In the “bad guy” music video, Billie Eilish, in stylish Air Jordan sneakers, rides a child-sized car. She is seemingly aware of the shot’s comical value, with a smirk on her face, while men in the background ride tricycles with indifferent facial expressions.
With the passing of the solstice and the summer officially upon us, here’s my take on the top songs in alternative music right now, as well as some information on album releases in the upcoming months:
#10: “bad guy”: Billie Eilish
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. In the song, Eilish jestfully teases her lover for being a “like it really rough guy… chest always so puffed guy” while claiming that she, instead, is the “bad guy” who “might seduce your dad”. Although a light-hearted departure from her other popular single, the macabre “bury a friend”, both songs prove that Eilish isn’t afraid for her lyrics to defy the mainstream—and has become quickly popular for it. Her visuals also deviate from the norm, complementing her tongue-in-cheek lyrics with a music video that includes her taking out her retainer, erratically dancing, and after an epic bass drop, sitting on the back of a shirtless man while he does push-ups. Eilish’s peculiar concoction is freakishly delightful, and most definitely hit-worthy.
#9: “still feel.”: half•alive
The trio’s single “still feel.” was released almost a year ago, but it’s no surprise that this inter-genre experiment remains popular. The instrumental of song’s verses pay homage to disco and funk, but switches to EDM during the chorus. As much as I appreciate a creative risk, the transition between the different styles of music felt somewhat choppy. On a larger scale, I believe that playing with notions of genre in a single piece can be done in a more coherent fashion. However, upon listening to the song a few times, it started to grow on me. I still maintain that the composition of the song is rather odd, but the starkness of the contrast itself is what lends “still feel.” to be a bold, and dare I say visionary, piece. The song has me anticipating what else the band has up its sleeve when it releases its first studio album in August.
#8: “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.
#7 “Alligator”: Of Monsters and Men
Released nearly four years after their last album, “Alligator” marked the band’s reentrance into the alt rock music scene in early May, and it does not disappoint. “Alligator” embodies the best of the perennially popular rock song: it’s raw, groovy, has an infectious electric guitar riff, and is, quite simply, badass. At the same time, At the same time, Of Monsters and Men’ hit is fresh and energizing; although inspired by the sounds of classic rock of decades past, it never feels antiquated. Even the lyrics to “Alligator” are certifiably badass; although the eponymous animal is never mentioned, she describes the sensation of “fever dreaming” (which is also the title of their next album) in which she “loses” and “takes” control. Overall, “Alligator” is a great tune that will hopefully foreshadow an even better album.
#6 “Missed Connection”: The Head and the Heart
The band’s single from their album, Living Mirage released last May, is emblematic of the worries of regret and creating meaningful bonds that hamper young people. Despite youthful angst being somewhat of a cliché in songwriting, “Missed Connection” contains some masterfully-crafted lyrics; for example, “A crystal ball and the odyssey / Did you find what you were looking for? / Had to open every single door / I got the feeling you’ve been here before.” This song makes me recall my own nostalgia for the past and my dreams for the future, but at the same time, captures a universal feeling that I believe to be one of the most amazing: the sense of tranquility that you feel when you’re satisfied with your life and the circumstances that you can’t control. For me, the cherry on top of is that these lyrics—focusing on personal reflection—perfectly embody the band’s name, The Head and the Heart.
#5: “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.
#4: “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.
#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.
#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.
#1: “Gloria”: The Lumineers
Topping the chart for this week is “Gloria” by 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.
Summer Albums to Check out and Anticipate:
Evidently, Summer 2019 will have no shortage of alternative music release. Most of alt’s heavy-hitters have put out albums earlier this month, leaving ample time to bask in all their glory.
Early this month, the Northern Irish orchestral-pop group Divine Comedy is released their twelfth studio album, Office Politics. Critics gave the album positive, but not stellar reviews, with Clash Magazine writing, “With plenty to digest, there’s no lack of ideas, if maybe a lack of focus.... ‘Office Politics’ finds the underrated genius as acerbic and creatively inspired as ever.” Paste Magazine appreciated the album's tongue-in-cheek humor about the mundanities of the office, it acknowledges that "Office Politics seems a little too aware of its joke... The punchline—that he’s alone and no one likes him—is obvious from the song’s opening line: we get it, office and suburban life are dull, but by this point in the album, it’s a cliche."Divine Comedy will be touring throughout Europe through November, but have not released any live show dates in North America.
Following their recent hit “Happier” with the DJ Marshmello, Doom Days is Bastille’s third album. Despite the popularity of the aforementioned song, the album itself received mixed reviews. For example, while The Line of Best Fit acknowledges that Doom Days includes vocalist Dan Smith's characteristically powerful voice and "massive hooks", but claims that the band occupies an "artistic no-man's land" as "they’re popular amongst people that don’t listen to full albums, and have a sound that fits practically any TV soundtrack, festival bill or playlist they’re included on. But that, for most folks, is simply not enough to warrant further exploration by the people that have the most invested in music." Meanwhile, The Duke Chronicle asserts that Doom Days "reveal a band stuck on autopilot".
Ithaca natives Casey and Sam Harris of X Ambassadors released its newest album Orion four years after their success VHS. Sam Harris describes the creation of Orion to Billboard Magazine, stating, “We pushed ourselves — a lot. This is the third iteration of the record…What I think I’m left with at the end of this journey, and as we’re gearing up to release the album, is feeling a little more confident in myself as a creative director for this band… I’ve started to trust myself a little bit more and trust the process”. Rock 'N' Load gave Orion 8/10 stars, calling it a "fusion of Pop, Indie, Hip-Hop and R’n’B it’s an intriguing and highly engaging recording that just resonates from the off, highly addictive in your face and fresh as the morning air you’ll find it hard to fault."X Ambassadors will be playing quite a few shows close to Ithaca this year, with two in New York City (June 20th and October 30th), one in Buffalo (July 14th), and one in Lafayette in Onondaga County, slightly south of Syracuse (June 23rd).
The Black Keys self-produced album Let’s Rock, set to be released at the end of the month, marks a departure from their 2014 album Turn Blue. Rolling Stone reports that the album pays significant homage to the electric guitar of classic rock, packing a “visceral punch”. Within the genre of classic rock, Let’s Rock seems to take inspiration from a myriad of artists; Rolling Stone describes several songs (released and unreleased) on the album, stating, “AC/DC chords of album opener ‘Shine a Little Light’ to the Blue Öyster Cult-meets-ZZ Top punch of ‘Eagle Birds’ to the riff-y power pop of ‘Get Yourself Together’ to the ‘Spirit in the Sky’ fuzz of the first single, ‘Lo/Hi.”’ The Black Keys will be on tour this fall, heading to the Barclays Center on October 15th.
The Icelandic sensation Of Monsters and Men will be returning to the spotlight with their album, Fever Dream, planned to be released in late July. So far, the quintet put out a new single, “Alligator”, which Billboard describes as a “driving, percussion-heavy track.” The band published a statement to accompany the single, mentioning, "We are so excited about 'Alligator,' the first release from our upcoming album...The song very much speaks to the excitement and energy that we feel about being back. We can’t wait to share more music and see everyone again." Of Monsters and Men will be touring in North America before heading to Europe to conclude the year, but will be in New York City on September 5th and in Montville, CT on September 7th.