TRACK REVIEW: Rollin by Calvin Harris (feat. Future, Khalid)

By Fraser McGovern (@FraserMcGovern)

It feels like we’re a long way away from the ‘party party in the club’ era of radio hits; the curtains have just about closed on the era of David Guetta, Pitbull and enthusiastically spouting their spiel about never wanting the night to end. Unfortunately for them, it looks like it finally has. Calvin Harris, though, is demonstrating with his latest singles his ability to adapt in the face of change.

The latest of these is Rollin, a low-key jam that rolls along just as the title implies. Rather than piling upon the listener big drops or catchy electronic hooks (see all Harris singles circa 2010-2015), this track creates a subtle vibe and sticks it out until the end. Squelchy 80s synths and muted piano chords play over a slow, pulsing bassline. The funk-infused instrumentation is nothing too flashy, but the restraint on display from the hitmaker is something to be admired.

The featured artists take the forefront here: 19-year-old Khalid leads with a chilled chorus and echoey backing vocals while Atlanta rapper Future takes us through braggadocious verses about owning expensive clothes and taking drugs. Some habits die hard in pop music it seems, but it’s undeniable that Future’s flow is a natural fit for this cruising anthem. So too is Khalid, who sings about an introspective drive: “I’ve got anger on my chest / I’ve got millions on my mind / And you didn’t fit the picture / So I guess you weren’t the vibe”

The two contributors bring contrasting subject matter and flavour to the track, giving a refreshing impression of conflicted feelings. The simple bassline is always present providing a sense of momentum along with the synths, although some more variety in structure would have made the single more interesting and less one-note. You may be listening out for some sort of musical buildup but the song’s end jumps up abruptly before any is found.

Rollin is not risky by any means (not even by chart standards), but it’s encouraging to see that the Dumfries DJ is shifting back towards a more compelling kind of dance music. This is a man who at one point manufactured all his singles in the same time signature (128bpm in case anyone’s curious), so any development in artistic and musical style is encouraging. The world of pop music is survival of the fittest, and I don’t know if you noticed but Calvin Harris is pretty fit these days.







TRACK REVIEW: Feels Like Summer by Weezer

By Fraser McGovern (@FraserMcGovern)

In 2009, alternative rock outfit Weezer released their seventh album. It was called Raditude, and it was not good. The band had already started to shift in a more commercial direction with their recent (at the time) hits Beverly Hills and Pork & Beans, but this new album alienated fans with its over-egged production and flat, cheesy songwriting.

Now, after two great albums that harked back to the band’s heavier roots while still bringing new tricks to the table, Weezer releases a new track. The internet grumbles through gritted teeth that it sounds like a cut straight off RaditudeA great many music fans with ‘alternative’ tastes can enjoy pop for what it is: accessible, catchy music with more focus on surface than substance. Feels Like Summer is all surface and that’s okay.

This single is essentially a simple four-chord pop song. We begin with a sampled “na na na” hook reminiscent of Fall Out Boy’s Light Em Up, and then go into a verse that consists of simple, plinky piano chords and even simpler vocals from Rivers Cuomo underpinned by pounding electro bass. After a Calvin Harris EDM-style buildup, we come to a chorus that proclaims in falsetto that “Yeah it feels like summer”. Fair enough, it’s pop.

More to the point, it’s catchy pop. We all know that Cuomo is capable of writing great hooks when it comes down to it, and this chorus is certainly single-worthy. After a fun middle eight, we have a brief whistle interlude that’s reminiscent enough of Flo Rida’s 2012 hit Whistle for you to be a little bit sick in your mouth. It’s worth reminding you at this point that this song is by an actual band with proper real instruments. The meager total of two seconds of distorted power chords in the track sound like they were played by a robot.

The lyrics aren’t great, obviously. “I’m holding on and I don’t want to let you go”? That’s what could be called an ‘autopilot line’: songwriter Cuomo probably began to feel his fingers writing the words before he’d even thought them. You may have heard that exact string of words in three pop songs just today, but verses are the stage for Rivers’ trademark lyrical quirkiness. (I’m spiritual, not religious / I’m a libra, if it matters”)

Image result for weezer feels like summer

If feel-good, disposable radio songs aren’t your thing, Feels Like Summer is not for you. The solid production, infectious melodies and Cuomo’s unconventional lyrics push this track firmly into the ‘good’ category of commercial pop music, but not quite into ‘great’. This could become a mainstay in your summer jams playlist, but only if you let it envelop you in its warmth.

What most find so offensive about this song is not what it is, but rather what it isn’t. In the eyes of fans, time spent creating this song could have been spent on tracks more like those found on last year’s acclaimed self-titled LP. With Weezer, though, you have to take what you’re given. Or leave it.






TRACK REVIEW: Drugs by Charli XCX (feat. ABRA)

By Fraser McGovern (@FraserMcGovern)

Singer/songwriter Charli XCX serves as living proof that sugary pop music doesn’t have to be total cack. Though their lyrics aren’t anything to write home about, singles from her 2014 LP Sucker boasted some of the catchiest hooks of that year in tracks like Boom Clap, Break the Rules, and my personal darling Famous. Make no mistake about it, these songs were written to be hits and not even the fact that they were successful managed to diminish my love for them.

Though these songs sported some #edgy lyrical content, (“Going to the discotheque / Getting high and getting wrecked”) the instrumentation never seems to reflect this in any serious way. You could easily get away with playing Sucker at a Primary school disco. With this cut from her new mixtape Number 1 Angel, though, Charli seems to be going in a direction more at home within the musical landscape of 2017.

Moody synths? Check. Trap-inspired beat? Check. Heavy-handed drug metaphors? Check. Actually, did I say metaphors? What I meant to say is that the song is explicitly about drugs. “Baby, you the love of my life/ Selling all the drugs that I like/ Baby, you got it/ You know I want it”. I’d say that’s pretty clear. I don’t think she’s singing about popping off to Boots to get some paracetamol. The rest of the lyrics follow on from this theme and aren’t anything amazingly creative, but I suppose drug addicts aren’t usually known for being wordsmiths.

This time, however, XCX gives us the music to back up her scandalous claims. The low-energy verses present warbling autotune vocals from Charli and featured artist ABRA that create a dingy atmosphere fitting of the title. A sinister yet catchy chorus is chanted while the song builds. Synths grow more abrasive as the instrumentation heats up to boiling point, after which we arrive at an eclectic breakdown that puts a pitch-shifting end cap to the track that makes me want to dance.

One might suggest that the song is derivative, and I frankly wouldn’t argue against that. A tired yet valid criticism (that I shall now use without shame) is that any other pop star could be singing here and no one would bat an eyelid. This track isn’t dripping with unique XCX charm like some of her others, but you can’t bash the girl for trying something different. It’s just slightly ironic that when Charli XCX tries to be different, she sounds a bit more like everyone else.

But this track proves, if it needed any more proving, that Charli XCX is capable of writing and performing rock solid, well-above-average tunes of various styles. It may not be revolutionary, but Drugs goes for a vibe and achieves it without being boring. These four minutes were precision engineered by one of the best pop songwriters in the business to excite teenagers, as well as scare your gran, and will do just that.