I’d like to close the first week of February with a recap of January’s new releases, the best and the worst.
By Deanna Costa
January, 2019: the first month of the last year in the long and winding 2010’s. As we begin to say goodbye to the ‘teens of this century, I wonder if the remaining 11 months of this decade will prove to be as musically eventful as the past 31 days have been.
Considering the tumultuous landscape of contemporary America — especially when keeping in mind the 2020 election that is quickly approaching — history tells me we’re in for quite a few artistic treats. Political instability has almost always generated the creation of great protest art.
If you’re unfortunately experiencing the new wave of dreary weather that is sweeping its way across the Northeast, and looking for some excuses to think about sunnier days to come, I suggest drawing your attention to the diverse list of summer music festivals that are growing every year. This August, for one example, marks the 50th anniversary of the Granddaddy of all festivals here in the USA: Woodstock Music & Arts Fair. Being a native Upstater myself, I am tickled pink at its return, and am planning to attend. I sincerely hope that my generation of music lovers treat those three days as an opportunity to engage in Peace, Love and Music; unlike our predecessors at Woodstock ’94 did.
Shifting back to the present (but still avoiding the cold), I’d like to close the first week of February with a recap of January’s new releases. The following round-up is an attempt to do justice to the month’s variety, though I am sure a few lesser-known meritorious efforts have fallen through my cracks. I am not an expert in every genre, so I look forward to being accosted in comment section for my selections.
The Best: Check out this review by Arts Fuse contributor Matt Hanson (Delta Blues)
The Worst: “Be My Home” by Ina Forsman (Blues/R&B Fusion)
This young Finnish singer is a second-rate amalgamation of Adele and Lana Del Rey. The studio band outshines Forsman’s sub-par crooning with every beat on her new album Been Meaning to Tell You. “Be My Home” is the most overdone of the 12 tracks, with unoriginal lyrics and too many obvious attempts at trying to sound sultry.
The Best: Check out this review by Arts Fuse contributor Jeremy Jay Jewell (R&B Influenced)
The Worst: “Thought About You” by Tim McGraw (Contemporary)
Over the past decade, country music seems to be shifting away from its blues and folk roots in favor of a modern pop sound. McGraw’s newest track is why this trend is a disaster. The intro sounds like a generic tune for starting up a computer, and the message of the song includes just about every played-out theme in the genre. As far as I can hear, “Thought About You” is actually about record sales and reaching the largest audience possible. Considering that just two years ago both McGraw’s left their longtime record labels in favor of the corporate giant Sony Music, I’m not surprised to see that Tim’s music has lost its twang.
The Best: “Juice” by Lizzo (Dance-pop)
Lizzo: look her up and memorize her face — she is a rising star on the way to the top. “Juice” is the newest addition to the strong collection of singles that she has released in the past five years. Her musical style is informed by ’80s synths, but her power-woman, body positive lyrics breathe new life into the genre. This track is not standard EDM, but neither is it another boring pop song. However it’s categorized, the hit is a perfect hype-up jam for any occasion; from a night out, to dancing around your kitchen at home.
The Worst: “Unstoppable” by The Him (EDM)
On the subject of standard EDM tracks, allow me to introduce you to “Unstoppable.” For me, the way to describe rich, incredible songs is that they make me want to “live inside the sound.” (“Digital Love” by Daft Punk is one such example.) Imagining living inside this particular song: I see a large mass of sweaty teenagers bugging out on who-knows-what, festival style. Everything about this piece screams “I’m 17 and I’m in a toxic relationship.” No one needs to be transported to that environment.
The Best: “LA Rain — Notes from California” by Max Jury (Singer/Songwriter)
Waking up and stretching out on your commute — or do you just need a good cry? Look no further than Max Jury. I’ve never experienced “LA Rain,” but this song is exactly what I imagine a rare gray SoCal day would feel like. Jury exudes a timeless folk-y air, while his sleepy guitar strums and muted piano chords elevate his soft vocals. Each piece of the tune comes together like your favorite person’s arms giving you a warm hug.
The Worst: “All That’s Good” by James Ollier (Folk)
If you’ve heard at least one song by Mumford & Sons in your lifetime, you aren’t missing anything by skipping “All That’s Good.” Between the incessant bass drum and Ollier’s vocals, which sound like they were recorded in a bathtub, this track will most bask in the obscurity it deserves. After reviewing a few of his other singles, I can imagine an audience for his music — insomniacs.
The Best: “FLUSH” by Abhi the Nomad (Indie Rap)
If you’re a fan of Childish Gambino, Abhi the Nomad is a perfect musical match for you. “FLUSH” is a great blend of high energy, fast-paced flow and toned-down beats. Similar to Tyler the Creator’s flair for adjusting the tone of his voice, higher-pitched vocals are handed a catchy hook and a verse at the end of the song. References in each line cover the diversity of Abhi’s growing discography; from the Iraq War, to past lovers, to handling increasing fame.
The Worst: “2019” by Bazanji (Emo Rap)
Pardon my presumptuousness, but Bazanji sounds like any other 20-something/former trust fund baby turned Sound Cloud rapper. “2019” reflects his past albums as well as posits his intentions for the coming year. Yet like every song he’s released before this, the verses are nothing more than a repetitive diatribe about his unending ego issues. He’s either high on money or depressed by his loneliness. Drake has cornered the sad boy rapper market, so do we really need Bazanji? According to his website, his work is entirely his own — from the songwriting, to producing, to management and booking. I’ll give respect where it’s due on that note, but I’d much rather see him collaborate as a producer with a talented lyricist instead going solo.
The Best: Check out this review by Arts Fuse contributor Evelyn Rosenthal (Latin/Soul Jazz)
The Worst: “Cheers !” by Pandrezz, j’san, L’Indecis, Epektase (Chill-hop)
The soundtrack for gentrification is alive and well, and apparently we’re calling it “Chill-Hop.” This budding genre is a convergence of electronic rap beats and jazzy bass lines. The combo sounds ideal for those of us that enjoy listening to instrumentals while getting to work on a mind-consuming project. Yet Belleville, the album that “Cheers !” calls home, largely falls flat. Anyone with a basic understanding of software like Pro Tools could create a track like this in about an hour.
The Best: “Shouldn’t Be Sorry” by CARDS & Sita (Indie Pop)
This is a fantastic collaboration by two artists that are truly deserving of more recognition. The whole vibe of the song is a late ’60s sunset, with references to bossa nova in the rhythm. The lyrics are cyclical, like most pop songs, but in a hypnotic way that feels light and nostalgic.
The Worst: “Favourite Thing” by Fleur East (Pop/Afrobeat)
Britain has certainly given the world its fair share of overly-repetitive pop songs over the past 60 or so years. However, Fleur East brings lazy lyrics and a screaming loop as backup vocals to new heights in this track. The first verse is thoughtful; the rest of the song is like a lyrical washing machine. The ideal environment for this single is most likely a dance club, where a punchy beat to wiggle to is more important than inspired music. Try listening to “Favourite Thing” while extremely intoxicated — maybe then it will have its intended effect.
The Best: “Shot Clock” by Ella Mai (Pop R&B)
Mai has been on the British R&B scene for a few years, but recently became a part of the mainstream in the States thanks to her 2018 hit “Boo’d Up.” “Shot Clock” is a great start to another prosperous year for her in the U.S. The dreamy quality of the track is perfect for her classic, beautiful voice. A hint of ’90s nostalgia is evident in the 25 year-old’s work (perfect for her largely millennial fan base), but the bass sounds are a call to attention for older generations as well.
The Worst: “Where’s the Catch?” by James Blake, Andre 3000 (Electronic R&B)
How could this track be the worst when it was created by two such talented artists? This collaboration was the audio equivalent of cauliflower crust pizza: great ingredients, used in a recipe that sounds great on paper. Put it all together, take the first bite, and you’re immediately reminded of real pizza. In this case, real pizza would be Blake’s self-titled 2011 album, or anything by Outkast.
The Best: “Do You Remember Me” by Santana (Latin/Blues Rock)
The entire Mona Lisa-themed EP is worthy of praise, but this track takes the lead because on it Carlos Santana continues to assert himself as the master of guitar. By incorporating signature solos in his newest songs, the pieces fit right in with the rest of his work. Yet he has never been one for monotony and continues that tradition of restlessness as well; there’s hint of experimentation in the music and lyrics of the tune.
The Worst: “What’s the Rhythm” by Mike Krol (Garage Rock)
Picture yourself sitting inside a human-sized hamster ball, tumbling down a hill in suburban America — but the year is suddenly 1992. Maybe I’m alone on this, but I’d rather listen to a classic hazy rock song from the ’90s themselves. Cranberries, take me away.
Deanna Costa is a recent graduate of Boston University’s College of Communication, where she earned a B.S. in Journalism with a focus on Magazine Design. During her time at BU, she covered local concerts for on-campus publications in multiple formats. Outside of writing, she routinely interviewed artists and reviewed albums live on her weekly radio show, DJ-ed on campus events, and held the Studio Productions Director position in 2017. Currently, she is a full-time administrative assistant, a freelance music journalist, and a podcast co-host alongside her husband.