Listen to This: Another posthumous release from XXXTENTACION

Read about this week’s most notable singles by Lauv, Wallows and more.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

(Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Pop, rap, rock. What isn’t covered this week? Dive into these eclectic reviews to find the freshest new music to add to your library.

“vice city” by XXXTENTACION

Jordan Lee, Contributing Writer

Until now, XXXTENTACION’s posthumous releases have been unreleased materials and unfinished projects created prior to his death in 2018. “vice city,” on the other hand, was released while the rapper was still alive, and is the earliest available track on his SoundCloud. He recorded and released it in 2014 at the age of 16. After being released from juvenile detention, he had sought to turn his life around by making music.

“vice city” features introspective lyrics focusing on depression, mortality and finality. At points, XXXTENTACION’s bars become ominous: “Backwards, pace backwards, everyone is superficial / Only breaching the surface, surface upon the Earth / And flames engulf the Earth, and prized possessions, they incinerate.” Here we see a young XXXTENTACION who is obsessed by and fixated on his own demise and finality in life. The writing is generally clever, if somewhat verbose and at times unclear.

The track was recorded over a sped-up YouTube beat based on a vocal sample from singer Laura Mvula’s “Sing to the Moon.” The silky, boom-bap production suits the dense and poetic writing. The vocals are lo-fi, recorded on a Blue Snowball microphone, years before XXXTENTACION had any real production budget. However, the song’s low-quality vocals and somewhat messy writing don’t detract from the listening experience when approached in context. Being introduced to or returning to this track knowing the career XXXTENTACION had after this song is rewarding, even if its replay value won’t be the same for everyone.

“26” by Lauv

Candace Patrick, Staff Writer

According to Lauv, fame is not all it’s cracked up to be. After his rapid rise to stardom — thanks to hit songs like “I Like Me Better” and “i’m so tired…” — his newest single, “26,” is a vulnerable confessional suggesting that life can be lonely at the top. Known primarily for his infectious electro-pop music, Lauv first grabs your attention with a sample of a device powering down at the beginning of the track, right before reflecting on the trials and tribulations of mainstream musical success. But what makes “26” a departure from his previous work is its storytelling approach.

He opens the first verse by singing, “Can I tell you a story / ’Bout a boy who broke his own heart?” By using the third person, Lauv attempts to remove himself from some of the burdens of his success. He continues, “He made a couple songs and they got big / And he thought that he could do whatever he wanted / But it all left him with a hole in his heart,” providing a surprisingly honest glimpse into the life of a pop star. 

“Especially You” by Wallows

Yas Akdag, Music Editor 

On their latest single, “Especially You,” Wallows takes you on a relentless indie-pop journey that is full of twists and turns. The song is catch-your-breath upbeat, with production that spotlights Dylan Minnette’s lo-fi-processed vocals and fuzzy ’80s-inspired guitars and synths.

“That’s when my eyes got red / Thinking ‘bout what you just said / Some things leave me confused / But especially you,” Minnette sings, before leading into the infectious post-chorus. Here, so many different sonic elements bounce around — from a screeching, descending synth line to percussive guitar riffs — that you can’t isolate them all in one listen. The structure is a whirlwind too, unidentifiable to the point that you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride — Wallows knows what they’re doing, and you’ll just have to trust them. With a whimsical, tongue-in-cheek music video to accompany it, “Especially You” is designed to be played on repeat. 

“The Smoke” by The Smile

Brian Savino, Contributing Writer 

As soon as Thom Yorke’s haunting falsetto arrives, the listener is thrown into an alternate dimension on “The Smoke” by The Smile. Yorke sings about self-sabotage, exclaiming “don’t mess with me” as flames engulf him. The vocals are beautiful, slowly emitting feelings of hopelessness while remaining captivating and catchy. The bass line — an ever-repeating downward arpeggio — pairs well with the echoing lyrics that describe a spiral into destruction.

Byron Wallen’s trumpet adds a soft layer to the song’s background, while Theon Cross’s tuba creates a heavy, powerful sound that emphasizes Yorke’s descriptions, making the lyrics feel even more real and daunting.“The Smoke,” though far from a hard-hitting rock song as The Smile’s first release, maintains piercing emotion and beauty with fascinating vocal and instrumental elements.

“KEEP IT UP” by Rex Orange County

Candace Patrick, Staff Writer

Rex Orange County urges you to “keep it up and go on” with his newest feel-good single, “KEEP IT UP” — the first taste of his upcoming third album, “WHO CARES?” Rex lures us into the first verse through a symphonic series of strings, before launching into a mellow but catchy track. He adorns his lyrics of positive self-talk with a toe-tapping descending bassline as he sings the chorus, “Keep it up and go on / You’re only holding out for what you want / You no longer owe the strangers / It’s enough, it’s enough.”

The single’s lightheartedness and simplicity is followed by another harmonic orchestral phrase, adding a unique flair to an otherwise conventional pop song. “KEEP IT UP” is accompanied by a cinematic, ’90s-inspired music video that provides a touch of nostalgia as Rex cruises through the canals of Amsterdam.

“Survivor’s Guilt” by Saba featuring G Herbo

Jordan Lee, Contributing Writer 

“Survivor’s Guilt” is Saba’s fourth single leading up to the Feb. 4 release of his upcoming album, “Few Good Things.” At its peaks, it’s a shootout, but its energy falls at a handful of spots. Saba’s verses are relentless and impactful. His triplet flows punch and are dynamic enough to demand the listener’s attention. The lyrics are squarely focused on the struggles of growing up in Chicago and the pressures that come after you’ve made it out, subjects Saba has previously explored in depth.

There aren’t too many standout bars, but they are all solid and deeply authentic. The drill-inspired beat — produced by Pivot Gang’s in-house producer daedaePivot, Daoud and Saba himself — complements Saba’s fiery delivery. G Herbo’s verse is overall disappointing, though. Although his delivery is never exaggerated, his subtle ferocity that carries tracks like “Never Cared” is lacking here. Coming after Saba’s first two verses, G Herbo sucks a lot of the built-up energy out before the conclusion. Despite this shortcoming, the track is worth a couple of spins for the energy of Saba’s verses and to hear the rapper in a new, more aggressive style.

“DFMU” by Ella Mai

By Destine Manson, Contributing Writer

On “DFMU,” Ella Mai trades her spoken-word poems — usually peppered in at the end of her songs — for a somber piano ballad and trap beat, produced by J Holt and acclaimed hip-hop producer Mustard. Mai’s vocals still have a traditional powerful R&B vibrato, although in some places they get drowned out by a whistle-like sample.

Love can feel like a rollercoaster and few evoke it better than an R&B singer. This time around, rather than sing about never-ending love as she does on her hit song “Boo’d Up,” Mai sings a different R&B tune, where romance is a little more complicated. Mai approaches budding love introspectively on “DFMU,” before diving headfirst into someone new as she contemplates her worries aloud on the track. In the chorus, she sings, “Can’t wait no longer, tell me now / Don’t fuck me up, don’t let me down.” Mai has yet to announce a release date for her sophomore album, but “DFMU” hints at a record unafraid of the arbitrary fears that come with falling in love. 

Contact the Music Desk at [email protected].