Each week, Austin360 music writers Eric Webb and Deborah Sengupta Stith listen to a wide variety of new albums and singles and offer first impressions on the Austin360 Periscope account. We put our favorite new songs from the week into the 360 Mixtape. Consider it your new music soundtrack to get you through the week.
The Weeknd “Beauty Behind the Madness” – Listen on Spotify
DSS: This album was so very overhyped, it was almost set up to be a letdown. Musically, it goes in some interesting directions, but in his push for mainstream superstardom, the Weeknd turned to pop super-producer-du-jours like Martin and Stephan Moccio, who have worked with Celine Dion (?!?). In the process, he normalized some of edginess that defined his sound. And absent the vibey mysteriousness, not to mention the underground hunger, the endless stream of songs about strippers and cocaine and more strippers and cocaine starts to get very tedious. Having said that, the raw heat he brought to his MTV VMA performance last night made me super excited about his upcoming Austin City Limits Fest headline set.
EW: Much unlike the signature Weeknd plumage, “Beauty Behind the Madness” falls flat. I echo Deborah’s assessment that the antisocial hedonism that worked well on Abel Tesfaye’s earlier stuff (before someone booked the acts for the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack) wears very thin here. Before, he seemed like an underdog. Now, singing lyrics that sound like the lines for particularly pessimistic luxury rap, the Weeknd seems unpleasant.
Justin Bieber “What Do You Mean?” (single)- Listen
EW: I have listened to this song on loop more times than I care to admit. First, Bieber teamed up with Skrillex and Diplo for history’s greatest example of three wrongs making a right, “Where Are Ü Now.” Now with this airy, clock-ticking rumination on romantic indecision, the boy wonder is two-for-two on “Wait, that was him?!” singles that buck expectations, both of himself and of teen-baiting pop. Viva Biebs?
DSS: The Biebs is moving into a new phase of emotional maturity (perhaps that’s what he was crying about at the VMAs last night?) and I’m not ashamed to say I danced to this song.
Miley Cyrus “Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz” – Listen on Soundcloud
DSS: Like Chance the Rapper, I had issues with Miley Cyrus as VMA host and the fact that “Dooo It!” (the irritating mishmash she closed the ceremony with) is the lead track on the free album she just dropped made me feel primed to hate it. But I love it. Really. Miley can actually sing and her plaintive vocals set against the backdrop of woozy, gauzy psych pop (constructed in part by Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne) works beautifully. 2015 is shaking out as a very weird year.
EW: For starters, I do not hate “Dooo It!” I dooo not love it, but if any non-Miley electroclash iconoclast released this, it would get lauded by some circles. Sonically, it’s a shiny ping pong ball that you can’t take your eye (read: ears) off of. The lyrics, on the other hand, recall an Insane Clown Posse song. Judging from the couple tracks I’ve heard, it’s not fair to judge this as anything other than a peculiar art object.
Beach House “Depression Cherry” – Listen
EW: The first go around on this one, I told Deborah that it bored me. The second time, the tip-toeing hints of melodies and swirly, post-rock-meets-dream-rock smoothie of instruments hint me in the right place. Pending a dive into the lyrics, this one could be top 50 of the year material. “Sparks” easily insinuates itself into the underside of your brain.
DSS: I like the lush swells and textures. Look forward to digging into this one.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis “Downtown” (single) – Listen
DSS: I am so confused by this song. I get that Macklemore wants to tip his hat to classic rap, and I appreciate that he’s got Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz on this song, but it sounds like three songs smashed together in the worst possible way. We go from Sugarhill Gang-era block party to 5:30 p.m. rush at the Gold’s Gym with a quick stop through a Broadway theater. The end result doesn’t establish Ben Haggerty’s hip-hop cred, it just proves he’s very capable of making terrible hipster hop.
EW: I didn’t listen to this on purpose. I also resent that, once Deborah made me listen, it was so readily apparent that there is no connection to any of this song’s parts.
Yo La Tengo “Stuff Like That There” – Listen
EW: Having only audited the Yo La Tengo discography and seen them at Fun Fun Fun Fest last year, I can’t give too insightful of a comparison against their non-covers-album work. But I would say that these entirely pleasant takes on “Friday I’m Love” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” are going to make many a coffeeshop compilation.
DSS: The Cure cover was a nice summer evening chill song.
Andra Day “Cheers To the Fall” – Listen
DSS: She packs a gorgeous voice with just the right amount of grit. She also brings a retro soul sound that will inevitably draw Amy Winehouse comparisons, but her songs reach ambitiously in a broad range of directions. The stirring anthem “Rise Up” is one of the best modern R&B protest songs in a year that seen a brilliant resurgence of the form. I love this release and expect to hear a lot more about Ms. Day in the coming months.
EW: Well, one can’t help but make Winehouse comparisons after listening to these songs. However, there’s a bracing clarity to her voice that the most recent soulsters (like Adele, who I also hear a little bit of in “Rise Up”) don’t touch.
Halsey “Badlands” – Listen
EW: Let’s put “damaged, misanthropic pop queen” back in the trope drawer before we pull it all the way out, ‘kay? Sky Ferreira can pull that aesthetic off because I truly believe she has been strung out in a ditch. Tove Lo can pull that off because she’s a real big weirdo. Halsey, especially on the chuckle-worthy pop culture listicle/”issues” song “New Americana,” leads with the chip on her shoulder, but I do not wish to let her speak for my generation any more than I want to read the lyrics to a Lana del Rey song in any serious context. (“We are the new Americana/High on legal marijuana/Raised on Biggie and Nirvana/We are the new Americana” makes me do a Liz Lemon eye roll.) All that said, there are bright spots divorced from the overall image; “Hurricane” is a nice slice of MS MR-style doompop.
DSS: I haven’t given this a fair listen, but I’m not particularly psyched about what I’ve heard.
Tink, Tazer “Wet Dollars” – Listen
DSS: Tink makes the best kind of danceable club rap and I can’t wait for her full-length debut which is scheduled to drop later this year.
EW: It’s like less-grating Rye Rye!
David Ramirez “Fables” – Listen
EW: Ramirez is an Austin fave in the Joe Pug/David Bazan vein, and on the rootsy “Fables,” there’s more than a little of Jason Isbell’s working class soulfulness. The song “Harder To Lie” is dirt road heartbreak par excellence.
DSS: Always happy to give a little love to the home team.
Listen to August’s 360 Mixtape below.[spotify id="spotify:user:austin360:playlist:3PssO9HpGzbStLq67WB4yu" width="300" height="380" /]