Raye Zaragoza - Rebel Soul
The world isn’t a pool. What we know of ourselves isn’t consistently reflected back at us. For folk artist Raye Zaragoza, an Indigenous woman of color raised in a New York City studio apartment, feeling seen in a white-washed landscape is often insurmountable. “I have felt like my mixed-race, intersectional identity is somehow letting everyone down,” she says of her experience, “I have felt that I can’t belong to any community because I am not enough of any one to belong.” So instead, Zaragoza sets out to be her own mirror. She grounds herself in her roots with strength and ease on her latest record, Woman In Color, and reclaims her sense of self with her own anthem, “Rebel Soul.” The song begins delicately, serene guitars and gentle drums guiding each other. As it builds, the entire song crescendos together and is met with uplifting strings and glints of piano, swirling around like wind brushing against your face. The music complements the message in a gorgeous pairing, all seeming to symbolize Zaragoza’s path to self-triumph. Her embrace of identity is entrenched in the song’s righteous chorus as she sings, “When the only thing you're left with are your torn and tattered clothes / And you find yourself a-wandering down a dark and lonely road / When you’ve got a feeling in your heart that no one seems to know / Feeling like a complete unknown / I’m a rebel soul.” It wasn’t until Zaragoza found herself on this very road that she realized she can leave behind her inhibitions and step fully into her power, as a rare musical talent and unique rebel soul. Photo by Cultivate Consulting.— Deanna DiLandro on October 30, 2020
Nilüfer Yanya - Crash
Nilüfer Yanya’s “Crash,” co-written and produced by Nick Hakim, made David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” pop right into mind. Sonically the songs are distinct, but in my brain they commiserate with each other thematically.
You’ve been there. Maybe it’s been an intense week and you’re feeling a little confined, a little off balance. Or maybe you’re in the car with Current Lover and their passive-aggressive comments are about to tip you right off the edge of sanity. Either way, the pressure’s gathering at your temples like cyclical waves (Yanya’s pounding bass!) and coming to a head. “Crash” feels like an introversion, a welcomed collection of self. It takes inventory of just how far we’ve had it up to, acknowledging we may be due for some self-care or a little self-destruction (where the heavy drinkers at?). Giving us a few moments of decompression, the melody shifts halfway through the song before diving back in (with that bass) to confirm that time’s up: there’s no expending any more for anyone. At least for the moment. Featuring “Crash,” Yanya’s new three-song EP, Feeling Lucky?, arrives December 11 via ATO Records. Photo by Molly Daniel.— Talia Pinzari on October 29, 2020
Babeheaven - Craziest Things
A band's choice of singles in the lead-up to their debut can go a long way towards determining how large of an audience they'll manage to capture. This is particularly true for independent acts such as West London's Babeheaven, whose full-length debut, Home For Now, is due out November 20. The band is already well into the promotional cycle, and the third single, "Craziest Things," has further entrenched their remarkably polished sound, with singer Nancy Andersen laying smooth neo soul-inflected vocals over bandmate Jamie Travis' tightly wound psychedelic grooves. During the chorus, Andersen almost seems to be feeding off of the energy that Travis' punchy guitar riffs inject into the track, lamenting about the familiar struggles of being kept up at night by intrusive thoughts. While being struck by anxiety or insomnia late at night is far from a pleasant experience, "Craziest Things" almost feels like a panacea to these problems; it might not cure your sleepless nights, but it will at least make you feel like you're not alone in experiencing them, and sometimes that's all we need to hear. Photo by raf_fellner.— Alec Bollard on October 29, 2020
Tomberlin - Floor
Tomberlin's "Floor" is a song meant for evening walks, hovering on the cusp of light and dark. It reminds me of a street about half a mile from my duplex. The two lanes are divided by a graciously wide median, which is lined by almost naturally spaced oak trees. The only giveaway of artifice is the vintage style street lamps — one between every two trees, exactly. Straight down the middle of the median, sheltered by the oaks, is a brick path. Once upon a time it was meticulously laid with clean red bricks. Now it’s settled in some places along with the dirt, and in others it’s risen up as the tree roots keep growing underneath. The path isn’t even anymore, and you can tell it hasn’t been for a while. You can still see its sophisticated herringbone pattern though, doubtless voted on by some homeowners' association at some point. Around dusk the street lamps start glowing yellow, washing the path in a soft golden glow. It looks like something out of a fairytale, complete with houses that could be castles keeping watch on either side. It’s the street my feet always wander to when it’s late and I can’t sleep because my mind is racing too fast to stand still. It’s not because it’s well lit, or quiet, or close, or safe-feeling. It’s because I like to walk by the houses and make up stories about the people living inside. I like to wonder what it feels like to take up so much space and how they could possibly fill it all up. I like to think about what I want space for, and who I want space for, and how I’ll make sure there’s always enough to hold them. By the time I get home, I’ve finally found my edges again. I know where I begin, and where I end, and I have a dedicated space to hold whatever is worth holding. That’s exactly the feeling Tomberlin captures in "Floor" — something whimsical and as sad as it is optimistic. Like something out of a fairytale. Photo by Felix Walworth.— Allison Hill on October 29, 2020
Benedict - Sport to You
Nashville-based indie-pop experimentalist Benedict sings of a fickle love that shoots from the hip in “Sport To You.” It is a wonder how easily tenderness and devotion can mirror themselves into manipulation and game. This track is a lively exploration of the desire to experience affection with and from someone, even in circumstances wherein they treat your fondness like a game. “Sport To You” is the first single from Benedict’s upcoming debut EP All I Ever Did Was Love You which is set to be released this winter. Benedict’s lyrics describing a capricious lover are met with layers of pleasant, mellow synth bringing a refreshing balance to despondency. Photo by Jasmine Archie.— Laney Esper on October 29, 2020
Julien Baker - Faith Healer
Julien Baker's new track "Faith Healer" is an articulate and rich examination of escapism, and our need for creature comforts that tend to do more harm than good. Upon release of the track, Baker herself explained it this way: "I think that 'Faith Healer' is a song about vices, both the obvious and the more insidious ways that they show up in the human experience... For awhile, I only had the first verse, which is just a really candid confrontation of the cognitive dissonance a person who struggles with substance abuse can feel — the overwhelming evidence that this substance is harming you, and the counterintuitive but very real craving for the relief it provides." Baker doesn't delve into what those particular vices are for herself, but based on the title of the track, one obvious association is religion and its beauty and promise. The standout lyric that solidifies this image, "Oh faith healer, put your hands on me... I'll believe you if you make me feel something," makes the message clear: every person in their hidden heart wants a quick fix. We're all looking for the sordid, final balm to cure what ails us. Baker isn't offering any sort of solution or cure to our human condition in this track, but she is pointing toward the problem — and clearly articulating the problem always leads to the solution. "Faith Healer" is a poignant and intricate song that candidly observes a crisis of faith and a hunger for relief embedded in every human spirit.
Baker's newest full-length record, Little Oblivions, is set to release on February 26 via Matador Records. Photo by Alysse Gafkjen.— Hannah Lupas on October 28, 2020
Fake Dad - Breakfast in New York
Remember being part of a world where rushing from place to place was a common occurrence? NYC duo Fake Dad does. Backed by the guidance of a pulsating drum machine and fueled by the eternal feeling of getting lost in a daydream, "Breakfast In New York" is a love letter to their hometown, and the beauty inspired by the age-old hustle and bustle that is deeply woven into New York's culture.
Fake Dad's ode to the simple pleasure of getting grab-and-go breakfast hits differently in our current era, ruled by a pandemic and an unwavering sense of universal paranoia. "Breakfast In New York" is just as much a loving nudge to ourselves, a reminder to slow down and take stock of those constants we're now inevitably wistfully wishing we never took for granted, especially the often bygone practice of allowing our thoughts to drift into the mundane. Vocalist Andrea de Varona's vocal refrain reminds listeners to remember to take care of ourselves, by remembering to indulge in the pleasure guaranteed to never stop giving: our beloved breakfast. Nothing can bring us back to a dear sense of security and wonder like a bacon, egg and cheese bagel, illustrating what Fake Dad gently reminds us in their Facebook bio: Everything is going to be okay. Photo by Sarah Schecker.— Taylor Hodgkins on October 28, 2020
Madeline - Guilty Conscience
Madeline’s debut single, "Guilty Conscience," brings an empowering fondness and appreciation for a relationship that has come to an end. It’s a song that fits beautifully into, yet sticks out amongst, the current pop landscape, with intimate storytelling draped over relentless production. Madeline manages to perfectly incorporate these colder, almost spacey sounds with a personal and emotional vocal performance. In beautiful, stark contrast to the wobbling synth on the fringes of the verse, Madeline’s voice showcases her power and control. Her confidence comes through in her steady delivery, the vocals staying true even as synths pop in and out across the song, leading us to the chorus. While the verses explore specific and intimate moments, the chorus is a chance to reflect and share wisdom along with a stellar catchy melody. For a song about heartbreak and love lost, it maintains a positivity that you wouldn’t expect, but the chorus’s final line sheds some light, recognizing, “There’s some good in goodbye.” And as a layered guitar solo concludes the journey, we’re thankful we don’t have to say goodbye, with Madeline’s EP slated for an early 2021 release.— Max Himelhoch on October 28, 2020
Dafna - It's U Not Me
If there's a track to perfectly close the final chapter on a relationship, it’s Dafna’s “it’s u not me.” The dreamy pop ballad is minimalistic in its production, but with vocals so soft, there’s no need for heavy instrumentation. In terms of narrative, the title of the track speaks for itself. The sheer realization of figuring out the one you love will never reciprocate that feeling is painful, and Dafna captures this with striking specificity in the chorus. “And I wasted all this time / With you always on my mind / Now I know that you’ll never feel / The same things I feel.” Towards the end, there’s a string of melodies that sounds like it's signifying the feelings in this relationship being lifted. If you’ve been driving in a dark tunnel, then here you finally see a light in the distance, something bright to look forward to.— Bianca Brutus on October 28, 2020
Orla Gartland - Pretending
There are a dozen reasons Orla Gartland’s "Pretending" might resonate with you. It might be the closing introverted plea to go home after spending too long at a house party you don’t wanna be at. It might be the disconnect between the face you paint on to catch in a mirror from the one you know best. Or it might be the hook, begging you to admit that you’re pretending too. For me, the line that hit hardest was the final question of the chorus, “Who are you so afraid to be?” It spoke to me for the very simple reason that it’s a question I’ve never thought to ask. I’ve asked why I’m afraid, I’ve asked how not to be. I’ve never bothered to tease out who I am that it feels so uncomfortable to peel back all the layers and expose. I know there’s a dozen facets I could lean into or out of at any given time, almost comfortably. As long as I can remember, I’ve co-existed in a virtually infinite number of spheres — some organic and others forced. However, the person sitting at the center of them all, fluidly weaving them together, is an absolute mystery to me. "Pretending" held up a mirror with a question mark, and it utterly gripped me. The track opens with ethereal harmonies that remind me of the Grouper album that my friend recommended, which I listened to until I understood why he likes it. Next, gentle rhythm math rock guitars layer in, reminding me of the Tessa Violet concert I brought my dad to, where he had so much fun he bought a pin to remember it. The guitar texture morphs into shoegaze that reminds me of the first time I ventured to a living room full of amps, kids and beer. Abruptly the track collapses into itself. Gartland's voice stands alone aside from some empty echoes from pizzicato strings. I’m back in a recital hall with a cello between my knees, my breath matching someone else’s. Suddenly everything returns: bass, drums, guitars, all slam onto the scene. It’s a game changer. From then on, all the pieces effortlessly flow and twist together, only existing completely once they’re all together. It makes sense. It resonates. Photo by Karina Barberis and Greta Isaac.— Allison Hill on October 27, 2020
Josie Man - Grow
Imagine a world ruled by the sounds of an infectious bubble-gum pop utopia. The colors surrounding the pretty planet are pastel pinks and purples, and the mood is always light and fun. The perfect contender for the official anthem for this imaginary utopia would absolutely be Josie Man's new single "Grow," released earlier this month. The mood of the glossy and upbeat track is a perfect description of the 21-year-old singer's aesthetic. Man's light and fun neon-filled persona would not be out of place on the weekly list of music videos on MTV's beloved TRL back in 2002.
"Grow" does a perfect job of giving the listener an opportunity to travel back in time to a world of Lisa Frank-inspired space aliens, possessing an infectious mood for the entirety of the single's nearly three-minute running time. The track gives a possible reprieve from the seasonally inspired melancholia currently ruling the airwaves, providing an alternative option for pop fans who, for instance, may want a peppy break from the more sepia sounds of Ms. Swift's folklore. This is something to transport you back to an era ruled by boy bands and baby blue color schemes. Josie Man is ready to keep the mood light and fun, showing us all we're still able to move forward musically in an era fueled by such uncertainty outside of our headphones. Photo by Cal McIntyre.— Taylor Hodgkins on October 27, 2020