One month from now is Christmas Day, which spells a hit-or-miss 24 hours with the fam. It also marks the music industry shutting down shop for another year. Yes, we’re all bummed about the flow of new music being cut off for the sake of 2016 countdown lists. And while I’m also eager to see how Colouring Book and Blonde stack up against one another, I honestly don’t want 2016 to end. Society-wise, 2016 has been a crock. Music-wise it’s been exceptional. Thankfully there’s still a healthy number of artists giving a middle-finger to the payroll and releasing new music just for the fuck of it. In the few weeks Bars has been away some shit has gone down for sure. With this long-awaited return, Bars is ready to give back to the eager masses with a delicate selection of double-kick, feels-heavy, dread-waving good tunes. The trick is not to forget 2016 ever existed; it’s to realise there’s still enough great music to gorge ourselves on to forget the pain. Tequila is a thing too.
Thought 2016 was slowing down? Childish Gambino, The Weeknd, Hodgy, and Sab $tory are here to prove you very wrong
01. Childish Gambino - 'Redbone'
Musically speaking, Donald Glover has come a long way from his days of rapping about Pokémon over tragically forced trap beats. His 2013 record because the internet hinted at something less self-indulgent and more organic. The feeling trickled into his 2014 EP Kauai which showcased some of Glover’s strongest tracks to date, including the effortlessly cool ‘Sober’. His success has now translated onto the silver screen where Glover leads his own TV series, Atlanta. Like the Princeton dropout he portrays, Earnest “Earn” Marks is trying to reconnect with his past; a version of him entailing his genuine interests rather than someone who caves to societal pressures.
‘Redbone’ is Glover’s second single release from his upcoming third full-length Awaken, My Love! It’s also his ballsiest track to date. Not that it resembles anything akin to punkish rebellion, but rather an honest remittance to his artistic self. Glover’s vocals are barely recognisable as he swoons over funk-heavy instrumentals. The phrase “stay woke” is repeated in an almost-cryptic warning. Never being the one to openly reveal his musings, Glover plays a strong hand on ‘Redbone’ emphasising the awful conflictions of relationships while they are played out over an upbeat, easy-listen. It’s one of Glover’s strongest tracks to date. It also ends on a Neon Indian-type fuzzed-out guitar solo. Like Glover’s career, ‘Redbone’ pitter-patters before breaking through and realising its full artistic potential.
02. Hodgy - 'Barbell'
“Most people come and intoxicate your circle/
Suck the life out of your circle, then confiscate your circle/
See what they did, man they made you hate your circle/
Ya’ll some wild n*ggas, incidentally coloured purple”
Ok, so Hodgy can spit. After all the hoo-ha and back-and-forths with his former Odd Future bandmate in Tyler, the Creator, we’ve finally established that Hodgy can spit. He can also lay down a decent track or two. Exhibit A: ‘Barbell’ comes fresh off-the-press following the announcement of his debut record Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide. It’s also a worthwhile re-introduction of an artist deserving of a breakaway from his OFWGKTA days. The production is full of soul and provides a pleasant juxtaposition to Hodgy’s virulent bars. While there’s nothing particularly outgoing about ‘Barbell’, it does show the LA-based MC can hold his own, throw down some bars, and still have fun doing it. The amicable film clip also demonstrates this.
03. Sab $tory - 'VYBE'
The official website of Phoenix-based MC and producer, Sab $tory says his music and message are about “rising from the ashes and emerging from the flames like a phoenix”. It sounds rather dramatic. Then again, so is his music. For an up-and-coming artist who’s clearly eager to create something original, ‘VYBE’ is a good start. The clichés and gimmicks which usually trap young players are never evident throughout the track’s non-stop four minutes. Sab $tory has a mission to never be lazy with his music. Multi-layered gospel samples are strategically looped and placed in among the track’s roaring chorus. Oh, did I mention the kid can spit? “I was a kid with the vision/ You were the first one to listen/ Playing beats for you/ You say is that me? / I’m like “yeah”/ You like “n*gga, you gotta be kidding””. It’s refreshing to hear a young voice pressing for artistic purpose, as opposed to a young “artist” plodding along and playing it safe. And just to further emphasise his lack of BS, Sab $tory’s official motto is “No sob stories”. Keep an ear out for this guy in ’17.
04. The Weeknd - 'Party Monster'
Will 2016 end on a good note? Leave it up to The Weeknd to make sure it does. His third full-length Starboy drops today and, given what we’ve heard so far, it’s brimming with heartbreak and Daft Punk-curated bangers. ‘Party Monster’ is a continuation of Abel Tesfaye’s blend of hip hop and ’80s synth pop. It’s also a continuation of his heavy-hearted denial of always being totally bummed out. “I’m good, I’m good, I’m great/ Know it’s been a while, now I’m mixing up the drank”. Of course, this peters into “I just need a girl who gon’ really understand”. For someone who refers to themselves as the ‘Party Monster’ Tesfaye sounds like he’s already hit the wall and decided to call it a night, 10 seconds in. Thankfully, the track maintains stride. Tesfaye also highlights the title, ‘Party Monster’, as being an obvious contradiction.
There’s nothing outrageous about the singer/songwriter here. Nor does he loosen the limbs like we heard on last year’s ‘The Hills’ and ‘Can’t Feel My Face’. It follows a similar trajectory to ‘Starboy’. Tesfaye palms off both as though they are Disclosure-worthy dancefloor-fillers, then executes them with utter restrain and hesitance. The result is something more three-dimensional than most would think. When the party gets started, Tesfaye finds himself in a place we’ve all been before; yearning to disinhibit, but inevitably realising his own loneliness.
05. The Weekend - 'I Feel It Coming (feat. Daft Punk)'
I don’t usually double-up on artists when I’m writing Bars. But Abel Tesfaye’s latest string of promotional singles have been just too damn impressive to ignore. I say this with the most sincerity when it comes to the Daft Punk-featuring ‘I Feel It Coming’. We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service has been rightfully hailed as the musical pick-me-up in response to the US Presidential election. But you can never have too much of a good thing. ‘I Feel It Coming’ is so simple and heartfelt that it makes you remember why you can’t live without music. There’s nothing artistically challenging about the song, nor does Daft Punk’s groovy, bass-slapping production add much pizazz to the mix. It simply is what it is. And what it is is pop music at its most effective. ‘I Feel It Coming’ is at once intimate and galvanising; the kind of song you want playing as you cruise along a coastal highway towards an uncertain, but exciting, future.