The Monthly Music Mix: May
By Drew Renner
Welcome to the first monthly music mix of the summer season, and even though it took us over half of May to get there, we finally have some nice weather to go along with it. Don’t wanna get too political here, but I think we all hate cold Mays and would like them to go away. We can debate on this month’s big music showdown though, between two of my absolute favorite modern artists (and a surprising return from a legend). And since it is a supersized month, we get a supersized recap!
Before the battle between Vampire Weekend and Carly Rae Jepsen is decided, let’s talk about some rock! More specifically, Danny Weimer’s Sonic Temple festival that took place over the May 17-19 weekend in Columbus, Ohio. I had been to individual days of these festivals, but had never done a full weekend before. Overall I’d say it was a great experience, though the bands themselves had a lot to do with that lol. Some issues aroused before I even arrived; the ticket prices going on sale for $20 after I had already paid full price was a tough swallow, though I tried to be happy for my friends who were getting in cheaper. Dropping them all the way to $1 though was insulting and I really wish they had done something to compensate those of us who were early adopters. The only good part of buying the expensive bands is that we were able to easily sneak in our friends to the floor area, though the security was so shaky that we might have all been able to get in with the wrong colored wrist bands anyways. The weather was an issue as well. I don’t mind getting rained on, it’s part of the outdoor concert experience, but half of the bands on Day 3 ended up being cancelled due to strong winds. You gotta have a backup plan ready for this, the weather in Ohio is always highly volatile and changes 40 degrees by the day. Missing Bring Me The Horizon was a huge bummer as any reader will know they are killing it this year. Luckily, the Foo Fighters hung around until it was safe to come back in the stadium and put on a great show for us to salvage the third day. The first two days were mostly great though. Day 2 looked weak on paper, with Disturbed as the headliner, but they ended up being a lot of fun. Singing bwoo ahh ahh ahh and their other silly noises alongside thousands of people was a great time. The Cult was a great change of pace, bringing the 80s with them. Architects and Gojira was also a good time, sufficiently pumping the crowd up. Day 1 was definitely the highlight with System of a Down instantly becoming a top 3 all-time favorite live performance. A lot of these older bands just come in, play the hits and get out, satisfied they’ve done well enough. Not System, they go as hard as they ever have, and Serj still sounds terrific. Earlier in the day, during Tom Morello’s set, Serj came out to sing Like A Stone in honor of Chris Cornell (who died the day before he was supposed to play this festival two years ago). That felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience that elevated this show above the mid 2000s Kroq Weenie Roast I was looking for. Beartooth, Parkway Drive and Ghost padded out day 1 and were all very good, I almost broke my body dancing in the hot sun without any water. So to recap, festivals are a lot of fun, but don’t expect to always to see the full lineup, wait for ticket prices to drop and stay hydrated. Oh and if you go to this specific festival next year – Island Noodles are delicious.
Oh I’m a take my horse to the old town road where a fake controversy awaits it this month. I don’t think anybody is really upset about Lil Nas X “co-opting cowboy culture”, I think it’s mostly just a way to troll the people who get really upset about white children dressing up like Moana on Halloween. If it is a real controversy then those people are just silly, as these things mostly are. I apologize to any cowboys I may have offended with this paragraph, but we really do need some fake outrage to keep the singles section of Chart Talk interesting this week, since Old Town Road just dominated the entire month once again. Titans like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber and Eminem all debuted new songs and could only hope for a #2 debut. We’re only in May, and it has been cold more often than not this month, but our song of the summer is already decided. I’m gonna go ahead and predict it holds strong throughout June too, before finally being taken down by Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy (4 months after its debut) sometime in July. A second (and hopefully Panic-less) Taylor single could also have a shot, though Ready For It was never able to reach the top spot despite an overall strong performance. Oh and I suppose if Drake writes a song to help motivate his beloved Toronto Raptors in the NBA finals it would probably go #1.
The albums side of the charts was a little more interesting, with a different #1 every week. Pink kicked off the month with her third consecutive #1 album Hurts 2B Human. I don’t think I’ve heard any singles off it, but her fan base is locked in now and she can rely on them in between big pop hits. Vampire Weekend actually accomplished the same feat the next weekend with Father of the Bride, though one would not expect them to have the same amount of #1s as one of the biggest names in music. Much like Pink, they have just built a very dedicated fanbase, taking over the mantle of ‘Hippest of Hip Bands’ from Arcade Fire. Over the past year, the only other rock(ish) artists to top the charts have been Hozier, Mumford and Dave Matthews, and Vamp stands far apart from even these fellows. So even though it was their third, I still consider it much more impressive than Logic getting his second #1 the week after with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Hip-hop dominates the streaming market so thoroughly that it’d be surprising if Logic didn’t get #1, especially with a big assist from Eminem. What is surprising is that it took Tyler, The Creator this long to snag a #1 album with Igor, considering how much weight his name has carried throughout the decade. And this wasn’t an easy #1, he had to go through a new DJ Khaled album Father of Ashad which has also been burning up the streaming services. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that rise to #1 next week and be included in the June Chart Talk. We should also give some props to Billie Eliish and Khalid, who were both hanging around the top 5 all month, their albums showing very strong staying power.
Album of the month:
Dedicated by Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly has become the queen of an emerging new genre, Unpopular Pop music. Even with an ever-growing diehard fanbase, she only managed to debut at #18 on the billboard 200. Despite everything that has come since, people still can only see her as the Call Me Maybe girl. This is a girl who wrote a song called Party For One though, so fuck all those other people, they don’t deserve her. Rather than being the queen of Unpop, she should just be known as the queen of old-fashioned love songs. Falling in love is the best part of the whole endeavour, having songs about having conflicted thoughts on what to do on a Saturday night is boring. Unfortunately for Carly, she also experienced a bit of the other side this album phase, as she ended a long relationship (and as we know, when you heart breaks it always feels like the first time). She never reacts venomously though, it’s not like Julien left her completely hopeless, in fact she doesn’t even have time for new love on the song Happy Not Knowing. Carly also acknowledges her own faults in these whirlwind romances, repeatedly calling herself Too Much on the albums best song. Again though, when a girl has these kind of songs in her heart then nothing can keep her down for too long. She swings for the fences on every one of these tracks and hits the homer almost every time. Every one of her setbacks will lead to a new road, one with the potential for new and Real Love. If the rest of America could get in this frame of mind, not only could we make the ridiculously catchy Want You In My Room the song of the summer, but also maybe not get pissed off and depressed about every single thing that doesn’t go your way. Carly’s lyrics are kind of simplistic on the surface, but the attitude brought on by her rose-covered iris’ is what we are attracted too and it elevates the entire product.
Runner-up #1 – Rammstein by Rammstein
Du hast viel geweint. Rammstein start their latest album, the first in ten years, with a call back to their best from all the way back in 1997. Hearing the song on its own a few months ago, I thought this a questionable and somewhat corny choice. In the context of the album it works perfectly though. Deutschland, as the opener, transitions you from a life without Rammstein to one where they are still able to make some of the best songs of the year. And they deliver on that promise with the next four songs, Radio, Zeig Dich, Auslander and Sex – blending hard rock and theatrics flawlessly. You can dance aggressively to the banging drums and guitar, or just groove to the keyboard riffs. And I know what you are thinking; I can’t understand what they are saying! Now this could be a legitimate gripe, I certainly am not going to learn German just to better appreciate Rammstein. Metal is known as a universal language for a reason though, it’s all about the music getting you hyped and the reverbing sound waves being directly pumped into your body. Plus, if this was in English we’d barely be able to understand it anyways so who really cares?
Runner-up #2 – Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend
Kind of a shocker to see Vampire Weekend place #3, but no disrespect can taken from it, just a victim of an overly strong month. It may not be at the level of their masterpiece known as Modern Vampires of the City (#1 of 2013) , but this lives up to their usual standard as heard on 2010’s excellent Contra. We have patiently waited nearly six years for their follow-up, but The Vamp took their time for a few reasons. The first was the departure of Rostam Batmanglij which could have been a huge blow. For one he is a very skilled songwriter and producer, for two, the dude can play just about any instrument and for three, he has the word Batman in his last name. Ezra Koenig, and the other remaining members, also wanted to go big, like real big. Sometime to its own detriment, a few songs started to remind me of both Walk Hard and 30 Rock, where Dewey/Tracey are trying to combine every genre of music into the same song. Still, even when they lose control of the production, there is still a lot of quality in every song. And going big pays off more often than not. The arena-rock jammer Sympathy would feel more at home on a Muse album, Harmony Hall is a globe-spanning push for a peaceful world, Big Blue was extracted from the archives of George Harrison’s memory and instead of just getting a random female backup vocalist to harmonize with, he goes out and gets Danielle Haim to feature on several songs. Still, it is when Vampire Weekend just sit back, take a breather and observe the world around them that the album shines most. “Why’s it feel like Halloween since Christmas 2017?” Ezra asks on the album’s best song How Long? That song is just full of terrific lines. Unbearably White and My Mistake round out a superb top 3, fitting in with the more relaxed, but still inspired themes of the album.
Runner-up #3 – Apollo XXI by Steve Lacy
Steve Lacey usually plays bass for an R&B band called The Internet, who are OK. Dude has been around though, producing for Kendrick Lamar, Kali Uchis, Mac Miller, etc… He finally stepped into his own spotlight earlier this year though, helping Vampire Weekend out with their second single Sunflower. That song is weird, much like this album, and if I hadn’t had a few weeks to get used to his style I may not have even given Apollo XXI a chance. Never did I imagine, even after coming around to see Sunflower’s glory, that he would be able to match a Vampire Weekend song on his own not once but several times on his debut album. Basement Jack is my favorite song off the album, with Guide and Playground breading an excellent 3-song stretch in the middle. It kind of reminds me of an adult pool party, one which often has those corny 80s cover bands, but when The Weekend Workers cancelled this dude gets up and just starts jamming to the songs he wrote and all the girls are all like oooh, new music is kinda scary but this is so very groovy.
Song of the month:
Don’t Stop Forever by Vintage Trouble
Vintage Trouble made a little noise a few years back after a terrific performance on the show Austin City Limits. Yet, as a multinational black-led band that doesn’t fit into any specific genre, they were bound to be forgotten. Vintage Trouble are musical nomads, popping up every few years to give us a great song or 3 (check out the blues-rocky Run Like The River from that Austin show) and then receding back into the idea that these type of artists don’t exist in the world of rock. Don’t Stop Forever is just a love song, one that could actually pair well with a song off Carly’s album. ‘You aint had no drug like me, well I’m a junky and you do provide me, I’m addicted to inside of you, don’t stop forever.”
Runner-up #1: Monsoon Rock by Amyl and The Sniffers
Fresh out of Australia, Amyl and the Sniffers put out a very impressive debut album in the month of May. Leading the way is this Pub-Rock (punk without politics .. I think?) jam that makes you just want to kick a bar stool for being in your way. Obviously influenced by songs like Ballroom Blitz by Sweet, the Sniffers are a must for anyone who likes the old school girl-power rock. Honestly I wish the people who ran Sonic Temple had this kind of attitude. Keep playing even if the circumstances are hazardous! A rock show is only as fun as your likelihood of being maimed.
Runner-up #2: Sanguine Paradise by Lil Uzi Vert
Best known for his verse on Migos’ Bad and Boujee and really terrible rap name (though it’s no longer the worst), Lil Uzi is not someone who was going to pop up my radar. I only came upon Sanguine Paradise in an effort to give more of the Apple Top 100 a chance, and while I still don’t love him as a vocalist (lots of autotune!!), this beat is undeniable. It’s a simple piano riff, repeated over and over alongside trap bass and drums, it really has no right to be this good but this is the world we live in. Clever but misogynistic lyrics like a ‘she like tartar sauce so she ate my dick like a fish stick” will make you cringe and laugh at the same time. Best of all though is that it reminds me of Stickerbrush Symphony from Donkey Kong Country 2’s Bramble Scramble level, back on the Super Nintendo. That to me, is not only the best piece of video game music, but also lead to Rick Ross’ best song ‘Magnificent’. Diddy’s Kong Quest – the gift that keeps on giving us good hip-hop.
Runner-up #3: Speechless by Naomi Scott
New Aladdin could have been fine going with the shot-for-shot remake style that Disney has been so successful with. Even adding in an extra song like ‘Evermore’, which was good but didn’t really add a ton to the story of Beauty, would have been acceptable. Speechless is a different beast altogether though. Not only is it a great, new song on its own, but it changes a main character for the better. New Jasmine uses this moment to transform from a meek do-nothing princess of the early 90s to a modern day empowered Alladinia Ocasio Cortez. Her dad says “I need you to marry a good man so he can be a good Sultan” and she replies “Bitch, I should be the Sultan. I’m the only one who understands what the hell is going on around here and you’re taking orders from an obviously evil wizard with a talking parrot.” That would have been a weird strain of dialogue though, so instead we get Speechless. Jafar is all like whaaaaaa Genie Will Smith where did she get that orchestra?