Talk of the Tracks

Hello and welcome to Talk of the Tracks, where I highlight new and noteworthy music releases, underappreciated gems, and the absolute worst songs ever released. Enjoy!

-Henry Strickland, Editor-in-Chief of the Santa Clara Review


Talk of the Tracks

10/31 Track Reviews Pt. 2

Here are some more standout pop tunes to get you through your week! 

Rina Sawayama – “Take Me As I Am”

Rina Sawayama is a Japanese pop artist and model hailing from the UK. “Take Me As I Am” is the second track from Sawayama’s self-titled EP, RINA. I found out about her work through Clarence Clarity, one of my favorite contemporary alt-pop producers who, as it turns out, produced this collection of tracks. “Take Me As I Am” is a glittery pop song that’s very much reminiscent of early 2000’s smash hits, and could have swung blow for blow with a Christina Aguilera or Spice Girls chart-topper. 

Clarence Clarity – “Naysayer Godslayer” 

It feels only right to share my love for Clarence Clarity’s latest single. Whereas his production work on Sawayama’s EP adheres more closely to the song structure of radio-friendly pop hits, Clarence is at his weirdest and most brilliant when producing and singing on his own tracks. Fun fact: the London-based producer released his initial recordings anonymously in 2012, and it was rumored that the new singles were actually the work of Jai Paul, another pop mastermind who vanished from the music scene when his early demos were leaked. 

Week of 10/30/17

THE NEW STUFF

SOPHIE – "It’s Okay to Cry"
SOPHIE is an enigmatic producer and member of the high-gloss, notoriously subversive pop label PC Music. SOPHIE has worked with label founder A.G. Cook to produce the excellent Charli XCX record #1 Angel and collaborated with Flume to produce certified banger “Yeah Right” on Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory. SOPHIE has also produced a compilation album, Product, which is filled with strange, bubbly, and catchy electro-pop tunes such as “BIPP” and “LEMONADE.”

“It’s Okay to Cry” is SOPHIE’s first original song in two years. It’s also the first time that she’s revealed herself to the world both visually and vocally, starring in a gorgeous music video in which her lilting voice drifts across faint, shimmering melodies. The lighthearted pop ballad is largely about coming to terms with and learning to love your vulnerabilities, and I applaud SOPHIE for coming out in such a profoundly beautiful way.

MGMT – "Little Dark Age"
“Little Dark Age” is MGMT’s first new single in about four years, and boy does it feel good to be back. I feel like the electro-pop duo has struggled to carve out a new sound since their breakthrough record Oracular Spectacular, and I’m very pleased with the direction they’ve taken on this new track.

They’ve toned down the omnipresent synths that used to overwhelm the vocals in the mix to create more nuanced, cryptic melodies that fit the Halloween season perfectly. The catchy and clever lyrics also speak to a maturation of MGMT’s songwriting (“I grieve in stereo // The stereo sounds strange” might be one of my favorite hooks of all time”). The song is a bit of a slow burner that gradually builds up steam over its five-minute run time. I hope that this thoughtful execution is a trend that continues in future releases, as the song successfully builds up a foreboding atmosphere while maintaining its pop appeal. And the music video is a glorious spooktacular to boot. 


Album of Note

Kelela – Take Me Apart

Kelela caught my attention back in 2015 with her Hallucinogen EP, which showed that she was willing and eager to push the envelope on a unique R&B sound with excellent singles like “Rewind” and “All the Way Down.” On Take Me Apart, her debut album, Kelela doubles down on otherworldly production layered with traditional R&B sentiments of unrequited love and desire. The result is a potent ensemble of club-friendly bangers with surprisingly introspective lyrics, which delve into the complexities of falling in and out of love.

Favorite tracks: Frontline, Enough, Better, LMK, Truth or Dare, Blue Light, Onanon


Album of Note

King Krule – The Ooz

Archy Marshall, the enigmatic poster boy of the London underground scene, has brought a new and enticing mix of neo-soul and jazz to his King Krule alias, under which his breakout record 6 Feet Beneath The Moon was released back in 2013. The Ooz might be the most aptly named album I’ve ever come across; the tracks seem to effortlessly melt into each other, with Marshall’s signature deep, gravelly voice carried across a psychedelic haze of murky and often cacophonic production.

The concept behind the album is simple yet captivating; it’s a record about the subconscious gunk that occupies the brain. Marshall divulges half-baked thoughts, unprompted desires, and sudden outpourings of nostalgia in a record that merits repeat listens. The Ooz Marshall’s most cohesive and accomplished record to date under any name, successfully capturing the chaotic, nonsensical, yet utterly human nature of our inner thoughts.

Favorite Tracks: Biscuit Town, Dum Surfer, Lonely Blue, Emergency Blimp, Czech One


Talk of the Tracks

Week of 10/9/17

THE NEW STUFF

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – “Continental Breakfast”
This is the second single off Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s upcoming collaborative album, Lotta Sea Lice, which is set to come out later this month. The two singer-songwriters bring out the best in each other, with rich layers of acoustic guitars accompanying their distinct yet harmonious vocals.

Iglooghost – “Super Ink Burst”
Iglooghost is the moniker of Irish producer Seamus Malliagh, who signed with Flying Lotus’ renowned Brainfeeder imprint and released his first full-length album, Neō Wax Bloom, at the end of September. Malliagh is an intensely detail-oriented producer; while most producers loop certain sounds to create repetition throughout a track, Malliagh abandons this convention in crafting his own music. Thus, maximalist sonic adventures like “Super Ink Burst” seem to dart in a million directions at once, too restless to settle into any sort of repetition. The album is truly a unique listening experience, and “Super Ink Burst” serves as an excellent primer.

Cold Cave – “Glory”
Synthwave is back, baby. “Glory” is a glorious 80’sthrowback crooner with a delightful electropop sheen. I haven’t been enamored with most of frontman Wesley Eisold’s previous work, which is much more dark and experimental, so it was refreshing to find their new single so immediately appealing. Eisold has brought on two new members for his latest reinvention of the group, and I look forward to seeing where this new direction will take them. Fun fact: the song doesn’t have a chorus; it’s all verse.

THE GEM

Alvvays – “Dreams Tonite”
I’ll admit that, with the exception of the standout single “Archie, Marry Me,” I wasn’t particularly impressed with Alvvays’ self-titled debut album. The band certainly had potential, but they felt like run-of-the- mill indie rockers unable to break out of an oversaturated genre. I’m happy to say that the band proved me wrong with their latest album, Antisocialites. Frontwoman Molly Rankin’s songwriting has improved substantially, and “Dreams Tonight” might just be my favorite pop ballad of the year. The band’s musicianship has also improved, with the guitars most notably offering evocative, catchy melodies or frenetic riffs, depending on the tune at hand. Antisocialites was my favorite album of the summer, and might even warrant a full-length discussion at a later time.

THE HOT GARBAGE

Nothing!!!
These delicate ears have been spared the most potentially offensive music to come out of late. Macklemore who?


Talk of the Tracks

Week of 1/9/17

THE NEW STUFF

Foxygen – "On Lankershim"
While I’ve loved the other two singles that Foxygen has released leading up to their next album, this one is hands down my favorite. I can’t remember the last time I bobbed my head this enthusiastically while browsing an obscure Bionicles lore page on my laptop (please don’t ask). The rich, lively instrumentation and Sam’s lyrical wit make for one of the strongest tracks the band has ever made, and I can’t wait to hear the new album in its entirety. 

Xiu Xiu – "Jenny GoGo"
This is the first song I’ve ever heard from Xiu Xiu, an experimental rock/art rock group with roots here in San Jose. I love the ominous atmosphere and extra spooky vocals, and I look forward to exploring this band’s discography further. 

Ariel Pink & Weyes Blood – "Tears on Fire"
Now here’s a duo I did NOT see coming, but I’m so glad these two are making an album together. Ariel Pink’s signature quirkiness and over-the-top production meshed with Weyes Blood’s crystal clear, gorgeous vocals make for one of the best combos since Nutella and pretty much anything.

THE GEM

Avalon Emerson – "Natural Impasse"
I almost chose another song of hers, “Dystopian Daddy,” just because I love that name so much, but I digress. Emerson is a house/techno producer who currently resides in Berlin, but draws on the desert landscapes of Arizona as inspiration to create textured, dreamlike dance music. This stuff is potent enough to get a Los Altos mom reaching for the Skyy at the middle school dance she’s supposed to chaperone, so be warned.

THE HOT GARBAGE

The Chainsmokers – "Paris"
A collection of lullabies sung by Jack Johnson would have a better shot at keeping me awake than this glossy, over-produced, vapid excuse for a pop song. I’m pretty sure a sleep-deprived monkey with an Etch-A-Sketch could’ve written more engaging vocals. This track is about as suitable for human listening as Betsy DeVos is for the role of Education Secretary.