Quarantine playlist: my favourite songs of 2020 so far

It’s unbelievable what this coronavirus has done to all of us. We’re stuck at home, bombarded by videos of Instagram models working out in their apartments, teaching us how to use pots and pans to increase the effectiveness of push-ups. Stars like Miley Cyrus or Charli XCX do Instagram story live streams daily, interviewing each other. Some people say they’re planning on reading more during this time, which is definitely a good idea. Despite having two or three books to finish myself, I’m not really in a position to recommend any reads to anyone. However, I’d be more than happy to share a few songs released this year that I’ve really enjoyed. Maybe some of them will make your time at home (including bicep curls performed with plastic water battles) a bit more enjoyable.

Christine and the Queens – La Vita Nuova feat. Caroline Polachek

I mean, we stan Chris. I wasn’t so keen on her last album so as soon as I heard she’s realising new music in 2020 my stomach dropped like the stock market last week. La Vita Nuova is the title track off Christine and the Queens’ new EP released in February. Named after Dante Alighieri’s painting, the record includes six crazy, disco-queer-electronic bops. I wasn’t sure which one of them include as my recommendation but finally, I decided it’s going to be the title track. The pop masterpiece starts softly, with Chris singing in Italian against the soft instrumental until the beat kicks in to let us know we’re not worthy. The song also features another pop phenomena, Caroline Polachek, who shows off her vocal range and language skills after the first chorus. It’s like if Michael Jackson was a genderqueer, art-pop Knight Templar of good taste and decided to do a collab with one of the most gorgeous pop singers on the planet.

Alec Benjamin – The Book of You and I

I’m always keen on listening to new singers songwriters, especially if they sing about how good things used to be, and how shit they are now. If I could transform an Apple Music playlist into a country and move there, that’d be “In My Room” playlist, with all the sad, acoustic songs on there. Heaven.

This guy is what Ed Sheeran could have been if he had (any) taste. His debut album These Two Windows is scheduled to be released on May 29th this year and, seriously, I can’t wait. I love how his songs sound smart, even though they’re clearly cliches. He’s obvious without being tiring. I’m also a massive fan of his, kind of, androgynous and soft voice. Give it a listen if you like easy listening, acoustic pop songs.

Conan Gray – The Story

Staying within the young-singer-songwriter-sad pop territory, this guy has just released his debut album Kid Krow today (20/03/2020). The record’s closing track is my personal favourite. It’s a sad ballad telling a story of two boys and their love-gone-wrong. It gives me Tracy Chapman vibes, especially with the lyric: “if we worked and we saved, we could both run away and we’d have a better life”. I like how nicely structured it is, with a very neat and tidy production. It really is a beautifully written and gently performed pop song and I recommend it to all of you! Conan Gray’s biggest songwriting influence is Taylor Swift, and it definitely shows.

Alanis Morisette – Smiling

Originally I was planning on writing about another song called Reasons I Drink but fuck my life, I thought, as I realised it was actually released in December last year, which would be cheating. Smiling is a song off Alanis’ upcoming album Such Pretty Forks in the Road. Brutally honest, written with signature Alanis style of realisation and self-assessment, Smiling is a good introduction to what’s still to come. Very nice guitar in the lead here, catchy but dreamy and not distracting from Alanis’ vocal performance. We stan.

Celeste – Stop This Flame

I first discovered Celeste at the beginning of this year. Later, when I saw her performance at the BRIT Awards I fell in love completely. This USA-born, UK-raised pop-soul singer won the Rising Star award that night and performed her gorgeous 2019 ballad Strange. The song I’m writing about today is showing her more radio-friendly approach, as the single is up-tempo, jazzy, but also catchy and poppy. If Adele’s I’ll be waiting had a twin sister, this would be it. Celeste’s vocal performance, as well as really enjoyable pop instrumental makes it a perfect radio song and displays the singer’s massive potential.

Tame Impala – Breathe Deeper

At this point, Kevin Parker could autotune the recording of him snoring and I’d still be able to find an excuse to put it on the list of best tracks. Breathe Deeper is the fifth single from the new Tame Impala album The Slow Rush. This enjoyable, polished and beautifully produced funky rollercoaster is exactly what we need from Tame Impala in these dark and uncertain times.

And if you’re looking for a good, fun album to remind you how fun partying is while all the clubs are closed – I recommend High Road by Kesha. Stay healthy!

Halsey – ‘Manic’ review

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“My personal life is a disaster.” This statement, made by Halsey during the Zane Lowe interview would be a great alternative title for her third album. Manic is a statement record, a type of album one records to mark an important transition in their career. The moment in which a Tumblr alt-pop artist abandons most of the popular themes in order to get more personal. Manic ticks all the “deep”, concept album boxes: spoken parts between songs, interludes as separate tracks, mysterious titles… But is the music behind the concept any good? The short answer is yes. But not as good as I expected.

Halsey’s third album opens with a self-titled track Ashley, in which singer asks herself: Is it really that strange if I always wanna change? The question is a great representation of the album as a whole. It’s been known for months that Manic is going to be a messy release with the stand-alone single Without Me released in 2018, then transformed into the lead single, another track Nightmare removed from the tracklist completely and finally Graveyard overly exposed with its 11 TV performances. On January 17th the public could finally listen to the whole album. Just like Ashley, most songs on the record are intimate ballads such as clementine, Finally // Beautiful Stranger or the closing track 929. 

Halsey is known for making music poppy enough to appear in the mainstream media, at the same time alternative enough to be mentioned alongside artists such as Lorde, Marina, Lana Del Rey or Melanie Martinez. The hit factor and anthemic composition presented in the past on tracks such as Colors or New Americana is the missing element on her newest body of work. The fact that songs on Manic aren’t typical Top 40 bangers is not the problem here. Most of the time they’re simply forgettable, and that’s the main issue.

Manic is lyrically the strongest Halsey album to date. Sonically, it’s another story. Singles such as Without Me or Graveyard are not a good representation of this record. Endless efforts to make the album meaningful and conceptual ended up killing the final effect.

The album has quite a few great songs hidden in between unnecessary interludes (only the one with Alanis Morisette is decent, but well, that’s Alanis.) 3am is a catchy pop-punk ballad which sounds almost like an Avril Lavigne tribute song. I HATE EVERYBODY has some amazing production from FINNEAS and quite a few strong lyrical moments too. Finally // Beautiful Stranger could be an example of how to make a good singer-songwriter ballad. The closing track 929 is pretty strong too but again, mostly thanks to honest and strong writing; And I remember the names of every single kid I’ve met
But I forget half the people who I’ve gotten in bed (…) And I’ve stared at the sky in Milwaukee, And hoped that my father would finally call me. 

I honestly feel like the purpose of this record was to make a statement. It seems to me like the singer wanted to show how many famous names she can successfully invite, tell a personal story and support it all with a strong radio single from two years earlier. Manic is definitely worth a listen… or maybe a read?

 

 

The worst songs I heard in 2019

Coldplay – Everyday Life

I try not to listen to Coldplay. Despite hating when people divide artists’ discographies into “good old” and “crappy new” stuff, I have to admit that Coldplay should have ended at its peak with Mylo Xyloto and the viral single Paradise. Or maybe even earlier, sometime around “Fix You”, which is the only Coldplay song I ever considered lyrically relevant.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for ballads. I could listen to “In my room” playlist on Apple Music for 365 days straight without complaining even once. Everyday Life is a different kind of story. It’s probably one of the most generic, boring and lyrically dull songs I’ve ever heard in my life. From an incredibly basic “Everyone loves, everyone cries” (no shit) in the chorus, to the random hallelujahs at the end… Highly disappointing.

Lil Nas X – Panini

Old Town Road is currently the longest-running number-one song in US history. Let’s not forget that with big achievements come big expectations. Personally, based on his EP, I don’t think Lil Nas X is going to have any big career whatsoever. Panini is one of the most annoying, underwhelming tracks of the year. With its banal as hell lyricism and amateur finish, it’s definitely one of the worst tracks I heard in a long time. Also, how unoriginal do you have to be to release songs shorter than 2 minutes, having been given such an amazing platform? Lil Nas X stands for an absolute lack of concept and is going to become a one-hit-wonder, for sure, which is a shame.

Selena Gomez – Look At Her Now

Miss Gomez is still trying, bless her. Look At Her Now is one of the two singles off the upcoming album Rare. In my opinion, sad ballads such as Lose You To Love Me are much better for her voice and vibe, despite not being anything original. Look At Her Now is a total mess in terms of production and one of the most ridiculous choruses ever. If TikTok was a country, this would be its national anthem. Next.

Kesha – Rich, White, Straight Men

I’m a massive Kesha fan, and always have been. I remember rocking the fuck out of every track on Animal in my bedroom as a teen. I also supported every official release after that, including mostly wonderful Rainbow. Her upcoming album High Road also seems promising and I can’t wait to hear it in full. This non-album single released in June last year is not really my cup of tea, as I prefer when Kesha drops bangers, not standards.

Recorded in a creepy Cabaret style and produced like a bedroom demo from Garage Band song is one of the lowest points of her career. A bit of social/political commentary is good but it could have been done so much better. “Vroom vroom, fuck you / what if life as we knew it was over?”. Well, mine is, after hearing this song.

Madonna – Bitch I’m Loca

Last year I wrote a favourable review of Madonna’s Madame X. I still stand by my opinion that in comparison to all the other post-Confessions albums Madame X is an interesting improvement. Bitch I’m Loca is definitely the lowest point of that album. The song is a second Maluma collaboration on the record. I absolutely loved the lead single Medellin and charming, yet cheesy concept. Bitch I’m Loca is a perfect example of a filler, something that should be picked up in post-production, erased and forgotten. It’s also a lyrical rock bottom, and defending is as a “fun track” doesn’t help. Bitch I’m Madonna was cringeworthy but at the same time a bit fun, with all the celebrities participating in the music video etc.

Madonna is Madonna, we get it. What this track was meant to prove, I still don’t get.

PS. I didn’t include anything from Liam Payne’s AWFUL debut album, as most singles off that record were released in 2017 and 2018. I didn’t listen to the rest of the album after all the bi-phobic and primitive lyricism that made it to the headlines.

I also didn’t listen to Ed Sheeran’s collaboration project as I did not like the idea. I also read most of the reviews and decided that would be a total waste of time.

Happy New Year!

5 reasons why Norman Fucking Rockwell! should win the Grammy for Album of the year

Lana Del Rey certainly isn’t Recording Academy’s sweetheart. Despite having released six albums and scoring some iconic career moments such as the success of Young and Beautiful from The Great Gatsby, she still hasn’t managed to earn music’s most important trophy.

Del Rey has always been neglected by the Grammys. She was, in fact, nominated for the above-mentioned movie theme, as well as her  2017 album Lust for life, her most optimistic work to date. However, it’s this year that Lana managed to make it to the main categories. Her latest body of work, critically acclaimed Norman Fucking Rockwell!, or Norman Effing Rockwell how Bebe Rexha announced it to the millions of viewers watching the ceremony, received nominations for both the Album and Song of the year. Better late than never.

Having lost three times in the past, I’m sure Lana isn’t expecting miracles. In the best song category, she’s competing against Taylor Swift’s Lover. Even if we forget that Swift already has 10 awards, we need to remember that her song has been praised by almost every single relevant music critic. Getting one of the Grammys won’t be easy, but there are definitely a few valid reasons why NFR! should be the first Lana album to receive one.

1. Jack Antonoff’s production on the album is fantastic

Norman Fucking Rockwell! was produced mostly by Lana and Jack Antonoff. It would seem like everything Antonoff takes part in turns into gold. He was a contributing producer of Taylor Swift’s (yes, I know!) three albums: 1989, Reputation and Lover. He also produced Lorde’s iconic second album Melodrama. The fact that Jack produced for two of Grammy Awards’ favourite artists gives us a reason to believe Lana has a chance to win this year. NFR! is great, because it’s not overly produced, with instrumentals complementing Lana’s beautiful vocals instead of distracting the listener. Let’s hope the members of the Academy loved album’s beautiful pianos and guitars as much as I did.

2. NFR! is Lana’s most mature album to date

Over the years, Del Rey received a lot of criticism for, so called, lyrical cliches. A few years ago Lorde, who shares a lot of mutual fans with Lana, criticised her work saying that “all that “don’t leave me stuff” is unsuitable for young people to listen to.  With Lana’s music often called overly dramatic a lot of music critics refused to give her credit she deserves.

Don’t get me wrong: themes of hopeless romanticism and mysterious relationships are present on Rockwell. The general vibe of the record, however, is much more empowering. Many critics including Anthony Fantano praised the slight change in Del Rey’s lyrical approach. The album opens with a verse: “Goddamn, man child… You fucked me so good that I almost said I love you.” 

3. Lana wasn’t scared to take risks on NFR!

Del Rey’s previous album Lust for life was a little bit more diverse than NFR! It featured two collaborations with A$AP Rocky and a few quite radio-friendly tracks, including the title song featuring The Weeknd. Grammys are mainstream awards, which means a lot of fans hoped Lust for life would win in the Best Pop Vocal category. That didn’t happen.

NFR! is a completely different type of record. The singer described it as a “chill record to drive to”. The main single, Venice Bitch is a 10-minute long psychedelic soft-rock ballad. That didn’t stop it from receiving two major nominations this year.

4. Just months after release, Pitchfork named it 19th best album of the decade

Lana’s relationship with Pitchfork hasn’t always been easy. The publication gave her first album Born to die a 5.5/10 rating, comparing it to “fake orgasm”. They aren’t the easiest publication to get a good rating from, that’s why it’s important industry professionals acknowledge how much Lana has developed as an artist over the years. On top of that, Del Rey’s single The Greatest was called best new music on their website.

5. Elton John is a huge fan

Lana and Elton recently appeared together on the cover of Rolling Stone. The legendary musician said he really enjoyed the record. “I don’t think you’ve ever made a record with such a flow to it. I don’t think I’ve heard a record like this for so long. They’re kind of timeless songs” said Sir Elton.

“Fashion doesn’t have to be superficial” Interview with Julia Napoleon Ka

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“I think it did have a reputation of a rough place, but I feel like creativity has always lived in Glasgow.” These are the words Flint, one of the Glasgow School of Art students used to describe his school in the 2017 iD Magazine documentary. Known all over the world for incredibly high standards, attention to detail and eco-friendly approach, Glasgow School of Art is definitely a place filled with ideas, inspiration, and creativity. I think most people would definitely agree with Flint’s statement. In Glasgow, you can walk into a bar on Sauchiehall Street and see the upcoming band playing a gig, hear buskers around every corner, or pop into the CCA to see an independent film with your friends, rather than yet another LEGO movie in a mainstream cinema chain. Despite the big appreciation for music and cinema in Glasgow, its captivating fashion scene remains a bit of a niche. I caught up with Julia Knie, the second-year fashion student at the GSA to ask her more about that. After being introduced to her fellow students and the studio in which she spends long hours working on different projects, I was impressed by the hectic atmosphere and the amount of effort they put into their course. Click below to listen to the interview.

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Lana Del Rey appreciation post

If we met at least once then you know how much I love Lana Del Rey. She’s my number one artist and I can’t imagine my relationship with music without her. Ironically, New-York-born queen of disaster and hopeless romanticism was first introduced to me at the age of fifteen by a middle school friend, a boy so straight, drowning in his own masculinity so much he could easily play the character in one of her songs. That was, in fact, Video Games. Few days later, another straight friend posted the DIY video for Blue Jeans on my Facebook wall. (Straight guys had Lana before gays appropriated her [laugh])

Even since then I’ve been a massive fan. Everything about her just spoke to me straight away. The world made of horrible cheese(sorry Lana), hidden behind a facade of romantic symbolism was something I have always wanted to incorporate into my own life. Strings, roses, mascara, tattoos, guns, tears and white gowns – all the dramatic glamour of a real attention seeking, barely functioning bitch.

At Born to die stage we were all confused. Pop instrumentals blended with orchestral elements and monumental bridges were enough to make the album successful, despite bad reviews from critics. Some of Lana’s most basic work sonically(despite the monumental orchestral theme) includes some of her most iconic lyricism: “I will love you til the end of time”, “money is the anthem of success, so put on mascara and your party dress”,”let me put on a show for you daddy”,”heaven is a place on Earth with you”, “kiss me hard before you go” – just to name a few. Those became industry standards very quickly, inspiring other(younger) barely functioning bitches who later on released their own stuff, in one record label or another. With those simple, captivating lyrics Lana created her own genre, a brand new trend in pop music space. We’re all born to die and we’ve made fuckloads of bad decisions in life. That’s the tea. She then followed the success of the bittersweet whore-candybar with the EP Paradise, one of my personal favourites. I’m proud to say I’ve got that word tattooed on my chest. As Lana would say: I’m fucking crazy, but I’m free. Cliché much, huh.

Her second album Ultraviolence is the fan favourite. She kicked off her darkest, most sadcore work to date with words: I shared my body and my mind with you, that’s all over now. The black and white cover perfectly matched the contents of the record. On Ultraviolence, Lana abandons her hip-hop fuck me after school vibes and decides to switch into heavy, rock instrumentals, electric guitars and nostalgic melodies. Ultraviolence reminds me of leaving your boyfriend at night in bed, sneaking out in your pants, smoking fags on the bench outside the train station together with Courtney Love, shitfaced. Oh, and she also played Glastonbury that year, blessing massive audiences with her sadcore. Who cares if it was kind of a fail.

The motif of summer has always been extremely important in Lana’s work. In Lana’s universe, life is either summer or waiting for summer to start. That’s when we fall in love, make friends, push the boundaries. That’s when the world comes alive. We can hear the nature outside more, we can see more, the days last longer – there’s more to be missed, more mistakes to be made. There’s “summer love”, a term that wouldn’t apply to any other season. “He’s my winter love”, said no one, ever.

It seems like Lana’s third studio album Honeymoon is the perfect example of that. The strings make their come back on this one, but in a slightly different way. This time we can hear them together with slower melodies and bare pianos. On Honeymoon, most tracks sound like taken straight out of Italian mafia films. If Honeymoon was a place, it would be a Mediterranean country, where the temperature is always thirty five degrees and people eat only grapes, plums and oranges. And smoke cigarettes. Adele herself described Salvatore, one of the tracks, as heavenly, saying she feels like she’s flying when she listens to it. If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what the fuck would.

On her last record Lust for life, Lana started making some significant changes in her approach to creating and performing. Critically acclaimed(at last) album included Lana’s first ever officially released collaborations. Her friends from the hip-hop side of Lanaverse, The Weeknd and A$AP Rocky both appeared on the album. She also recorded tracks with Stevie Nicks and Sean Ono Lennon. She invited back up dancers to perform with her on stage. Not in a traditional, Britney Spears way, no. Sometimes they pretend they’re backup singers, sometimes they just jump around or act sexy. And let’s not forget the cover, which included Lana smiling(!).

Lana had been teasing Norman Fucking Rockwell for over a year before she released it. Now that’s it’s finally here, people can see how long and eventful Del Rey’s journey has been.

It always feels amazing to see your favourite artist doing well. Currently, the same music publications that used to make fun of her in the past praise her music giving it the highest of ratings. In 2012, music website Pitchfork called Born to Die a “fake orgasm”, giving it a 5/10. The same website gave NFR! a 9/10 rating, stating Lana is one of the most talented songwriters of our generation.

Lana’s new album features a summery, surfing vibe, which isn’t anything particularly surprising. But let’s make it clear, you need to have massive balls to start off your album by singing: “God damn, man child… you fucked me so good that I almost said I love you…”

Madonna “Madame X” – Review

Madame X is a dog’s dinner, but delicious! Annoyingly, Madonna somehow managed to become a joke, at least within my circle of friends. That is not because of her age as many would assume, but her rather desperate efforts to follow the trends and appear “on top of the music world”.

The last few albums from Madge could be described as good pop, but nothing groundbreaking. As mentioned before, Madonna started following the trends (often poorly) instead of setting them. That is not the case with Madame X, her best album in over a decade. To be honest, I felt Madonna would start making deeper material as soon as I heard she relocated to Portugal. She’s a very influence-sensitive artist, with the effective ability to absorb the unknown into the zeitgeist. The album includes elements of Latino, African instruments, acoustic sounds, bits of disco, singing in Portuguese and intentional overuse of vocoder (often annoying).

Medellin is a great lead single and album opener. I’m a fan of the composition, the combination of dreamy verses with catchy Latino Pop hooks.

Bohemian Rhapsody-structured Dark Ballet is a real mess. What starts as a piano ballad later turns into a Daft Punky, vocodery, psychedelic bedtime story. Lyrically starts strong, ends a bit cringeworthy (“Can’t you see outside of your Supreme hoodie?”)

God Control isn’t much different in terms of the structure. Gun control-related lyrics sang monotonously with a choir of monks in the background later transform into a strange Daft Punk extravaganza.

Then we have Future, in my personal opinion the worst track on the album, but it might be the matter of me highly disliking both Quavo and reggae music.

Batuka offers crazy percussion and ends beautifully with a violin outro.

Killers who are partying is yet another story. From my observation, fans love this kind of Madonna – an indie-acoustic pretentious witch. Most critics do hate it though. I will be gay if the gay are burnt, I will be Africa if Africa is shot down – Madge lists everyone she feels sorry for with very interesting instrumentation. A bit of an eyebrow-raising moment but I don’t care, it’s Madonna, after all. She lost the plot ages ago.

Crave could have been great without Swae Lee and his moany vocal efforts. The song itself is an interesting combination of acoustic guitar and a trippy beat, so it’s nothing more but a wasted chance.

Crazy isn’t very interesting either but it’s a good introduction to Come Alive. Acoustic percussion, some sick, melted strings in the background and subtle vocals make a good combination yet again.

If you’ve been blessed with a deluxe edition, you can listen to Extreme Occident which includes a lovely melody with vulnerable vocals and oriental instruments. It’s one of my personal favourites.

Faz Gostoso is a true bop with one of the catchiest hooks on the album. Rapper Anitta is featured on this godly bop and together with Madonna, they created one of the best up-tempo songs in Madonna’s discography.

Bitch, I’m Loca is a second collaboration with Maluma. Must be a nice listen for fans of this type of music, however, its location on the tracklist confuses me as the song doesn’t hold as strong artistic value as the ones behind and after it.

I don’t search I find could easily be played in Studio 54. With an addictive beat, disco era-inspired dance track reminds me a bit of I Feel Love by Donna Summer and something you could hear in London’s Vauxhall at 6 am, high on ****, drinking Stella in the smoking area. And this kind of Madonna I want to listen to.