Pulsing low end rumble pushes Buggie’s song “Westend” along as Gretchen King almost reads the story of the current dissolution of the world order as we knew it and the desperate attempts to save it. Whether that be with “corporate saviors” or clinging to the utterly discredited neoliberal order with its distractions in entertainment, social media and dead end jobs held out as our only options as a way to perpetuate an economic model that hasn’t been sustainable in even the most powerful countries for four decades. Buggie points out that it seems like the last legs of resisting the inevitable. The almost industrial percussion wedded with King’s pondering but cautionary vocals convey the hard reality before us but inject it with a hint of whimsical flavor as if to suggest that maybe this end of things as we know it is a positive because it’s already been crashing in on itself since the turn of the century and maybe we’re already ready for something new even if it seems scary. Fans of Holly Herndon and Hiro Kone will greatly appreciate the production and soundscaping and the conceptual nature as well as the social critique of the song. Listen to “Westend” on Soundcloud, watch a short clip of the stop motion music video on Instagram and connect with Buggie at the links provided.
Australian singer and songwriter Alex the Astronaut (Alex Lynn) is set to release her debut album The Theory of Absolutely Nothing out on Nettwerk on August 21, 2020. And if the lead single “Lost” is any indication, there are plenty of emotionally vibrant stories to be heard on the record. Her pacing of the lyrics and the urgency of the vocals coupled with the orchestral arrangements really highlight a sense of uncertainty, excitement and vulnerability when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory and everything you assumed to be true about your situation fall by the wayside and you have to navigate in the moment. But instead of being overwhelmed by fear and anxiety you find a way to go with it and learn and find your way without established protocols and a proper way to go about things because oftentimes the most interesting place to find yourself in life is when there is no map and you have to trust yourself to help establish a path for yourself and others. Fans of 80s jangle rock and will appreciate the well-crafted tunefulness of the song and those of Kimya Dawson’s unvarnished, emotional openness will find something to savor in Lynn’s willingness to risk going off the rails while managing to not quite do so. Listen to “Lost” on Soundcloud and connect with Alex the Astronaut at the links provided.
On “Start All Over” SOHEILL creates an especially evocative dynamic when his vocals come in warmly over an introspective ambient passage by uniting the abstract emotional atmospheres and a direct expression of a desire of not wanting to start at zero once life can feel like it’s back in forward momentum instead of its current stasis. In another year, another time it might have been a song for late summer nights taking stock of where you’re going and mid-song the momentum hangs to create a compositional space in which those assessments can take be mulled over and discussed with impressionistic sketches of thought. Then the guitar and percussion come full back in for an extended outro suggesting coming to terms with actually needing to start your life again. But this time from a place of authenticity despite how much you’ve built on what you thought you wanted and what you were rather than what is at the core of your being as you’ve experienced life and been changed by those experiences and have had time to revisit what you’ve learned instead of moving forward and moving on as we’re encouraged to in modern life. The song seems to be one of unburying yourself, of the things you’ve pursued in hopes of fixing something in you, making up for some inadequacy rather than cultivating a true sense of self because after all if you’re living someone else’s dream it’s always going to feel off and the hazy synths of the song feel like taking the time to dissolve the facade with patience and gentleness. Musically it’s reminiscent of the warm psychedelia of The War on Drugs and the nostalgic tones of one of those 80s alternative rock bands that got past the phase of their initial popularity and started writing songs about adult themes instead of being perpetually stuck in singing about adolescence, which also seems to be one of the underlying themes of the song as well, to live in the present in your own story instead of what you’ve romanticized. Listen to “Start All Over” on Soundcloud and connect with SOHEILL at the links below.
German post-punk band Drens from Dortmund celebrated the 75th anniversary of VE Day on May 8 on which Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies in 1945, marking the end of World War II in Europe with the release of its single and video “I Can Barely See” from the group’s Pet Peeves EP. With the rise of far right and generally authoritarian parties and leaders across the world things can seem pretty bleak and hopeless particularly if you’re living under the regimes of Donald Trump in the USA, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Narendra Modi in India and Viktor Orbán in Hungary. You may have heard of some of the anti-human rights practices of the likes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin or China’s Xi Jinping. But the song and its playful video takes on modern fascism and authoritarianism with a spirited humor casting the band members as heroes in a video game with the rock band as a force for good against the bad guys. It’s a light-hearted approach but it makes the whole affair seem manageable if challenging and the urgency of the music with its echoing guitar chimes and driving rhythms do honor to the peril and hard work that will be required but it also shows how when people work together and remain diligent in the struggle against the sort of politics it was assumed was vanquished following the second world war that anti-Fascists can prevail. Watch the video for “I Can Barely See” on YouTube, connect with Drens at the links below and you can support the non-profit campaign group Kein Bock auf Nazis which fights far right politics in Germany and elsewhere at https://www.keinbockaufnazis.de.
Cindy Gravity free associates cultural references in the video for the “Rocket Men” single. From the VHS glitch and simulation of camcorder effects and old video editing effects. From the nod to music video for Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” to a tin foil headband to eccentric early 80s music videos like if Harry Nilsson and Thomas Dolby made a parody of the format through a creative use of the limitations of available technology the video is like a collage of unusual and laid back irony. The song itself is an interesting blend of downtempo pop and what might be described as 80s New Wave kitsch with keyboards rimmed with distorted synth lines and vocals that shift from contemplative to borderline intense as though insisting someone produce the rocket men who promised us a different kind of future than the dystopian present in which we’ve passed critical years in science fiction. Certainly 1984 was long ago, 2001 nearly twenty years in the past and we sure didn’t get advanced replicants like Roy Blatty and Pris Stratton in 2016. Cindy Gravity almost sounds disappointed we didn’t get any of this except for that whole Big Brother deal. Watch the video for “Rocket Men” on YouTube and connect with Cindy Gravity at the links below.
Kate Vogel has a gift for taking the most heavy experiences and personal darkness and turning them into meaningful songs that both honor the experience and cast insight into how one might process a bit of that grief. Her single “The Grave” is about the funeral of a friend who tragically died in a car crash and sketching the outlines of the story are minimal piano and guitar figures, a shimmering accent of percussion and a touch of pedal steel to augment a sense of loss. The lyrics sound as though Vogel and her significant other were devastated by the death of the friend but only one of them could be emotionally present at the funeral, or unable to show up at all, and the sense of guilt that lingers from that moment when common human frailty seems to crush you from within and amplify a sense of failure. Though Vogel doesn’t let herself off the hook in the song the act of writing it suggests the ability to feel acutely that loss and in articulating it with the delicacy of feeling displayed the hope of forgiveness of self even if you feel like you don’t deserve it. Listen to “The Grave” and other songs by Vogel on Spotify and connect with the songwriter at the links below.
Deleteeglitch and 98Tiki sound like they tapped into a lot of the spirit of the jaded and defeated vibe of Sly & The Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On and channeled it into the single “A Most Troubling Roll Call.” But the musical language is a modern free association of sampled, warped jazz vibe and a lingering bass line that accents a keyboard arpeggio as Deleteeglitch raps with ironic, self-deprecating swagger that dissolves in echoes that distorted back like all the bad voices in your head that haunt you when you feel stuck in your darkest place not knowing what to do and in the end surrendering to sleep hoping that will provide the clarity that thinking things through and talking yourself down or talking yourself up won’t, what the chemicals and other distractions can’t make happen either. It’s this lens of autobiography that informs not just the song but the project’s excellent album A Far Too Effective Ultimatum (which came out on May 22). It’s an starkly honest portrait of trying to find yourself in an overstimulated and confused time in our culture. No answers offered but some open ended questions explored making it a more real approach to society’s current existential crisis beyond the pandemic by asking in a creative and unique way what do we want and why and is what we want good for us and what constitutes that anyway? Fans of early 2000s alternative hip-hop or artists in and around the Odd Future collective will find a lot to like here. Listen to “A Most Troubling Roll Call” on Spotify where you can also listen to the rest of A Far Too Effective Ultimatum and connect with Deleteeglitch at the links below.
Dutch songwriter Thomas Azier teamed up with filmmaker Ayoto Ataraxia for a breathtaking video treatment of his song “Hold On Tight.” Filmed in Myanmar and shot on 16 millimeter, the short film takes slices out of the day of people riding a motorbike and public transport in the early hours. The doleful horn and urgent string arrangement carry us forward into the song with Azier’s resonant tenor joining in about halfway through to offer a dramatic narrative about how we often need to accept the uncertainty and potential perils around us to move forward to where we need to be or to at least experience a sense of liberation from what weighs us down, to maybe experience an internal feeling of freedom from a situation or context that can be oppressive or hold us back for now from fulfilling what might be our potential or happiness. The sense of hope against what seems like unlikely odds is palpable in the song. Watch the video for “Hold On Tight” on YouTube, connect with Azier at the links below and look out for the songwriter’s new album Love, Disorderly which was released on June 12, 2020.
The layered dynamics of Wild Manes’ single “Northern Wind” lend its spare but exquisite melody a musical depth and impact that isn’t immediately obvious until you’re listening through again. The three part harmonies, the guitar parts that work more like accents on the rhythm, the solid and fluid bass line that seems to anchor the song all work perfectly together to make the subject of the song seem not as heavy and not as potentially dark as it seems to be. A reference to a “King of birds” and feeling left hanging but dependent, the only reliable thing being that uncertainty and maybe a little bit of pain. It is fairly enigmatic in its meaning but suggests the kinds of emotional abuse people live with unspoken for years until they figure out a way to get free of that association. The music is upbeat if melancholy like putting on your best face even as you’re hurting and casts a fascinating thematic contrast not common enough in modern indie pop. Listen to “Northern Wind” on Spotify, connect with Wild Manes at the links below and look for the NYC-based sextet’s new EP due out later in 2020.
Summer With Monica is the solo project of Julien Staartjes, guitarist for the Amsterdam-based band The Vagary. For his song “The Art of Losing” Staartjes was inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s 1976 poem “One Art.” The jangle-y pop song is reminiscent of a more folk The Soft Boys or Robyn Hitchcock’s solo with its easy pace and poetic phrasing. Maybe a bit of the early music of The Church can be heard echoing there too. Though melancholic in tone at times the sense of the song is one of a kind of hope born of learning to overcome the habits of ego that end up causing us misery even as we think we’re pursuing what’s best for us when at times we should not cling so tightly to notions, dreams and desires that no longer suit us. The chorus of “It’s not so hard, it’s not so hard to let go, to let go” is like a mantra and the closing passage of the song in which Staatjes describes someone who has seemingly hit bottom but who is finally at a place where the ego bound mandates held back his real potential have been washed away in the rain is the fulfillment of an evolving realization that sometimes when you’re struggling the hardest you’re actually fighting your own forward progress. Listen to “The Art of Losing” on Soundcloud and follow Summer With Monica at the links below.