New Music Friday, 10/20/17

Welcome to this week’s roundup of all the new music! This is that time in the week when I highlight my favorite new song and album releases. Almost all of the new music releases in a given week hit the online stores and streaming sites late Thursday night, which makes Thursday night generally a late night for me. Music is my jam (har har har…see what I did there), and new music even more so. There’s something about the thrill of hearing a great melody or a great lyric for the first time. This week was perhaps a lighter week in terms of album and single releases that I’d been looking forward to, while next week promises to be really heavy with new albums from personal favorites like Julien Baker, the Wailin’ Jennys, the Deep Dark Woods, Red, and Julie Fowlis, along with several releases from more well-known artists like Kelly Clarkson, Weezer, and country music’s Granger Smith.

That said, even though this week was a lighter one especially with respect to album releases, there’s still a fair bit to look at, and some real gems in what follows, including a couple of terrific pop singles.

So I’m going to start by talking about singles. The big news in the pop music world is that cultural giant Taylor Swift has given us another taste of her upcoming sixth studio album Reputation with the single “Gorgeous“. This is, so far, my favorite song from the Reputation cycle. I don’t love it, but I do like it (which is probably more than I can say for “Ready for It” and a lot more than I can say for “Look What You Made Me Do”). I’m a really big fan of Taylor’s music to date (seriously, I go thrift-shopping for old Taylor Swift CDs and give them to my friends), and I believe it’s because I’m a fan that I’ve been dissatisfied with the creative work on Reputation so far. But while it’s not a brilliant song per se, “Gorgeous” stands out from the last two singles in that it sounds fresh and has a genuine feeling of warmth and humanity in the lyrics. Taylor seems to be getting maybe a little too self-referential, but in this one, at least, there’s still those little bits of real personality (like when she says “alone” at the end of the bridge) giving me hope that maybe Reputation won’t be as disappointing as I feared a week ago.

Now, before I lose anyone’s attention, I want to talk about the two really great pop singles that I foreshadowed in the introduction. The first is from Rita Ora, and it’s called “Anywhere“. Sometimes you listen to a song for the first time and know right away that you’re going to love it for a long long time. “Anywhere” is the perfect fall pop song. It’s pining without being too heavy, joyful and peaceful at the same time. There’s a sweet sense of longing in the verses and chorus, the kind that makes you both chilly and warm inside, and the wickedly catchy staccato synth-and-sample tag to the chorus is an unexpected and brilliant contrast to the rest of the song. I would be hard pressed to find a pop song from this whole year that I’ve enjoyed as much or more. If I was going to make a top five list of songs released in 2017, Rita Ora’s “Anywhere” would without question be on it.

The other single from this week that I absolutely love is from Kygo. “Kids in Love” is a collab with a new pop-rock group called The Night Game. This song is outstanding. The first chorus unfolds like some kind of heartland rock anthem, and then in comes the kick drum and the airy, reverb-heavy keys, and the thing just builds and builds to a four on the floor final chorus that could have been in danger of becoming a bit stale for simplicity if not for the perfect dash of accentual vocal magic from Maja Francis. I love this song, people. It’s hard to say which I love more, this or Rita Ora’s new jam. It’s good that such truly, transcendently gorgeous things (sorry, Taylor, I really do like your new song) don’t have to be compared.

Elsewhere in singles: Rachel Platten has a new song from Waves (out next week!) called “Collide,” which, to me, is a solid album cut. Not a standout, but not bad either. Maroon 5 also has a new pre-release single called “Whiskey (feat. ASAP Rocky)“. It’s got lyrical references to the fall, and it sounds like fall, so I don’t know if they’re planning on a radio release. Either way, even though it doesn’t reach out and grab you, “Whiskey” has a nice flow and a touch of nostalgia. It’s really different than anything I’ve heard from Maroon 5 before, in a fresh way (rather than an “oh my gosh why did you try that” way, which is kind of how I’ve been feeling about Taylor Swift’s big song right now).

It’s gonna be interesting to see how this new Tim McGraw & Faith Hill project comes together. I’m not sure if I know of anything quite like it, a really hopeful and personal country duet record from two people in a very strong marriage. “Break First” is the anthemic new single from The Rest of Our Life, which comes out on the 17th of November. Might be more excited about this than any other mainstream country recording project in the works right now, even if none of what we’ve heard so far has been worthy of an iTunes purchase for me.

Turning our attention then from singles to albums: in Christian music we have Brandon Heath‘s new full-length Faith Hope Love Repeat. Just having listened to it once, I can say that this is sonically my favorite Brandon Heath record other than his 2012 release Blue Mountain. I just don’t normally enjoy listening to Christian pop as much as I enjoyed listening to Faith Hope Love Repeat. Not every track is a standout, but there is some great stuff here. I’ve already talked about the pre-release singles “Whole Heart” and “Got the Love (feat. Tauren Wells)” in previous episodes of New Music Friday. Of the tracks that released last night, “I Run,” “A Little Faith,” and the gentle closer “Only One in the World” especially got my attention. Brandon’s vocals are smooth and earnest. His lyrics seem to address a lot of relatable struggles and realities about living for Jesus while living in this world without becoming trite. I hope this record and its singles get the airplay and attention they deserve.

On the country side of things, there are new albums out from Darius Rucker and Chris Young. I have to be honest and say that while I enjoy a good country jam, mainstream country music these days seems to be becoming more and more banal. I’ve liked Chris Young and Darius Rucker songs before, so maybe something that escapes my notice now will get my attention later. On the alt-country front, however, The Turnpike Troubadours just did a really solid release. Instead of highlighting singles, I’m just going to say that if you like a really genuine country county fair kind of sound, give the Troubadours’ new record A Long Way From Your Heart. If you like this record, you like country music. If you don’t, you might think you like country, but what you really like is pop music with banjos and twangy voices. Heck, you probably think “Bacardi” rhymes with “naughty.” (Don’t get me wrong, I actually really like some pop-country stuff. I’m not a total hater. Keith Urban, just as one example, has put out a few songs that I really enjoy. But there’s a lot of music made in the name of country these days which is super boring to me.)

In the pop world, former One Direction member Niall Horan has released his first full length record, called Flicker. I was never a huge One Direction fan, but the guys have gone in interesting directions with their solo projects, and Niall’s new LP is probably my favorite solo record by a former member of 1D so far. The whole thing is really solid and has a cool stylistic range. My favorite (not counting the great pre-release singles “Too Much to Ask,” “Slow Hands,” and “This Town”) is the collab with Maren Morris called “Seeing Blind” (no link). The folk-rock-soul of “Fire Away” is really refreshing as well. Flicker is an impressive folk-pop record, and if you like this kind of thing, you should listen to it from start to finish. In my book, Niall Horan deserves all the attention and airplay he’s getting.

Elsewhere on the albums front, there’s a deluxe Pentatonix Christmas record which is pretty nice, Lindsey Stirling also has a Christmas album out, and anonymous R&B and soul singer H.E.R. released some new tracks together with a compilation of her first two releases in one big 21-track album. I’m pretty much brand new to her music, but if you like R&B and soul, this is worth a listen. I’m also not super into or aware of Jessie Ware yet, but she has a new one too called Glasshouse. “First Time” from that release is kind of haunting.

That’s all for this week! Next week is gonna be super with all of the new records coming out. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

~Andrew

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