Nao & Lianne La Havas - Woman
Alternative R&B goddesses, Nao and Lianne La Havas, have teamed up to bring us empowering energy in the form of the insanely groovy single, “Woman.” This is Nao’s first release since her 2019 Grammy nomination for Saturn, and unsurprisingly, she delivers some heat. From the jump, we’re met with funk guitar interplay, a solid beat, sultry bass and unstoppable vocals from this powerhouse duo. Both contribute sweet, sweet harmonies and cascading, smooth dual vocals that speak to the strength of women and the power of self-confidence. “If God is Woman, then on Sunday I’ma worship us,” sings La Havas on the second verse, while Nao follows with, “Take my mirror out the bag and fill it with confidence." These women know that their resilience will only build up their strength. In a tweet, Nao mentions, “This is a song Lianne and I are so happy to put out. I believe this is the start of a new dawn where being a woman - esp a woman of colour - can & should be celebrated. This is our time! We all deserve to be celebrated.” Through their music, and this tune specifically, Nao and La Havas carve out a special place for their voices in the conversation surrounding the empowerment of women, and it’s safe to say this is just the beginning for them.— Deanna DiLandro on September 9, 2020
Tedy - Boys Don't Cry
Montreal-based alternative pop artist Tedy grapples with toxic masculinity, trauma and vulnerability in his single "Boys Don't Cry." Tedy tells the tale of always having your guard up, never showing weakness, only to realize your vulnerability's strength. The Haiti native's smooth and soulful vocals are soaked in hopelessness at the start of the track, diving into feelings of fear and sadness. This is especially present in lyrics like, "I ripped my heart and buried it, there's no need for it no more," and "cause boys don't cry, so don't let them see." As the music builds into swell full of 808s, synths and infectious guitar lines in the bridge and the final chorus, Tedy urges listeners to "try and feel something" and move to a place of acceptance and empowerment. Photo by Mathew Guido.— Alessandra Rincon on September 3, 2020
Dirty Projectors - Holy Mackerel
Dirty Projectors' latest, "Holy Mackerel," welcomes David Longstreth back into the spotlight after a wonderful string of releases had bandmates Maia Friedman and Felicia Douglass blessing the mic with two EPs: the beautifully poignant Windows Open and the joyous Flight Tower, respectively. "Holy Mackerel" will be featured in their third EP release this summer, Super João (out September 4), and this time will have Longstreth on lead vocals.
According to the band’s social media, the song’s title comes from a story about Longstreth’s partner, who supposedly at only ten months old exclaimed, ‘ho maaco!’ while observing a hippopotamus at a zoo. The story claims that those were her very first words—a cute backstory that adds on to the already personal and intimate songwriting, where the idiomatic expression takes on a new and romantic dimension. There is a soft, genuine tenderness in Longstreth’s vocals. The song floats away on a cloud of cool and breezy bossa nova rhythm patterns. Longstreth plucks on nylon strings with ease, but behind an apparent simplicity lies the band’s signature idiosyncrasies.
The ongoing release of their five-part EP series this summer has reminded us of the band’s incredible ability to keep itself constantly new, fresh and relevant—this time, allowing us to take turns getting to know each band member a little better, all while we continue to watch David Longstreth slowly turn into David Byrne. Photo by Jason Frank Rothenberg.— Alejandro Veciana on September 2, 2020
Kate Bollinger - Feel Like Doing Nothing
"Feel Like Doing Nothing" is an anthem for those days where you recognize yourself on the verge of burnout, and you take a moment to pause just before you fall over the edge. (Otherwise known as a Sunday, probably sometime in mid-August). Kate Bollinger's track opens with mellow acoustic guitar initially uncommitted to a tempo, skipping and starting in a way that still manages to feel more organic than forced. Soon warm jazzy-tone bass slides in and rounds out the pulse. Its heartbeat-like groove is a bit faster than you would expect—like someone trying really hard to take a deep breath and relax. Keys wander in and out like intrusive thoughts, while guitar lines try to establish a melody, and the bass keeps up its groove. The track keeps moving, not quite rushing, until the verse where She comes home and sits on the couch. Over the rest of the track, the heartbeat of the song gets progressively slower as the keys finally meld into the melody. It’s a thank you note for the people you love, whose presence makes it easier to feel like you can take a breath, lie on the couch, and feel good doing absolutely nothing. Photo by Jonathan Roensch.— Allison Hill on September 2, 2020
Grey Oakes & Julius Tunstall - Sad Boy
Singer-songwriter Grey Oakes joins forces with Julius Tunstall on the pop-tinged R&B tune "Sad Boy," the second collaboration between the North Carolina-based artists. The soulful piece has Oakes yearning to switch lanes for a destination more serene. "Girl you snap right back / To things I thought we got over," he frets, wishing they could focus on the positives. Sinking into the front seat of his Jetta, we find Oakes swerving past whatever it is that is "stepping on my good state of mind." With polished production and Oakes and Tunstall's voices meeting for harmonies that melt to the touch, the easy listening track is the perfect soundtrack to the end of your summer. Oakes's first full-length release Introvert, self-produced alongside Tunstall, is stacked with charming bops that span from neo-soul to John Mayer-esque guitar licks that pay homage to his earliest influences while grappling with "coming of age and struggling with the feelings of uncertainty."— Ysabella Monton on September 2, 2020
filous & The Kooks - Hey Love
Sometimes music is glowing proof that the universe strings the future to our present in ways we won’t learn for years to come—or, sometimes, for more than a decade. Such is the case for me with filous and The Kooks’ sun-soaked summer collaboration, “Hey Love.” Thirteen summers ago, in 2007, you could find me sunbathing in the often underestimated, blistering Midwestern heat on the back patio of my parents’ house. I snapped a CD into my red Sony Walkman, lamenting about whatever then-world-shattering-now-trivial heartbreak I was going through—and my song of choice? One that would echo the feeling reeling in my melancholy teenage heart: “Naïve” by The Kooks, who remain one of my favorite bands to this day. Fast forward to 2015, add in a few more heartbreaks and zoom out, and you would see an aerial view of myself and my now-fiancé on a sweltering July day, sipping iced coffees on our first date; it was a learning of fate, the feeling of meeting someone you feel you already know—a coming home. I say my favorite band is The Kooks and my fiancé, brightly smiling, says “no way, mine too!” Jump once again to 2018, and I am watching filous open for Mat Kearney; entranced by his uniquely smooth and electronic sonic palette. On the train ride home, I save all of his recent collaborations to my Spotify library. Less than a year later, my fiancé and I would finally see The Kooks together in concert. At the fusion of all of these memories is the happily shimmering made-for-summer anthem “Hey Love.” I was working on wedding planning the day I saw filous and The Kooks had collaborated and released this track, and I couldn’t play it fast enough. filous seamlessly supplements The Kooks’ trademark acoustic rock-pop strumming with gentle violin swells, slight tinges of distortion, and electronic clapping percussion. It was as if The Kooks’ frontman Luke Pritchard was singing this string of memories back to me: “It took a lot to find you / All the circles we've ever spun / And all the records when we sing along / The moments frozen, one by one.” Now, as we prepare for our wedding this autumn, in the stressful atmosphere of a worldwide pandemic, the warmth of “Hey Love” made me realize the universe is surely stringing us somewhere beautiful that we’ve yet to think about. As the song rings out (“I know where I’m going / I no longer need to run”), I smile, ready to face it all.— Heddy Edwards on September 2, 2020
Arlo Parks - Hurt
Arlo Parks is a poet as much as she is a musician, and this comes across profoundly in her new single, “Hurt,” in which she tells the story of a boy named Charlie with a “heart so soft it hurt to beat.” From the start, which kicks off with an up-tempo drumbeat, Parks shows listeners accustomed to her more gradual, muted introductions that she is not one to be predicted. The drumbeat carries throughout, with horns swelling behind the song’s chorus, until a break in the middle of the song, where Parks delivers spoken word over a bassline.
From “watching Twin Peaks,” to “dreaming of a house with red carnations by the windows,” Parks uses detailed imagery to paint the vivid picture of someone whose anguish and longing we can all, on some level, relate to: the feeling that it would be better to hurt than to not feel anything at all. “Hurt” is energetic, taut and brimming with empathy and optimism.— Maya Bouvier-Lyons on September 1, 2020
Angel Olsen - Waving, Smiling
A clean electric guitar, simply plucked chords and the sleepy sweetness of Angel Olsen’s gorgeous vocals unfolding in waves around us. These are the pieces that make up ‘Waving, Smiling,’ a delicate track off of Olsen’s new LP. The record is appropriately titled Whole New Mess—it seems to be describing everyone’s current state of existence. Indeed, Olsen’s vulnerability and open-eyed candid songwriting is easy to get lost in as we spend more and more days at home. “All my fears, cried out all of those years,” she sings with grace, “Look out my window, the sun is shining.” She’s right of course, we know she is, the sun has risen again today. We dive into her voice, wrapped in the softest of reverbs as she hits a high note and reaches the peak of the tune. “I’m waving, smiling, [...] alive and dying,” she sings to us. So are we, Angel. So are we. Photo by Kylie Coutts.— Mikhal Weiner on September 1, 2020
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
Elvis Perkins - See Through
Elvis Perkins’ latest single, “See Through,” is a comforting slow burn fitting for a summer such as this one. Perkins’ smooth croon guides his introspective lyrics along as a warm orchestration of horns and strings create an ambience reminiscent of his early work.
“See Through” finds Perkins reminding himself of better days to come, hopeful and confident of the healing qualities of music itself. “Leave me alone with my headphones / I’ll be alright / I’ll leave you alone with your headphones / we’ll be just fine,” Perkins warbles. The Sam Cohen-produced track is the third single off the upcoming album Creation Myths, out October 2 via MIR/Petaluma. Photo by Ebru Yildiz.— Jonah Minnihan on September 1, 2020
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