Music I Want to Talk About: August 2021

Songs I Want to Talk About

“Take My Breath” by The Weeknd (2021)

I honestly don’t think there’s any artist currently working who knows how to deliver both crowd-pleasing radio hits and experimental introspection the way that the Weeknd does. After Hours was one of my Top 5 albums of 2020, and “Take My Breath,” the kickoff to whatever the next Weekend album cycle is going to be, has “Blinding Lights” energy without feeling like a retread of the same material. 

Pulling strong influence from late ‘70s disco rather than the ‘80s synthpop style of “Blinding Lights,” “Take My Breath” was a love-at-first listen for me, but much like “Blinding Lights” there’s still enough intricacies to it that it doesn’t get boring after more listens. It does everything a lead single is supposed to do, and I can’t wait to see how the album comes together and what kinds of existential crises the Weeknd will make us have while we’re jamming on the dance floor to “Take My Breath.”  

“Rose-Colored Boy” by Paramore (2017)

RIOT! will forever be the album I think of when I think of Paramore. It’s just the generation that I was born into, ya know? I had mentally checked out of Paramore’s more recent releases until my favorite music YouTuber, MicTheSnare featured Paramore in his most recent deep discog dive and spoke quite highly of their most recent album, After Laughter. I’d never really given this record a chance before after not really clicking with “Hard Times,” thinking Paramore and I had just grown apart.

I’m so glad I did because another song, “Rose-Colored Boy,” has been on repeat since I heard it. It’s a happy song… about sadness. “Rose-Colored Boy” asserts the right to express sadness, but it’s also catchy and anthemic in all the ways great pop songs are. There’s something beautiful about being confident in your sadness, and knowing that there’s value in letting those negative emotions out. This song offers that catharsis in a wonderfully peppy package, as well as the comfort of knowing that other people experience the same ups and downs.

“Mood Ring” by Lorde

A breakdown of the entire Solar Power album would take more words than I like to put in these roundup posts, but i do want to single out one song in particular: “Mood Ring.” This song has a ’70s guitar part, an early ’00s drumbeat, and the so-called “indie girl” vocals that have been so trendy over the last 5ish years. I feel like of all the Solar Power songs, this is the one that does the greatest job of still being the “new” sound that we hadn’t heard from Lorde before, while still reminding us why we fell in love with her in the first place. There’s this interesting mix of existential dread and apathy, and I think that’s captured in the music as well as the lyrics. The sad sounding vocals over more bubbly instrumentals capture the emotional uncertainty of the words.

“She’s A Cowgirl” by Midland

I remember liking the general vibe of Midland’s record The Sonic Ranch back in the spring when it first came out, but it fell out of the rotation after a few weeks. In August, I started revisiting it and I’m so glad I did. The whole thing is pretty great (think that calming, zen side of country a la Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves, but this probably leans a little bit more into its country roots than Golden Hour does). 

 The one song in particular I’d like to talk about though is “She’s a Cowgirl.” I remember this being one of the standout tracks back in the spring, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. It doesn’t really sound all that different from the rest of the album. Then it hit me: 

This is a love song that does not mention the physical appearance of the woman this man loves. 

We have literally zero idea if this woman is beautiful, or pretty, or sexy. Those words just don’t appear in the song at all. Yet… we can still feel how captivated this man is by his cowgirl. In fact, we even get a whole verse just about who this woman is before we even learn that she eventually settled down with the guy singing the song. 

We learn how about how strong she had to be when her father died; we learn about how wild she is, ‘like a Mustang caught be caught’ but the character singing ‘never tried to break her.’ We The words ‘beautiful’ You know what we don’t learn about? How good her ass looks in her jeans. I think that’s wonderful. 

Albums I Want to Talk About

Forever is Now by Les Shirley (2021)

I put a lot of pressure on myself to constantly listen to new music. For that reason, it’s relatively rare for me to keep going back to the same album over and over again with no reason beyond “this album is really fun to listen to, and I enjoy my life more while it’s playing.” Forever Is Now is one of those albums.

Forever Is Now is a relatively straightforward, simplistic rock album. More importantly, it’s the kind of album that reminds me WHY so many people like relatively straightforward, simplistic rock music. If you have guitar, drums, bass, and the right energy, that’s all you need. From the first chords of “Fuck It I’m In Love,” a song that is everything a song with that title should be, I’m reminded of how great music can be when artists stop overthinking it, and just channel their feelings into good rock ‘n roll. There’ve been several times now that I’ve pulled up Spotify prepared to put something else on, but then I see Forever Is Now in my “recently played” and say “fuck it, I’m in love with this album and that’s what we’re going to play right now.”

Pressure Machine by The Killers (2021)

It’s quite rare for a band that’s been in the game as long as The Killers have to surprise me, yet still feel true to themselves. Pressure Machine is exactly that. It still delivers all the things I would want from a Killers album, yet it’s also an album I never could’ve predicted the Killers making.

Pressure Machine is a series of vignettes telling stories about life in Small Town, U.S.A. More specifically, it’s about Nephi, Utah, the town where Killers frontman Brandon Flowers grew up, though you wouldn’t necessarily be able to deduce that from the album alone unless you already had done your research. These stories are dramatic AF too: infidelity; drug addition; suicide; domestic abuse; yup, the gang’s all here. There’s even a bit about a girl watching her horse die. The album deconstructs the overly romanticized stereotype of small town life, yet it still has at least some reverence for that ideal and the people who aspire to it. It’s as if the Killers are saying “yes the idea of the rural small town is great in theory, but we know differently.” To help make this town come alive, they’ve also incorporated more folksy instruments as well as many spoken-word interludes that give you a sense of place in a way pop music rarely attempts to.

However, Pressure Machine is still undeniably a Killers album. This isn’t so much “The Killers made a folk album” so much as “The Killers drew inspiration from folk songwriting traditions for their album and blended it with the pop grandiosity we know and love them for.” The opening track, “West Hills” is a perfect example of this: violins and mandolins at the beginning that gradually build up into the sort of spectacle we saw on their last album, Imploding the Mirage. There are also strategically placed quieter, subdued songs such as the heartbreaking “A Terrible Thing” and the Phoebe Bridgers collab, “Runaway Horses.” Then there’s tracks like “In the Car Outside” which is exactly the kind of catchy, theatric song I come to a Killers album for in the first place.

Woman on the Internet by Orla Gartland (2021)

It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what makes Orla Gartland so special than me. Her production and songwriting aren’t really that far off from what a lot of other artists are doing right now, and yet I’ve still found her debut album, Woman on the Internet to be a standout. It’s a very well-balanced album, existing in that perfect no-man’s-land between indie and mainstream, pop and rock, self-deprecation and optimism. A gifted lyricist, Gartland sings about insecurities and how she’s learned to live with them, and there’s a really great mix of upbeat tracks such as “Zombie!” as well as quiet reflection such as “More Like You.” Every time I listen, there’s some song that hits in a way it didn’t before.

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