Deadshirt Is Listening… Bringing you a rundown of our staff and guest contributors’ favorite new tracks released in the past week after they’ve had the weekend to blast them in their cars, in a club, alone in their rooms, etc.
Julian Ames is surprised by…
“What Do You Mean”
Yeah, I can’t believe I’m writing about Justin Bieber, either.
I don’t really know too much about Biebs—unsurprisingly, I haven’t followed his career all that closely. His story as I know it is something like this: he was discovered off of YouTube at 13, gained success and a huge, loyal following on the back of some truly vapid pop songs; because of either the quality of his songs, his rabid fan-base, or his silly haircut at the time, the Internet and most of the pop culture world began to hate him. As Bieber grew, he seemingly came to accept the nefarious role thrust upon him in a series of poor life and career decisions. While all this was happening, he was making music that was getting more and more listenable. Now he’s gearing up for a new album and has put out the first single, “What Do You Mean,” and it’s actually pretty good.
The thing is, Bieber himself isn’t all that essential to the song. Sure, he delivers it fine, but he’s not what I would call a strong or distinctive singer, and any other middling R&B singer could pull off what he does on this track just the same. No, the real props have to go to (and I can’t believe I’m also saying this) Skrillex and his production. I typically don’t pay those big EDM dudes no nevermind; it’s not my thing and some of them are actually shitty people (not Skrillex, though). But on “What Do You Mean,” he plays away from the big drops and robot noises that got him famous, and more toward house beats and melodic, pan flute-infused grooves. It’s good shit—definitely good last days of summer music. I would’ve loved to have heard this in the hands of a more capable singer, but maybe this is a right place, right time kind of thing for JB’s career—he’s teasing more collabs with Skrillex as well as with Drake and Diplo (remember what I said earlier about EDM dudes?), so maybe this new album could garner him more widespread respect. Anyway, make sure to drop this at your end-of-summer cookout or pool party, and when you tell your friends it’s the new Justin Bieber joint, relish in their reaction when they ask you “what do you mean?”
Mike Duquette is shouting to…
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Ever have one of those friends who speaks and you just have to listen? Jeff Giles is one of those friends: a passionate, knowledgable author whose words personally connected me to two of my favorite musicians currently working in the business. So when Jeff slid a copy of Nathaniel Rateliff’s new album my way, I made it a point to sit and listen. And I was not disappointed.
Rateliff, initially known as a Denver-based folk singer-songwriter who’d shared stages with Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, recast himself as an old-school Southern soul man with the formation of The Night Sweats in 2013. The band’s self-titled debut was just released through vintage Seventies soul label Stax, and the pairing couldn’t be better. As you hear on the jumpin’ “S.O.B.,” Rateliff has mastered all the tropes of white-boy soul: a stomp-clap rhythm; a catchy, wordless, harmonized hook; and a jaunty melody delivered in a moanin’ wail and couched in throwback horns. But it’s not all past posturing: Rateliff’s gift is his affinity for writing a distinctive melody to sing, and that’s what puts him ahead of the pack—and, someday, it may put him in the same league as the old Stax stars that came before him.
David Lebovitz is spinning to…
Love And War EP
What does ZZ Ward have to do to go mainstream at this point? That’s a genuine question. At the least, she deserves far more recognition than she gets.
“Rescue” and “Marry Well” dropped within a day of each other, with Ward’s Love and War EP being released shortly thereafter. She has been encouraging her fans to learn the lyrics so they could all sing along on her tour. It certainly would have helped if the videos had lyrics in them instead of After Effects experimentation, but I’ll take it nonetheless, and this is about the music.
Both songs fit together in a way, through their opposite approaches—a love anthem and a tough-enough declaration. “Rescue” is something of an inspirational love song and, as far as I’m concerned, the stronger of the two both lyrically and in terms of production. “Marry Well” is the catchier song, with a strong beat and an easy-to-learn hook.
They also demonstrate how Ward is branching out from a production standpoint. She’s moving away from experimenting with more complex string arrangements, vocal effects, and genres. She’s stepping a bit outside of the blues rock genre and is starting to create Her Own Thing. Her new full album is due out on September 18th. I’m on board for that. Are you?
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Okay, I know I’m not the only one who has been mesmerized by this song and video, right?
Yes, it’s a song about driving a moped. Yes, it’s little more than ear candy. Yes, it’s borderline self-parodical. Yes, it’s lyrical fluff. Yes, there’s too much going on and it’s a mishmash of ideas. Yes, it has no real emotional depth. Yes, it feels like an anthem without a message. Yes, it is, in the words of one of Duque’s friends, a production in search of a song. Yes, it’s some kind of inside-out “Uptown Funk.”
To which I say: What’s wrong with any of that? What’s wrong with something fun and catchy? What’s wrong with goofy lyrics over solid production?
Hell, They Might Be Giants has made a CAREER out of doing exactly that.
Not everything has to be high art or make a statement. Nothing’s wrong with getting silly once in awhile. If this were released a few weeks earlier, it might have been a favorite for Song Of The Summer in a year where that field was pretty weak. Ryan Lewis continues to be one of the better producers out there, creating the infectious melody that truly makes this song. Macklemore himself sounds more relaxed and comfortable than he did on half of The Heist, and it seems pretty clear that he just wants people to have fun with this song.
Eric Nally has a hell of a voice, almost Michael Jacksonesque, and needs to get invited to sing on more hooks as of yesterday. Hooks are typically the most memorable part of a song (that’s why they’re called “hooks”) and his is part of the reason I can’t stop listening to this. Also, his mustache deserves to be in some kind of Hall Of Fame—it’s not quite the glory of a Frank Zappa or a Lanny McDonald, but he manages to have a mustache like that and make it “awesome” instead of “creepy,” and that’s worth something.
As for the video—yes, it’s just as insane, but the more I watch, the more I notice in it. Example: is it me, or is the guy on the moped at 4:02 the same guy who caught the fish at 1:44?
Anyway, it’s a fun song in spite of being—or perhaps because it is—chaotic. It’s the Fun Summer Movie of songs, just released at the end of the summer.