Monday, May 2, 2016

Five Favourite Tracks from Drake's 'VIEWS'



Each morning, I try to minimize the steps taken between my alarm going off and making it out the door to run - or else it's not happening. I fold my clothes at the end of my bed, put my socks in my untied shoes, hang my keys and my dog's leash at the door, etc. This past Friday, I had one crucial added step: downloading all 20 tracks off Drake's VIEWS to my phone, because I sure as hell wouldn't be listening to anything else.

Nor was the rest of the Toronto, from the sounds of it. Even at 6:30am, I heard it blaring from cars. I assumed other people jogging past me, and later in the day, in line for coffee or stepping on to the street car, were also plugged in with VIEWS. As is the case in many Torontonians, and the rest of the world, we become familiar with new Drake songs pretty quickly.

In my opinion, VIEWS isn't Drake's best album. It's too long and I'm growing a wee bit tired of the themes and corny lyricism. But that doesn't mean it doesn't sound very good. It's an easy listen; an accessible listen. And we owe that to producer/mastermind Noah '40' Shebib and his collaborators as much as we do the 6 God himself. Here are five tracks I've had on rotation all weekend, excluding the singles we've already heard and loved:


1. Weston Road Flows: "Weston Road Flows" is one of the most real, authentic pieces on this album. That old-school Mary J. Blige sample and thumping beat (hats off, 40) lay the perfect foundation for Aubrey reminiscing to his pre-Forest Hill days. As he mentions on "U With Me?," Drake "made a career off reminiscing," and this standout showcases it best.

2. Feel No Ways: I thought OVO signees Majid Jordan missed the mark with their recent debut album, but when I think back to their involvement on "Hold On, We're Going Home" and now this shimmery pop gem, I have renewed faith in their abilities. While Drake crooning about an ex-lover's slight isn't shocking, it's surprisingly welcome when stirred with some Dev Hynes-style synths and retro beats.

3. Views: The title track is one of the strongest on the whole album (as it should be). While Drake usually Dad-dances the fine line between pop and hip-hop, on "Views," he's a triumphant rapper with punchy choice words about loyalty and life in the limelight. Combined with that deep Maneesh beat, "If I was you, I wouldn't like me either" are some of my favourite album-closing words.

4. With You (feat. PartyNextDoor): When you roll with up-and-coming OVO fam like PND on trop-R&B cuts like this, who needs new friends? This album has no shortage of pretty pop singles - I mean, it's sort of a pop album - but this one takes the (cheese) cake as my summer sixteen anthem. (The hokey wordplay is rubbing off - send help.)

5. Grammys (feat. Future): I had a bit of a What a Time To Be Alive flashback with this banger, because, again, Future stole the spotlight. Neither Drake nor Future are groundbreaking lyricists - that's not why we love them so much - but Future's cadence, grimy rasp and character took this song from average to earworm.






Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Favourite New Track: Beyoncé's "All Night"



Late Saturday night, following the airing of Beyoncé's brilliant HBO special Lemonade, I watched the internet light up with word that she'd done it again; she'd dropped another surprise "visual album" of the same name, centred around emotional themes: family, infidelity, burdens and salvation.

Unsurprisingly, less than ten minutes into my eager first listen at 11:30pm on a Saturday (maybe the only time I've been happy I pay for all the streaming services), it was blatantly clear that Lemonade was game-changing. History-making. Gut-wrenching. Raw and empowering, and nothing less.

For those who didn't get their ears on Lemonade off the bat, they heard the lyrical thread that tied the album together was her husband Jay-Z's alleged infidelity and Beyoncé's formidable response to it. This isn't untrue, but it's so, so much more. It's so much more that I, a white Canadian female, am unqualified to comment on - yet, wholeheartedly tried to recognize. Everything about Lemonade is palpable. Within the hour-long visuals and 12 tracks, she expresses explicit feelings of vulnerability in her own body and soul; a woman sexually and emotionally shunned by her partner, a black woman historically forgotten by society. 

But, no part of her dwells on any of it. She airs out every ounce of insecurity and rage, and ultimately, the man (men) who are at the source of it. She's triumphant in rejecting the personal hand she's been dealt, while shamelessly highlighting her power and spiking the general public's ignorance with a heavy dose of reality about the world we live in. 

The reason I love "All Night," the second last track on Lemonade, isn't because it sounds like the pretty resolve for music's most admired, mysterious and enchanting power couple and their revelation. Although melodically beautiful, I still find it uneasy like the rest of the album where she screams and curses a little more. I love this song because of what it represents; it's realness and sincerity. Even if we'll never really know how real any of this is (because we sure as hell won't be getting an interview out of them anytime soon), "All Night" seems to represent edging towards overcoming. I'm sure that nothing about the couple's ordeal, their struggle, or the ordeals and struggles present in our current civil rights crisis, are close to over - but she helps us believe it's being worked through. That it's just as OK to be very, very angry, as it is to work through it. With "All Night," the anger sounds like it's becoming productive, and hate sounds like it's slowly being replaced with love and acceptance. Art like this feels like it's going to affect change both publicly and behind closed doors, and with all the hurt and confusion happening at any given minute, that's something to feel really good about.


                       

Friday, April 22, 2016

Prince, Forever.


Remembering and listening to Prince all day. This one hits hard. One of the greatest and most influential musicians, performers and artists to have ever lived. 

Celebrate Prince this weekend, and always.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Listen to Daniel Wilson: "Wedding Daze"


We were first introduced to Michigan-based singer Daniel Wilson in 2013, and have been treated to a steady trickle of contemporary soul singles off his two EPs ever since. Yesterday, the 24 year-old premiered "Wedding Daze," the first song from his forthcoming release Sinner of the Week, and it's impossible to make it through one listen - hell, one quarter of the track - without the palpable feeling that he's onto something major.

The euphoric pop gem is impressive in its big instrumental moments, but made totally anthemic thanks to Wilson's excellent gospel-trained falsetto. After minutes of uplifting harmonies, a sunny whistle and string-led climax, I guarantee you'll feel cheer pumping through you.

Look out for Sinner of the Week on Zap Records later this year.




Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Best New Track: Kweku Collins - "Stupid Rose"



More and more, we're witnessing a new wave of R&B and hip-hop fusion. And, not in the sense that it's common to acknowledge both genres at separate points in a given song, but in that artists (Drake, Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar, Miguel, to name a few) are blending rhymes and croons to create a soulful, sing-spoken experience with enough pulse, cadence and punch to keep a listener hooked on every syllable.


That's what we have here with "Stupid Rose," the part-blasé/part-quick-spitting slow burner off Kweku Collins' new album Nat Love. Backed by a wobbly, slow-mo beat, Collins chants lazily over the trippy keyboard tricks; but don't get it twisted - there's major sharpness and confidence in his expression, similar to how you'd expect Earl or Chance to deliver a story they've told fifty times already.

All in all, this cut is a low key banger that, dozens of plays later, is becoming the wacky gift that just keeps on giving.



Friday, April 15, 2016

8 New Songs You Need To Hear Now




Landcruisin' - A.K. Paul: It didn't take long for me to fall in love with this song after stumbling across it a few weeks ago. Seconds into the muffled guitar riff and varied percussion, I wasn't sure if I was listening to a newcomer or Frank Ocean - and, anything that sounds like Frank is A-OK by me. As it turns out, it also doesn't take long to hear that while it's a little unpolished to be Ocean's anticipated return, for Jai Paul's brother A.K., it's a stellar turn at some ultramodern R&B.




On My Mind (feat. Pusha T) - Moxie Raia: I first heard "On My Mind" via Ebro Darden last week, and couldn't believe the addictive ear candy wasn't the product of a long-established pop star. Raia might not be a household name yet, but the 25 year-old New Jersey native is definitely gearing up for a mainstream breakout, seeing as she nabbed Pusha T for the feature, as well as a spot opening for Justin Bieber's Purpose tour alongside Post Malone.





I Remember - alunaGeorge & Flume: I'm not a house/electronic aficionado, but I've followed alunaGeorge's accessible indie-electro for almost five years. Although almost achieved with their Jack Ü collaboration last year, I'd say the sugary sweet sentiment of this midtempo jam might be what finally gets their names on the big charts.




The Sickness (feat. Nas) - J. Dilla: 
Unless you're a huge hip-hop head, you might not know who J. Dilla is, so, let me put the late rapper/producer's legacy into quick context for you. In the 2014 Stone's Throw Records doc Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, Kanye West was quoted saying, "We gotta make music and think, ‘If Dilla was alive, would he like this? I have to work on behalf of Dilla." With this star-studded posthumous album, which sounds like an early-00s time warp, it's easy to appreciate every sample-heavy, Dilla-led song - to remember the visionary he was as both an MC and producer - but very, very hard to accept that he's gone.



Strive (feat. Missy Elliot) - A$AP Ferg: Oof. Two-stepping, early-90s-reminiscent downtown beats like these ones are the key to my heart. It's nothing complicated, but the pulsing dance production laid down for Ferg and Missy gives you life with each rapid rhyme.




Breakers Roar - Sturgill Simpson: Breaking the mold of the above tracks, and most other things I've covered during this fabulously beat-inundated year, I have to throw a shoutout to alt-country singer-songwriter Simpson's eclectic new album A Sailor's Guide to Earth, and this beautiful, twang-filled lullaby.




Man - Skepta: Finally, Skepta recently revealed he'll be releasing his new album on May 6, which came with the announcement of a full tracklist and this brand new banger, via Zane Lowe. On "Man," the revered grime MC spits fearlessly about how people treat him following his rise to fame, all over a thick, speaker-rattling beat.




One Way to Pray - Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop: It might have taken Sam Beam, a.k.a. Iron & Wine, to give folk singer Jesca Hoop the airtime she deserves with their debut collaboration Love Letter for Fire, and although I'm not happy about the spelling of her first name, I'm happy she's excelling. Hoop's throaty vocals perfectly harmonize with Beam's barely-there croon throughout the whole album, but especially on this sunset-ready Americana sway.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Listen to Charlotte Day Wilson's New Single: "Work"



Premiered yesterday as a World First on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show, Charlotte Day Wilson’s new single “Work” is lyrically a huge testament to the Toronto soul songstress’ ethic, and sonically, her mind-blowing talent.

On the nearly slow-motion R&B ode, Day Wilson’s effortlessly smoky vocals weave in and out of the chugging drum loop and organs, rising to a harmonic and subtle guitar-adorned climax. Whether you relate to song’s intended message about hustle, or hear it from a relationships standpoint, “Work” is a guaranteed ignition of all the emotions.

While the sultry piece shares the same name as Rihanna’s viral dancehall track, Day Wilson preemptively insisted via Twitter that trolls “get it out of ur systems now. Wrote it long before.”

You can catch the Day Wilson live in Toronto this Friday, where she'll open Daniel Caesar's anticipated Mod Club show. See you there.