SO. MANY. GOOD. RELEASES. Very excited for what we’ve got in store this week, with a much busier playlist that we’ve been listening to lately. Albums galore coming from Beyoncé and Willow, along with a fantastic mix of singles from artists like Sam Smith, Charli XCX and Hayley Kiyoko. On the alternative side of things, we have a brand new record from Sum 41 and the latest single from Sleater-Kinney ahead of their upcoming album. Spoiler: I have nothing bad to say.
Beyoncé – The Lion King: The Gift
Releasing an album in competition with the soundtrack for a movie you’re starring in seems like a bold move, but if anyone’s going to pull it off, it’s Beyoncé. The Gift is wholly inspired by Beyoncé’s role as Nala in the newly-released live action remake of The Lion King. In this album, Afrobeat-heavy tracks are interspersed with audio from the movie, intertwining the two in a powerful way. The Gift also features collaborations with up-and-coming stars from Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, among others.
It’s an incredibly well-produced album, a credit to Beyoncé as co-producer herself, with each track blending seamlessly into dialogue from the movie – it’s more of a single piece of work than it is a collection of separate songs. It’s important to know that this is less of a Beyoncé album, and more of a Beyoncé-managed project on which she only appears vocally on a handful of tracks.
Right at the beginning of The Gift comes ‘BIGGER’, a particularly strong opening track. Lyrically, it builds up the listener, and holds a real emotional power. It gives a sense of how emotionally close to the project that Beyoncé was. It’s about self-empowerment, and the high energy spirit of ‘BIGGER’ is contagious. It’s a message of hope that could only come from a Disney movie, but musically, it’s much more engaging. The Gift acts as an alternative soundtrack to The Lion King that’ much easier to listen to for a wider audience.
But in places, The Gift takes a step back from being just an alternative Disney soundtrack. Another real highlight of the album is ‘BROWN SKIN GIRL’, featuring a collaboration from none other than Blue Ivy Carter (as well as SAINt JHN and WizKid). ‘BROWN SKIN GIRL’ is an ode to her children, bursting with love. If you’re going to cry at this album, now is the time. It’s upbeat and light in its sound, but the lyrics are full of emotion and pride. This is one of Beyoncé’s more ambitious projects, but the risk is paying off, resulting in one of the strongest and most unique albums of the year.
Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift is out now via Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia.
Willow – WILLOW
We all know how much I adore Willow and Jaden Smith, and Willow will always have a special place in my heart. Mostly because she wrote a love song to Marceline the Vampire Queen from Adventure Time on her 2015 album ARDIPITHECUS, which is the coolest thing in the world. But more importantly, she’s come a long way as a vocalist and songwriter from the days of ‘Whip My Hair’. These talents are showcased on her latest pop/R&B inspired album, WILLOW.
Armed with dreamy synth and electric guitars laden with effects, WILLOW is a beautiful piece of work, and an incredible feat for an artist that’s only 18. The album opens on ‘Like a Bird’, establishing a magical atmosphere with Willow’s sweeping vocals that continues throughout the album with smooth transitions between songs.
It’s hard to just label Willow as a singer/songwriter. This album is musically very rich, in a similar way to her brother’s latest release. ‘Time Machine’ is another lovely track, with guitar effects mixing with vocals to give her music an ethereal quality. ‘Time Machine’ feels nostalgic, looking to the past and showing us her wisdom beyond her years. Continuing with ‘PrettyGirlz’, a song highlighting the expectations on women in today’s society alongside a personal ode to girls everywhere, the lyrics get a little more serious without compromising the light and sweet feeling of the album as a whole. Although there aren’t any surprises on WILLOW, it’s an impressive record, and it’s important to know that it was entirely produced by her and her friend Tyler Cole. She did a better job than a lot of artists with more experience could have done; Willow is playing to win.
Willow’s WILLOW is out now via MSFTSMusic/ Roc Nation Records.
Sum 41 – Order In Decline
Looking at more alternative releases, early noughties punk rock icons Sum 41 are back with their highly-anticipated Order In Decline. This record has been praised by long-time fans who are impressed that the group have remained loyal to their alt-rock origins instead of adapting to the pop-oriented trends of 2019 as so many others have (the YouTube comments on the new songs are basically just used to slander Blink-182). Although I respect that many similar groups have been able to evolve their sound, it seems like Sum 41 have abandoned attempts of pop punk and have returned to their roots. It’s a refreshing sound.
Starting off with ‘Turning Away’, Sum 41 define Order In Decline with heavy, fast paced rock and some truly devastating guitar solos. Even in slower tracks like ‘Never There’, the electric guitar isn’t far away. Vocalist Deryck Whibley maintains that fantastic 2000s alt-rock tone throughout.
‘Death In The Family’ is the main attraction of Order In Decline. The pounding drums and the speed of the guitar encompass everything wonderful about the genre. With sections suddenly cutting out to make way for slower vocals before the electric guitar bursts through, this song keeps you on your toes, finally building up to another monumental guitar solo. This is an amazing alternative record.
Sum 41’s Order In Decline is out now via Hopeless Records.
Sam Smith – ‘How Do You Sleep?’
Sam Smith is back with his unique brand of sad pop, ready to make us all heartbroken again. This week he released the single ‘How Do You Sleep?’, following on from the recent ‘Dancing With a Stranger’ – making fans anxious to know if this is all leading up to a new album. ‘How Do You Sleep’ is classically Sam Smith, with its catchy chorus and raw, emotional lyrics. He’s always been one to channel his strong emotions into beautiful lyrics, which we get with “I’m done hating myself for feeling/I’m done crying myself awake”. ‘How Do You Sleep?’ is about trying to move on after a difficult breakup, so if he comes out with a new album, these kinds of songs are to be expected.
Sam Smith’s ‘How Do You Sleep?’ is out now via Capitol.
Charli XCX feat. Christine and the Queens – ‘Gone’
Collaborations are all the rage this summer, and Charli XCX and French pop sensation Christine and the Queens are the next pair to team up in this single ‘Gone’. Both the track and the music video shows the singers as feeling trapped, about being “caught up” by insecurities. Christine stands out especially in this track – the beat sounds like it could have come straight off her last album. I feel like Charli XCX ends up a little overshadowed – perhaps because this song is trademark CatQ, or perhaps because all eyes have been on the french popstar since the success of her 2018 record, Chris, featuring all of the tracks in both French and English which changed the way we listen to language in music. The extended ending matches up with the tone of the lyrics and that feeling of being unable to escape. One of the best collaborations of the summer, but it would have been equally impressive had it been just one of the artists.
Charli XCX’s ‘Gone’ featuring Christine and the Queens is out now via Atlantic Records UK.
Hayley Kiyoko – ‘I Wish’
They said that Pride month was over, but Hayley said no. Kiyoko has really taken off in the last year (which, as a fan since 2015’s ‘Girls Like Girls’, I am overjoyed about), and ‘I Wish’ is her first track of 2019. In a similar way to a lot of her other songs, this track is about heartbreak and unrequited love. This track also alludes to the previously mentioned ‘him’ who seems to be getting in the way of her love interest. Seriously, though, who’s turning down Hayley Kiyoko? In terms of the general sound, ‘I Wish’ is a little different to what we’ve heard before, the chorus is kept simple and stripped-back. We are blessed with more of her trademark expert choreography in an accompanying music video that seems to be somewhat inspired by The Craft (thank you, Hayley) with its high school witchy vibes. She always gives the fans exactly what they want, and ‘I Wish’ is EXACTLY what I wanted from her.
Hayley Kiyoko’s ‘I Wish’ is out now via Empire/Atlantic.
Sleater-Kinney – ‘The Centre Won’t Hold’
’90s riot grrrl icons Sleater-Kinney are without a doubt one of the longest lasting bands of their genre. They’ve always been known for their distinct sound, in terms of electric guitar and vocals, but ‘The Centre Won’t Hold’ takes us in a very different direction. Gone are the days of DIY punk, making way for a much more polished sound – which is to be expected with St Vincent producing the upcoming album. In some ways, this makes the band more accessible, as their trademark vocals were always very take-it-or-leave it. Here, the lead vocals are more seductive, and the backing vocals neater. It’s definitely an interesting approach to Sleater-Kinney, but anyone who loved them for their earlier take on punk might be a bit disappointed. Either way, I have a lot of respect for the band and their upcoming album is eagerly anticipated.
Sleater-Kinney’s ‘The Centre Won’t Hold’ is out now via Milk! Records.
Other Selected Releases
Aaron Smith – ‘Unspoken’
Ezra Furman – ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’
Jonas Blue – ‘I Wanna Dance’
Kano – ‘Trouble’
King Princess – ‘Prophet’
Lil Pump feat. French Montana & Quavo – Pose To Do
The Lumineers – ‘It Wasn’t Easy To Be Happy For You’
Martin Garrix feat. JRM – ‘These Are The Times’
Shura – ‘the stage’
The Struts – ‘Pegasus Seiya’
Freya Ridings – Freya Ridings
IDER – Emotional Education
Sabrina Carpenter – Singular Act II
Slaves – The Velvet Ditch EP
This Week In Records: Playlist Edition
To listen to all of these releases and more, be sure to follow The Edge’s handy This Week In Records Spotify playlist, bringing you all of the week’s best tracks every Friday!