Why is it that “the dog days” are reserved for summer? Here, in the throes of February, we’ve been steeled by months of cold, our minds and bodies hardened to winter’s perennial bullshit. We trudge through the dark daily routine, stuck indoors in the stale, dry, recycled air, longing for brighter days while the icy rut consumes us. But as weeks pass and daylight hours inch longer into the evening, we’re reminded that beneath the frost lies a spring of hope. Memories of sun return and our soundtrack thaws, inspiring thoughts of summer.
This week’s nominations, each in their own way, reflect discontent with the status quo, and offer a means of transport to better times — one through the esoteric power of love, the other through resolute resistance.
“BagBak,” Vince Staples (EJ)
“BagBak” comes at you with manic energy. Vince Staples has never hesitated to speak his mind, lyrically or otherwise, and his latest single is one of his most overt political statements to date. Vince, despite his age and proclivity towards blunt remarks, has shown himself to be a thoughtful and level-headed voice.
Last fall, when a video of a tearful mother reciting lyrics to Staples’ hit “Norf Norf” went viral, it was mocked and lampooned by the internet at large. The mother was furious and appalled after hearing the song on the radio with her children in the car, and scorned Staples’ lyrics about his personal perception of growing up in Long Beach CA, a subject on which she obviously had no experience or perspective. Vince responded with surprising maturity and poise, defending the mother’s right to her opinion and offering that instead of deriding each other’s views, we should be encouraging “progressive dialogue” in order to better understand one another.
That’s a lesson we should all appreciate, especially when it comes to issues with vulnerable and historically oppressed groups. Don’t assume you know what’s best, don’t project your own values, don’t dismiss grievances. The only way to begin to appreciate how someone else experiences the world is to listen to them and learn as much as you can. When a young black man from the projects of Long Beach profanely calls out the President (as he explicitly does on “BagBak”), don’t write it off as trash or dismiss the message because of its delivery. Words and actions in protest shouldn’t be scoffed at or looked upon as degenerate or self-serving. Statements are made for a reason.
And while devolution to violence will always distract from and the message, keep these words in mind:
“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Love is Mystical,” Cold War Kids (JH)
Oddly enough, our other nominee also comes from Long Beach — albeit a slightly different neighborhood. “Love is Mystical” is the first single from the band’s upcoming L.A. Divine, which will make its way to your earholes in early April. The track features a driving beat and intense vocals along with its powerful message. Cold War Kids has long been charged with injecting Christian symbolism into their music, which is certainly a prominent feature here. This song’s theme, however, is universal, no matter your creed. Here’s an excerpt:
Cause I’m a red blooded man
But I can’t see behind the sun (I can’t see behind the sun)
A supernatural plan
Is coming to meet me now
Living life with no need for the brakes
Something happens when I lean on my mistakes
Love is mystical
Love will break the chains
You might feel invincible
And you might be afraid
Light in darkness will show you the way
Give you the power to believe again
Trusting a higher power — however you choose to interpret it — can be one of the most challenging, frustrating, confusing, beautiful, and rewarding experiences in life. It’s been all of these things and more in my own life. The payoff illustrated in these lyrics, that when things beyond reason or understanding occur, we can fall back on the mystical power of love to carry us through, is really what it is all about. Finding strength in darkness is a gift not to be taken for granted — it’s one that can save your life.
So that brings us to deciding our winner for the week. For this purpose, and in spite of my lack of both brevity and restrain in providing it, I’ll ask you to ignore the above analysis. This exercise is more about a feeling — the feeling that music can make us yearn for better days, and can provide a taste of glory to come.
At the beginning of this post, I referenced winter’s doldrums, and the longing for summer. One song this week succeeded in transporting us to the carefree memory of past and future summers. Jake, who saw Cold War Kids perform at Basilica Block Party last July, expressed that listening to this song made him feel as if he were right back there. I get the same sort of feeling, starkly reminded of festivals past — the heat of the crowd, the rattle of the bass, the all-consuming experience. For that reason, the Long Beach rockers edge out the Long Beach rapper.
Your weekly winner,
Cold War Kids ::: Love is Mystical
“I Swear,” Wyclef Jean ft. Young Thug
- This song was close to winning the week for me. Wyclef Jean’s new EP was probably the best thing I heard this week front to back. Young Thug is my boy though and as expected Wyclef’s collaboration with him “I Swear” was my favorite specific track. So if you like this song go listen to the whole EP.
“HEAT,” The Knocks ft. Sam Nelson Harris
- I’ve mentioned this before but I ride for The Knocks, love their stuff. Their TESTIFY EP came out this week and HEAT is definitely my favorite song off of it. I don’t care what your musical tastes are, I can’t imagine anyone hating this song. If you do you’re a bad person.
“Ran,” Future Islands
- I first heard Future Islands last year with their song “Seasons (Waiting on You).” They played a show at the Aquarium in Fargo and I missed it…definitely one of those concerts that got away. This song is great though so hopefully I’ll get another chance to see them soon.
- EDM alert. This song follows the classic formula of a chick singing on an EDM track and it’s a formula for a reason.
- This song is definitely a little out there. This is Jamiroquai’s first song since their last album in 2010. Probably not going to be for everyone but when the chorus hits at 1:10 it just feels sooooooo right. I’ve been listening to this song a ton and am excited to hear the new album on its way.
“(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” Sampha
- Sampha is a British singer-songwriter with an impressive resume of collaborations with some big name artists (Kanye, Solange, and Drake to name a few). This track comes from his debut album, Process. Beyond its obvious aesthetic beauty, this song allows Sampha do some big-time flexing of his vocal talents and song-writing prowess.
“Monday to Monday,” Saba
- Saba is a rapper out of Chicago who first came to my attention via another Chicagoan, comedian Hannibal Burress. “Monday to Monday” is his latest release since his late 2016 mixtape Bucket List Project. Saba came up in the music scene with WOLFSONGS favorite Chance the Rapper (shout out this track from the excellent Acid Rap) and is one to keep your eye on. Dude’s got bars.
“Coconuts,” Anna Wise
- Continuing the theme of second bananas coming into their own, this single comes to us from frequent Kendrick Lamar collaborator Anna Wise. It’s a pretty fresh slice of pop/R&B, and comes as a preview for the sequel to her 2016 EP The Feminine: Act I. She had a major hand in good kid m.A.A.d city (both writing and singing), and also contributed to To Pimp a Butterfly and untitled unmastered. If KDot approves, I approve.
“Magnificent (She Says),” Elbow
- British rockers Elbow have been around for the better part of two decades, but are new to me (s/o my boss Jerry for the recommendation). This is the first track from their seventh studio album, Little Fictions. It errs on the side of conventional modern British pop/rock, but in the best way. I like how the strings are used, and the soaring chorus really stays with you.
“Keep Running,” Tei Shi
- This song has been out for a couple weeks, and fell just short of my list last week. For whatever reason, I kept it in the rotation of considerations for this week, and the more I listened the more I loved it. Argentinian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Tei Shi shows off her smooth, sensual brand of pop in this sexy little diddy.
SHOWDOWN FOR THE BELT
Who says rock is dead? Ok, a lot of people are saying that, and with pretty good reason, but the point stands that there are still some great rock bands out there fighting the good fight. Here we see one veteran rock group being challenged by another for the 2016 SOTY Belt, in an era where pop, hip hop, dance, and R&B have a dominating hold on popular music. The stuff of legends, people.
Perhaps it’s a bit fickle that it happens this way, perhaps it’s fitting. Either way, the Cali rockers have tagged in to oust their indie brethren for the rightful title of belt holder. The cold war tactics to trick us into a summer feeling have ironically dispatched with our hot thoughts. How’s that for some mental gymnastics?
Winner, Cold War Kids.
In mother Russia, belt wears YOU!