Test Subjects - Interstate of Mind
If you ever cried while listening to “driver’s license,” put on Test Subjects’ “Interstate of Mind.” Like Olivia Rodrigo’s standout hit, “Interstate of Mind” takes place on a long drive, reminiscing about an ex from the summer of being 17. Beyond these similarities, though, the track’s uniquely immersive blend of found sounds, acoustic/electronic instrumentation and cascading melodies feels as fresh and restorative as sudden rain.
Rain is important to this Test Subjects’ track. The song takes place over the course of a rainy highway drive, setting the scene with the opening lines like “Doing laps on the freeway / On a Sunday / There was no one else on the road / Nothing else to do / Nowhere else to go.” The lyrics throughout are both descriptive as well as delicately poetic. A thunderstorm over the highway becomes “somewhere in the sky there’s an open eye raining down onto me / I don’t really mind / but I can barely see.”
“Interstate of Mind” unfolds like a highway: smooth and steady, with sudden flashes of color and detail. What seems like a “no thoughts, just vibes” experience evolves into reflecting on a lost relationship before you know it (as these trips so often do). Test Subjects’ vocals are sweet on devastatingly simple lines like, “You put a ding in my bumper / I popped it out by myself / Now you’re wrecking someone else.”
Pressing play on “Interstate of Mind” plunges the listener into that uniquely meditative state you might find yourself in on a long drive. Percussive elements like blinkers and windshield wipers blend with subtle choices in the mix that place you in the driver’s seat of the car; this is a song for headphones. The saxophone playout towards the end is just one example of the endless surprises in store on this fascinating track. You’ll be tempted to keep singing, “Do you think about that summer?” long after “Interstate of Mind” ends—maybe even longer than you ever thought about that ex in the first place.— Belle Shea on November 19, 2021
CARR - Loser
The latest single from New Jersey-born, Los Angeles-based musician CARR is the cathartic alt-pop breakup song we all need to hear at some point in our lives. Breakups are almost never easy, but it helps when you have a song like this one reminding you that you can do so much better, that you don’t settle for less, and that you don’t need to waste any more of your time on anyone who’s dishonest or unworthy. The lyrics are brutal, deadpan in their delivery, the percussive beat heavily syncopated over the occasional high-pitched echo of a dreamy synth that lightens the song’s tone and hints at optimism. Tight, muted vocals over pop-punk guitar riffs drag the song’s subject mercilessly, as CARR repeats what feel like mantras, among them, “I’m glad you’re gone, I’m glad I left,” building towards the antithesis of the song’s title. The last line of the song is a conclusive and undeniable takeaway we can all apply to ourselves in our relationships, romantic and otherwise: “Gotta be a winner if you’re getting with me.” Photo by CJ Harvey.— Maya Bouvier-Lyons on August 4, 2021
Zach Wood and Hollan - Water
The folk track "Water" finds its author caught in an undertow of their own invention. Neither belonging here nor there, the subject of "Water" is a victim to the formidable, pulsing current of indecision that plagues so many young people. This track is a gorgeous representation of that distinct, transient turbulence that meets every 20-something. Your 20s is truly the first period in one's life where they're confronted with societal expectations, but the way those expectations are handled is contingent on personality or circumstance. While some dive in full force and prosper, the nuances of self-actualization can leave some flailing for a time, struggling to keep plants alive. And others still, like our troubadour in "Water," would rather muse with wonder on future prospects and possibilities instead of hating or fearing them. But that doesn't leave our speaker free of tension: with the lyric "I have always been this way," as dreamy and endearing as it is indicative of its author, it's clear that the onus is on the speaker to balance the delicate push and pull of obligation/reality vs. freedom/dreaming. Bringing these themes to the forefront is an interesting and engaging songwriting method from Zach Wood and Hollan that has us looking forward to their collaborative EP Cowgirland, due out August 6. Photo by Anna Manotti.— Hannah Lupas on August 3, 2021
Thomas LaVine - Open Sea
The last thing he wanted to do was leave her, but the water cried for him in all of its stupid thundering pale blue. He was comfortable; his bare ass in the sand, her bare ass in the sand, their hands interlocked. Her tears were saltier than the sea’s. She wasn’t much of a swimmer, but the boy practically grew up with gills for skin. He drove her crazy, and she drove him home. But their car was as foreign a mode of transportation to them as a watery wooly mammoth or a Bowhead whale. They were young—young as they would ever be, and they were white—white as porcelain or milk. The sun shone hard on the nude beach. He cupped her miniature face in his large palms and, thirsting, slurped up her tears, his moppy black hair tickled her forehead. She wasn’t scared anymore. They weren’t going home. They were going into the open sea, she knew now, she could tell by the lighthouses in his eyes. He stood first, naked as he was on the day he was born—a day she would come to celebrate—and took off running, splashing, shouting, sensing, sending. She laughed, and she followed.
Thomas LaVine lifts listeners into the sentimental Wedding Crashers scene when Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams have a heart-to-heart on the beach. That’s how good of a job the indie-folk artist from North Carolina carries out on “Open Sea,” a song that reads like a moment, dedicated to lovely decisions and the best of both worlds.— Mustafa Abubaker on August 3, 2021
Clairo - Reaper
There are moments in Sling, Clairo's newly released sophomore LP, that feel so eloquent and personal, I have to remind myself that I haven't accidentally accessed someone's private voice memos. "Reaper" is one of these transcendent, mature and especially affecting moments on the record. A love letter to her mother (and the prospect of motherhood in and of itself), "Reaper" was the first track Claire Cottrill penned for the album. I'll refrain from over-explaining that this album is musically distinct from its predecessor Immunity—I'll let you have the pleasure of delving into it yourself. But it's worth mentioning, for this song in particular, that Clairo is emerging as an excellent folk writer. She's clearly drawing inspiration from some of the best Americana acts of the last century, emulating everyone from Joni Mitchell or Crosby, Stills and Nash to Fleet Foxes. But don't misunderstand: Cottrill is hardly a copycat. She's carving out a sound and a voice that is entirely her own.
I, like a lot of young people during the pandemic, had the opportunity to be home with my parents for a while. Reacquainting myself with them as an adult was inspiring and hard, and most frequently filled me with a sense of hope. It is this broken hope, a hope that comes from deep, empathetic understanding, that Cottrill communicates so effectively in "Reaper." This is why it resonates so deeply with listeners. This shattered but aspirational reaching toward life reverberates through the entire record and is punctuated in the frail, little pockets of her expertly sewn lyricism. "I'm born to be somebody, then somebody comes from me / I'll tell you about the Rabbit Moon and when to keep walking" are some of my favorite lines from this track, and are all the more permeating through Cottrill's signature soft vocals.
Clairo's ability to empathize so specifically with the speakers of her songs makes her one of the wisest and most interesting young performers right now. Sling was well worth the wait. It's a clear reflection of the hard work and thoughtfulness of an expert writer honing her craft. Photo by Adrian Nieto.— Hannah Lupas on July 29, 2021
Nathan Bajar - Big Body
Summer 2021 is ripe for nostalgic indulgence as the vaccinated emerge, unblinking into the sun after more than a year of darkness. Enter interdisciplinary artist Nathan Bajar, whose Bandcamp profile description reads humbly, “i take pictures & make music :~)”—an oversimplification of his accomplishments in both fields. The emoticon at the end is just one of the many analog touches that frame Bajar’s overarching aesthetic. A quick glance at his past album artwork, all awash in wistful pastels, reveals faded family photo collages and handwritten titles scrawled across college-ruled paper. It seems the entirety of Bajar’s work is an ode to his family life and upbringing, and his latest release, “Big Body,” is no exception. While the track’s inviting lo-fi quality, soulful vocals and summery bassline will pull you in immediately, the lyrics reveal Bajar’s fondness for his old “beater.” As portrayed in the accompanying (and equally nostalgic) music video, the beater in question is none other than his beloved Yukon XL, a “beautiful wreck of gray” whose “days have been better,” especially now, with memories of “twenty in a ten-seater” more than a year behind her. Bajar chooses to indulge in nostalgia’s warm glow by taking the old girl out for “one more joy ride.” Take a cue from him and let “Big Body” and its dizzying background harmonies, swimmy guitar and retro beats be the soundtrack to your summertime indulgence of choice. Photo by Kirsten David.— Karyna Micaela on July 29, 2021
Runnner - Monochrome
The project of LA-based multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Noah Weinman, Runnner has been steadily growing a fanbase since the release of their first single in 2019. Now, two years and a global pandemic later, they are releasing their anticipated debut album Always Repeating with Run for Cover Records. The opening track “Monochrome” has all the hallmarks of the magical sound of Runnner: raw and clever songwriting, heart-tightening vocals and dynamic acoustic instrumentation. The soft picked banjo and acoustic guitar create a perfect synthesis for Weinman’s emotive vocals and lyrics to flow through, while the tight drums accentuate the changing movements of the song. A meditation on a past relationship, the lyrics follow through a tapestry of memories, in black and white like an old film. As Weinman reaches the end of his memories, he reminds us that they are often warped by our emotions and nostalgia as he sings, “I’ve been trying to draw you with my eyes closed, you’re not gonna like how it turned out.” Photo by Silken Weinberg.— Sofia Soriano on July 29, 2021
Half Waif - Fortress
Singer and producer Nandi Rose has been releasing music under Half Waif since 2014. Her latest album Mythopoetics takes a mythological view of events from her life and her family, like a potpourri of stories passed down through generations. The fourth track “Fortress” centers around the anxiety of a loved one leaving, however inevitable it may seem. Produced alongside Zubin Hensler, the song is a luxuriantly layered gem of synth-pop. Rose’s siren-like vocals sit atop the garden oasis of synthesizers, ethereal and honeyed. The song’s bridge is a grand explosion, like fireworks of sound as the chorus repeats like a plea for life. As the last flare of the instrumental fades out, Rose’s vocals are left with the sound of an acoustic piano and swelling pads as she sings two simple phrases that manage to evoke so much: “I guess this is all for you / My bet is, it's all for you.” Photo by Ali Kate Cherkis.— Sofia Soriano on July 28, 2021
Frank Mighty's Hotline - Rakefire
Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Frank Mighty’s Hotline makes neo-psychedelic earworms. With a choppy lo-fi piano intro making way to a 2-beat pattern grove and falsetto vocals, “Rakefire” is quick to grab your attention. An Old English insult, a rakefire is defined as a person who overstays their welcome, something this song will never do. Frank Mighty’s Hotline’s soulful voice pairs beautifully with the verse’s minimal melancholic instrumentation, while acoustic instruments usher in the song’s triumphant chorus. The song’s lyrics deal with the fear of not wanting to become a rakefire, like the people you’ve distanced yourself from. “I like the stuff you do just to stay relevant” sums up the song’s look at those who are unable to let go of the spotlight in today’s media and popular culture landscape. While the chorus, “I don’t want another rakefire in the house that I built with my own two hands,” is a self-reflective look at the rakefire in ourselves. Photo by Jenn Stevens.— Sofia Soriano on July 28, 2021
Crumbsnatchers - One Call
From the Knoxville, Tennessee quartet Crumbsnatchers, “One Call” is a sun-drenched, high-energy rock tune, infused with some modern psychedelic influences. The group’s name comes from frontman Sam “Guetts” Guetterman’s experience at a faith-based juvenile detention camp when he was 16 years old. The group’s sound is as unique as its name, shaped by a wide array of artists and genres. With its bouncing bass line, tight drums and catchy melody, the song is the epitome of a head-bopping summer track. The melody and harmonies are reminiscent of early surf-rock, making their way down the scale. Despite its catchy upbeat instrumentation, the song’s lyrics lament on a love lost: “I only wanted to make one call / Nothing I could ever say could ever bring my baby back home.” The juxtaposition of the lively instrumentals and the contemplative lyrics makes the song the perfect candidate for crying while on your drive to the beach. Photo by homermixesmusic.— Sofia Soriano on July 28, 2021
Aziya - Marathon
As any relationship begins to fade, there comes an impending shift from thinking you might need to leave to actually going through with it. “Marathon,” off of London-based producer and songwriter Aziya’s newest record We Speak of Tides, manages to embody the intensity of that decision and the electrifying energy that pours out of it. In the beginning, an echoing guitar backs Aziya’s soulful vocals before the drums come crashing on in, placing emphasis on her passionate and self-assured lyrics. By the second verse, she's created a cinematic soundscape, and whether that's an angsty-teen-rebellion breakup scene or the climax of an action movie, I can’t bring myself to care—Aziya’s bellowing call of empowerment has me drawn in. “Marathon” is the kind of song that is best appreciated through noting its details: the chamber harmonies sprinkled throughout, the sonically dramatic halts and crashes, and Aziya’s dominating vocal delivery blend eloquently together to create a track that is as earnest as it is kickass. Whether it's “Marathon” or any of the other emotionally abundant tracks on We Speak of Tides, Aziya’s dynamism and charm offer something that everyone can latch onto. Photo by Zachary Chick.— Jenna Andreozzi on July 27, 2021