Within days of each other, CamRon and Kevin Gates released tracks with unlikely samples. CamRons romantic "10,000 Miles” has him singing "Lookin up out my Benz" over the familiar twinkling piano riff from Vanessa Carltons massive 2001 hit "A Thousand Miles," while Gates more reflective "What If" utilizes Joan Osbornes "One Of Us" to inquire if God is "Just a thug like one of us."Adult contemporary pop is no stranger to hip-hop and it often lends itself to a variety of mood-setting styles. Rappers utilize its piano ballads and campfire-ready acoustic guitar lines, either reworking the lyrics or topping off familiar strums with harsher beats. The final product can yield some surprising results that often are friendly to radio.Janet Jackson took advantage of the infectious guitar on Americas "Ventura Highway" to create the romantic pop jam "Someone To Call My Lover," and also brought on Carly Simon herself to rework her "Youre So Vain" into the sassy, slam poetry-filled "Son Of A Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)." Didos "Thank You" turns ominous in Eminems iconic and gorgeously dark "Stan," and Rihanna turned the dark and moody "Im with You" by pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne into party anthem "Cheers (Drink To That)."In some light-hearted, ridiculous moments, Elephant Man reimagines Nelly Furtados "I’m Like A Bird" for his single "Gal Bruk," Project Pat toys with the haunting, atmospheric sound of Alanis Morissettes "Uninvited" for his track "Sucks on Dick" featuring Juicy J, and Ice Cube reimagines the lyrics of No Doubts "Dont Speak" for his bleak "War And Peace."Some samples are more subtle: Adeles "Hometown Glory" just barely creeps up at the beginning of Childish Gambinos "Heartbeat," overshadowed by a rough, aggressive beat, and Nicki Minaj and Cassies reference to Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” may go unnoticed because of how briefly they slip it into “The Boys.” No matter how small the contribution, the unlikely juxtaposition of adult contemporary pop and hip-hop can be enough to spark an unexpected musical idea.Click here to follow this playlist on Spotify.
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.