10 Tracks on Repeat:
1. Shameika by Fiona Apple (2020)- To say that the singer-songwriter’s new record is amazing would be an understatement, it’s a virtual cultural phenomenon. Shameika is just one of many excellent tracks on Fetch the Bolt Cutters; however, it does stand out to me as the top highlight.
2. Idontknow by Jamie xx (2020)- It’s been a while since we heard from British producer and electronica artist Jamie xx, whether it be through his band The xx or his solo material. This has thankfully changed with the release of this new single. It’s a banger through and through, drawing on elements of classic British electronic music such as rave and future garage to create an atmospheric, dancefloor-filling number.
3. Comme des garçons (Like the Boys) by Rina Sawayama- This Japanese born British artist is the latest and greatest addition to the growing line-up of genuinely innovative female pop singer-songwriters. One of the lead singles off her new LP, this track is sultry and confident and one of many great moments in her eclectic debut record.
4. судно (Борис Рыжий) by Molchat Doma (2018)- A totally accidental discovery I made last week, Molchat Doma is a Belarussian post-punk band that made the hype-rounds a few years ago with their cold, scrappy take on the genre. I have no idea what they are singing in this song, I don’t even really know what it is called! What I do know however is that it is the best post-punk I have heard in a while and it has left me in need of more of this music from Russian speaking countries (watch this space).
5. We’re In This Together by Nine Inch Nails (1999)- An essential track from the messiah of dark, nihilistic industrial known as Trent Reznor (the sole core-member of Nine Inch Nails), this track is one of the more rock-oriented moments in his discography, which certainly doesn’t stop it from hurtling the listener with a dark atmosphere and dissonant, harsh instrumentation.
6. Baby I’m Bleeding by JPEGMAFIA (2018)- Peggy is quickly becoming one of my favourite hip-hop artists working right now, with this his third inclusion in this series. It was his 2018 album Veteran and its experimental production, hilariously carefree rapping and in-your-face attitude that helped him capture a wider audience, with Baby I’m Bleeding being the personal highlight for me.
7. Cracked Actor by David Bowie (1973)- Bowie is one of the greatest to ever grace the musical stage, plain and simple. This deep-cut off Aladdin Sane is one of a plethora of highlights in his enviable discography.
8. Crime Pays by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib (2019)- This team-up between gangsta rapper Freddie Gibbs and legendary abstract hip-hop producer Madlib (best known for his part in the highly regarded and worshipped Madvillain project with MF Doom), this song is a demonstration of how opposites attract, with Madlibs jazzy beats and unorthodox style serving as the strangely perfect foundation from which Gibbs can spin classic hip-hop tales and imagery of crime and life under extreme circumstances.
9. Hell of a Life by Kanye West (2010)- This track of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is classic Kanye through and through. Larger than life in every sense of the term, hate the man behind the music as much as you want (and trust me, I find his personality to be testing at the best of times), you cannot deny the fact he knows how to craft brilliant hip-hop.
10. In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson (1969)- This British band are often credited with morphing classic 60s psychedelia into 70s progressive rock. The blueprint for such a leap is defiantly evident on the title track of their debut album: it’s a long, spacy jam that incorporates a wide variety of instruments and styles and is accompanied by whimsical and even at times nonsensical lyrics.
Southside by Sam Hunt- 0.1/10:
I would describe listening to this album like eating plain couscous. As those who have gone through this unfortunate culinary experience would know, plain couscous is tasteless, dry and sticks around for far too long. And that is indeed how I would describe this album. Eating plain couscous.
In all seriousness, 2020 has already given us some excellent records to enjoy. But I would be lying if I said I hadn’t heard some truly atrocious albums as well. So far, Sam Hunt’s instrumentally uninspired, lyrically manipulative Southside is the most putrid piece of trash in the darkest depths of the bin. Following in the footsteps of his fellow ‘bro-country’ contemporaries The Florida Georgia Line, Hunt combines the worlds of a top-40 country with elements of trap and mainstream RnB to an appalling effect. If the term “bro-country” isn’t ringing enough alarm bells, the sound and aesthetic of this record, as a result, is just plain annoying. It feels someone programmed a robot to observe humans and in turn, create the ideal music from what it learned; however, the only exposure to humanity it was allowed were Frat-parties and Trump Rallies. In other words, it merely does not work in any shape or form. Hunt, as a vocalist, also displays no personality or charm. That being said, he reveals what kind of person he is via emotionally manipulative and downright immature lyrics about break-ups and love. This all culminates in him directly addressing an ex-partner in the final track and begging for her to let him “pay her college debts”, ensuring that he will probably have a restraining order placed on him, ruining what little chance he had with this girl (which is ultimately a good thing). As you can tell, I really did hate this album. Though I will grant that Hunt’s ability to be both uninspiring and emotionally manipulative is a very, very unique combination.
Best track: In all seriousness, Eminem’s song Stepdad is better than everything on here
Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple- 9.9/10:
The hype train has arrived at the station, and I am here for it in every way possible. There are some things that I will always comment about in my reviews when applicable. Production/instrumentation, lyrics and the overall personality that an album exudes. So rare is it that an album has all these things in abundance. So rare is it in fact, that music is simply this good. Fiona Apple isn’t an artist I am too familiar with; however, I am no stranger to the sheer amount of love that is projected onto this artist from both fans and critics alike. So, when I saw the astronomically large amounts of praise Fetch the Bolt Cutters was receiving, I figured it was then about time I got familiar with the singer-songwriter’s work. Little did I know that the ride this album was going to take me on would be one of the most serene musical experiences I have had in a while. What stands out most for me on this record is that it feels like the Apple wanted to make this. So strange and original is so much of this music that one can’t help but feel like this is about as pure as an artistic vision can get. Lyrically, this album thrives. Apple’s honesty throughout makes moments feel like she is trying to have a conversation with her listener, inviting them into her busy, active mind and leaving nothing out, all of this delivered with what seems like genuine passion and conviction in her vocalisation. The production and instrumentation are also another mind-blowing element of this record. Apple plays around with pop, soul, jazz and many, many more genres with near-universal perfection. I also love the fact that so much it this album’s sound feels untouched, with dogs barking in the background and a charming scrappiness holding the whole thing together. It truly does feel like music recorded in a living room, an album that offers a vivid snapshot into the world of not a godlike artist, but a normal human being, a person with a past, present and future. A person who has regrets and opinions. An honest person. Defiant. Humorous. Genuine. And above all else, unequivocally human. A truly great album that will surely go down in history.
Best track: Shameika
SAWAYAMA by Rina Sawayama- 8.2/10:
Let’s not let the release of Fiona Apple’s distract us from this gem of a pop record. The debut effort from the British singer-songwriter, it’s been a long time and delivers on substantial levels of hype most of the time. I will say I found a few tracks did drag a little and disrupted the flow of the record, but when the songs land on this LP, they break the floor with eclectic confidence. A wild mixture of hard rock riffs and top-40 pop sweetness, it’s a brash and bold record that ultimately works in nearly sonic departure it takes. I also enjoy how, in some ways; this album feels slightly subversive to what one might expect from an artist like Sawayama. Due to fact, she is Japanese born, the assumption (however unjustified it might seem to some) would be to possibly expect influences from the pop music of her country of birth. While I do think there are some traces of J-pop sprinkled throughout, Rina’s sound is far more expansive than that, drawing as much influence from music in the UK, the country she grew up in. Ultimately, I think this is an incredibly good thing. Outside the Japanese and Korean pop scenes, there seems to be little to no representation of Asian-born artists in Western pop music. I really do hope that SAWAYAMA can act as a catalyst to help encourage more Asian-born posters in Western countries to put themselves out there, as well as teach the industry a valuable lesson. This is all a little tangential, but I think it essential that a society’s music should represent the people listening to it, and I love seeing artists from otherwise relatively overlooked segments of our society put their name out there. But at the end of the day, this album’s quality (like all good albums) has nothing to do with Sawayama’s background and everything to do with how well it is made. I would highly recommend this album to anyone who considers themselves a fan of other art-pop artists such as Grimes and Charli XCX. A great, fun, blockbuster of a pop record.
Best track: Comme Des Garçon (Like the Boys)
Special Feature: Empty Message by Asbestos Lead Asbestos-
Bandcamp is a streaming app combine with independent record label and distribution. It is an excellent tool for independent artists and smaller labels to promote their music and control their production flow and economic security. It is also an excellent device for the discovery of new and exciting music.
So, when this Chicago based band and Bandcamp natives wrote to Simeon and I regarding a possible feature for their new EP Empty Message, I was more than happy and excited to take a look at what they had to offer. First and foremost, this EP is on the more inaccessible side. It combines the worlds of synth-driven industrial with full-blown noise freak-outs. Its the perfect album for anyone looking to be unsettled, with the songs, as short as they may be, often covering a lot of ground, from beat-driven quasi-dance music to drone and ambient soundscapes. It reminds me a lot of the recent Xiu Xiu record Girl With Basket of Fruit, especially in the strange and often disturbing lyrical content and vocal delivery. I would’ve maybe liked to have seen some of the songs play out a bit longer, however, that is mainly due to my preference of this kind of experimental music. An enjoyably unsettling EP that has me intrigued for what this band will be doing in the future. I also will like to take this opportunity to invite any other musicians in the audience to not be strangers and submit what you make to feature on this segment. I am more than happy to support smaller artists, especially in these trying times.
This Weeks Feature- An Experiment:
A lack of inspiration and a heavy uni workload has left me a little empty-handed in terms of ideas for a proper feature article. In its place, I would like to try out this experiment.
I sincerely hope that those who read this weekly feature listen to music themselves. If that fact is true about you, I propose this experiment: I would ask kindly of those of you brave enough in the Levine Lowdown audience (this includes you as well, Simeon) to submit a shortlist of songs that have been getting you through quarantine. You can do so by either commenting on this post or privately messaging the Levine Lowdown Instagram page (sorry Simeon). They can be of any genre and by any artist. There is no framework to what songs can be submitted. What I plan to do is then compile a playlist of tracks that are helping us get through this tough time and share it with you guys next week. I really hope this works and it will require some effort from you guys to do so. I think the sharing of music is wonderful and I hope you guys take this opportunity to join in on this most joyous of activity. So, the ball is in your court, let’s see what you guys have to offer!