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Will Butler - Surrender
Will Butler - Surrender

Will Butler - Surrender

Will Butler’s “Surrender” begins with the stomp-clap vigor of a Lumineers song. But shortly after you hear Butler’s soaring falsetto, you might recognize something else as the jangling piano and percussion kick in: the heart-and-soul of beloved indie-darling Arcade Fire. It’s no coincidence, as Butler is a core member of the group, and his influence on Arcade Fire’s sound palpably shines through his solo work. “Surrender” is the lead single off of Butler’s upcoming album, Generations, coming September 25 via Merge Records. Disguised as a catchy summer sing-a-long, it finds Butler lyrically lamenting about lost love’s grip on his mind. Still, the anthem can easily be applied to anything we are craving release from—or rather, that from which we acknowledge we may never find release, and learn to be at peace with. It reminds me of a poem I jotted down last year:

color me

dying flowers.

here i sit with all 

my crumpled faith 

in renewal, hands wilting

with withering desire. but 

still i chase the sun and water 

hope down to the root, still

i surrender to it; this

insatiable wild

within me.

Heddy Edwards on July 24, 2020
Ivy Sole - Bittersweet

Ivy Sole - Bittersweet

When times are tough, it’s usually comforting to find the good mixed with the bad. Depending on your beliefs, you might hold faith in the idea that there is seldom a path to joy that does not wind through suffering first. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger," right? Happiness and suffering seem, at times, so irreparably intertwined that sometimes it’s hard to notice when “paying your dues” is the wrong call. Ivy Sole’s “Bittersweet” reminds us that joy comes out of being honest and relentless about what you want. Jazzy chords, smooth bass, and Sole’s even smoother voice paint an image of liberation that is invigorating and intoxicating. “I don’t want it if it’s bittersweet; I don’t want it if it ain’t for me." It’s a not-so-subtle rebellion against settling for prepackaged joy with a fit you constantly have to rationalize. More than anything, Sole leaves us with the message that meaningful change shouldn’t be conditional on giving yourself up as a martyr. Everyone deserves the freedom to say “this is not good enough for me” without being forced into a lopsided compromise that’s really just the bare minimum of concessions to stop you from walking away. Whether it’s a significant other or society as a whole—you deserve better. You deserve “sweet without the bitter (and) sun with no rain."

Allison Hill on July 23, 2020
Zoe Polanski - The Willows

Zoe Polanski - The Willows

There is more than one way that “The Willows” feels like a dream. Zoe Polanski’s vocals are feathered and distant, like an invisible angel delivering strange and important news. Her beautiful lyrics are cryptic and lack a followable storyline; instead, curious metaphorical images like horses running “across an endless ocean” weave in and out of magical realist memories (“I was a sparrow; I flew there like an arrow”) and create a feeling, breathing tapestry. Polanski and her team manage to create this immersive world, convincingly real while you’re in it but hard to explain in waking life, without much more than bass, synths, and a simple beat. Overall, the track is a testament to the powerful combination of patience and clear creative vision. Her debut full-length, Violent Flowers, was released on July 17. It's full of dreamy worlds like the one in “The Willows,” and you can listen to it now on Bandcamp and other streaming platforms.

Karl Snyder on July 23, 2020
Haley Blais - On a Weekend

Haley Blais - On a Weekend

Pressing into a dual-toned reflection of solitude, Haley Blais croons over effervescent sun-showers of synth on her new single "On a Weekend." With her drifting, alluring sound, Blais gives her voice to the delicate, yet matter-of-fact sentiment of “holding [her] own hand on a weekend." While the track’s origins were born out of the hearth of social anxiety, it has taken on a new meaning as we are asked to only clasp the hands attached to our own bodies. While isolation has its disadvantages, it also acts as a breeding ground to take yourself to the movies, to hold your own hand, and to nourish your own soul. Photo by Lindsay Elliott

Laney Esper on July 23, 2020
Joya Mooi - Bitter Parts

Joya Mooi - Bitter Parts

Joya Mooi can’t stop creating. Fresh off her album The Ease of Others released last September, Mooi delivers her second single of the year, "Bitter Parts." A beautiful new offering, a song that moves with urgency. Moments of insight and stunning lyricism dot the path to and from the chorus. One that shows Mooi reckoning with herself, facing the truths she might have been avoiding before. The verses spotlight moments where that reckoning proves necessary. Articulated more explicitly in the video, this self-reflection becomes an endless pursuit—looking in the mirror, finding strength in her vulnerability. The production is fantastic. A deep synth-bass provides a growling foundation, while the drums give it a harsh, relentless feel. It’s all tied together by Mooi’s vocals—with a calming warmth, she makes this tough introspection feel so easy. The bridge is a standout moment, the swirling synths and gentle harmonies working perfectly together to prove Mooi’s mastery. Infinitely repeatable, this dark but dreamy tune just feels good.

Max Himelhoch on July 22, 2020
ekay - Vacant

ekay - Vacant

Leaning into a time of disarray, Dubai-based neo-soul artist ekay has crafted a transcendental realm in her latest release, “Vacant." Before quarantine went into full effect, ekay traveled to LA and stayed for several months—during which the track was crafted. Describing “Vacant” as “what I wish I heard someone say during quarantine,” she ruminates in the unfamiliarity, seeking a muse, someone to “show me something true.” Conserving our collective sanity are "temporary highs," which "keep contradicting conditioned minds"—as circumstances have forced us to face the fallacy of present societal structure. The expectation to constantly be creating in this "free time" despite our anxiety is not lost on us, but ekay challenges that notion; "Production on maybe / Delays on save me," she worries, before resolving, "I mean, I should sleep." On the song, she says, "During this time where change is inevitable, I wanted to help find lightness in the new normal." "Vacant" finds peace in the tension between restlessness and inspiration drawn from accepting that you're lost in the here and now.

Ysabella Monton on July 22, 2020
St. South - RED

St. South - RED

Our minds have the ability to run rampant, to think about hundreds of different things in the amount of time it takes to open a bottle of water, take a sip, and put the cap back on. St. South encapsulates this sensation in her song “RED.” Starting with what sounds like someone taking a drink of water, the songwriter, singer, and producer delves into her inner monologue. Her airy vocals accompany synths that sound like the musical equivalent of skipping rocks on a river. This is in direct juxtaposition to sharp percussion and lyrics that detail the reasons she no longer wants to be with her partner. While at times it sounds like St. South could be singing directly to this person, upon closer inspection it sounds as though “RED” is a reminder to herself that she deserves better. The repetition of the line, “I’ve got things to do / Things to do today,” affirms that. Whether she uses it as a mantra for self-discipline or as a casual reminder to push through the hurt she may be feeling, it leaves the listener to reflect on their own priorities. As someone whose brain is always racing at a hundred miles a minute, I found comfort in St. South’s ability to conceptualize the feeling that accompanies knowing that your relationship is unhealthy and your priorities are not aligned. Photo by Liam Gillie

Sloan Pecchia on July 22, 2020
Cape Francis - Just Because

Cape Francis - Just Because

In many ways, 2020 has beckoned us to take personal responsibility for our actions; to be brutally honest with ourselves and others, as well as understand that we must change our lifestyles to protect our neighbors from sickness, injustice, and ignorance—even when this ignorance resides within ourselves. In this way, one of the latest tracks from Cape Francis (solo project of Kevin Olken Henthorn) is a sign of the times. “Just because I looked in a mirror / Don’t make my life appear any clearer / I’m sick of blaming everything else on everyone / So I can pretend it ain’t my bad.” Filled with poignant lyrics and pensive strumming recognizable from Henthorn’s 2019 album Deep Water, “Just Because” reminds us that we must shine a light on ourselves; not only to more clearly see the effects of our words and actions on those around us, but to banish old habits and complacency, and start anew. It brings to mind a mantra I jotted down at the beginning of quarantine:

& i die

a thousand little deaths

each day, so that

tomorrow, i might

be born again.

Heddy Edwards on July 22, 2020
Dinah Is- Thinking Backwards

Dinah Is- Thinking Backwards

If you’re looking for a summer fling anthem to live through vicariously, "Thinking Backwards" is the song for you. Lyrically, Dinah Is effortlessly charms with her wit, tossing in lines that tickle your inner English major with playful imagery. A particular favorite of mine: “Weird voices are onto me; they follow me like they’ve lost their key." Alongside sparkly layered synths and compelling rhythms, the track chronicles thrills and chills of flirting with that cute person you’ve kind of got a crush on. Kick drums bring you into the groove, imitating the feeling of your heart leaping up into your throat and pulsing in your ears. Stacked harmonies and effects add a sense of cinematic augmented reality—letting you sink into the rom-com fantasy we’ve all wanted to live in sometimes. Overall, "Thinking Backwards" feels like walking home drunk from a party with someone you really like, swept over with bliss, and harmonies ringing in your ears over the fact that they like you too.

Allison Hill on July 21, 2020
Aunty Social - Thinking about Thinking about Thinking

Aunty Social - Thinking about Thinking about Thinking

Bath House

I found a bath house nested on the peak of a mountains back
and all that was asked:
to untie my corset of abandonment 
and surrender it to the eye

Crosslegged I sat, watching seasoned hands
swim above the sponge towards the rusted steel wool
For this was no ordinary forgiveness
and I was of no simple repair

I begged instead,
can she pick the guilt from beneath my nails 
and trim the unkempt shame hiding my eyes

she scrubbed thy skin of
romantic sin until
my bodies hue blushed rouge

Then looked away
as my vertebrae's sang
the sweet confessional tune

Warmth spilled from shoulder 
to toe like children's red striped pajamas
and for a sweet instant, I felt
I glittered in the sun

Daniela Gitto on July 21, 2020
Holly Humberstone - Overkill

Holly Humberstone - Overkill

On “Overkill," Holly Humberstone is preparing to do something brave. Maybe you’ve had to be brave before too, so you’re probably familiar with how it works. Once you realize you can do it—the brave thing—time starts moving more quickly. You can’t backpedal; you’ll do the thing, or you won’t. For a while, each thought feels like a drop in a bucket that will eventually overflow.

That realization is exactly where we find Humberstone at the beginning of the song. She’s almost ready to spill big, unwieldy feelings to her partner, and she is afraid they will come across as too much—as overkill. But throughout the track, she shows us that she has a lot of things going for her. Like some of her indie-pop elders—Tegan & Sara, Empress Of, Robyn—Humberstone beautifully harnesses the power of stark simplicity in her lyrics. “You don’t have to say it back / I just want to know where your head’s at,” she tells herself in a frosty alto, and you can feel a waterfall of subtext fill every crevice. As the song goes on, the lyrical tone shifts gradually from restrained deliberation to decisive declaration, and the music follows. The musical climax—an immaculate syncopated drum hit at 2:20—is the sound of that final drop in the bucket; and the electronic swirl of twinkling stars that emerges in the track’s final minute is what tells us—and Humberstone—that tonight's the night.

Karl Snyder on July 21, 2020