“Time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over again.”
— Rust Cohle
This week, Jacob and I had the fortune to take in two great shows at the Sanctuary — Hippo Campus and Dead Man Winter. The first, a midweek rock show, succeeded in at least two things. First, as Jake’s first time at the Sanctuary, it introduced him to the potential of that venue and got us both very pumped for the Dead Man Winter show we’d see there a couple days later. Second, as an all-ages show, it reminded us that we are not exactly spring chickens. Most of the fans on the main floor were underage, and the musicians on stage were themselves barely out of high school. We felt old.
But exposure to a younger crowd we aren’t often around made us realize something: if you took a Polaroid of sections of the crowd, you could easily convince someone it was from 1992. Ratty flannel, high-waisted acid-wash jeans, bib overalls, neon…it was all pretty grunge. Seeing this—former fashion trends once popular within my own lifespan coming back into the mainstream—it drove home the idea that style really is cyclical. And when you think about it, nothing is really, really brand new.
No facet of life is immune from this phenomenon. Architecture, entertainment, politics—each new innovation is influenced by something from the past. Don’t take this as cynical; I think that each reiteration is (potentially, at least) touched by originality. I am also of the opinion that history serves us best when it helps us appreciate the present and prepare for the future.
Music is an art-form in a unique place in this respect, as music from the past remains in frequent rotation decades—even centuries—after its genesis. It seems like every ten years or so there’s some reiteration of Beatle-mania. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is as important and relevant a work today as it was in the 19th century. So perhaps music gets away with stealing from the past a little easier than, say, fashion. And although the same could be said about the visual arts, music is set apart because of its ability to inform culture as a whole. The music of an era is just as vital as the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the social movements we support.
So that brings us to the picks for this week. This was a comparably underwhelming week of new releases (hence this extended discussion before even getting to actual songs), but we were still able to come up with some solid recommendations. Both songs have a direct influence from a defined era, yet still reflect the present.
“Cloud 9,” Jamiroquai (JH)
“Unholy War,” Jacob Banks (EJ)
“Cloud 9” is described by Jacob as “just a very groovy song.” I agree. When you hear the word ‘groovy,’ what is the first thing you think of? Anything??? OK I’ll go first…
OF COURSE IT’S AUSTIN POWERS! A movie from the 90s that stole from the 70s. A close second in my mind is probably numerous quotes from The Brady Bunch, a show from the actual 70s. Actually, the association in my mind is more likely with The Brady Bunch Movie, another movie from the 90s that made fun of the 70s. Sensing a theme here?
THIS IS A DISCO SONG! AND IT’S GREAT!
Not convinced? Let’s try a little exercise.
Close your eyes. Picture a young, virile, perfectly quaffed John Travolta. He’s wearing a purple patterned, large-collared button up shirt, with just the right amount of buttons undone (>50%). His pants are as white as winter’s first snow, and oh-so tight, from seat to seam, until we reach the ankles. Ankles need room to breathe, and those pant bottoms are bells, baby. And the footwear? One word: platform.
Now, what is Travolta doing? Well he’s walking, nay, STRUTTING down the street. Double finger guns are flying at every foxy mama on the sidewalk. With a quick spin, he pops that over-sized collar without even breaking his stride. He steps into an alley, through an unmarked door, and directly onto the dance floor. Throngs of far-out cats are dancing to the music, the disco ball spinning above. The crowd parts, Travolta steps to center stage. It’s his time to shine. But, what’s this? A challenger among us? WE GOT A DANCE-OFF BABY!!!
Now, what song is playing through that mental montage? IT’S THIS SONG! Jamiroquai, most famous for a funk/pop/jazz fusion hit from the 90s, made a great damn disco song in 2017. The song’s production and electronic sort of feel give it a modern vibe, for sure, but this song belongs in 1975. I dig it. Which is more than I can say for Jay King’s choice in headwear.
British singer-songwriter Jacob Banks supplies our other weekly pick, and his melding of styles both modern and classic is a bit more obvious. Banks refers to his style as “digital soul,” which proves to be a pretty apt description. His vocals evoke comparisons to Bill Withers, which is to say he has some considerable skill. The track starts out with simple piano and analog percussion, his powerful voice over top. And then the chorus hits, and we are reminded that it’s 2017. Modulated vocal samples and synthesizer tones come in to highlight—rather than dominate—the otherwise simple soul song.
Sure, this is by no means groundbreaking, but it makes for a damn good song. And in lieu of taking you through another mental exercise, I’ll just say this: this song, with its message and timbre, could provide the perfect soundtrack for a scene involving a 1960s civil rights march. Its aspects of the modern provide a fitting reminder that 50+ years later, the same fight is still being fought today.
So, who wins the week? Neither of us felt too strongly about our picks, so it was difficult to really get behind one in particular. We did agree that “Unholy War” probably had a bit more mass appeal, and was the more conventional pick, so that tipped the scales in its favor. But then, on the day I’m putting the final touches on this post, Jamiroquai releases a pretty dope music video for “Cloud 9,” which will look so much cooler embedded in the post than a boring-ass audio only YouTube link. So there ya go.
Your nominal winner of the week,
Jamiroquai ::: Cloud 9
“Cold,” Maroon 5 ft. Future
- God help me, I’m giving Maroon 5 a nom. Let’s chalk this one up to Future being a boss. This song has a great beat and has earned a spot in my party playlist.
“Way it Goes,” Hippo Campus
- Saw these guys at the Sanctuary in Fargo on Wednesday and they were legit. Their newest song gets an hon.
- Newest song from Jidenna of “Classic Man” fame. Very mellow song, I’m a fan.
“I Love You,” Axwell /\ Ingrosso ft. Kid Ink
- We can’t have a week without at least one EDM hon from me. Really enjoy the Kid Ink verse on here.
***Special guest contributor and friend of the blog Kylie chimes in for an honorable mention this week:
“God Only Knows,” John Legend ft. Cynthia Erivo
- Kylie says:
“Since the live Grammys performance, I’ve played this song more times than I’d like to admit. John’s dreamy tone and harmonies with Cynthia Erivo give me all the feels.”
“Cool Your Heart,” Dirty Projectors
- Dirty Projectors is a conundrum to me. The composition of their songs has expert-level complexity, and when looked at from a technical aspect is overwhelmingly impressive. But this is a bit of a double-edged sword for me, as it can distract from my primal enjoyment of the music. That said, this track does a pretty fine job of melding the numerous moving parts you’d expect from Dirty Projectors into a fun song you can bob your head to. Their upcoming self-titled album is getting TONS of buzz (looking at you, Pitchfork), and I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of coherent flow it has as a unit.
- The latest single from G.O.O.D. Music’s Desiiigner, who is known best for his smash mumble raps named after large black and white mammals and a Nicktoon (an average kid, that no one understands; Mom and Dad and Vicky always giving him commands). The Kanye disciple seems to be enunciating his syllables much better on this track, a positive step in my book (I’m personally ready for mumble rap to go to the wayside). My interest was piqued in the middle of this track, when the beat dropped out and Desiiigner was allowed to just spit verses with impressive skill.
“Friend Zone,” Thundercat
- This is Thundercat’s second single from his upcoming album. It’s a fun, funky, electronic tune that does a fine job of outlining an experience many of us know first hand: being placed in the friend zone. The lyrics catch me a bit off guard with just how literal they are—lacking almost any symbolic depth—but for some reason it works with charming quality here. Plus, what other song pulls off references to Diablo, Kendrick Lamar, and Mortal Kombat’s Johnny Cage within a few lines?
“Human,” Rag’n’Bone Man
- This track draws plenty of comparison to my pick for this week, and is of similar quality in my mind. Rag’n’Bone Man, another British soul artist, previously released this single as the title track to his debut album, which came out this week. It is little more than some bare-bones, foot-tapping soul. Pretty refreshing, tbh.
“New LA,” SiR ft. Anderson .Paak & King Mez
- This was supposed to be a song called “This Must Be the Place” (a Talking Heads cover) by a band called Sure Sure, until I googled and found out they posted that song on Soundcloud like two years ago. Woops. “New LA” squeaks by on the pedigree of Anderson .Paak, one of my favorites and my best new artist of 2016 (Chance wasn’t eligible because Acid Rap exists). Anyways, it’s pretty solid. Enjoy.
Showdown for the belt
Well, as mentioned above, this week didn’t feature the strongest crop of releases. There wasn’t any real threat to snatch the belt. But rest ye lightly, Cold War Kids, for danger lies on the horizon: new albums from the likes of Ryan Adams, Future, Jidenna, Electric Guest, among others; releases featuring The Weeknd, Cashmere Cat, and Young Thug; oh, and remember our girl Maggie Rogers? Don’t sleep.
An ominous threat looms in the shadows. Week 6 is coming.