Jónsi - Exhale
The summer after I graduated high school, I sat with bulky headphones on a hard metal stool at Waterloo Records in Austin, TX, completely spellbound, as I learned that music can literally make you feel like you’re on another planet. At the time, the newly released album Me∂ su∂ i eyrum vi∂ spilum endalaust was the first music I’d ever heard by Jónsi Birgisson, and his band Sigur Rós quickly became my favorite. To me, Birgisson’s music has always been about the sacred, inextricable relationship between filling and releasing. So when I saw that his first true solo release in a decade would be called “Exhale,” I smiled. The track begins with what is essentially a guided meditation: cavernous piano chords lead slowly to eight simple words: “Breathe in / breathe out / learn to / let go.” But the beautiful message of “Exhale” is that in moments of instability, you have to be able to forgive—at the very least, yourself; and perhaps, the universe. As the soundscape begins to shimmer and awaken post-meditation, Jónsi sings, “This is the way it is / It isn’t your fault / It isn’t your fault,” and maybe it’s just me, but right now that’s exactly what my anxious brain needs to hear. Around the halfway point, we begin to hear distant electronic chirps: the first signs of the track's brilliant co-producer, A. G. Cook, and a subtle amuse-bouche for the pounding, cathartic pop he provides for the song’s magnificent coda. The space created by the contemplative second verse (“Hold on / Inhale / Exhale / Exhale it from today”) is then filled with an ecstatic sun-shower of sound: anchored by A.G. Cook’s buoyant bass, Jónsi’s vocals swirl around themselves like a hive of butterflies, and eventually disappear. Then, filled with a fresh hope, you exhale.— Karl Snyder on May 18, 2020
Jordana - I'll Take It Boring
Leave it to bedroom pop artist Jordana to write a relatable song about social anxiety while we're all social distancing. The 19-year-old dives into why sometimes simplicity may be the best thing on her latest single, "I'll Take It Boring." The lo-fi song shares the story of an experience Jordana had at a Halloween party in 2017. She sets the scene and immediately expresses that she regrets her decision to go out, describing the party as a "fever dream." The bittersweet track induces both joy and social anxiety with its breathy vocals, snappy basslines and brooding synths. Her inner introvert truly shines through in lyrics like, "Should've stayed at home I would rather be asleep / I could write a poem, maybe read a magazine / Maybe all of this is exactly what it seems / I am in a movie and the scene is a catastrophe."
Simen Mitlid - Birds
On his new single “Birds," from the upcoming album of the same name, Norwegian singer-songwriter Simen Mitlid expertly guides you through a maze of self-reflection. Memories of friendship, family, doubt and loss are bound together by the consistent sense of longing, both for connection and meaning. The acoustic riff that repeats throughout most of the track, grounds the song as it seamlessly shifts from scene to scene, bringing a sense of cohesion to the vignettes flashing through the narrator’s mind. The additional guitar, flutes, harmonized vocals and eventual drums flow around the repeated guitar line to shape the atmosphere of the song. Mitlid's soft and haunting vocal, reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens, ensnares and transports you. The song closes with the repeated line “it’s something for the future," adeptly summing up the four-minute journey you have just undergone, down into deep introspection and back out again into cautious hope.— Emerson Obus on May 15, 2020
Pantayo - V V V (They Lie)
The all-women, Filipinx band Pantayo is coming at us strong with the third single off of their self-titled album, "V V V (They Lie)." This track is a power mantra; an iron hymn that begins muttered under the breath and finishes in a scream of fury. This is the song you blast on repeat when you need to pump yourself up. If I had to fight someone, this is the track I would play as I take the gloves off.
While most people seem to fear confrontation more than death itself nowadays, this song stares it straight in the face without blinking. “They lie they will never tell the truth” is repeated over and over as a reminder that you can’t change other people’s bad behavior, but you sure as hell can rise above it. In lieu of a marked evolution, "V V V (They Lie)" stays the course with a steady beat that shoulders the bullshit aside and plows on, unwavering. What do you do when someone insists on lying because they know when it comes to the truth, “it ain’t cute?" You roll your eyes and keep on walking, folks. Karma will take care of the rest.
Pantayo marries kulintang and other traditional instruments from Southeast Asia with modern synth and lo-fi beats to create a genre of their very own. Each of the 3 singles off the album have been very different from each other, and the full album as a whole is only more versatile and exciting. Check out the full record, via Telephone Explosion Records, today wherever you stream.— Shasha Léonard on May 15, 2020
Ester - Not the Kind
Ester’s “Not the Kind” is an unflinchingly honest song about seeing what’s right in front of you. “I’m not the kind that you’re thinking of…I’m not the kind that you’re dreaming of;” a series of clauses set the scene. Chicago band Ester’s lyrics are clear and concise. There are no double meanings to untangle or complex production to hide behind. They lay it all on the line. Heartbreak, rejection, conflicting notions of how and what to be in this world; Ester channels that emotion on Turn Around, their refreshingly introspective sophomore album. “You’re not the way to the mountaintop / Hate to say I’ve climbed enough...I’m not the kind that survives that stuff.” Insecurity can be empowering if it lets you move on. If you love Lucius and The Wild Reeds, you’ll probably like Ester too.— Corinne Osnos on May 15, 2020
Francesca Blanchard - Happy For You
A warm, wandering guitar leads to Francesca Blanchard’s carefully parsed confessions on "Happy For You," from the singer and songwriter’s upcoming record, Make It Better. That same warmth ignites Blanchard’s white hot unease, born from conflicting feelings about the dissolution of a relationship, as the track treads emotionally wrought territory with a deft sense of purpose. These two words feel swiftly different—a quiet, tempered anger and ambivalent, cheerful instrumental stylings—but cumulatively, these choices illuminate the dynamics at the heart of the circumstance. Blanchard is both intuitively and musically aware of this conflict, and says the song recounts “trying to salvage the remaining pieces of a broken relationship while making as little noise as possible. It's a submission to grief, and there is something so fragile in that.”— Emma Bowers on May 14, 2020
Ela Minus - they told us it was hard, but they were wrong
Ela Minus’s new release, "they told us it was hard, but they were wrong" is an otherworldly escapade into a dancey multiverse of sound. She wastes no time getting under our skin with a persistent beat and a layered vocal echoing over it’s pitched-down mirror image. One can imagine Minus staring into the looking glass, a conjurer spinning planetary magic around her. Ambient sounds swirl around her as she speaks a simple truth: “Everyone told us it’s hard but they were wrong. When you love, you love it all, and nothing is impossible.” The layers grow in energy and complexity, a tapestry of synths swelling and stuttering over a four on the floor kick drum that won’t quit. It’s a tripped out victory dance and an explosive ode to love.— Mikhal Weiner on May 14, 2020
Hala - Somehow
“Somehow,” a standout track from Hala’s Red Herring, is the pure distillation of only the best parts of the rock and roll ethos. It is sunglasses-and-leather-jacket cool, with none of the pretense. Singer-songwriter Ian Ruhala, who plays essentially every instrument on the album, plays the part of your friendly neighborhood Julian Casablancas, delivering a perfectly crafted pop song with a simplicity that feels effortless. Artists like Stef Chura and Anna Burch (for whom Ruhala played guitar on tour), among many others, set a high bar for Detroit’s vibrant indie rock community, but it is a community Hala slides into nicely. Though he retreated to the woods of Washington to record the album, he now broadcasts his Mid-Day Show sporting a sweater and his dulcet voice from his Detroit home, giving guitar lessons and music production tips from a safe distance. In the song’s music video, Ruhala and his ragtag bowling team narrowly defeat the bigger, meaner favorites, but even after all of the bad blood he reaches out to offer a handshake over a game well played. Ruhala is an underdog poised to break out, the hero of whatever story we need.— Daniel Shanker on May 14, 2020
Elah Hale - ITPA
Relationships can be challenging, we know this. A partnership could have a pair of fantastic communicators, and somehow the whole thing can still unravel. Elah Hale, singer/songwriter, model & native New Yorker, at only 20-years-old, has her own story of disconnect to tell on the track “ITPA,” short for “in the party alone.” Apparently, after getting into it with a significant other, Hale went to a party to clear her mind. During the party, she came to certain realizations about the relationship. “You only miss me when you’re by yourself, I’m losing patience,” Hale sings with her tender, silky vocal, sharing a storyline that so many young lovers face. Hale’s cadence is fixed with a sense assurance that might confirm her desire to find a healthier affair. Despite it’s melancholic message, the smooth, alt-pop track is melodic magic that sounds like it could fit right into any party playlist. The beat is churning, steady and provides proper space for atmospheric textures and Hale’s vocal to be the track’s driving force. “I don’t know myself, I just can’t do it,” she sings. Hale’s honesty and lush confidence will get her to where she needs to be, and it’s likely a path that will be her own.— Deanna DiLandro on May 14, 2020
Feng Suave - I’m Warping Here
"I’m Warping Here” by Dutch duo Feng Suave has all the makings of your favorite summer track: retro-soul style, a body-moving groove and references to childhood nostalgia. Don’t let it fool you; the lyrics reveal themes a little heavier and darker than the feel-good vibes let on. On second thought, go ahead and let it fool you. In this song, songwriters Daniel De Jong and Daniel Elvis Schoemaker explore the sinking feeling that your best days are behind you and adulthood is turning out to be a whole lot less glamorous than you once envisioned. One particularly poignant line: “Maybe I'm not ever really home for long enough to stare my own eyes down.” Is it that we’re too busy to take a moment to get to know ourselves, or do we intentionally keep ourselves busy to avoid doing so? Either way, the subject matter and musical production are actually a brilliant pairing. Everyone can relate to this everyday existential dread. It’s a reminder that we’re all in this together, so let’s celebrate being human. Go ahead and turn it up while you swivel your hips in your kitchen or drive with the windows down. Trust me. It feels so good. And I don’t know about you, but I could use a little feel good anthem right about now.— Karyna Micaela on May 13, 2020
Kali Uchis - angel
Being stuck inside just became a million times more enjoyable with Kali Uchis’s latest TO FEEL ALIVE EP drop. After her 2018 release of Isolation and a few amazing features on other artist’s tracks like Little Dragon and KAYTRANADA, she’s back with sexy, slow songs perfect for sunbathing out your window or thinking about your quarantined lover. “angel” is a gorgeously honied track off of the EP, conjuring up images of swaying around in Kali’s personally made paradise. Like many of her other hits, the sweetness of her voice breathes life and feeling. Her warming vocals embrace you, confessing her desires to her lover and easily hypnotizing her listeners with cool rhymes and weightless rhythm. Some of the sounds in “angel” feel close to her 2015 earlier release Por Vida (like the intro to her track “Speed”), but with even more mastery and layers. Kali continues to grow in artistry while keeping and growing upon her signature sound. Her next highly awaited album is slated for release later this year, and if its anything like the sleek TO FEEL ALIVE EP, we can anticipate the best.— Julie Gentile on May 13, 2020