Welcome to Hook & Reel, a series showcasing music that’s guaranteed to catch your ear.
The 3 things that make “Only You” so extraordinary? First, the slinking keys in the verses, harkening back to the music you’d find in one of the Kingdom Hearts games or one of the older Final Fantasy installments. Second, the raw songwriting in the opening verse, the concept of being so enraptured with someone you don’t even want to wash their touch off your skin. Finally, the chorus, where Zara Larsson’s voice cracks and splits as she celebrates finding someone she loves more than herself, a gorgeous mix of self-confidence and longing.
There’s a reason why when Lil Uzi Vert’s Luv Is The Rage 2 dropped in August, Nicki Minaj immediately took to Instagram to publicly ask Vert to send her the beat to one of its tracks, “The Way Life Goes,” for a collab. The breakup song finds the hip-hop star cutting his flow coolly over a captivating, pendulating beat, more thoughtful than angst-ridden over his failed relationship. To top it off, he carves the chorus from indie pop group Oh Wonder’s “Landslide,” adding another facet to the wildly catchy, multi-layered tune.
Galantis’ sophomore album The Aviary doesn’t quite pack the same dizzying emotional punch as their debut, but it still holds sparks of delightful dance music for those who want to shed a tear or two on the dance floor. Album standout “Hey Alligator” finds singer-songwriter Bonnie McKee pitch shifted low enough to make her into an emo band frontman. And like much of the emo-pop of the 2000s, “Hey Alligator” finds McKee helplessly, dangerously in love with no way out – simultaneously swooning and mourning in each passionate note.
Paperwhite’s “Only Us” shines with an intoxicating effervescence that calls to mind early M83 and Washed Out, painting a bittersweet and contemplative love song that elevates just from the breathless melodies and rollicking synth breakdowns. The track surges with a life of its own, and it evokes a rush of emotion that’s bound to captivate any pop music lover.
“Provider” highlights one of Frank Ocean’s most understated talents, one that’s often ignored due to the artist’s poignant songwriting. His music is more than the writing, it’s about the vibe. “Provider” is stream-of-consciousness lyrically, but sonically creates a supple, uplifting aura, suggesting even through Ocean’s mind is racing, he’s looking at his life with bright eyes and a smile.
Dominique is part of a pop minority that needs to become a majority, women who are pop singer-songwriters and producers. Much like her peer Grimes, she uses her music to create clever comments on life as a producer; her newest single “Use Me” is a fantastic example. A smart double entendre, the song finds Dominique obsessively yearning for a singer’s attention both in and out of the studio. There’s a purposeful darkness to the song, and a subtle cheekiness to the way she melodramatically delivers lines like “oh my god, I’m neurotic and I can’t breathe.” But above everything else, Dominique flexes her talent as a pop craftsman and producer throughout the entirety of the song, making it a treat regardless of your read on the track’s theme.
Superfruit’s “How You Feeling?” is a delicious slice of introverted anti-party pop, more energetic than Alessia Cara’s “Here” and with sarcasm traded in for despondency. A dazzling house beat sharply contrasts Mitch and Scott’s tired (but melodic) vocals, as the pair finds themselves smack dab in the middle of a party they never wanted to be at but aren’t quite brave enough to leave yet. Indeed, as the crowd in the chorus shouts “HOW YOU FEELING?” over and over again while the duo tries to articulate why they shouldn’t be here, they finally give in and say “I’m feeling alright…alright?” It’s less a shift of attitude as it is an admission of defeat; it’s peer pressure from a party-obsessed pop culture packed cleverly into a one-way conversation, while also happening to double as an ear-worm chorus.
She might be a Disney starlet, but 20-year old pop singer Olivia Holt sounds wholly ready for top 40 radio with her new single “Generous.” She takes the unfiltered bliss of Natasha Bedingifield and the confident sensuality of Julia Michaels and smashes them together into one massive earworm, with sunshine and sass spread throughout the track’s almost four-minute run. Is she Hollywood Records next big breakout? Seems likely with material this good.
Photo credit: Ben Raynor