Top Drops Double Feature (July + August)

After a not-so-brief hiatus, I’m back to chat about my top drops from July and August. These last two months have been all about women and how they’re feeling. Considering the craziness of the year so far, it’s no wonder summer music isn’t all soft sunshine and blissful beaches. Lorde delivers on that front in spades, but other projects take different directions. From alternative pop punk to scream and cut your hair to eclectic R&B to set your intentions during the next full moon, women were screaming, crooning, and giving musical, magical form to everything they’re going through.

Last Year Was Weird Vol. 3 X Tkay Maidza

Zimbabwean-born, Australian singer-songwriter and rapper Tkay Maidza has been an artist to watch for a while now. She continues to hold me spell-bound with the third and latest edition to her series Last Year Was Weird. Previous projects were like watching an excited hummingbird flit from one genre to the next and while the same can be said for Vol. 3, there’s a clear delineation between the more vocal-lead, R&B tracks and the more rap-heavy tracks. After the classy lament of “So Cold,” we’re tossed straight into the rugged density of “Syrup” that’s more straight from the pine sap than manufactured sugar substitute. When the sweetness returns in “Cashmere,” it’s not without its edge and ten-toes-down attitude. Production strips down from its metallic armor to a linen nightgown in the closing track “Breathe,” which is exactly what I too want to do after not only last year but this one as well.

TEMPORARY HIGHS IN THE VIOLET SKIES X Snoh Aalegra

TEMPORARY HIGHS is the Swedish singer-songwriter’s third studio album and features some of her most striking instrumentals to date, thanks in part to her two-part collaboration with Tyler, the Creator. Of course, Aalegra’s stunning vocals carry much of the album, but there’s something so substantial and convicted in her ballads that sets her apart from her contemporaries. I believe her when she sings “See, I don’t really care/Really I’m too good for you,” even if the words themselves are flippant and cold. “NEON PEACH,” a bright moment on the album, is as rich, textured, and sticky sweet as the fruit for which it was named and neon for the electronic synths vibrating beneath the piano melodies and vocal harmonies. At the center of it all, though, is “TEMPORARY HIGHS”—a midpoint interlude that acts as the crux the entire album hangs on. Behind the bitter, disinterested exterior is a woman questioning, “Is it worth it?”

Ry Ry World X Mariah the Scientist 

Out of all the albums on this list Ry Ry World is both my most anticipated and most looped since its release. Like the Scientist twenty-three year old Mariah Buckles calls herself, she transforms the mundane into magic, telling tales of heartbreak, obsession, and revenge. Each track is atmospheric and sounds like it was recorded on a cassette player, adding both an eerie and immersive quality. Her voice, tough and delicate like leather fringe, balances between being resigned to the inevitable (“Aura”) and being deeply moved to mourning (“2 You”). A tinge of the sinister is carried over from her debut album Master in the final track “Revenge” where she eulogizes a lost relationship, blurring the lines between metaphor and reality. The back and forth between her higher register and the pitched-down vocalizers makes for a chilling finale that loops back to the charming, innocent jingle of the opening track “Impalas & Air Force 1s”.

lately I feel EVERYTHING X WILLOW

Lately, I feel everything too and this is the perfect soundtrack to do that to. Balancing between the classic hallmarks of pop punk sensibilities and the angst of a generation with a LOT going on, it places the point of view of a young black woman center stage. A highlight is how deep the guitars and basslines dig their heels into the dirt. Even when Willow is screaming “Fuck you” over a discordant improv drum solo, there’s an authentic grittiness to every feeling she’s conveying. Tracks such as “naïve” and “XTRA” (which features a perfectly curated verse from prolific rapper Tierra Whack) resonate with a bleeding honesty, which is why the more on-the-nose “G R O W” falls short in terms of believability and depth. Either way, it’s a project that never lingers longer than it needs to and I appreciate the maturity in how tight that composition is.

333 X Tinashe 

After being in the game for almost a decade, Tinashe finally cut ties with RCA and seized full creative authority of her art. Every Tinashe fan sang sweet hallelujah in the streets, and for good reason, because this move helped her produce her most cohesive and timeless project to date. I’m not going to lie and say 333 was love at first listen, but boy when I fell, I fell hard and deep. It took time to catch all of the threads that tied everything together, time for each song to work its own magic. Tinashe’s never been a stagnant or predictable artist, but this feels like the first project where her ferocious creativity had enough room to play, laugh, and dance around. That isn’t to say it’s just forty-seven minutes of a hodgepodge of ideas. There is an undeniable polish, keen eye, and delicate hand crafting every song. The twenty-eight year old artist bounces between neo-soul, funk, jungle beats, dance-pop, and others with the effortless lightfoot born from her veritable dance background. It’s an album that gets better every time, because there’s always something new I didn’t hear before and that is the power of a timeless body of work.

Rainbow Child X LION BABE

I’m not saying this album was written for me and me alone, but that’s exactly what I’m saying. The artist-producer duo, composed of Jillian Hervey and  Lucas Goodman respectively, always produces nothing but the most immaculate of vibes, but Rainbow Child is on an entirely other level of healing. It’s their shortest project yet, clocking in at a short and sweet twenty-three minutes, but it’s all the more impactful for it. They trade their signature juicy funk and nasty groove for more reserved, laxed musical ventures that are just as rich and textured as their dance cuts. Where previous albums opened the door for listeners to walk through and find joy and comfort, nearly all of the tracks on Rainbow Child yank the listener in and wrap them in a patchwork quilt of tender lyrics and whispered reassurances. Tracks such as “Rainbows,” “Radiant Child,” and “Signs” not only acknowledge the struggle but celebrate the persistence. I return to this album constantly to remember “it’s okay if [I’m] not okay today,” and “I’m a rainbow child, born to be wild.”

Solar Power x Lorde 

Ah, yes, one of if not the most anticipated album of 2021 dropped in August and we should get one thing straight: It’s no Melodrama. However, contrary to most of the divisive reviews, I think that’s perfectly fine. When discussing Tyler, the Creator’s latest work, Genius’s Delisa Shannon described him as one of those artists who only shares what’s been going on in their private life through their art and Lorde is much the same way. So, no, Solar Power wasn’t groundbreaking. No, it didn’t shift the very fabric of the pop landscape. Sometimes easy listening bordered on the line of naptime and lyrics erred on the side of overly simplistic and direct. Still, the project as a whole had much the same effect as the little emails she sent out in preparation for the release, like receiving a handwritten letter from a dear friend after so long apart. I smiled, a small private thing, only meant to be seen by those who were also waiting and the one we were waiting to hear from.

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