Tracking new music releases with Zac Wittman: Beach Bunny, Fax Gang, Zayn, Shame, R.AP. Ferreira

Written By Zac Wittman, Music Columnist

With the world being the way it currently is, many people want some form of escape. For many, music is that portal that allows us to shut out the outside world and feel at peace for a moment. It can be tough to keep up with new releases with so much going on in life. This column will help shed some light on music from new artists and old favorites every week so you can stay locked in with the new release groove.

 

  1. Beach Bunny – Blame Game

Released January 15, 2021

 

3.5 Globes out of 5

 

In the current music climate, female-led guitar-based indie rock continues to be a powerhouse of the indie music scene. Of all of these young blossoming bands, Beach Bunny continues to be the most playful and energetic. After releasing their wonderful debut album Honeymoon last Valentine’s Day, the group return with an EP to kick off the new year.

 

Blame Game consists of four nuggets of the jangly power pop that the group excels at. Lead vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Lili Trifilio continues to prove that she is a voice to watch in the coming years as her group continues to blossom. Her lyricism on this release circles around crumbling relationships, commitment issues from both sides, and her experience as a young woman dealing with sexism. While the topics on this release are not new concepts, her to-the-point writing style gives these songs an uncomfortable realness that artists all too often cover-up.

 

Musically, the EP is in line with the rest of the group’s catalogue of upbeat anthemic power pop. However, there are some developments that show the group is growing, such as the gorgeous atmospheric bridge to “Love Sick” or the arena rock chorus of “Nice Guys” that sounds like a forgotten staple of 90s rock radio. The musicianship is tight, and the production sounds very clean while maintaining the energy that comes with the style of music.

 

The biggest fault of the release is the short length. At a mere 13 minutes, Blame Game leaves the listener wanting more. However, seeing as it is an EP, the length can be excused. The melodies, while catchy, falter slightly when compared to the group’s full length from last year. Still, Lili and company prove that they are a band that should be on everyone’s radar in the coming years.

 

  1.  Fax Gang – Aethernet

Released January 1, 2021

 

3.5 Globes out of 5

 

I like to imagine that I understand where music scenes come from and how they emerge, but the internet has barred me from understanding how some things exist. With TikTok breaking the charts and Twitter embracing hyperpop, I’ve come to accept anything can happen in the music industry. I’ve thought many times that things couldn’t get crazier, and I’m proven wrong each time. This time, Fax Gang were the culprits.

 

Based out of the Philippines, Fax Gang are part of a culture in the music world that has been entirely bred on the internet. On one hand, you have Soundcloud emo-rap, the hazy production of cloud rap, and heaps of nostalgia. On the other hand, you have the aesthetics of hyperpop and the “fish-out-of-water” lyrics that relate to an entire generation of young adults who struggle with their own identities. Mixing all this together, you have a hyper-niche genre known as HexD. Their debut album Aethernet is a great starting point in discovering that sound.

 

I’m not going to act like this album is for everyone. It sounds like Drain Gang and 100 Gecs got together and recorded an album on a Game Boy. It is hard to listen to as the production is so distorted and bit-crushed that any instruments or vocals are obscured. However, if you listen past that, you discover some ethereal songs like “Reality/Dreams.” The more straightforward cuts like “Shotgun” show the group’s trap influence, while “Implosion” sounds like an old YouTube video that’s playing in another room while going through a shredder.

 

It is incredibly hard to describe what is going on with this album, but I truly believe that this is the next logical step up from artists like Charli XCX, Bladee, and 100 Gecs. It is definitely not for everyone, but seeing as how it took hyperpop some years to brew before it boiled over into popular culture, I can see more projects like this gaining attention. My only question is, where exactly does music go from here?

 

  1.  Zayn – Nobody Is Listening

Released January 15, 2021

 

3 Globes out of 5

 

Zayn was immediately the boldest member of One Direction when he decided to quit at the height of their career. I vividly remember how upset people were in high school. I also remember how much the same people fawned over “Pillowtalk” when it dropped. I said at the time that it didn’t sound unique, but if he found a voice of his own, he would really be a musical powerhouse.

 

Fast forward to 2021; I haven’t thought about the man since his debut single five years ago. To my surprise, I learned that he not only dropped a new album this month but also released a double album in 2018. After listening to his sophomore album, I can understand why it passed under the radar. At an hour and a half with 27 tracks, it is bloated with a lot of ideas that don’t land. With Nobody Is Listening, Zayn drops the track time and length down to just a third of his previous outing.

 

Despite being three albums in, Zayn still hasn’t quite found an artistic voice yet. If you’ve heard any of his stuff before, then you know exactly what you are going to get out of this album. The finger-snap beats, the slides into falsetto, the acoustic guitar added here and there for flair, the overtly sexual lyrics. None of this is necessarily a problem, but Zayn doesn’t really do much to make this style his own.

 

There are some moments that allude to something more interesting than the album delivers. The opener “Calamity” moves along slowly with the jazzy drums and electric piano as Zayn speaks/raps, something that he has not done prior. While it’s less of a song and more of an intro, it is a nice left turn from the “Netflix-and-chill” R&B slow jams that make up the rest of the album.

 

Again, this is not a bad album, so to speak, and judging by the Spotify streams, the stans do not seem to care what he releases. If you like his previous work or anything similar, you will like this. If you weren’t a fan before, this won’t convert you. I just wish that Zayn would take note from his former bandmate Harry Styles, and take a risk at trying something new. Zayn has an amazing voice, but he limits himself by staying in the same lane and missing every exit.

 

  1.  Shame – Drunk Tank Pink

Released January 15, 2021

 

4 Globes out of 5

 

Shame is a group that is fairly new to me. Their debut album, Songs Of Praise, went under my radar, but the follow- up Drunk Tank Pink caught my eye as it garnered attention. It’s not often that the first quarter of the year delivers a stellar album, but I am pleased to say Shame delivers what I believe will be one of the best post-punk albums of the year.

 

Post-punk has been in a weird state in recent years. Post-punk revival groups like Interpol or The National have all either died out or abandoned the format, and the groups formed since somehow circled back around into being straight post-punk again. I must note that Shame is a bit more linear than their contemporaries. Idles have the political commentary and aggression, black midi have the angular quirkiness, and Black Country, New Road have the philosophy and tension. Shame plays it straight, serving up catchy, and sometimes even danceable, post-punk with a slight hint of the classics like Talking Heads and Gang of Four.

 

Vocalist Charlie Steen is pretty par for the course in the genre, but the fact that he switches up his vocal stylings from song to song gives this album a breath of fresh air. “Human, for a Minute” shows off the swagger the band can produce, while cuts like “March Day” make you miss for the days you could writhe among a swarm of other sweaty people at a concert. “Station Wagon” is a lumbering epic with some very pretty passages that close the album with an intense emotional climax. The best part about this album is that the group never tries to force an emotion. The contemplative moments strike right when they should without shoving themselves down your throat, and the urges to dance kick in right when you start feeling restless.

 

Overall, this is a great album that will appease anybody who enjoys anything punk or indie rock related. Don’t let the dark and foreboding cover fool you;, this album is full of jerky jams that make you want to contort yourself without caringcare of who’s watching. These London boys set a high bar for the rest of the year, and I hope everyone else can keep up.

 

  1. R.A.P. Ferreira – Bob’s Son

Released January 1, 2021

 

4 Globes out of 5

 

Hip hop has always had so many avenues that one could travel down. Many debate the argument over “lyrical rapper vs. mumble rapper,” while others toss on tried and true artists they will listen to regardless of the quality of their future output. If you peel back the curtain a little bit, you will find a sea of fabulous artists just outside of the mainstream. I don’t mean to imply Rory Allen Philip Ferreira is unknown, but he certainly deserves more acclaim than he gets.

 

Formerly known as Milo, now professionally as R.A.P. Ferreira, the young rapper has been releasing music for a little over 10 years now. The Milo projects received much acclaim from the likes of Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, and as Rory transitioned to a new moniker, he maintained the praise. His debut album under the new name was one of my favorite rap projects from last year, and his new release Bob’s Son came as a surprise to me.

 

Bob’s Son is an ode to African American poets, both old and new. The album features recordings of Ted Joans, Rita Dove, Amiri Baraka, and many more. Rory himself takes the stance of being Bob Kaufman’s son. While dedicating the album to him and claiming to carry his legacy might come off as self-centered from anyone else, Rory really puts in the work to claim that title. He is an insanely smart lyricist. It is pretty easy to get tangled up in his words as he references some incredibly obscure stuff sometimes, but he never does it to push the narrative that he is smarter than the listener. He just is smarter than the listener.

 

This project is quite toned down when compared to his previous releases. The short runtime makes the album feel more like sketches than full songs, but that is just Rory’s style. The beats are always switching and sliding in and out of tune, and the jazz accompaniment he picked up in the last few years keeps everything fresh and exciting. His delivery is as cool and smooth as ever, and his literary references are ever so slightly turned down on this one. While there are few standout moments, the whole album is a great example of a record being greater than the sum of its parts.

 

If it wasn’t only a little over a year into the decade, I might preemptively call “Redguard Snipers” the best beat of the decade. Seriously, that might be one of the best songs of Rory’s career. If any project delivers something even remotely close to the atmosphere and quality of this track, then we have an amazing year for hip hop ahead of us.