Starlight Girls’ “Teenage Crime” deftly combines emotional urgency with a languid pace and melancholic undertones. Angsty guitar work bursting over a minimalistic keyboard melody washing underneath Christina Bernard’s focused vocals tracing the ebb and flow of mood give the song an unconventional rhythm. Without overcomplicating the soundscape the band uses a wide-ranging and expressive dynamic in the percussion and low end that syncs with the other elements of the song operating in their own dynamics and unifies it all toward a goal of making a song that feels expansive, contemplative and emotionally vibrant. It’s a bit like if Air and modern, noisy, psychedelic band collaborated to create a song that is cool yet fiery that washes the nervous energy in your brain away. Listen to “Teenage Crime” on Soundcloud, connect with Starlight Girls at the links below and look out for the band’s new EP Entitled which was released on June 9, 2020 and available on the group’s Bandcamp page.
Sam Damask saw his artist friend Skele go through a time of tribulation and come through it like a champ. So through his project Grand Commander, Damask wrote a mini epic in homage to his friend casting Skele as a superhero and master of the underworld. With acoustic guitar and some background synth this Grand Commander track is a bit different from the wonderful bombast of some of the project’s other music. But this approach to the songwriting is also more tender and affectionate making Skele the larger than life aspect of the song and not the music itself, like a tale that needed to be told where the music utilized in helping express the emotional colorings is the backdrop that accents and gives structure to the story but is very much allows Damask to paint a picture of his friend’s glorious existence. We should all get such a loving tribute from someone in our lives. Listen to “Skele” on YouTube and connect with Grand Commander at the links provided.
“Written Answers” finds Toronto’s Away Forward channeling a bit of C86, chime-y guitar tunefulness, the intricate, interlocking simple guitar work one hears in 90s shoegaze rock and the dusky nostalgic tones of Julee Cruise. The way the song turns on beautifully executed minor chord progressions and then blossoms into transporting melodies is especially evocative. The band doesn’t find a groove and ride it into affinity. No, its songwriting and gift for dynamic shifts and the emotional impact of not filling in all available space with all sounds in its sonic palette gives the song with a familiar feel and comforting swirls of atmosphere a repeated lisenability. In that way it’s reminiscent of early material from The Sundays but brimming with Slowdive’s penchant for drawing you into a mood of deep introspection and reverie only possible when a band is able to perfectly meld deft songwriting with expert soundscaping. Listen to “Written Answers” on Soundcloud, connect with Away Forward at the links provided and give a listen to the group’s 2020 album Catching The Sun on the project’s Bandcamp page.
Zoë Phillips sounds confident yet introspective on her song “Figured It All Out.” Her voice is bright and seems to drive a sweeping piano line and spare yet expressive percussion. But the effect by the end of the song is one that conveys a feeling of having been caught up by events in one’s life and looking back with a sensitive eye for where and when maybe you had moments of misguided action based in overconfidence and too much faith in the efficacy of your beliefs and feelings as though those wouldn’t change and would be adequate for the rest of your life. Without explicitly saying so the song in the sophisticated simplicity of its composition says that sometimes we need to take a pause to consider if what we’re doing is the right thing or if it’s something we’ve talked ourselves into and justified in the name of the expediency of promoting our agenda without considering the ripple effect of those actions for our own lives and that of others. Phillips just says this with the poetry of a pop song without overthinking it and because of that the song has a directness and immediacy that an essay on personal accountability couldn’t convey with such economy. Listen to “Figured It All Out” on Spotify and connect with Zoë Phillips at the links below.
Sam Koechlin aka Sam Himself sounds like he’s tired of struggling with himself and outmoded notions of his own identity on his single “Like A Friend,” coming to accept that what he once thought was a core part of his identity was just like an awkwardly outfit that you keep telling yourself is cool but makes you look like an idiot. Most people do this in their lives insisting truths about themselves that they embrace as central to their entire being even if it limits them and comes to hurt them long term. But rather than a self-disintegrating blowout, Sam casts this process as a melancholic, compassionate goodbye and to take this news, this realization like he’s hearing it from a good friend who knows what to say even when it’s something heavy and hard to say. A friend who knows how to tell you some aspect of your personality and identity is bullshit that is dragging you down but without brutality so that you have time to embrace the change as painful as it can be with resignation with the blow landing softly. It’s unrealistic to expect people to change quickly because of all the ingrained habits of life and mentalities that reinforce the core of who you are or who you think you are but it’s also not so difficult to make that change once you understand why the changes are necessary. The lush song and its downtempo, late night vibe with Sam Himself’s brooding croon is reminiscent of Nick Cave is paired well with a music video taking place in the gritty part of Zurich, Switzerland like something out of a Jim Jarmusch film and all the creative use of darkness and color to suggest a mood, a spiritual quality to the setting that enhances the meaning of what you’re witnessing. Watch the video for “Like A Friend” on YouTube, connect with Sam Himself on Soundcloud linked below and look out for the songwriter’s new EP Slow Drugs.
20 is an odd and awkward age. It sits exactly between being a teenager and being 21, the age at which you’re supposed to be an adult or at least you have all the rights and responsibilities of adulthood. When you’re younger it seems so far away and people who are 21 seem like they’re “old” or worldly when, once you get there, you realize how funny these notions are. But at 20, or thereabouts, you start to have an inkling that your teenage bravado about what you think you know is misplaced but don’t yet possess the hilariously unfounded confidence of your mid-twenties when you are sure you’ve seen it all and thought it all and the world is your oyster and if you haven’t made your mark by 25 or certainly by 27 then you’re a failure. Only you’re not. But going back to 20, the Port Lucian single “20z” has a charming, jangle-y guitar melody that maintains a rhythm and tone while Portia Maidment’s vocals swirl slightly commenting on days that seem so significant and summers that seem to last forever giving you the time to go on long drives and talk about whatever comes to mind as though it’s the most important thing in the world. Anyone over 22 remember that time and miss it a little? That sense of the magic of having the luxury of ample unstructured time to fill with contemplating your dreams and aspirations? Of course you do even if your specific experience isn’t quite parallel. That emotional space has been eloquently preserved in this Port Lucian song. Listen to “20z” no Soundcloud, connect with Port Lucian at the links below and look out for the Port Lucian’s Prince of Oddities EP out September 18 on Z Tapes.
Rinkaku’s “Retaliation”single has a dusky and enigmatic quality with deep vocals reminiscent of a Japanese language TR/ST or John Maus. Its lo-fi electronic production sounds like something from the soundtrack to a Yoshiaki Kawajiri film with the edgy vibe like you’d expect when someone makes a movie out of one of Inio Asano’s darker manga. Rinkaku aka Yoshitaka Delahaije started out making trance before moving on to a wider range of soundscaping and “Retaliation” reflects an amalgamation of ambient, darkwave, trap, noise, glitch and, yes, trance. This eclectic aesthetic gives the song a quality that may seem brooding and menacing on one level but in the end about the affirmation of life and what makes it worth living even in the bleakest of times in one’s own life and in the world generally. Perfect for the crisis-wracked world in which we now find ourselves. Listen to “Retaliation” on Soundcloud and connect with Rinkaku at the links below.
Spunsugar from Malmö, Sweden has infused a gritty and dark dream pop with industrial beats on the debut single “Happier Happyless” from it’s forthcoming album Drive-Through Chapel. Whereas many latter day bands that are mining shoegaze territory have drawn from a relatively narrow spectrum of those sonic inspirations, Spunsugar seems to have not missed how some of those early bands were influenced by or absorbed the influence of electronic and industrial music. Elin Ramsted’s vocals are melodious yet moody, Cordelia Moreau’s drums and electronic percussion insistent and broadly dynamic and Felix Sjöström’s guitar granular yet lush. One might think of it as Cocteau Twins somehow having come up first through Curve, punk and hard rock, a sound that suits a song examining the meaning of happiness in one’s life and the nuances and gradations therein. Watch the video for “Happier Happyless” on YouTube, connect with Spunsugar on Spotify and look out for Drive-Through Chapel set for release in fall 2020 through Adrian Recordings.
Dutch psychedelic band SSTO is planning to release a concept EP in 2021 that traces the journeys of a spaceship headed for the outer regions. Its debut single “Launch” has a title that needs no explanation as the beginning of that trek into the gulfs of space. But the video accompanying the single greatly enhances the experience of the song which captures the excitement, mystery, grandeur and tranquility of lifting off the earth and the myriad sights and sensations that you can’t quite have while earthbound. The processing on the guitars and keyboards in the beginning is almost like you’re hearing an old Boards of Canada track and in the video we see sights of a space shuttle being carried off on rocket boosters lending the song’s presentation a retro-futurist aspect with more chilled out guitar chords and percussion coming in to replace the luminously processed sound, reflecting the wider arcs of time and movement free of earth’s atmosphere while taking a moment to ponder the journey ahead and what mysteries that might unfold before you along the way. Watch the video for “Launch” on YouTube and connect with SSTO at the links below.
The cover art of “Running Outta Time” by Brian Fender and TxTHEWAY is striking and elicits an immediate emotional response. It’s a photo of both rappers when they were kids with sniper targets on their heads. Maybe much of America was roused to action after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and it brought to light the murders of Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain. But the fact is we’ve heard countless stories like that for years even in national news from police rolling up on Tamir Rice in Cleveland and shooting him dead immediately to Eric Garner being choked out by cops and the shooting of Philando Castile. And of course decades of this casual disregard for the lives of black people in America. “Running Outta Time” speaks to coming up knowing any day your fate could be like that of any of the aforementioned. The warbling keyboard sound is both melancholic and hopeful, hoping to have the time to do what you want in life despite all the challenges and stumbling blocks placed in your way by an entrenched systemic racism. But the song doesn’t abstract this reality, its vignettes ground it in experiences many of us have had or know of from firsthand observation. And the ending, which will not get spoiled in this review, ends this dreamlike song in dramatic fashion. It’s a reminder that for many people there isn’t time to waste and yet you don’t know when that’s going to come to an end and the uncertainty of that truth can hang heavy on your heart. Listen to “Running Outta Time” on Soundcloud and connect with TxTHEWAY at the links provided.