Generally speaking, August is the home to the dog days of summer, a month where the thermometer shows no signs of going down and the release calendar shrivels. And while the heat was as omnipresent as ever, this year marked a fruitful month of new music, from major releases from Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, and Nicki Minaj as well as critical darlings Spoon and FKA twigs. Then there was Lauryn Hill, who passionately addressed the harsh realities exposed in light of the tragedies occurring in Ferguson, MO. So, no, the month wasn’t easier to get through than in years past, but, thankfully, we had the music to help us attempt to make sense of a challenging 31 days.
El-P and Killer Mike’s fantastic 2013 debut as Run The Jewels was, along with Yeezus, the year’s most visceral and sonically forceful albums. And what has been long rumored was officially announced on Thursday, August 21; the album’s sequel, set for release on 28 October. According to “Blockbuster Night Part 1”, the upcoming material will in no way be a watered down version of their previous masterstroke. What it is is something perhaps even more arresting and thrilling, with “Part 1” featuring a menacing beat while the two MCs channel the understandable frustrations so many feel due to the ongoing horrific scene in Ferguson, Missouri. R.A.P. Music signaled a significant artistic rejuvenation in Killer Mike, and his work with El-P has only grown more cohesive and tight with more years under their belt. It seemed like a (Christmas fucking) miracle that Run The Jewels even existed, and this next batch of records is poised to be an even bigger blessing. This is hip-hop talking back to the world it observes. We’ve needed a wake-up call.
Tops have been operating on the fringe of the musical dialogue since their inception, with their music reserved to a small, devoted following. “Easy Friends” managed to garner a slight bit of attention back when Tender Opposites was released in 2012, with most attention going to lead singer Jane Penny. Her commanding yet playful vocal performance hinted at an artist with a singular voice, and their latest confirms the initial projections for the Montreal four-piece.
“Outside” skates along with remarkable ease behind a steady beat and Penny’s soft, deliberate vocalization. The song accurately captures all the emotions of a fading romantic flame, and when Penny sings, “but when I look into your eyes / you see something I’m trying to hide,” she lifts the veil over all of us. The song ends with a wistful, grounded guitar solo, not too far removed from Real Estate’s understated instrumentation. With a few more years of performing under their belt, Tops seem to have locked in on something pretty special, a successful joining of their previous appeal with a sound even more fit towards their strengths.
Tops new album Picture You Staring is out 2 September via Arbutus.
Just when it seemed Taylor Swift couldn’t go more pop than she did on juggernaut Red singles “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, “I Knew You Were Trouble.” and “22”, she outdoes herself on the recently released “Shake It Off”, produced by Swift alongside Max Martin and Shellback. The verses feature a boisterous horn section, recalling TNGHT’s “R U Ready”, which was itself sampled on Kanye West’s masterful “Blood on the Leaves”. Swift dipped her toes in pop music sounds with her last outing, and her newest appears set to be her biggest departure from “Tim McGraw” yet. Crucially, it sounds like the direction she wants to take; as captain of the ship, Swift is poised for another successful journey around the globe.
Currently enjoying well deserved top 40 radio airplay courtesy of an assist on Iggy Azalea’s smash single “Fancy” and her own “Boom Clap”, Charli XCX’s recently announced Sucker could not arrive at a better time. It’s lead single, “Break the Rules”, finds the emerging star operating in her own lane and finding new ways to differentiate her sound. “I just wanna break the rules”, she sings at the pinnacle of a dizzying pre-chorus, and immediately practices what she preaches as the ensuing breakdown doesn’t conform to our expectations, and is instead the most stripped back part of the song. But before that, rave-y, pulsating synths lead to us to the discotheque, as Charli implores us to “put on our dancing shoes”. Like the majority of True Romance before it, “Rules” has a way of translating into a rallying cry, an endearing and universal plea. With her biggest platform yet, Charli XCX reminds us all why we should be watching.
Sucker is out 21 October through Neon Gold.
“Club Goin Up on a Tuesday” first saw release on iLoveMakonnen’s June self-titled EP, and now the song reaches a much larger audience thanks to Drake’s remix, released this past Tuesday. The song feels as though it could fall apart at any second, with both emcees taking their time to navigate the surroundings. But before you can think about turning the song off, that chorus reels you in. And while Drake is an obvious choice for a remixer of this song, this is undeniably the work of iLoveMakonnen, with his voice ringing loud and clear, successfully shaping the song to fit his strengths. For an artist on the fringe of commercial hip-hop before this remix, “on a Tuesday” marks a well-deserved moment in the spotlight for a rising rapper in ATL’s large hip-hop community. Too bad his weekends are about to be even busier after this.
Big ups to Pitchfork for the free download.