Welcome back to the fifth installment of Spire’s Bops & Flops series, in which the best and worst music released each month is reviewed. July was an eventful month for new music and the releases were overwhelmingly fantastic. There was a surprise Taylor Swift release, Juice WRLD’s long awaited posthumous album, and great bands of the early-mid 2010’s are coming back stronger than ever. This month’s Bops & Flops has the most reviews so far, so enjoy!
You know those summer nights, driving by yourself at sunset with the windows down? Yeah, play this album when you do that. Recover is sonically dreamy and hypnotic, but lyrically, it’s reflective. It’s easy to get lost in thought while listening.
Recover is an album about healing and turning pain into positivity, which seems to be a running theme for music released in 2020. The band, recently turned duo, is fronted by Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers, who met as teenagers, began dating and started the band. The pair eventually broke up, but their creative partnership endured. Many of Recover’s tracks explore the nuances of Xayalith and Powers’ relationship over the years in addition to unpacking their own personal life experiences. The most emotionally raw song on the album is Recover, which was written about Xayalith’s mother (who passed away during Xayalith’s childhood).
The Naked And Famous’ bright and youthful approach to alternative rock/ indie-pop effortlessly draws listeners in, and their hit song Young Blood helped define the sound of the early 2010’s. Recover feels like a breakthrough moment for The Naked And Famous, and the album is a byproduct of artistic maturity and some good ‘ol fashioned soul searching.
There are many layers of Legends Never Die’s release that demand discussion. Firstly, this album is posthumous, meaning that it was released after Juice WRLD’s tragic drug-related death in December of 2019. The rapper’s drug addiction was no secret — his music was vulnerable and he opened up more than many artists are ever able to in a lifetime of making music. Legends Never Die is full of lyrics that make the album especially haunting like, “If it wasn’t for the pills, I wouldn’t be here. But if I keep taking these pills, I won’t be here”. Juice WRLD wrote music with running themes of severe anxiety, depression, addiction and heartbreak, but he juxtaposed these experiences with messages of relentless hope and gratitude for life itself.
Anytime I heard Juice WRLD sing, it was about suffering — but every time I heard him speak, it was about optimism and perseverance. This combined with his unique take on hip-hop/ rap made young Millennials and Gen Z connect with him on a profound level — and it made his death even more heartbreaking.
Legends Never Die is a hip-hop/ rap album, but it’s clear that Juice WRLD pulled inspiration from other genres to create an exceptional work of art that doesn’t sound like anything else being put out right now. One song in particular that stands out on Legends Never Die is Come & Go (with Marshmello). The song starts in a relatively predictable way, but about a third of the way into Come & Go, heavy guitar begins playing in the style of classic rock. A hip-hop/ rap artist with Soundcloud origins singing over an epic electric guitar riff isn’t what I expected from Legends Never Die, but I was more than pleasantly surprised by it. Another aspect of Come & Go that I wasn’t expecting is that it’s a love song. Prior to Legends Never Die, Juice WRLD predominantly made heartbreak music, but his love for his then girlfriend became an overarching theme of the album.
Legends Never Die is an exceptional album. Juice WRLD harnessed his pain and turned it into something beautiful for people to connect with. Legends Never Die is easily recognizable as a Juice WRLD album, but he continually surprised listeners with experimental stylistic choices. Juice WRLD was one of the driving forces of the hip-hop/ rap genre and symbolized its future, and it is truly a shame there will be no more albums like Legends Never Die to look forward to.
Neon Trees has been responsible for some of the greatest bops of the 2010’s, so I was beyond excited when I saw that the band had broken their hiatus with the release of I Can Feel You Forgetting Me. The album is energetic enough to inspire dancing, but still mellow enough for casual background listening. Many of the lyrics of I Can Feel You Forgetting Me explore what it’s like to experience chronic loneliness, something most people can relate to right now. But the lyrics are easy to tune out, which is not a detriment to the album’s quality in the slightest. I think that it actually strengthens the album because it makes it even more versatile.
I Can Feel You Forgetting Me is an album that could be passionately sung along to in the car, in the background while studying or anything in between. Creating an album that perfectly fits into the energy of virtually any real life scenario is no easy feat and is a testament to the musical capabilities of Neon Trees.
Taylor Swift possesses an undeniable talent for storytelling. She is able to write songs that not only convey a highly specific narrative, but also retain just enough ambiguity to create a sense of artistry and allow the listener to decide what the music means to them. Like all Swift albums, folklore (stylized in all lowercase) is a collection of stories, but that is where the similarities end. The album blends aspects of indie and folk music to create a somber, predominantly acoustic album that tells a series of interconnected stories from various points of view.
My interpretation of the album’s title in relation to its content is that the stories of our lives make up our own personal folklore. Because what is folklore if not an interconnected set of possibly unreliable narratives?
The song the last great american dynasty is extremely unique. It was inspired by Rebekah Harkness, one of the wealthiest women in American history. She was, as Swift sings, a “middle-class divorcée” who married the heir to Standard Oil’s fortune in 1947. She was known for throwing Gatsby esque parties, patroning ballet companies, having an affinity for the expensive and generally causing mischief. The connection between Swift and Harkness seems to be nonexistent, that is, until Swift sings “and then it was bought by me”. Swift bought Harkness’ infamous Rhode Island “Holiday House” in 2013, which seamlessly intertwines the wildly different women’s lives together. I truly don’t think I’ve ever heard a song quite like the last great american dynasty, and the intricacies of the track, and folklore as a whole, have captivated all types of listeners.
The eleventh song of the 16 track album, invisible string, is one of my personal favorites. The highly reflective song looks back on a turbulent romantic life that led its two subjects to one another. The inspiration for the song’s title comes from a Japanese legend in which soulmates are bound by an invisible red thread. It is said that the thread can become tangled or stretched, but it can never break. The song captures that feeling of “wow, if I had only known”.
I will say, folklore is slightly difficult to listen to casually, especially the first few times you hear it. The lyricism demands the listener’s full attention. I can’t tell if I’m surprised or not by the timing of folklore’s release. This introspective and cerebral album feels like more of a fall/ winter album instead of a midsummer project. But at the same time, artists being quarantined at home has inspired a somewhat predictable emphasis on lyricism and self-reflection. Regardless, Swift took a risk by throwing expectations of how her music “should” sound out the window, but it paid off.
In the words of Troye Sivan himself, Easy is “sadness, but make it a pop chorus.” The 80’s esque single follows Take Yourself Home to become the second release of Sivan’s upcoming EP, In A Dream. The EP is said to be deeply personal and is set to drop on Aug. 21, 2020.
Easy isn’t exactly new territory for Sivan, but hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Sivan knows what he excels at, and he sticks to it. Easy is a blend of relaxing and bright sonic energies, which creates an almost angelic listening experience. If Easy is just a taste of Sivan’s upcoming EP, I cannot wait to see what the full project has in store.
When Avenue Beat wrote the lyric, “lowkey fuck 2020,” I think they spoke for everyone. The up and coming girl group of three managed to do something many established artists are having trouble with— they created a Coronavirus inspired song that isn’t terrible.
F2020 consists of cathartic lyrics set to a catchy pop beat. The lyrical vernacular like “this year is just wack” and tone of the song makes F2020 feel authentically Gen Z in nature without being cringy. Part of this is because Avenue Beat is a relatively unknown girl group of early 20-somethings. So essentially, the song feels like it was sung by three of your friends who just decided to hate on 2020. F2020 is the most relatable and creative quarantine song that I’ve listened to so far, and it’s my new personal anthem for 2020.
Upset is the most genre-defying single I’ve heard in a while. It has clear influences from the 80’s revival happening in pop, a hip-hop bassline, and EDM embellishments to top it all off. If that wasn’t enough, the single features a synth solo done in the style of classic rock guitar solos. Instead of sounding messy and overdone, Upset was exceptionally produced which gives it the opportunity to appeal to almost every type of modern music listener.
It pains me to include anything by Kid Cudi in the Flops section, but it must be done. Kid Cudi, and even Eminem, are known for boundary pushing rap. Eminem has had his many, many controversies as well as 44 Grammy nominations and 15 wins. Kid Cudi’s 2009 Man On The Moon: The End of The Day is still a dearly beloved hip-hop album that received three Grammy nominations. The Adventures of Moon Man & Slim Shady wasn’t exactly bad, but it was definitely uninspired material for both of the extremely talented and experienced artists.
Dear Kygo, please stop mediocrely remixing some of the most iconic songs in modern history. That’s all I have to say on that.
I have not been excited to hear DJ Khaled’s obnoxious “WE THE BEST MUSIC” since the summer of 2017 when Wild Thoughts and I’m The One was all the radio would play. DJ Khaled seems like he cannot move on from that time because he continues to collaborate with the same people for almost every song and his music has neither progressed nor matured. He continues to release what feels like a never ending stream of singles that all sound the exact same.
However, DJ Khaled has an undeniable ability to lift the energy in a room. I would love to see him work with different artists and update his, now stale, style.
Check out Spire’s Best of July Playlist.