“Stars” — PRETTYMUCH
It has been a whole year since the last release from the band PRETTYMUCH, a Simon Cowell project that started in 2017. As someone who has been following the group since their debut single “Would You Mind” was placed atop the “New Music Friday playlist,” their prime days rivaling the band Why Don’t We do not seem that long ago. However, boy band battles have been lost along with most of the band’s momentum, and here we are in 2021 with the group’s comeback single. I will admit, my expectations were not set high. The band seemed to have lost their spark after countless singles and no debut album, and not to mention many of their high school-aged fans growing up (myself being a prime example).
I was happily proven wrong though after my first few listens to “Stars,” which proved that PRETTYMUCH can still do what they always do. The group’s chemistry has returned, and each member takes turns laying down their fairly equal contribution. The presence of one group is felt, rather than five different vocalists. As always the instrumental is surprisingly solid, with the highlight being the simple addition of electric guitar driving the pre-choruses. The hook is not conventionally catchy, but Zion’s auto-tuned delivery stays in your head. The group sticks to their strengths on “Stars” and recovers shockingly well with their comeback single.
“Excite Me” — Lil Skies & Wiz Khalifa
In the complete opposite scenario as the PRETTYMUCH track, I have never called myself a Lil Skies fan. I would say his previous collaboration with Wiz Khalifa, “Fr Fr,” should have been enough to never make me try another song from these two again; I think Skies’ verse on that song is absolutely terrible. Lil Skies has managed to set himself apart from other mainstream rap artists nowadays only by spacing out his album releases by a few years, and I found myself interested enough to check out his newest project “Unbothered.”
Due to the fact that Lil Skies’ voice is not very appealing to me, this song is carried heavily by the production and the guest verse from Wiz. The oddly-textured synths float under some simple trap drums, and the kick and 808 bass-bounce nicely and punch hard on the chorus. Wiz Khalifa steals the show performance-wise leaning into a melodic flow that flatters his voice. He also delivers some airy background vocals that make his entrance a highlight of the track. Skies ends up delivering a catchy hook where he surprisingly brags about staying loyal to his girl, and ends the song with some cool outro adlibs. By exceeding expectations astonishingly, “Excite Me” gains a tiny bit of my respect back for this notorious duo.
“Dearest Alfred (MyJoy)” — Khruangbin & Knxwledge
As Khruangbin’s recent rise to indie fame continues, the trio expands their sound and fanbase by enlisting the outstanding hip-hop producer Knxwledge for their most recent track “Dearest Alfred (MyJoy).” This song is a remix of “Dearest Alfred,” the eighth track off of Khruangbin’s 2020 album “Mordechai.” It is an unexpected collaboration that makes sense, and appears to appeal to both fan bases by clocking in 900,000 streams in its first two weeks on Spotify.
The original “Dearest Alfred” is a steady, open track focused around vocals and bass. While neither version features very prominent drums, Knxwledge’s mix adds his trademark simple, swingy beats and cuts. The bassline bounces the drums with a consistent pulse, and the keys do the same at a faster rate. Khruangbin’s vocals hover over the rhythms, and sweet guitar riffs fall into the mix as well. While it is not quite as tight and memorable as the best songs from either artists’ solo projects from 2020, it is a smooth and cohesive remix from two all-stars of their respective genres.
“Bluish” — Arlo Parks
Arlo Parks has kicked off 2021 with her debut album “Collapsed in Sunbeams.” Surprisingly, it is one of the biggest pop album releases of the year so far due to a strong push through streaming services. Her adult-pop sound is mainstream-ready, and calls back to artists like Dido and early Adele. My personal favorite track off of her debut is called “Bluish,” which falls second to last in the tracklist.
The song’s short verses and memorable chorus talk about a past relationship with a partner that struggled to find boundaries with Parks. In the chorus she says “when I say I need some space I shouldn’t have to ask you twice,” which is an impactful and memorable hook. In the second verse, she states she “never had the chance to miss you.” These lyrics are delivered in a calm and controlled way over crackly drums and somber piano chords. It is a beautifully written and produced song that demonstrates the newcomer’s strengths across the board.
“Gravity” — Brent Faiyaz, DJ Dahi & Tyler, The Creator
“Gravity” is a song that is built to succeed in every way. Besides the two main vocalists Brent Faiyaz and Tyler, The Creator (who could produce enough attention and quality on their own), the track credits guitar and bass to Internet icon Steve Lacy. DJ Dahi, listed alongside Faiyaz as a primary artist, has produced many notable Kendrick Lamar songs and recently did “12.38” with Childish Gambino. Mathematically, this song is very cool.
Sonically it does not disappoint. Lacy’s guitar is looped throughout the track, and Dahi’s drums punch hard along with scattered sound effects. As the instrumental repeats, you can picture Dahi behind a soundboard on stage with the performers playing the arrangement live. Faiyaz sings to win over his girl’s trust, and Tyler’s appearance is short but solid. In the last section of the track, the drums cut and the key changes for the final hook. The slightly lowered vocals make Faiyaz’s harmonies resonate beautifully. As a song with undeniable expectations, each artist comes through and proves that they deserve the reputation they have earned.