Mackenzie Shrieve - In the Before
When I first heard "In the Before," I didn’t have any words to describe it other than “pretty... just so pretty.” The heart of the song is a gorgeous acoustic guitar melody that’s warm in the same way a cup of coffee is when you’re across the table from somebody you’ve been looking forward to seeing all week. The instant the guitar finishes introducing the melody, Mackenzie Shrieve’s voice jumps in — like the lyrics are announcing thoughts that have been lingering at the tip of her tongue for ages already. Her voice picks up melodic threads from the guitar, weaving and bobbing in a way that feels as unique as it does familiar. Sweetness coats every syllable as you sink deeper into the story. It’s a love story, though the lyrics never mention the word "love" at all. Instead, they narrate the quiet way you start to notice mutual whispers of affection. Lyrics that could almost be for anyone. A slightly lingering step as you pass by their door, wondering if they’re home. Delicate affirmations that your relationship is valued. They always stop short of a dramatic gesture, remaining in the hazy realm of something you only notice because you know each other so well. Each verse welcomes a subtle new instrumental layer that bubbles under the surface. It’s a slow but inevitable build until the song suddenly swells with so much love that it bursts at the seams. Finally expressed and fully reciprocated, the song re-centers to its heart. The acoustic guitar closes the chapter, as lovely as it began, ready for what comes next. "In the Before" is sonic storytelling at its best. It just sounds how love feels.— Allison Hill on October 5, 2020
Masego - Passport
Two years after Masego’s debut album Lady Lady introduced the world to the artist’s one-of-a-kind "TrapHouseJazz" sound, “Passport” is here to take you away. In a summer that’s felt largely sour, Masego leaves us with the aftertaste of wanderlust and wishful thinking. He conjures up the mental and physical claustrophobia that accompanies staying in one place (or room) for too long. “I can’t wait to get out / things are lookin’ too familiar,” he sings over simple instrumentation. A Japanese koto gives the melody an ethereal twang. Well-rounded vocals make the most ordinary lyrics sensational, which Masego tackles in both English and Japanese. “Passport” is the latest single from a concept EP set to release later this year.— Corinne Osnos on September 24, 2020
Sun June - Singing
Back with their second single of the year, Sun June delivers another beautiful tune. The crux of the song finds the narrator waiting for the inevitable, “Waiting for [their] head to roll.” As the song progresses, that message grows stronger. But there’s no fear. The strength comes in acceptance, in moving forward. What stands out, in light of this courage, is the ease of the song. From the guitar sliding from chord to chord, to vocals gently observing the scene, the entire band is so comfortable and warm. And, it does feel like acceptance, like you can almost hear the smile peeking out around each “head to roll.” That feeling becomes explicit half way through. In a moment where the band could launch into an angry and elevated bridge, they choose the opposite. Pulling back completely, making room for the vocals and a hazy synth. Adding background vocals to support the earnest plea to move on. It’s with that support, and encouragement from the rest of the band’s new added energy, that lead singer Laura Colwell has a moment to shine, giving each delivery of the lyric a new sound and new shape. A charming and inviting sunny morning of a song.— Max Himelhoch on September 24, 2020
Your Grandparents - Tomorrow
Celebrate Black joy with "Tomorrow," the seductive, funk-infused single from LA trio Your Grandparents. Psychedelic synths and bongo drums make for a retro, yet futuristic track that proves the trio won't be held down by genre. Slick harmonies tell a story they describe as "a funkadelic cry for reassurance from a lover." “Polite / Ain’t really yo thang,” they concede, "Say the word / I’ll make the move." Candid in their want, they move into a syncopated rap laced with allure and desire: "If I can taste your delectable / The nourishment, the nature / The plentiful," a sexy and mischievous way to honor the strength of women. With a debut album due out this year via The Orchard, "Tomorrow" is just a sultry and sophisticated taste of what's to come.— Ysabella Monton on September 24, 2020
Anne Malin - Child
Anne Malin is producing some of the freshest Americana music today. Often called “gothic country,” Anne Malin’s dark undertones appeal to indie music fans who enjoy the likes of Angel Olsen and Phoebe Bridgers. The duo recently relocated to Nashville from Indiana. Instead of recording their back-from-hiatus album at The Bomb Shelter, featuring a collection of Nashville musicians, Waiting Song was recorded at home amid lockdown orders. The first batch of tracks from their quarantine album includes “Child,” a song that reimagines mundane activities (drinking tea, talking walks) by evaluating one’s surroundings with a child’s eyes (“The white blossoms turn pink when pressed on by me”). Twangy guitar bits and velvety vocals carry this track through to an outro that’s half-dream, half-drone. Singer/songwriter Anne Malin Ringwalt describes Waiting Song as “an album about what it means for everything to stop.” Produced with bandmate and longtime collaborator William Johnson, Waiting Song is out October 2. Photo by Rachel Winslow.— Corinne Osnos on September 24, 2020
Sufjan Stevens - Sugar
On "Sugar," Sufjan Stevens continues his pilgrimage into the territory of electro-pop, an area where we’ve perhaps not seen him dwell too often. And yet, like any Sufjan Stevens song, it feels oddly appropriate. No matter how fresh or new a Sufjan song may feel, there’s always something very warmly fitting about it, as if we’ve listened to it a thousand times before. And for an artist with a prolific two-decade-long career which includes countless singles, EPs and compilation albums, as well as seven full-length solo records, staying as relevant as he is is a nearly impossible feat.
"Sugar" is the newest single from Stevens’ upcoming eighth solo album, The Ascension (out on September 25). And much like his previously released singles this summer, "America" and "Video Game," "Sugar" is a sonically rich track full of electronic textures and soundscapes. The song “is ultimately about the desire for goodness and purity (and true sustenance),” Stevens said in a press release. Accompanied by a beautifully choreographed music video, the song has an incredibly familiar feel to it. If it weren’t for Stevens’ unmistakably gentle voice, the song's hook, “Come on, baby, gimme some sugar,” might as well be lifted straight out of any ordinary pop song. “All the shit they try to feed us / Don’t drink the poison or they’ll defeat us” could be perceived as such a banal line in any other song, but that’s not the case here. There’s a sense of urgency in Stevens’ lyrics, an urgency that builds up throughout the song. Starting from a nearly three-minute instrumental intro and ending at seven minutes and change, Stevens leaves us once again with an intricately produced song coated with catchy but charged melodies that can easily warrant many listens.— Alejandro Veciana on September 23, 2020
Darlingside - Green + Evergreen
“Green + Evergreen,” which serves as a precursor to innovative folk quartet Darlingside’s forthcoming album Fish Pond Fish, is an earthy masterpiece that delicately captures the idea of life’s dynamic evanescence and strained temporality. This track features fragmented guitar riffs, a synthesized pipe organ and soft vocals that allude to the song’s overall transience. “Green + Evergreen’s” lyrics, much like its instrumentation, teem with beauty and wonder; the band makes great use of subtle rhyme schemes and mellow repetition, allowing for a layered interpretation of each verse. Fans of Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens will doubtlessly revel in this gorgeous new track and celebrate the introspection it eloquently prompts.— Lilly Rothman on September 23, 2020
Anjimile - In Your Eyes
Anjimile sings of being ostracized in his new track, “In Your Eyes.” His voice swings from clear and soft to deep and brooding over a steady finger-plucked guitar and perfectly sparse percussion. It’s a lament of not being able to be what people want you to be. The Boston-based singer/songwriter does a call and response in the second verse: stating, “I can't run and I can't hide,” he is answered with a question, “Was my body denied?” before they sing “I don’t know” together. It feels like a communal response to a very personal feeling of not belonging to your body and subsequently the world around you. “In Your Eyes” is the third single off of their album Giver Taker, which was released via Father/Daughter Records on September 18.— Corey Bates on September 23, 2020
Future Generations - Little Bit Longer
Things are falling apart. You don’t have to look at the persistent onslaught of news updates to know it anymore. With the upcoming election, winter around the corner and no vaccine for COVID-19 in sight, “Little Bit Longer” is a short but sweet encouragement to hang in there. Future Generations’ third single this year keeps in line with their usual upbeat, shimmery ear candy, but has brought tighter cuts and a grittier but more controlled production quality.
Like waking up these days, our thoughts already frantic, the drumline hits the ground running with a staccato of arpeggiated synth. Frontman Eddie Gore’s daydream-haze of a voice, reminiscent of Julian Casablancas, sweeps over the panic with immediate effect, bringing the sound together into that carefree and vibrant end-of-summer feeling the band is so known for. There are the small details that delight: the punk rock lite bassline prefacing the first verse, the twinkly guitar waiting to be sewn into the chorus, the structurally impressive manner in which the instruments take turns entering and exiting around each other.
The lyrics “shake the bonds that turned our hearts to one / only to find them stronger” stand out as well, a powerful mantra against the day’s familiar discouragement. Instead of measuring our losses after the storm, we should take stock of everything that keeps us afloat during. While those might be less than we imagined, with so much feeling out of our control it is a reminder to be grateful for what we do still have and to keep our eyes on the horizon for first light. “Little Bit Longer” is a song worth keeping on repeat, especially as the nights grow only longer. Photo by Britnee Meiser.
Michi - Escondida
On “Escondida," Michi lets us in on her deepest secret. With a haunting rhythmic melody and chilling use of harmony, "Escondida" is a dreamy indie pop track on finding comfort in loneliness. The Spanish word "escondida" translates to “hidden,” and in the lyrics Michi uncovers that she longs to stay hidden in her own oasis. The track's narrative is highly relatable; wanting to escape from the world in one’s bedroom is a justifiable truth. Solitude is arguably where we can be ourselves, and Michi admits this. For her, being “escondida" signifies untangling the vulnerabilities that no one knows. The transition from English to Spanish going into the chorus is a highlight of the track: “Escondida aquí / mi soledad junto a ti / mi secreto aquí / sin ti no puedo vivir.” In a world where Latinx indie artists are far too often overlooked, Michi is giving the world yet another reason to listen.— Bianca Brutus on September 22, 2020
San Cisco - Alone
Separation is not for the faint of heart on “Alone,” San Cisco’s love letter that’s scared to say “I miss you.” The Australian indie pop trio fashions their psychedelic pop quintessence into a vulnerable ballad, singing of the constant push and pull in a long-distance relationship. It seems impossible to quiet the voice asking, “Does love drift away / A little bit every day?” when you wear yourself thin attempting to exist in two places at once, both where you reside physically and with the one person who feels like home. There’s an idyllic nostalgia in love feeling “elastic,” how it “pulls me back to pink sunsets”; it calls to mind an old love of mine tied to strawberry skies and golden sand between my toes, one that I lost to distance, yet still enraptures me years later.
The emotionally challenging song strays greatly from first track of theirs I ever heard, the infectiously bouncy “Run,” which still sits close to my heart as the first and only time I’ve ever heard my name in a song. The group’s new sense of self-awareness permeates their latest record, Between You and Me.
we close a 400-mile gap and I fall
onto your shoulder in the cab, hoping
my head will still fit into the crook of your neck.
fingertips trace the outline of my bare legs
blue eyes move from my chest, lifting and dropping
to the numbers on the meter, rising
back to the lights, meshing
into a blur of white out the window.