You just can’t argue with a good burrito.
“Slide,” Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean & Migos (JH)
“Death Spiral,” Dirty Projectors (EJ)
There is just something undeniable about a great pop song. Yes, it’s created specifically to appeal to the masses. Yes, it’s supposed to get stuck in your head. Yes, it’s made to have an unobtrusive quality that allows it to play over and over and over again without developing the listener’s rancor.
Modern pop artists and producers know these things, and they know how to execute them with efficiency. The best (read: most successful) ones can stamp out hits like license plates. But how does a pop song truly thread the needle to reach greatness? To me, it is when it accomplishes one difficult task: win over the haters. Undeniability.
Calvin Harris, best known to some as a former victim of T.Swift’s elaborate date & dump PR cycle, has been churning out bangers for quite a while. Or so I’m told. I can’t name one other Calvin Harris song. I’m sure there are several that I would recognize, and several that I enjoy. I just can’t name one. But when Jake forwarded a Snap story to me last week teasing the upcoming release of Calvin Harris (pictured below, white) collaborating with Frank Ocean (right) and Migos (represented here by Quavo, left), I got really excited.
Was that mostly due to the mere mention of Frank Ocean? Yeah, sure. But my limited knowledge of Harris as a very skilled producer/DJ and the idea of a verse from one to three of the Migos (we ended up with two) elevated the excitement considerably. Jake himself has professed that “if there was a song made in a lab specifically for me, this would be pretty damn close.” Plugging that sort of talent into the pop music hit making machine had to at least be decent. Executed well, it could even be great.
So here we have “Slide.” Calvin kicks off with some smooth piano, adds a pitch shifted Frank hook, and by the time the beat drops, you are well into the groove. Frank comes in on the chorus all velvety smooth. It’s nice. He continues with a verse, then Quavo slides in for one, then Offset (my favorite — a Ricky Ricardo reference!). One more chorus, and we hear that high pitched hook again on the outro as the beat falls out. There you have it! All neatly wrapped up in just under four minutes. Pop perfection has been executed.
I guess the song is about feeling like an impostor among wealth or living beyond your means or whatever, and maybe a little bit about cooking crack cocaine. But who really cares? This song is about that carefree feeling only a great pop song can give you. It’s about turning it up on your car stereo and doing a little shoulder dance with your friends while driving down Main Avenue with the windows down in July.
So, does this song have it? My arbitrary definition of a great pop song — undeniable acceptance by the haters, the skeptics, the naysayers, the sticks in the mud? Well, as one of those people, I’ll tell you…
Yep. This song fucking rules.
A few weeks ago, I featured the song “Cool Your Heart” by Dirty Projectors in my honorable mentions. It lost out on the weekly nomination to “Unholy War” by Jacob Banks, a fine song. Throughout that week, I had considered a few as my winner, “Cool Your Heart” being one. But, as I mentioned in that post, there was something keeping me from enjoying that song fully — I could recognize its goodness, but couldn’t get into it on a primal level. Well, upon further review…
That song kicks ass, it has an awesome video, and it deserved to win. I played it safe and went with the more conventional tune over the more risky, out-there composition. Thankfully, Dirty Projectors released their self-titled album this week, and now I may rectify this wrongdoing.
The album comes after around four years of silence from Dirty Projectors, on the heels of the real-life breakup of frontman David Longstreth (pictured below, sad and disheveled) and former guitarist/vocalist Amber Coffman.
Longstreth’s heartache is put on display on several of the album’s tracks, perhaps most directly on “Death Spiral.” Remember last week’s discussion on breakup albums? Yeah, this one qualifies.
The track features the hallmarks of a typical Dirty Projectors song — complex instrumentation, rhythm changes, peppered in vocal effects, layers on layers on layers. A couple weeks ago, it was some of these very qualities that held me back from a basic enjoyment of the music; I found myself a bit too distracted. But listening to this album front to back, appreciating the story Longstreth is telling, has provided an emotional connection to the music that proves satisfying.
“Death Spiral” turned out to be my favorite song from the album, but it must be stated that it benefits from me having listened to two of the earlier singles (“Up in Hudson” and the previously aforementioned “Cool Your Heart”) a considerable amount of times. They primed the pump and got me ready to accept the goodness of Dirty Projectors. This music is the type you need to spend some time with to really appreciate.
Week to week, I try to identify a central theme to each post — some broader concept that can unify my thoughts on the week’s music. I struggled with that this time. There’s an argument that “Slide” is vaguely about a breakup, which “Death Spiral” obviously is, but we did that last week, and besides that, it seems much less prescient here for whatever reason. There’s that whole idea about fast food vs. a sit down meal, which can certainly apply here as it did earlier on with Rick Ross vs. Father John Misty, but that concept is a bit tired and maybe doesn’t give enough credit to “Slide.”*
* “Slide” is Chipotle. It’s still technically fast food, but it’s a little classy. It’s got high quality, fresh, consciously sourced ingredients, and a few secrets up its sleeve that elevates it to the next level (spoiler alert: there’s bacon in the rice).
So in lieu of making some philosophical stand or constructing a complex metaphor, this week’s winner shall be chosen for the simple fact that this song is going to make a significant mark on 2017. As a fellow pop music skeptic from The Ringer noted upon its release, these guys just dropped the song of the summer in February.
Your weekly winner (how is there not even an official lyric video for this yet?),
Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean & Migos ::: Slide
“Swalla,” Jason Derulo ft. Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign
- One of several Nicki Minaj feat sightings this week. Another good addition to your party playlist for the coming summer.
“By Your Side,” The 1975
- Really loved The 1975’s album from last year and I’m glad we’ve got more quality music coming from them. Their single this week was very mellow and a great listen.
“December,” Allan Rayman ft Adria Kain
- Allan’s full album came out this week and it’s great. I think this is my favotire song off the release but a handful were also in contention. Check it out.
- Future is just going off. Two album releases in as many weeks…what? This week’s release HNDRXX stuck with me more than last weeks. Thankfully I live alone because I think I’ve danced to this song in my bathroom every time I’ve showered this week.
“Middle Fingers,” MISSIO
- Recommended to me by my friend Dana. Sometimes you just need a good “F you” song, and this is a great one.
“Monsoon,” Hippo Campus
- Hippo Campus saw the release of their first fully fleshed-out LP this week, and it is showing us a lot about what the band is and where it’s going. Compared to Bashful Creatures, their 2015 release, this album seems to have had a considerably longer cook time in the production studio — understandable when considering the band’s surge from relative unknowns to national touring success in a short amount of time — and it’s resulted in a much more mature sound. This is a for better or worse situation for me, as I find myself longing for the frenetic, unpolished energy of some of their earlier songs. Monsoon was released as a single late in 2016, but gets some new shine here with the album release.
“Them Changes,” Thundercat ft. Flying Lotus
- Thundercat’s Drunk is a funky masterpiece, featuring input from a crazy list of collaborators: Kendrick Lamar, Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Wiz Khalifa, and Pharrell Williams, to name a few. This track gets recognized for its Flying Lotus feature and its superb bass work, perhaps Thundercat’s strongest suit.
“Comin Out Strong,” Future ft. The Weeknd
- I’ll echo what Jake said above about Future (except for the shower dancing — ok, some of the shower dancing), only to add that he just became the only artist in Billboard history to have two number one debut albums in back to back weeks. I liked a lot of tracks from HNDRXX but this jam with The Weeknd has stuck with me the most (sorry Ri Ri — luv u girl).
“Youngish Americans,” Dams of the West
- This band is a side project of Vampire Weekend drummer Chris Tomson with production help from Pat Carney of Black Keys fame. The debut album is a bit uneven, but this final track (the album’s title track) really brings it home. It’s a little long, but well developed, doing a nice job of building with good payoff.
“Baybee,” Jay Som
- This is some dreamy pop rock. Melanie Duterte fronts this all female group that’s released a series of singles in anticipation of Everybody Works, their debut album. They have a bit of the essence of some late 90s/early aughts chick rock — think Sheryl Crow times The Donnas divided by The Cranberries. I really enjoy the guitar work on this particular track. Their song “1 Billion Dogs” is another one worth checking out.
SHOWDOWN FOR THE BELT
Ryan Adams, the grizzled warrior, waited in the wings for weeks. He picked his spot, expertly and with authority, to smash through with his rock hammer and grab the belt. It was well-deserved. But life is unpredictable, and the toughest of opponents sometimes seem to rise unexpectedly out of nowhere. Who could have predicted the formation of a powerhouse super-team of Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean, and Migos? Who saw that coming?
The pop juggernaut has too much power, and they send Ryan Adams down the road*, though his head is still held high. There is no shame in defeat when the battle fought is noble and true.
* Seriously, he’s on the road. Go see Ryan Adams on tour, he is incredible. We’ll be at the show in St. Paul in July.
Your newest 2017 SOTY Belt holder: “Slide,” by Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean and Migos, aka “The Baddest Tag Team on the Planet.”