March was ridiculous. Somehow, after all this, I failed to include new songs from Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Fleet Foxes, and Real Estate. That’s honestly a crime, and I apologize. All indications point to Kendrick dropping an album (or at least something) on April 7th, and Fleet Foxes will release their long-awaited follow-up album in June, so they’ll still have a chance to make it on here. And so, without further ado, five quality tracks for March.
1. Lorde: “Green Light”
A friend of mine recently asked me who makes more ‘anthemic’ songs — Taylor Swift or Lorde? Lorde’s celebrated debut album from 2013, Pure Heroine, was exceptional, full of quietly encouraging, relatable songs (“Team” is an all-time favorite), but I wouldn’t characterize it as anthemic, necessarily. Swift may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but singles like “22,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and “Bad Blood” are as conducive to late-night, impromptu sing-alongs as anything. So, after judging their musical output as a whole, my answer was Taylor Swift. BUT, on a song-by-song basis, the most anthemic track either of them have ever done is easily Lorde’s new single, “Green Light.”
After four fairly quiet years since Pure Heroine, Lorde, the New Zealand phenom who first deservedly captured our attention at the age of 16, is returning to us with her sophomore effort in a couple months. For her new album, Lorde tapped Bleachers and fun. member Jack Antonoff to produce and help with songwriting. Antonoff has production experience with some of the biggest names in pop, including Taylor Swift, Sia, Rachel Platten, and Sara Bareilles, so I was interested to see how his influence would manifest itself with Lorde.
I was immediately taken aback by “Green Light,” and not exactly in a good way. It is very pop in a reach-for-the-stars kind of way, which is not what I expected from Lorde and her more brooding, subtle style. But the more I heard it, the more the various parts stuck with me, like that enticing rhythmic piano in the lead-up to the chorus, or Lorde’s pitch-perfect lyrics, like her sneer directed at an ex, singing “She says you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar.”
Previously, Lorde deftly straddled the line between electro-indie and pop in a way that was unique at the time. So to hear “Green Light,” which is very much a full-fledged pop song, was a bit jarring at first. But the thing is, “Green Light” aims big — that’s the whole point — and it succeeds tremendously. Taylor Swift has written timeless anthems, but if I were to drive around with the windows down late at night with friends, the first song I would want to hear is “Green Light.”
2. Hurray for the Riff Raff: “Hungry Ghost”
I avoided checking out Hurray for the Riff Raff for a while because the name gave me pause. But that was a huge mistake. Hurray for the Riff Raff is the brainchild of Alynda Segarra, a Puerto Rican woman born and raised in the Bronx. It’s hard to explain the satisfying elation I felt when I first put on her new album, The Navigator. Part rock, part blues, part folk, part bomba/salsa, The Navigator is a vivid melting pot of genres and cultures. But on top of that, the songwriting is excellent and Segarra’s voice is powerful. “Hungry Ghost” is a propulsive, brilliant blend of 2000s indie and 1970s rock and roll. You can viscerally feel the energy that’s bubbling just below the surface, appearing in quick bursts like the chorus. The track caught me completely by surprise — I wasn’t expecting to hear a potential top-10 song of the year candidate when I put it on. It’s perfectly crafted and deeply gratifying.
3. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: “French Press”
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, a five-piece band from Melbourne, make indie rock that breathes and seethes. Some of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s peers have a tendency to make pleasant, enjoyable but ultimately shallow beach-rock, but these guys have something special, something hard to describe. The jangly guitar interplay on “French Press” would definitely sound great on a beach in the summer, but it also has dark undercurrents and deep crevices. It stays with you.
4. Drake: “Passionfruit”
In March, Drake released what he calls a “playlist project” entitled More Life, which is pretty much the same thing as an album but without the lofty expectations that accompany an album. It’s basically a cop out, a shield against criticism. If it isn’t received well, it doesn’t matter because it’s not *technically* an album. This characterization is working, because I keep reading reviews calling More Life the best project Drake has done in years. That’s an exaggeration — the “playlist” certainly boasts some great highlights, but they’re surrounded by a glut of mid-tempo filler.
“Passionfruit” is the highest of the highlights. It will never cease to amaze me how Drake, when he’s on his game, can be so good at rap and also so good at pop/R&B. He’s the Bo Jackson of music, don’t @ me. “Passionfruit” has Drake bringing his R&B A-game on a song that is aptly titled — imagine what a tropical Starburst would sound like. Got it? Yep, that’s “Passionfruit.” It’s like chillwave with a vaguely Caribbean bent to it. Long live chillwave Drake.
5. Spoon: “Can I Sit Next to You”
Spoon are absolute masters of their craft. “Can I Sit Next to You” is sinewy, funky, and full of swagger. One of Spoon’s greatest strengths is their ability to bring in, highlight, and remove instruments and sound effects at all the right times to create something thrilling — “Can I Sit Next to You” is Exhibit A.
Here’s a running Spotify playlist of all the Five Quality Tracks songs for each month in 2017 (or at least, all the tracks that are on Spotify).