Written by Alexa Saylan
With the conclusion of Memorial Day Weekend and the summer unofficially upon us, here’s a recap and review of what you need to know about alternative music today and heading into the next months:
Billboard Alternative Chart: Top 10 Rundown
#1: “bury a friend”: Billie Eilish
Topping the chart for the first week of June is Billie Eilish’s “bury a friend.” When you listen to this single from Eilish’s debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, you’ll understand why she was named Rolling Stone’s Teenager of the Year. The song—which Eilish explains is in the perspective of a monster under her bed that she reveals is herself—is as grotesque as it is intriguing. The lyrics, detailing the macabre, suicidal relationship that this monster has with Eilish, are quite unusual for a seventeen year-old musician with a mainstream audience. The composition and progression of the song also deviates from the norm—Eilish sings in a low murmur throughout frequently interrupted with deep voices, high screeches, and other sound effects that belong in an indie horror movie. Eilish’s peculiar concoction is disturbingly delightful, and definitely hit-worthy.
#2: “Trampoline”: SHAED
The first thing I noticed when I listened to this single off of the trio’s latest EP Melt was that vocalist, Chelsea Lee, has an enchantingly rich voice. Throughout the song, Lee performs several whistle notes that are absolutely stunning while singing about a surreal nightmare that someone is experiencing with entrancing electro-pop beats backing her voice. While the arrangement of “Trampoline” is not bad by any means, its progression was anti-climatic, even after listening to it a few times to get into it. Given the erie content of the song’s lyrics, I was hoping that the first two minutes of the song would culminate in an epic build-up in which the song quickens, but the same steady beat continued through the whole song—though I will admit that Lee’s whistling and singing musical notes in the bridge was unique. “Trampoline” is a cool song, but for me at least, it was missing a special something that would have made it spectacular.
#3: “Longshot”: Catfish and the Bottlemen
Fresh, upbeat, and vivacious, “Longshot” is the quintessential summer song: fresh, vivacious, and instantly lovable. The first single released from the Welsh band’s latest album The Balance, this is the concept that “Longshot” brilliantly exemplifies. The song is catchy and radio-friendly to cater to a wide potential audience, but preserves an alt-rock spirit for more niche listeners. Moreover, “Longshot” embodies a certain kind of cool suaveness suitable for lighthearted events, yet contains thought-provoking lyrics: Van McCan, the band’s lead singer, tugs at the everlasting dilemmas of living in the present and living meaningfully. Simultaneously universal and personally authentic, It’s not a longshot to say that “Longshot” will be on my playlists for the weeks to come.
#4: “Lo/Hi”: The Black Keys
Released after almost a five-year hiatus, “Lo/Hi marked the band’s re-entrance into the alt rock music scene in early March, and it does not disappoint. “Lo/Hi” embodies the best of rock music: it’s raw, groovy, has an infectious electric guitar riff, and, quite simply, badass. At the same time, At the same time, the Black Keys’ hit is fresh and energizing; although inspired by the sounds of classic rock of decades past, it never feels antiquated. Even in its lyrics are certifiably badass: Dan Auerbach starts out singing, “Out on a limb in the wind of a hurricane / Down at the bar like a star in the howlin’ rain”. Nonetheless, Auerbach and Patrick Carney still experiment with the conventions of the genre, including gospel-like backing vocals throughout the chorus that are the cherry on top of an already great tune.
#5: “Gloria”: The Lumineers
From the band’s EP Gloria Sparks released May 17, “Gloria” is beautifully poignant. Inspired by Wesley Schultz’s (The Lumineers’ frontman) family life, “Gloria” details the torments of addiction and the difficulties of overcoming it. The song’s lyrics are provocative and tragic, with Schultz lamenting “I would lie awake and pray you don’t lie awake for me” and that “there’s easier ways to die”. Schultz’s ethereal voice captures the pain of watching a loved one suffer, rendering “Gloria” all the more heart-wrenching. The Lumineers complement their lyrics with acoustic guitar and a soft piano motif, underscoring its personal touch.
#6: “Hurt”: Oliver Tree
If I had to characterize this song in one word, it would be intense. From his debut album Ugly is Beautiful, “Hurt” showcases an acutely emotional side of the artist, venting out his vulnerabilities and frustrations. In “Hurt”, Tree details his own insecurities (“I gave all I could, but it seems like it was never really enough”), a nihilistic attitude towards perfectionist ideals, and anger with disingenuous people from middle school in the context of a scooter accident he had when he was eighteen. His grievances are catchy and cathartic, expressing a universal disillusionment with life that most twenty-somethings experience (even if most don’t rock a bowl cut and take up scootering as a passion). “Hurt” is worth listening to when your existential dread creeps up again, or at any other time for that matter.
#7: “High Hopes: Panic! At the Disco
I had high hopes for this song prior to listening to it: despite the days of eyeliner-cladded Brendon Urie belting out emo lyrics being long-gone, I’ve always thought that his vocal abilities are impeccable. Even so, I was disappointed with this single from Panic’s most recent album, Pray for the Wicked. With a peppy, marching-band sound that’s catchy in an annoying way (and resembling Taylor Swift’s single “Me,” which he features on), “High Hopes” could be better categorized as pop than alternative. The song seems to have been tailored for friendliness to mainstream radio, lacking any creative risks regarding the song’s composition and failing to showcase the full extent of Urie’s vocal prowess. The lyrics, depicting the hopes and struggles of achieving something great in one’s lifetime, in conjunction with the tone of the song are cliché at best and disingenuous at worst.
#8: “100 Bad Days”: AJR
I’ll start with what I did like about this song: its signature line, “A hundred bad days made a hundred good stories / A hundred good stories make me interesting at parties”. It’s catchy, relatable, and sardonic all at once. However, I found “100 Bad Days” to be somewhat bland on multiple accounts. The lyrics are cute and evoke nostalgia from listeners, but are generic (e.g. the repeated line “No, I ain’t scared of you”). Personally, I would have hoped for a bit more candid lyrics since being a young, struggling artist is a relatively common theme (the examples that come to my mind are “Carry On” by fun. and “So What” by P!nk.) Paired with a catchy EDM-infused sound, “100 Bad Days” is the kind of song that I imagine being on replay at suburban high school graduation parties. Again, I’ll give credit where credit is due—this is the kind of song that will get stuck in my head in a few days’ time—but I don’t think I’ll remember it in a few years’ time.
#9: “Ready to Let Go”: Cage the Elephant
“Ready to Let Go” begins with a guitar riff that I can only describe as cheekily scandalous, which sets the tone for the rest of the song. Throughout the song, Matt Shultz (compares his love life to the wreckage of Pompeii to convince himself that he needed to divorce his wife at the time. Despite what might be a particularly emotional or heavy topic, Shultz exudes an indelibly nonchalant, even removed, vibe, relieved that he has finally chosen to abandon the mess of his relationship. The song, the first single from the band’s latest album Social Cues, is masterfully crafted in its lyrics: the perennial theme of breaking up is reinvigorated with, as noted, the metaphor of Pompeii: e.g.“As we slow-danced, I became your statue, frozen… Underneath this bed of ashes, still withholding everything”. “Ready to Let Go” is one of my personal favorites that’s cool enough to combat the summer heat.
#10: “Chlorine”: twenty one pilots
To be quite honest, I was underwhelmed when I first listened to “Chlorine”: it seemed to imitate the grim, sardonic nature of the lyrics to the duo’s massive hit “Heathens” while, sonically, it lacked the energetic dynamics of the first two singles released from their newest album Trench (“Jumpsuit” and “Nico and the Niners”). However, upon listening to the song a few times and taking the time to read its lyrics, I realized I should have given “Chlorine” a bit more appreciation. The lyrics are packed with meaning; according to Genius, the song is about the emotional effects of the creative process—they describe “the beat as a chemical” and that “the lead is terrible in flavor / but now [it] double[s] as a papermaker.” Paired with Tyler Joseph’s signature vocals and the duo’s catchy rhythms, “Chlorine” becomes as addictive as the substances it describes.
What are your thoughts on the Billboard's Top 10? Sound off in the comments (below)!
Summer Albums to Anticipate:
Evidently, Summer 2019 will have no shortage of alternative music release. Most of alt’s heavy-hitters will be putting out their albums early, leaving ample time to bask in all their glory.
The Divine Comedy - Office Politics
Bastille - Doom Days
Two Door Cinema Club - False Alarm
X Ambassadors - Orion
The Black Keys - Let’s Rock
Of Monsters and Men - Fever Dream