Have you ever caught yourself listening to a playlist and feeling like you listen to the same songs all the time? A few weeks ago I came across a 30 day music challenge picture on Twitter (pictured above). The challenge was simple enough, find a song which matches each day’s criteria. One day was for a song that motivates you, another day is a song that makes you sad, etc. It was fun to put that playlist together and really was an introspective process. After completing my list and listening to it for a few days I realized that I listen to the same stuff all the time. The only new music I listened to were new songs from the same bands I always listen to and the occasional song on the radio that piques my interest. Upon coming to this realization I decided to change that…so I listened to every new song that came out in June.
Every week dozens of new songs are released. The majority of those songs will go unnoticed by most people. The month of June wasn’t any different. There were 670 new songs released on Google Play Music in the month of June. That is a lot of songs and doesn’t even include exclusive releases on different platforms such as Tidal, Apple Music, and others. It also doesn’t include special rereleases of albums, such as the “Purple Rain” Deluxe album, the 20th anniversary edition of Third Eye Blind’s self-titled album, and several more. I listened to all 670 new songs and even branched out to include the new Jay-Z release which was a Tidal exclusive. Below is a breakdown of the music that stood out the most. Following the breakdown are my June, 2017 recommendations.
Pop princesses are growing up
The month of June featured new albums by Katy Perry and Lorde as well as new singles from Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus. The funny thing about that is that of those 28 songs, zero are in the Billboard Top 100 (as of this writing). The Selena Gomez song is by far the most pop-y of the bunch, but even it isn’t on the chart. The majority of these songs don’t feel like “big arena” pop songs. Rather, they feel like “afternoon on the second day of a three music festival” songs. This isn’t a negative criticism. It was actually kind of refreshing to hear some music from these artists that didn’t seem completely over-produced. This doesn’t mean there is a total absence of those elements, but it was a nice surprise to hear less than I expected.
Country music doesn’t seem as bad as I thought it was
My favorite country artists have always been the old outlaw country singers. Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and the rest of those guys. I kept up with country music a little in the 90s, but I haven’t really liked much since then. June was a pretty solid month for my style of country. “So You Wanna Be an Outlaw” by Steve Earle and the Dukes is my favorite country album released since Johnny Cash’s “American History IV”. It’s also pretty cool that Earle played a recurring character on The Wire, so that gets him bonus points. Luke Combs has some pretty solid singles on his debut album, “This One’s For You”. I also listened to UK fan Wheeler Walker, Jr’s new album, “Ol’ Wheeler”. It’s completely NSFW, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a few tracks. As far as I’m concerned a tour featuring Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Steve Earle, and Wheeler Walker needs to happen. That’d be a hell of a show.
Rock and roll isn’t dead, but it wasn’t entirely full of life last month
The Foo Fighters new song, “Run”, pretty well summed up my experience with rock music June releases. It was ok, but I didn’t feel compelled to listen to it much after the first time. New albums by Nickleback, Rise Against, Portugal. The Man, 311, and others were good for background music, but they didn’t really do much for me beyond that. There were even new releases from Styx and Cheap Trick, but outside of an initial “oh that’s cool” moment, these albums just blended in to the rest. While the rock genre, vast though it is, wasn’t overwhelmingly enjoyable there were a few good albums. AJR’s “The Click” and Imagine Dragon’s “Evolve” were both solid and I listened to them multiple times.
Why do so many rappers go for the “Drake” sound?
I like rap a lot, but there is a lot of imitation in the genre right now. Drake released a new single last month, and so did half a dozen style doppelgängers. I get that he’s kind of the “it” thing and as a UK fan I appreciate him occasionally helping UK basketball get a headline, but man his style of music gets old quick. It especially gets old when you’re not even listening to Drake sing. Fortunately, rap was probably the best collective genre I listened to in June. Jay-Z’s “4:44” is fantastic and I’ll have more on that later. Big Boi’s “Boomiverse”, 2 Chainz’s “Pretty Girls Like Trap”, Vic Mensa’s “The Manuscript”, and DJ Khaled’s “Grateful” are all good. The best thing about them is they all sound different. Besides, who doesn’t want to hear Chance the Rapper rap the ABC’s? Spoiler alert, he does on DJ Khaled’s “I Love you so Much”.
Discovering new artists is a lot of fun
My favorite part of this project was coming across a band or artist that I hadn’t heard before and actually liking their stuff. Thanks to services like Spotify and Google Music I have been able to listen to whatever I want on demand. The freedom to do this, though, was what gave me my musical tunnel vision in the first place. Embracing the hunt for a new musician to like was what really made this fun. The vast majority of the songs I listened to were from artists I didn’t know. The majority of that group are artists I probably won’t continue listening to. There were handful that I now consider myself a fan of. Here is that group: Hey Violet, Julia Michaels, Steve Earle and the Dukes, AJR, SZA, Vic Mensa, and Dirty Heads.
I’ve been a Jay-Z fan since Vol. 2 and have enjoyed his various iterations throughout his career. “4:44” is by far my favorite Jay-Z album because it does something no other Jay-Z album has ever done, made him relatable. Jay has made a career out of letting everyone know he’s the best and calling out anyone who tried to argue the point. In “4:44” he aims his lyrical crosshairs on himself and calls out his own shortcomings and that makes him seem more human than he ever has before. The swag is still there, but it’s repackaged. Instead of his swag stemming from being a drug dealer, womanizer, innovator, or king; the swag comes from being a better husband, a good father, a mentor, and a creator. There will be a lot written about “4:44”. The early majority will be about the gossipy aspect of his relationship with Beyoncé, the Solange incident, and all that. Jay-Z addresses that directly in the album, but “4:44” is a lot more than a gossip rag. It’s about acknowledging your mistakes, accepting responsibility, and trying to be a better person so you can positively impact your world. Ultimately, isn’t that something we all should be trying to do?
Listening to all this music was an overwhelmingly positive experience and I encourage everyone to make it a point to seek out new stuff to listen to. For those of you who use Google Music, check out the New Releases tab every once in a while or the “I’m Feeling Lucky” radio. If you use any other music streaming service look for their new release sections or pick a random playlist to listen to. The best things is that it doesn’t always have to be a new release for it to be new to you, so check out bands or albums you may have heard of but not listened to for yourself. Either way, go on and try something new. If you’re at the point in your Fourth of July festivities where you want to get away from your family, then pop in some earbuds and check out these new albums and my personal June playlist.
June Album Recommendations:
“The Click”- AJR
“So You Wannabe an Outlaw”- Steve Earle & the Dukes
June Music Playlist
“No Grass Today”- AJR
“All Night”- Big Boi
“The Man”- The Killers
“Look Like You Know”- Royal Blood
“Vacation”- Dirty Heads
“Thunder”- Imagine Dragons
“Like Lovers Do”- Hey Violet
“Beer Can”- Luke Combs
“In Cold Morning”- Alt-J
“Rollin’ Like A Stoner”- Vic Mensa
“So You Wannabe An Outlaw”- Steve Earle & the Dukes
“Love Galore”- SZA
“Freakanomics”- Big Boi
“Perfect Places”- Lorde
“Uh Huh”- Julia Michaels
“I’m the One”- DJ Khaled
“Bud Like You”- AJR
“Waiting On A Song”- Dan Auerbach