Songs of the Month: February 2020
Author: Sam Seliger
It looks like many of us will be spending a lot of time at home to avoid contracting COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that was recently declared a pandemic by the WHO. That might not be all bad, however, because of all the excellent new music that we now will have time to listen to.
British producer and vocalist Archy Marshall released his fourth album, “Man Alive!” his third under the name King Krule. He continues with his trademark brand of jazzy post-punk marked by ticking electronics, reverb-y guitars, skronking saxophone and Marshall’s inimitable baritone voice. On “Stoned Again,” Marshall wanders through a miserable middle-class, trying to find a place to get high, punctuated by vague flashbacks to his childhood. The song is marked by a combination of dread and anger; the entire first minute feels like a pot about to boil over. When it finally does, Marshall’s voice is abrasive as ever as he shout-sings the refrain. Eventually, the song comes to a halt, before fading back in with a new, mellower attitude, as Marshall has found solace in the romance of his partner.
In a very different part of the pop music universe is upstart pop genius Billie Eilish. On the heels of her Grammy wins for her debut album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” Eilish made the title theme for the upcoming James Bond movie “No Time to Die.” Eilish lent her intimate, woozy sound to the lilting piano ballad. Punctuated by an array of sounds including tinkling bells, swelling strings and muted trumpet, Eilish slowly builds a tell of dangerous lost love.
Eilish jumps into her higher register for the pre-chorus, before uttering the titular phrase and being swept away in a dramatic orchestral chorus. By the time she returns for the second verse, she has moved on, only to be drawn back into her old loves and fall away into the chorus once again. This time, she remains in front, belting out the refrain atop the strings.
While Eilish’s movie soundtrack may be a sure shot for mainstream popularity, other songs are not, such as “Bread Out of Stone,” the latest release by American free jazz collective Irreversible Entanglements. Bassist Luke Stewart kicks off with a powerful loping bass line as percussion clanks past, eventually locking into a hypnotic 9/8 groove. Vocalist/poet Camae Ayewa reflects on the musical and cultural traditions that inspire the group’s work, citing empowering mysticism as well as memories of violent oppression. The song is an intense spiritual odyssey that feels much longer than its five-minute runtime.
Less spiritually significant, although no less innovative, is the work of experimental pop duo 100 gecs. On their debut album, 2019’s “1000 gecs,” they concocted a dizzying fusion of seemingly opposing styles. They taint sugary-sweet auto-tuned pop with harsh saws of experimental electronic music before collapsing into a death-metal-esque breakdown, or sing about robbing horse races over modulated polka-rock. “Ringtone” was arguably the least off-putting song on “1000 gecs,” and the group’s new remix amps up the approachability without sacrificing too much weirdness.
Electro-pop singer Charlie XCX, who has worked with gecs member Dylan Brady, seems like a logical inclusion, but the presence of Baltimore rapper Rico Nasty and British indie rock band Kero Kero Bonito is less expected. XCX sings the first verse, as well as the chorus, and she lends the song a straightforward thematic coherence that was not present in the original. Kero Kero Bonito vocalist Sarah Bonito raps a verse about ringtone content that hints at the more insecure underside of the 100 gecs original. Distorted electric guitars come in for Rico Nasty’s verse, turning it into an epic pop-rock love song.
You can find all those songs and more on our playlist, which you can access below, or through our Spotify account.