Originally published at phaser.com
There is a unique quality that only the upper, upper echelon of artists ever have. I’m not talking about the way their melodies are strung together, the way their charisma shines through on the track, or the way their lyrics shake you to your core. Of course, these are qualities that great artists possess. But only a handful of artists reach a point in their career where you don’t listen to see if the album or single is any good. You know it’s going to be good, so you just relax, and enjoy it.
Surprisingly, not many of today’s musical icons seem to possess this quality. Drake, who keeps breaking record after record after record, even ones held by The Beatles, still brings out an album to hesitant ears. ‘Will it be as good as the last one?’, they ask. The same is true of Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Post Malone - most of today’s musical heavyweights still turn up with a sense of something to prove.
Ed Sheeran literally has nothing to prove. Every album he’s ever brought out has been a smash hit, and every single he drops is draped with a VIP pass to Number One before anyone’s even listened to it. A significant number of your favourite songs were probably written by him, with his writing credits stretching all the way from The Weeknd to One Direction via Justin Bieber. And what’s more, he seems like the nicest guy to set foot in the music industry.
He recently announced his upcoming No.6 Collaborations Project, following on from the No.5 that he released before he’d even been signed to a label. The two lead singles feature Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper and PnB Rock, and are - surprise surprise - currently sitting on top of the charts. Like I said, Ed Sheeran is one of those artists you can’t help but sit back and appreciate. He said he had a bucket list of artists he really wanted to work with, so that’s what he’s going to do. And why not? He’s one of the most successful artists of all time, so why not tick off those collaborations he’s been wishing for. What do you have left to strive for when you’re the best? In Ed Sheeran’s book, it’s to simply enjoy yourself.
This album should definitely be regarded as a complete love project, with Ed simply following his heart and working with the people he genuinely wants to work with, and not just names on a list handed to him by his record label. However, while we shouldn’t overanalyse it, it could also end up being one of his most interesting albums yet. The only slight criticism that people can possibly muster against Halifax’s most prized export, is that his music is at times a little derivative. Chance the Rapper and PnB Rock are certainly not features we could ever expect on a ‘standard’ Ed Sheeran album, so maybe this is his way of answering that final question as to how versatile he really is?
To be honest, I really don’t think this has crossed his mind. No.6 looks set to simply be a fun, eclectic journey through a whole host of musical styles and genres, one that is enjoyed just as much by the artist as it is by the listener. Who can we expect on the guest-list? Ed has made no secret of his love for Hip Hop, with the ‘favourite song’ referenced in the go-to wedding track of this generation, ‘Perfect’, being revealed to be Future’s hard-hitting gangster anthem ‘March Madness’. He also worked with Future on Taylor Swift’s ‘End Game’, so an appearance from the Atlanta rapper can perhaps be presumed. Travis Scott is almost certainly on there too, with a collaboration between Scott and Sheeran leaking earlier this year, and judging by the lyrics, seems to be Track 7 on the project, called ‘Antisocial’. There will undoubtedly be some curveballs thrown at us, but all the more reason to look forward to No. 6’s release.
This is a guy at the peak of his powers, nothing to prove, and just enjoying the artistic freedom his success has brought about. Is there any pressure on Ed Sheeran to deliver us another blockbusting, record-breaking smash hit of an album? 100% not.
But are we expecting one? Absolutely.
No. 6 Collaborations Project is out on July 12th, and is available to Pre-Add on all streaming platforms now.
Lyric of the Week - Florida Georgia Line, People Are Different
"Slip on a pair of another man's shoes
You'll see by the time you get back
This old world would be a whole lot better place
If we'd all just embrace the fact
That people are different"
The country duo speak the truth. If anything, it's sad they even have to say it, but in this odd world where we still seem to struggle to accept one another, you can't blame them for re-iterating. A similar theme was covered in my Self Help Songs post on 6lack's Switch - check it out here.
Album Cover of the Week - Dave, Psychodrama
An album cover of a guy with his head set on fire? Yawn, seen it all before. But an album cover of a guy with his head set on blue fire? THAT. IS. AWESOME. For those of you wanting depth, you'd better move swiftly onto Song Title of the Week, because I chose Dave's Psychodrama on the basis of one criterion: it looks pretty darn cool. It's quite sparse and basic, but in a minimalist, artsy, electro-future-fire-mutant kind of way. And I like the colour blue.
Song Title of the Week - Drake, Lust for Life
An homage to the great Van Gogh's biography, this title on Drake's recently re-released So Far Gone mixtape is succinct, meaningful and evocative. The fact that this was the career-defining mixtape, one that dropped as Drake stood on the brink of his destiny to become the biggest rapper in the world, only serves to add to the poignance. Drake eventually got the life he so publicly lusted after - just maybe not the woman (but what was there not to love, Nicki?).
Music Video of the Week -
James Blake- Mile High (feat. Travis Scott and Metro Boomin)
Trippy and, perhaps a little guilty of self-indulgence, but nonetheless it's fun to watch, and matches the mood of the track perfectly. The video starts with Travis Scott's confused face disappearing into a tunnel of blackness as he tries to wake Blake up, before we become immersed in the UK artist's mind, which, spoiler alert, exclusively features himself and Travis Scott swirling around aimlessly. Hey, I'm not judging, 'aimless thoughts' sounds a lot like the inside of my mind. Like I said, the video's a tad over-the-top, but maybe that's what makes it so entertaining.
So these are my Aesthetics of the Week! Feel free to let me know of any good lyrics, titles, covers or videos I may have missed...
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
P.S. If you're looking to buy the Aesthetics of the Week:
How to De-Stress #1 - Slow Down
So you’ve heard it a million times. Yes, ok, we get it. The world we live in moves at too fast a pace. But quite frankly, what are we supposed to do about it. I’ve got an essay in for tomorrow, an internship application to sort out and lots of baying blog followers to please with a steady flow of posts. Well, maybe the last one was a bit of an exaggeration, but still, it seems easy to just tell people they’ve got too much going on without providing an actual solution to it.
I feel like this song gets to the crux of the matter in a really simple, convincing way. ‘No Hurry’ is about (spoiler alert) slowing down, and just taking a moment to breathe. Because in this day and age, we do have a million things to think about. Certainly at University, any moment you take off essay reading, or essay writing, or essay checking (pfft, like anyone actually does that), you feel kind of guilty for not spending it on work. But this shouldn’t be how we feel, life isn’t just about work. It’s just as important to stop and chill every once in a while, otherwise the bundle of impending deadlines and doom pile up in your mind until you reach breaking point. Personally, my mind often feels like its moving too fast for me to keep up, so that when I’m sat working on my CV I’m thinking that I should be working on my degree, but when I’m writing an essay I’m thinking I should be working on my CV.
Taking a step back is always really useful (unless you’re posing for a picture in front of the Grand Canyon, of course), and it puts everything into perspective. At the end of the day, what is the worst that will happen if you miss one deadline, or have a sparser bibliography than normal at the end of an essay?
So take a leaf out of Zac Brown Band’s book, because in reality I could have chosen any one of about ten songs all about kicking back and taking it easy that they have in their repertoire. Adopt the Mediterranean mantra of ‘Mañana’ every now and then - after all, they do say the laid-back attitude of our continental cousins is what makes them have such lengthy lifespans. Or maybe it’s the Mediterranean diet. Either way - what’s the hurry?*
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
*No responsibility will be accepted for any missed deadlines or angry emails from tutors.
When I’m with you, I’m not afraid to show it all. When I’m with you, I’m not hiding anymore
The Shires, Naked
How to Love #1 - Be Yourself
This song is all about how love involves letting your guard down and just being yourself. The Shires suggest that if you love someone without letting them see who you really are, then that person will be loving someone that isn’t really you, and you’ll be playing a part that eventually you’ll become tired of playing.
I love the metaphor of being physically naked, as it shows how revealing your true personality and all your flaws can be scary, because in your head you’ll be listing all the negative parts of you and you might feel set up for embarrassment. But this is why the line, “I can’t believe that you’re finally letting go/And I’ve been hurt and burnt before” is so important, because it shows how closely intertwined this feeling of being yourself is with trust. It takes trust to let someone in, especially if you’ve been ‘hurt and burnt’ in the past.
I feel like this whole song encapsulates one of the most vital moments in any relationship, when you finally drop the facade you’ve been maintaining to impress the person you’re with, and you just relax. The song’s intro highlights how putting up walls only complicates things and creates a feeling of uncertainty. But if there are no walls, then there is nothing to hide, as everything is out in the open.
Equally, what’s awesome about The Shires is that they can portray the perspectives of both lovers. So we are not only shown the amazing experience of freeing oneself from insecurity in the presence of one’s partner, but also the partner’s fulfilling feeling of being trusted and accepted. The country duo highlight the responsibility in a relationship not to judge, and to not throw this trust back in their partner's face.
Read the full lyrics to Naked here: https://genius.com/The-shires-naked-lyrics
As a philosophy student, I spend most of my time learning about the best ideas we humans have ever had.
One day I'll read about John Stuart Mill's ethic of doing the greatest good for the greatest number, as long as no harm is done in the process. The next I might have to peruse through Aristotle's theory of following a middle path between vice and virtue, in order to be a good person. And maybe then I'll be taught about the Buddhist principle of losing one's self and focussing on love as the only way to be truly happy. But while sitting wide-eyed and amazed by these awesome ideas, something always troubled me.
These principles and theories seem pretty watertight, right? So whenever I read about them, I can't help but wonder to myself, why is the world still full of problems, if these philosophers have offered us so many good solutions to them? Why don't people always act with love as their main motive? Why don't people walk down a middle path between vice and virtue? Why don't people do the greatest good for the greatest number?
Okay, circumstances make it incredibly difficult for a lot of people to do this. But most of these ideas don't require any money or assistance, they start with ourselves.
So why haven't philosophers' ideas spread more widely? When I enquired about this to my teacher, she simply replied, 'Because most people haven't read the books. Sure, they'll hear about the main ideas, but to understand them you have to read the texts. People don't look up to philosophers anymore - they look up to the fickle merry-go-round of popstars and rappers.'
So...what? Is she suggesting that I'm supposed to view Lil Yachty on a par with Plato? If that's the case, then I might as well quit my course now and save myself Â£9,000 a year!â
After a moment of Descartes-style self-doubt, wondering whether my belief in the powers of Philosophy were in jeopardy, I realised that all might not be lost just yet.
Think about it. Artists are the prime champions of free thought and the capacity of ideas, probably even more so than philosophers. At the moment, the charts are full of feel-good, soundbite-philosophies. The past few years have heralded hits called, 'One Man Can Change the World', 'Get Along', 'Donât Be So Hard On Yourself', 'God is a Woman', and at least three called 'Love Yourself'. This is an era where music is trying to inspire us to be better, to be happier and to be ourselves. Yet due to a number of factors, such as the rise of Social Media and Reality TV, people struggle with issues such as self-esteem, mental health and finding a purpose in life, probably now more than ever.
Of course, music isn't going to solve these problems. But the least it can do is help. Whenever review sites (like this one) analyse tracks and albums, we look at what the song means for the artist. We ask, 'What does the artist mean by this?', 'What emotions are they trying to convey?', 'How does this correlate to the recent events in their private life?'
I think these aren't the questions we should be asking. We should instead approach music with the mindset of 'What can I take from this?' Songs often contain incredibly motivational and insightful lyrics, but they get lost in all the focus on the actual artist and how it relates to their life. Well, not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder - meaning is too.
So welcome to a music series with a selfish twist - I'm looking at what songs can teach us about how to be happy, how to love, how to be more appreciative, and many more lessons we can learn from unsuspecting sources. I might call it 'Music Philosophy'. Or maybe 'Self-Help Songs'. Oo, how about 'Headphone Healing'?
Without further ado, my first piece will be on 'How to Be More Decisive'.
Actually, maybe it won't. But then again, maybe it will.
Lyric of the Week - Kenny Chesney, ‘Get Along
He said all your really given is the sunshine and your name
Chesney’s knack for storytelling is once again highlighted, as he recounts a tale of a religious man giving him some rather deep advice. The song is of course all about the mantra of getting on with those around you (spoiler alert in the title), with a very unsubtly cloaked reference to the Christian principle of ‘Love thy neighbour’. While I appreciate the message, it is easy for songs like this to come across as overly preachy and self-righteous. But that is why I love these two lines, because they add a touch of self-deprecating humour, as Chesney recalls the profound teaching that fundamentally all we have is ‘the sunshine and our name’, but then as the singer is pondering this it ironically starts to rain. Key lesson to be learnt? Apparently you do need to take an umbrella on that summer Nashville trip you’ve been planning after all. Seriously though, as you well know, over at Maximoco HQ we hate too much seriousness, but we are suckers for a good, loving message - so that’s why these lyrics were bound to be a hit with us.
Album Art of the Week - Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
Now, I’m a big fan of bright colours, and I’m not a big fan of rock music. So as I’m staring at this entirely black-and-white, murky album cover from a rock band, part of me wonders what I was thinking choosing this for Album Art of the Week. But for some reason, the image just looks awesome to me - I love the office-style cut-and-paste juxtaposition with the scenes of nature, and the man walking into the ‘eye’ of the storm (quite literally) creates a very ominous vibe. The writing in the bottom left-hand corner adds to the overall mystery, making this look like a poster for an upcoming horror movie, and certainly has a voyage into the unknown feel about it. Just lost out to ‘Performance’ by White Denim.
Title of the Week - ‘you should see me in a crown’, Billie Eilish
Inspired by the famous Moriaty line from BBC’s Sherlock, “In a world of locked rooms, the man with the key is king. And honey, you should see me in a crown.” This song screams confidence compacted into a sassy, pithy punchline. Also poignant because the original quote is about ‘the man’, while Billie switches this to be about herself in an empowering move. And if you’re wondering whether the standard of this blog’s spellchecking is slacking, Billie brands all her song titles without any capitals. Travis Scott did it first. Just saying.
Music Video of the Week - ‘One Day’, Logic ft. Ryan Tedder
To be honest, I started watching this with a sceptical eye. Logic already played the humanitarian card last year with his National Suicide Prevention hit single ‘1-800-273-8255'. ‘One Day’ dropped out of the blue, following a very thuggish Bobby Tarantino mixtape, and handily just in time for the VMAs. Logic performed, of course, and while it was moving it was also in danger of coming across as an attempt to jump on the anti-Trump bandwagon, and using the well-publicised border crisis to fuel another surge up the charts. But whatever your feelings about the actual track, or his VMA’s performance, the music video is undoubtedly poignant and well-constructed. It begins as expected, with a dramatisation of the separation of a family trying to cross into the USA, and then we fast forward to follow the lives of one of the children who has been separated and given a new home, as well as a boy who grows up to become a neo-Nazi. The plot line is a little convoluted at times, but the conclusion more than makes up for this. The message is one that is very relevant to our times, and you can be as mistrusting of Logic’s motives as you like, and I don’t even really like the song, but viewed as an isolated piece of art, this music video is incredibly inspiring and captures what it is trying to communicate perfectly.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Usually, if I mention the name ‘Jason Mraz’ to someone, they’ll pause for a while and adopt a quizzical expression, reaching back into the dregs of their memory to find why the name rings a bell. Then the light switches on, and they remember with a smile. He is probably most famous for his motivational hit, ‘I Won’t Give Up’, and the wonderfully playful chart-topper, ‘I’m Yours’.
Having taken a break from producing music to star in Broadway’s Waitress, you could have been forgiven for wondering Mraz would ever return to brighten up the charts with his carefree optimism. But thankfully on Know, his new album, this is exactly what he does.
From the introduction to the conclusion, Know plays like the soundtrack to that moment at school where you were finally allowed onto the big field for summer (or maybe that was just one of my countryside childhood quirks). Mraz’s contagious happiness fizzles through the listener, and - call me corny - it’s the first album I’ve listened to in a while that’s actually made me smile to myself at the singer’s innocent humour.
The beauty of Know is undoubtedly its message, which is obvious from simply looking at the tracklist - the likes of ‘Better With You’, ‘Might As Well Dance’ and ‘Love Is Still The Answer’ immediately extinguish any doubts that Mraz has become hardened by life since when he first burst onto the scene. If anything, he sounds even happier, now being married and enjoying life in the US. He admits he was tempted to go down a darker path with his music after his last album, partly as a result of the seemingly exponential amount of issues that litter the world today, saying, “I wrote a lot of frustrated, angry, even sad songs between then and now, but nothing I wanted to come forward with; nothing I wanted to sing.”
Instead he penned ‘Have It All’, the album’s lead single, inspired by a blessing he received from a Myanmar monk in 2012. It is jam-packed with just about every positive, Pinterest-spawned mantra in existence (“May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows”/“May you always lead from the beating in your chest”, and the more typical Mraz lyric, “May you get a gold star on your next test”). What I love is that you can tell he’s genuinely written the tracks himself, because they’re too off-the-wall and wholesomely ingenuous to have been manufactured by a songwriting team, as lots of modern tracks are.
It would be easy for the cheesy punchlines and unbounded joyousness of this record to come across as too much, and perhaps even sickeningly sweet. But Jason Mraz delivers them with enough cheek and playful innocence that it works, and you can’t help but dance along. A lot of motivational, message-heavy projects can entail less attention being paid to the actual melodies, and okay, perhaps Mraz’s style is a bit too dated to really breach the current Top 40. But make no mistake - the songs on Know are as catchy as ever. The buoyant ode to getting lost in the moment with love, ‘Might As Well Dance’, is a clear highlight, while the Meghan Trainor assisted ‘More Than Friends’ adds drive to the generally light-hearted strummings of the rest of the album.
The breezy hooks, the twinkling riffs and the lovable lyrics are reminiscent of peak MIKA, where people let their guard down and just enjoyed themselves amongst the bubbly pop of his falsetto anthems.
What better antidote could there be to all the sorrow and seriousness of 2018?
Yours sincerely, but not seriously,
Image by Moses Namkung on Flickr
Her 2018 single 'Tennessee Bound' is raw, uplifting and alluringly catchy, just what any good country song should be
2018's 'One to Watch': Sinead Burgess
The Australian signer-songwriter’s career has been bubbling away under the surface for a few years now, but it looks like 2018 is the year she’s finally going to burst through our speakers and leap onto our playlists. Judging from the two singles that have thus far been released off her upcoming album, Damaged Goods, she has developed a rawer, more authentic country sound, and is all the better for it.
Her last EP, Wolf, released in 2016, had all the dark atmosphere and drama of a Sia record, but without anything to truly distinguish her from other modern pop artists. Tennessee Bound, her 2018 single, shows how much of a difference two years can make. It’s raw, uplifting - and alluringly catchy, just what any good country song should be. Its more recent counterpart, the album title track, 'Damaged Goods', highlights Sinead’s authenticity and her ability to connect with the listener through her lyrics. It is a moving, vulnerable ode to all those trying to make something of themselves, but who feel as though a certain moment in their past is holding them back.
I was fortunate enough to see Burgess perform as a support act on country mainstays The Shires’ Accidentally On Purpose tour earlier this year, and her energy made her an instant hit with the audience. Between songs her chat was fun and engaging, whilst not being overly corny, and by halfway through her performance of 'Tennessee Bound' half of the crowd were already singing along to the chorus.
Could 2018 be the year Burgess’ hard work plugging away in bars and clubs comes to fruition? I think so - watch this space.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Listen to first: 'Tennessee Bound'
Next track out: 'Gonna Be Alright', Expected this Friday (27th July)
Sinead Burgess’ Album Damaged Goods is available to pre-order on iTunes, and is expected to drop on all platforms on 17th August
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?