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BTS - Dynamite
BTS - Dynamite

BTS - Dynamite

K-pop sensations BTS revive our spirits on "Dynamite," a glimmering disco-inspired pop gem made to uplift us amidst a desolate 2020. The pandemic forced the group to postpone their world stadium tour for which I've chosen to hold my ticket, whenever the rescheduled date may be. It left the seven of them feeling, according to Jimin, as though "we lost everything that we were doing and what we could be doing." Optimism and empathy are common threads throughout their music, making it no surprise to hear that while people have been discouraged and scared, said SUGA, "We thought, 'What if we release a track with a bright, positive message?'" The result is "Dynamite," which RM calls a "positive explosion"; it inspires effortlessly, not only in its infectious beat but also from the way Jungkook starts his day with an easy task: "Cup of milk / Let's rock and roll." It's a simple objective as put by Jungkook: "We receive a lot of energy from other people, and we believe we exist to give it back."

“'Dynamite' is for everybody," said V. "It’s about confidence and having fun.” The note on confidence takes on added meaning when considering their decision to do a song entirely in English, despite not being fluent in the language. Jin stated, “It was a challenge but it was also really fun... The English lyrics on the demo seemed just right so we decided to give it a go, and we are glad we did.” There lies a message of empowerment for Asian folks like myself who have not only experienced pandemic-induced racism, but seen our family and friends be criticized for their accents—the song may be in English, but was recorded with confidence and pride. 

Amassing over 205 million views at the time of writing, the accompanying record-breaking music video transports us to a retro dreamland spanning from the flare-jeaned '70s to '90s hip hop moods. SUGA's TuneSquad jersey prompted me to text my little brother to check if we still have our Space Jam VHS in the shed.  As j-hope referred to music as "one of our ways of healing" in this time, they've been at work on a new record that we can expect to hear before the year's end. As BTS have undoubtedly been a light for me in quarantine, the album is sure to aid in bringing my own 2020 to a gratifying close.

Ysabella Monton on September 1, 2020
Extra Special - True Fear

Extra Special - True Fear

Amelia Bushell is what one might call ubiquitous or ever-present in the Brooklyn music scene. From her work in Belle Mare, a lustrous pop project, to Grim Streaker, her punk band, Bushell is a wealth of musical knowledge and flexibility. In her newest endeavor, her debut solo project by the name of Extra Special, she draws from her extensive experience with music and creates an entrancing, euphonious new universe of a project that focuses more solely on her. "True Fear" effectively encapsulates the concept of the sublime: drawing in, even when the fear is there. Photo by Michelle LoBianco.

Laney Esper on August 31, 2020
Joshua Speers - Other People

Joshua Speers - Other People

Sometimes songs come along that feel so familiar it’s almost as if I wrote them in a past life. When I first heard Joshua Speers’s newest single “Other People,” I listened to it on repeat trying to identify why, “I live in other people’s homes / doing dishes writing other people’s songs / I cover my ears from other people’s moans / but never me” put a lump in my throat each time. It starts with soft reverb-laden guitar and Speers’s sweet and warm voice before building gradually to a soaring second chorus. Speers has a knack for writing songs that feel universal yet personal, which he showcased brilliantly in his first EP, and continues to do so with his newest offering. The production is measured but noticeable—giving the folk-rock track a nice pop polish. It reminded me of a poem I wrote back when I was subletting a friend’s room in an unfamiliar city: 

The window faces a brick wall
I get one beam of sunlight a day
From 10 to 11
Sometimes shorter
I lay on the floor
My eyes in it
Getting my daily recommended 30 minutes
Of vitamin D
Maybe I will go outside
Maybe I will sit amongst my things
Scattered in and around his
I live in a puzzle of
What is mine and what is not
Constantly shifting
Tucking in and away
Myself and my things
I am learning to take up space
Make noise
Stop apologizing for just being
Bit by bit I let myself be seen
As I sit in the sunlight
Building up energy

Corey Bates on August 31, 2020
Antonioni - Mary Bell

Antonioni - Mary Bell

Grief has many different facets. Some are subdued, almost gentle numbness. Others are all-consuming and intense. "Mary Bell" by Antonioni tastefully, and effortlessly, walks the line between the two. Verses oscillate between warm, barely tamed anger and the almost satisfying snap and snarl of unbridled, grief-driven resentment. One minute, you’re shaken up by a forefront drum kit and big bass sound as distorted guitars writhe and groan between lyrics. The next, the rhythm section eases off to reveal the delicate guitar melody underpinning the track. You never quite escape the drums though. They’re always present, like an ever tell-tale heart, driving the track forward as the lyrics narrate a loose story of loss. Only it’s not really about the loss itself; it’s more about the inconsolable feeling in acute absence. Filled with feeling and delicious crunch, it’s a track that won’t let you go easy—in a good way. Photo by Rolando Robles.

Allison Hill on August 31, 2020
First Aid Kit - On The Road Again

First Aid Kit - On The Road Again

In this cover of Willie Nelson's iconic road trip tune, First Aid Kit inject their classic folk forbearance and dual harmonies into their version of "On the Road Again." Paired with a video montage containing footage of different memories and milestones they've experienced on tour, this jubilant and expressive tune about loving the open road is brought to different levels of nostalgic sweetness. In its best moments, this compilation of memories presents a posture of hope. It's as if First Aid Kit and their crew are saying, "We'll be back, doing our favorite things, just wait a little while longer." It's nice to see them smiling, hopping in pools, playing massive festival shows and just enjoying things we used to take for granted. It gives the viewer a sense of expectation that, in weeks and months to come, as the world slowly re-opens its doors, we'll approach every experience with a little more appreciation and reverence. This thought reminds me of this line from On Friendship by Kahlil Gibran:

"When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain."

First Aid Kit have always handled their covers with care (see their incredible rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's "America"). Their version of "On the Road Again" is joyful and beautifully done. Watch their video and let us know what you think!

Hannah Lupas on August 31, 2020
Anderson .Paak feat. Rick Ross - CUT EM IN

Anderson .Paak feat. Rick Ross - CUT EM IN

For their first collaboration, “CUT EM IN” finds genre-bender Anderson .Paak and rap mogul Rick Ross living for luxury. Following the release of his protest song "Lockdown," "CUT EM IN" takes on a more lighthearted approach as .Paak jokes about his accountant giving him a breakdown of his finances: "'The good news is you made a lot...The bad news is you spent more.'" The track grazes new era rapcore with its catchy guitar riff, with .Paak leaning more into hip hop than he did on Ventura, his latest full-length release. Underneath its showmanship, the song asserts the importance of loyalty to your roots and looking out for your friends who looked out for you on the come up. “You know the ones that lend a hand and wanna see you win,” .Paak explains, “When you come up on a lick, make sure you cut ’em in.” And according to Ross, staying grounded also includes looking out for yourself: “Sometimes you need to know your worth…Meditate, hydrate / Protect my energy before engagement.” The song will be featured on the Madden 21 soundtrack, which EA announced will be celebrating "the artists rising up to chase the throne.”

Ysabella Monton on August 28, 2020
McCall - Nothing Even Wrong

McCall - Nothing Even Wrong

McCall's latest release “Nothing Even Wrong” blooms like a phosphorescent garden surrounded by a dense and shadow-casted forest. The track, which features stiff chords from an electric guitar, rose-toned vocals, and unconventional synth soundbites, has a distinct sound that is pleasantly jarring—time to wake up and smells the flowers!

While the compositional and stylistic elements of this song allow us to classify it as both modern and eclectic, its lyrical sentiments are surprisingly atemporal: emotions are complicated “Nothing Even Wrong,” is a piece that one experiences with all their senses. It is lush, harmonious, and undoubtedly fitting for the end of a long-over-complicated-paradoxical summer. Photo by Keegan Burckhard

Lilly Rothman on August 28, 2020
Freak Fingers - Romance

Freak Fingers - Romance

One of the mystical aspects of a romance is never knowing exactly where it's going to go. Freak Fingers' newest track exhibits this feeling right off the bat. Marked by the beginning sounds of a dreamy acoustic Spanish guitar, "Romance" suddenly drifts further into an otherworldly state influenced by the sudden appearance of synthesizers. As lead vocalist Joan Sullivan begins singing, she blends the beauty of both Spanish and English—taking you further down a soothing, romantic journey for the next two minutes. Clocking in at nearly five minutes, "Romance" maintains the feeling of a daydream abruptly cut short. An 80s influenced electric guitar comes in right before the song ends, illustrating the exhilarating moments of a brief romance when it has hit its peak.

The track is propelled by its slow-but-captivating moment—proving that beauty can still exist among upheaval. The idea of spending a night driving around with the one you love has become more or less of a fantasy taken for granted in 2020, but Freak Fingers help bring it back, if only for a brief few minutes inside your headphones.

Taylor Hodgkins on August 28, 2020
Salarymen - Runaway

Salarymen - Runaway

It’s smooth, it’s got groove, it’s "Runaway" by Salarymen! It’s 4.5 minutes of lighthearted nostalgia rock, simultaneously full of longing and intense optimism. As the title implies, most of the song is dedicated to the duo trading verses daydreaming about running away together. Though de la Motte and Eagleton’s vocals don’t quite overlap, they flow effortlessly from one line to the next, creating a feeling of tender closeness. Crisp synth hits maintain momentum and excitement. Bass brings the groove and warmth, sitting coyly underneath it all, and occasionally tossing out some fun licks. Meanwhile, surfy guitars wrap around the rest of the track, painting everything over with a rose-colored sunset glow. Though it’s playful and light in nature, "Runaway" is anything but simple. It catches your ears and keeps them with a somehow feather-light density that yields new details to notice every listen.

Allison Hill on August 28, 2020
Tomberlin - Wasted

Tomberlin - Wasted

Tomberlin grew up in Florida within a religious community—her father was a Baptist pastor. Although she has splintered away from Christian doctrine, her music creates a certain kind of mystical nature that mirrors feelings of faith-based transcendence. “Wasted,” her first single off of her new album Projections, is a verbal tug of war, from wanting to say something, trying not to say it, but ultimately, having to. “I run my mouth and it runs me over,” she sings, describing quite literally feelings of regret after being vulnerable. It’s a give-and-take, trying to have faith in the situation, but not wanting to ruin it by admitting what she knows to be true. She opens with, “I tried to keep it close / Keep it in a locket,” as the repetitive nature from both the drumbeat and her wordplay creates a soothing ambiance, lulling you into thinking about higher matter.

Elizabeth Shaffer on August 27, 2020
Oceanator- Heartbeat

Oceanator- Heartbeat

Direct and extroverted, Oceanator’s "Heartbeat" hits you with high octane summer rock right off the bat. The main riff rips and rolls exactly the way your heart leaps and drops into your stomach when That Person texts you back. It’s the backdrop music to the spontaneous summer carnival date I always see in rom-coms and secretly yearn to experience someday. It’s not hard to conjure the mental image of grabbing your crush’s hand and sprinting to the Ferris wheel, partly because the view is great and partly to sneak a romantic moment at the top. The bass and whip-quick rhythm guitar flirtatiously pace each other, almost daring the other to run faster. Vulnerable lyrics and a slower-paced vocal line stand in assertive contrast to all the instrumental bravado, weaving in an intoxicating sense of intimacy. It’s an homage to the excitement of moving from the anticipation of interest to noticing something about this dynamic fundamentally works. Neither of you are half of a whole, but definitely complementary colors. You work well together and enjoy each others’ company immensely. At the end of the day, what’s a more compelling love story than that? Overall, this single is a delightful build of anticipation for Oceanator’s new album, Things I Never Said, due August 28, 2020

Allison Hill on August 27, 2020