SideTracked: Heavy Rotation

Written by Louie Sharp, Copy Chief

This year has been monstrous in many ways. A lot of us are living with a constant fear. Fear for the safety of our loved ones, of ourselves, of our employment and of our long-term plans. If there was any silver lining to quarantine, it was having an amount of free time that many of us had never dreamed of. Some folks chose to learn new skills, achieve personal goals or start working out. I did none of those things, but I did rediscover my love of music.

I’m the kind of person that hyper-fixates heavily on my passions. I’ll think about basically nothing else for months at a time, and all of sudden want nothing to do with that hobby for just as long. This interest couldn’t have returned at a better time, for two reasons. The first is the amount of help that listening to music represents for my mental health, especially in such a tumultuous time. The second is the sheer amount of great music that has been released this year. I’ll only list the ones I’ve been listening to the most, but I assure you this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Backxwash – “God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It”

This record represents everything I look for in music. In some ways it feels tailor-made for me. It’s a concept record that blends hip-hop with disparate influences. It features supernatural “black magic” themes and a brilliant ear for sampling. It’s a short record featuring only 10 songs, coming in at just over 20 minutes of all-killer-no-filler fun.

Favorite tracks: “God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It” and “Spells”


Charli XCX – “how i’m feeling now” 

Charli XCX’s self-titled record from last year was my favorite record of 2019, beating out some really impressive competition. For her to record “how i’m feeling now” in quarantine, less than a year later and achieve nearly the same heights is mind-blowing. 

It lacks the grandiosity of her previous project but makes up for it with raw energy and a willingness to take risks. This shift calls to mind the transition between Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and his record “Yeezus,” which came three years later. 

Like West, Charli XCX released stellar records back-to-back, with an entirely different ethos for each. 

The maximalist approach on “Charli” appeals to me for the same reason I love “Fantasy”-era West, but I’m drawn to this new record for the same reason I love its rough, unrefined follow-up “Yeezus.”

Favorite tracks: “pink diamond,” “forever,” “claws” and “7 years” all represent an infectious, inseparable opening to this album. 


Fiona Apple – “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”

Fiona Apple doesn’t release music very often, but when she does it is an occasion. 

“Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is Apple at the most aggressive we’ve ever seen her, and the rougher production on this record compliments that phenomenally. As always, Apple’s lyrics deliver. This time, they focus primarily on abuse in relationships. The record deals with heavy subject material, but it never feels emotionally draining the way similar records might. In fact, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is the exact opposite. It’s empowering, incredible and a reminder of just what good music can do for the soul.

Also, unsurprisingly, the percussion on the record is divine.

Favorite tracks: “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” “Relay” and “Under the Table”


Ka – “Descendants of Cain”

I hinted above at my love for concept records, and Ka is the king of them. 2016’s “Honor Killed the Samurai” excelled at framing inner-city life through allusions to bushido over some of the craziest production of the decade. His 2018 joint with Animoss, “Orpheus and the Sirens,” did the same for Greek mythology. Now Ka’s back with conscious hip-hop that pulls heavily from the biblical story of Cain and Abel. 

My only criticism is that this record lacks some of the immediacy of his other recent projects. Lyrically and vocally, this project is incredible. The production is toned down a tad to highlight these obvious strengths, but because of that it took me a few listens to really begin appreciating the record. “Descendants of Cain” is a bit of a slow burn, but Ka has a working formula and this one is no exception.

Favorite tracks: “Unto the Dust,” “My Brother’s Keeper” and “Sins of the Father”