Tracking New Music Releases with Zac Wittman: The Weeknd, Burial, Gupi, Mydreamfever, Nas

Written By Zachary Wittman, Music Columnist

The new year has arrived, and 2022 is already holding nothing back. A whole slew of releases have graced music listeners, making this one of the most exciting Q1s in a few years.

The Weeknd – Dawn FM
Released January 7, 2022

4 Globes out of 5

Abel Tesfaye, known professionally as The Weeknd, has had an astounding past few years. From his Superbowl performance to his much acclaimed previous album “After Hours,” he has been on top of the world. He continues his domination of the pop sphere with his newest album “Dawn FM,” a direct sequel to his prior release. This time, the album is a bit more narrative focused.

“Dawn FM” plays like a late night radio broadcast meets DJ mix. Most of the tracks flow seamlessly into each other and borrow melodies and motifs across the record. Jim Carrey even stands in to act as the radio station’s “host” from time to time. While this is not a new concept for an album, this record keeps it from going stale by only having it pop up intermittently. There are extended synth jams galore, such as the single “Take My Breath,” presented here in an elongated form that stands as an album highlight. “Sacrifice” sounds like a Daft Punk collab we will unfortunately never truly see. The interlude “A Tale By Quincy” features a tale by Quincy Jones, if you couldn’t guess. This tracks placement is funny, considering the next song “Out Of Time” sounds exactly like Quincy’s work on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Honestly, this whole album really sounds like a mixing of Michael Jackson, Giorgio Moroder and that early 2010s view of the 80s through the lens of vaporwave.

A lot of that last section comes thanks to Daniel Lopatin. This brings together my favorite little bit of linking celebrities. Daniel Lopatin, known also as Oneohtrix Point Never, got his own pseudonym from radio. He plays keyboards and produces across the album, giving it its textures, but he is also the originator of vaporwave as we know it. He also did the soundtrack for the Safdie brothers’ critically acclaimed 2019 film “Uncut Gems,” which featured the Weeknd as a cast member. So that explains Josh Safdie popping up for one line on the interlude “Every Angel Is Terrifying.” Lil Wayne makes a cameo on “I Heard You’re Married” and gives a subpar verse made hilarious due to his auto-tune warbling similarly to the bass, making it sound unnatural. Thankfully, “Less Than Zero” sweeps in at the end to close the album on a highlight.

In all seriousness, this album sounds gorgeous, even more so than his last album. I understand why people say many of the songs sound the same, as the same synth textures and drums are used throughout. However, that is the entire point of both the album’s concept and the style of genres it pulls from. You don’t exactly get adventurous synthwave, a genre built on sounding like a retro pastiche of 80s night life vibes. Due to the narrative, this is probably the strongest Weeknd album yet, even if it loses out on pure bops and jams due to the needed experience of a full album listen. The record falters a bit in the second half due this as well. Still, this is such a great statement to make in the playlist and shuffling era. This is only the first weekend of the year and the Weeknd completely owns it.

Burial – Antidawn EP
Released January 6, 2022

3.5 Globes out of 5

After covering “Dawn FM,” it’s time to talk about the opposite. You could even say, the “Antidawn EP.” Too early in the year for those jokes? Maybe. But it is not too early for the return of legendary electronic musician Burial.

Known as one of the most prevalent names in garage, 2-step, and dubstep, Burial has been reliably churning out EPs and singles for the past decade. His last full studio album “Untrue” came out in 2007 and is a landmark in dubstep. However, this is not dubstep as many know it through artists like Skrillex. “Untrue” and Burial’s other work are much, much different beasts. However, the EPs Burial has been releasing are only EPs by electronic music standards, as most have been two lengthy tracks on a physical vinyl. So, “Antidawn EP”s classification among fans stands divided, with some taking it as the musician’s third album due to its length and number of tracks. Any way you look at it, “Antidawn EP” is certainly his most ambient work today. There are no drums or beats to be found, with few consistencies to be found across tracks aside from faint vocal samples fading in and out.

The whole project is supposed to be one continuous track, and that is the best way to take it all in. The rain sounds and vinyl crackle lure you into this world that sounds hostile on the surface, but also nostalgic. “Shadow Paradise” features some gorgeous organ sounds alongside some comforting vocals that feel like a warm blanket in a storm. Even if ambient isn’t your thing or you wanted a return to form from Burial, this track will hit the spot for you.

Even if it doesn’t do anything groundbreaking and might disappoint fans, Burial always keeps things sounding uniform with his style. If he goes more ambient than this, he will surely grow from this record. If he returns to 2-step, then I’m glad we have this experiment to see what his ambient stylings are like. Even though his music is often associated with depressiveness, this record is an uplifting warm solace for a rainy January.

Gupi – You’re It
Bubblegum Bass
Released January 7, 2022

3 Globes out of 5

On the topic of electronic musicians, let’s talk about Tony Hawk. The legendary skateboarder doesn’t need an introduction, but his son Spencer might. Spencer has been working as an electronic musician for a few years now and even had the opportunity to work with Charli XCX for her album “Charli,” although their collaborations were scrapped. However, Spencer did release his debut album “None” under the name Gupi in 2020. He has returned again with his new album “You’re It.”

Many might be familiar with Gupi through the collaborative song with Fraxiom titled “Thos Moser.” This hyperpop banger was one of the zaniest and catchiest songs of 2020 and led to most of Spencer’s music reaching a wider audience. Unfortunately, those who found that the Gupi songs with vocals work best will be disappointed with “You’re It.” “Spiralcourse” is the only true hyperpop song here and even then is not as good as his past work. While it is masterfully produced, the lack of distinct hooks across the album tend to drag it down. The synths are likely to be excruciating to the uninitiated ear, but those who find comfort in the sound of PC Music masters like A.G. Cook and SOPHIE should find much to dig into on this album.

Even if it is a step down from his prior album, there is still a lot of fun to be had on this record. “What’s Up Now” sounds like it would be an absolute rager at a festival, while “Supernova” takes cues from both video game music and brostep to create the ultimate Minecraft YouTuber outro song. I mean that in the most sincerely positive way. Many of the other songs across the album all have incredible ideas stuffed inside of them, but there is so much material on here that it becomes overwhelming. If this record was shaved down by 20 minutes or so, it would be much more digestible as a result. As it stands, it is still a fun listen to start off the year with a party atmosphere.

Mydreamfever – Rough And Beautiful Place
Neoclassical New Age
Released January 1, 2022

4.5 Globes out of 5

The internet is such a magical place for musicians to be discovered. Last year, a Korean artist simply known as Parannoul released his second album “To See The Next Part Of The Dream” on Bandcamp. The album became a sleeper hit, being discovered across the web and celebrated as a modern day shoegaze and emo classic. This kind of niche but far reaching acclaim is only possible because of the times we live in. The artist behind Parannoul is back, but this time under a new moniker.

Mydreamfever is the ambient side project from Parannoul, focusing more on nature recordings and soft pianos instead of thundering drums and distorted guitars. New age music is sometimes seen as synonymous with meditation music, but this is much more than that. While the tracks here are meditative, they are transformative as well. Take for instance the low rumbling of drums under the glistening pianos of album opener “Sprout.” It truly gives off the image of a plant budding into the sunlight after a long winter season has passed. The roar of a waterfall and the chirping of birds also pull the listener deeper into this entrancing atmosphere.

The entire record feels inspired by the works of Joe Hisaishi, enough so that anyone who is a fan of a Studio Ghibli movie would connect with this album. A great example of that would be “Moment Is Now.” You can picture the flying over rooftops scene from “Howl’s Moving Castle” set to this song. It’s perfect! The following track “Circulation” features a repeated chant that sounds like it was sampled from an old tape. This works for a bit, but the sample feels like it is mixed too high and overstays its welcome. The following two tracks continue the album’s ethereal aura, but the titular closing track really wraps things up in a cathartic and emotional way. The strings that lead the track ride over the layered percussion that give the song the feeling of movement towards a grand finish. The different pianos, marimbas, and what sound like similar instruments trade melodies back and forth for an exit that calls out tears from one’s eyes.

This album is truly a New Years gift. It really says something that a record that will undoubtedly end up on many year end lists, including my own, should be released on the first day of the year. Check this one out.

Nas – Magic
East Coast Hip Hop
Released December 24, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

In hip hop, few artists from the golden era get to have a long career that is met with both critical and commercial success. Some put out acclaimed work to a shrinking audience, while others put out still popular work that is critically maligned. Nas is interesting, as he has had many peaks and valleys throughout his career. Recently, he has had a resurgence due to the success of his “King’s Disease” albums.

On Christmas Eve, Nas surprised dropped “Magic,” proving that you shouldn’t make your year end lists until the year is officially over. Teaming up with Hit-Boy, Nas lays down nine tracks in just under half an hour that shows that he is still on top of the game when he wants to be. The production is clean and the beats are some of the best Nas has been on top of in years. Tracks like “Meet Joe Black” and “The Truth” are riled up cuts about Nas showing that no matter what, he is still one of the greats of hip hop and should be respected by the newer generation. “Speechless” is a great album opener, showing that Nas is fully aware of his age and that he won’t let that affect his relevancey.

“Ugly” and “Dedicated” sees Nas dispensing knowledge upon the newer generation of rappers through his years in the game and sending up odes to those he has lost, friends both old and new. The latter track has an especially tasty beat change halfway through. I usually like my hip hop albums long and sprawling, but this little treat from Nas shows that sometimes small quantities can be a good thing. This record doesn’t overstay its welcome and says everything it needs to without wasting a second. It might not be as catchy or memorable as some of his past work, but it is meant to just be a reminder of his talent as well as a gift to his fans. It is totally worth checking out if you are a fan of his work, as this might be his best project since “Stillmatic” outside of the “King’s Disease” albums.