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
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.
Will Davila - Yours
“Yours,” the latest single from Will Davila, fits perfectly into his catalog of easygoing songs with skillful guitar work and heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics. The vocals are warm and, at times, slightly muffled. The song’s raw honesty shines through a cloud of mellow keys and guitar, as Davila expresses uncertainty about a relationship: “What if I tried to do the same? Would you need me in your life like you did before?” It’s a song about commitment, the patience to wait for someone else (“Just as long as I’m the one you’re waiting for,”) and especially, the desire to treat them better than they have been treated in the past (“I won’t be like him ‘cause it’s not what you deserve”). “Yours” goes down as smooth as its tender message; the understated arrangement and gentle groove make way for emotive lyricism and vulnerability. When Davila sings, “Baby, I’m all yours,” he leaves it all out in the open.— Siena Ballotta Garman on September 22, 2020
Cape Francis - Haunted
Cape Francis is the solo project of Kevin Olken Henthorn, former singer/songwriter of Brooklyn indie rock band Stone Cold Fox. Embracing cooler, softer textures under his new folk moniker Cape Francis, Henthorn exhibits his chameleon ability to transform his sound into something more similar to Cigarettes After Sex or Yoke Lore than the grittier rock mentalities of his former band. "Haunted" is a single off of the new album Plateaus, which was released on September 18. This track seems to be about the neurosis of coping with social stress. Musically even-keeled, it nicely juxtaposes the rising tension in the lyrics. Henthorn's gentle vocals remind me of Winston Yellen's (of Night Beds) voice on his earlier work (like "Cherry Blossoms" on Country Sleep).
Listen to "Haunted," and all of Plateaus, wherever you stream.— Hannah Lupas on September 22, 2020
Lani Renaldo - Trainwreck
Lani Renaldo's “Trainwreck” is a dreamy garage rock anthem for every 20-something dwelling over how late is too late to reach your full potential. As one of six songwriters selected for GRAMMY Camp as a high schooler, the LA-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is no stranger to a gifted child syndrome of sorts. In her case, it manifested as a panic disorder that had her believing "I could never live out my dreams."
Rather than fostering my creativity, a life of gifted schooling impaired me with a thrumming pressure to prove myself to no one in particular. I'd never felt more lost than the moment I realized, as Renaldo sings, that "I was the golden child, but now she's gone." Writing was the only skill I ever felt I had, but in a society that measures success by financial gain rather than fulfillment, it seemed so useless. Much like Renaldo, I was resigned to an endless cycle of "passing go to cash another paycheck" because I lost the ability to believe in myself as a writer.
While the pandemic has shifted the way we live, I've been working on nurturing my talent, both for stability and as an act of self-care. There's no doubt that Renaldo has honed in on her craft as well, with her self-produced NOHEARTBREAK2020 EP due out sometime this year. So how late is too late to make those dreams come true? The answer, according to Renaldo, is never.— Ysabella Monton on September 21, 2020
Bill Callahan - Let's Move to the Country
A true romantic, Bill Callahan sings from the heart of a wayward troubadour in "Let's Move to the Country," a track off his most recent album, Gold Record. An exhibition of his love and reverence for the old west, Callahan dons a figurative cowboy hat in his discography as he talk-sings his way through loafing country western lullabies and ballads. "Let's Move to the Country" is a sweet, simple love song. It feels like Callahan is pleading, holding his hat against his chest. He paints the vision of what their lives would look like now that he's put his roving days behind him. Callahan previously included this track on his album Knock Knock, under the moniker Smog. Callahan performed as Smog until 2007, when he stylistically shifted from underground rock to more Americana style sounds. Gold Record was released on September 4. Give it a listen wherever you stream.— Hannah Lupas on September 21, 2020
Abe Parker Feat. Paul Russell - Somebody New
Singer-songwriter Abe Parker and rapper Paul Russell’s new single “Somebody New” is a perfectly sweet love song about how “this could never be a song for somebody new.” The two met via Reach Records' Christmas album The Gift when Parker took notice of Russell’s verse on the track “We Three Kings.” Russell’s laid back flow is perfectly accented by reverb-heavy guitar and minimalistic beats that make it feel like the perfect low-key summer track as he takes the lead on the first half. He tells the story of a relationship starting with “you know we met back then / acting like we understand art” before mentioning the passage of time and leaning into the chorus. It’s sweet and romantic while being grounded in reality and small details. Parker takes over after the first chorus and tells a story of his own, singing, “played for keeps and girl you got my life / didn’t even have to try.” The sweet and smooth collab is a perfect way to end the summer.— Corey Bates on September 21, 2020
Izzy Heltai - Songbird
Izzy Heltai has a talent for demonstrating nostalgia and incentivizing reflection. "Songbird" is an early glance at Father, a nine-track exploration on matters past and present that is bound for stores and streaming platforms on October 9. Here, surf-rock meets folk to underscore a light case of introspective questioning. Though romantically afflicted, Heltai keeps a playful posture that rings out like a daydream. The speaker is refreshingly bashful and dodges direct discourse with the subject of his affection. Instead, he seeks the advice of his friends in the audience. His under-confident message meets a generous, full-bodied sound to convey the reality of passion — a conflicting force of total presence and inner retreat, all at once.— Daphne Ellis on September 21, 2020
Bill Callahan - Pigeons
Bill Callahan continues to set the standard for storytelling with these new songs. My goodness. Just listen to the opening passage. If that doesn't set fire to your soul then I'd wager you and I ain't wading in the same bayou. Tune in. — Alex Cameron
In his latest EP of demos, Alex Cameron rehashes some of his songs from his 2019 album Miami Memory, but this time, we hear them under a slightly different light. Instead of the brass, bright, strobe light of a strip club, his new EP Miami Memories takes us back to the VIP private room. Photo by Hanly Banks.— Alejandro Veciana on September 18, 2020
Sylvan Esso - Frequency
Mellow, gleaming electronic pop duo Sylvan Esso is committed to their signature elegance and free-forming sound with their new track, “Frequency.” Aligning with its lyrical themes, the song has a magnetic force, melting down within the listener and creating space for a pulling movement inside the body — which can be seen in the video for the song, brought to life by Moses Sumney’s creative direction. The absence of percussion in the track is a clean, soft representation of the girl Amelia Meath is singing about, a woman with alluring energy that cannot be fabricated. This girl is enchantment in human form: “She's the one, I swear to God / A frequency, she's got a frequency / and I caught it all over me.”
On September 25, Sylvan Esso, a.k.a. Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, will release their third album, Free Love, featuring the tenderness of folky sound as well as the rhythmic tug of war that they have become known for.— Laney Esper on September 18, 2020