they had not disqualified it early in the run, which quite frankly is not a good look for country radio. How about embracing something different? Hip-hop, while mostly a copy-cat league, is always ready to embrace a new sound and thus people like Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus can climb all the way to the mountaintop. It is handily breaking the streaming records that Drake set last summer and even Taylor Swift’s new song Me! might not be able to best it, when she had done so with her previous three lead singles. Doesn’t hurt that the song is really fun and catchy too. I was going to have it in my top 3 until a few late entries knocked it out. Being #1 on hot 100 for 4 weeks, and likely many more, is reward enough though.
On the album side, it was mostly Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? and Khalid’s Free Spirit ruling over the charts in April. Khalid has been here before, but Billie was noteworthy since new pop stars usually take awhile to get this type of success (for example, Ava Max’s song ‘Sweet But Psycho’ rose to its peak at #11 last week, when it initially came out around Halloween last year.) Gotta say I’m a little disappointed Cage the Elephant peaked at only #21 on the albums chart with Social Cues. It has the #1 rock song in the world right now with Ready To Let Go, but people still don’t care. The Rolling Stones’ new album Honk falling a few places behind it makes me feel a little better, but it’s still unacceptable. People always complain that rock is dead but how about you actually listen to the new stuff before attending the funeral? Anyways, we did have yet another boy band hit #1 with Korean sensation BTS and their album Love Yourself: Tear, and someone I don’t know called Nav also spent a week in the top spot with Bad Habits. Apparently both he and Lil Uzi Vert quit the rap game a few months ago only to come back right away. But hey, if that’s the type of promotion that leads to a #1 album then who I am to criticize? Michael Jordan did it all the time and he’s still the GOAT.
Song of the month:
“Lottery” by Jade Bird
Jade Bird, which is actually her real name, put out her first full length album last month and it is pretty great. I would describe her voice as Florence + The Angst. It’s a grungey form of the indie pop-rock singer/songwriters we see so often. And while all those people have things to say, getting your lyrics through in a form that people will enjoy and haven’t heard a million times before is tough. This short, but intense song is actually one of the more upbeat songs on the surface. Dig deeper and you find a girl who is being fed this extremely romantic pitch “love it is a lottery, you got your numbers and you’re betting on me” , but rather than living that life, she just talks about it with her various boyfriends, who are either too old or boring to really deliver on that promise. The truth is that though the lottery is nearly impossible to win, you can only win if you play. So one must decide if the chance at a winning ticket is worth putting up with years and years of losers.
Runner-up #1: “Broken” by Kim Petras
Ms. Petras, much like her inspirator Charli XCX, doesn’t care to release albums and just puts out singles throughout the year. She already released 3 this year, with 1,2,3 Dayz Up and Homework both nearly placing in the top 3 in February. This might be her best effort yet though. It’s just bursting with raw emotion on top of a smooth alt-pop beat. Once only known as the world’s youngest transgender, Kim Petras has been on a quest to shed any identity politics related to her. Now she is known as the chick with undeniably killer hooks and catchy beats. Whoever left her broken will surely regret it in a few years when Kim has become a star.
Runner-up #2: “Am I Doing It Right?” by Alex Lahey
Alex Lahey released her debut album at the end of 2017, straight out of Australia and on her own record label. I heard the album a few months later and was very enthusiastic about the two singles, actually ranking “Every Days The Weekend” midway through my top 50 songs of 2018. And while I loved her fast and furious pop-rock style, this new direction fits her well. Rather than outlining her (mostly positive) family and love lives, AIDIR? details what has happened since her success. She is at an 80s themed dance, one that is celebrating herself, and she is awkwardly trying to explain to an old acquaintance that not everything is peachy just because a few people have heard her songs. “I stay in every cheap hotel room” is not exactly the life of luxury one might expect. Judging from her past lyrics though, I think she will be able to find a balance between her career and her enjoyment of life.
Album of the month:
“Social Cues” by Cage The Elephant
Cage the Elephant dropped their fifth album this week and it seems unreal they have been around that long. Their first three were fun, and produced a lot of jams like Cigarette Daydreams, Come a Little Closer and Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked. If they had just kept on that path nobody would have faulted them. Instead, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys came on board to produce their 4th album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, and applied all the knowledge and technique that his buddy Dangermouse passed down to him. With this type of production, along with their usual high-quality songwriting, Cage rose to become one of the best bands in the world.
Cut to 2019, they no longer have the Dauerbach working with them, but the spirit remains the same. If anything, teaming up with Beck for a huge summer tour made it seem like overproduction might be a problem (his latest album Colors is the definition of overproduction, though the songs are still a lot of fun.) Their song together, Night Running, is like a rastafarian Universal monster movie. And while overproduction may get the best of a few songs (two in particular but I won’t hate on them by name), they find the right balance for most of it. Ready To Let Go is like classic Cage dipped in melancholy. Divorce will do that to you (as we slow dance, I become your statue frozen). Skin and Bones has some xylophone and House of Glass has a drum track, but like Ready they are grounded by the tragedies in Matt Schultz’s life (add the death of two friends and the resulting mental health issues to the divorce). He recognizes that his isolation (and admiration of mutilation) is an illusion he is creating for himself, but that doesn’t make it any better, a hole of your own making is often harder to dig out of. Just ask Shia LeBeouf. On the title track Social Cues Matt finds himself hiding from the world at a publicity event, then being told that he is ungrateful. While the rest of the album is mostly solid, these four songs are peak Cage, and are the evolution of their new sound. Tell Me I’m Pretty had more consistency and will remain their best album, but it is looking at Social Cues with some envious eyes.
Runner-up #1: “No Geography” by Chemical Brothers
For the first time in many years, all eyes (and ears) were on the Chemical Brothers last month. Fair or not, they have always been linked with fellow 90s electronic rockers The Prodigy. And since Keith Flint tragically decided to depart us earlier this year, thus ending The Prodigy, now it was on the Chems to not only produce a good record for themselves, but for the legacy of their era. Luckily, prepared or not, they rose to the occasion big time. Tracks like Bango and We’ve Got To Try hit hard but are still extremely fun. No matter what setbacks we face, just gotta keep on going.
Runner-up #2: “CrasH Talk” by ScHoolboy Q
Schoolboy Q kinda-sorta stealth dropped this at the end of the month, with two random singles and maybe two total weeks of promotion. The first song, CHopstix ft. Travis Scott isn’t amazing, but the second song Numb Numb Juice was excellent, the kind of quality we have come to expect from Mr. Q (his last album, Blank Face, is one of the top ten hip-hop records of the decade in my opinion). This turned out to be an accurate preview of the rest of the album. About half the album is a little weak, and there are a ton of features. But the other half, including many of the solo songs are great. Leading the way at the halfway point is 5200, which feels like a fun but dangerous bloc party. Floating is pretty good until 21 Savage gets his hand on it, can we deport him from the studio? That’s mean and I’ll probably have to quit twitter now, but I feel like he has an average of .8 ruined songs on every hip-hop record. Schoolboy brings it back strong at the end though, with CrasH talking about how to preserve your legacy by investing your money in family rather than jewelry. On his daughter; “if I lose she lose .. so I’ma keep going till I crash.”
Would also like to give recognition to the album A Conversation Between Us by Small Talks. One of the more enjoyable albums of the month, especially the lead track Better For It and the final three Never Made It, Nicotine and Tangerines and Thinking of the Sun. It’s the type of pop-rock that often finds its way on here, but since it was released in February I couldn’t include it in the top 3.