Dinah Is- Thinking Backwards
If you’re looking for a summer fling anthem to live through vicariously, "Thinking Backwards" is the song for you. Lyrically, Dinah Is effortlessly charms with her wit, tossing in lines that tickle your inner English major with playful imagery. A particular favorite of mine: “Weird voices are onto me; they follow me like they’ve lost their key." Alongside sparkly layered synths and compelling rhythms, the track chronicles thrills and chills of flirting with that cute person you’ve kind of got a crush on. Kick drums bring you into the groove, imitating the feeling of your heart leaping up into your throat and pulsing in your ears. Stacked harmonies and effects add a sense of cinematic augmented reality—letting you sink into the rom-com fantasy we’ve all wanted to live in sometimes. Overall, "Thinking Backwards" feels like walking home drunk from a party with someone you really like, swept over with bliss, and harmonies ringing in your ears over the fact that they like you too.— Allison Hill on July 21, 2020
H.E.R. - I Can’t Breathe
The Black Lives Matter movement didn’t start in 2020, but this year is ushering in an era ripe for new protest music. “I Can’t Breathe” by H.E.R. could very well be the definitive anthem against racial profiling and police brutality. The title, which has since become a slogan often used in protest messaging, references the last words of multiple victims of murder at the hands of police, starting with Eric Garner and most recently and famously by George Floyd. This song is meant to be listened to actively, with no distractions, so as to fully absorb the message, of which every word is important. Gabriella Wilson, the artist known professionally as H.E.R., sings clearly and with a careful pacing, likely intentional for the sake of communicating the lyrics most effectively. With an emotional, pleading tone in her voice, she delivers a straightforward gut punch: “I can’t breathe / You’re taking my life from me / I can’t breathe / Will anyone fight for me?” A slam poetry-style rap section tackles multiple aspects of the complicated issue of racial injustice in America, from systemic oppression to white privilege. “Be thankful we are God-fearing because we do not seek revenge; we seek justice,” the poet cries, with equal parts heart-wrenching fervor and activist authority. “I Can’t Breathe” is the message we all need to hear right now.— Karyna Micaela on July 20, 2020
Secret American - Here Comes a Man
The newest single from bi-coastal-based Secret American, “Here Comes a Man,” seems to float along an island breeze. A mournful trumpet opening preludes heartbeat-style drums that whisk you inside an indie romance film—one where you happen to be sipping a piña colada on the beach while locking eyes with your summertime love-at-first-sight. Lead vocalist Derek Krzywicki offers us rose-colored vision into this meet-cute in the opening line, softly singing in the vein of an Americana Alex Turner, “Hello, I’ve seen your face before, I don’t recall your name / You’re looking at me too long through a glass of champagne.” But before we know it, he has craned his neck to notice his love-interest’s sub-par boyfriend and the song transforms from an ode to instant attraction into a declaration of daring confidence: “Is he making you happy, doesn’t look like he can." As the protagonist walks up to them, he grunts both musically and memorably, and announces his own presence with “Here comes a man.” It brings to mind the otherworldly recognition that comes with meeting the eyes of our future love, and smirking as we approach them—knowing we’re about to shatter their world in the best way possible:
how curious, as
you glide on cumulus
i realize—i’ve climbed
all of the mountains
contained in the galaxies
your eye’s azure iris;
nine, ten lifetimes
before. now, if only
this time, you could
your name?— Jessie Nicole on July 20, 2020
Jónsi - Swill
“Swill,” one of the latest singles from Icelandic born singer and multi-instrumentalist Jónsi, is a bombastic and towering piece that feels both simultaneously familiar and foreign. Opening with a stark A.G. Cook produced mix of drums and horns, “Swill” sounds more like a new track from Cook collaborator Charli XCX than new content from the Sigur Rós frontman. However, once the rest of the instrumental settles in and Jónsi's wispy falsetto begins to deliver, familiar themes from the singer’s work begin to show. Lyrically, Jónsi is coming to terms with mistakes made in the past, “You say I did something wrong yesterday / You're right, of course, I'm making a fool of myself (In every way).” Though the almost bubblegum pop instrumental teeters on the edge of feeling out of place, there is still a billowing, orchestral vein running through it that tethers it to the singer. If the track does anything, it’s a sign that Jónsi is not only back, but he is again pushing the sonic boundaries in the most familiar way.— Jonah Minnihan on July 20, 2020
Phoebe Bridgers - I Know the End
It's an elegant and brutal exclamation point to a poetic, all-encompassing album. The highly anticipated follow-up record to Stranger in the Alps possesses every quality that endeared the world to Phoebe Bridgers' original musicianship. Bridgers has an ability to effortlessly marry brooding emo rock and soft, heartfelt folk in her songwriting—making her a leading voice in modern-day alt music. "I Know the End" is particularly startling because of its chameleon nature. It's dreary and sweet, hard rock anthemic, and gritty emo at its finest. It's not that the song can't make up its mind. In fact, the track eloquently punctuates every theme and tone previously introduced earlier in the album. "I Know the End" is a thesis statement of Bridgers' discography, mood, and inner conflict. Its lyrics emphasize the primary wrestlings from Punisher's stand-out tracks including "Chinese Satellite" and "Garden Song," which include a longing to believe (or disbelieve) in a higher power, a weariness over our apocalyptic society, and the aching loneliness of nostalgia. The track lyrically and musically escalates to a chorus of voices scream-singing "The End is Here," which feels like the most freeing expression of feeling utterly helpless in a climate of chaos. "I Know the End" concludes with Bridgers literally screaming while the song erupts under her voice. It's off-putting, then moving, then heartbreaking. The song ends with Bridgers ASMR-style breathing into the mic, laughing, and gasping for a breath, which brings you back down to earth after having transcended to an intensely ethereal and depressive space. This track is a defining, honest glance at our unforgiving circumstances. It brings you to the conclusion that maybe hope is found in unflinchingly observing the messes we make, addressing them, and moving forward—not taking ourselves too seriously along the way.— Hannah Lupas on July 20, 2020
Wingtip - Demons
Wingtip is the blissful project of Nick Perloff-Giles. His music is irresistibly hook-filled, but those hoping to dance themselves free of all anxiety and introspection won’t find that here—“Demons” has tender vulnerability at its core. The song explores feelings of uncertainty and insecurity, offering strength and comfort in the form of an addictive beat drop. The chorus is a plea to reveal the worst. Perloff-Giles sings, “Show me your demons, and I’ll show you mine.” It’s an earnest request over delightful pop production. “Demons” is a reminder that sharing our challenges is exactly what makes them bearable: “It’s hard to know where to begin, but it’s easier with someone." There’s hope in going through our most difficult moments with others—and definitely in dancing through them with this song.— Siena Ballotta Garman on July 17, 2020
rum.gold - Fix Me
rum.gold’s new song “Fix Me” is a gorgeous, ethereal depiction of what it feels like to process relationships in isolation. He calls the song an “acoustic sketch”—by leaving airy spaces in between chords for the music to breathe, he allows the powerful lyrics to seep into the listener’s mind. While the aching sorrow in his voice is prevalent as he repeats, “I’m sorry” throughout the song’s first section, the emotional peak of the track comes as he sings, “You can’t be my northern star / When you’re the reason home seems so far.” His vocals are a warm, sharp falsetto—crying out for somebody to not only hear him but understand him. All in all, rum.gold’s “Fix Me” is a sonic search for the missing puzzle piece that it would take to make his relationship work. Despite his soul searching, by the end of the song, he still can’t find it. He comes to the silent realization that he must find inner peace on his own, as a faint siren drives away in the distance. Listen wherever you stream.— Paige Shannon on July 17, 2020
Xelli Island - Sometimes
The broken aspects of our society just keep on getting clearer at this stage of 2020. Xelli Island’s new single, aptly titled “Sometimes," does an uncanny job of capturing the existential desperation that’s running rampant in all of us in varying capacities. The artist writes that when one navigates this world through the lens of mental illness, “all of its toxicity and phoniness becomes crystal clear." With opening lyrics calmly vacillating between “sometimes I feel alright, I leave my house, people are nice," and “some days I’m swallowed up in an emptiness and numbing thoughts, and even truth feels like a lie; yeah some days I’d rather die," “Sometimes” goes on to paint a familiar mental picture. Xelli is kind enough to hold up this internal mirror with the backdrop of some truly summer-ific production. A rollicking, walking beat and thrumming, warm bassline keep the energy snapping along, and the lead vocals are clean and crisp with just enough spacey delay to remind you of the vertigo caused by spinning in your own head. The real twist is that this song was written years ago. It’s truly comforting to remember that these feelings, though quite stark at the moment, are nothing new—with musical dispatches like "Sometimes," we can weather them together.— Stephanie Lamond on July 17, 2020
Junior Mesa - Losing My Grip
I firmly believe that there is a special place in the world for upbeat breakup songs, and that place is a car radio. "Losing My Grip" by Junior Mesa is a high energy reclamation of control by acknowledging that you’re not fine, actually. The song riffs and rolls through two and a half minutes that validate your need to briefly disappear with just a car, sunshine, and your thoughts. “An escapist road trip is a totally reasonable reaction to heartbreak,” the track speaks, with equal parts serious lyrics and lighthearted production touches. Each verse is supported by steadfastly syncopated rhythm guitar, paralleling the feeling of hanging on by a thread—but still hanging in there. A whimsical flute line dances between stanzas, which conjures the aesthetic of Noah and The Whale and The Boy Least Likely To. Mesa’s voice playfully stretches syllables, crafting a vocal line that, somehow, feels a lot like a rainbow slinky. Overall, the track sparkles with wit, humor, and technical finesse. Dripping in optimism yet leaning into vulnerability and heartache, it’s a song that is sure to fit whatever headspace you’re in.— Allison Hill on July 17, 2020
Anderson .Paak - Lockdown
Reflective and hyper-relevant, Anderson .Paak’s “Lockdown” feels like a conversation you’d have with a close friend, reflexively calling them up in a moment of downtime to download on what’s been a brutal few months.
He unpacks recent happenings with colloquial candor,
"You should've been downtown (word)"
overlapping current events and personal response
"Someone cut the channel off the news 'fore I lose it"
with call-it-as-he-sees it bullshit (read: societal irony, hypocrisy).
"Said, 'It's civil unrest,' but you sleep so sound / Like you don't hear the screams when we catchin' beatdowns? /Stayin' quiet when they killin' n-----, but you speak loud / When we riot, got opinions comin' from a place of privilege."
With characteristically deft verse, .Paak delivers an astute, enduring Black Lives Matter protest song that simultaneously holds space for us to process, in real time along with him, the impact of this surreal moment in our history while we’re currently living it. In simple summation, “the people are rising.” The song leaves us with 40 seconds of instrumental, demanding we take a few more beats to think about it.Talia Pinzari on July 7, 2020
Fake Dad - Such Great Heights
In their mellow, entrancing fashion, Brooklyn local duo Fake Dad sweetly sing their own rendition of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights." Andrea de Varona’s voice aerates the track, inviting a floating feeling into the mix which beautifully fastens the sound to the lyrical notion of being up above the earth. Like a welcomed hallucination, the euphonious plucking of strings likens itself to a warm and rising wind.— Laney Esper on July 7, 2020