Each week we take a look at a hot new single and album, and show some love for our favourites, too.
Single of the Week: “Fallin’ Apart” by Young Franco ft. Denzel Curry & Pell – 4/5
This song’s titular chorus – Dreams are fallin’ apart / Life is getting so bad – is sampled from Steve Monite’s 1984 Afro-boogie song “Things Fall Apart,” and brings a deliciously retro feel, with crackly jukebox effects and well-timed waterfalls of synth that nicely ground the braggadocio of the rap verses.
Collaborators Denzel Curry and Pell do an admirable job here, painting an evocative picture of summer California parties that intentionally clashes with the hilariously downbeat chorus.
And it’s this playful paradox, more than the beat or even that beautiful synth, that keeps me coming back to this track again and again. Is this a tongue-in-cheek celebration of life, or a cry for help wrapped up in a cheery pop song? “Life is fallin’ apart” and “feelin’ good” – do those even have to be mutually exclusive? As we close out 2020, all of this year’s carefree highs and existential lows are now encapsulated in one sun-soaked track.
Highlighted Album: half•alive: Now, Not Yet – 4.9/5
Although you’ll hear plenty of guitar and drums in their debut album, Josh Taylor and his bandmates prefer to deliberately avoid these traditional backup instruments in favour of a chorus of muttering, half-heard voices in this new album.
This kind of muted, dreamlike environment, where voices undercut and double each other, breaks down our ideas of binaries, background and foreground, beginning and end – but set against the band’s driving beats, it’s an incredibly fun experience.
The songs on this album are boppy, moody, soaring – steeped in the 60s/70s soundscape and Jungian references that make up the band’s signature noise, they’re always accessible pieces of alt-pop.
Taylor, the lead singer, has a beautifully melodic voice that manages to remain entirely human even when drowned in soundscape. By accurately capturing each rounded syllable, every cracked note, he undergirds the album with millennial anxiety and directionless energy that elevates the entire group’s performance.
The album jerkily moves between calming background music and full-throated emotional swells, often within the same song. At first I wondered if this was an arrangement issue, but I quickly decided that half•alive just wants to keep you on your toes, never sure of what’s coming next.
I imagine that they avoid computer-generated sounds, which can often sound impersonal and repetitive, in their music for the same reason–the album’s central message, backed up by real voices and real instruments, is that of a kind of militant mindfulness against a fast-paced and thoughtless world.
Discovery of the Week: Ryo Fukui
I’ve been listening to a lot more jazz music since the pandemic began, probably because it’s a close substitute for the bustle of coffee shops and campus hangouts where I used to spend so much time.
Ryo Fukui passed away in 2016, yet is now enjoying a resurgence of Internet popularity. He was a master of the genre: it’s impossible not to get swept up in his joy and wide-eyed energy which gives even tired chestnuts like “Autumn Leaves” new life.
“Sonora,” the opening song on his final album Letter from Slowboat, is probably the best intro I’ve heard on a jazz album. But Fukui taught himself the piano at 22 – a reassuring factoid, as a fellow 22-year-old – which gives his albums a breezy, amorphous quality that rewards listening to them all the way through rather than breaking them up into songs.
His third album, My Favourite Tune, has acquired something of a mythological status. Performed in 1994, it was considered lost for over 20 years before being found by Fukui’s widow and uploaded to YouTube. Driving, decisive, and laced with a looming fear of dissatisfaction, it is exactly what the world needs right now.