Music Wrap: The standout tracks from July


A selection your ears will thank you for.

Hola from the void. I am in Sydney, which means I am in lockdown. I have nothing else to do in my spare time except write and consume music so you’re in for a delectable treat. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about this tweet.

When I reflect on my own album listening patterns, I lament myself as a bit of a traditionalist. I hit the first track of the new material and listen until it reaches the end. In my head, listening to albums out of order would be the same as reading a book by picking random chapters. Chaotic.

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Back in the days of attaining proper records, more often than not, songs were ordered based on how evenly they fitted onto two sides. Unless you were a heavy-hitter with loads of influence (John Lennon refused to sign contracts for The Beatles without control of their track order), the biggest song would be placed first in an attempt to allure listeners who sampled in-store before deciding whether or not to make the purchase.

This trend bled into cassette releases. There were some outliers, of course – 1976’s A New World Record by Electric Light Orchestra is a prime example. There are a few contemporary analyses on the track order of albums. This one about listening in the streaming era, penned on the Sonic Birds blog suggests that “any good listener will assume that the songs on an album were ordered by the artist in a specific way for a specific reason: because that’s the way the artist wanted them to be heard”.

Then again, Kendrick Lamar’s Damn was famously meant to be played backwards. There’s also an argument in regards to the roll-out strategy of the album itself. In the case of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, or Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour, singles were released generously in the lead-up to the LP drop.

In those cases, I didn’t necessarily feel the need to start from the top considering there were multiple songs I was already familiar with. Luckily I have plenty of time to craft a lockdown listening experiment. See you next month, with a column most likely dedicated to Kanye West and his rumoured new album – or lack thereof.

D’Angelo – Brown Sugar

If you’re a fan of contemporary male musicians that bridge the gap between textured instrumentals and soulful R&B-influenced vocals, you most likely have this D’Angelo album to thank. Usher, Anderson Paak, Miguel, Bryson Tiller, Leon Bridges, Tom Misch, Remi – each have cited Brown Sugar as a paramount influence in their style of music-making.

D’Angelo dropped his debut album in July 1995, and it turns 21 this month. He played all the instruments on almost every single track, saying at the time that he was inspired by Prince. Pioneering the neo soul sound, the album blends R&B, soul, funk, and jazz with vocals that Pitchfork described as “equal parts Marvin Gaye and LL Cool J”. It’s the perfect amalgamation of modern rap and old soul – start with tracks ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Lady’.

Angélique Kidjo and Sampa the Great – ‘Free & Equal’

Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo is a Beninese singer-songwriter, actress, and activist who is celebrated for her diverse musical influences and creative music videos. In 2007, Time Magazine called her “Africa’s premier diva”.

Her new album, Mother Nature, fuses her extensive talents with a generation of younger African artists. Nigerian stars Burna Boy, Mr Eazi and Yemi Alade, Zimbabwean Shungudzo, Malian Salif Keita, Beninese Zeynab Habib, plus, Zambian-born Australia-based rapper, Sampa The Great.

The song with Sampa, ‘Free & Equal’, is a project highlight. The pan-African anthem celebrates the power of community and does each of these ladies justice. Another allure is the fact that watching Sampa perform is within post-lockdown grasp. She is playing a show that celebrates her lineage at Vivid Live. Catch her performing at An Afro Future alongside Mwanjé and Kye.

Hiatus Kaiyote – Mood Valiant

I am so fucking proud that Hiatus Kaiyote is from Australia. It’s one of our biggest and greatest exports; loved, revered and sampled by music heavyweights like Anderson Paak, Kendrick Lamar, Q-Tip, Drake, Jay and B and Ari Lennox. Questlove (!!!) himself once shouted the band out to Time Magazine.

Its third album, Mood Valiant, is a bit psychedelic, a bit neo-soul and a bit R&B. Vocalist Nai Palm’s husky voice just gives and gives and gives, backed consistently by a band that even jazz purists will adore. Start with ‘Get Sun’ and ‘Red Room’ then book a ticket to see the album live ASAP.

Studio Sessions – Justin Timberlake, Justified

A quick YouTube search will uncover (over) 15 hours of studio sessions from Justin Timberlake’s debut album, Justified. Say what you want about the man (he’s trash) but this is such an important piece of music; mostly thanks to the production of a young and hungry Neptunes and Timbaland.

Some people call Justified one of the best solo debuts of all time, and watching it be made is a lesson in pop music construction. In fact, Pharrell initially offered this whole album to Michael Jackson who turned it down at the last minute. While it’s hard to imagine anyone but JT singing ‘Senorita’, ‘Rock Your Body’, ‘Like I Love You’, ‘Cry Me A River’ et al, many credit his post-NSYNC solo success to the fact that he was given these handouts by the production team. If only Lance, JC and Joey were as lucky.

The album was finished in a six-week period and has since sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. If you’re stuck in quazza, this is great isolation watching. If you aren’t, the creator has condensed it into a one-hour documentary here.

Snoh Alegra – Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies

Sweden’s darling is back with a new album. Two years since the last one, Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies is a synth-decorated execution of hits. There is much internet commentary comparing Snoh Alegra to Sade and Amy Winehouse – the jazz-inflected, dreamy vocals don’t help – but after this project, it’s clear she is en route to forging her own path. Highlights include production by The Neptunes and Tyler, The Creator, as well as evocative and complex lyrics written by the lady herself.

Stevan – ‘Hope It’s Not’

TYVM to my friend Louis Hanson for bringing Stevan to my attention. This 20-year-old from Wollongong is very cute (I say that because I am a jillion years older than him), and has the dulcet vocal range to match. Stevan has been doing this for years, sure, but has only recently been finding frequent acclaim via viral charts and social media algorithms.

That takes nothing away from the prowess of this song, however. It’s completely affirmed in its direction, with no noticeable hesitations both vocally and instrumentally. I’m very glad I have been alerted to the power of this mans, and doubt it is the last time I will write about him.

Clairo – Sling

If Clairo’s first album soundtracks bedroom pop, then her sophomore project, Sling, is an audible projection of cottagecore. I first learned of Clairo when I reviewed her for a Fashion Journal print issue in 2019. Ever since, she has remained right at the intersection of indie/popular music alongside women like King Princess, Phoebe Bridgers and Maggie Rogers. Some know about them and love them with a reverent passion, and some don’t know they exist.

Sling is a very nice execution. It was recorded in the mountains of upstate New York with Jack Antonoff, which is a little predictable if you ask me. Coming into womanhood, Clairo seems like an apologist for herself and her emotions. There’s a reluctance in the lyrics but a desire to be taken seriously. Anyway, it’s good brooding, background listening for anyone ~going through it~ right now.

If any of the above RE: Jack Antonoff and his bedroom pop predictability confuses you, read this newbie by Sam Murphy for Cool Accidents, or this, by Brian Hiatt for Rolling Stone

The Cat Empire – ‘Going To Live’

The Cat Empire is Australia’s greatest band. That fact is not up for debate. The jazz-informed instrumentals, the nostalgic lyrics, vocalists with completely unique and juxtaposing voices, a diligence to perform every local festival ever. The band’s first album doesn’t get nearly enough praise in conversations about other celebrated debuts but that’s an argument for another night. Le band are back with a new song called ‘Going to Live’, featuring some pretty heavy nods to Brazilian bossa nova.

At the mo, many are talking about the TikTok resurgence of the Backyardigan’s song ‘Castaways’. Hilarious as that conversation might be, it’s doing a lot to revisit (and re-celebrate) the Brazilian samba genre of bossa nova, developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Rio de Janeiro. Call it a coincidence, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the beginning of a new genre-wave for bands that rely on big, layered instrumentals. And while The Cat Empire has traditionally veered more towards contemporary percussion and jazz, bossa nova could be a valiant lens of experimentation for the band moving forward.

Witch – NTS stream

Witch is a Zamrock band formed in the 1970s and widely considered the most popular Zambian band of the era. In a new film titled We Intend To Cause Havoc, filmmaker Gio Arlotta and two young musicians track down the legendary bandleader, vocalist Emanuel ‘Jagari’ Chanda. On July 2, the band hosted a guest show via online global radio platform NTS. The one hour slot features kaleidoscopic musings from Stevie Wonder, Santana, Fela Kuti, Luther Vandross and more.

Honourable mentions:

BJ The Chicago Kid – ‘Fancy’

The Wattles – ‘The Noise’

DVSN, Ty Dolla Sign, Mac Miller – ‘I Believed It’

Monkfruit – ‘Keep Waiting’

Shygirl and Slowthai – ‘BDE’

DZ Deathrays – Positive Rising: Part 2

Little Simz – ‘I Love You, I Hate You’

Pop Smoke and Kid Cudi – ‘8 Ball’

Rufus Du Sol – ‘Alive’

Willow and Tierra Whack – ‘Xtra’

Jordan Rakei – ‘Family’

Ngaiire – ‘Closer’

Mahalia – ‘Whenever You’re Ready’

Leon Bridgers – ‘Gold Digger Sound’

Chaos In The CBD and Mongo Skato – ‘Brainstorm’

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