“California Dreamin’” by Hazel English
LA-based singer-songwriter Hazel English has returned with a cover of notable The Mamas & the Papas track “California Dreamin’.” The single was released on May 11, and contrary to most modern covers, chooses to abide very closely to the 1966 original. Ritt Momney recently landed a viral hit with his cover of “Put Your Records On,” a 2000’s radio staple. While he opted to completely modernize the instrumental, leading to polarizing views on the cover, English’s decision remains favorable to me. English could be compared to fellow alt-pop female Lana Del Rey, with a similar soft vocal delivery and color. She plays both male and female vocal roles very well on the track, as there is no noticeable loss in context or need for deeper male harmonies. The instrumental is very similar to the original, only cleaned up and simplified slightly in the drums. As some modern artists struggle to find fitting songs to cover, I find this to be a flattering choice for English. Her sultry vocals fit well with the somewhat haunting melodies of “California Dreamin’,” and her retro western aesthetic matches the original song’s composition.
“Assumptions” by Sam Gellaitry
Electronic producer-turned-pop-star Sam Gellaitry has delivered his new EP “IV.” The project comes a month after dazzling the world with “Duo,” a song I claimed to be my favorite of the year so far in last month’s edition. With extreme impression comes great expectation, and while the project as a whole fell a bit short for me, the closing track was a pleasure to listen to. Although the EP was only four tracks long, “Assumptions” is a perfect closer. The song shimmers with a wide array of instruments and sounds, and with only a few simple lines he fills the track with energy. Production is Gellaitry’s strong point (not to discredit his writing and vocals), so the textures throughout the song are very defined; it’s evident that he knows how to make himself sound great. “Assumptions” is a dance track that uses repetition to its advantage, and as it comes to an end, it leaves me hoping that Gellaitry has more plans for 2021.
“Kino Cave River” by Mount Rainier
Rain Gregorio goes by Mount Rainier, a reference to the fifth-tallest mountain in the U.S., located in Washington state. While this is pretty common knowledge, Gregorio’s music is not. My friend and I dug up his music while searching through Bandcamp and were charmed by his easy and professional sound. His EP “World Behind Your Head” is a treat to indie-pop fans, and “Kino Cave River” is my standout track. Album closers have now made this list back-to-back — however the moods created by these songs are nearly opposite. The doubled acoustic guitars and vocals make for a more messy sound, but fill out the song as well. Some airy effects also add to the windy feeling of the song. Gregorio reflects a bit bitterly on a past partner while still containing the maturity to find lessons through his thoughts. The track concludes with an electric piano solo that falls away to whirring, motor-esque sounds that remind me of what the thoughts he describes might sound like. The skills shown both lyrically and production-wise convince me that Mount Rainier should have a strong future ahead.
“What You Need” by Don Toliver
After a solid debut project with multiple hits in 2020, Don Toliver has landed another charting hit with his newest single, “What You Need.” Although one year is a fairly quick turnaround for another album, we can only hope that Toliver has more songs like this on the way. This song follows the trend of label Cactus Jack’s trippy hip-hop sound, made most popular by Scott himself. Despite somewhat empty lyrics, this song’s array of sound and melody sets a very high standard for mainstream hip-hop. “What You Need” begins with a nearly 40-second intro, and the organ synths stand out as they flood into the hook perfectly. Toliver’s best quality is his voice; it’s reminiscent of 2000’s artist Akon, but with a more gritty texture. He finds a few memorable melodies in the chorus, and soars through the reverb-ed beat. The outro features a live instrumental sound with piano, electric bass, and light ride cymbal. The detailed production here is the work of many, and Toliver brings it all together with charisma and character.
“Big Wide Body” by SoGone SoFlexy
Texas rapper SoGone SoFlexy is the newest artist project in the BROCKHAMPTON empire. He is one of the three new artists under the label Video Store, founded by members Kevin Abstract and Romil Hemnani. SoFlexy had previously released music without this cosign, but the single “Big Wide Body” appears to be his first solo release since working with the group. The track features production from Jabari Mwana, and is clearly influenced by the new direction of BROCKHAMPTON. The instrumental on “Big Wide Body” modernizes southern hip-hop production, keeping a funky and screwed feel moving through choppy drums. A droney synth sets the basis for the beat under a squishy, electronic bass and cool chords. Credit must go to SoFlexy as well though, his layered deep voice is perfect for this type of production. His “big wide body” line may well be the catchiest chorus of the year so far, and whether you like the song or not this line will get stuck in your head. It’s been an amazing year for rap so far, and Video Store may have found a gem in SoGone SoFlexy. With a leadoff single this strong, I could see his debut album under the label outshining the boyband in 2021.