Fresh Music Friday

With Jonah, Charlie & Mason

The 7/12 Edition

Jonah’s Picks

The Desert Babbler // Iron & Wine

Perfect for:

  • feeling homesick/lonely

  • fans of acoustic, upbeat folk styles

  • lyrical analysis

By now, you all should know I’m a sucker for cryptic, abstract lyricism. Folk music is a great place to find it, which may explain my love for the genre. “The Desert Babbler” is by Iron & Wine, definitely a folk artist, but the song includes a generous array of flavors past just folk. The drums bump out a steady, cruising rhythm with an old-school country feel to it like many classic travelling songs. 

Sam Beam, the man behind the band, uses a variety of instruments. Though the backbone of the song are the bouncing drums and groovy, active bassline, “The Desert Babbler” finds space for much more, including mellow brass, delicate “ooh” and “aah” harmonies, and warm, nostalgic piano. As the song progresses, other instruments and melodies emerge in a call-and-response with the vocals, rising up as Beam’s voice trails off at the end of each line. 

But let’s get back to this delicious lyricism. The opening lines have a fun poetic misdirection: Beam opens with “It’s New Year’s Eve,” a familiar, happy feeling to kick things off — before it’s sabotaged by the following line — “California’s gonna kill you soon.” Sheesh. Hell of a tonal shift. The latter line is sung with a casual resignation no different from the rest of the lines, as if this impending death is a simple fact of the matter, plain to see but impossible to stop. 

With crosses barely hanging on the wall, quietly-lost years, and California soon to claim a life, “The Desert Babbler” describes the inevitability of change, no matter how much we may prefer things to stay the same or run in reverse. “Who knew what you could learn to live without” is a standout lyric in not just this but any song — heavy but gorgeous, bleak but strangely positive all at once, the poetry of Beam’s writing is undeniable.

“The Desert Babbler” is beautiful, but not without a tinge of homesick loneliness. Its lyrics are knotty and scattered, but the emotive quality of the music points you in the right direction. It’s a shining example of how music’s expressive capacity can clarify and expand the meaning of lyrically-told stories, building otherwise-incomplete snippets into rich, vibrant experiences. This teamwork of verbal and musical expression enable ‘The Desert Babbler” to explore apparent contradictions and multiple dimensions like these, making perfect, intuitive sense all the while.

Pimpa’s Paradise // Damian Marley, Stephen Marley & Black Thought

Perfect for:

  • a day at the beach

  • groovy, fun songs with a substantial message 

Before we get any further: yes, the Marleys of this song are Those Marleys. But this is no musical Meghan McCain situation; for all the people in this world who seem to enjoy success only because of who they’re related to, it’s refreshing to see a supercelebrity’s offspring actually deserve (at least some of) the attention they receive. 

Damian and Stephen continue the Marley legacy while adding flavors of their own from the modern music scene, at which they’re actually solidly good. Though there’s no doubt that they had a leg up on your average joe with dreams of reggae superstardom — seeing as their father is, y’know, actually Bob Marley — it’s clear from “Pimpa’s Paradise” that, by now, their success is due to more than just their father’s influence. 

Also featured on this song is Black Thought, a man with a knack for crazy rhymes and storytelling. On “Pimpa’s Paradise,” he rhymes “Keep her head up in space like a satellite / cause she got an insatiable appetite,” a multisyllabic rhyme most rappers would spend weeks trying to imitate. Thought never compromises his storytelling for technical prowess or vice versa, giving his bars an air of effortlessness. You’d almost think he exclusively communicates like this, holding everyday conversations in perfectly calibrated rhyme and rhythm.

“Pimpa’s Paradise,” if you’re only passively listening, is a breezy, sun-soaked reggae jam, perfectly channeling the vibe that reggae is so good at evoking. Acoustic guitar strums, shakers, and melodic electric guitar plucks, eventually joined by a shuffling electronic drum beat that creates a primal urge to get up and groove, form the simple, effective backbone of “Pimpa’s Paradise.” 

And there’s nothing wrong with passive music listening. But if you’re looking to really submerge yourself in a piece of music, “Pimpa’s Paradise” won’t leave you hanging. Its deceptively sunny, upbeat sound hides an unfortunate tale of addiction and self-destruction, deftly told by the Marley brothers and Thought. The song works on any level of engagement, rewarding the analytic, attentive audience as much as the casual-listening crowd who just needs to groove.

Fentanyl // Black Thought & Salaam Remi

Perfect for:

  • fans of conscious, lyrical rap

  • a musical perspective on opioid addiction

  • anyone looking for a rap song that’ll really make you think

Black Thought pulls no punches. 

He’s not the type to drop tracks just to build hype or collect a check, so when he finally does get behind the mic, you know it’s all business and bars. His song “Fentanyl,” produced by OG legend Salaam Remi, is about exactly what it sounds like, and despite telegraphing its subject, it’s still shockingly fearless and incisive. I promise, you’re not ready for this song — even if you’ve heard it before.

Thought uses “Fentanyl” to address things most of us are subconsciously aware of but often uncomfortable discussing out loud. Black Thought, however, is not most rappers — “deadly as the Fenanyl that killed Prince and Tom Petty,” as he so brutally puts it himself. His rhyming skills are matched only by his awareness and knowledge, making lines like “While the wolves pull the wool on and prey on vices / still the dawgs with the hood on is way more frightening” equal parts lyrical mastery and concise, eloquent social commentary.

Remi provides Thought with a gritty, clanging old-school beat that puts Thought right in his comfort zone. And Black Thought is a dangerous man in his comfort zone. He’ll speak the truth, regardless of how it sounds and who might not like it, like when he holds pharmaceutical corporations, instead of victims responsible for the opioid crisis: “Overdosing’s just a marketing scheme / It’s all as dark as it seems.”

Maybe it is all as dark as it seems, but as long as we have conscious, fearless artists like Black Thought committed to speaking truth to power, we’re not doomed just yet. As Thought himself rhymes, “Better believe the truth stings.” It may sting, but it’s a necessary pill to swallow, and there are few rappers better at condensing and articulating that truth than Black Thought.

Magic // Coldplay

Perfect for:

-sitting under the stars

-Coldplay deniers who swear they’ve burnt out 

-fans of atmospheric pop 

Coldplay’s been making music for — jeez, who even knows how long? It seems like they’ve been a prominent name in music for as long as I can remember. They’ve had bangers in the past, but they also have some bangers now, and likely more bangers to come. “Magic,” from their 2014 album Ghost Stories, has the familiar Coldplay vibe with a jolt of freshness. The fact that they still have songs like “Magic” in the tank shows that their longevity as a band is well-deserved. 

“Magic” blends elements of acoustic and electric music, with the drum-machine rhythm complementing the consistent pianos and the burst of acoustic guitar strums in the second chorus. It’s a well-executed blueprint for marrying classic, familiar instrument sounds to more modern, electronically generated elements that are so in vogue right now. 

The main rhythm is a drum machine, driving the motion of the song, later supported by almost-hip-hop-style hi hats. The way the 808-style electronic drum sounds gel with the mostly-physical instruments of the arrangement feels natural — further proof-of-concept that the introduction of electronic music doesn’t have to be the death sentence of the piano or guitar. Synth chords spread through the musical space in the more high-energy sections, similarly complementing the rest of the band.

“Magic” has an almost cinematic sense of sound design with its blooming, vast dimension and expressive capacity. A quick Google search doesn’t reveal any movies it’s soundtracked, but it has that expansive, immersive musical quality typical of a soundtrack’s context. The trademark Coldplay grandeur is substituted for a subtle spectacle of atmosphere and craftsmanship. Instead of tipping its hand early and using up all its tricks, “Magic” builds bit-by-bit, crescendoing in an exuberant, soaring final refrain at 3:14 I truly can’t get enough of. 

If you thought Coldplay was a relic of the past, “Magic” is my best counter-argument. The presence of piano, electric and acoustic guitars is strong, and bolstered by more modern electronic elements, it presents an interesting hybrid of the new and the old, the fresh and the familiar.

Charlie’s Picks

Zombie Bastards // Weezer

Perfect for:

  • feelin’ good on a Wednesday

  • fighting off the Undead

  • dancing awkwardly by yourself

Coming from their most recent album, “Zombie Bastards” is difficult to narrow down to a specific genre. Weezer is mostly known for its punk-y rock-y sound. However, try their music that doesn’t make it to radio and you’ll soon see that they’re not a band that should be defined by genre. They even reference this in the song:

If I die, it means that I lived my life

And that’s much better than hidin’ in a hole

Weezer shows they don’t want to hide in the hole of rock music exclusively, and you can tell simply by the diverse instrumentation of this song. After opening with only vocals and an acoustic guitar, we are soon hit with a wall of sound after a turntable scratch, followed by a huge amount of bass and synth. While the lyrics are mostly goofy, the song is a fun exercise in how many different sounds you can put together at once and still sound good, and they do it masterfully. There’s not much else to say other than if you want to hear a funky mix of instruments of all genres, give this song a listen.

Mason’s Picks

K // Jaden Smith

Perfect for:

  • vibin’ in a Parked Car

  • anyone still unconvinced that Jaden Smith is hella talented

“K” is the fourth song on Jaden Smith’s most recent album, ERYS, featuring smooth beat and fluid vocals. Jaden refuses to be defined by any one niche of the rap game, diversifying his sound and style seamlessly throughout the album. As seen in “K”, Jaden flips up the whole song with switching to an electric shaver-based trap beat which is both strange and oddly satisfying.

If there is one thing I have learned from the past two Jaden albums, it’s that Lido (whoever that is) is a phenomenal producer. Regardless of however talented Jaden may or may not be, everything Lido touches is fresh and intricate. 

The best way to experience this song is listening to the first four songs on the album in a row, which spell out P-I-N-K. Roll down the windows and blast 13-minutes of a Jaden Smith-lead journey that shake your eardrums with waves of heavy production and flowful bars.


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