Will Orchard - Smoke Alarm
Opening with a gleaming piano that heightens Will Orchard’s natural sense of magic, “Smoke Alarm” is just one of the several sweetly euphonic tracks on the Boston-based folk artist's latest release, I Reached My Hand Out. Soon diverted from focus, the nearly iridescent piano falls behind a gentle and welcoming acoustic guitar that echoes around Orchard’s contemplative lyrics. The track ruminates on attachment and even obsession with people we don’t actually know, creating preconceived notions that they are not guaranteed to fulfill. Orchard steps back to recognize his role in perpetuating an unachievable fantasy and realizes that our expectations can’t be met if we aren’t able to communicate them. As he describes "the pain of not knowing what to say,” the track resolves into a cathartic instrumental break—the introduction of a mellow drum machine signifies a wistful turning point into self-realized understanding. As the words return, a sense of intimacy washes over the track; the subdued second verse is scattered with delicate swells of piano before building into an outro that is as enchanting as it is emotional. Among the collection of heartfelt tunes presented on the record, “Smoke Alarm” is just a glimpse into the vulnerability and awareness that Will Orchard attains on I Reached My Hand Out. Photo by Tim Ryan.— Jenna Andreozzi on May 19, 2021
Sexy Pigeon - Hold My Hand, Sunshine
True to its name, Sexy Pigeon’s “Hold My Hand, Sunshine” is a feel-good summer sunshine track. Playful barbershop harmonies announce the beginning of the adventure, quickly displaced by some lighthearted ah-la-la-la-la’s. It’s like a setup to a good-natured joke by that one friend who always wears a smile and has a knack for coaxing a grin out of everyone else they meet. Buoyant bass bounces along the track, reminiscent of those little pointers that bob along karaoke tracks, tracking the words as you and your friends are singing your hearts out. Fluttery synth parts of various textures spring up and fade out, as though the song is trying on different hats trying to find one that best fits the vibe of the day. It ultimately closes with a reverb-ed-out shortstop, echoing in the exact way the surface of the water does when you cannonball into a pool on the first 100-degree day in July. Sweet and refreshing, it’s sure to tempt your toes into the water of all the summer pop to come. Photo by Pjotr van Kleef.— Allison Hill on May 18, 2021
Ali Awan - Climb
Born to an immigrant Pakistani father and a first-generation Turkish American mother, Philadelphia-based artist Ali Awan has a unique take on music, informed by his upbringing and passion for expression. His upcoming EP Moon Mode is a collection of stylistically varied songs tied together by a unified emotion. On Moon Mode, Awan takes on a strenuous quest from darkness to light. His latest single “Climb” finds him right in the midst of that journey.
Jangly chords set the stage for an iconic guitar line that plays throughout. Supported by stirring drums and a deep bassline, Awan recounts the uncomfortable and taxing position he finds himself in. However, he is quick to grasp his own agency and capacity in order to get out. Bright samples from collaborator Will Brown (Astronaut Jumpshot) play as Awan slowly starts to move towards greater clarity, singing earnestly, “Dirt up on my knees / Looking kind of crazy / But feeling alright.” He vividly conveys the physical and emotional effort it takes to come out on the other side of a murky ditch.
Awan is generous with his hard-earned wisdom as he shares some advice: “ I wanna let you know / Climb up of all those holes you dive in / Pick every piece back up.” He celebrates his triumph with a flurry of guitars, samples and a shimmering sitar, creating a mesmerizing soundscape that lets us know we can do it too. Moon Mode will be released on June 11th via Born Losers Records. Photo by Don Vincent Ortega.— James Ramos on May 18, 2021
girl in red - Did You Come?
A standout track from girl in red’s debut album if i could make it go quiet, tl. Beginning with hollow, echoey keys and rolling, fast-paced drums, the raw emotion in the music is a slow build that rises alongside the lyrics. Here, Norwegian singer/songwriter girl in red, born Marie Ulven, is irrevocably honest; by emoting lines such as “You’re so fake / It’s all lies / Was she good? / Just what you like? / Did you come? / How many times? / Tell the truth / Wait, never mind,” she captures the vulnerability that comes along with realizing that you’ve just asked a question you don’t really want the answer to. By being so straightforward, Ulven chronicles the disintegration of a relationship and the confusing feelings that follow in a way that everyone can relate to, proving that what is most personal is most universal. Even more impressive, however, is the way she does all of this while reclaiming herself and her power—which is always the best revenge. Photo by Jonathan Kise.— Paige Shannon on May 14, 2021
spill tab - Anybody Else
"Anybody Else" is another unique and masterfully distinct offering from spill tab, the latest in a string of wonderful releases. It’s hard to pin her "sound," yet this feels so clearly her. That is part of the excitement of a spill tab release—not knowing quite where it’ll take you. But there are some familiar puzzle pieces here: a beautiful vocal performance, a chorus that’s both massive and personal, production that’s willing to be adventurous from the very first second, honest and tender songwriting, an explosive finish. And like every song of hers, it packs its devastating punch in but is over in a blink of an eye, and you’ll be left craving more. This one in particular rides alongside our narrator, consumed with passion, as they walk up to the edge of new love. The final chorus, with its raw and vulnerable first few lines over a single guitar. It’s a palpable and relatable uncertainty, but lucky for us, spill tab leans all the way in like The Fool taking the next step off the cliff and into the unknown, just trusting life will catch them. And catch them it does. A bit of feedback bubbles up, cueing the band’s return at full force, with a choir of voices to belt the final lines together. It’s a bold love song and a distinctly spill tab love song. Another gem from the rising pop star. Photo by Jade Sadler.— Max Himelhoch on May 13, 2021
Jack Broza - Walk a Day
Jack Broza’s latest single, "Walk a Day," is a love song for trees and walks. It’s an ode to mundane joy to be found in your local greenspaces. Counterintuitively, the upbeat track begins lyrically by mourning the loss of a favorite tree. It sometimes feels silly to miss a tree, but they are living things; not quite sentient, but with a cherished coexistence that you expect to be around forever. It’s always a shock to reconcile that mortality applies to trees too—to remember that everything that lives, grows old and also someday dies. It’s a thought that could easily send you spiraling into an existential crisis about the finite nature of time. It might also nudge you hard the other way, re-dedicated to appreciating life where it is and mourning what is lost only once it is actually lost. "Walk a Day" certainly seems to float in that more positive direction. Cheerful and breezy, a sauntering melody wanders through each layer until you find your steps keeping pace with it. The lyrics invite you to reflect on all the different, distinctive ways walks can feel good. They can be a welcome reprieve or a stimulating adventure. Walks provide time and space to process emotions and dream up ideas. Where the lyrics fall off, humming vocals sit underneath it all, just like when singing a little song to yourself, arms swinging as you walk. More than anything, "Walk a Day" sounds like a good walk feels. Or all of them, in fact. Photo by Chad Hilliard.— Allison Hill on May 13, 2021
School of X - Away
“Away,” the newest single by School of X, is a sonic journey. From prominent bass lines in the early verses of the song to alluring saxophone solos, mixed with his unique confident vocals, “Away” provides listeners with a nostalgic pop anthem. Based in Copenhagen, School of X’s moniker comes from Eksskole, an anti-establishment art school from the 1960s. Like the school after which the act is named, School of X provides space for Littauer to create outside of labels. On “Away," Rasmus Littauer, the man behind it all, channels that energy for a rich and progressive landscape with no boundaries. As Littauer recounts the immediate feeling of loss one faces after a break-up, we admire the beauty of the melancholy atmosphere, laced with perfectly hidden synths and dreamy electric licks within “Away.” Littauer’s instant regret is captured as he sings, “I know I told you to be gone / But I think it’s too hard / So don’t ever go away again.” It’s not only missing a lover, but your best friend, and going from having everything to nothing. Photo by Jonas Bang.— Keely Caulder on May 12, 2021
Earth Dad - Good Dog
Rogue synth harmonies breathe on a gentle beat in Earth Dad's "Good Dog." Self-aware and effervescent, the NYC-based group identifies as an alternative space-pop/puzzle-rock band. "Good Dog" makes no exception and scores the dog days that define life on Earth with a muffled, bird's eye sound. The narrator confronts commonplace claustrophobia through warm regards for car rides and social interactions. Though abstract, the tune feels uncanny and familiar. Monotonous vocals relax all expectations from their start, inspiring peace of mind for engagement with the present. "Any type of car I'll take it." You'll feel inspired to sit back, bob your head and accept daily motion for what it is. Photo by Johan Orellana.— Daphne Ellis on May 12, 2021
Margo Ross - Fan the Flame
Break-ups may just look like the dissolution of a relationship to an outsider. When it comes to those involved, they’re often going through the motions of experiencing a split on the outside, and it may appear to look like nothing on the surface. On the inside, however, there is hardly a bigger storm brewing than that of an inner monologue of the broken-hearted.
New York musician Margo Ross warns the recipient of that inner monologue not to “stand next to [her] fire,” or “Fan the Flame” of her already-burning list of thoughts on handling her split on her newest single. Musically, the track starts out with Ross strumming the guitar almost cautiously, as she begins singing, “Forgive me, I know not what I’ve done.” Describing the feelings the split has inspired, Ross leaves hardly anything to the visual imagination as she goes on to sing, “A tree falls, a noose tightens, but you’ve already won.”
Or have they?
As the song progresses, Ross’s vocals become stronger as the song continues flowing. Just like the universal idea of becoming comfortable with the idea of a break-up and the slow-but-sure progression of healing a broken heart, “Fan the Flame” gradually sprawls with violins and Ross’ doo-wop style backing vocals. Most importantly, Ross visibly grows more confident to the point where it sounds like she's throwing gasoline on her previously timid approach to sorting out her post-split feelings.
The Margo Ross at the beginning of the track may feel surprised to learn how “Fan the Flame” could serve as the latest helpful anthem for getting through a break-up; it’s all found in her obvious from-the-heart vocal delivery wherein the listener can follow along in real-time as Ross’ healing journey unfolds in 3 minutes and 40 seconds. Sometimes it may be better just to listen closely instead of seeking advice. Photo by Kirra Cheers.
Moorea Masa & the Mood - Butterfly
Moorea Masa has the vocal presence of a best friend who welcomes you with open arms no matter the mood or circumstance. “Butterfly” is no exception, especially as one of Masa’s most personal depictions of her own journey. This is a voice that lends a hand, reaches through headphones and speakers with wisdom, comfort, and love, which is what makes “Butterfly” all the more unique. Knowing that Masa is reaching out with visibility and grace toward her own self-journey, gives this chapter of her music more depth than ever before as she sings, “Butterfly, trying to keep it light, but you’re addicted to the sweet of the night, won’t you come up for air every once in a while?” The steady pulsing baseline at the beginning of the song represents Masa’s internal dissonance with anchorage to her own roots. By the time she breaks out into the chorus, we feel liberation paired with the bittersweet freedom that comes from gaining independence from the ones that raised you.
This is the final song of Moorea’s latest album, Heart In The Wild: Side A, an exquisite and heart-wrenching journey through Masa’s relationship with her estranged mother, a queer Black woman suffering from debilitating mental illness. Written and produced against a backdrop of global anguish and civil unrest in 2020, this record captures an unflinching intimacy that feels like sharing sacred moments with a lifelong friend. Masa delivers exquisitely emotional vocal performances, directly addressing her mother in warm, velvety tones accompanied by lush beds of harmonies and dreamlike textures. Photo by Ashley Walters.
Bantug - Every Sunday
The plea is immediate—a curious narrator, a curious band. It sounds like Bantug is coming to us live from the image on the cover; it's a bit constrained, a bit uncomfortable, embodying that Sunday feeling—dreading the potential of what’s to come. As the first verse begins to loosen up, Bantug admits that much of this familiar pain is internal. Keeping it hidden from those around her out of fear of “being misunderstood or given / A pity that [she’s] never wanted." It's such a beautiful lyric with genuine vulnerability, and in this moment, the song feels all the more generous. It’s so hard for many of us to share these intimate fears and pains, as doing so can leave so much room for judgment. It takes trust in those we share with, something we might not have earned here, but Bantug is willing to offer it to us anyways. And how lucky we are. Just opening up ever so slightly here feels like a huge weight off the track’s spirit, propelling us into this gorgeous guitar-driven chorus. The drums offer an undeniable groove and Bantug steps into the spotlight, reaching up for a stunning melody. We settle back into a second verse, frustration building as every attempt to break from these fears leads us right back to them. The chorus explodes again, just as powerful and magnetic. Adding in a xylophone and strings gives the bridge a brand new texture, layers of vocals capturing the tension. The pre-chorus comes back, now just Bantug and some gentle keys, upping the intimacy and authenticity of these emotions. Starting with the bass, we feel the momentum building again. The driving force gives it a sense of optimism and assuredness we didn’t have before. Dancing our way out even if the feelings stay, or return, we know we’re in control now. It’s a beautiful single following two other terrific and dynamic releases in 2021 for Bantug, and we're excited to see what the Nashville artist has in store next. Photo by Kirt Barnett.— Max Himelhoch on May 4, 2021