Parcels - Overnight (from Hansa Studios, Berlin)
Parcels, the Aussie fivesome known for their disco-pop bangers, recently released Live Vol.1 as a follow up to their 2018 self-titled debut album. Among the classic studio recordings made in Hansa, Berlin is “Overnight," famously cowritten with Daft Punk and carrying the same funky vibes off of the iconic French duo’s Random Access Memories. If you’re familiar with Parcels, you know they have a knack for transporting their listeners back to the groovier days of the ’70s. I wasn’t alive yet, but tracks like “Overnight” feel like the rainbow that bridges the generational gap between us all.
The recent turn of weather is a reminder of the New York City summer looming over our heads, and with quarantine, the uncertainty of what that summer looks like. Before self-isolation, we could rely on the routine of heavy heat like clockwork. Everyone knows some iteration of what I’m talking about; when Friday finally rolls around and the murderous sun has set, you hit play on a track like ”Overnight” and start to get ready. It’s a reminder of late nights spent out with friends, in your best outfits, dancing at halogen lit bars like Mood Ring or Friends and Lovers, skin sticky with the humidity, and the pulse of too many people packed into too small of a room. The bathroom line might be long but the possibility in the air is electric. Under the flashing lights, the silhouettes of your friends are bobbing up and down to the beat. One catches your eye and smiles, teeth glowing blue-white. Another is across the room, leaning over the bar with cash in hand. "Do you want anything?" they mouth over the heads of strangers. There is the laughter of shared inconvenience, of worries saved for another day. It may be hot and loud, but with the right music and the right people, there is a feeling of fullness; a promise of life, playing on repeat.— Shasha Léonard on May 22, 2020
Kathleen - Seven Miles
There’s no right place to start with "Seven Miles." The vocals, the lyricism, the production, the arrangement—each folding so perfectly into one another. An avalanche of a verse barrels forward amassing energy and urgency. Yet rather than climax, the chorus chooses to stop time completely. A masterful touch, Kathleen taking the chance to offer plainly from the heart. She sings with stunning ease and a convincing assuredness, the moment both intimate and heavenly. The chorus explodes beyond itself, its two characters soaring together above the world’s chaos. Returning with added passion, Kathleen shines again, a warm richness developing in the second verse. The perfect bass run sneaks in, teasing more to come, and as the chorus ends more arrives. Kathleen unleashes a breathtaking moment, the band in full force, hoisting her up above the clouds to belt the refrain one last time. With a standout track within a standout EP, Kathleen has found a new sound in a familiar world. Instantly recognizable yet utterly unique, it’s something to behold.— Max Himelhoch on May 19, 2020
Mt. Joy - Death
On a charity livestream, Mt. Joy frontman Matt Quinn explained that “Death” is a misnomer—it is a life-affirming song, he assured, about lending a hand to help others work through problems rather than run away from them. “I know why you like death,” he sings, “‘Cause when you get in trouble, pulled under rubble / You want something else,” but he is there to pull you out of the rubble. Quinn says of the song, “I was hoping this song would remind people and myself that there are so many family members / friends here on earth that want to help us find our peace, and there really is so much beauty here, especially when you let people help you.” The song’s meandering verse gives way to a raucous chorus best sung en masse, shoulder to shoulder, shouting with little to no regard for tonality, joining on the “Ooh la la” even if you don’t know the words. “Death” is a reminder of all of the beautiful moments in life and succeeds in creating one all by itself.— Daniel Shanker on May 19, 2020
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
Max Garcia Conover - “Handsome Suit”
Max Garcia Conover’s new single “Handsome Suit” is a stunning acoustic ballad that weaves sentiments of past and present into one harmonious and well-crafted track. Conover’s gravelly voice radiates feelings of warm nostalgia in a way that is as beautiful as it is bittersweet. “Handsome Suit” combines the sonic qualities of a tactile bedroom demo combined with the refinement and lyrical sophistication of an artist who has mastered his craft. Conover’s first lines, “Half-Puerto-Rican in a handsome suit / skinny little nothing in the buffalo news” sets the tone of the entire song, and prompts the singer’s authentic reminiscence on the childhood and family events that have led to his current multifaceted identity. Conover’s gruff vocals and sincere vibrato are sure to please anyone who enjoys the work of Donovan Woods, Father John Misty and Jackie Green, and nearly anyone else who is looking for a thoughtful Americana tune.— Lilly Rothman on May 18, 2020
Similar Kind - Maria
"Maria,” the new single from indie-pop band Similar Kind, successfully captures the enchanting yet endlessly frustrating emotional cocktail associated with deep infatuation. The band, originally formed in Norwalk, CT, released their debut EP Faces & Places last year. “Maria” is the first single to be released from their follow-up project. The song introduces itself with a few sustained synth chords and draws you in with an inviting palm-muted guitar lick. Singer Julia Breen’s hypnotic vocal first appears about 40 seconds in with the rhetorical question, “Maria, why can’t I breathe without ya?” and from that moment on the listener is fully enveloped into the track’s swirling world of desire. Billowing around the vocal is a dreamy instrumental haze that continues to build and morph throughout the song with flourishes from the keyboard, guitar and bass. "Maria" is grounded by a funky drum line that seems to effortlessly drive the music forward while leaving plenty of space for the other instruments to breathe. As the track progresses, the groove seeps into your body, and if you’re not careful you’ll find yourself dancing unabashedly around your bedroom before it ends.— Mikhal Weiner on May 18, 2020
Dan Croll - Work
Dan Croll’s latest drop Grand Plan is a quick six-track project, including the captivating song “Work." Subdued electronics and keys lead us into the British musician’s dreamy voice, which sings “Been a long day, been a long week / I can tell you’re tired from the way that you speak." The hi-fi collection of sounds accompanying his vocals is cool and calm, a perfect relaxer for the subject this track is addressing. Carefully crafted combinations of keys, strings and percussion seamlessly weave their way in and out of the soundscape as he sings, “Come and rest your head on the fine silk sheet." "Work" feels as silky as the sheet that he’s singing about, and the subtle complexities and changes throughout build a sense of calm optimism that will have us all asking, “Hey, do you have to go to work today?”— Ben Burke 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