Fresh Goods 8: Emotional Oranges, MGK, DVSN & More

Man, it’s been a minute, hasn’t it? My apologies for the delay, a large mixture of personal life, side projects, and a lack of motivation kept me from the biweekly schedule I set up for myself in this column. Nevertheless, there’s been quite a bit of interesting music that has been on my radar; here’s some of what’s been in my rotation since the New Year. 

Emotional Oranges: Ever since their emergence in 2018, I’ve been endlessly captivated by Emotional Oranges. The abstruse Los Angeles duo are fascinating because not knowing anything about them is a large part of the intrigue. Their music and interlinked chemistry insinuates they are in a relationship but you never really know. It’s that uncertainty found within their sultry voices that add so much rich texture to their dynamic. It’s deeply intimate but also puzzling. Their songwriting brings details but you’re left to put the pieces together. Still, their music is so good that the ‘who’ hardly matters. The variety of atmospheric jams and immensely groovy tunes wipes away the concern. Their exclusive chemistry has been extremely special and one might worry that including outside artists might erase some of the magic in their dynamic. But their most recent singles, “All That” with Channel Tres and “Bonafide” with Chiiild, evaporate those concerns. With the former, Channel Tres’ leathery voice merely accents the duo’s lighter voices. On the latter, Chiiild is sprinkled throughout as another layer, adding more cloudy atmosphere to the song. These artists never overpower the songs and ensure the sanctity and exclusivity of the Emotional Oranges relationship. Through these two singles, their future collaborations are ensured to be fantastic. 

10kdunkin- 10k 100 Times: 10kdunkin’s whispered flexes feature some of my favorite songs in the last couple months. Depending on production, his voice carries an airy, angelic touch or a haunting menace. On “Anotha Day,” his rapid flows over a saxophone Lisa Simpson would be in awe of are effortless and breezy. He calmly states, “when I’m talking to that money, I speak very fluent,” his demeanor unbothered amongst his boastful threats. But when he raps over the Grand Theft Auto San Andreas theme on “Traffic” or on the Sci-Fi horror influenced beat on “Creep Like TLC”, his lines are urgent and claustrophobic. His unfazed voice sounds far more alert but still unconcerned with consequences. He projects as untouchable and bulletproof in the same way 50 Cent did in his prime. Whether he’s tip-toeing over production spawning from Jesus’ speakers or ravaging a spooky graveyard, 10kdunkin is endlessly catchy. 

MGK- Tickets To My Downfall: I spent a lot of the last couple months trying to identify what makes Machine Gun Kelly’s pop punk debut tick. I avidly dislike 99% of the Cleveland rapper/actor/rocker’s hip-hop excursions. The one exception is the relatively cool-headed winner in the Eminem beef, a derivative interaction that had no business existing and only added to the “old man yells at cloud” era of Marshall Mathers. “Rap Devil” showed cheesiness but it never absorbed the entirety of the song. He spent a lot of the song just calling him washed and too old to be yelling about a bunch of nothing. That’s an idea I can get behind way more than two mediocre white guys getting all red in the face over Ronny J beats. Maybe MGK wasn’t completely cool but he wasn’t whiny or melodramatic. Tickets To My Downfall is the opposite, the only difference is the packaging. It shouldn’t work. 

The easiest conclusions I came to when grading MGK’s latest pop punk record were solely relied on its production and its throwback foundations. Travis Barker is a miracle worker and deserves a gigantic amount of praise for the heavy lifting he pulled on some of these songs. He helps restore the nostalgia felt whenever I play a Tony Hawk game, fitting how “Bloody Valentine” blended so seamlessly in the remake. But it’s not totally fair to give Travis Barker all the credit. While the blueprint for its hair-whipping production goes to him, MGK has incredible chemistry with Barker, he’s clearly studied his influences and knows how to maneuver the guitar and drum loops set up for him. His songwriting will go unnoticed because of the obvious cliches littered throughout Tickets To My Downfall. But cliche is the name of the game in pop punk. It’s the only genre where earnest sincerity is welcomed. It’s warm in a way only pop punk can pull off. Pretentiousness kills the Hot Topic vibe I want in my Blink-182 or My Chemical Romance. Pop Punk isn’t a writerly genre in the same way some hip-hop songs or indie records can be particularly wordy. It excels in its performance. MGK sells it because there’s an obvious love for the genre. 

Maybe MGK is a little too old to be doing 2003 teeny pop music, he’s 30 years old after all. But love for the genre generally transcends the obvious red flag. Travis Barker hasn’t sounded this fresh in ages because he’s working with an artist that adores pop punk just as much as he does. Where cliche and the occasional lameness is generally met with eye rolls, MGK makes music in a genre where the glaring familiarity is warm and inviting. His eagerness to play the rockstar role rubs off on his contemporaries in a positive way. Even the artists with no business being good due to their track records are a welcome surprise— see Iann Dior and Blackbear on “nothing inside” and “my ex’s best friend.” Halsey channels her inner Hayley Williams on “forget me too” in her best performance to date. The budding partnership of Travis Barker and MGK formed one of the most shockingly great albums of 2020. Here’s to more artists like MGK finding their true calling and for this album to be more than just a fluke.