Every week, Micah Peters surveys the world of musicfrom new releases to bubbling trends to anniversaries both big and obscureand gives a few recommendations.
On March 7, which now belongs to an entirely different era of human life, Daniel Craig hosted Saturday Night Live.
He seemed to have the time of his life doing itCraig wasnt too cool to wear a wig, pass up a single histrionic make out, and leaned into whichever excessive accent the joke in question required. His dutiful commitment to all the bits reminded me of his Benoit Blanc, the Southern-fried private eye in Knives Out, and Joe Bang, the hillbilly munitions expert from Logan Luckyboth characters that you get the sense Craig got to make choices about, unlike the role that made him the most money, James Bond. No Time to Die will be Craigs final Bond movie, whenever it comes out, and once again his action suit will be tastefully dotted with soot as he whips an Aston Martin through the cobblestone streets of some exotic locale, glowering and being emotionally distant. SNL poked fun at the self-conscious grimness that defined Craigs Bond films for, wow, 14 years, with a sketch in which the showy MI6 agent spends a little too much time at the craps table. The Weeknd was the musical guest.
I bring up Craig and Bond and SNL because Ive been thinking about how the phrases after hoursthe title of the Weeknds new album, out last Fridayand no time to die evoke a similarly hammy self-consciousness. James Bond is a ridiculous concept in the main, being the worlds loudest and most obvious secret agent, but functionally, hes an empty vessel for your average males basest desireshaving sex, driving fast, and blowing shit up. No Time to Die then, as a title for a movie that will probably start with a car chase and end with a coup de grce, almost seems A.I. generated. Ditto for After Hours: Since his introduction in 2011, the Weeknd has grown from faceless alternative R&B enigma to cover star, successfully scaling his wee-hours, sullen, sexy, Ill kill us both vibe for mainstream audiences. The Weeknd is also kind of a ridiculous concept: a sexy, vengeful ghost with commitment and impulse-control issues. Even if it werent called After Hours, you could guess that cocaine and nontheism were involved. Like Bond, the Weeknd fucks, drives fast, and blows shit up (relationships). Here is his explanation of the album title, in his own words:
You can find love, fear, friends, enemies, violence, dancing, sex, demons, angels, loneliness, and togetherness all in the After Hours of the night.
Scared To Live probably speaks to the angels portion of thatthe song, made in tandem with Max Martin and Oscar Holter, is a soaring ballad in which the Weeknd expresses joy and pain where once there was crushing melancholy. Vulnerability, or at least the suggestion that others practice it, is a new trick for the Weeknd. His idea of love still looks the same though: On Faith, which sounds lifted from Kavinskys Nightcall sessions and shows up just after the albums halfway point, The Weeknd says, with a straight face, If I OD I want you to OD right beside me.
After Hours is the Weeknds most accomplished and coherent project to date: Beauty Behind the Madness struggled to make his House of Balloonsera hedonism and lofty pop ambitions jell, Starboy was more of a playlist of 18 expensive-sounding songs than an album, and we dont need to talk about Kiss Land. After Hours is his most intentional project yet, from the leisure suits and tortoise aviators he wore in all the videos and promo shoots to the 80s synth pop the best songs on Hours are indebted to: Save Your Tears, In Your Eyes, and Blinding Lights.
I cant say that the Weeknds writing has improved leaps and boundssee Snowchild, on which he says hes dropping off Philip K. dick, or Heartless, which begins never need a bitch, Im what a bitch needand the self-conscious twistedness he traffics in can still come off as hacky. (The heavy-eyed Escape From LA leaps to mind; you can only have so much sex in the studio.) And yet, After Hours is The Weeknds best work so far, and indicates the reconciliation, once and for all, of his R&B pathos and desire for mainstream viability. Of the 14 songs, Blinding Lights, which has been out for months, is still the most emblematic of that. It comes already assembled and radio friendly, so that everyone, not just your average male, can project their wildest, sexiest desires onto it. The drug is a lover, and withdrawal leads you to dance. And once the songs over, you want to go back for another hit. Which seems, to me, like the platonic ideal of a song from the Weeknd.
Now for some recommendations:
The Skepta feature to grab the most blog headlines last week would have been Papi Chulo, the new Octavian single. Its a union of two of the most culturally relevant rappers in the U.K., but also between the new and old guard: Skepta, the seasoned veteran, and Octavian, the ascendant star. Less newsworthy was his appearance on U.K.-by-way-of-L.A. rappers Jaxxon D. Silvas Lalaland, a two-minute song on which Skepta steals the spotlight, obviously. About halfway through Skeptas verse, theres this amazing, honest-to-god passage:
Australian ting, and she blowin on me like a digeridoo My jeans by my ankles, and I keep my t-shirt on like Winnie the Pooh
Producer Jennifer Lees roots are in the Los Angeles beat scene but, more and more, on each new project, she opens space in her intricate arrangements for vocalists. Often, on Oasis Nocturno those vocalists can outshine her production, because thats what vocalists doyou might miss the subtle strings in Fried For the Night because EARTHGANG is rapping. Some of Oasiss best songs, by contrast, are purely instrumental. To be Remote flies off the handle at about the 2:30 mark, when a vocal sample is stretched thin and spooled around a bridge before being layered into the remainder of the song. Its every bit as confounding as it sounds.
Last week, in what Im sure was an honest attempt to quell our mounting and variegated anxieties due to a global pandemic, Gal Gadot enlisted the help of a bunch of celebrities you know, and a handful you dont, for a cover of John Lennons Imagine. The video was lambasted because it was a dumb thing to do in the first place; on the order of things rich people can do for the public good in a time of crisis, singing isnt high up. Others pointed out that Gadots cover was in the spirit of the original: Lennon penned the words imagine no possessions while being worth an estimated $800 million.
Comedian Zach Fox decided to get a different group of (internet) famous people to do his own cover. Of Slob On My Knob. Stay safe out there this week.
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