Shayla McDaniel - Let Me Breathe (How To Break Our Hearts)
A delicate guitar descends as a robust beat kicks in, echoing the complex sentiments of Shayla McDaniel’s latest single “Let Me Breathe (How To Break Our Hearts).” The Knoxville, Tennessee-based artist’s solemn vocals open with unsure musings on the state of her relationship, seemingly having one foot in and one foot out. As a driving beat (written by Deep Sea Diver’s Peter Mansen) goes on and a bright electric guitar strums in, you can feel McDaniel’s disorienting emotions.
A delay-filled arpeggiated guitar is introduced just as McDaniel's thought process starts to disentangle. It becomes more tenacious as she grows more self-assured, peeling the veil to recognize the actual nature of her relationship: “We’re living in a nightmare of a dream / You’re stealing all I have left of me.”
This all comes to a definite realization when the chorus sweeps in. The drumbeat opens up, triumphant horns make their way in the background and McDaniel’s voice swells lively in the front and center, leaving us with a painstaking question: “I don’t need you / You don’t need me / Why do we keep doing these things?” She invites us to look deeply and evaluate: are the relationships we are in actually nurturing, or instead have they become something unhealthy that we only hold on to out of habit? Photo by Shayla McDaniel.— James Ramos on April 13, 2021
Ethansroom - Tides
“Tides,” a new release from Ethansroom (solo project of William Ethan Fortenberry) is a sonic letter to everything we know we shouldn’t think about yet find ourselves ruminating upon regardless (“Shouldn’t think about it / But I’ll do it anyway / I’ll just start from / Further back / So I don’t get carried away”). The cyclical track mimics its title, with layers of banjo, guitar, mellotron, soft synths and steady drums churning over Fortenberry’s gritty-yet-smooth vocals. The atmosphere of the track—similar in feel to acts like Novo Amor and Adam Melchor—recalls days much like those now in early spring, that stretch further their hours of light over the horizon, making amber shadows on our walls. As the world warms, we feel nostalgic for summer suns past, and we push these thoughts away during daily monotony until we are alone under the moon and free to dream (“I’ll come back at the crescent / Give it another try”). In all its soft-glowing edges, “Tides” reminds us that sometimes there’s a reason we can’t stop thinking about something, a lesson there to learn—we just may not grasp it until the tide turns over and we start anew. Photo by Landon Edwards.— Heddy Edwards on April 1, 2021
Japanese Breakfast - Be Sweet
The first single off of Japanese Breakfast’s forthcoming third studio album Jubilee, set for release on June 4, “Be Sweet” sets the tone of upbeat optimism, finding joy and freedom in forgiveness. In “Be Sweet,” singer/songwriter Michelle Zauner explores the courage it takes to be honest with oneself, to swallow one’s pride, to own our desires, and to have faith in their manifestation and, ultimately, to forgive. The Seoul-born, Oregon-raised, Philadelphia-based artist masterfully fuses her own contemporary musical style with sparkling synth sounds reminiscent of the universal favorites of the 80s: think Thompson Twins, Tears for Fears, The Cure. In her ever-distinct vocal style, sweet in its own right, Zauner takes us on a journey of forgiveness—from being caught up in our feelings and overthinking the truth, to letting someone back in after they’ve recognized their mistakes, ultimately acknowledging that it’s not too late, that the love there remains.
The song’s title, “Be Sweet,” appears as a command throughout the chorus, as Zauner declares over and over, “I wanna believe in you / I wanna believe in something,” and the urgency of this mantra is profoundly felt. We all need something to believe in, and sometimes (or often) that comes with the risk of being hurt or let down. Despite all of that, “Be Sweet” is an ode to forgiveness and hope, and with both a memoir (Crying in H Mart) and a full-length album set for release in the coming months—and a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel for all of us—Zauner’s optimistic sound on this track is extremely well-founded. Photo by Peter Ash Lee.— Maya Bouvier-Lyons on March 31, 2021
Juliet Quick - No Future
These are our Glass Years, and Juliet Quick courageously shares the story of our grieving generation through her latest EP of the same title. Minimalist stems ebb to build the surf-rock eulogy that is “No Future.” Will love be enough “when the sea swallows us?” How defeating it is to be one person—one woman—with all of the love for our Earth mother and only some of the power it might take to save her. The feeling is immortalized here in crystalline synths, guitars that embrace and a voice reaching to be heard through the mix’s gentle bellows. This is a stewardship serenade that grants permission for moments of silence while simultaneously inspiring action. Photo by Hannah Solomon.— Daphne Ellis on March 31, 2021
RILEY MOORE - gold
Gold carries a lot of warm connotations, of something pure and valuable and beautiful. It’s among the softest of metals—easily flattened out into a delicate leaf, melted and reformed, or otherwise reshaped. It’s highly sought after and valued by virtually everyone who holds it. Occasionally imitations arise, and some are sold as the real thing for how much they look alike. Love is likewise, or at least that’s what RILEY MOORE hints in his newest single “gold.” The whole track drips with vulnerability, from the gentle acoustic guitar texture to the yearning harmonica. The lyrics paint someone who yearns to be reshaped, smelt into something beautiful and valued, no matter how painful. After all, isn’t it a sign of love how readily you can accept someone else’s thoughts into your feelings and let them shape you? Couldn’t love be alchemy, turning hearts into gold? Moore’s warmhearted voice seems to hope so, spilling over with tenderness that is perhaps as undeserved as it is pure. The love bubbling under every syllable nudges up a wonderful thought to the surface. Maybe love is being tenaciously open to heartbreak, even when it is happening to you as you sing. Photo by Lauren Lundy.— Allison Hill on March 30, 2021
Mitch Davis - Bear The Cold
On his new single "Bear The Cold," Montreal-based musician Mitch Davis evokes funky vibes with a no-frills throwback track. Davis does impressive work as the sole instrumentalist on the song, marrying a bumping bass line with a propulsive four-on-the-floor drum beat throughout the crisp three-minute run time. Come time for the bridge, he even shows off his saxophone chops, complementing his other work without completely overshadowing the rest of the song. One could easily slip “Bear The Cold” into a mix of Rod Stewart, Sly Stone or Stevie Wonder without missing a beat, with the track easily carrying its own very-danceable groove. Over it all, Davis mourns a fracturing relationship and tries to look forward, giving new dimension to an otherwise uptempo track. It’s a solid addition to your next quarantine dance party or future gathering, whether it’s the groove you’re after or perhaps Davis’ melancholic musings. Photo by Kensey Crane.— Pablo Nukaya-Petralia on March 30, 2021
Genevieve Stokes - Parking Lot
Genevieve Stokes is the musical hero we’ve been waiting for. Honest ballads, peppy stories of heartbreak and new perspectives and narrating vivid memories through song are characteristics of the young musician’s sound that we so love. The Portland, Maine native takes inspiration from artists like Maggie Rogers, Phoebe Bridgers, Bon Iver and Lorde, but it's her intimate recounting of memories that sets her sound apart from others. Highlighting “Parking Lot,” a song of fantasy and longing from her debut album Swimming Lessons, released on March 5, Stokes sings of a relationship in the way that it existed and the way that she wished it existed. Internalizing feelings, Stokes discusses preserving a relationship by crafting protected memories in her own mind, becoming obsessive with another and creating visions of how she wished the relationship was: “But I'm making up stories, I'm making up you / All of the things that I wish we could do / And all of this time I wish that you knew / I've been thinking of you.” Stokes’ lyrical honesty and organic sound mixed with lo-fi piano, heavenly harmonies and smooth vocals emphasize empathy for her listeners. Photo by Abbie Pitre.— Keely Caulder on March 17, 2021
Junaco - Blue Room
The opening guitar on Los Angeles-based duo Junaco’s latest single “Blue Room” is enough to instantly transport you to the seaside in your mind, even before the undulating and exquisite vocals of singer-songwriter Shahana Jaffer take hold. Accompanied by bandmate Joey LaRosa as well as Omar Velasco on lead guitar, Jaffer sings of the clouds of dawn and orange afternoons, coaxing us into a dreamworld while simultaneously instructing us not to “forget the ground below [our] feet.” This is a tall order in the context of a song like “Blue Room,” with its lush and lullaby-like oceanic instrumentals relaxing us out of our bodies and into our dreams. It seems almost a tease, telling us to stay grounded until we remember that to merge these two ways of being is the goal—to envision a “great escape” while embracing the awe and wonder of the beauty of our world. In meditation, we are asked to take note of our bodies while exploring our minds, freeing both from judgment in the present moment. “Blue Room” is a meditation on the merging of our dreams and our reality, encouraging us to stay present and appreciate all that we encounter in our earthly lives, while also allowing ourselves to dream. “Blue Room” is a lullaby and a wake-up call rolled into one.
“Blue Room” was produced by James McAlister (who has collaborated extensively with Sufjan Stevens and more recently, Taylor Swift), and was released on Side Hustle Records. As stunning and soothing as the auditory experience of “Blue Room” is the plant-filled sunlit slice of paradise depicted in the artwork accompanying the single. The image is a still from a virtual reality created by 3D artist Hyoyon Paik, who has said the song inspired “a virtual paradise where the plants dance, the sunlight reaches every corner, and lights glitter on the water.” At a time when so many of us are longing to escape to another dimension and would love to bask in a peaceful paradise, Paik’s virtual visuals and Junaco's soothing sounds invite us to do just that. Photo by Nicole Mason.— Maya Bouvier-Lyons on March 17, 2021
Wallice - 23
Your early 20s are a balancing act of expectations, with a dash of suppressed teen angst. You navigate through it all, only to discover that officially feeling like an adult never really happens. On Wallice’s new song “23,” she walks us through her own journey of becoming a grown-up, hoping that when she turns 23, things will all fall into place. The first verse exemplifies what so many early 20-somethings deal with—feeling stuck in your past, within a mundane routine, after moving home after college. She sings, “I’m terrified of the future / Scared that I’ll still be a loser,” expressing the anxiety that occurs during life's transitional periods. When we reach the chorus we hear Wallice singing about missing her late teen years and her fake ID, while debating if she should trade her dreams for a traditional future. The short instrumental break of electric guitar and drums once again highlights the inner turmoil created by wanting to move forward, but feeling cemented in place. It’s in the second verse that she realizes that all of the stress she’s currently feeling is for naught, as her best years are only ahead of her: “Not sure why I feel so dumb / Thе best of my years are yet to come.” While turning 23 might not make you feel any wiser, Wallice’s “23” will make you feel understood in feeling anxious about your own future. Photo by Taryn Segal.— Sloan Pecchia on March 16, 2021
Quelle Rox - No Surprises
Soothe your ears with “No Surprises,” a vibey dream pop single from Quelle Rox. The force behind the act is Brooklyn-based Latinx singer, songwriter and producer Raquelle, aka Rocky. The multi-hyphenate artist makes music that explores the gap between fantasy and reality, sonic whodunits (“Guess that you were lying, guess there’s no surprises”). Quelle Rox masters a sound that is simultaneously sad and sultry; “No Surprises” glides across genres with an ease that feels fresh and exciting. Once you start listening to Quelle Rox, you won’t stop. Photo by rlyblonde.— Corinne Osnos on March 16, 2021