By: Aaron Daum
(Disclaimer: the following article is purely my opinion – which may be different than yours. Please be respectful!)
As the new year starts to take hold, so have new music releases; January was an awful quiet month for new music from major artists, but several big-game players have come out with new singles or albums this month. On February 2nd, Justin Timberlake and AWOLNATION returned to the public eye after breaks of several years, and two more comebacks were made the following week by MGMT and Franz Ferdinand. This month has also seen the release of the TDE-dominated soundtrack for Black Panther, as well as a slew of singles from Calvin Harris, James Bay, X Ambassadors, CHVRCHES, and more. Here are my thoughts on (some of) these new releases, as well as a couple recommendations for under-the-radar artists:
Man Of The Woods – Justin Timberlake (4/10 rating)
Justin Timberlake turned heads at his Super Bowl half time performance, mostly playing older hits (and with good reason.) To put it lightly, “Man Of The Woods” was a train wreck before any of us even heard the whole album. Lead single “Filthy” is a cacophonous, directionless mess of a song, which was quickly followed up by the instrumentally confusing “Supplies.” The album does find an odd saving grace in the songs “Say Something,” featuring country star Chris Stapleton, and “Montana,” a pair that follow up on the album’s promise of a country-tinge with the rhythmic, crooning JT that we all know and (mostly) love.
Black Panther – Various Artists (9/10)
As someone who has never been a true fan of rap music, this album completely took me by surprise when I first listened to it; Kendrick Lamar is one of the two artists on this soundtrack whom I have enjoyed, known and respected throughout their career (the other being Khalid, I’ll get to him.) Lamar steps in on “All the Stars,” a forward-looking love song that brings in Grammy nominee SZA to ensure that this track will top the charts for sure. Kendrick also offers his talents on the futuristic song “Pray For Me,” where he is complemented by The Weeknd; the song has an inescapable, thumping beat, and triumphant lyrics that are fit to accompany a movie as monolithic as “Black Panther” is sure to be. My personal favorite song on the album is “The Ways,” by Khalid and Swae Lee, which brings a somewhat urgent yet relaxing tinge to Khalid’s normally dreamy artistry, and loops back around to the album’s underlying theme of love. This album has set a new standard for soundtracks, while simultaneously offering a gateway into rap and R&B for those who have struggled to enjoy those genres.
Always Ascending – Franz Ferdinand (9/10)
Franz Ferdinand is one of those one-hit wonder bands; you may have heard their 2004 hit “Take Me Out” before, but many struggle to name another of the band’s songs. “Always Ascending” was a step in the right direction of changing this, reviving 80’s dance themes and melding them with the catchy guitar riffs and punchy vocals that fans love this band for. The album’s title track was the first taste that listeners got of this new sound, and it was certainly a way to start on a high note – the ambient opening sets the mood for the album before transitioning to a pulsating verse that’s perfect for a concert. The bouncy “Feel The Love Go” is a churning, clubby song that sees a return to the band’s indie roots, while incorporating a huge saxophone solo – something you might not expect from a band like FF. “Glimpse of Love” is a confident, glamorous track that is driven by a gleaming synth and steady piano, that climaxes at its bridge with an all-out display of pure artistic energy. “Always Ascending” has already positioned itself to potentially be one of my favorite albums of this year, and is incredibly deserving of the acclaim it has received from critics of all kinds.
Get Out (Single) – CHVRCHES
The synth-pop band CHVRCHES has long struggled to earn a listen from me, but “Get Out” has finally caused me to snap. Singer Lauren Mayberry addresses the difficulties of saying what you want to say in a relationship with someone, as well as her struggles to find someone who is truly right for her. For many people, this song has made a well-timed appearance just in time for Valentine’s day, reminding people everywhere of past partners. The synth on this track glows through, and is supported by a simple but well-made drum bit.
Rapid Fire Recommendations (one sentence reviews)
-TSLAMP, MGMT (7/10) – This song’s title is an acronym for “time spent looking at my phone,” which criticizes the cold, faceless habit that has captured too many of us – myself included.
-Here Come the Runts, AWOLNATION (6/10) – “Here Come The Runts” is a massively powerful song, mostly driven by its triumphant instruments – the lyrics are a call to people everywhere who have been forgotten and stomped on, a message that many who have read this far can relate to.
-Don’t Stay, X Ambassadors (7/10) – This song has revived my love for a band that I thought had gone down the boring, pandering path of Imagine Dragons, putting a jazzy filter on the band’s sound which makes the listener want to dance.
-Cute Thing, Car Seat Headrest (8/10) – Car Seat Headrest is a little-known band that I have only just discovered, and Cute Thing is one of many examples of the emotion that this group puts into their music, with a very solid rock theme which is backed up by gleaming synthesizers and one of the most powerful voices in underground rock.