Hope you’ve all enjoyed your President’s Day, regardless of how you might feel about…uh, you know. This past week in music, the first post-Grammys, has been an eclectic one, with out-of-the-blue collaborations, a subliminal here and there, and the…friend zone?
DJ Khaled — Shining (feat. Beyoncé & JAY Z)
“DON’T. TRY TO. SLOW ME DOWN.” DJ Khaled’s first single from his upcoming album Grateful, released on Music’s Biggest Night, features Music’s Biggest Couple, Jay Z and Beyoncé themselves. The entire makeup of this single bleeds excess in excellence, because at this point, who else but Khaled could land both Jay AND Bey on the same song? Beyoncé exudes all kinds of confidence here, as she reflects on 20 whole years of winning in a Formation-style rap/sung cadence that bleeds swagger. Her husband has been winning for about the same length of time, too, and Jay comes in roaring with one of best verses in recent memory with his own burgeoning bravado, giving a nod to Atlanta upstart 21 Savage, and even taking a thinly veiled shot at Drake, so we’ll have to see where it goes from there. These are all good signs for Khaled, who has been riding the waves of his recent successes by stepping up to the plate with some of his best efforts to date. Whether Grateful can keep up this winning streak is for time to reveal, but it’s looking like a safe bet. 4/5
Maroon 5 — Cold (feat. Future)
I’m gonna say this right now, this Maroon 5 album is about to legendary, if only for the sole fact that it’s the only place you’ll ever find Future outperforming Kendrick Lamar period, let alone on the same album. “Don’t Wanna Know” is, frankly, terrible, albeit too catchy than I’d like it to be, and Kendrick Lamar, and otherwise phenomenal rapper, put in perhaps his worst performance ever put to tape on that track. “Cold” still ranks toward the low end of Maroon 5 singles, but it’s a marked improvement from the last one. Adam Levine’s crooning falsetto floats over a repetitive downbeat instrumental, while Future slides in with a somewhat phoned-in verse that still feels inspired enough to sound like he’s trying to earn that pop radio paycheck. You can’t expect much out of Maroon 5 nowadays, but oooooooh, they’re tryin’. 3/5
Thundercat — Friend Zone
The concept of the friend zone is a pretty contentious topic, depending on who you ask. Thundercat doesn’t seem too fond of being in it, but he’s got a healthy sense of humor about it, so he’s not too pressed. While the first single off his upcoming album Drunk, “Show You The Way (feat. Kenny Loggins & Michael McDonald)” was next-level smooth, “Friend Zone” is next-level cynical, with some left-field funny commentary (Because I’d rather play Mortal Kombat anyway/ I’m all about my Johnny Cage) and exceptionally biting lyrical diatribes (I will throw you in the garbage/ ’cause you play too many games), all over a funkier groove with bass work reminiscent of his work on To Pimp a Butterfly. The kicker, of course, is that this song was dropped on Valentine’s Day, if you thought he couldn’t get any more wicked. Bitch, don’t kill his vibe. 4/5
NAV — Some Way (feat. The Weeknd)
Poor Justin. While it can’t be argued that the Biebs made some moves in his career as of late, perhaps his messiest was taking time out to talk shit about fellow Canadian superstar The Weeknd, basically saying that Abel’s music is “wack.” Abel, who most recently dropped his monolithic album Starboy, is not the type to take this sitting down, as evident by his team-up with rapper/producer NAV. Unlike Drake and Jay slipping subliminals at each other that may-or-may-not be about each other, Abel isn’t one for subtlety as he dedicates his entire verse towards his sole hater. The fact that Selena Gomez is now dating Abel after having left Justin might have something to with it*, which makes the line “I think your girl, think your girl fell in love with me/ She say my fuck and my tongue game a remedy” all the more savage. 4/5
*It definitely has something to do with it.
Linkin Park — Heavy (feat. Kiiara)
I blame The Chainsmokers. I’m sure they actually had nothing to do with this, but when a seasoned rock band like Linkin Park releases a new single that amounts to little more than a knockoff of one of the biggest pop songs of 2016, it feels like more than just a coincidence. This one hurts, because Linkin Park is a group near and dear to my heart, and yet here they are, putting out the same kind of downtempo EDM-inflected pop that’s been infiltrating the top 40 for the past year and change, after making a triumphant return to the heavy, gritty rock sound on 2014’s The Hunting Party. It’s not inherently bad, or at least, it wouldn’t be if it didn’t feel inevitably stale. On-the-rise pop singer Kiiara lends a nice touch here, on what could’ve easily been “The Chainsmokers feat. Kiiara.” Hell, it might’ve been better if it was “The Chainsmokers feat. Kiiara.” One More Light, the group’s upcoming seventh album, isn’t due out until May, so we’ll have to wait to find out what exactly Linkin Park has been doing with their time lately. 1/5
Sorority Noise — A Better Sun
If you want to talk “heavy,” we can discuss this intense new single from Connecticut indie rock outfit Sorority Noise. “A Better Sun” is the second single off their anticipated upcoming album, You’re Not As ______ As You Think, following the plucky “No Halo.” “Better Sun” is slower fare, loaded with depressive prose that reflects frontman Cam Boucher’s personal struggles, and the listless dissociation from the world around that manifests in the crevices of one’s own head and heart. There are some lyrical shout-outs to some of his fellow contemporaries, including close friend Brendan Lukens of Modern Baseball, who had been fighting his own bouts of severe depression in recent years. Boucher’s sullen spoken word delivery keeps in line with the slow-burning instrumental of the track, a steady build that gradually rises and crashes in a wave of catharsis that almost still feels unresolved, though progress has been made, maybe. There might be light on the other side, but even the smallest victories, like cracking open the shades in your room, are still victories. 4/5
All Time Low — Dirty Laundry
Pop-punk mainstays All Time Low are a holdover from last decade, but have managed to remain a consistent force both on the Warped Tour scene and well beyond it. They’ve made some label shifts in the past, but their recent move to the alt-pop juggernaut Fueled By Ramen is perhaps their most significant in their career. This isn’t the only example of a primarily rock band making a bid for a more pop-infused sound on this list, but it feels like the most effective. In a recent interview with Alternative Press, the band discusses how their progression into a darker, more synth-based pop style is a natural next step from the more youthful Don’t Panic & Future Hearts. “Dirty Laundry” is our first taste of this change, a moody, introspective pop ballad about the things we wish we could hide and accepting them in ourselves and others that would fit very well on pop radio. It’s a far cry from the very tongue-in-cheek teenage innuendo-laced reverie that All Time Low built their brand off of in the old scene days, but growing up will force you to look inward at what you’ve become, and how you map things out from there. 3/5