Music I Want to Talk About – March 2021

Songs I Want to Talk About

“Guilty Love” by Ladyhawke and Broods ft. (2021)

From the first time I heard this, I couldn’t get enough of it. Ladyhawke and Broods both have made some pretty great songs separately, so it’s only natural that they’d make a great song when they join forces. “Guilty Love” leans slightly more in the Ladyhawke direction, with more of a rock edge than I’m used to hearing on Broods tracks. The energy here is just dark enough to convey the “guilty” feeling described in the lyrics, but exhilarating in all ways a song about new love should be. 

I also love the seamlessness of “Guilty Love.” Yes, it seems more reminiscent of Ladyhawke’s prior work than Broods’ prior work, but this isn’t just a Ladyhawke song where Broods randomly shows up for the bridge and disappears. This feels like a true collaboration between two talented artists who arrived at a vision neither could’ve pulled off by themselves. That vision has some of the grit of more rebellious rock, but borrows enough production tricks from the pop world to feel slightly unexpected. All we need now is some loophole in which New Zealand can compete in Eurovision, represented by Ladyhawke, Broods, and Lorde. (Maybe Flight of the Conchords can take next year!) 

“The More Boys I Meet” by Carrie Underwood (2007)

Carrie Underwood is one of those artists who is great, and yet if I haven’t listened to any of her stuff within the last month or two, I forget how great she is. This gives me the pleasure of occasionally revisiting her catalog and rediscovering her greatness all over again. I finally listened to her sophomore album Carnival Ride for the first time towards the end of March, and discovered what might just be my new favorite country song: a deep cut called “The More Boys I Meet.”

I don’t want to spoil the main hook for you because the first time I heard it, I thought it was the most fantastic, hilarious thing. I really don’t want to deprive you of that joy. Instead, I’ll just say that the song is all about the trials and tribulations of trying to find a suitable boyfriend. Even though the frustration of Carrie’s predicament is palpable, “The More Boys I Meet” manages to set a fun, playful tone for a topic than could’ve been overly angry or mopey in some artists’ hands.

“(We Like To) Do It with the Lights On” by Islands (2021)

I discovered Islands because Spotify thought I would like this song and Spotify was right.

You know how when you were a kid, you would take your cup to a soda fountain and add a little bit of every soda into the cup? This song kind of does that with the history of pop music. At first, I was like “okay, this is that cool ’80s synthpop throwback track that’s cool, but everyone’s doing it.” That was followed up with “well… wait a second. There’s kind of a disco flavor here too.” That evolved into “yes, but it’s ALSO that nerdy rock/pop track that a band like Weezer or Vampire Weekend would’ve done circa 2005.”

Somehow this song makes me nostalgic for like four different decades of pop music, and yet it calibrates those trends so perfectly that the final track still works. There’s still one clear vision uniting everything, so much so that it took me several listens to really grasp just how many influences they were juggling and how effortless they made it sound.

“Stacking Chairs” by Middle Kids (2021)

“Stacking Chairs” is that perfect no-mans-land between pop and alternative that would’ve played during a teen romcom in the late ’90s as the young couple awkwardly slow dances in a high school gym.

There’s a really great mix of classic-sounding acoustic instruments as well enough other layers of indie bedroom pop to feel fresh. The fact that she’s singing about being committed to someone forever, it kind of fits that the song has a bit of a nostalgic throwback vibe, yet I can also see myself putting it on 20 years from now and it’ll still make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. It’s a song that sounds as timeless as the relationship it describes. It’s schmaltzy, yet grounded.

I do want to put it out there that Middle Kids also released a full album this month, Today We’re The Greatest and that album includes this song. My first impressions are good, but since the album didn’t come out until several weeks after “Stacking Chairs” had shown up on release radar and stolen my heart, it demanded special attention that I wouldn’t be able to give it if I had put Today We’re The Greatest in the album section.

Albums I Want to Talk About

A Billion Little Lights by Wild Pink (2021)

A Billion Little Lights reminds me of the sort of alternative indie rock/pop that was big in the 2000s, but with an unexpected country flavor. Mind you, it’s not a country album, so please still give it a chance if you don’t like country. It has that general vibe of a reclusive genius hiding in the woods somewhere so he can focus on his art. Yet despite having a fantastically serene, calming effect on me, I feel like it doesn’t really have that much in common with other records that I reach for when I’m in that mood. It’s not a quiet, acoustic Sufjan Stevens-y album; it’s not the sort of transient bedroom pop you’d get from Troye Sivan or select Lana Del Rey songs. Instead there’s this really great yin and yang between more lush production, and the slightly grittier rock sounds. The result is something that feels big, yet intimate. It’s like you’re in a wide open landscape out west somewhere, so you can scream your most intimate thoughts because you’re alone in the wilderness.

THE FUTURE BITES by Steven Wilson (2021)

Steven Wilson is apparently a pretty sought-after producer in the prog rock space, but my brother suggested I try his latest album which draws from more modern influences. Ya’all, this is already a contender for 2021’s “best albums of the year” list and we’re only a quarter of the way into the year. I love the way this things ebbs and flows and as each new song segues into the next, you’re taken on a new journey unlike any of the journeys you went on with prior tracks. That being said, it still very much feels like one cohesive body of work. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to it, but yet I still feel like there’s so many interesting depths to explore as I continue listening. There’s social critiques, such as “PERSONAL SHOPPER,” a favorite track of mine. There’s a softer side on songs like “12 THINGS I FORGOT.” There’s the more understated “MAN OF THE PEOPLE.” It just feels like a gold mine of greatness that I’ve barely unearthed, and I look forward to getting to know it better.

I also think it’s interesting to hear these sounds as done by an older artist who has a wider array of life experiences to write about. It’s hard to imagine a song like “12 THINGS I FORGOT” showing up on a 22-year-old’s version of this album. There’s nostalgia in this track that gives you a respite from the record’s eponymous futurism. I wouldn’t say it’s so far off that it feels like it doesn’t belong here, but it’s just different enough to feel bold and a bit risky. It’s the kind of switch up that keeps this from being one of the inevitable Billie Eilish ripoffs that will happen as non-artist record execs try to capitalize on current trends without understanding why those trends are popular in the first place.

Here, we still walk away feeling like Wilson has a vision that’s all his own; a vision that couldn’t have existed in anyone else’s mind. With every listen, you get to dive a little bit deeper into that fascinating vision.

Little Oblivions by Julien Baker (2021)

This is one of those albums that I loved almost immediately, but I wasn’t really sure why. Luckily, it’s layered enough to hold up to numerous repeated listens throughout the month as I got know it. Imagine Coldplay collaborating with a Fiona Apple-type singer-songwriter, and then add in some Weeknd-style self deprecation. Not exactly rock, not exactly folk, not exactly pop, but something all its own that can transcend people’s typical genre preferences. Yet because it’s borrowing from familiar influences, it doesn’t really strike me as an experimental acquired taste either. It’s a love-at-first-listen that doesn’t lose its shine upon further listening.

One of the many qualities I’ve come to love that didn’t initially seem that special at first: the vocal. Not that the vocal ever sounded bad because it didn’t. However, I’ve realized Julien Baker’s distinctive style is a secret to Little Oblivions‘s success. As powerful as her voice can get, it also has this intimate shakiness to it, reminiscent of hiccups or hyperventilating. It’s as though she’s literally trying to sing through an emotional breakdown, which helps the themes of the album hit home so much harder. It’s a masterclass in how to use your voice not just to hit the notes and sound good doing it (which she does), but for making a record raw, gripping, and powerful in a way that a technically “clean” vocal never could.

Artists I want to talk about:

Foxworth Hall

Foxworth Hall makes that kind of folksy stuff with crisp production that’s carefully constructed for mass appeal without losing its soul. Think Lumineers, or maybe even Mumford and Sons as opposed to say Sufjan Stevens or early Bon Iver. (Nothing wrong with either of those, I just don’t want to describe Foxworth Hall as “indie folk” because I could see a lot of indie folk fans finding them too commercial).

I discovered Foxworth Hall while trying to build a bubble bath playlist, and Spotify thought their song “Daylight” would be a good fit. I fell in love with this song and the peaceful contentment I feel when I listen to it. That was a couple years ago, but since the last Foxworth Hall EP (including that song) came out in 2015, I had kind of resigned myself to not hearing new music from them. Perhaps the band had broken up or the label dropped them, I didn’t know, I just knew they hadn’t put out new music in over five years (at least none that was on Spotify).

I was pleasantly surprised to hear them show up on my release radar, and even more pleasantly surprised to learn that they hadn’t just put out a new single, but a new EP. This new one, “On My Way” is still every bit as great as that song “Daylight” that initially won me over, with “Ready” probably being my favorite song here. Either way, I’m super pumped to know they’re still around and that their sound hasn’t changed. I think their quality has been incredibly consistent, anyone into that poppier side of folk would thoroughly enjoy them, and they deserve a bigger following than the one they currently have.

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