Listens for the Week #37: Metro Boomin, PJ Harvey, Stewart Copeland, Jessie Ware, Filip Neuf
Although I’m cautious of how AI could harm the music industry, I can’t deny that I have been having a surprising amount of fun using Spotify’s AI DJ to skip back through some of my favourite songs. Thanks to the DJ, I’ve been listening to a variety of classics this week from Slum Village to Parquet Courts to Gorillaz, but of course I’ve left room for some fresh releases like the exciting new soundtrack from Metro Boomin.
My Favourite Albums This Week
Metro Boomin – Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Soundtrack (2023) [Trap & Pop Rap]
Seeing how inconsistent soundtracks tend to be, I was sceptical going into this, but was left amazed at Metro’s natural ability to curate guests for a project. Long-time Metro collaborators like Offset and 21 Savage sound predictably comfortable on the grandiose trap production, and unexpected guests such as JID and Nas bring incredible verses as well. The sound of Across the Spider-Verse is fittingly cinematic, with lush string arrangements weaved into chattering hi-hats to create a soundscape as theatrical as it is hard-hitting. Highlights like “Am I Dreaming” and “Nas Morales” offer some of Metro’s finest beats ever, with the former capturing a grand sense of adventure through its triumphant violins, and the latter closing off the soundtrack with a beat-switching masterclass, ending with a beautiful synth passage. James Blake provides a beautiful ballad on “Hummingbird”, whose lovestruck vocals are made more touching thanks to the melancholic piano backdrop from Metro. As brilliant as its highlights are, not every song maintains the same level of quality. While “Danger (Spider)” has some fantastic verses from Offset and JID, the hook quickly becomes monotonous and leaves me wanting more. Furthermore, the back end of the soundtrack is noticeably weaker, with more spacey cuts such as “Link Up” and “Givin’ Up (Not the One)” lacking the same grandness and detail of the project’s sharpest tracks. Becoming more inconsistent as it goes on, Across the Spider-Verse is far from perfect, but its highlights are some of my favourite rap songs of the year.
PJ Harvey – Rid of Me (1993) [Alternative Rock]
One of my favourite rock albums of the ‘90s, Rid of Me embodies all the angst and grit that make PJ Harvey’s music so fantastic. The album captures such a dark, sullen atmosphere in its instrumentation, full of growling guitar-work and dusty drums that complement Harvey’s moody style. The opener “Rid of Me” encapsulates the album’s sound perfectly – subtle, meticulous guitar-work with some whispered vocals from Harvey, suddenly exploding into a punk-inspired roar of crashing percussion and screamed lyrics. The rest of the project follows a similar pattern, contrasting calm passages of intricate guitar with violent crescendos allowing PJ Harvey to flex the enraged strength of her voice. In the same year as In Utero and Siamese Dream, Rid of Me deserves to be in the running for rock album of the year.
Something I Love
Stewart Copeland – Spyro the Dragon [Video Game Soundtrack]
I went through a phase in my childhood where video game soundtracks were all I listened to. Since then, I’ve fallen away from the genre entirely, but I still find myself revisiting Spyro the Dragon, my favourite soundtrack of any game. Produced entirely by Stewart Copeland – the drummer from The Police – Spyro is packed with abrasive drum-work and intricate basslines, balancing addictive synth melodies with hard-hitting percussion. “Toasty” is my favourite cut from the entire soundtrack: it begins with this chilling wave of synths, with bursts of harp and organ rising and falling in the dense sound, until at last the drums pick up and transition into the song’s triumphant, electric-guitar-infused climax. Since the Spyro soundtrack is finally on streaming platforms, I am curious what someone who didn’t play the games would think of its music. Wrapped in layers of nostalgia, I do not think I could ever judge the soundtrack without simultaneously reminiscing on my own childhood, so I would love to hear the thoughts of someone going in blind.
My Favourite Songs This Week
1. Metro Boomin – “Am I Dreaming” (2023) [Trap & Pop Rap]
By far my favourite song for Across the Spider-Verse, “Am I Dreaming” is one of the best beats I’ve ever heard from Metro Boomin. The grandiose string sample brings an element of classical music to the production, giving the song a sense of triumph to parallel the upbeat beginning of the film. A$AP Rocky provides an excellent verse, but it’s the dreamy hook from Roisee that captures me most, making the song’s title even more appropriate through her angelic vocals.
2. Jessie Ware – “Begin Again” (2023) [Dance-Pop]
The third and final single for That! Feels Good!, “Begin Again” is one of Jessie’s most powerful songs to date. The distorted piano passages and messy horns between verses give the song a sense of chaos and unease unlike the feel-good disco bangers of the rest of the record, made more foreboding by the droning bassline throughout. The punching drum-work maintains an element of dance, adding some pop appeal to the ballad as Jessie belts the most impressive high notes of her career. From the chanted backing vocals to the jazzy eruption of noise at the song’s climax, in every regard, “Begin Again” is flawless.
3. Filip Neuf – “Nausea” (2023) [Abstract Hip Hop & Jazz Rap]
The latest in a run of singles from Filip Neuf, “Nausea” is an unsettling jazz rap collaboration with rappers Sunmundi and Deleteeglitch. Filip’s production is a sinister fusion of finely-chopped samples, composed of stuttering piano over a quivering bassline. Sunmundi adds to the sinister atmosphere with his verse, spitting densely-layered rhymes with an equally ferocious and breathy delivery. Deleteeglitch takes a different approach, rapping with a collected, understated delivery to give prominence to his cryptic storytelling.