Hello BHS! I hope you have been listening to music to help you stay sane. If you have not heard these songs before (which is almost impossible), I recommend you give them a shot (but not the ones I don’t like).
1) Peaches (Justin Bieber ft. Daniel Caesar and Giveon) – This song is really chill. It’s got a very laid back groove with a creatively fun bassline and sweet instrumentation. The mix between real sounds (the drumline, snaps, and guitar) and synth (bass, vocals, and electric keyboard) blend really well to create a relaxed soundscape. Bieber has clearly tried to keep the vocals warm and powerful, which I appreciate. I really enjoy the call and response of the refrain. It makes the song seem casual, conversational, and again, very chill. This is the kind of song I’d listen to driving in the late afternoon summer with all the windows down, and I’m totally here for the vibe this song gives off. It’s a cool, groovy, different song which sets itself apart from other songs in the genre.
2) Up (Cardi B) – I’m not usually a fan of Cardi B, for many reasons (many of which tie back to her history of assault), but… I was pleasantly surprised on this track. I really like the drumline on this song; it’s got just the right mix of syncopation and driving on the beat motion. The synths used are also pretty interesting– she moves outside of typical modern hip hop sounds and embraces some of the faint chirps that harken back to hip hop of earlier generations. Her flow, as usual, is decent. The refrain is pretty uninteresting. While I enjoyed the song, to me, this song is no different than “Go Crazy” by Chris Brown, featured in last issue’s review… and so, I refuse to recommend this song.
3) Leave the Door Open (Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak) – I could write a whole ESSAY about how much I love this song. The instrumentation is pretty simple, and the vocals are old-fashioned, but this song is so interesting to listen to! Most modern songs don’t change keys very often, and if they do it’s usually towards the end. This track features 2 prominent changes in the first 30 seconds. The pattern continues throughout the song, changing keys several times. The chord progression is also unique and clearly thought out. Whereas most modern pop uses a variation of six or so chords in their entire song, here each chord is distinct, with well thought out voicings, progressions, and daring and adventurous changes. This song breaks from modern pop’s bland, samey texture, and I am HERE for it.
4) Save your Tears (The Weeknd) – I thought this song was an unappreciated gem when the album was released, so I’m happy that, over a year later, this track is receiving attention. This is certainly a more sad, melancholy song, but the method of creating this feeling is different from conventional music. Typical of The Weeknd, the song features prominent synthy sounds over a classical chill rock drumline. It feels like with this track, The Weeknd is attempting to blend two popular 80’s genres (synth pop and alternative rock) into one track with very chill vibes. I think it works very well, and the lyrics only work to add to this general emotion. Overall, I really like the musical landscape of this song, and it really feels at home in the niche The Weeknd occupies.
5) What’s Next (Drake) – Here I come with Drake slander. This song is annoying to listen to, to say the least. The synth background track immediately ruins it for me. It’s irritating, simplistic, and out of place. The sawtooth sampling method makes the synth too aggressive and rough; a smooth sample would have been far more pleasant and less off-putting. I hoped the synth would fade after the intro, but it persisted for the entire song. I could never get past how obnoxious the synth is, especially considering how mediocre the rest of the song is. The drumline is boring and basic, and Drake’s flow, while good, isn’t creative. I think this song is garbage and expected something far greater from an artist of Drake’s caliber.
6) What You Know Bout Love (Pop Smoke) – For someone who made his career in Brooklyn drill, Pop Smoke does the chill rap routine very well. The melodic ostinato repeated throughout the song is sweet and catchy. The bassline, in typical Pop Smoke fashion, is interesting and mobile, moving up, down, and all around. The vocals are smooth and suave. I don’t know if Pop was actually this good at singing, or they produced his vocals to death, but it blends extraordinarily well with the musical fabric of the song. Pop’s skill in his flow (acquired from drill) translates well here to a more chill setting. To sum it up: this is a really sweet, chill song, and is a very strong track for someone who typically makes more aggressive music. It’s just a shame that given his untimely death, Pop can’t continue what he started here.
7) Back in Blood (Pooh Shiesty ft. Lil Durk) – I’ll be honest: I had never heard of Pooh Shiesty before this review, and to be honest, I wasn’t impressed. This track was really mediocre, at best. The basic piano ostinato takes itself too seriously. The bassline is typical, the rhythm line boring, the vocals simple, and the flow yawn-inducing. Pooh’s libs (the “brrs” and “skrts”) are obnoxious and don’t add anything to the overall song. I’ll never understand why artists think it’s a good idea to moan into their microphone to start a track off. And through these various problems, it’s clear Pooh takes himself and this track pretty seriously. I have no problem with an artist taking himself seriously, but if an artist would like to do so, the music needs to be worthy of serious consideration, and this track is anything but serious.
8) Calling My Phone (Lil Tjay ft. 6LACK) – I like the basic construction. The sentimental piano vocals over a wall of wallowing synth bass is an attractive introduction and set my expectations high. The treatment applied to the vocals is also excellent. It sounds like Tjay and 6LACK are singing into an empty room at night, fitting with the track’s aesthetic. It’s clear that the song was well-produced. Now Tjay just has to deliver. Does he? Well…not exactly. His flow is often never quite on beat. It is frustrating for me to listen to, as I angrily tap my foot trying to sync the pulse of the vocals to the instrumentals. The refrain is also often off-putting. I disliked the “helium vocals,” or pitched up vocals that are also found in many other hip hop tracks. Overall, a well-produced song with mediocre vocals.
9) Anyone (Justin Bieber) – I immediately like my greeting on this track: bouncing arpeggios across a D major chord. They are soon joined by warm, powerful synth, with Bieber then adding his vocals on top of the shimmering instrumentals. Bieber’s range is, of course, incredible. He belts high notes for every refrain, and while there is no doubt his voice is being corrected, his range is still impressive. Bieber adds supplementary vocals on top of the main line, which blends excellently with the synth background established. Best yet, the entire song builds up until its conclusion. More and more layers of music are added until, finally, a drum set is added, and the music reaches its zenith for a final refrain. This was a feel-good, warm track that left me happier than it found me.
10) Astronaut in the Ocean (Masked Singer) – The intro for this song instantly gets me hype. The low range electric guitar gives me Metallica vibes, a la Mr. Sandman. Expert use of silence and unaccompanied vocals makes the beat drop extremely satisfying. The cool dissonance of the backing track is really interesting and atypical for this genre. I especially like the cold electric piano doubling the deep guitar twangs, and the threatening guitar gliss which fades in and out of the backing track. Masked’s vocals cut through the instrumentals sharply, with excellent vocal production, making his voice extremely pleasant. His flow is also excellent; he quickly spits bar after bar harkening back to the likes of Ski Mask. Masked pulls the silence into bass drop several more times throughout the song, and it is a testament to the song that it never gets old.