VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Rita Ora “Girls” & More

Rita Ora’s new song “Girls” has become a controversial tune, rather than the anthem of bi-sexual freedom she intended. Ora worked with a powerhouse crew of female pop vocalists including Cardi B, Bebe Rexha, and Charli XCX, saying that she was trying to bolster the same type of female inclusion that 2001’s “Lady Marmalade” instigated. But singer-songwriter Haley Kiyoko made a public proclamation against Ora’s song, stating that “this type of message is dangerous because it completely belittles and invalidates the very pure feelings of an entire community.” Similarly, singer Katie Gavin, who performs under the stage name Muna, wrote the following:

Ora’s apology came quickly and with authenticity, when she made a statement on Monday to her fans. “‘Girls’ was written as an accurate account of a very real and honest experience in my life,” says Ora. “I have had a romantic relationships with women and men throughout my life and this is my personal journey.”

The argument from singer Kiyoko focused on the lyrics that implied Ora only felt compelled to pursue women when consuming alcohol. The singer explained that in her experience, she never needed “red wine” to “kiss girls.” But for better or worse, part of pop music’s m.o. has always been making taboo subjects palatable for the masses, even when that results in watering the message down. It’s a double-edged sword, in that tracks like “Girls” can bring more awareness and acceptance to marginalized communities, even if the authenticity of that representation is questionable. No matter what side of the debate you fall on, “Girls” features some of the heaviest hitters in pop music – and that’s something we can get behind.

On Mother’s Day, Lykke Li shared an intimate video of her childhood movies, intermixed with videos of her own son. The video is called “Utopia,” which Lykke Li explains relates to the space her mother created for her as a child. “Utopia is all my mother ever wanted for me,” she says “and all I ever want for him.”

Another ode to the mothers in our life, Common Holly’s latest release features images of her interspersed with flashes to her mother, who lip syncs her daughter’s lyrics.  This video was quite a long time in the making – the single is from Common Holly’s album Playing House, which was released in October of 2017.

The latest video from Brooklyn band Wet features its singer, Kelly Zutrau prancing around in a white leotard before a bland background; the minimalist setting is a stark contrast to the musically rich production on single “Lately.”

Beach House released their latest album, 7, for streaming in full via YouTube. The accompanying video follows the aesthetic of their previous releases; black and white graphics drift by as their soundscapes accompany the optical illusions.

ALBUM REVIEW: Common Holly “Playing House”

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photo by Sean Mundy

Playing house is one of the earliest and most innate forms of childhood emulation. It is how we pantomime maturity, and begin to learn self-preservation, domestic upkeep, and the treatment of others. From pretending to prepare a meal, to sweeping the tree house, this form of child’s play is our first expression of wanting to “grow up.” For Canadian artist Common Holly, Playing House is an expression of consciously entering adulthood. It is also the name of her debut record.

Helmed by songwriter Brigitte Naggar, Common Holly greets us with a tender and sophisticated meditation on the end of a formative relationship, and the importance of purposeful decision-making. Of Playing House, Naggar said in a press release that the record “is my first real effort to create something that is entirely deliberate—the beginning of my journey of thoughtful action, and of daring to express myself outside of my bedroom.”

“Deliberate” is the perfect word for Playing House – its stunning arrangements and artful production reflect intent and restraint. Opening track “If After All” is expertly composed, commencing with a font of liquid before breaking down into a multifaceted pop gem, somehow incorporating finger-plucked guitar, swelling strings, and minimalist drums without sounding overwrought. Naggar’s girlish voice carries the same melody throughout the song, but the instrumentation blooms from indie folk to sweeping ballad before culminating in hard rock distortion and busy electric guitar. “If After All” is such a strong composition, I almost wish it was buried deeper in the record, as it’s a tough act to follow.

Though less musically intricate, “Nothing” speaks to Naggar’s ability to contrast form with concept. The dulcet vocals and bedroom rock delivery of “Nothing” portray innocence, while Naggar’s lyrics are anything but. Naggar sings of a crumbling, codependent relationship in which every attempt to problem-solve results in suffocation: “If I got you in a room/ if I got you to hold still/it would probably too soon/to hold you there against your will.”

This level of self-awareness is palpable throughout Playing House. Naggar deconstructs a banal yet dysfunctional relationship throughout the album, holding herself accountable as much as possible. Discussing this theme in a press release, she said, “Especially at the end of a relationship, there comes a time when the best thing you can do for someone is to leave them alone even though it might feel like you’re abandoning them. Sometimes trying to resolve things and being over-present is an act influenced more by guilt than by empathy.”

“In My Heart” is yet another manifestation of that concept. A quietly complex country number, it employs pedal steel and neatly placed piano. The song’s softness negates its harsh message of letting someone go: “Don’t try/In my mind, in my mind I can’t help it/With my heart, with my heart I can’t help you.”

Resting midway through the record is the gorgeous “Lullaby” featuring Montreal pianist Jean-Michel Blais. “Lullaby” depicts Naggar at her thematic pinnacle – the anatomy of the song is true to lullabies, indeed, while Blais’ creeping keys suggest the twinkling of a nursery mobile rotating above a crib. Naggar’s lyrics, however, are biting and brutal despite this naïve melody. “If you’re busy undermining all the things I had to say,” she sings, “I know it would have been wrong for me to try to stay.” The track’s closing coda plays on a familiar children’s game, but turns that on its head for a darker finish: “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Naggar intones, before promising: “I will keep away.”

The weighty blues of “The Rose” finds Naggar nodding at The Black Keys. The song is soft to start, but builds up and breaks down into Auerbach-worthy guitar, eventually spinning out with grunge distortion. In keeping with this dark turn, “The Desert” is a painterly narrative with sparse string arrangements evoking The Dirty Three. Hand drums and piano crawl behind scant guitar and Naggar’s reverb-heavy croons, weaving a soundscape strong enough to close the record. Though it seems that Naggar didn’t want to end things on such a heavy note. Playing House’s final cuts resort to sweet and weightless melodies instead.

The title track exudes a singsong, sonic innocence. Its melody is full of childlike “doo doo doos” and lyrics that are one word away from being playful: “I’ll play mama, you’ll play daddy and we’ll ruin us beyond repair/at the cabin, on the lakeside, if we take things too far.” It is a song you can almost skip or swing to, until it dissolves into a foreboding vibration fit for Twin Peaks.

Closing track “New Bed” is Common Holly’s most stripped-down offering on Playing House, and perhaps its most optimistic. It is the song that finalizes the breakup; the hopeful closure and calm after the storm. Naggar is vulnerable and resigned when she sings, “I feel that we will get along just fine/if everything goes the way I have in mind.” The song fades out with rain and faint sirens, but what they’re chasing, we do not know.

Playing House is out now on Solitaire Recordings. Don’t miss Common Holly on her upcoming tour.

September 28 – Nomad Folk Fest
November 2 – Brooklyn Bazaar, New York, NY w/ The Hotelier, Oso Oso & Alex Napping
November 3 – Songbyrd Music House, Washington DC, w/ The Hotelier, Oso Oso & Alex Napping
December 5 –  Communion Showcase,  Rockwood Music Hall,  New York, NY
December 8 –  Theatre Fairmount, Montreal, QC w/ Chad VanGaalen[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]