19 May 2014

Summer Jam Week 2: From Gangstas to St. Vincent

It's the second week of Summer and as Godzilla's fire breath incinerates the Pacific coast, we have something else heating up - Summer Jams! That was awful. We've got an eclectic mix this week of commercialized alt rockers, former gangsta rappers trying to make their way in the modern world, and finally, a handful of ladies that are producing the best pop music out there right now. Dig in:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Chase the Paper" by 50 Cent ft. Prodigy, Kidd Kidd, & Styles P

The kind of homophobic hardcore gangsta rap that 50 and G-Unit pioneered ten years ago really died out by 2007 or so, but give him credit for attempting a comeback with a pair of songs that sound exactly like the crap he made way back then. He sleepwalks through "Irregular Hearbeat," which sounds exactly like anything off his uninteresting sophomore album, The Massacre (2005). "Chase the Paper" is a little bit more engaging, but also suffers from an underproduced beat and no real grabby hooks. Keep searching, 50. Also, what the hell, you have more collaborators than can fit on the YouTube title, man.

Just Friends: "Sleeping with a Friend" by Neon Trees

Neon Trees is kind of a shitty, easily commercialised band without a ton of artistic merit, but this track has that strong kind of background appeal that makes it a decent Summer Jam. It's the kind of song that will play at a party and then you suddenly surprise yourself by knowing every lyric. It innocuously worms its way into your brain, it's hell. I can't suggest that anyone recalls this one in September, but it's cool for now.

Walk it Out: "The Walker" by Fitz and the Tantrums

This is kind of a jazzy song that doesn't really soar above its genre, but it's easy listening by Fitz and the Tantrums, which is growing into a decent band. It's got that whistling bridge that you can picture filling out a lot of movie montages in 2015. Can't you just picture a whirlwind "getting life together" set orchestrated to that jingle? I don't give this a lot of wings this summer, but it's fun.
Happy Mothers Day? "Headlights" by Eminem ft. Nate Ruess

See, 50, this is how you adapt. "Headlights" is one of the better songs off of The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (2013), or at least simultaneously the most personal and epic. The video is simple and touching and builds a story like few rappers or artists are capable of. Ruess' big voice is used to wonderful extent here, and even if Em has spit hotter fire ("Rap God"), this is still a great track. Does it have Big Summer Jam potential? I'm not sure anyone is rocking out to it, and it hasn't gotten tremendous airplay, but interest ought to surge.

Got a Commercial? "Best Day of My Life" by American Authors

To me, this is the commercial song of 2014. Just like anything Vampire Weekend produced in 2009. It's just got that much positivity to it, a quick and simple chorus to play over that last three seconds of a Hyundai driving away, it works really well. Vampire Weekend turned in one of the best albums of the year last year, so it's not an entirely awful way to get your music out there, but for now, American Authors can be considered the sell-outs of Summer. Maybe they'll move past it because it's not an entirely awful track.

An SNL Springboard: "Digital Witness" by St. Vincent

St. Vincent has had some nice exposure lately, whether it's Annie Clark singing with Nirvana at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony (by far the best collaborator of their four guests, by the way) or their gig on SNL this past weekend. And Jason Derulo, this is how to parlay a trumpet into a song. "Digital Witness" is awesome but hasn't really received mainstream national airplay yet. They're ready to break, though, and all will be well.

Big Pop: "Problem" by Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea

There's no one really hotter than Iggy right now and even though "Fancy" is still pretty spectacular, "Problem" has come on like a dynamo. It's crazy to hear Iggy and Ariana's voices merge and play with each other here, the former sounding like a bad bitch thug and the latter resembling a smooth efficient Broadway star. It's incredible. More trumpet. I don't really see a ceiling for this one.

Godzilla-Level Legendary: "All of Me" by John Legend

There wasn't really a choice here, Legend is still on top of all the charts, countdowns, and this track is everywhere, even if listening to it sometimes this week I didn't even recognize it. While Legend has longtime been a notable artist, he's never really exploded like this, although I'm not sure if this is really exploding. This isn't really Usher "OMG" level early Summer success, more success because that one killer jam hasn't come along yet. I'm curious about how sustainable this slow burning crooner jam lasts.

Next week...

I had a lot of tracks in mind that were left off, including the aforementioned "Fancy" and "Irregular Heartbeat," along with St. Vincent's other SNL showpiece, "Birth in Reverse." I think the songs chosen this week were more appropriately hot, but the ebb and flow of Summer can do strange things. I was also curious about Pitbull's modified NBA Playoffs "Timber" but deemed it far too stupid. "Wild Wild Love" is a tremendously awful song, but also pretty Jammy. That might creep in here.

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