Track Reviews: Braids, Calvin Harris, Florence + The Machine, Kendrick Lamar, Sufjan Stevens, Taylor Swift

Braids – “Miniskirt”

Make no mistake — “Miniskirt” is an openly feminist song. The lyrics explicitly detail how a woman living in contemporary society feels “unfairly choked” because of sexual objectification and the ensuing liberties that men often take with objectified bodies (“You feel you’ve the right to touch me / Cause I asked for it / In my little miniskirt”).

This incredibly powerful message is also mirrored in the structure of the song: starting with a slow, soft piano riff, and slowly growing into an overwhelming synthy cacophony, the song then settles back into the beginning piano tune before effortlessly transitioning into a jerking, upbeat rhythm. This structure can obviously be interpreted in many ways, one of which suggests that it is a representation of sexual assault; just as the slow piano riff eventually builds to a climax (which would, in this interpretation, represent the actual assault), the rest of the song represents the traumatic aftermath, in which the listeners are significantly told that we never know “what we had / Until it’s gone.”

“Miniskirt” provides listeners with a glimpse of what to expect from their upcoming album, Deep in the Iris on Arbutus Records. While the song may sound like typical Braids, it has an added layer in its structure, which mirrors the actual content of the song. If this musical depth is what we can expect from Deep in the Iris, then it’s shaping up to be another great album from the band.  — Emily Scherzinger

Calvin Harris – “Pray to God” (ft. HAIM)

I became a full-fledged HAIM fanatic all because of this song. As an EDM DJ, Calvin Harris has the ability to mix his own sound with his featured artists very smoothly. In his latest collaboration, Harris again does just this with sister/trio HAIM on the track “Pray to God” from his fourth album, Motion. The trio’s vocals synchronize with ease into Harris’ synth sounds, all of which give off a Stevie Nicks sort of vibe. HAIM is spellbinding both in their vocals and their lyrics, which are simultaneously enchanting and haunting. On the track, Harris blends EDM and indie effortlessly, making it a great song to add to playlists to party, commute, or even study to. — Samantha Capaldi

Florence + The Machine – “What Kind of Man”

Florence Welch is back after what felt like a million years – it’s like every day without new Florence + The Machine is grey and bleak. Although her new single is far from sunshine and roses, it is, however, reminiscent of classic Florence + The Machine. It’s punchy and builds to an impressive instrumental chorus – it makes you feel like you’re part for something truly monumental, even if that’s nothing more than a complicated and toxic romance. “You do such damage / How do you manage?” Welch croons, asking an age old question. This song is lyrically powerful and stands its ground. If you were a fan of Florence + the Machine’s previous albums, you should be excited, because this track won’t disappoint. The queen is back and with a little bit of extra venom, too. — Jessa Evenden

Kendrick Lamar The Blacker the Berry

Kendrick Lamar made some controversial remarks in an interview with Billboard in the wake of the police-related tragedies in Ferguson and New York: “When we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us?” It’s a sentiment that Lamar expressed before in tracks like “Real” and “i,” and it also caught him some flak from Azealia Banks and Kid Cudi, among others. But his latest single, “The Blacker the Berry,” addresses these accusations of respectability politics. Toronto producer Boi-1da’s knocking boom-bap beat and Jamaican dancehall deejay Assassin’s toast set the stage for one of Kendrick’s liveliest performances yet.

Kendrick lifted the song’s title from 2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up,” but “The Blacker the Berry” is much angrier. He shouts his bars with a crack in his voice, as if he’s on the verge of tears. He tears into dehumanizing stereotypes (“Pardon my residence / Came from the bottom of mankind / My hair is nappy, my dick is big, my nose is round and wide”), the school-to-prison pipeline (“I mean, it’s evident that I’m irrelevant to society / That’s what you’re telling me, penitentiary would only hire me”) and in the track’s last two lines, the cycle of violence in black communities, before ending in a cool jazz outro assisted by Thundercat and Robert Glasper. If you had to describe “The Blacker the Berry” in a word, “fire” might work. Not because the bars or the beats are fire, but because his message is actually incendiary. Be careful you don’t get burned. James Li

Sufjan Stevens – “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross

“No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross,” the first single off Sufjan Stevens’ upcoming album, Carrie & Lowell, is distant yet familiar. Hearing Sufjan return to his acoustic folk roots is like hearing from an old friend. The fact that it was recorded in a hotel room on an iPhone adds to the intimacy. As Sufjan explained in an interview with Pitchfork, “this is not my art project; this is my life.” This track was inspired by his mother, who struggled with depression, alcoholism, and schizophrenia, and the toll that it took on Sufjan himself.  Sufjan ties in autobiographical detail with mythical imagery, and the contrast is disconcerting: “I’ll drive that stake through the centre of my heart / Lonely vampire / Inhaling its fire / I’m chasing the dragon too far.” If the rest of Carrie & Lowell sounds like this track, it might just be the most brutal indie folk you’ll hear this year. James Li

Taylor Swift – “Style”

Swift fans become her diary in “Style”, as Taylor Swift confides in them another episode of her love life. This time it’s a midnight tryst on a fated highway drive. The song’s addictive synth flickers repeatedly like streetlights rushing past a speeding car. In her airy falsetto, Swift coos how in love she is with the package she and her lover create: his ‘long hair slicked back’ and her ‘good girl faith and tight little skirt‘. In this push-and-pull game she is all pull, drawn to him even though she knows if they keep driving it won’t end well. In the world she lives in, people can be so in love with the couple they project, even when their relationship is barely perfect. Despite the bitingly bittersweet lyrics, the song is both catchy and soars, making you want to take your darling slow dancing while a camera pans away capturing you both at a stylish angle. — Rachel Chiong


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