Japanese Breakfast - Be Sweet
The first single off of Japanese Breakfast’s forthcoming third studio album Jubilee, set for release on June 4, “Be Sweet” sets the tone of upbeat optimism, finding joy and freedom in forgiveness. In “Be Sweet,” singer/songwriter Michelle Zauner explores the courage it takes to be honest with oneself, to swallow one’s pride, to own our desires, and to have faith in their manifestation and, ultimately, to forgive. The Seoul-born, Oregon-raised, Philadelphia-based artist masterfully fuses her own contemporary musical style with sparkling synth sounds reminiscent of the universal favorites of the 80s: think Thompson Twins, Tears for Fears, The Cure. In her ever-distinct vocal style, sweet in its own right, Zauner takes us on a journey of forgiveness—from being caught up in our feelings and overthinking the truth, to letting someone back in after they’ve recognized their mistakes, ultimately acknowledging that it’s not too late, that the love there remains.
The song’s title, “Be Sweet,” appears as a command throughout the chorus, as Zauner declares over and over, “I wanna believe in you / I wanna believe in something,” and the urgency of this mantra is profoundly felt. We all need something to believe in, and sometimes (or often) that comes with the risk of being hurt or let down. Despite all of that, “Be Sweet” is an ode to forgiveness and hope, and with both a memoir (Crying in H Mart) and a full-length album set for release in the coming months—and a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel for all of us—Zauner’s optimistic sound on this track is extremely well-founded. Photo by Peter Ash Lee.— Maya Bouvier-Lyons on March 31, 2021
Charlie Hickey - Two Haunted Houses
Opening with a wave of ambient crowd noise, “Two Haunted Houses” from Charlie Hickey’s gorgeous debut EP Count The Stairs sonically expresses what it feels like to be truly alone, even when you’re surrounded by people—stream of consciousness thoughts about life, love and loss included. Produced, mixed and engineered by Marshall Vore, known for frequently collaborating with Phoebe Bridgers, the song is strikingly intimate. When you’re listening to it, it feels like you’re in the room with Hickey singing to you, spilling his secrets. The lyrics are made up of poignant vignettes and sepia-toned memories strung together with an emotional throughline. By pulling from seemingly everyday observations and conversations, Hickey manages to make the mundane feel earth-shattering. Verses like “Once I let your cat out of your house / But only for a little while / It’s gonna be funny in ten years / In fact you can already crack a smile about it” build up to a chorus that leaves us wondering if loving someone really means losing ourselves in them. The peak moment of the song, though, comes in the last verse when he sings, “And when I’m pretty sure I’m dying / Promise you won’t leave my bedside / It’s just a symptom of being alive / Sometimes I need reminding.” We all do. Listen to “Two Haunted Houses” wherever you stream. Photo by Olof Grind.— Paige Shannon on March 10, 2021
Beharie - Worry
“Worry” is the first single from Norway-based artist Beharie's upcoming sophomore EP, due later this year. Although this is a break-up song, you probably wouldn’t get that from a first listen. This genre-bending tune feels cheerful and fun, as it shifts smoothly between R&B, soul and a bit of indie pop.
An arpeggiated guitar plays gently before a groovy beat and lively vocals kick in, making it feel like a windows-down type of song. However, upon listening closely, it is evident that Beharie sings about a moment most of us have gone through, when it finally settles in that we’ve actually broken up with someone who was very special to us. In the verses, he invokes the heaviness of loneliness and the strangeness of navigating who we are as individuals once a relationship ends.
The instrumentals slow down and build beautifully between sections, echoing the uncertainty and the “two steps forward, one step back” process of getting over someone. This culminates in the chorus where a deeper understanding arises as Beharie sings optimistically, “Don’t worry child / It soon will end / We’ll be alright.” Beharie is firm in reminding us that the key to growth is to face your heartache head-on, leaving us hopeful that everything will be ok in the end. Photo by Malin Longva.— James Ramos on March 10, 2021
Derek Ted - W h i s p e r S
“W h i s p e r S,” the latest offering from Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Derek Ted, is an introspective and vulnerable emo-folk tune that finds comfort in self-examination. Leading with a strong, cyclical guitar and a wandering bass that serve as a guide for Ted as he recites the haunting opening line, “I hear whispers… dreams tell the truth of your heart,” the track finds Ted struggling to come to terms with his true desires. The harsh reality of the expectations and truth becoming misaligned comes crashing down as the track reaches a breaking point with a flurry of guitars. Yet, a glimmer of hope shines through as the track comes full circle by repeating its opening line, finding comfort in ultimately knowing the truth of your heart.
“W h i s p e r S” is the lead single from Ted’s upcoming KEEP TRYING ep, releasing April 20. Photo by Jason Lin.— Jonah Minnihan on March 9, 2021
Justy - Rinse, Repeat, Regress
Listening to Justy's latest single feels a bit intrusive. The Brooklyn-based musician cracks herself wide open in "Rinse, Repeat Regress," and she takes us all on a tour through her perspective on the all-too-familiar tango with remembering that self-love exists in a muddled post-break-up haze. Justy dives into a deep corner we all have after a break-up where she realizes she has nothing but time to tune into herself and her deepest feelings. In her lo-fi, but funky exploration into her inner-self, she begins her monologue cautiously in terms of coming clean with herself and her current reality, but she's confident in telling the listener she knows her heart is broken beyond repair, which influences her current outlook on love.
As the track progresses, Justy moves through her inner-monologue behind a 90s-influenced R&B beat reminiscent of TLC. As the beat and her self-banter flow on, she slowly comes to the conclusion that the type of real love worthy of celebrating is the love she has for herself, which comes alive in the chorus where she sings, "Now I'm single and I got nowhere to run / Unless I'm running to myself, I was looking for the answers / But I never thought I'd ask myself for help." Justy runs into her own arms with the proclamation, "Maybe when I love myself again / Maybe I could Iove again."
"Rinse, Repeat, Regress" is hardly a tale of regression: her perspective shift on self-love allows her to look at her break-up through a new lens, allowing for genuine gratitude for her ex to take over. Photo by Justy.
Samia - Pool - Bartees Strange Version
The introduction track to Samia’s debut record The Baby, the original version of "Pool" is a beautifully expansive song. Samia explores a fleeting intimacy, the song bubbling up as more questions come pouring out. With his contribution to The Baby Reimagined, Bartees Strange dials up both the expansiveness and the intimate tone. The intro and first verse deliver an extremely personal moment, so raw, driven by clean acoustic guitars and Strange’s stunning and gentle tone. The two fit hand in hand. Just after the minute mark the song blossoms. Powerful chords extend out like beams of light shooting into the sky while drums push the song onward underneath. Strange stays steady; a rock amidst the chaos, his voice is something to cling to. But, as we turn to the outro, the intensity and building passion overflows. The questions come pouring out again as the effects on the vocals give it a harsh edge, an edge that puts the visceral emotion of the moment front and center. “Is it too much to ask?” the refrain repeats over and over, and both Samia and Strange just want to know how long these moments will last, a question set in the assumption that they can’t. The two seem to be hoping that this awareness can empower them, keep them present in some way. It’s a feeling we all experience, a feeling anyone can, proven as both Strange and Samia fill this song with their own style and authenticity. But as the questions get harder, so do the emotions (and in this case, the music). All we can do is try to appreciate what we have when we have it, floating in that pool. Photo by Jessica DiMento.Max Himelhoch on March 5, 2021
S. E. Webster - You & I Would Die
S. E. Webster’s “You & I Would Die” can’t help but transport us to some western desert town where the horizon meets long dirt roads and desolate terrain. The layering of guitar, strings and an emotive choir craft a theatrical vision of the song. As Webster sings in an almost rugged yet delicate tone, he begins recounting a narrative of an experience with a past lover. The story follows Webster’s process of coming to terms with the "death" of a relationship ultimately taking place in California. Working alongside LA-based producer/composer Erik Groysman (Karmina, Cape Weather), mix engineer Steve Bone (Mario Jose) and mastering engineer Philip Shaw Bova (Andy Shauf, Father John Misty), the team crafted a stimulating and experiential project. Those who dwell in the environment of S. E. Webster Americana revival sound are welcomed with unconventional lyricism and tasteful instrumentation. The single is the title track from Webster’s 4-song debut EP, released February 26. Photo by Luke Armitage.— Keely Caulder on March 5, 2021
Baby Boys - Desperado
Crafting insane, bizarre, abundantly creative tunes is second nature to Baby Boys. The production/ multi-instrumentalist team is made up of well-versed music industry wunderkinds, including the likes of two Hippo Campus alumni: Jake Luppen and Nathan Stocker. Joining friend Caleb Hinz, the St. Paul trio seem adept at crafting their own chaotic sound, even though they've only been releasing music together for a few years.
Hyperactive, bouncy, fun and surprising, "Desperado" joins Baby Boys' handful of singles that continue to jostle and excite the scene. It's a wildly intelligent listen, and an effortlessly engaging alt-pop song. But unlike a lot of experimental pop, this track still manages to be accessible for unrefined ears. Baby Boys have carved out a niche in the rising indie scene that's all their own. In spite of the kaleidoscope nature of their soundscape, there's obviously a clear creative direction this band is following. Whatever it is, it's working. They manage to create cohesion out of gritty vocal distortion, gentle acoustics and dance beats. I can't explain why it works, it just does. Baby Boys has the talent, originality and acumen to succeed in anything they try. Whenever live shows come back, I plan to be front row at theirs. Photo by Muriel Margaret.Hannah Lupas on March 4, 2021
Pell - Technicolor
Pell's "Technicolor" may be more of a personal examination of his inner-self at first listen than we may think.
The fifth track on glbl wrmng, vol. 1 is a sample of the collaborative effort between Pell and multiple artists from his hometown of New Orleans, in this track, LeTrainiump and Dominic Scott. The record features multiple nods to Pell's home, thus providing the rapper with many opportunities to go back to basics. "Technicolor" goes back to square one and the most valuable asset of them all: Pell, himself.
A reoccurring theme in "Technicolor" explores the concept of the narrator going within in order to figure out his path in life. The journey of self-growth is not intimidating or heavy; the chorus of "Technicolor" celebrates the triumph in realizing the writer has moved through different thoughts and perceptions of himself, as illustrated through comparisons of viewing the world through a black and white lens. He finally discovers the value of his views, thus having the clarity to view thoughts and feelings through the bright technicolor lens; the self-assurance in understanding his worth allows for the exploration of the goals Pell later lays out.
glbl wrmng, vol. 1's ode to self-discovery and going back to one's roots was released on February 19. Photo by glbl wrmng.— Taylor Hodgkins on March 4, 2021
dad sports - nrvs again
dad sports’ latest single “nrvs again” falls somewhere between a Dayglow track and a more modern, synth-pop version of a Smiths song, topped with lo-fi lead vocals akin to Day Wave; the result is like a dance-ridden sugar pill for anxiety. In a rush of synths and sunny guitar riffs over fast-paced programmed drums, dad sports impressively bottles the odd sensation of discerning our own COVID-era emotions. In a glittering four minutes, they walk us through how difficult it can be to identify either rose-colored butterflies or adulthood anxiety when you’re already living in a constant state of quarantine unease: “feels like I’m nervous again / though it doesn’t take much these days…you’re the reason I can’t sleep tonight." But the good news is, by the end of listening to this indie pop gem, you will have forgotten your worries altogether. Photo by Lucas Kuhl.Heddy Edwards on March 3, 2021
serpentwithfeet - Same Size Shoe
Love is creation—collective cultivation producing an exclusive sense of joy that often becomes a cynosure to the world outside. Love is bare feet slapping against cold wooden floors on a particularly warm day—invigorating, assuaging, empathetic. Love is a shared experience, and the Baltimore-hailing artist serpentwithfeet explicates this to be in more ways than one in his latest release, “Same Size Shoe."
The release is a charming and emotionally profound breath of fresh air to carry us into the new season. Bearing the signature celestial vocals and distinctive serpentwithfeet style, the enlivening track is a personal attestation to being in love with someone who has undergone similar walks of life. It is a declaration of loving loudly and freely as a Black, gay individual with an impassioned dedication to do so. It is an attestation to the experience of love, resting not only in the fact that the couple can probably double the size of their shoe collection, but that they’re able to understand one another due to their shared experiences of living as Black men. As the adroit artist shared in a statement once, “I prefer to date and love on Black men. I don’t want to be with anyone who can’t go to my barber or walk a mile in my shoes.”
“Same Size Shoe” is a wondrous expedition of the artist's forthcoming album DEACON, which is set to debut on the 26th of March. DEACON stands as the third full-length project serpentwithfeet has released since his 2018 LP soil and 2016 release blisters. The much-anticipated album flaunts an attractive introduction with this track and music video combination, and we’re more than excited for its official release. Photo by Braylen Dion.— Bianca Brown on March 3, 2021