Musical Maelstrom (August '23) - Season 3, Week 31-34 (Oliver Anthony, Paint The Town Red, and more)
Hey guys, welcome back to this month's Musical Maelstrom!
With June and July out of the way, let's dive into August to highlight the Best and Worst song of each week, etc. Apologies for the delay on this one, life got crazy in the last 3 months, but hopefully this should be the next step in catching up to my steadily growing list of music to cover:
Week 31 (August 4th - 11th)
Title: MELTDOWN by Travis Scott (Ft. Drake)
So I eventually took the time to listen to UTOPIA, and... it's fine. Not good, not bad, with a lot of experimentation I genuinely admire, but VERY uneven execution. And considering my thoughts on Travis and Drake's best-known collab are well documented at this point, it shouldn't surprise any of you that I find this pretty underwhelming. Kind of like the LAST song called Meltdown that we discussed on this series!
Look, I may be harsh on SICKO MODE, but at least I can still acknowledge its beat switches are potent and that the second part with Travis is genuinely great. This, on the other hand, is a mix of half-thought-out bars where Drake sounds especially unthreatening, the beat switch is fine but nothing all that interesting or different aside from the tempo, and while I like the touch of the star wars fighter lasers, that's honestly the most interesting part of a really mid instrumental.
While SICKO Mode felt huge, like a momentous occasion, this only debuted so high due to its 2 big names, and for no other reason. Hence why it dropped off just as quickly as it arrived! Unlike:
Title: Desire by Calvin Harris (Ft. Sam Smith)
The fact that I liked this song so much really shouldn't surprise me as much as it does. After all, Calvin Harris and Sam Smith have a proven track record - Heck, even I'm Not Here to Make Friends from earlier this year has grown on me considerably! But I think the song's command over its atmosphere really can't be overstated.
Sure, as some people have pointed out, it is kind of it is trend-chasing, I mean this trance dance sound has been huge throughout 2023. But in a year where genres I tend to be very reliant on have let me down, and also a year in which I've been a lot better at staying on top of things like the gym... maybe the music isn't better, maybe it's me, that's changed.
Chalk it up to low expectations being far surpassed time and time again this year, but I really do love this song!
Title: FEIN by Travis Scott (Ft. Playboi Carti)
Whereas this is trash, EASILY the worst song on UTOPIA, if you can even call it that!
It's just a FAR too long song where Travis' mumbling sounds barely coherent or even audible beneath the swamp of synths, and Playboi Carti repeating my name over and over again in a way that's genuinely haunting, and NOT in a good way!
It's ugly, abortive, underwritten, and not even in a way that's remotely interesting or clever. Repetitive nonsense I have zero interest in ever returning to, moving on!
Title: HYAENA by Travis Scott
Look, this is okay I guess. I think the instrumental sounds weirdly muted half the time, and it's lacking a strong hook, but Travis brings some genuine energy in the second half of the song, spitting in a way that sounds both engaged and engagING!
Can't say I remember it at all every time it comes to an end, but not terrible while it's on.
Title: On The Radar Freestyle by Drake & Central Cee
So yeah, believe it or not, I think THIS is the better Drake collab from this week!
Say what you will about the guy, but when he's given the right platform, he can really spit some great bars in the booth - remember Duppy Freestyle? - and this is no exception. The bars are on point, with some genuinely good punchlines and double-entendres, the flow is damn impressive and consistent, and even the muted beat, such as it is, provides a nice soft background to his mellower delivery. Shows there's a difference between mellow and bored-sounding, SOMEONE's been listening to my Open Mike Eagle praise!
Even Central isn't bad here either, even if I think Drake absolutely eats him in terms of... well, everything. To be fair, he has a bit less time, and he focuses a little too much on his media presence and good deeds, to the point of sounding a bit defensive, but he does a good job too, even if his verse is less quotable. Colour me impressed... please don't do a real collab though, I have a feeling a hit song from these 2 would be 9 levels of unbearable!
Title: Enough Is Enough by Post Malone
So I was a bit let down by Austin, an album that had SO much potential, yet stumbles when it comes to that pesky consistency song-to-song. But while I don't think it's quite Chemical or Mourning, this is still one of the better songs on the album!
Sure, the production's a little rubbery, and Post's warbling falsetto hurts my soul the higher it gets, but the chorus is strong, the drunken imagery is vivid, and while Chemical is the better-written version of this, the sentiment of lying on the floor piss-drunk as your ex stands over you wondering how to help is... kind of a mood? In a super toxic way? It's a very pathetic song, but it knows it, that's exactly the point. And for as juvenile as the behaviour is here, the vodka-soaked hedonism of it all still makes for a pretty anthemic song of self-loathing and bitterness. Not his best in this vein - Goodbyes is better - but still pretty solid.
Title: Something Real by Post Malone
Whereas this is another NOPE!
I don't know why the wailing on this one grates so much more than it does on Chemical or Enough is Enough... actually I do, it's the production. It's cavernous, slow, ugly, and just such a drag to listen to! It's a 3 1/2 minute song about Post moaning how nobody around him is real enough, and it's somehow worse than most of the dozen tracks Drake has churned out on the topic.
I've seen some praise for this song from some critics, most of which is based around the choral elements and when Post shuts the fuck up towards the end - and, fair - but I personally think that comes too little too late, this is a dud for me.
Title: Can You Hear The Music by Ludwig Göransson
What do you want me to say about this? It's an instrumental passage from the Oppenheimer film with a decent build and bombast, but it isn't exactly the most memorable tune, and at 90 seconds, doesn't stay around nearly long enough to leave much of an impression.
I'm sure it's wonderfully poignant in the film I still haven't seen, but as of right now... meh.
Title: Deli by Ice Spice
Another week, another Ice Spice song with a bog-standard RiotUSA beat. Surprisingly though, this might be the most distinct of Ice Spice's singles so far!
The slapping beat has some good energy and tempo, especially with the swampy bass and echoing background vocals which make the song feel huge. Even Ice Spice brings more energy to this than practically anything else I've heard from her this year! And the backing sample weirdly reminds me of a JPEGMAFIA decision, which is ONLY a compliment!
Now, I don't think it's great; the content is pretty stale, the hook is pretty weak, but the Fetty Wap reference on the chorus caught me off-guard in a good way, and comparing herself to Goku is just cute! It's certainly the most I've liked Ice Spice since Munch, nice work.
That being said, it's not quite winning Best of the week, because Desire by Calvin Harris & Sam Smith just has a vicegrip on my playlist as of writing this! Worst of this week is easy too: FEIN by Travis Scott & Playboi Carti is borderline unlistenable, and while I'd love to call it one of the worst songs I've heard this year... I don't even want to give it that much credit, it's just bad in a really boring way!
Week 32 (August 11th - 18th)
Title: Paint The Town Red by Doja Cat
So there were some major delays in writing this, meaning I've actually already had time to hear Scarlet, the new Doja album that feels more angry and defensive than ever, and which sadly didn't quite live up to the higher expectations I had for it. But even despite the letdown, I still think Paint The Town Red is probably the second-best song on the album.
Yes, I still love Attention in spite of the general public backlash, but as far as pop appeal goes, this is certainly the more radio-friendly one, while still being very distinct from anything that she's done before. And it's all down to her having the presence to pull it off; a song like this is inherently risky, as playing into the whole "bad girl", demonic aesthetic could easily backfire. But not only does she bring up some pretty good points in just how involved her fans can get in her personal life, but she pairs it with a really great hook and a delivery that makes me genuinely believe that she can do better without them.
Sure, the song could probably use another coat of paint from a production standpoint, and it's one of the times a guest rap verse might have elevated it a bit, but the backing vocals add a surprising amount of texture and the hooks on the song are plentiful, despite the simple structure. In other words, I can easily understand why this is the single from Scarlet that most people expect to succeed, because it's a pretty damn good song!
Title: TELEKINESIS by Travis Scott (Ft. SZA & Future)
Finally! Of all the songs we've covered so far from UTOPIA, this is my favourite by a healthy margin! And yes, I'm aware that might be because it was originally a Kanye West song, circa Donda, which does somewhat taint my listening experience of it. But considering how much the song was reportedly reworked to accommodate SZA and Future, I'm willing to give this a tentative pass.
It just sounds so much more interesting, even just from a purely sonic perspective! The mournful synths, the distorted voals, the bounce of the bass whenever it floods in at the end of the chorus, even Future is used expertly throughout the track, his ad-libs adding so much additional atmosphere. Plus, the 3 performers all give very vivid and well-delivered verses, which switch up flow and vocal tones to make for a far more colourful listening experience.
Honestly though, as much as Travis does his thing and Future genuinely surprised me on their respective verses, when SZA comes in with that blast of reverb and maintains that intense, engaged delivery throughout her verse as the gangbanger's wife who's still finding contentment in her imperfect relationship, it's heads-and-shoulders above the other 2, really elevating the track and allowing it to go out on a high note! So yeah, pretty damn great song, even despite its questionable origins!
Title: 4EVA by Belters Only
Oh fuck RIGHT off!
Whenever I shit all over particular artists, there's always the risk they'll suddenly release something decent and I'll have to praise them, which always feels especially icky for acts whose shitty behaviour I've called out - see Blue Razz by Versatile vs everything else I've ever said about them!
Seemingly no risk of that with Belters Only though, as after making a name for themselves off the back of stolen material in 2022, and following it up with stale, interchangeable garbage with every subsequent single, it appears they we're not done stealing. And this time, their target was more high profile; at first the synths reminded me of Nanana by Becky Gou, but even they wouldn't be stupid enough to steal something that recent. So I let some friends listen to it, and one of them immediately called it out as a ripping off ATB's Don't Stop. And yeah, if you've heard both songs, it's fucking close!
And even if some will call that tenuous, the alternative is a lazy cash-in, banking off trends that are currently hot, making incredibly minimal use of a pitched-up sample, and drum-and-bass elements that are never allowed to grow, instead repeating the muffled, BORING pattern ad nauseum! Seriously, who wanted this?!
So yeah, Worst is 4EVA by Belters Only, who the fuck even cares at this point?! Oh, and yes, believe it or not, that was our incredibly short second week of August, with only 3 new songs to choose from! And that's not the only surprise: despite TELEKENESIS being very progressive and ambitious, I'm still giving Best to Paint the Town Red by Doja Cat! Sorry, but I go back to it waaaaaaayyyy more, and it's only grown on me as an album opener.
Week 33 (August 18th - 25th)
Title: bad idea right? by Olivia Rodrigo
At this point, it's common knowledge to my readers and watchers that I love Olivia Rodrigo's vampire, and if you've been following me on the socials, you know I was HIGHLY anticipating her sophomore album GUTS as a result. So it's no surprise that I find this single just as good as every other critic out there... and yet I'd still argue I prefer vampire.
Don't get me wrong, I love this. The blast of distorted guitars towards the end kicks ass, the shouted chorus is pretty damn amazing, the denial about what a bad idea getting back together with her ex is is dripping off the page! But compared to some of the other songs on the album - yes, like vampire, but particularly the deeper cuts like lacy, love is embarrassing, or the opening and closing tracks - this feels like more of a re-hash of SOUR than an evolution of her sound. Which is fine, I still love SOUR, but I think GUTS just has more to offer both sonically and lyrically.
All of this to say that bad idea right? is great, and the fact that I still don't rate it that highly in terms of the album as a whole should say more about how much Olivia has grown as an artist, rather than be seen as an indictment of the song itself. Because this still goes fucking OFF!
Title: adore u by Fred again.. & Obongjayar
But if Olivia's bad idea right? was exactly what I expected - in the best possible way - this caught me WAY off guard! I mean, I've praised Fred again.. a fair bit - Hell, his collaboration with Brian Eno from earlier this year is still one of my most revisited albums of 2023, check it out, it's great - but this is just something so goddamn beautiful and cute! Not necessarily a first for him, but a culmination of all the styles and artistic experiments that he's tried up until tis point.
Bringing in Nigerian singer Obongjayar to make something that is goddamn close to transcendent in spots. I'm not kidding, I think this is easily his best release since Rumble. The way Obongjayar's voice quivers as he describes all the ways in which this person just floors him with how incredible they are, leaving him in adoring awe of them. The way the piano and house flourishes come in ever so slowly, really letting the track build first, while also not taking too long (it's 3 and a half minutes, the perfect length)! And then there's the flip into the hip hop sample, kick-ass!
In other words, this is a phenomenal song, and a huge surprise that I did not expect to hear. Sure, it definitely borrows heavily from The Sound by The 1975, but since that song's been tainted for me as of late, the timing honestly couldn't be better! Definitely a huge highlight on the charts as of writing this!
Title: Prada by Cassö, RAYE & D Block Europe
One of my earliest exposures to D-Block Europe was Ferrari Horses, their collaboration with RAYE, and dare I say it, probably still my favourite song of theirs in recent memory. So taking a 30-second sample of that, chopping and screwing it into a dance song, and essentially making it market-ready for TikTok, that's something that I wasn't expecting, but which I probably should have.
And this isn't bad. I think the blaring synths get a little bit old, but the pumping energy is infectious enough, and the samples pulled from both acts are pretty flattering. I just wish that Cassö did more with it. It's really very basic, especially when placed next to adore u. And NOT calling your song Stripper Tits In My Face?! Missed opportunity!
Jokes aside, this song is fine, it's serviceable, but I'm not going to remember it in a day; give me the original anytime!
Title: Rich Men North of Richmond by Oliver Anthony
I'm not gonna lie, there is a part of me that has been DYING to weigh in on this song!
Because after all, I'm a certified country fan, who's felt the genre has been underrepresented by mainstream media for far too long and is quite glad to see it finally getting some airplay! Shame songs like THIS are what's getting the most attention though, because despite the fact that I know where Oliver Anthony was coming from with this... I'm sorry, I kind of hate this song!
For the record, this isn't the blatant racism shown by Jason Aldean's big hit earlier this year, which thankfully never charted in Ireland! It's not hateful, just very misguided, which is why Oliver Anthony just comes across like a big idiot here. He's got a powerful voice, but he doesn't use it well, essentially shouting out every line, which has made him the ideal poster child for every negative stereotype people associate with country music and its fanbase. And while I have praised other artists such as Drayton Farley, or Caitlin Canty for their use of raw production, here, it just adds to the amateurish nature of it. I know it's part of his everyman image, but when the everyman outright calls himself an "old soul in the new world", and talks about being controlled by governments who want you to think a certain way, not to mention the already infamous lines about the fat poor people living off of "welfare fudge", whatever the fuck that's about... Yeah, while I know he doesn't align himself with the right politically, it does sounds like he listens to way too much Joe Rogan and the red pill crowd.
And that sucks, because in a way, I do feel some sympathy for him! He doesn't strike me as a bigot like Jason Aldean, he strikes me as someone who's been fed the wrong diet of media! I dunno, based on the interviews I've seen with him since this came out, there might be hope for him yet. But what this song represents is the danger of ignorance. And while that's not something I'll condemn him for personally, I can't possibly condone the track itself.
A long tirade, I know, but all of that to say I think this song is pretty fucking terrible and ill-conceived, even if I do see Oliver Anthony as more of a victim of the same system that he's attempting to call out here.
Title: The Night We Met by Lord Huron
Whoa, this IS a surprise! I was actually familiar with this song before, from a very specific source: 13 Reasons Why, the reason this originally charted in multiple countries back in 2017, even though it never made it big here to Ireland before now.
And I think it's a fairly good song for what it is, a wistful ballad with some really nice indie rock production, generally pleasant vocals with an old-school charm that reminds me of Stephen Sanchez ,with a strong, howling backing vocals on the second half as it kicks up the earnestness, giving me Noah Kahan vibes in the good way
However, I ultimately find myself the song is lacking some depth or lyrical detail in order to be more than a good soundtrack hit for a pretty sweet scene in a very fucked-up and toxic show (albeit while it was still good). Still though, not disappointed to see this making the rounds again, it's not UNdeserving of a second wind.
Title: Closer by Bou (Ft. Slay)
Oh boy, it's another song that uses the Children sample, just like REACT earlier this year, joy! And yet despite my cynicism every single time I hear that sample, this is actually one of the better interpolations I've heard of it.
First of all, unlike REACT, it actually speeds up the sample and flips it a bit, doing something, ANYTHING aside from just blandly playing it over a piano house beat. The snare and backing singers give the song an extra level of grandeur, and the way it builds to that drum-and-bass-style drop is actually really fucking potent. Maybe it's the weird juxtaposition between Slay's more monotone vocals and the brighter sample with the whirring percussion elements, but something about this contrast just works really well.
I wouldn't call it amazing, but it's definitely the best way that I've heard this sample used in a while. And while I don't really see the song sticking around in the long term, I do hope that more people take their cues from it in the future. Because this is how you use a sample right!
So that was one of our "longer" August weeks, and Worst of the week, big shock, is obviously going to Rich Men North of Richmond by Oliver Anthony, if for nothing else than for the terrible name it's giving country as a genre! For the Best though, it's not quite as cut and dry, but I'm awarding it to adore u by Fred Again.. & Obonjayar, for really catching me off-guard and BARELY winning the edge over bad idea right?.
Week 34 (August 25th - September 1st)
Title: Da Selby (Part 1) by Hozier
So here we have the opening track to Unreal Unearth, the first part of two, and considering how much I lavished Part 2 with praise last month, it's no surprise this side is pretty great too, albeit very different.
Taking inspiration from a character in 1967's The Third Policeman, a character who revels in darkness, my interpretation of this song is essentially that the protagonist has found the one true person that he's supposed to be with, despite or even because of the fact that she's full of a darkness he craves. And yet he's so full of adoration that he still wants to give them a chance, to create a relationship out of the void.
Yes, it's heavy, and the second half of the song being entirely in Gaelic certainly can be daunting... until you translate the text an realise it revolves around a girl called Soranna Sorcha, describing her as someone accustomed to the night, "an artist's transformation in the black art", which all definitely lends itself to my interpretation being correct.
Plus, it just sounds gorgeous, a very slow build that makes great use of its blend of organic and bleeping electronic elements, and ends with some gorgeous multitracking that really hits. Not my favourite song on the album, but certainly an opener that set the stage perfectly, and then continued to grow on me over the months.
Title: Coal by Dylan Gossett
So this is interesting, because the week after Oliver Anthony made it big with Rich Men North Of Richmond, this song started circulating in Ireland. Not in the US, mind you, despite the fact that I'm fairly certain Dylan is from Austin, Texas, with musical influences from Alabama. We'll get to that in a second, but when I first saw the title, I'll admit that my heart sank a little. Great, another clumsy attempt at connecting with the working class and ultimately just coming across as bigoted!
But no, that's not what this is at all. If anything, the song this reminds me of most - specifically in terms of the melody and construction - is Live Oak by Jason Isbell. A song from 10 years ago, off of my favourite albums of all time. He's not quite as good a songwriter or a singer as Jason, but I will say I do like it a fair bit. It's a pretty harrowing song too, wondering why even after all that life has thrown at him, all the pressure, he's still just a basic piece of coal. Has he not suffered enough to be considered a diamond yet, is that it? It's actually quite miserable, questioning why he has to struggle so much in life, and when he's finally going to be rewarded for all this hard work. All with that lingering sense of dread that it all might be for nothing, because some people just never make it.
It's such a brutal message that even now is rare to see on the radio. Even Dylan's rather middling range works in his favour, helping him feel more like the everyman where it only hurt Oliver Anthony. It gets the hopeless universality of the message across so much better than if he'd sounded too polished or clean. Well done, Dylan Gossett! Again, not the most complex song, but FAR superior to Rich Men yada yada, apologies to you that I ever made that association in my head!
Title: 2 die 4 by Addison Rae (Ft. Charli XCX)
Whenever Charli collabs these days, it always feels a tad underwhelming. I can't pinpoint when it happened exactly, but it might have been Beg 4 You with Rina Sawayama where the cracks started to show, which ultimately lead to that very boring last album. And this new song with Addison Rae just feels like more of the bland same.
The standard beat reminds me of something Fifth Harmony would have hopped on circa 2016, the verses are completely forgettable and the chorus almost interpolates Khia's My Neck My Back - which would have been incredible - and yet it doesn't quite go all the way. Maybe they wanted to maintain some class? Because THAT's what these 2 artists' fanbases are known for! Yeah, as a big Charli XCX fan, I really don't listen to her for anything this clean, it's the furthest thing from her experimental best work!
Add onto that the lack of chemistry between these 2 - COME ON, at least Beg 4 You got THAT right! - and on the song ultimately just becomes a mere blip on my radar that wouldn't have gotten big if it wasn't for the 2 names associated with it. But hey, at least Speed Drive has grown on me, in part thanks to this!
Title: Bittersweet Goodbye by Issey Cross
Another week, another 2023 pop song with drum-and-bass elements sampling a well-known song, THIS time The Verve's Bitter Sweet Symphony, so on-the-nose that they barely bothered to adjust the title! But after my initial cynicism and eye-rolling, I actually listened to the song... and man was I caught off-guard in a good way!
And a lot of that appeal has to do with Issey Cross, whose rather piercing voice actually works to her advantage here, refusing to be smothered by the production and vocal effects, so you get a surprising amount of personality coming through. She seems genuinely distraught that this relationship is ending and yet she isn't sad it happened, it's an appropriately bittersweet mix of feelings.
It's funny, I've seen her crop up a bunch of times before alongside big producers - including Luude himself, who produced this too - but here, the mix is kept a bay in order to allow her vocals to shine properly, and it only elevates the listening experience for me! Take notes EVERY OTEHR PRODUCER working today, this makes great use of its sample AND its performer, allowing BOTH to shine! I really do enjoy this, they put in the extra effort and it really shows!
Title: DNA (Loving You) by Billy Gillies (Ft. Hannah Boleyn)
And speaking of great house bangers... you know, 2023 has been a phenomenal year for modern Irish music gaining a foothold internationally! I just wish the biggest success stories were better, as Belters Only, Jazzy and Cian Ducrot just feel like such poor ambassadors! But occasionally, the big breaks come for artists who actually deserve it! It happens!!!
Enter Belfast DJ Billy Gillies - who's been building up quite a bit of buzz over the past few years as a remix artist and club DJ of some renown - alongside London singer-songwriter Hannah Boleyn, whose rich and tempered vocals lend the song a grandiose feeling that sounds and feels phenomenal! The song takes its time building slowly, setting the stage before the dance beat kicks in on the first chorus, then. doubles down around the end of the second one with those synths that sound jacked straight from twenty one pilots' Car Radio, making for an incredibly danceable and upbeat song that still feels designed to KILL in a stadium setting!
It's a song designed to transport you to those final moments on a dancefloor where it's just you and the person you love basking in your own adoration for one another, and actually bothers to have a start, middle and end that feel satisfying, ending on an equally powerful chill note as where it started! It's the kind of EDM that exemplifies why the Trance revival has been so desperately needed to re-inject some life into the charts after the exceedingly bland 2022 - and I say that as someone who likes a lot of that year's hits more than most - and it's definitely another winner for the Irish charts to rebalance the scales of quality.
And yeah, considering how much I've gone back to it since it dropped, it only makes sense for me to give Best of this week to DNA (Loving You) by Billy Gilllies & Hannah Boleyn. However, it's actually TYING with - you guessed it - Da Selby (Part 1) by Hozier, a phenomal opener to one of my favourite albums of the year! As for the Worst, I suppose I'll give it to 2 die 4 by Addison Rae & Charli XCX? I don't hate it, but I do hate the lack of creativity it represents.
And THAT was August, sorry again for the delay! No, I'm not giving up, I still genuinely believe I can catch up guys! As always, let me know in the Comments what you thought of the songs covered this week, and leave a Like if you enjoyed! Please make sure to follow me everywhere so you don't miss a thing, and Subscribe to the blog to keep up with my weekly chart reflections. Stay safe and happy everyone and until the next time, I'm Fionn and this is The Social Tune signing off!