Sufjan Stevens - Video Game
One thing about Sufjan Stevens is that there is basically no telling what his new music will sound like. This has been true now for two full decades. Sure, there are some elements you can predict pretty safely. It’s pretty likely that the song will contain earnest and somewhat poetic lyrics scattered with Christian mythological imagery. It will almost certainly feature his iconic sandpapery vocals, and it could very well be anchored by its interesting rhythmic patterns. Other than that, part of the joy of a Sufjan release is the lead-up to inevitable surprise. Where will the new release lie in the field of artistic breadth that he has always tended to so methodically? Will the track break down into unpleasant screeching guitar after a 9-minute chant? Or will it plod on with pleasant banjo or piano for two minutes and call it quits? Will it sound basically acoustic with sneaky subtle electronic effects? Or will it bleep and bloop all over the place like a robot fever dream?
In my estimation, “Video Game” is the farthest Stevens has gone down the rabbit hole of melodic electronic music since his 2010 album, Age of Adz. And, in the iconic words of Bernie Sanders, let me be very clear: I am super here for it. Although I was originally hooked as a teen by the lush and folksy orchestration in albums like Michigan, I’ve always held a special place in my heart for electro-Sufjan. In fact, it is my suspicion that the world of electronics is where Stevens feels most comfortable, most able to invent. In the case of “Video Game,” the effect is something like "faux futuristic,” and the “faux" feels intentional to me. Maybe that’s because the lyrics are also focused on fakeness—specifically, renouncing repeatedly all the fake value of celebrity. In a statement about the song, Stevens says, “I think we should all be doing our best work without looking for accolades or seeking reward.” That genuinely sounds really nice, and I think there is truth in it. But also, Sufjan, if you’re reading this: I really, really like your new song. Will you sign my t-shirt?— Karl Snyder on August 24, 2020
Halo Kitsch - f l a w l e s s
Summer was almost over, and there wasn’t a lot to do in the city except call up Halo and sit by the waters on the piers and watch the tinier boats and jet skis shoot ripples into the lapis ocean. Cordless phone to my ear, I pulled a couple blinds down with my left index finger as I eyed the sun. It was ready to set. Halo picked up on the third ring. She sounded happy. She had just recorded a song called “f l a w l e s s,” and I picked her up so she could show it to me in person, near the water because she wanted me to hear it with the sound of the waves in the background. Once we parked and settled in on the pier, she started to play the song off her phone.
"f l a w l e s s" is the latest from LA indie-pop singer/songwriter Halo Kitsch. Halo, of course, is not just a homage to Beyoncé’s hit, but the word for the crown that adorns the heads of angels. Kitsch is any art, object, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way. Her song is all about denying her flawlessness and instead embracing her flaws. She makes her subject see her for who she really is. Maybe that’s real love.— Mustafa Abubaker on August 21, 2020
Hovvdy - I’m Sorry
You can write it on a cake, spell it in M&Ms on a pizza, hire a plane to skywrite it—or, you can say it in a heartfelt song. Hovvdy’s latest, “I’m Sorry,” is their second single (following July’s “Runner”) since their glistening 2019 album Heavy Lifter. In this era of quarantine releases, Hovvdy has honed their use of syncopated beats and percussive touches that feel as light and casual as tapping your thigh along to a song on the radio. While the group’s signature lo-fi vocals are still baked into their home base bedroom-rock atmosphere, they’ve employed some new tricks, including an addictive, near trip-hop bassline and moments of auto-tuned vocals. The track feels as fuzzy as memories of night drives amid high school heartbreak, while managing to recall the blazing orange-pink sunsets of summer as it wanes to fall. Hovvdy seems to know what so many of us do; it’s easy to know when we should apologize, but sometimes our hurt and words unsaid get in the way (“Give me one good reason / To say what I should / And I need a real one / You can tell I would”). It inspired me to revisit the other side of the coin, where we can place our pride aside and look truth in the eyes:
more than anything
i would like to reach the
atrophy of ego
the place where
soul and shine splice
how i think i’d like to get
to the root of it all, buried
under the field where
you first met me
i’d like to get the heart of it;
to one true, glowing thing.— Heddy Edwards on August 21, 2020
SG Lewis, Robyn & Channel Tres - Impact
When we are parachuted into the world of “Impact,” it sounds like the dance party has been going strong for a while. From above, it’s a blurred warehouse party montage, and nobody is holding anything back. Zoomed in though, there are individual nights happening. Channel Tres works through some feelings about his origins, as he realizes he’s putting his guard up on a girl that he doesn’t want to admit he's starting to fall for. Meanwhile, Robyn is well cast as the ultimate free spirit, determined to have the night of her life, every cell and chemical in her body giving every ounce of its energy towards the physiology of fun. Steeped in SG Lewis and TEED’s synths and house beats, both vocalists are fully in their natural habitat on this track. And as they become one with the landscape, their nights seem to blend as well. They sound magnificent together: Channel’s gruff and brainy half-rapped musings are the perfect foil for Robyn’s iconic hedonistic wails. And as the beat goes on and on and on, you can only imagine what the night still has in store for the other 200 people in the room.— Karl Snyder on August 21, 2020
CASTLEBEAT - TI-83
Seeped in technicolor and emerging from a dream, CASTLEBEAT’s latest single “TI-83” perfectly captures the ambiance of this year’s bummer summer. The track’s lo-fi harmonies are gorgeously laced with psychedelic flares, drawing our attention inward and leaving us in a state of submerged tranquility.
“TI-83” miraculously resurfaces the reveries we likely forgot existed sitting in stiff classroom desks, pretending to think about calculus yet undoubtedly fooling no one. The song’s accompanying music video not only enhances its temporal fluidity, but provides an aesthetic picture show that any film buff is sure to appreciate.— Lilly Rothman on August 20, 2020
Slow Pulp - Falling Apart
"Falling Apart" by Slow Pulp is the song equivalent of a weighted blanket, providing warmth and comfort when you need it. Violins and soft vocals surround you, wrapping you up in compassion, understanding and paradoxically major harmonies. You’re not alone. You’re not the only one periodically dissociated on the couch at 4 am, worrying if depression might always be lapping at your feet like a high tide. It takes a lot to resist the comfort of familiarity when you’re feeling so vulnerable, so it’s okay to settle for wrapping up in your hoodie instead of that familiar feeling. Tender melodic whispers coax your thoughts into daylight. Learning how to be compassionate to yourself is hard, and questioning the value of perseverance in something that doesn’t feel rewarding is natural. Self-sabotage is almost a talent, so “why don’t you go back to falling apart?” The implicit answer is “Because it sucked, and I’ve worked so hard to get where I am." It’s not always a satisfying answer, but at least you’re not alone. You’ve got Slow Pulp’s sweet harmonies to keep you company, and—when you can move past having to seem alright—several loving friends too.— Allison Hill on August 20, 2020
Eastern Souvenirs - No One Else
Eastern Souvenirs is spearheaded by singer-songwriter and producer Brian Fisher, who recently brought the project from the West Coast to the East. While their hazy summer sound is heavily nostalgic, inspired largely by the garage and surf rock of the 1960s, “No One Else” is a song about being somewhere new. A lo-fi surf rock love song for the ages, “No One Else” was the first song Fisher wrote after his move from Seattle to Boston last year. The song delves into the flurry of feelings that come with being in a new place, both physically and emotionally, and explores how distant the past can seem when suddenly a new future emerges on the horizon. Remarkably easy listening, Eastern Souvenirs would make a great soundtrack for your next day trip to the beach—windows down, sun shining, waves crashing, and those slow, sweet guitar riffs accompanied by Fisher’s soothing vocals. Eastern Souvenirs has set a virtual record release for their upcoming album Only for a Time set to stream on August 28.— Maya Bouvier-Lyons on August 20, 2020
Tkay Maidza - Don’t Call Again
After an hour or so of drunken, 5 am crying comes unfamiliar relief. “You’re a weed, not a seed,” I decide. Been listening to a lot of Jay Shetty lately. Not my emotional responsibility to coddle someone who thinks therapy isn’t working after one session. “The universe is doing the most for me lately,” I recognize, and bow in gratitude. A girl got some closure, but you know she had to have the last word.
Illustrating the art of letting go, Tkay Maidza’s “Don’t Call Again” radiates that power you feel upon deciding that you’ve had enough. “It’s just about realizing that some situations are just not good for me and letting them go,” she explained, “but not being sorry for doing that anymore.” Having let my own unhealthy relationship go last year, lines like “Out of murky water, I would blossom like lotus / I guess that getting hurt is just a big part of the process” resonate; Maidza finds the seed for growth while making it clear that she’s said, “all I need to say.” Tapping Kari Faux for a forceful verse on the funk-inspired track, she also leaves nothing unsaid: “I’ma keep it a buck with ya, I don't fuck with ya.” The empowering release is the second single from the freshly released Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2, her first record on independent British label 4AD.— Ysabella Monton on August 19, 2020
Helvetia - Echo Location
If you’ve been to a lot of festivals, the first minute of “Echo Location” might sound familiar to you. You’re staking out the perfect spot for your favorite band of the day; you're hot, and your feet are tired. Anyway, you’re standing there, heartbroken because you’ve had to leave your second favorite band’s set fifteen minutes in, and now you can just make out the sound of them, 500 feet away, playing their best song. Meanwhile, back at the stage where your heroes will be in less than an hour, a very bored-looking person comes out and starts playing the drums. They will only ever be known to you as “Soundcheck Guy,” and it goes without saying that they are not much of a performer. Just like the drummer at the beginning of “Echo Location," they play the same simple drum beat over, and over, and over. There is nothing like the awkward, lonely, pre-anticipatory feeling of watching a soundcheck happen.
Or so I thought until I heard the first minute of “Echo Location.” Helvetia is the now-Portland-based project of Jason Albertini. The group creates the kind of unpretentious experimental indie rock music that doesn’t seem to seek answers, and the beginning of this track from their new album This Devastating Map feels like the instrumental version of asking yourself a rhetorical question. Eventually though, the percussive inertia gives way to something stranger. Just over two minutes in, the guitar disintegrates into a series of acquiescent squeals, like a balloon very slowly losing air, or a jaded banshee ready for retirement. By this point in the track, you’ve almost certainly accepted that it’s instrumentals only, so when the vocals come in with a minute remaining, that is pretty disorienting too. Albertini’s vocal intonation has the same satisfying and self-aware smirk of a late 90s Isaac Brock. And as he sings cryptic, surprising things like, “This ambulance has echo location,” your mind turns again to "Soundcheck Guy." Maybe he's a performer after all; maybe there is beauty in the wait itself.— Karl Snyder on August 19, 2020
sweater boy - i think i lost a friend
Nashville-based artist sweater boy tells the relatable tale of combating loneliness and not allowing yourself to fall into the cycle of a comfortable, yet toxic relationship on his latest release "i think i lost a friend." He sings lyrics that cut straight to the truth, “don’t know who I am / or how to let go / I think I should have said / I’d rather be dead than be alone. “i think i lost a friend” comes off of sweater boy’s (aka David Moran’s) debut EP, aptly titled i’d rather be dead than be alone. Co-produced by Moran and collaborator DËAN, this track is filled out by layered guitars and purposeful samples that create an indie-pop sound reminiscent of fellow Nashville-based band, COIN. Moran perfectly captures the vibe of this song when he says, “The lyrics, specifically, feel anthemic to me, switching from introspection to outrospection every verse and chorus. It plays well with the nostalgic, teenage, coming-of-age sunset movie scene that I constantly find myself chasing with every song.”— Beck on August 19, 2020
Runnner - New Sublet
Runnner, the sometimes-solo-sometimes-collaborative project of Noah Weinman, is back with his third release of 2020. “New Sublet” has the band’s characteristic lo-fi slacker-folk vibe, but this time it’s met with strumming reminiscent of early 2000s Coldplay, meets the folk sensibilities of Caamp, with the croon of solemn horns. Melancholy and candid, the song describes an experience all too familiar to many 20-somethings: something in your life ends, whether it’s a relationship or a job, and it sparks a desire to browse new apartments in faraway cities—aching for the chance to begin again. But what happens when running away starts to become a habit? Does a fresh start ever truly fix what is in need of repair? Throughout the track, Weinman tries to talk himself out of craving a dive into the unfamiliar. Over a soft banjo melody, Weinman sings, “you’re just getting addicted to starting all over again.” After all, “New Sublet” reminds us that no matter where you go, you take yourself with you.— Heddy Edwards on August 18, 2020