March has been an incredibly strange month to say the least. When Bops and Flops was initially created, its purpose was to review the best and worst music of the month. However, in light of the current pandemic and everything else people are going through right now, I figured there was enough negativity going around. That is why I made the decision to only review March’s bops. Music can be extremely therapeutic, and I think we could all use some good new music to connect with during this time.
5 Seconds of Summer has done it again. Their 2018 album, “Youngblood”, is one of my favorite albums, and they somehow outdid themselves with their latest release. “CALM”, named after each of 5SOS’ memeber’s first initials, is pop-rock bliss. This is by far the band’s most vulnerable, genre defying, and musically mature album to date.
“CALM”’s first song, “Red Desert”, opens the album with a bang. The song consists of powerful, overextended harmonies and an enticingly upbeat tempo. “Red Desert”’s sound conveys strength, and the track is an unexpected move for the band.
The song “Old Me” was reviewed in February’s Bops and Flops, and for good reason. While 5SOS took their music in a newer direction, this song is both a thank you to long time fans and a promise to remain authentic regardless of what musical path they take. Additionally, the album as a whole feels like a dedication to their fans; the acronym “CALM” was actually coined by early fans and has been used to refer to all four of the band’s members.
With an intense bass line, exaggerated staccato, and an industrial pop feel, “Teeth” is the edgiest sounding song on “CALM”. For many, I see “Teeth” as being the standout as well as the favorite.
“High” is the final track on “CALM”, and it’s also my personal favorite. The lyricism in this particular song is incredible, and the entire song is essentially a double entendre. “High” expresses a wish that an ex thinks of them highly while remembering times they actually spent high. This song has the ability to put anyone in their feelings.
The lyricism in the entirety of “CALM”, not just “High”, is without a doubt the best 5SOS has produced thus far. Each of the band’s members were incredibly vulnerable in the process of creating “CALM”, and it shows. Many of the songs on “CALM” aren’t exactly happy, but the album is by no means sad. Instead, it’s more of an acceptance of sorts. The sound of this album is something new for 5SOS, but it actually sounds the most true to who the band is.
“Eternal Atake” was highly anticipated since Lil Uzi Vert’s previous album was released in 2017, and it lived up to every expectation. The intergalactic themed conceptual album is split into three sections of six songs each. The first section (“Baby Pluto”, “Lo Mein”, “Silly Watch”, “POP”, “You Better Move”, and “Homecoming”) are explosive. They seem to fulfill the image of a rapper who’s dripping in wealth and overconfidence. The raps are fast, slick, and impressive.
The album slows down dramatically during the second section (“I’m Sorry”, “Celebration Station”, “Bigger Than Life”, “Chrome Heart Tags”, “Bust Me”, and “Prices”). This part of Eternal Atake is my favorite and the most vulnerable. Two of my three favorite songs on the album, “Bigger Than Life” and “Chrome Heart Tags”, occur back to back. The former is a musing on loyalty, or a lack thereof, and the struggle of emotionally connecting with a romantic partner. “Chrome Heart Tags” expresses how purchasing expensive things can serve as a post-breakup coping mechanism, whether it’s healthy or not. The third and final section (“Urgency (feat. Syd)”, “Venetia”, “Secure The Bag”, “P2”, “Futsal Shuffle 2020- Bonus Track”, and “That Way- Bonus Track”) communicates existentialism, and this is where the cosmic theme of “Eternal Atake” becomes apparent. These “big picture” songs were fittingly placed at the end of the album. “P2” is another favorite of mine from Eternal Atake. It is the last song before the album’s bonus tracks, and it uses Lil Uzi Vert’s 2017 hit song “XO TOUR LIif3” as its base. “P2” is nostalgic because of its similarities to “XO TOUR LIif3”, but it is clearly a new song and a matured artist.
If you like 1980’s music, you’re going to love “After Hours”. The Weeknd’s voice is the only modern part of “After Hours”, and it’s incredible. I wouldn’t have ever thought that The Weeknd would make an album that’s so retro, but after hearing the finished product, I’m so glad he did.
In true The Weeknd fashion, a little over half the album is made up of sad and eerie songs set to a prominent bassline. The other half of “After Hours” is bops. These bops include “Hardest To Love”, “Scared To Live”, “Heartless”, “Blinding Lights”, “In Your Eyes”, and “Save Your Tears”. While most of these don’t have happy lyrics, the 80’s synth is enough to make you want to get up and dance. “Blinding Lights” has become a hit and was a wise choice as one of the first singles off the album. It’s catchy, easy to dance to, and creates nostalgia for a time many fans of The Weeknd have only experienced through watching Stranger Things. The same rings true for “Hardest to Love”, although this song is significantly slower.
Despite much of “After Hours”’ content being about a failed relationship(s), I still consider it to be a fun album. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see some of these songs in the soundtracks of shows or movies set in the 80’s.
Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, could not have picked a better time to release “3.15.20”. Glover managed to capture how it feels to be living in 2020 and translate that collective consciousness into 12 songs. The album’s title is representative of the date it was first released, and all of the songs (with the exception of “Algorhythm” and “Time”) are named after when in the album’s time they begin. “3.15.20” is eerie, anxious, and uncertain— just like how most of us are feeling right now.
In “3.15.20”, Glover does an incredible job of sandwiching “normal” sounding songs in between songs that create a feeling of uneasiness. Even the “normal” tracks have a tendency to end on a creepy or abnormal note. Just as the listener thinks they’re safe, Glover reminds them that they aren’t.
Glover fantastically marries electronic music with hip-hop/ R&B in “3.15.20”. One of the poppier tracks is “Time”, which features Ariana Grande. And while that may not sound like a recipe for anything but a fun bop, “Time” explores how the end is inevitable and how no one can ever be truly ready for it. Like most of the more upbeat sounding tracks, “Time” also ends on a tone that’s sonically polar opposite from the rest of the song.
Even though “3.15.20” is extremely eerie, there is something comforting about listening to the album. That something is most likely a form of catharsis that comes from listening to music that expresses what you can’t quite verbalize. Listening to “3.15.20” feels like being understood in a time when nothing else is.
Check out Spire’s Best of March playlist.