While streaming numbers are snowballing into historic highs, the music world continues to draw attention away from new content and towards captivating distractions. So what’s redirected our focus?
Major labels are dropping significant investments into Chinese streaming giant Tencent Music as they plan to make one of the largest technology-based IPOs to date.
Tragic losses of life-changing influencers like Mac Miller and Aretha Franklin brought hoards of faithful fans out in appreciation to celebrate the gifts they graciously offered to the world.
Even our own government has gotten involved in the hubbub by successfully passing the Music Modernization Act, effectively enforcing stricter regulations on how songwriters are paid and how royalties are regulated.
Amidst all this clamor, asking the world to pay attention to new music outside the top 40 can be a tough ask. Sure, there were plenty new faces instituting fresh brands as well as old faces lengthening their reign, but those expected results weren’t what stole the show. The most notable stories from the quarter centered around the handful of veteran features and decade-old callbacks that would bemuse any traditional music fan.
Chronologically speaking, the first surprise came from Blood Orange’s inclusion of rap legend Diddy on the track “Hope”. Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes explained his sporadic collaboration to Pitchfork, saying “While working on that song, I started doing fake Puff vocals…and then I was like, ‘It’d be kind of cool if it actually was Puff.'” After Hynes engaged the renowned business mogul with a quick, casual text conversation, Diddy sent back a his vocals and a spoken word recording that was so long, Hynes was forced to cut out most of the content. Hynes explained “I don’t know if I caught him on a good day…but yeah, I feel pretty blessed for that one.” Either way, Diddy is uncommonly and profoundly personal on “Hope”. He pours out his uncertain and admittedly fearful feelings on finding the sort of love he’s been searching for over the course of his entire life, thus becoming more vulnerable as an act of maturity.
Hozier made a triumphant and long-awaited return to the stage as well, but not without the help of 79 year old Mavis Staples. Their vocally dynamic partnership on “Nina Cried Power” focuses on honoring historic social justice warriors within the music industry like Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Curtis Mayfield, John Lennon, and Mavis Staples herself, just to name a few. Hozier told Billboard that the song was “A thank you note to the power of protest”, essentially tipping his cap to the musical legends who shattered civil boundaries with their boldly poetic art. Simply put, it’s extremely rare to have two voices as effectively robust as Hozier and Mavis Staples on one track, let alone the reward of having those voices sing about such a culturally potent topic.
Perhaps the most unexpected joint effort came out of Young Thug’s EP On The Rvn. The project featured some impressive names like Jaden Smith and 6LACK, but the closing track’s inclusion of Elton John was an eye-catching shock. The song samples portions of the timeless classic “Rocket Man“, conceptually leaving listeners to wonder “Is there really a way to remix/sample that song and not ruin it?”. Once you get over the disappointment that the sample is a bit of recycled pastiche rather than an original Elton John cut, the song is truly fantastic. Elton John explained his satisfaction with the song’s unlikeness to Beats 1 radio, telling them “This is so cool and so good…Sometimes you hear something that you never knew was going to happen or never thought was going to happen in a million years.”
Storied features aren’t the only time-honored surprise from the past three months. Fleet Foxes, a band that revolutionized the indie folk scene in 2008 with their self-titled debut, celebrated their 10 year anniversary by publicizing an unreleased song entitled “Isles” off their upcoming collector’s album B Sides and Rarities. This particular rarity was only released in Europe in 2008 as a seven-inch single accompanying their mega-hit “White Winter Hymnal“. It was never released digitally or physically in any other part of the world outside Europe, but it’s technical re-release is leaving their cultist fans (myself included) drowning in nostalgic euphoria. The song captures every bit of the genre-molding introductory allure that fascinated the music world a decade ago. Robin Pecknold’s vocals are clearly on a different level than the rest of the folk world, and I can’t get enough of it.
Enough reading, let’s plug some headphones in and get to listening. The following playlist contains my favorite 30 songs released over the past three months. As always, the songs are in no particular order with a restriction of only one song per artist. Keep in mind that, with this format, the spectrum of genres, moods, and energy levels are vastly different. Although the playlist is meant to be shuffled, going from song to song may lead you on a rollercoaster of highs and lows – just realize that, no matter how fast or slow, each song has something special to offer.
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Late to the 2018 music game? Think that there are some great songs out their you might have missed? I can at least confirm that the latter is true, and I’d love to help. Continue your 2018 new music journey by checking out the last new music playlist: FeenyFaves – Best Songs of 2018: Q2 (April – June)