Musical McCool Maelstrom - Season 2 | Weeks 2 - 5 (January 2022)
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
Hi guys, welcome back to The Social Tune, and welcome to a LONG overdue edition of Musical McCool Maelstrom!!!
So for those of you who missed the first time, this is what I do when I've missed several weeks of Musical McCool in a row and have to catch up. And considering I haven't posted anything since early January... yeah, this had to happen. For context, a lot happened in 2022: I moved, I've been working on a TON of side projects and some interesting possibilities that may come up at some point (stay tuned for that in the not-TOO-distant future) and I had f some other personal life developments, including 2 new cats! But in spite of all that, I have been way too eager to get back to 2022's music in any capacity, so here I am to bring you my thoughts on the songs that hit the Irish charts in the last few months, 1 month at a time.
As with past editions of this series, I am going to keep it very simple, just running through all the songs I've missed, week by week, and picking out a Best and Worst for each week. So let's not waste any more time and start with some Pure Digital Magic... oh wait, that's Disney DVD... anyone else remember Fast Play- okay let's get to it!
Week 2 - January 7, 2022
Title: We Don't Talk About Bruno by Encanto Cast
Speaking of Disney... this is the big one, the one that everybody's been talking about... ironically enough! This, the breakout song from Encanto that absolutely rocked the world and took over the charts across many many countries. And look, I get the discourse and the fact that people are saying Disney has too much power, as well as the completely separate conversation of people comparing it to other huge songs like Let It Go from Frozen, but I'm not really inclined to get into any of that. For one, I've seen the movie and it's a fundamentally different kind of story than most that Disney tells, and for another, the music is very much in the style of the movie, fairly unique even in terms of basic structure. Take this song, a multi-part storytelling song, which almost tricks you into thinking it's the main villain song, except that it's sung from the perspective of a bunch of people who are villainising a character who ends up being - SPOILER ALERT - quite sympathetic! Maybe it's because the film's still quite fresh in my mind, or possibly because I was actually convinced to watch the movie because I listened to the soundtrack first, but I think this song is fucking great.
A lot of the instruments are traditionally Latin, especially the guitars, handclaps and light percussion, while the multiple voices intertwining around each other to weave the story, even arguing with each other in a very familial way, that all makes it feel like a modern-day musical. You can really feel the Lin-Manuel Miranda touch long before you actually realise he wrote most of the music for this movie. And the stories told here are actually pretty damn entertaining, painting a portrait of a trickster/boogieman figure as the character of Bruno, who would predict all the horrible things that would befall everyone... and then they all came true! Definitely an element of manifest destiny in there, but the song is just so charming and catchy.
I'm not at all surprised this ended up being the big one that took off , especially with the "Bruno no, no, no" that ends off the hook, that's been stuck in my head for months! Really, really enjoy this one... and yet, I still find myself preferring:
Title: Surface Pressure by Jessica Darrow
Okay, I will admit that this is very much a personal choice. I've spoken on a couple of occasions about being the eldest of three siblings, and for many years, I felt like I was the person who had to put on a smile and stay strong for friends and family around me who were suffering. So yeah, believe it or not, I really do relate to this song on a pretty visceral level, even if it is born out of a not-so-healthy hero complex I'm still working through. But it's not just the fact that it's about slowly sagging under the crushing weight of people's expectations of you, it's also because I think the song's writing is phenomenal.
When listening to the soundtrack, this is the song that made me realise, without even looking at the credits, that Lin-Manuel Miranda was involved in scoring this film, because the rhyme scheme is just so classic him. The countless internal rhymes, the way that the instrumentation suddenly shifts for the drip, drip, drip/tick, tick tick of the first half of the hook, and the incredibly witty writing. Everything about it just feels tense, you can feel the pressure looking for a release, which is where that soothing bridge comes in, fantasising about having time for joy and relaxation. The song almost feels messy in spots, pulling too many syllables into each measure... except that's exactly the point, simulating the feeling of having so much piled on top of us that it becomes suffocating.
Now if I did have one complaint, it would be the instrumentation, which is surprisingly kind of bare compared to some other songs from the soundtrack. Still good, I just wish it were more tuneful or lush. But even with that, it's still my favorite song from Encanto, at least at the moment. It might change with time, but this one, with its slow descent into insecurity and a mental breakdown... yeah, it really works for me. That being said, the Amanda Palmer cover is... whew, such an emotional tour-de-force, give THAT a listen!
Title: Just A Little While by The 502s
Well, this is a weird one. For those of you don't know, The 502s are an American indie rock band, who after dabbling in bluegrass and Americana for the past couple of years, suddenly got a huge boost on Irish TikTok, vaulting into the Top 50 for no discernible reason. Don't get me wrong, this style of rock-tinged folk has been growing in popularity for the past year, but I'm just a little surprised that it caught on in Ireland and nowhere else. But anyway, all of that aside, this song is great too!
I may not understand how it got here, but the horns, drums, throaty vocals and the way that galloping beat kicks in on the chorus, all of it just gives me a rush of appreciation every time! It kinda puts me in the same mood as listening to a fast-paced country act like the Turnpike Troubadours! Okay, not quite as interesting, lyrically speaking, a simple story about a guy driving a girl around town, having fun together, then he suddenly asks her to stay for a little while longer because he loves her. But it's just so wholesome and sweet and upbeat and FUN that I can't help but smile whenever it comes on.
Again, still kind of confused how it got here, but I'm not about to complain that it's arrived, especially for those horns, MY GOD! The song's great, you likely haven't heard it, but you should.
Title: Make Me Feel Good by Belters Only (Ft. Jazzy)
Now back to another big one, because this has been a HUGE hit for everyone involved, even becoming the biggest song in the country at one point. And it might take you a second, but if you've been reading this blog on a regular basis, you may actually recognise one of the names here. See, Belters Only is made up of two DJs from Dublin, RobbieG & Bissett, while singer Jazzy is also from the fair county, meaning yes, this is very much one of the most Irish songs to cross over to the mainstream in a long time. And at first, I was delighted, it was so good to see a smash club hit come from these genuinely talented people! It's a song that has been really hyped up too, having been self-released at one point, before being recalled when they joined a major label, BUT then Polydor gave them the go-ahead, so they released it as an official single and. It. Blew. UP... and BOY do I wish any of that mattered anymore!
Don't get me wrong, I think Jazzy's voice is technically great, the song is undeniably catchy, and I even think the writing's good... but therein lies the big problem! Because the elephant in the room is that the lyrics were stolen IN THEIR ENTIRETY from a different song, At The Club by DJ Timmy Regisford, an American artist who was most active in the mid- to late-2000s, and Lynn Lockamy, the singer and primary songwriter behind the original back in 2010! I had seen some buzzings about this plagiarism on Twitter, but I assumed it was all hearsay until The Mode Reviews (shout-out, subscribe to him NOW) reached out to Lynn directly and asked her about this. Unsurprisingly, she seemed rightfully pissed that all of her cries of injustice surrounding this daylight robbery going widely unheard!
To me, this song is decent to listen to, dare I say better than most modern house music in many ways, but that's not the point! The point is that the biggest song in the country, marketed as the most authentically Irish song to become this successful in YEARS, is a rip-off! And I have to say, as someone who genuinely respects Bissett and has supported him on multiple occasions, I'm frankly disgusted by this! The fact that they thought that they could get away with this - and more to the point, the fact that they ARE - is inexcusable, and this story needs more coverage than it's getting! Spread this around, please, we need to get the truth out there. I didn't want to believe it either guys, but give it a listen and hear for yourselves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-wPVhHuicM
Title: The Family Madrigal by Stephanie Beatriz & Co.
Just like that, we're back to Encanto, and once again, it's a song I really like! This time it's the intro song that introduces you to the family Madrigal, and similarly to We Don't Talk About Bruno, it's a fast-paced, descriptive storytelling track that is really charming. Buuut it is also my least favorite song from the musical that we've talked about so far.
Now, I still really like it. The descriptions are colourful and entertaining, Stephanie Beatriz does a fantastic job as Mirabel in describing every single member of her family in an increasingly panicked fashion. It just feels a tad overstuffed at times, which can often cause awkward rhymes like "magical" and "fantastical". Overall though, I do still really like this. Again, the music is what got me into Encanto in the first place and this is yet another one that just hooked me.
Why are some critics being so hard on the songs?! This is another great addition! What a week!
Title: Make You Smile by D-Block Europe (Ft. AJ Tracey)
I wasn't sure how this was going to turn out. After all, D-Block Europe really haven't impressed me much with their material so far; I liked Ferrari Horses but wasn't entirely won over by Overseas. But hey, teaming them up with AJ Tracy should be interesting, right? Well, in a way, yes. To me the most interesting part of this song is the production, which is a mix of drill with some not-so-subtle sideways glances at Afrobeat. You can likely chalk it up to the breakthrough of Nigerian music in the past year or so, it's really started to affect the direction of mainstream hip-hop and pop (Hell, just look at PERU which I covered at the start of the year). I think that's very interesting, especially if it affects the drill scene. But as with most innovations, the question then becomes "Does it actually work?".
Well, to me, it sort of takes over this song a bit too much, to the point where I really wouldn't consider it drill at all. Instead, it focuses on making their respective girlfriends smile, a sentiment which, I have to admit, is kind of sweet. I fully expected AJ Tracy to be the stand-out performance - and for the record, yes, his verses are far superior in terms of his rhyme scheme and bars - but I will say that I think Young Adz and Dirtbike LB hold their own fairly well. Sure, the former still sounds a little bit generic and dominates the song in the same way he did on Overseas by taking over the hook as well as his own verse, but it's melodic enough. And you know what? Dirtbike LB's verse wasn't bad either; a bit unfocused in places, but he does eventually end up looping back to talking about his girl.
So yeah, I was honestly worried that this was going to be the one song this week that I'd have to cede Worst of the week to, but it's actually pretty decent. Not a bad song at all, check it out.
As for the official Worst of the week, it would be really hard to pick... if I weren't so viscerally disgusted by Make You Feel Good by Belters Only (Ft. Jazzy) as a concept. Again, the song isn't bad at all, but the blatant theft behind it and the fact that those are the best elements at that... again, inexcusable! And yet the Best is only barely easier... I did consider giving it to The 502s, but ultimately, I gotta give it to Surface Pressure by Jessica Darrow. It just hits me right in the feels, even just in terms of sheer structure and melody. The best song from Encanto, and it deserves the best of the week too.
Week 3 - January 14, 2022
Title: Fingers Crossed by Lauren Spencer-Smith
So I just talked about the power of Irish TikTok making stars overnight when discussing Just A Little While (won't be the last time either) but Lauren Spencer-Smith was a much bigger deal, even outside of Ireland. In fact, Fingers Crossed charted all across the world, becoming a massive hit, and as you can see above, even debuting at number 1 in Ireland, purely off of sheer viral success. So who is she?
Well, Lauren is a Canadian singer-songwriter who had a brief stint on American Idol at one point, followed by some minor online success, before she faded into obscurity thereafter... until now. I guess because people want to fill the void that Olivia Rodrigo left behind. But as easy as the drivers license comparison is, of the young woman who just blows up overnight and goes to number 1, this one didn't last quite as long. Again, because I'm writing this several months after the fact, I can tell you this did not get to the level of drivers license and Lauren Spencer-Smith certainly doesn't seem to be as well-connected within the industry as Olivia. Kind of a shame too, because the song is kind of good.
With the gentle acoustics, Lauren Spencer-Smith's descriptive writing detailing her heartbreak, and being let down by this guy who said he loved her but clearly had his fingers crossed. I definitely wouldn't put it on the same level as Olivia Rodrigo's output last year, primarily because the writing can slide into cliché and Lauren isn't exactly a great vocalist, even despite some decent vocal production, but for what it is... yeah, I think this deserved its brief time in the spotlight. She's still on the Irish charts as I'm writing this now, albeit with a different song, so who knows? We'll see how long she lasts.
Title: Sacrifice by The Weeknd
The most shocking thing about Fingers Crossed is that it somehow outperformed The Weeknd on the same week his album dropped! Now, it doesn't help that Dawn FM feels a tiny bit too derivative as a whole, even more so than After Hours. I know that he wanted to recapture the success of Blinding Lights, and thus leaned heavily into the 80s influence, I understand that and appreciate it. But lightning isn't going to strike twice if all you do is just standard retro pastiche... not unless you're Bruno Mars. For me, the most interesting Weeknd song in these last few months has been Moth To A Flame, because it felt more unique to him. Whereas Take My Breath and this just feel like playing dress-up, they don't have the flair or charisma needed to pull this off... that is until about a month ago, when Dawn FM finally clicked for me.
I don't know what happened guys. Maybe it's the fact that there aren't many full albums I've listened to yet this year, maybe it's the 80s appreciator inside me, or maybe it's the fact that I've become a pretty big Weeknd fan in the past couple of years, but the album's narrative and more experimental moments, blending various 80s styles and making them his own... yeah, it works for me now, albeit in a very messy, fractured way. Still not big on Take My Breath, but this and most of the album really grew on me with repeated listens. And Sacrifice's influence doesn't hurt its chances either.
More so than any song I think he's ever made, this FEELS like a Michael Jackson song, with the jerky beat, the ascending synths on the pre-chorus, the way Abel's vocals are multitracked and then just hit on that hook, where the beat very much becomes part of the sing-along, it's so damn infectious! And hey, Weeknd is far less problematic as a public fiugure, so if I can get music that even reminds me a bit of the King Of Pop, I'm going to fucking take it. Very easy to see why this was pushed as a single (honestly surprised it wasn't the first one), and easily my favourite one of the singles pushed so far. That being said, I do still appreciate:
Title: Gasoline by The Weeknd
Okay, unlike Sacrifice, this one actively aggravated me at first. It's extremely experimental for a Weeknd song, but if you've heard Depeche Mode, the influence is pretty palpable... not the first time for him either, give Enjoy The Silence a listen sometime. And yes, the exaggerated vocals on the verses felt ridiculous to me at first, and extremely hard to take seriously. But what can I say?
With each repeated listen, the relief of the chorus and its normal vocals felt more intentional, until I figured out it very much IS a respite. The verses are designed to be uncomfortable and claustrophobic, as The Weeknd sits in his car getting drunk and losing sleep outside of his girlfriend's house, worrying about losing her. Then the chorus hits and it's a release to him, as he admits that he's handed her a can of gasoline to burn down his life if she feels like it... and there's a sick part of him that's okay with that.
Now, it's deeply toxic, and I will admit it's still not one of my favourites on the album from a musical point of view, but the more I hear it... nah, I don't hate this after all. A bit annoying the first few times, but glad I got past that.
Title: Miserable Man by David Kushner
I'm now back to yet another song going viral on TikTok in Ireland, Norway... and I think that's about it. Even though, once again, it's from an American band, so weird! I suppose these types of folksy, depressing songs are always going to have a platform in Ireland. But anyway, how's the song itself?
Well, it's a little more interesting this time, that's for damn sure! At first, David Kushner's voice worried me, caught halfway between Sam fender and Benson Boone, maybe with a dash of George Ezra on the hook. What helps is that Kushner has some age to his vocals, possibly because he's in his fifties (yes, really!), allowing him to project some genuine emotion. And boy is that reflected in the lyrics, portraying the life of a miserable man, who leaves his small town behind in search of happiness for himself and his wife. And they execute it too: they escape and build their lives together, they have their kids... and yet despite everything now being what they've always dreamed of, he's still a small-town, miserable man.
It's a VERY tragic song, one which took a couple of listens to really hit me, especially with the sparse, haunting instrumentation and mournful wailing on the hook. I don't know if there's actually some truth behind the song that David doesn't really want to share openly, but I hope he's okay! Because this song hits me harder each time I hear it... not sure how many more times I can take this David Kushner! ... Thanks for making me feel things, I guess.
Title: Down Under by Luude (Ft. Colin Hay)
Whoa whoa man, what the hell is going on with EDM in 2022?! For those of you living under a rock, Down Under is an early 80s song by the group Men at Work, led by lead singer Colin Hay, who's featured on this remix made by Australian electronica producer Luude, who decided to turn it into... well, half drum and bass, half tropical house, I guess. And my goodness, is it bloated!
The original was a bit ridiculous and contained small titbits of cultural iconography, all while trying to evoke the spirit of the country, rather than homage to its actual musical heritage or anything. In other words, it had a very general appeal, which this remix decidedly does not! I guess that it's trying to have more of a cultural identity, with decidedly Australian elements of EDM, and it certainly doesn't sound like most of the EDM that I normally hear cross over to the international charts. But at the same time, the sample just feels like a very weird cover. Even as someone who thinks the original is just fine at best, Colin Hay was an expressive performer who gave the song his all. This version just robs it of all its kookiness and just sounds far worse by comparison.
So yeah, this isn't good. The bass is honking and off-key, when it's not just perpetually droning all over the verses, and the flute sample feels incredibly shrill and out of place, it just sounds so dissonant! Not something I'll revisit, and nor should you.
Title: Retail Therapy by Central Cee
Oh yes, THIS is what I wanted to see more of, Central Cee! I've already said my piece on this guy over multiple weeks, including on the Worst Songs of ALL 2021, so when I saw he was dropping new music, I didn't care anymore, plain and simple. And yet, despite some LOW expectations going in, Retail Therapy actually turned out pretty well.
Maybe it's just that beat, with the warping sub-bass, some bright keyboard touches, the faint gospel humming, and saxophone warbles, maybe it's because Central Cee's flow is so on-point, or even that his bars are all fairly solid for a change, but this really won me over, right from the get-go. He even brings up some valid points among all his brag raps about his come-up; I mean, you can't deny that he would have made a killing on tour in 2021. But I appreciate the fact that he respected the lockdown and stayed at home anyway.
By the looks of it, Central Cee is here to stay this year, so I guess I should get used to it (spoilers: we WILL be talking about him again). But by the looks of it, he does at least seem to be shaping up to have a pretty good 2022. As someone who was expecting far worse than this, this isn't bad at all, especially that sick instrumental! Nice job man.
Title: Jackie Down The Line by Fontaines D.C.
Okay, now this is what I was really looking forward to. I mean say what you will about everybody else I've talked about so far, but Fontaines D.C. has made some of the most praised and acclaimed Irish music of the last few years. Sure, certain critics have labeled them a simple throwback band, but not only do I think this is a sound that is extremely difficult to recreate well, but they bring their own unique flavour to all their songs as well, especially in the lyrical content and some of the catchiest riffs in recent rock history. And with this as the lead-off single of their new album, I can barely contain my glee.
Some might say the guys did it again, but to me, Jackie Down The Line takes things a step further. Much like most of the songs from A Hero's Death, this sounds like it came from a different era, effortlessly catchy from the word go. It's actually genuinely eerie how easily that bassline gets stuck in your head, along with the dead-eyed hook and some truly underrated drumwork. It seems both timeless and brand new, as the mantra of "I am Jackie down the line" is punctuated with fuzz and a stunningly consistent groove, it all sounds so haunting and stalking. All pretty fitting for the lyrics, which seem to revolve around the loss of the Irish identity.
See, Fontaines D.C. is a Dublin band who moved to London to pursue their dreams; so there is a subsection of Ireland who would probably call them traitors to their heritage, seeking refuge in a country that abused their ancestors. And this song struggles with that, not sure whether it's safer to wear the skin of the traitor and just play along, or throw off the shackles and the security they bring. Even the name "Jackie" is intentional, as Dubliners used to be called "Jackeens" by people from other counties, a derogatory term to indicate they're under the British Crown's thumb. This band is leaning into all that history as modern Irish people who haven't forgotten their roots, even as they sing in a language their former captors forced them to adopt, and they seem to revel in that sick struggle!
Again, this is what I want from post-punk: difficult, layered social issues, with some of the best compositions and hooks money and creativity can afford. With any luck, I'm going to be seeing these guys live this summer and I can't fucking wait! Keep your eyes on this band and that new album, you're not going to want to miss it!
So yeah, to nobody's surprise, Jackie Down The Line by Fontaines D.C. is taking Best of the week, by a mile, I absolutely adore it and I couldn't possibly give it to anything else. And the Worst is pretty easy too, congrats Down Under by Luude (Ft. Colin Hay), this doesn't work for me at all.
Week 4 - January 21, 2022
Title: Eazy by The Game (Ft. Kanye West)
This song has already been thoroughly covered by multiple hip-hop enthusiasts, as you might expect from a collaboration between 2 such prolific artists, both of whom made their debuts in the 2000s and probably had quite an impact on each other's careers. But I have to be honest, as somebody who has liked material from both of these men, despite not being thrilled about them as people... my god, is this a letdown!
A lot of people have been saying Game's verse is great, but I know what he's capable of and he's barely trying here, as he brags to those who doubted him, going on about how he's made it. He collaborated with a bunch of huge producers, struggled to make his mark, and persevered despite his life never being easy. All over a sample that sounds alright, but feels very minimal, it's just missing something to give it some punch. Maybe if it evolved or something once the hook hit, I dunno. Although I use the term "hook" very loosely, as it's just the 2 of them spouting the same 2 or 3 lines around the sample of "easy".
But then you have Kanye's verse... and the problem is that it's not even as bad as everybody says. At least that would make it more interesting! Instead, the first half is very middling and lazy, then it just takes a nosedive in quality as he starts rhyming words themselves, delivers some truly awful punchlines, and then says he's going to beat up Pete Davidson, which... I get it, the guy started dating your ex-wife Kim Kardashian, but 1) you 2 are in such wildly different circles that this jab just comes off as incredibly awkward, and 2) this isn't going to convince her to take you back, Kanye, chill the fuck out!
All in all, the song just sucks, and not even in a way that's engagingly bad or remotely memorable. It's just not worth caring about, skip this.
Title: Lost by Frank Ocean
Okay okay OKAY, am I dreaming?! For those of you who are unaware, this is a song by Frank Ocean, one that was actually released all the way back in 2012. It's from his star-making album Channel Orange, which just so happens to be my favorite R&B album of the 2010s, overall, no contest! That's right, this album would make my top 20, maybe even my top 10, of the past decade, I adore it THAT much!
So the fact that a song from it charted, thanks to a TikTok trend of all things... yeah, I haven't been this thrilled since Dreams by Fleetwood Mac started charting again and that song was already considered a mainstream classic! As you would expect from all this, the song is fucking fantastic; an incredibly catchy electric guitar and bass-led track about a girl who's lost chasing things that don't bring her any real joy, but which she hopes will at least bring her some validation. And Frank Ocean is one of those many pursuits, while also being a helpless onlooker, watching her go around acting out, unable to tell her what to do for fear he'll lose her.
It's a very empathetic song about a girl who's just lost, lost in the thrill of life, not knowing which way to turn, and it pairs the content with one of the best instrumentals on an album of fantastic instrumentals, with a chirping yet mournful beat, gorgeous strings, and one insanely catchy chorus! It ends up being, well, what I would consider sheer perfection, a perfect song from a perfect album. One of the best songs I've ever got to talk about on this series, and I'm so delighted it's gotten a second wind. Maybe TikTok's worth something after all, especially if we can get more gems like this charting. More of this, PLEASE!!!
Title: Infinity by Jaymes Young
Now on the flip side... well okay, I don't want to be harsh. This is another song from a few years ago, a slice of indie rock from 2017 by a relative nobody. Unlike Frank Ocean, Jaymes here has not really had any attention before this song blew up on TikTok the very same week as Lost. And that timing is unfortunate because this song really pales by contrast.
Now, it's not that great regardless; the vocals are wispy, the reverb is overpowering in a way that's pretty boring, and the lyrics are... bad, pronouncing his love for you for infinity. All before it all drops into a tropical house beat that doesn't sound bad, but just doesn't interest me at all. To me, this sort of fuzzed-out non-rock is the kind of song that you'd expect Imagine Dragons to be making nowadays, with possibly a couple of sideways glances at twenty one pilots' No Chances, even though this obviously precedes both.
I will say Jaymes Young is a decent vocalist, as he infuses this song with the passion and energy to put it somewhat above the run-of-the-mill sad pop that was HUGE is 2017, but other than a really weird name-spelling, there's not much to remember about him either. Certainly not terrible, but I'm not about to commit this to memory. Still though, I'll sing his praises from the fucking rooftops over:
Title: pushin P by Gunna & Future (Ft. Young Thug)
Is it bad to say that I still don't get the appeal of Gunna? Sure, Drip Too Hard was passable, I guess, but everything that he's released before or since has always resulted in nothing but boring, forgettable trash. His music's never even good or awful enough to comment on, it just falls into a perpetual state of white noise for me. But hey, whatever, as long as I can ignore him... but no, apparently he's built up a huge fan base over the years, for some ungodly reason. Thus, his latest album did serious numbers, as did this song in particular, primarily because it's the one featuring both Future and Young Thug. And as you'd expect, considering the last time I talked about these 2 was on Drake's atrocity Way 2 Sexy, this song isn't very good. In fact, it's kind of terrible.
Now I will say it's not as cartoonishly terrible as I know these 2 can be at their worst. If anything, I wish they were a little bit worse, as the song just ends up being completely vacant of anything worth talking about. Everyone sounds half-asleep, none of the verses are intelligible or catchy, and the beat never evolves or changes at all. Some have said this is the kind of song that you might vibe to, but it's so boring that there's nothing that holds my attention for more than a couple of seconds. And that's pretty bad for a song that's barely over two minutes long! By the time this finishes, I've barely registered it's even started playing.
Say what you will about Eazy, at the very least the IDEA of the collaboration inspires some interest. By stark contrast, how many more fucking times are we going to get Future and Young Thug together before we all collectively decide we're done with them?! I mean it's already been done to death at this point, what more is there to say?!
Title: Lonely by CMAT
So spoilers, Frank Ocean's Lost is taking the Best of this week. Shocking, I know! But it just so happens that this particular week also had some of the best new songs that I've heard so far in 2022, and I want to give a specific shout-out to the Irish artists on this one because there really are some genuine gems here! Starting out with a brand new song from CMAT, an artist whom I've praised on multiple occasions, for being responsible for some of the best songs of 2021 overall. And while I'm not quite sure Lonely reaches the dizzying heights of her absolute best, it's still an absolutely terrific song, dripping with mournfulness.
She paints a very real picture of herself as an artist, a person who is so fiercely independent and stubbornly walking her own path that she occasionally does get very lonely. She doesn't have any real friends, there's nobody who she can really connect with at the end of the day, and in typical CMAT fashion, it's paired with amazing production! This includes some fucking stellar pedal steel, a fantastic hook with some heartbreaking backing vocals echoing over it, and it all still manages to be both mournful and incredibly catchy! Seriously, you can't help but sing along to this, it's another instant earworm!
CMAT's fast becoming one of my favourite artists working in contemporary pop. The more I hear from her, the more I absolutely adore her sound, her voice, pretty much everything about her! And it seems like she's only getting better as a songwriter; again, Lonely might not be as instantly amazing as I Don't Really Care For You or No More Virgos, but it's grown on me real fast in the last couple of months. God damn CMAT, you really never cease to amaze me!
Title: My Hero by Westlife
Okay, let's take a step back now to listen to an older boyband trying to recapture the magic. Because although I will admit to being blown away by Starlight the first time I heard it, a song I still love to this day, My Hero is a lot more along the lines of what I expected the first time I saw them return to the spotlight.
A bit too polished while also sounding weirdly too cheap. harmonies that don't quite come together as well as you'd like, a chorus that is markedly less interesting this time round, if surprisingly catchy nonetheless, and which isn't exactly incredibly written either, with very generic platitudes about how you're their hero, the reason that they can keep going. It's the kind of album filler that you would easily skip past, had it not been pushed as a single.
In other words, there's not really much to say about this, other than that Westlife has done far better, even from this album rollout. But then again, it's not exactly bad either. Hell, I'll take low- to mid-tier boyband fodder over most pop any day. And hey, while we're on the topic of easy-listening mildness:
Title: Won't Be Too Long by Hudson Taylor
So Dublin duo Hudson Taylor were actually kind of a big deal at one point. Their album Loving Everywhere I Go went to number 1 in Ireland and was even Grammy-nominated! Ever since then though, they've retreated DEEP into the underground, contenting themselves with supporting the likes of Bastille and George Ezra on tour. And this is very much in line with what I've come to expect from them, because this song is pretty fucking simple.
Slow-paced guitar, a mildly jaunty piano line, and melancholic harmonies with a hint of underlying anxiety. At first, I thought the lyrics were more romantic, but now I think it has something to do with having realistic dreams; enjoying the rare moments of creativity until adult life and responsibilities catch up to you, taking up time that you and I can spend together being creative. That's my interpretation at least. Or maybe I'm trying to make this more interesting than it really is.
Look, the song isn't bad, but it doesn't really grab me in any particular way. It's been over a year since they've released any sort of music and this feels familiar, but also like kind of a letdown. It's not pushing any boundaries and the very slow pace of the writing doesn't hold my attention for very long. Maybe it's just a style of folk/americana that I'm not a big fan of, but this feels quite generic to me. There's worse out there, but I expected more.
Title: Say It by NewDad
I've said it before and I'll say it again: while NewDad's shoegaze material has always been interesting, I've always felt there was an obvious parallel to draw between their indie pop stylings and those of the Canadian band Alvvays. And if they just took that final step towards hazy 80s pop rock, they might actually fully win me over with their sound... and here they did just that!
Say It is nothing short of one of my favourite songs to come from them yet. Combining Julie Dawson's beautiful voice with the shimmering guitar and the driving groove that doesn't feel overbearing and still keeps the song moving at a decent pace, and all over one of their best ever hooks! It's a song where she's struggling to tell somebody how she really feels because she's afraid that they're not going to reciprocate her feelings, based on their stand-off-ish attitude and clear narcissism. It's deep seated anxiety mixed with love, as reluctant as she may be to admit to it. The song just sounds beautiful, and despite the obvious melancholy, there's a sweet innocence to it that makes it SO endearing!
So yeah, in my opinion, NewDad is making all the right moves and I only hope that their big debut album has more songs on it that sound like this. I could sure use more of this kind of music in my life, anytime the band's ready to fully commit.
Title: Body by SOULÉ
Remember when SOULÉ released Queenish last year? You know, that song that was very much a mid-2000s throwback to a Destiny's Child era of R&B? Well, the great strength of that song was that it was so goddamn catchy, and had such a ton of charisma behind its lead performer. It showed that SOULÉ had so much potential and I was really interested to hear more from her. Even so... I'll admit this caught me off guard.
When the song starts, it's got this nice, funky, guitar-driven groove, with this slinky vocal line that gets you nicely in the mood. But then the chorus hits and it does this really weird, almost hip-hop beat switch that reminds me more than a little of Janelle Monáe! It's a shift of tone that catches you quite unaware, and I gotta admit, I kind of love it. There's just something so kooky and interesting about it, that sets it apart from a lot of her contemporaries in a similar lane. Maybe it's just the way that squonking synth line just warps and leads you into that main hook, but it gives me a rush of excitement whenever it plays.
I also like the way she juxtaposes the lyrics between the two parts as well. On the verses, she's desperately trying to keep control of herself, telling herself that he's no good for her - even though she knows he really is - and then she gives into the flattery on the hook, no longer willing to lie to herself just to sedate her friends or her mum! Or in her own words: "you let me be myself, don't control it". It's just a far more interesting song than what she's made up to this point, and while I really enjoyed Queenish, I fucking love this! This has a chance to really grow on me throughout 2022, just you watch.
So yeah, that was pretty fantastic week! For the Worst, it's not even close, it's going to pushin P by Gunna, Future & Young Thug. The Game and Kanye are annoying and Eazy was a disappointment but it's not absolute trash. I don't get why anybody would ever choose to listen to such a nothing excuse for a trap song. And for the Best, I definitely want to give a really huge shout out to CMAT, NewDad & SOULÉ for blowing me away this week, but it's obviously going to Lost by Frank Ocean. After all, it's one of my favourite songs off of one of the best albums of the past decade, YES, please! Imagine if we could get more songs like this charting because of TikTok... wouldn't that be something?
Week 5 - January 28, 2022
Title: Light Switch by Charlie Puth
Well, he's back. Although to be honest, I've been aware of this song for a few months now. I don't have TikTok or Instagram, but a friend of mine sent me a clip from one of those months ago, of Charlie Puth making a beat out of the sound of a light switch. And I thought it was cute and creative, but I never thought that he would actually release it as an official song! And yet, here we are a few months later with a fully formed pop tune.
And look, I've been giving Charlie Puth quite a bit of credit over the last couple of years. After the awful Nine Track Mind - an album even Charlie himself seems to hate - Voicenotes was a HUGE step in the right direction! Seriously, between Attention, How Long, and especially Done For Me, that album is full of gems! But he also released that awful duet with Gabby Barrett, and I've not been the biggest fan of his production credits. So I was kind of mixed going into this... which is also how I feel about this song as a whole.
On the one hand, I still really like the production and the idea behind the beat (it just scratches my critical itches so nicely), but aside from that, there's just not much creativity here. He claims that she turns him on like a light switch every time she spins around and around, which leads me to think that this is supposed to be a strip club anthem. But what kind of strip club anthem sounds this weirdly bright and chipper? And why is Charlie Puth, of all people, singing it?! Don't make me remind you of Marvin Gaye!
To me, the song just doesn't have a fixed identity, it's trying to be 2 things, only one of which Charlie can conceivably deliver. I don't really know if I like hearing him telling me that I turn him on, that's not really something I needed in my life. Plus, the phrase "turn me like a light switch" sounds like a fucking dad joke. In other words, I like the sound of the song and Charlie's vocals are all right, but I'm not sure I love the concept or the writing. I don't really see myself paying much attention to it over the coming months. We'll see.
Title: Packs and Potions by HAZEY
You know, pretty much every week nowadays, we get to talk about some drill song that briefly goes viral on TikTok, everyone talks about it for a week or 2, and then we all collectively forget about it. But I have to be honest, the first time I heard Packs and Potions, I was genuinely kind of speechless. Who WAS this guy?! A relative nobody who came up right the fuck out of nowhere and made one of the best drill songs that I've heard since I started making this series!
Seriously, from the opening bass warble that's just crackling with energy, and then the string and horn sample that kicks in, sounding so dynamic, the instrumental just grabs you right from the word go and does not let up for a second! It's so tight and makes the song feel longer than its actual runtime of under 3 minutes, which is actually a good thing in this case because it proves how much I'm genuinely enjoying it. Or maybe it just feels longer because HAZEY fits so many words into his bars. Pay attention to his flow, he's such a natural talent, with great rhymes, punchlines that actually make sense, and just line after line that grabbed me.
I'm genuinely shocked that this is as good as it is. The hook is incredibly sticky, he's fully leaning into his Liverpool accent which only adds to the authenticity - Sam Fender did the same on Seventeen Going Under a few months back, to great and authentic effect - his bars are pretty sharp and FULL of internal rhymes, with some very impressive and speedy breath control, and even the minimal but dramatic beat with its horns and drums is really exciting and infectious. So yeah, this song is actually fantastic. More of this, please!
Title: Pump 101 by Digga D & StillBrickin
I thought that instrumental sounded familiar. I'll be honest, I'm a little bit reticent about praising Digga D again, considering since the last time I talked about him, I have discovered that he is a not-so-cool guy, who has been constantly harassing and dissing the family of a dead kid, due to gang affiliations that are far from a good excuse for such behaviour. So yeah, Digga D, as a person, can go fuck himself... but I will admit that there are still 1 or 2 songs where he does grab my attention. I'm sorry, not everything he makes is as godawful is Bluwuu. And for me at least, Pump 101 is definitely a good example of that.
The bars are solid, his chemistry with StillBrickin is great, even if there isn't nearly as much fun interplay as on his collaboration with AJ Tracy last year, still his best performance to date. And even then, once that chorus hits, I forget most of my complaints with the song, cause it just knocks like nobody's business! There's a good reason for that, because it samples a very well-known song, Stunt 101 by G-Unit. A song that came out in the early 2000s and is therefore bang-splat in the golden era of the Crunk scene, which you can really tell from this song's vibe, the kind of gangster rap song nobody's really making anymore.
Now, since Stunt 101 is probably G-Unit's best-known and most successful song, you can understand why this sample would be an obvious choice, it is a bit of a cheap way of getting a hit. But even without that sample in mind, I do think this is still pretty great. It doesn't have the insane novelty or energy of Packs and Potions, but it just has an easy swagger about it. It's in no rush, just menacingly slinking after you with a quiet confidence. So yes, I do think it's good, despite the fact that I don't really want to praise the main performer... I'm conflicted.
Title: Sweet Talker by Years & Years, Galantis
Speaking of mixed emotions, I had no idea what to expect from this. I mean, I like Years & Years but I'm not so huge on Galantis. So combining the 2 should balance out to being pretty good, right? Well, it's actually a little better than expected.
The piano here with its synth keys reminds me a bit of Anna Meredith, which is only a good thing, and the fact that Olly Alexander is just such an expressive performer, and one of the most popular queer voices in the mainstream, who always illustrates it shamelessly in his music, that doesn't hurt either. Plus, the lyrics are just pissy enough towards this liar who misled him and filled his head with false dreams, that his takedown of this guy feels cathartic and justified. And together with the string arpeggios, the galloping groove and that triumphant chorus, all of it just puts me in such a good mood.
I know it's easy pop fodder, and the entire thing has a mildly plastic feel to it that can get a tad distracting from the core emotions, but hey, that's kind of the Galantis guarantee at work. As is, this song is pretty, catchy, and JUST bitchy enough to work for me. I'll take it.
Title: All For Us by Labrinth & Zendaya
So the only reason that this charted is due to controversy. Basically, a couple of months before, D.A.R.E. - yeah, the anti-drug guys from those 90s campaigns - released a hit piece slamming the hit CBS show Euphoria for its glamorization of drug use, specifically targeting suggestible teenagers. And look, I've never seen the show - it doesn't particularly seem like my thing, I just know it for Zendaya - but based on this song, I will admit to being mildly intrigued.
The song was originally released by Labrinth, a performer and producer whose name I mainly remember from that song Thunderclouds by LSD, Diplo and Sia, if anyone else remembers that blip on the Billboard charts back in 2019. And at first, I was a bit annoyed that the original didn't chart instead, as this felt like it was missing some sort of personal touch to it. With Zendaya here, the lyrics just didn't feel as authentic. But that was back before I "got" Labrinth, because the lyrics do not matter here; the star is clearly the production.
I'll admit it took me a while to enjoy this, even remotely! The sharp synths, the multitracking and the overwhelming amount of vocal effects, it all felt wrong and clunky to me. But that's entirely the point. Somewhere around my 12th time listening to it, I suddenly got sucked into the distortion, the warping high-pitched vocals, the distorted atmosphere creating this haze around our 2 singers, and it just clicked for me. It almost feels like something Kanye would produce and which some would claim as genius!
Now, I wouldn't quite go that far. Sure, it's grandiose, especially with the dramatic choral vocals, but the mix is also overwhelmingly busy, to the point where parts of it are a bit too left-field. Specifically for me, the moment where everything ramps up and cuts out before that final hook was just fine, so the final reprise just feel like too much. Still, the fact that I went from genuinely disliking this to tentatively recommending it... that's not nothing. I might have to give Labrinth more of a chance next time.
Title: Like That by Seamus D
Oh boy... you really are not making it easy for me to talk about Irish music this year! It's pretty bad when I can say "at least this one is being upfront about whom it's stealing its success from".
Enter Seamus D, a Dublin-based producer and DJ who's been active for the last couple of years, but who absolutely blew up off the success of this new song Like That, a chopped and screwed remix of Rihanna's song Kiss It Better. And look, the second I heard this, I recognised where it was from. After all, Kiss It Better happens to be one of my favourite Rihanna songs, one which certainly deserved to be a hit in its own right! And thus, none of you should be surprised that I really do not like this at all. Nothing about it is better than the original, particularly in the way it does away with the electric guitar and any of Rihanna's sultry vocals on the hook, CLEARLY the best parts of Kiss It Better! Instead, it just loops one inane part from the opening verse, specifically the part about crack, because that's smart for an Irish song trying to hit the charts... well, joke's on me, it did become a hit, of sorts.
Short and sweet version, I don't like any of this and I don't know why it was made or why anyone's listening to it. Basically, take everything I said about Down Under and paste it here, that should cover it.
Title: Be By Your Side by Pillow Queens
Yep, the ladies are back! Pillow Queens have cemented themselves as one of the most popular acts to burst onto the Irish music scene over the last few years, with a highly acclaimed debut album that, sure, might have been a tad overhyped, but was still definitely worthy of praise. Besides, they've yet to put out a bad song, and I fucking adored their cover of the Cranberries' When You're Gone last year, so I was definitely curious about this new song. And you know what, this might be my new favourite song of theirs.
For one, it feels like a song Black Country, New Road would have made on their last album For The First Time, with gentle rollicking drums, echoing and scuzzy guitars, throbbing bass, and the slightly less throaty belting than you'd expect from a typical Pillow Queens song, while still maintaining its earnestness by taking a much more angst-ridden approach to the songwriting. Be By Your Side is a song all about feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, and the fact that those feelings are so deeply rooted that they become part of who you are, never quite leaving you, right by your side at all times. Yet there is a complicated relationship there, because without them, you wouldn't be the person you are today.
I'd say it's an oddly mature song for the topic that it's focusing on and the way it's choosing to do it, but then again, it's definitely within this band's general wheelhouse. Either way, once that euphoric chorus hits, loud and unashamed, it just makes my spirit soar! This really works for me, and I haven't been able to stop listening to it since it dropped.
That being said though, this was a tight race for Best of the week, right to the end. I didn't even touch on the returning Meatloaf songs in the wake of his death (RIP, you legend), otherwise Bat Out Of Hell easily would have won! But considering those aren't technically new hits... fuck it, let's have a tie: Packs and Potions by HAZEY, for blowing me away with its energy and fresh-faced vigour, and Be By Your Side by Pillow Queens for being my most listened-to song of theirs to date! As for the Worst, I'm giving it to Seamus D for Like That, it's just such a useless remix that doesn't add anything to the original.
And that's it for January! Stay tuned for the February update coming sometime in the next month. Apologies again for the delay guys, 2022 has been an insanely busy year for me, but in all the right ways, I swear! In the meantime, please like and share this post if you could, I'd appreciate it. And feel free to follow me on Twitter and subscribe to the blog so you don't miss a thing. Take care everyone, and until the next time, I'm Fionn, and this is The Social Tune signing off.