The one inarguably definitive genre that emerged in the 2010s was mumble rap, which since its mainstream emergence about eight years ago has gone through various metamorphoses and dilutions to leave us with artists like sadeyes.
Emo rap can be traced back to the Fueled By Ramen days of Flobots, Cobra Starship, 3oh!3, and Hollywood Undead. It percolated in the Warped Tour sphere for years without so much as a toe dipping into the mainstream until Twenty One Pilots took hold of the conversation during the “super genre” years of 2011 and 2012 and grew out their own branch of the tree.
Post Malone gentrified the hip-hop side of the equation in 2017 and it was at that moment that the branches interconnected and the two scenes merged. Unfortunately Lil Peep died before he could reap the rewards of being one of the first emo rappers of this era, but his sonic blueprint is the foundation for all the biggest names of the scene now. MGK, blackbear, KennyHoopla, guccihighwaters, Willow Smith, 347aidan and Powfu are just a handful of those big names, and now they’re joined by sadeyes.
sadeyes has a new album called monarch, and it is absolutely not music for me. It is music for depressed zoomers who are down bad and caught feelings. So I will not critique the music itself. Rather, I will point out that a good chunk of these songs don’t even make it to the 2-minute mark. Song titles include “hi hru”, “i got yr message”, and “PPL ALWAYS MAKE SHT FKN WORSE”.
If it wasn’t clear before that TikTok is shaping the future of music, this makes it clear. Not only are business models and exposure dictated by the app’s frenetic format, but now the very sound of modern artists is being molded by teens’ swipe-happy natures. Songs are becoming unshaped fragments of music labelled with text message titles and tossed out into a chaotic ether, which is extremely worrying. But then you get someone like Oliver Tree.
Oliver Tree can trace his lineage from the Twenty One Pilots branch of the emo rap tree, and in January released a song called “Cowboys Don’t Cry”. I was very impressed by it, to the point where I excitedly declared his upcoming album a groundbreaking record that would change the music world.
Well I’ve now listened to the full album and it is not all that. It is very listenable and stuffed with enjoyable melodies, but it isn’t as transgressive as I’d hoped. It’s very much under the emo-rap umbrella, a more tolerable version of MGK that prefers 90s alternative to 2000s mall emo. There’s a strong showing of very good songs, and in addition to “Cowboys Don’t Cry” another absolute gem called “Freaks & Geeks” that recalls breezy fare like OMC and Sugar Ray. Two excellent songs on one album? Yes.
It was bound to happen. Future Islands wrote essentially the same song 4 times, and it finally delivered diminished returns. “King of Sweden” has all the same components as its predecessors: surging synths, propulsive uptempo drums, an impassioned “You are all I need!” in the chorus — but they just don’t hit as hard this time around. This wouldn’t be a huge issue with other bands, but Future Islands tend to really bank a lot on their first single.
Portugal. The Man are also banking a lot on their first single. In fact it sounds like they’re banking the future of the band on it. “What Me, Worry?” sounds like the band spent the last five years scientifically deconstructing “Feel It Still” and recreating it without copying it outright. It’s like one of those puzzles where you need to find two completely different solutions that never intersect. It’s undoubtedly an attempt to recapture the 2017 song’s success, which is surprising given the band’s very sarcastic posturing in the years since they hit it big. Many other acts shrink away from fame, opting to create more difficult or artistic statements to avoid the fact that they can’t repeat their performance (see: Lorde, M83). Portugal. The Man seemed like exactly the kind of band who would return to their old sound, but instead they’ve shown that they’re ambitious and hungry for more success – highly commendable in this day and age.
Then you’ve got Beach House, who know exactly who they are and have refused to even attempt at a crossover hit. They are perfectly content making their languid, drawn-out synthscapes and I can’t fault them for that. What I can fault them for is the lack of strong melodies on their latest record. Only “Superstar” approaches being memorable, the rest of the very long album being useful only as Starbucks background music.
I don’t really wanna write about the new Band of Horses album because it’s so generic that its faults aren’t even interesting. It’s just another meh effort with one very good song in “In Need of Repair”. All I’ll say is that Nada Surf are over a decade older than Band of Horses and yet somehow pivoted effectively out of 90s alternative and into 2000s indie and have been doing the same kind of music much better for much longer.
About a week after I wrote on Orville Peck’s cover of “Small Town Boy” and griped that the country crooner should be able to write a melody as strong as that song for his own material, the country crooner released some of his new material. Two months later I found this new material and it proves my point yet again. It’s so painfully generic that it feels like Orville Peck legitimately does not want stardom. “Daytona Sand” is almost, almost just barely memorable – but it sounds more like a country version of post-2015 Mumford and Sons doing a Springsteen song than Orville Peck. I am very much hoping there’s a gem yet to be discovered when the album drops in April.
Nothing’s surprising anymore when it comes to collaborations in music, but AWOLNATION and Rise Against teaming up for a cover of Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” was oddly unlikely. 2000s mall punk and 2010s indie pop are a strange mix. That said, the cover is a strong one, with Tim McIrath’s clear-eyed clarion call of a voice working well with Aaron Bruno’s nervous yelp.
Five years ago I wrote about the prevalence of the goo-goo hushed baby affectations that many pop singers were using. I cannot believe it’s been that long and I also cannot believe that in the time since that style of singing has only become more commonplace (thanks to Billie Eilish giving it a second wind).
The full list is now:
Tate McRae, Halsey, Jessie Reyez, renforshort, Alessia Cara, Billie Eilish, Julia Michael, Jocelyn Alice, Hailee Steinfeld, Halsey, Bebe Rexha, Kayla Diamond, Daya, Nessa Barrett, Jessie Murph.
Sia has also contributed to this trend, not so much in the delivery as she tends to blare from the top of her lungs, but her style of inflection is very noticeable in some of the above singers’ work – see also : Tones & I.