AF 2020 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums & Singles of The Year

In a year that’s been like no other for the music industry, it feels a bit weird to make a best of 2020 list – there have been no tours, venues and clubs across the globe are in danger of closing their doors for good, release schedules were shuffled beyond recognition, and musicians have had to find other ways to make ends meet while those in the U.S. await the next round of paltry stimulus checks. With a situation so dire, the metrics have changed – should we ascribe arbitrary value to the skill of producers, songwriters, performers, and the execution of their finished projects, or simply celebrate records that made us feel like the whole world wasn’t crumbling?

Definitively ranking releases has never been the Audiofemme model for looking back on the year in music. Instead, our writers each share a short list of what moved them most, in the hopes that our readers will find something that moves them, too. Whether you spent the lockdown voraciously listening to more new music this year than ever before, or fell back on comforting favorites, or didn’t have the headspace to absorb the wealth of music inspired by the pandemic, the variety here emphasizes how truly essential music can be to our well-being. If you’re in the position to do so, support your favorite artists and venues by buying merch, and check out the National Independent Venue Association to stay updated on what’s happening with the Save Our Stages act. Here’s to a brighter 2021.


  • Marianne White (Executive Director)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Mary Lattimore – Silver Ladders
      2) the Microphones – Microphones in 2020
      3) Soccer Mommy – Color Theory
      4) Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
      5) Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
      6) Amaarae – The Angel You Don’t Know
      7) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
      8) Adrianne Lenker – songs/instrumentals
      9) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
      10) Lomelda – Hannah
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Kinlaw – “Permissions”
      2) Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am”
      3) Little Dragon & Moses Sumney – “The Other Lover”
      4) Yves Tumor – “Kerosene!”
      5) Megan Thee Stallion – “Shots Fired”

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Land of Talk – Indistinct Conversations
      2) Dehd – Flower of Devotion
      3) SAULT – Untitled (Black Is)/Untitled (Rise)
      4) Public Practice – Gentle Grip
      5) Cindy Lee – What’s Tonight to Eternity
      6) Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
      7) Benny Yurco – You Are My Dreams
      8) Eve Owen – Don’t Let the Ink Dry
      9) Porridge Radio – Every Bad
      10) Jess Cornelius – Distance
    • Top 10 Singles:
      1) Little Hag – “Tetris”
      2) Elizabeth Moen – “Creature of Habit”
      3) Yo La Tengo – “Bleeding”
      4) Caribou – “Home”
      5) Jess Williamson – “Pictures of Flowers”
      6) Adrianne Lenker – “anything”
      7) Nicolás Jaar – “Mud”
      8) Soccer Mommy – “Circle the Drain”
      9) New Fries – “Ploce”
      10) El Perro Del Mar – “The Bells”


  • Alexa Peters (Playing Seattle)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Deep Sea Diver – Impossible Weight
      2) Blimes and Gab – Talk About It
      3) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
      4) Tomo Nakayama – Melonday
      5) Matt Gold – Imagined Sky
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Stevie Wonder – “Can’t Put it in the Hands of Fate”
      2) Tomo Nakayama – “Get To Know You”
      3) Ariana Grande – “Positions”

  • Amanda Silberling (Playing Philly)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Frances Quinlan – Likewise
      2) Bartees Strange – Live Forever
      3) Told Slant – Point the Flashlight and Walk
      4) Diet Cig – Do You Wonder About Me?
      5) Shamir – Shamir
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Kississippi – “Around Your Room”
      2) Sad13 – “Hysterical”
      3) The Garages – “Mike Townsend (Is a Disappointment)”

  • Ashley Prillaman (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
      2) Lasse Passage – Sunwards
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
      4) Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
      5) Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Megan Thee Stallion – “B.I.T.C.H.”
      2) Perfume Genius – “On the Floor”
      3) SG Lewis & Robyn – “Impact” (feat. Robyn & Channel Tres)

  • Cat Woods (Playing Melbourne)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Jarvis Cocker – Beyond the Pale
      2) Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine
      3) Run the Jewels – RTJ4
      4) Emma Donovan & The Putbacks – Crossover
      5) Various Artists – Deadly Hearts: Walking Together
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Emma Donovan & The Putbacks – “Mob March”
      2) Laura Veirs – “Freedom Feeling”
      3) Miley Cyrus – “Never Be Me”

  • Chaka V. Grier (Playing Toronto)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas
      2) Joya Mooi – Blossom Carefully
      3) Lady Gaga – Chromatica
      4) Witch Prophet – DNA Activation
      5) Tremendum – Winter
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Lianne La Havas – “Green Papaya”
      2) Lady Gaga – “Free Woman”
      3) Allie X – “Susie Save Your Love”

  • Cillea Houghton (Playing Nashville)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Chris Stapleton  – Starting Over
      2) Brett Eldredge – Sunday Drive
      3) Little Big Town – Nightfall
      4) Ingrid Andress – Lady Like
      5) Ruston Kelly – Shape & Destroy
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) The Weeknd – “Blinding Lights”
      2) Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am”
      3) Remi Wolf  – “Hello Hello Hello”

  • Eleanor Forrest (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
      2) Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
      3) Allie X – Cape Cod
      4) LEXXE – Meet Me in the Shadows
      5) Gustavo Santaolalla, Mac Quayle – The Last of Us Part II (Original Soundtrack)
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) CL – “+5 STAR+”
      2) Yves Tumor & Kelsey Lu – “let all the poisons that lurk in the mud seep out”
      3)  Stephan Moccio – “Freddie’s Theme”

  • Gillian G. Gaar (Musique Boutique)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Dust Bowl Faeries – Plague Garden
      2) Ganser – Just Look At That Sky
      3) Oceanator – Things I Never Said
      4) Loma – Don’t Shy Away
      5) Maggie Herron – Your Refrain
      6) Pretenders – Hate for Sale
      7) The Bird and the Bee – Put up the Lights
      8) Partner – Never Give Up
      9) Bully – Sugaregg
      10) Olivia Awbrey – Dishonorable Harvest

  • Jason Scott (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Mickey Guyton – Bridges EP
      2) Katie Pruitt – Expectations
      3) Mandy Moore – Silver Landings
      4) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
      5) Cf Watkins – Babygirl
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Mickey Guyton – “Black Like Me”
      2) Ashley McBryde – “Stone”
      3) Lori McKenna feat. Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose – “When You’re My Age”

  • Jamila Aboushaca (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
      2) Khruangbin – Mordechai
      3) Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon III: The Chosen
      4) Tycho – Simulcast
      5) Run the Jewels – RTJ4
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Tame Impala – “Lost In Yesterday”
      2) Phoebe Bridgers – “Kyoto”
      3) Halsey – “You should be sad”

  • Liz Ohanesian (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine
      2) Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
      3) Phenomenal Handclap Band – PHB
      4) Khruangbin – Mordechai
      5) TootArd – Migrant Birds
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Anoraak – “Gang” 
      2) Kylie Minogue – “Magic”
      3) Horsemeat Disco feat. Phenomenal Handclap Band – “Sanctuary”  

  • Michelle Rose (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
      2) Taylor Swift – folklore
      3) Shamir – Shamir
      4) Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
      5) HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Porches – “I Miss That” 
      2) Annabel Jones – “Spiritual Violence”
      3) Wolf – “High Waist Jeans”  

  • Sara Barron (Playing Detroit)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Summer Walker – Over It
      2) Yaeji – WHAT WE DREW
      3) Liv.e – Couldn’t Wait to Tell You
      4) Ojerime – B4 I Breakdown
      5) KeiyaA – Forever, Ya Girl
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Yves Tumor – “Kerosene!”
      2) Kali Uchis, Jhay Cortez – “la luz (fin)”
      3) fleet.dreams – “Selph Love”

  • Sophia Vaccaro (Playing the Bay)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
      2) The Front Bottoms – In Sickness & In Flames
      3) Zheani – Zheani Sparkes EP
      4) Various Artists – Save Stereogum: A ’00s Covers Comp
      5) Halsey – Manic
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Charli XCX – “forever”
      2) Doja Cat – “Boss Bitch”
      3) Wolf – “Hoops”

  • Suzannah Weiss (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Galantis – Church
      2) Best Coast – Always Tomorrow
      3) Overcoats – The Fight
      4) Holy Motors – Horse
      5) Suzanne Vallie – Love Lives Where Rules Die
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) CAMÍNA – “Cinnamon”
      2) Naïka – “African Sun”
      3) Edoheart – “Original Sufferhead”

  • Tarra Thiessen (RSVP Here, Check the Spreadsheet)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Brigid Dawson & The Mothers Network – Ballet of Apes
      2) Ganser – Just Look At That Sky
      3) Death Valley Girls – Under The Spell of Joy
      4) The Koreatown Oddity – Little Dominiques Nosebleed
      5) Ghost Funk Orchestra – An Ode To Escapism
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Miss Eaves – “Belly Bounce”
      2) Purple Witch of Culver – “Trig”
      3) Shilpa Ray – “Heteronormative Horseshit Blues”

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Lil Baby – My Turn
      2) A$AP Ferg – Floor Seats II
      3) Polo G – The Goat
      4) The Weeknd – After Hours
      5) Teyana Taylor – The Album
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP”
      2) Roddy Ricch  – “The Box”
      3) Big Sean & Nipsey Hussle – “Deep Reverence”

ONLY NOISE: How Miley Cyrus Became The Soundtrack Of My Life

Vice Versa was a safe haven in my college years. Nestled among the rolling hills of West Virginia, and situated snuggly in downtown Morgantown, interwoven with the WVU campus, the gay club offered safety, glitter, and endless midnight thrills. My friends and I would head out on the town almost every Friday night, and our escapades seemed to stretch on endlessly if we let them.

Nothing takes me back to this time quite like “See You Again” by Miley Cyrus (or her alter-ego, Hannah Montana, depending on how you look at it). 13 years after its release, the song sweeps me away on such sweet memories, transporting me magically to one of the most transformative years of my life. It’s a special kind of emotional sensation listening to it now, imagining a 21-year-old me bumping and grinding on the dance floor in a sea of sweaty bodies ─ with the song’s sticky bubble gum melody coursing through my veins. There is nothing more intoxicating than the chorus dropping and literally everyone in sight belting along; it’s a state of euphoria that is almost indescribable.

“The last time I freaked out/I just kept lookin’ down/I st-st-stuttered when you asked me what I’m thinkin’ ’bout,” Miley sings, a playful glimmer in her eye. “Felt like I couldn’t breathe/You asked what’s wrong with me/My best friend Lesley said, ‘Oh, she’s just being Miley’/The next time we hang out, I will redeem myself/My heart, it can’t rest ’til then/Oh-woah-woah, I, I can’t wait to see you again.”

Miley could make you feel everything at all once. At only 15 years old, she could tear up the club with a ferocious bite, injecting you with the fearlessness to own the moment yourself. “See You Again” captures both the naivety of first love and dynamic musical chops, an elixir of rumbling electric guitars, thumping bass, and scratchy synths. It’s the perfect pop song of the 21st century ─ and I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge it as the song that defined my early 20s.

I didn’t know it then, but Miley would become the soundtrack for my entire life. Through every soaring high to the lowest of lows, her music has uplifted, empowered, and taught me it’s okay to not be okay. You just have to own whatever you’re feeling, naysayers be damned.

Miley was right in the middle of her turn on Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana, a high-glam coming-of-age sitcom about a young girl navigating the spotlight and grasping onto a sense of normalcy. I was only marginally familiar with the show, but it was the music I connected with most. Songs like “The Best of Both Worlds,” “Nobody’s Perfect,” “Life’s What You Make It,” and “One in a Million” ─ go-to favorites across the show’s first two soundtracks ─ laid the foundation for her particular brand of gooey pop-rock, borrowing influence from artists like Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson.

While I can certainly appreciate Meet Miley Cyrus, (her debut album as an artist outside the Disney persona, though jointly released with Hannah Montana 2) and essential cuts like “G.N.O. (Girls Night Out)” and the wavy, mood-elevator “Start All Over,” it wasn’t until her 2008 sophomore effort, Breakout, that solidified my adoration for her, as well as her destiny as one of pop’s true greats.

That summer was one for the books. I was 22 and feeling like I needed to take a risk in my life. Two days after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting, I sold off most of my belongings, hopped on a one-way flight, and started a new life as a cast member at Disney World. I was assigned to Tomorrowland Speedway, and despite my aversion to playing pretend as a race track mechanic/attendant, it proved vital to my personal growth.

It’s not the work I remember most; it’s the people. Oh, the people. It’s the group of friends I met at a random welcome pool party. Anxiety pounding in my chest, towel gracefully draped across my shoulder, I walked over to a group of young women who were all literally wearing the same style of shorts, just in different colors. If I was looking for a sign, I got one. We immediately bonded over our choice in casual attire and quickly got on with introductions ─ it was the kind of immediate friendship I will forever cherish.

Ali, Jessie, Becca, and I did everything together that summer. We gallivanted from Animal Kingdom to Epcot to Hollywood Studios to Magic Kingdom and back again. I even asked for a housing transfer to Chatham Square just so we could be closer in our everyday lives. It was awesome.

Meanwhile, Breakout was the soundtrack to it all. I listen to it now, and every inconsequential detail floods my brain like too much champagne on New Year’s Eve. From “7 Things” teaching me to put great value in self-worth to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” inviting me to live unapologetically free to “Fly on the Wall” and its grungy rock undercurrent, that record is one of those rare pop albums I listen to without skipping over anything. If I’m feeling particularly sad, I’ll put it on and get lost in the past. “Wake Up America” still makes me want to march for environmental conservation, and “Bottom of the Ocean” rips my heart out. She really did that.

Hannah Montana: The Movie and The Time of Our Lives EP both arrived a year later. In between, I had moved into my then-boyfriend’s house in Tampa, a few days after finishing my Disney job, and it seemed like the perfect decision at the time. Look, I was 23 – and I can’t say that I regret that moment but… within three weeks, I left and took a flight back to Morgantown. It was simply another pit stop in my very chaotic 20s.

I began working what felt like four jobs at the shiny new Red Lobster, getting up way before dawn so I could catch the bus, and I made damn sure to pack my MP3 player with as much Miley as I could. Between “The Climb” and EP songs like “When I Look at You,” “Obsessed,” and the bop-to-end-all-bops, “Party in the USA,” I found myself continuing to get lost in her little world. It was like she couldn’t stop delivering God-tier pop songs. I naturally had no clue where life was going to go next, so I let Miley be my guide.

As many pop stars do, particularly women, Miley shifted gears quite drastically to make a mature artistic statement. 2010’s Can’t Be Tamed struck like a bolt of lightning. She was 18 now, and coming into her own as a young woman, and the music directly mirrored her self actualization. “Liberty Walk” and “Can’t Be Tamed” are the obvious streaks of rebellion, but songs like “Two More Lonely People,” “Scars,” and “Robot” further underscored her growth as a bona fide rock star. And if you were looking to totally bawl your eyes out, you had “Forgiveness and Love” and the iconic “Stay” to do the trick.

After spending several months moving all over the East Coast, from Morgantown to Orlando to Washington, DC, I finally settled in Nashville. I was 24, and the world opened up in a way I never expected. I took online classes for a Master’s degree, got a part-time job at Old Navy, and dove head-first into the club scene. As Miley was blossoming into her full potential, so was I. I could really see myself for the first time in a long time, and Can’t Be Tamed was as much my own retaliation against the world as Miley’s artistic and personal peak.

Over the next few years, I bounced around some more. I went back to West Virginia. Then New York. And then back to Nashville. Now, it was 2013, and Bangerz crashed into my life like a wrecking ball. A new acquaintance gave me a real shot at her publication; I traipsed around Music City, getting my feet wet in the industry in a very real way: covering live shows and events, and interviewing the hottest new country acts. I took job at Kroger to make ends meet and even found myself exploring my sexuality in a way I never had before. But with all the risk-taking came very hard crashes the next two years.

Despite hitting rock bottom, Miley’s music continued to teach. “We Can’t Stop” encouraged me to shed past conceptions about myself, disregarding the haters, and rediscover liberation in my own body. “It’s our party, we can do what we want to/It’s our house, we can love who we want to,” she sings over a gummy beat. She evokes such energy with songs like “4×4,” “Love Money Party,” and “FU,” which still floors me with her vocal volatility.

I remember working nights sometimes, changing out price tags, and putting Bangerz on shuffle. “Drive,” “Maybe You’re Right,” “#GETITRIGHT,” “Someone Else” ─ what range of human emotion. Miley was finding new colors in her voice, too, learning how to fully lean on her throaty growl when a song warranted it, and she could really pulverize you over the head with a melody. During those long stretches of loneliness, as I worked my way through sterile food aisles, sometimes wondering what I was even doing with my life, her voice kept me going.

When the public and media predictably turned their backs on her, Miley stood her ground. She twerked. She lapped her tongue in the air. And she didn’t care. She was living life on her own terms – who were they to take that away from her? The personal freedom she’d found finally spilled over into her work with Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. An insane 23-song collab with psych rockers The Flaming Lips, initially self-released on SoundCloud, funneled her weirdness into a smorgasbord of delectable cuts ─ the most peculiar among them “Milky Milky Milk,” “Fucking Fucked Up,” “Evil is But a Shadow,” and “Miley Tibetan Bowlzzz.” She kept squeezing those tear ducts, of course, zip-lining from “Karen Don’t Be Sad” to “Fweaky” (perhaps the crown jewel) to “Twinkle Song.”

I was smack dab in the middle of my own journey, as well. I left Nashville for West Virginia and then Pittsburgh. I was entering my late 20s and still felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I had lost my job at a mid-level publication, and a dear friend suggested I try a change of scenery to ground myself again. In the summer of 2015, I moved into a three-story townhouse with a friend of a friend and her friends, and it didn’t take long for chaos to set in. For the sake of respect, I’ll call my roommate Sally. Well, Sally had an abrasive, dominating personality, so much so that it became evident she wanted to play house mother, rather than be a real friend. While Miley was reclaiming her musical identity, I learned I too needed to declare my self-worth and take up a little room ─ and I soon retreated into my work and self evaluation.

In time, I eventually did figure things out. I moved back to New York (yes, again) a few months later and worked remotely for a Manhattan-based music site. Fate had kissed me, and I soaked it in. My career was actually moving forward; I felt good about myself, and I was dating again. Life was good.

But a curve ball hurled itself my way, as it always does. I found myself without work and needing to absolutely shake up old habits and severe toxic patterns. On the day Miley released Younger Now, a cosmopolitan-spun pop-country disc, on September 29, 2017, I moved back home to West Virginia for the final time. It’s funny. I spent nearly a decade running from my past and a dysfunctional family, without realizing I needed to confront it all head-on before I could truly fly free.

Younger Now saw Miley swerve in the opposite direction. She was still able to delve into her songwriting prowess, waxing introspective on songs like the title track, “Malibu,” “Miss You So Much,” and “I Would Die for You,” but, more importantly, she was coming into her own. Musically, she wasn’t mining new territory, but it was the return to her country roots that gave her more agency over her life and work. Her voice appeared to find greater, richer textures, as well. Her ability to glide so effortlessly across such melodies as “Rainbowland” (with Godmother Dolly Parton), “She’s Not Him,” and “Inspired” was just… invigorating.

With those 11 songs, I learned to be present in the moment. I learned that sometimes you need to hide away and reflect and allow life to wash over you. There’s no need to thrash around and bound away to whatever city every time things get a little too real. Those early days back home were hard, and I can’t pretend they weren’t. But I gave myself time. Time to really excavate past traumas, address toxic people in my life, and shed who I was, once and for all. I learned it was just a small detour in the grand scheme of things.

When you reassess an EP like 2019’s SHE IS COMING, which was originally supposed to kick off a trio of EPs, you get the sense Miley needed a detour, as well. “Mother’s Daughter,” “Unholy,” and “The Most” certainly shined brightest, and you could argue they were clear precursors to Plastic Hearts, her brand new record and magnum opus. Glittering 1980s pop-rock suits her voice, a voice as powerful as it is gilded with pain and heartache; she’s learned how to tame her growl, how to sculpt melodies that do much more than simply exist, and how to punch lyrics much harder.

Whether we’re talking brash, thumb biting opener “WTF Do I Know” or the perfect Steve Nicks tribute “Midnight Sky” or the strangely celestial “Never Be Me,” she has reached a level none of us could ever have predicted. Then, she tosses in homages to her past ─ the absolutely gut-punching “Angels Like You” harkens back to The Time of Our Lives and Breakout in its soaring pop sensibility. “High,” “Hate Me,” and “Golden G String” are among her finest entries to-date. She weaves from country heritage to angsty punk lyricism to heartrending simplicity, and at each step, she not only accepts her past but shines a light on the constant pressures of being in the spotlight.

Now in my 30s, life makes the most sense it ever has. Sure, your 20s are thrilling and unexpected, but you don’t really, truly know yourself until your 30s. I came out as non-binary a couple years ago; I’m hitting new highs in my career; and I’m finding this animalistic hunger to constantly declare that I am, in fact, worth it. So far, Plastic Hearts is teaching me to reconnect with my sexuality, remember the wonder and beauty that still does live in the world, and never settle for anything less than what I deserve. Life is far too short.

As I sit here listening to Plastic Hearts for the 100th time in the last few weeks, I decided to head on over to Metacritic to see what folks were saying. Color me surprised: it has a 75 rating, her highest to date. The media has never really given her credit for shaking up the industry, but it’s cool to see her getting the credit she deserves. She’s been slaying the game since the beginning, and it’s lovely to see the world finally take notice.


With this absolute dumpster fire of a year coming to a close, the next few weeks are a time for reflection, rest and recuperation. That means a lot of things for a lot of people, but in the music world, it means year-end lists. I usually tend to stay away from this sort of thing because I don’t love the hierarchical nature of the practice. However, it has truly amazed me to see the amount of stellar music come out of Detroit in the midst of such a gut-wrenching year, and it feels important and cathartic to look back on some of the beauty that surfaced in the sea of chaos. I don’t pretend to be a curatorial genius or an authority of any sort, but here are some of my favorite releases from Detroit artists in 2020, in no particular order.

Jay Daniel – SSD (EP)

Detroit house mainstay Jay Daniels gives us fifteen minutes of percussion-driven, layered dance music. While his roots as a drummer remain evident on the EP, Daniels guides the listener through a vibrant forest of sound and space with ease. Shiny synths and deep bass embellishments wrap his complex rhythmic patterns into a pleasurable and meditative listening experience.


Lead singer and songwriter of Zilched, Chloe Drallos, has the innate ability to immortalize potent emotions. Delivered with thrashing drums, distorted guitar and apathetic vocals, Drallos recounts moments of heartbreak, angst and boredom that are crushingly relatable. The record is reminiscent of the ’90s riot grrrl without being derivative and satiates the screaming late-teen, early twenty-year old in all of us.

Tammy Lakkis – “Get Up”/”Moon Rock” (single)

Tammy Lakkis makes irresistible electronic music with attention-grabbing percussion and melodic sensibility. “Get Up” feels like spinning out of control without worry or regard for where you’ll land, while “Moon Rock” captivates the listener with the pairing of Lakkis’ mesmerizing vocals and trippy synth layers.

Boldy James, Sterling TolesManger on McNichols (LP)

It’s hard to find the words to describe the gravity of this record. Detroit rapper Boldy James teams up with masterful producer Sterling Toles to blur the lines between hip-hop and jazz in a record that took nearly a decade to complete. Boldy’s often gutting depictions of the city and his experience therein are his most personal and potent verses to date, which he credits to Toles in “Mommy Dearest (A Eulogy).” Toles’ diverse sampling, intricate rhythmic patterns and orchestral arrangements are the perfect pair to Boldy’s visceral anecdotes, making for an undeniably timeless and legendary record.

Omar SSimply (EP)

A true staple in the Detroit house realm, Omar S unsurprisingly delivers a trance-inducing, escapist EP. The perfect amount of dissonance mixed with bouncy up-tempo tracks gives the listener what they want without being over indulgent.

Milfie (feat. Supercoolwicked) – “From Milfie, With Love” (single)

In a year filled with so much uncertainty, there’s something ultra comforting in listening to an artist who knows exactly who she is, and that’s Milfie in a nutshell. In this two-part single, Milfie reminds us of her unshakable self worth, demanding flow and refreshing realness. Joined by ethereal R&B singer-songwriter, SUPERCOOLWICKED, on “Ain’t Got Time,” the two powerhouse artists reflect on the importance of loving yourself and blocking out the bullshit.

Jake KmiecikHorizons (EP)

Kmiecik – drummer of psychedelic-folk outfit Bonny Doon – shows his range in his solo ambient project, Horizons. Glimmering synths are the guiding force in this minimal and cerebral record. Soft and spacey moments intertwined with lush, cascading layers call to mind the ebbs and flows of nature. As a whole, the project feels like a much needed deep breath.

Maya MereauxSeauxl (LP)

Songstress Maya Mereaux makes the stream of consciousness melodic on her first full-length record, Seauxl – a ten-track journey to self-awareness. The album weaves a strong narrative via incredible vocals about losing oneself in a romance, only to come out the other end knowing yourself better than ever before.

White BeePsychedelic Flight Attendant (LP)

White Bee’s Shannon Barnes shares a soulful and transparent foray into her innermost thoughts on Psychedelic Flight Attendant. Barnes has spent the better part of the last decade not only teaching herself guitar, but creating her own unique sound along the way. Filled with syncopated rhythms, unexpected melodies and universal truths, this record is a shining time capsule for Barnes’ growth as an artist.

ZelooperzValley of Life (LP)

Part of Zelooperz’ allure is his ability to jump from character to character within a single project. Just as the title Valley of Life suggests, this body of work feels like a sample platter of all the people Zelooperz is, has been, or could be. That range extends into his seemingly effortless flow, which can fluctuate between sincere and satirical in eight bars.

Tiny JagMorph (EP)

Deviating from her former trap-hop style of writing, Tiny Jag “morphs” her sound into alternative power pop on this 2020 EP. Her cunning wordplay is still there, this time delivered with more blasé, controlled vocals and accompanied by booming 808s and shimmering synths. Though this music has all the elements of top-charting success, don’t be mistaken – this isn’t like anything you’ve heard before. 

whiterosemoxie – white ceilings (LP)

People love a prodigy. And while many blogs focus on Moxie’s age –  just 17 years old – it’s important not to gloss over the fact that no matter what age, the rapper is a talent that only comes around once in a while. His poetic flow is reminiscent of Long Beach’s Vince Staples, and though the two are an entire country apart, they share a penchant for repping their city and distilling their experience in a way that makes them charmingly relatable.

MoodymannTaken Away (LP)

Detroit’s Godfather of house music – Kenny Dixon Jr. – is back with his legendary funk grooves and repetitions, but this time they’re paired with an undercurrent of pain and longing. After a tumultuous year which included being harassed by police in front of his own building, it would be impossible not to inject some of that frustration into the music. Taken Away isn’t a record that encourages you to forget the tears, but rather to dance through them.

Fred ThomasDream Erosion (Synthesizer Songs) (LP)

Thomas is known for his devastatingly honest, stream of consciousness style of writing. And although Dream Erosion is devoid of lyrics, the writing still feels like a magically unfiltered outpouring of emotion. This is especially true of “Kitchen,” a collaborative improvisation that was recorded entirely in Chuck Sipperly’s ‘synth kitchen.’ The record is as beautiful as it is somber and sounds like the amalgamation of collective despair, surrender and inevitable hope.

Anna Burch – If You’re Dreaming (LP)

Burch’s second full length release is soaked with a nostalgia we didn’t know we’d have in 2020. “Party’s Over” reminds us of the times there were parties that we didn’t want to go to, where instrumentals like “Keep it Warm” and “Picture Show” emit a longing for something we can’t get back. Burch’s sweet voice glides over melancholy guitar strums and lackadaisical drums, leaving the listener with the feeling of waking up from a fever dream.

Cousin Mouth – “New Memories” (single)

Cousin Mouth’s songwriter and lead singer/guitarist Alex Burns gives us a glimpse into his forthcoming record MayflowerPeacemakerHolyredeemer with its premiere single, “New Memories.” Burns’ soulful falsetto and intricate guitar riffs are accompanied by the gorgeous voices of Detroit vocalists Supercoolwicked and Salakastar to create a sort of psychedelic R&B. Burns’ lyrics teeter between the ephemeral and the literal, weaving a story of self-doubt and redemption.

Jacob SigmanColor Coded Heart (LP)

Prolific songwriter/artist Jacob Sigman gives us forty-five minutes of uplifting and earnest pop music. Sigman’s knack for earworm-type melodies paired with uncontrived optimism make his music inherently loveable – even “Get Your Love,” a song about losing a lover, is sprinkled with a carefree hope that has the power to momentarily release you from the gravity of heartbreak.

Black Noi$eOblivion (LP)

DJ and producer Rob Mansel, a.k.a Black Noi$e, enlists a star-studded roster of friends to complete his first full-length Oblivion. With appearances from Danny Brown to bbymutha, Mansel demonstrates that he has a well of talented peers to pull from. Despite the high-profile collabs, his dark, layered production style stands on its own throughout the record. He doesn’t bend his arrangements for any of the featured artists, but rather creates his own world of mangled percussion and ominous synths in which his collaborators can dwell with ease.

Madelyn Grant – “Purpose” (single)

Neo-soul singer-songwriter Madelyn Grant ponders life’s meaning on her debut solo single, “Purpose” – a song about blocking out the noise and expectations of society to find what truly moves you. Grant’s pristine vocals sit comfortably on a bed of horns, electric piano and steadfast drums.  She pays homage to some of her Motown idols, like The Supremes and Marvin Gaye, with airtight harmonies and infectious melodies.

MeftahInformation Travels Through (LP)

A record that truly shows the vibrant and singular spirit of its creator, Information Travels Through is a breathtaking ode to finding a sense of self in a world that is so often telling us what we should be. Meftah shared a gorgeous statement along with the record that says it better than anything I could say, partially quoted below:

“So this is me creating my own context, beyond the one painted for us on Earth. Beyond just the music, and the record. It is a spiritual war going on. Mentally. Physically….Right now, in 2020, because we STILL exist within a system founded off of land and body theft from Africa, and all colonized lands, this work is dedicated to all my fellow soldiers. It is for all children of the Diaspora. We will always move together.”

Sasha Kashperko – “Can We Not Go to War, Please?” (single)

Kashperko displays his kinship with his instrument on his plea, “Can We Not Go to War, Please?” The track is urgent and erudite, showcasing Kashperko’s deep understanding of rhythmic structure and melodic phrasing. Asking a simple enough request that has clung to the minds of so many of us in the last few years, he doesn’t give any answers, but cries out in solidarity and frustration.

Salar AnsariSayeh E Nour (LP)

Spacious synths and watery percussion create a kaleidoscopic atmosphere in this lush ambient record. Ansari’s use of experimental instruments and uncanny sounds transport the listener to a different world with every track. Perfect for both blissful dissociation or centering mindfulness.

Mario Sulaksana – “For You” (single)

Producer, composer and pianist Mario Sulaksana’s first solo release is a glimmering ode to his most concrete influences – Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Marvin Gaye. A true student of the craft, Sulaksana fuses his own cascading style with the formula of the greats – a simple but strong melody, the perfect balance of space and sound, and satisfying harmonies.

don’tLightning Slow (LP)

don’t finds a way to make their apathetic garage pop cozy and charming. Baked in warm and fuzzy guitars and steady but unexpected melodies, Lightning Slow feels like a first kiss in your parents basement; surprising, a little uncomfortable, but welcome and oddly familiar. Lead singer Frances Ma delivers poetic verses with angelic apathy, merging nostalgic feelings of teenage angst with more recent feelings of existential dread.

Eddie LogixPlacebo Palace (EP)

At any given moment, Eddie Logix likely has his hands in myriad different projects around the city or even country. The diverse producer, engineer and DJ is known for his elasticity when it comes to making and engineering music, but on Placebo Palace, it’s clear that his heart lies in dance music. The EP feels like a love letter to Detroit and is a welcome ray of light in this dark year.

Tearyeyed – “ForceField V4” (single)

Tearyeyed combines beautiful textures layered together to tell a story that the listener can mold into their own on “ForceField V4.”  The song starts out like an afterthought – a simplistic tapping rhythm and guitar strums laced with tearyeyed’s pillowy vocals chase one another in circles. The song’s mantra stands out through the melodic mist: “My love is like a forcefield, I am there to protect you.” Slowly, his voice fades and the drums crescendo into an outpouring of unspoken emotion.

Double WinterIt’s About our Hearts

Beachy riffs, sentimental melodies, and charming honesty are the makings of the debut LP from psychedelic-surf rock outfit Double Winter. It’s About our Hearts has something for everyone – from goth wallflower anthem “Sad Girl at the Rave” to the ’80s drag racing soundtrack stylings of “Rodeo.” Their myriad influences range from doo-wop to Italo, and are what make their sound universally accessible and very much their own.

DonJuan – “Red Plum” (single)

DonJuan is a grossly underrated songwriter and producer based in Detroit. “Red Plum” is just an introduction to his catalogue of simplistically poignant material. This song in particular contains the type of intimacy that makes you feel like you were in the room when it was recorded. The lyrics are simple enough (“I never seem to say the things I mean, I never wanna ask for things I need”) but when repeated over and over they serve as both a reflection and a question to the listener.

2Lanes“Baby’s Born to Fish” (single)

A strikingly influential group of musicians comes together on this pulsating meditation on change and resilience. Detroit’s Kesswa, Ian Finkelstein, Shigeto and John F.M. are all contributors to this atmospheric track. The result is haunting and unyielding dance track that could only be made in Detroit. 

Billionaire SophiaOotgoat (LP)

Billionaire Sophia makes music that meets in the middle of pop, house and R&B. Her voice is as smooth as butter and floats perfectly over her self-produced, synth and percussion heavy beats. Her melodies are satisfying but not predictable, lyrics colloquial but not cliché. There’s a touch of glamour and fantasy to all of her songs, both sonically and thematically – it’s the type of music that makes you feel like anything is possible.

Even With the Clubs Closed, 2020 Has Been a Stellar Year for Disco

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to as much disco as I have in 2020. That’s saying a lot for someone whose regular listening habits include a decent dose of the dance floor singles of the 1970s and the many grooves that have spun off from it in the decades that follow. 

This year was different, for reasons that really don’t need to be rehashed; in the nine months that have passed since the clubs closed, though, disco has motivated me on the treadmill and while I’ve hustled at my desk. It’s lured me down internet rabbit holes that have nothing to do with pandemics or U.S. elections. While there were plenty of nights where I was fueled by the catalogs of the Bee-Gees and Giorgio Moroder, most of what’s been on my stuck-at-home playlist is new. That’s the other thing about 2020; it’s been a really good year for disco, even if there’s nowhere to play it in public. 

Kylie Minogue was the most upfront with her intentions. The Australian pop star titled her fifteenth studio album Disco. Much of the album was recorded at home during the lockdown. Knowing that makes the album a joyous gift to everyone who misses the days of balancing cocktails while squeezing through packed dance floors to club-hug your friends. We might wish that we could do this with “Magic” or “Say Something” playing in the background, but, for the time being, the album will play in full as we connect through text messages and video calls. 

Róisín Murphy dropped her latest album, Róisín Machine, in October. At nearly an hour in length, it’s a dive into the sounds that have influenced the beloved singer throughout her life and career, even giving new perspective to pre-pandemic singles like “Incapable” and “Narcissus.” With a visual language that recalls punk and post-punk, Murphy gives a nod to the genre-blurring club culture of the early ’80s. 

Jessie Ware drew from the late ’70s and early ’80s, often recalling the late, great Teena Marie on her fourth album, What’s Your Pleasure? Released in June, Ware gave fans a summer of jams so sticky that songs like “Step Into My Life,” “Ooh La La” and “Save a Kiss” could easily remain in your head the morning after you heard them, as if you had heard them while out on the town.

And then there’s Dua Lipa, whose hit album, Future Nostalgia was followed this summer by Club Future Nostalgia. Helmed by The Blessed Madonna and featuring contribution from Dimitri from Paris, Jacques Lu Cont and others, the remix album allowed fans to bring the discotheque into their homes. 

In a year of virtual crate digging through sources like Bandcamp, Beatport and Traxsource, I’ve been filling carts and making wish lists with releases from labels like Midnight Riot, based in London, and Glitterbeat, from Hamburg. The latter released Migrant Birds, an homage to Middle Eastern disco from TootArd that’s become one of my favorite albums of the year. Partyfine, founded by French DJ/producer Yuksek, is another one of my go-to labels in 2020. Yuksek’s own full-length, Nosso Ritmo, is packed with goodies, particularly “G.F.Y.,” which features Queen Rose on vocals and sums up the encounters with creepy, overeager club guys that I definitely haven’t missed this year. Partyfine also released “Gang,” from French musician Anoraak with Sarah Maison on vocals, a cut with such a fierce, early ’80s vibe that it became a personal obsession. I’ve also been collecting tunes from producers/remixers like Hotmood and Monsieur Van Pratt, both from Mexico, and Ladies on Mars, from Argentina, who all have a great sense for balancing classic and modern dance music. 

I’m using disco here in the broadest sense of the word. Khruangbin usually gets the psychedelic tag, but “Time (You and I),” from their album Mordechai, is disco. U.S. Girls is known more for indie pop, but “Overtime,” from her 2020 album Heavy Light, is a stomper in the vein of northern soul that became 100% disco when Alex Frankel of Holy Ghost! remixed it. Then there’s The Diabolical Liberties, who released their debut full-length High Protection & the Sportswear Mystics this year. The album is filled with funky, dubby punk, not unlike what bands like Gang of Four and The Clash did 40 years ago. Ultraflex, an Icelandic/Norwegian duo who released their debut album, Visions of Ultraflex, this year, look more towards the synth-heavy dance music of the ’80s, but that’s totally disco too. 

Sometime during the summer, thanks to a compilation from Berlin label Toy Tonics, I was turned on to Phenomenal Handclap Band. They’ve been around in various forms for years – I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t heard them until now – but they also dropped the album PHB in May. This was exactly the music that I had been craving, from the psychedelic funk of “Skyline” and “The Healer” to the new wave-ish “Do What You Like” and Italo-leaning “Riot” to the gospel-tinged “Judge Not.” It’s disco at its most eclectic. PHB became part of this year’s listening habits and I was excited to hear them guest on Love and Dancing, the debut from U.K. DJ crew Horse Meat Disco

All this, though, is just scratching the surface. There is so much in this year’s treasure trove of music, from Scissor Sisters singer Jake Shears channeling Sylvester on “Meltdown” to The Shapeshifters teaming up with actor Billy Porter for “Finally Ready” to Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s cover of early ’00s Eurodisco hit “Crying at the Discotheque.”  

Not all of this music came about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some were released before mid-March. Others may have been in-the-works, or fully recorded, before lockdown. However, their release in 2020 has made the year at home a little more bearable. 

Something For Kate Bassist Stephanie Ashworth Talks New LP, The Modern Medieval

Photo Credit: Daniel Boud

Something For Kate is, like black coffee and rooftop beer gardens, fundamentally part of Melbourne. The trio – guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Paul Dempsey, drummer Clint Hyndman and bassist Stephanie Ashworth – have been performing and releasing albums since the mid-1990s. Their latest album, The Modern Medieval, arrives after an eight year hiatus to defy modern rock’s subgenre classifications, though Ashworth agrees that the band is a quintessentially Melbourne creation.

“Something For Kate has always been that way,” she says. “We’d been living overseas prior to this but we’ve always come back to Melbourne. Paul met Clint here, and formed the band here.” Dempsey and Ashworth, married with two children, have lived between Melbourne and New York for the past decade. “We moved to New York before we had kids,” she shares. “We had our first child when in New York, where half my family is from. We’d been there touring, recording and it got to the point where we just thought we should move there, so we did. Eventually, we came back to Melbourne and now we’re back and forth. We came back from Los Angeles just before COVID-19, fortunately.”

Hyndman remained in Australia, and though the distance – or even being the odd one out in a band with a married couple – might’ve broken up less tenacious bands, Ashworth assures me that the drummer is like family.

“Clint is Paul’s best friend and he’s like my brother. I talk to Clint probably more than I talk to Paul! Clint loves to chat, he loves a gossip, he’s really fun. It’s the perfect combination for a three-piece: a married couple and we’re best friends between us,” she says. “The three of us have a reputation for being a very, dark, serious band, thanks to a magazine article back in 1997, but we laugh a lot. The three of us have an absolute blast; we’re sillier than anyone would ever expect. When Paul and I moved to New York, we didn’t see Clint for eight months and yet when he walks into the room, we all laugh at the same thing. The two of them are my world and I don’t go a day without talking to either of them.”

Though they haven’t released music as Something For Kate since 2012’s Leave Your Soul To Science, the band has been busy with other pursuits. Dempsey spent late 2017 and early 2018 touring his sophomore solo album Strange Loop internationally, as well as touring Europe with David Bowie’s band in Celebrating David Bowie. In 2018, Dempsey, Ashworth, and Hyndman set aside any outside interests and committed to the writing of The Modern Medieval, their seventh album.

“The boys in the band know when I’m right into a particular song. I’m insufferable, banging on about it!” Ashworth says, noting that she’s not coy about picking favourites. “The closing song, ‘I Will Defeat You,’ is my favourite on the record. For us, it’s quite playful. We don’t often take another genre and decide to bend it, but we did with that. It’s our version of a soul, blues song. I love the fact that the subject matter of the song is so dark, but it has this almost ZZ Top bassline. I find it hard to restrain myself and play bass so minimally, but I loved doing it for that song.”

The demands of writing an album and spending 24/7 together might break some couples, or some individuals, but Ashworth gives no sense that this has been, or could be, a challenge for her marriage. “Any couple that work together are going to bring their work home,” she says. “We might have inappropriate conversations at 3am, fiery moments with business decisions and writing songs, but there’s always a level of respect that is very strong.”

Ashworth was the last member to formally join Something For Kate, replacing touring bassist Toby Ralph, who in turn had replaced original bassist Julian Carroll, after the recording of the band’s 1997 debut LP, Elsewhere for 8 Minutes. “I still have my perspective of [Paul] as a songwriter and [Something For Kate] as a band before I came along… I have an enormous respect for Paul as a musician, and I’ve never taken that for granted,” Ashworth says. “I’ve not worked with many musicians who can do what he does – he has perfect pitch, which is freakish. When I first met him, he did an eight-minute drum track, put the bass track down, the guitar track down on his solo album and watched the engineers go ‘holy crap.’ If he hears a piece of music, he can play it back to you within a minute. When you play with someone like that, it’s really intimidating because you know – I’m a very punk rock bass player compared to him.”

Much like The Slits’ Viv Albertine – who told NPR last year that without role models, there was little option other than to be self-taught, which led to more intuitive and authentic playing – Ashworth believes the lack of formal training has been an asset, one that Dempsey, too, recognised as valuable. “Paul pursued me as a bass player because he said I approach the melody in a way he hadn’t heard before. He appreciated that I haven’t had the creativity beaten out of me by a rule book,” she remembers.

Ashworth’s love affair with music began aged 10, with her ear pressed up to her brother’s bedroom door as he played 7-inch records from The Clash, The Cure, The Smiths, and Siouxsie and The Banshees. “As a 10 year-old it was intriguing to me and I was like, ‘what is that? I need to know more!’ So, I started buying 7-inches and staying up late to watch Rock Arena, buying English music magazines like Melody Maker and learning about all of these bands,” she says. “I bought keyboards and messed around with them in my bedroom, then I started sneaking into punk rock gigs in Perth as a teenager. When I moved into a sharehouse in Melbourne, aged around 19, I ended up teaching myself bass guitar because someone I knew needed a bassist at short notice.”

Ashworth has not played the game other bands of the 1990s and early 2000s have – their female members appearing in fashion and lifestyle magazines to answer questions about their skincare regime, favourite fashion labels and hairstyle tips in an effort to hopefully draw attention back to their music. “Throughout the past two decades, I was often asked to be in an article on women in music. The reason I turned those articles down was I felt like I was being treated like a novelty. Even if it was women putting these articles together for mainstream media, it felt like, ‘How cute, you’re in a band and you’re a girl!’ I felt like it was tokenistic – the whole tone of the articles would be titillating, voyeuristic, focused on women’s clothing choices,” Ashworth says. “I told my record company I wasn’t going to perpetuate the idea that I’m a novelty, a minority, and what I do is a novelty act. It’s only been the last couple of years that I’ve started talking to people about why, and I’ve seen things change. There’s a lot of women in bands now; for a long time, I felt like I was out there on my own.”

“Misogyny has been an issue,” Ashworth adds. “I definitely experienced this patronising attitude from older men, particularly when supporting international bands. Their roadies and crew would give this vibe. I didn’t acknowledge it and got on with what I was doing. Until more women are in positions of power, and there’s much more discussion than there was, there’s a lot of tokenism still happening.” She says Something For Kate have made a point of employing women as booking agents and managers, but that there’s still room for improvement in the industry. “I’d like to see more female crew – that’s an area that needs work. In America, there’s all-female crews but Australia is yet to get there. Those jobs need to get offered to women in the first place so that they can get the experience,” she says. “I’ve seen women who are incredible at their jobs, really intelligent and deserving of promotion, just get passed over for the big boys’ club. We’ve always tried to subvert that, where we can.”

Much of the press in Australia has presumptuously reported that the band had broken up, or been on holidays for the past eight years, labelling The Modern Medieval a “comeback album.” Ashworth is bemused.

“We never broke up. We don’t think of this as a ‘comeback record’ – we’ve been touring the whole time, we’ve done festivals the whole time,” she states. “Paul went over to Chicago, made a record, and toured that for two years. When I had a child, we couldn’t tour for a while. When Bowie died, his band asked Paul to sing, so we had to wait until the touring with them eased, so that we could work on the album. We had to lock Paul down – that’s why it took eight years. Children, world touring, and Bowie.”

Follow Something For Kate on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Josephine Foster Paints a Mystical Wonderland with No Harm Done LP

Photo Credit: Matthew Schneider

There’s something otherworldly about Josephine Foster’s music. The Colorado-based folk singer creates transcendental states with her voice, and the eight tracks on her latest album No Harm Done are no exception, spanning from a conversation with the holy spirit to meditations on a kingless world.

Foster’s distinctive vocals have both a sweetness and a darkness to them on the album, which was first released digitally in August and comes out on vinyl and CD November 20. Many of the tracks sound like something between witchy spells and spiritual hymns, half-hummed, half-chanted against mystical harp and guitar.

In “Leonine,” her voice swivels and swerves through poetic lyrics — “Leonine lean lean on me/Leonine spring/spring on me” — painting an enchanting picture of a land ruled by no one, “where none is king…and all is blessed lioness.” The song is about “the fantasy of not being ruled by a patriarch, or just a way of life with shared leaders, guides, and more feminine presence,” she says. “It certainly feels like the earth is calling for that stewardship.”

Spirituality is a thread tying the songs on the album together, which for Foster is intrinsic to her art form. “I think the act of singing is spiritual,” she says. “It’s sort of decorating the breath and giving meaning with the words, bringing intention to the breath.”

She considers the biggest theme on the album, however, to be love. Perhaps the best example of this is “Conjugal Bliss,” an erotic love song she’s often played at weddings, featuring delicate harmonies against calm, peaceful guitar. “In he I blend/in me he binds/In he I wed/in me he winds,” she sings, in what sounds almost like a verse out of the Song of Songs.

Foster actually wrote “Conjugal Bliss” after she was separated from her ex husband at the U.S. border and he was sent to Europe. “I was waiting for him to return for a couple months and was thinking about him, and it turned into a song,” she remembers. Despite its overtly sexual subtitle, “69,” the song is also deeply spiritual. “It’s about lovemaking and being entwined with somebody you love,” she says.

“Sure Am Devilish,” a bluesy folk song about “the rise and fall into the same circumstances and learning the same lessons over and over,” was also written a while ago — 20 years ago, to be exact. “Sometimes, you like something and it just sits in the cellar, just like when you harvest grapes and put them down in the barrel, and then you might not want to drink that for a few years — give it a little chance to find its moment of uncorking the bottle,” she explains.

In perhaps the most haunting song on the album, the seven-minute, 21-second “Old Saw,” Foster’s voice operatically soars over the phrase “holy spirit,” addressing this being, “I would like to talk with you.” With an almost freak-folk style, she conjures the image of someone rising from their deathbed, about to commune with the angelic realms. “It’s a dialogue with your soul,” she explains. “It’s funny how we’re able to kind of unify ourselves and also have a duality in ourselves, so it comes and goes, and it’s really just a meditation to try to induce that state; it’s a repetitive series of chords.”

“Old Saw” was unfinished when Foster took it to the studio, then much of it was improvised. “I was surprised and pleased by the little that it has lyrically and harmonically, that it seemed to pass through a threshold and honestly transmitted the spirit of the song,” she says. “And just the repeating of ‘holy spirit, holy spirit’ — when I sing that, it feels so good. It just feels amazingly good to sing that little fragment, and then there’s an acknowledgment of having glimpsed at the whole, my whole self.”

The rest of the album ranges from the piano-driven, almost cabaret-like “Freemason Drag” and “How Come, Honeycomb?” to the country-inspired “The Wheel of Fortune.” Recording the album in producer Andrija Tokic’s analog Bomb Shelter studio, Foster played the guitar, piano, organ, harp, and autoharp and was accompanied by 12-string pedal steel and electric bass by guitarist Matthew Schneider, who she quarantined with in Nashville this spring. Currently, Foster is taking a break from recording new music and enjoying other art forms, like painting and gardening.

It’s been 20 years since she began self-releasing her first albums, including There Are Eyes Above and Little Life, and she feels she’s become more fully realized as an artist since then. “I think over time, you become more and more yourself more deeply,” she says. “That’s the gift of time.”

Follow Josephine Foster on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Jessica Dobson of Deep Sea Diver Discusses Resplendent New LP Impossible Weight

Jessica Dobson is a quiet giant of contemporary indie music. Along with performing her own material in Deep Sea Diver, Dobson has worked with indie music darlings like Beck, Conor Oberst, Spoon, and The Shins. And yet, if you said her name to the person next to you, they likely wouldn’t know who exactly she is.

This needs to change, and with the October 16th release of Deep Sea Diver’s newest album Impossible Weight via High Beam/ATO, it likely will. Deep Sea Diver’s third album is emotionally ferocious and tender at the same time, capturing Dobson’s uncanny ability to create transcendent and distinct worlds with a well-honed ear for production, much of which she co-produced. Lyrically, Impossible Weight is spun from a complex time for Dobson, as she considered heightened anxiety issues, the death of a dear friend and collaborator, and long-standing questions about her identity.

AF: I know you were born in LA. When did you move to Seattle? 

JD: I moved to Seattle in the very beginning of 2011. Before that I was living in Long Beach, California and I grew up in Orange County, then finally migrated up here. Peter Mansen, who’s my partner—we’re married and he’s also our drummer in the band—he’s from here. So, he was like, ‘Want a fresh start in Seattle?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds awesome.’ 

AF: You were signed by Atlantic at 19 years-old; was music, specifically rock guitar music made my women, in your life at a young age? How did you know this was a career that was possible for you?

JD: I did have examples. But I think at a young age it didn’t register with me to do it because I had gendered role models. I just saw an instrument and I was like yep, this is what I’m doing. It was more like following instinct at that point versus looking at something so I could have permission to do it.

AF: I love that you weren’t seeking permission. But, have you had any significant challenges in your music career because of your gender?

JD: I think that very often growing up there are definitely certain boxes that people tend to push you in and I was kind of set at an early age to not be put in those boxes. So, at the time there was a lot of like, acoustic female singer songwriting music out there—like in elementary school there was Jewel, and [others]—and I totally respect them but that wasn’t necessarily for me. I think I have always had an independent spirit when it comes to sound engineering and production, things that are kind of scary worlds sometimes for females because they’re worlds that are male-dominated. I was trying to peer behind the curtain from a young age and educate myself and other females who wanted to do the same thing. Not so I could be like “let me show you” but I think now I’m very passionate about demystifying a lot of those realms for female identifying people. 

AF: I re-read a 2016 piece from The Stranger about your second release and the author called your time with Atlantic “ill-fated.” I’m wondering, was it really “ill-fated” or did it teach you something that you’re bringing forward with you?

JD: Signing that Atlantic record deal—it was ill-fated but also beautiful because part of [me] wants to learn and forge [my] way forward— I’m grateful that it happened then, not now. And so I think…the best thing about that time that was “ill-fated” was the rejection that I felt, the understanding of what was going on in my body—I was experiencing anxiety but I didn’t understand what that was at that time and now I have better language for that and better tools to deal with it. [There were feelings of] rejection and sadness and I didn’t know what I was doing, and I made this thing but it never came out. Maybe that’s a good thing and I was able to use some of that music to move forward and start Deep Sea Diver.

Now, even on a song like “Impossible Weight,” I think for a long time I was like, ‘That is so in the past and I don’t really care about it anymore [or want] to talk about it.” Even at some points, to be honest, I was just irritated, like why is it always being brought up in interviews? But it’s a good question, you know… Those moments in life, they do brand you in a certain way, and you can choose what you want to do with the pain and the hardships. For me, “Impossible Weight” was a song where I finally—it’s not all about Atlantic—but it is kind of like speaking to the gatekeepers and speaking to my younger self. You can’t please everybody, you can’t carry that weight. So now I feel more confident in who I am, what I want to do and where I’m going and where this band is going. And it feels really beautiful. 

AF: I love the song, “Eyes are Red, Don’t Be Afraid.” I know that song is partly inspired by the Brett Kavanaugh trial; could tell me a little of your experience of watching that trial and how it informed the song? 

JD: That song was written in the midst of a lot of things. So, it wasn’t directly inspired by the trial but I was definitely able to finish my thoughts and lyrics and intentions while that was happening.

That song was the first song I wrote after I attempted to record album number three twice. I was kind of flailing around creatively, emotionally, really trying to find my footing. I had quit smoking and Peter had as well, so when you and your partner have both quit and that’s something you’ve used as a crutch for a long time, you know, it’s like “OK, this is where I’m at, and it’s going to be a little dark for a while but I’m going to push forward.” That was the first song I wrote as I was in the middle of quitting, and I had these mantras I would say to myself, these very simplistic lines, like, “don’t be afraid, don’t be ashamed.” And when I would start to write, I just had to say those things because I wasn’t feeling them and I wasn’t feeling any color in the world.

And so, most of that song is very intimate and very personal to me and what I was going through, but then it became part of a broader narrative. This is in like the thick of the Me Too movement, Harvey Weinstein, Trump. We thought we had progressed but these are still the issues at hand, like are you kidding me? We still have to convince people to listen to you if you’ve been abused? It’s just wild and so unfair. As a woman I felt the weight of that. The collective weight.

Then, there was an article, I think it was in the New Yorker, a journalist mentioned how many bodies have to be thrown onto the tracks to build up to stop this train? It will take more sacrifice unfortunately to get anything to change. That finished my song for me.

AF: Does music help you do that, help you understand your emotions? 

JD: Absolutely. I think I could be better at being a prolific songwriter, like honing my discipline by writing everyday. My history has definitely been: take a step away for a month or two months, and then when I’m feeling something there’s no stopping me from writing—it comes out, and that’s how I process my emotions. “Eyes Are Red, Don’t Be Ashamed,” was one of those songs where I couldn’t stop it. I also was wanting to pull the tracks out from under misogyny, sexual predators, all these systems that are still in place that allow those issues to thrive, and for women to not be believed. 

AF: I know you’ve been volunteering at Aurora Commons, a community space for unhoused folks in the North Seattle area. How has your time there influenced your music?

JD: That came into the song “Switchblade.” And, I would say, into the more general narrative of the record, which was just like, no longer letting myself be as veiled as I think I have been in the past lyrically. Sometimes, you want to say the true thing instead of making it poetic. And, I learned that deeper vulnerability volunteering at the Commons. 

AF: Are there any instances that come up for you when you think about your time there?

JD: Just personal stories – the things these women would share with me, trauma. The one consistent thing, hands down, with so many of these women is that there’s some kind of abuse in their childhood – sexual, violence or whatever, something traumatic has happened. It’s crazy to hear that kind of brutal honesty from them, and also at the same time be hearing in real time, “Hey, these are my needs,” because there’s no room to hide them because they’re living from minute to minute on the street. That showed me, even though I don’t have the same stories as they do and what they’ve gone through is a lot darker than what I’ve gone through in my life, it’s about compassion. I don’t even have the stomach anymore for hiding behind walls, mincing my words—this is what I’m going through and this is how I want to be here for people. 

AF: That really comes across and the listener can connect to that right away. Also, I hear a sort of haunting, bittersweet element, mingling with that increased decisiveness. I read that you recently reconnected with your birth mother and I’m wondering how that altered your perspective on identity and making music? 

JD: I think everyone can relate to the feeling of wanting to know where they belong, and even when you know those things it can still be tricky to be confident in who you are. I’ve always been searching for that big question, where do I belong? Sometimes it’s a question, hearkening back to what you were saying earlier about like women in the industry, like—where do I belong in this industry? How do I find my place and keep my voice and my independence, but also connect with other artists, other women, and be part of a community, not just an island?

When I met my birth mom, it answered a lot of curiosities that I had, like where did I come from, what’s the story? What did I look like? I had never seen a baby photo. I knew I was half Mexican and that’s it. And I knew her name. And then recently I found out—I don’t know who my birth dad is—but at least through 23andMe I found out, I was like holy shit, I’m half Jewish. I found out in the Taco Bell drive through. Many things have happened in the Taco Bell drive through for me.

AF: I know you co-produced this record. What do you enjoy the most about the production process? 

JD: Oh man, everything. It really is one of those times where I shine because I don’t overthink things, I’m just able to go, go, go. Whereas, I tend to overthink in the songwriting process. Like, if it doesn’t happen quickly I might kill a song because I overthink it and don’t finish it. But when a song is done, I call it done and that’s it, and it’s time to figure out what world that song needs to live in. With production, it always excites me to ask, what world am I going to create for this song? What world am I going to create for this record? Where does this need to live? I often go to different worlds from day to day in my head, and I need to go to those places to be creative. It’s not even a choice, I just go there. So it’s amazing that you can go any which way but you have to choose something, and then point all the arrows in that direction and go for it. That’s exciting for me. 

AF: Did you teach yourself with trial and error or go to school for it? 

JD: No, it’s honestly such a sandwiching of having been in so many different studio recording situations over the years now. Learning what I like, engineering style, learning the vocabulary for things, when you hear something in your head and you don’t know how to communicate that, you have to get better at that, so that’s a skill that’s been sharpened. I am obsessed with mixing, different frequencies, all these things that are a part of my creative DNA and makeup, but those things have all been sharpened over the years as I’ve been in different situations.

AF: One of your “impossible weights,” to use your term, is that you’ve had mental health struggles and depression. What’s your perspective on mental illness and the creative process? Is it a necessary part of your art-making or do you reject that notion? 

JD: I don’t think it’s a necessary part, but it informs the process. I think you could be totally healthy with your mental state and still create beautiful art, and you can be unhealthy and still create beautiful art. There are different tools that you can use, like if you choose to lean into the unhealthy. For me, there are tools I had to gather. You can’t totally eliminate anxiety out of your life. It’d be nice, but I definitely think that some stuff fuels a fire if you allow it, at least for me.

Sometimes, we glorify [the idea that] your art is only good if you’re feeling bad and I don’t think that’s true. There is beauty that can come from the ashes and the dirt, but if you lean on it, it can be a pretty unhealthy place. There are consequences, internally and relationally. 

AF: This has been a really hard year. What do you hope this album contributes to the listener’s experience and recollection of 2020? 

JD: When I first set out to make this record was when life was colorless and I was in a bad place and it’s just like, you know what, I want this record to be resplendent. That was word that came to me – full of life, full of color. And the color of it to me is predominantly green. That to me, is an association to being alive. That’s what people need right now. Whether it’s doom scrolling or all this terrible news that is happening, we lose sight that there can be joy and hope and color—it’s getting swallowed up by the bad. It’s okay to feel life and make space for things that are life-giving, even in the midst of tumultuous times. So I hope this record can be a breath of fresh air for people, and allow them to feel what they need to feel. 

Follow Deep Sea Diver on Facebook for ongoing updates.

A.A. Williams Gets Moody on Debut Forever Blue with Heavy Collabs

A.A. Williams is a classically trained pianist and cellist, a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and vocalist. Her beautiful, dark debut album Forever Blue was recorded in the two-bedroom North London apartment she shares with her husband, bassist Thomas Williams.

Released in July via Bella Union, Forever Blue combines Williams’ skillful classical arrangements with post-rock and metal elements from guest vocalists Johannes Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg of Swedish metal band Cult of Luna. While other artists may have felt out of their depth with recording an album from home, Williams says, “I didn’t think too hard about it, I just got on with it really.”

Williams’ process is to record demos then take the elements and refine them in post production. The beauty of Forever Blue is that much of the material from the demos remains on the final album. “It wasn’t necessarily our plan to record the album at home in our apartment,” she says. “But we didn’t have to worry about paying and booking a studio this way. It was made before COVID-19, so it wasn’t the product of lockdown. Ultimately, the demo sounds like a less shiny product of the original, which I like. A lot of what I do in the demo stays, to be honest, so a lot of that original stuff landed on the album.”

On Forever Blue, Williams did all the guitars, the cellos, the keyboard instruments and all the vocals. “Having the ability to play the cello is so handy because I can put strings on stuff, but I’ve done it for so long, I consider it usual,” she says. “My dog makes a few appearances on the record. The sounds of North London, ambulances from the nearby hospital, are on there too.”

The lack of perfection or flawless production gives Forever Blue a raw element, “not shiny-shiny,” as Williams says. This is also part of the joy of working with her husband, who is on the same page in terms of writing and producing.

“It’s great working with my husband,” she confides. “Some people aren’t good at working with their partner, but for us, it works so well. He takes care of all the bass stuff; I trust his instincts a musician so I let him write and play his parts. It’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off [who will] be honest.”

Less familiar were Persson and Kihlberg, but the pairing was fortuitous. The duets are both ferocious and bleak, born of an unpredictable idea perhaps, but a musical match that makes sense on the album. “I didn’t know the Cult of Luna guys personally but we shared the same booking agent,” Williams explains. “My agent sent Johannes my first EP and we communicated by emails so it was easy to sort out. We did it all remotely since they were in Sweden and I was in the UK, but it was awesome to work with them. We went on tour together last November so it was nice to meet each other properly, touring around Europe.”

After a childhood and teenage years spent learning classical instruments including cellos and the piano, Williams’ first discovery of heavy music came from an unlikely place: a movie soundtrack. “When I was younger, movies were a great way for me to discover music,” she says. “I’d seen The Matrix and my parents bought me the soundtrack. It had Deftones’ ‘My Own Summer‘ on it and it blew my mind, and also Marilyn Manson, Rammstein and Rage Against The Machine. I loved the Spawn soundtrack too. Lost Highway had a great soundtrack.”

Williams’ album is cinematic in that same way, but also confessional, both melancholy and fierce in turns. I wonder whether any of the songs still hit her emotionally, viscerally?

“I’ve known my music since it was a tiny little seed, so you can never have the experience of listening to it for the first time,” she says. “I’ve been hanging out with the songs for six months before anyone else hears them. I have a closer relationship with the songs in terms of performing them live rather than songs to just listen to.”

Not that performing live is on the schedule of many musicians at present, though Williams has overcome logistical obstacles to do social media streams. “It’s hard work to do the live performance on social media,” Williams admits. “This is one of the blessings and curses of this pandemic. It’s forced us to learn new stuff and communicate in new ways and to think outside the box. The logistics are not quite so simple. Having said that, it was super fun. It was so nice to be able to get together and make some noise.”

Williams’ next task is to return to writing, a process she’d normally take to local cafes in order to prevent binge watching TV or cleaning instead. “Usually, my songs start with piano and voice, or guitar and voice. I work on the chord progression, speed and key first, then I start to vocalise a melody on top. From there, usually I record the instrumental part and take my little notebook and sit in coffee shops humming away for a long time – getting funny looks. Then, once I’ve got the melody and the instrumentation, I build the layers up.”

While she has not considered the specifics of her next album, nor is she writing with this front of mind at the moment, Forever Blue has provided her the confidence to approach the next album with one under her belt. The critical acclaim certainly doesn’t hurt, either. But, in her humble and sweet way, Williams is more interested in talking about her dog, who makes frequent appearances on her Twitter feed. “Everyone needs some pictures of small dogs in their lives,” she says.

Follow A.A. Williams on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Ruby Mack Premieres “Jane,” a Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community

four members of Massachusetts folk band Ruby Mack
Photo Credit: Gianna Colson

Massachusetts-based folk quartet Ruby Mack, consisting of Emma Ayres (Vocals/guitar), Abbie Duquette (bass uke), Zoe Young (guitar/vocals) and Abs Kahler (fiddle), are on a mission to redefine the sacred in a way that encapsulates all people and all aspects of life. Their music shines a light on those demonized in religious scripture, particularly women and LGBTQ people, to honor and celebrate their identities. Their latest single, “Jane,” is a beautiful example of this aim, soulfully capturing the love and loss associated with the LGBTQ experience.

“Jane” was written by Ayres in response to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, with a past partner of hers in mind. “It’s just kind of our love song to anyone who feels like they can’t openly exist as their true selves in this world,” says Kahler. “I think the world can sometimes be a pretty inhospitable place to queer folks, people of color, any kind of minority, or anyone that’s treated as other.”

Influences like The Wailin’ Jennys and The Highwomen are evident in the band’s sweet, gentle vocals and minimalistic instrumentals. The slow, mellow single consists of melancholy fiddle, acoustic guitar, a simple rhythmic bass track, and emotive vocal harmonies. “It became a powerful thing for us to all be singing the harmonies together,” says Kahler. “The parts where it’s one voice and then the other voices join kind of echoes that sense of community that we were trying to express.”

The instrumentals start off simple and build as the track picks up, with the vocals getting increasingly loud and passionate toward the end, mirroring the intensity of the emotion in lyrics like “Oh they can keep you from fresh water/You’re the cold rain set me free.” Then, you can hear Ayres’s voice crack with emotion as the song returns to her stripped-down vocals. “The goal is to make people who may not have felt that pain have empathy,” says Duquette.

“When we’re performing that song, I always feel like there’s a lot of space for silence and softness, and it feels very holy,” Kahler adds. “I feel like that was kind of a theme that ran through some of the pieces in this album that we’re releasing — just really holding space for the sacredness of life and of queer life.”

The album they’re referring to is Ruby Mack’s debut LP Devil Told Me (out October 23), which explores feminism and social justice through the lens of religion and mythology as well as modern life and recent events. The soothing folk tune “Machine Man” is an ode to blue-collar workers, and the a cappella “Breadwinner” is “a thank you to all the badass momma figures out there” who support their households, as Kahler puts it, “but also about ourselves as well: We want to be your breadwinner. Let us have that role. We can take care of you. We don’t need men to do that.”

Several songs were written by Ayres, incorporating her interest in oral tradition and storytelling. “For Icarus” retells the Greek myth of the man who flew too close to the sun, commenting on the ways people get carried away with their imaginations, and “Odysseus” is a passionate plea to the mythical hero to return home and avoid the temptation of the sirens.

Overall, the band considers the album a reclamation of the story of Adam and Eve, celebrating female curiosity and knowledge. Accordingly, the album art features a serpent wound around an apple. “Eve ate an apple because she had curiosity, and without curiosity, what is anything?” says Kahler. “We all deserve the things we need and desire, and we shouldn’t be punished for going after those things like Eve does.” This attitude is best summed up in the lyrics to “Milktooth,” an angelically sung track about challenging gender roles learned in childhood: “Holy woman said I deserve what I want.”

Given the album’s overarching themes, it’s appropriate that it was recorded in an old converted church, with the help of Ghost Hit Recording engineer Andrew Oedel. The members, who originally met through the Massachusetts folks scene after each making their own music, consider their friendship a central part of their music and aim to capture their chemistry and authentic emotion in their recordings. Nine of the ten songs on Devil Told Me — with the exception of “Milktooth” — were recorded live to achieve this.

“I feel like that sacredness and that holiness was something that space already held,” Kahler says. “And we are at our most raw and most ourselves when we’re all playing live, and I feel like that definitely translates.”

Follow Ruby Mack on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Teenanger Have “Good Time” with Social Critique on Latest LP

Photo Credit: Jake Sherman

Sometimes, music prompts us to reflect on the hard truths about ourselves and the times we’re living in. Other times, it makes us want to bob our heads and shake off our worries. And, occasionally, it does both. Good Time, the latest release from Toronto-based post-punk band Teenanger is one of those rare albums that’s equal parts fun and thought-provoking. On it, bassist and vocalist Melissa Ball, singer and keyboardist Chris Swimmings, guitarist Jon Schouten, and drummer Steve Sidoli respond to political and social unrest with catchy vocal harmonies against groovy electronic guitar, creating music that is intellectual but unpretentious.

The topics addressed on the album range from dating to environmental issues, several of the songs specifically addressing mid-COVID life, making timely social commentary with playful but incisive lyrics. In “Touching Glass,” Ball sings about the disconnection that stems from always communicating through technology: “Scratch the surface/There’s a reflection/Mediocre means of a connection/Bloodshot bedroom eyes tethered and tired/Filtered fiction demands what is required.”

The most overly political track is “Trillium Song,” where Swimmings critiques the Ontario government’s failure to address COVID-induced economic losses: “Capped and traded, poisoned fertile crops/A buck a beer, closing all the tops/Manning the wheel, to drive us out of home/Dwindle the future, what have you done?”

The musical styles on the album vary to match the subject matter, which ranges from flirtatious to melancholy. “We were trying to be as open as possible and not pigeonhole ourselves with the sound,” says Ball, whose personal goal was to sing more and write more on the album than she had on past ones. On the fun, dance-rock-style “Pleassure,” Ball shouts about the “pressure for pleasure” people encounter in the dating scene, while “Beige” gives off ’90s grunge vibes, with Ball repeating in an airy, flat tone, “It’s the safest shade/Everything is beige.” On “Straight to Computer,” you can hear the influence of the Talking Heads as Swimmings half-sings, half-speaks about being immersed in “acronyms and useless chatterbots.”

Overall, the band wanted to make this album lighter and simpler than their past work, though the environment where it was written and recorded was perhaps not always conducive to lightheartedness. They had recently left a studio they shared with other bands so they could devote more time to the process, and their new studio was in a basement underneath a restaurant, where they were dealing with rats and flooding. “We were just in this little workshop in the basement, having all the time in the world, and we just naturally kind of adapted to that little basement and just had a summer full of writing,” Ball remembers.

Despite the suboptimal conditions, the new studio allowed the band the space and time to flow with their creative impulses. “We have so much more freedom,” says Ball. “We were like, try this, try that, bring different weird instruments, and I think that that freedom lifts us up a little bit, and it made a more spacious, poppier record. I think that environment has a lot to do with the writing process: If you feel pressure because you’re waiting for some band to come in or you only have a set amount of time to be creative, it’s hard because being forced into a creative setting feels rushed. The space is like another part of the record — there’s a spacial influence.”

In the playful spirit of the album, the band decided to make cover art out of their feline mascot of sorts, Roxy, who was originally Swimmings’ cat, but was later adopted by Ball and Schouten. “We just wanted to pay tribute to her because she’s the sweetest little thing,” says Ball. “We did a bunch of photos at high contrast, and we were originally going to go with the same photo, then we got a treatment on it and decided it would be that still of her with her tongue sticking out. It was more of like a dedication.”

Teenanger originated in the same kind of environment it ultimately ended up in: in a basement, where Ball would jam with Schouten and his former band. Now twelve years old, the band is releasing Good Time via Telephone Explosion as its seventh album, after 2017’s Teenager. Ball describes the band as more garage-rock in the beginning, but consistently lo-fi and DIY throughout its lifespan. “Every record seems like a new sound for us,” she says. “We’re just trying to do what come naturally right now. Not a lot is coming naturally in general in the world, but that’s all I got.”

Follow Teenanger on Facebook for ongoing updates.

RSVP HERE: Sam Newsome Trio Plays In-Person Artists for a Free World Protest Concert

We are excited to be featuring an in-person, socially distant event for the first time since March! Arts For Arts, an NYC organization that is dedicated to the promotion and advancement of Free Jazz is hosting Artist for a Free World Protest Concert Series September 12th at The Clemente, La Plaza and September 26th in St. Marks Churchyard.

The headliner for this Saturday’s event is Sam Newsome Trio. Newsome is a soprano saxophonist, jazz improviser, solo performer, sound enthusiast, and music professor at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus. Solo soprano sax has not been explored as thoroughly as other saxophones, allowing Newsome to pave the way with his creativity and sonic explorations. Newsome has a broad palette of sounds with experimental techniques such as prepared and modified saxophones. Newsome’s most recent 2020 releases, Sonic Journey: Live at the Red Room, and Free Wyoming (Sam Newsome Trio: Live at the Metro Coffee Co.) capture their live free-form abstract compositions.

This Saturday (9/12) you can catch Sam Newsome joined by Hilliard Greene on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums live at The Clemente in La Plaza, 114 Norfolk Street. The Larry Roland Trio and Dickey Spell will also be performing at 3 and 4pm respectively. The event is sold out on preregistration, but they will accommodate walk-ups as capacity allows (approx 30 people). It will also be live streamed via Facebook and YouTube. We chatted with Sam Newsome about his favorite visual artists, musical routine and why jazz students should be awarded for getting it wrong.

AF: What led you to jazz and the soprano sax?

SN: I was attracted to the artistic freedom that jazz afforded me. Society often teaches us to be cogs in a wheel, to follow the rules, and to be good soldiers. Jazz challenges these expectations. Jazz musicians are encouraged to shake up the status quo, or sometimes simply move around it. As far as the soprano… because it’s the least explored of all the saxophones, I saw it as a blank creative canvas that allowed me be under-influenced by the music’s history.

AF: What are some ways you prepare and modify your sax?

SN: I have an expansive set of preparations that I utilize, that’s constantly growing—for better or worst. The ones most commonly used are my plastic tube extensions, my hanging wind chimes, the tin foil that I attached to the horn’s bell, the balloons stuffed with bells that I attach to my fingers, the noise makers that I place inside of my instrument, and lately, I’ve been experimenting with attaching a dishwasher drain hose to the neck of the instrument. It’s a pretty wild sound. My creative process is guided by the simple idea of altering the way that air enters and exits my instrument.

AF: Are you inspired by any non-musical mediums?

SN: Absolutely. Picasso, Pollack, Yayoi Kusama, and nature are huge sources of inspiration. Simply put, I’m inspired by things of beauty.

AF: Has the quarantine affected your musical routine?

SN: Most definitely. I did not practice as much in the conventional sense. With few opportunities to play, it’s pretty understandable. Actually, I spent more time outside enjoying nature: hiking, camping, bike riding, ziplining, all the fun stuff I normally don’t make time for. But now I’m getting back to practicing in a more rigorous way. It feels good after so many months of laying off.

AF: What have been some of your favorite records to listen to over the past few months?

SN: Oddly enough, I don’t listen to a lot of music. I do listen to things every day, but only in small doses. Just hearing a few bars sets off my creative juices like a flowing river, then I’ll to have to turn it off so that I can deal with my creative thoughts. It’s one of the curses of being an artist. My wife, Meg Okura, is prolific composer. I’d say I probably listen to her music more than anyone else’s, just from being in such close proximity.

AF: You’ve taught jazz for many years. Do you feel there’s an approach to teaching that achieves more innovative and creative playing?

SN: For sure. Innovation and creativity only flourishes when students take chances and fail. However, they won’t go out on a limb if they’re punished for it. If we started awarding students for getting it wrong instead of only patting them on the backs when they get it right, we’d see a significant change in students’ creative output. When need to start giving A’s for fucking up. Make wrong the new right.

AF: What has been your favorite live performance experience and why?

SN: They’ve all been special in their own way. Any time I’m able to simultaneously connect with my instrument, have synergy with other players, and play for an appreciative audience, it’s nothing short of magical. It’s an enlightened state that can’t be judged, only experienced.

AF: Have you done many socially distant shows?

SN: Quite a few. I just returned from playing the 2020 Detroit Jazz Festival with a Afro Horn, a high- energy Afro Cuban-influenced jazz ensemble I’ve been working with for several years. They flew us from New York to Detroit, and we played on a big stage for no live audience, just tech and camera crew. All of the performances were streamed via their website and YouTube. It was very bizarre, to say the least. However, it was a sign of progress. This would have been unthinkable back in April.

AF: How did you get involved in the Artists for a Free World Protest Concert series and what can we expect from the performance?

SN: I’ve been involved with them for at least five or six years. I admire the work that they do. We need more people like them out here trying to make a difference. On Saturday, I’ll be performing with my trio with Hilliard Greene on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums. And we’ll do what we do, which is take ourselves and the audience on a sonic journey. Hopefully, we’ll all come out on the other side in a better place.

AF: What are your plans for the rest of 2020 and beyond?

SN: My plans moving forward are simple. Enjoy life, stay safe, and create.

RSVP HERE for Sam Newsome trio, Dickey/Swell, and Larry Roland Trio at The Clemente, La Plaza 3pm ET on 9/12.

More Great Shows This Week…

9/11 Black Faces, White Spaces via New York Botanical Garden. 11am ET, RSVP HERE

9/11 Armenias in Film: The Stateless Diplomat. RSVP HERE

9/11 + 9/12 Lucero via Veeps. 9pm, RSVP HERE

9/11 – 9/13 Punk n Roll RendezVous Online Festival via The Unicorn Camden Live. 2pm EDT, RSVP HERE

9/12 Godcaster, Threesome, The Eclectic Method via Undercover. 8pm, RSVP HERE

9/13 Improvised Tarot Readings: A Hilarious Evening via Zoom. 8pm EDT RSVP HERE

9/13 Delta Spirit via 9pm, RSVP HERE

9/14 Blitzen Trapper (record release) via In.Live. 10pm, RSVP HERE

9/15 The Killers via Pandora Live. 8:45pm, RSVP HERE

9/17 Kevin Morby (plays Still Life) via NoonChorus. $15, 9pm EDT, RSVP HERE

Lasse Passage Captures Rich, Tender Details of Nomadic Life on Sunwards LP

Photo Credit: Kim Jakobsen

Lasse Passage is currently spending his summer vacation with his 90 year old father in a fisherman’s village in Norway. On a daily basis, they climb aboard a boat and head out to sea, fishing for crabs and mackerel amide the fresh salt air. It’s a routine that runs in sharp contrast to the majority of Passage’s adult life, a life of travel and adventure, of music making in foreign lands. Passage’s latest album Sunwards was built in time with the swing of his usual existence: a trip to Mexico, complete with missed rendezvous with friends, a broken guitar, and a deepening love.

Continuing in the vein of 2015’s Stop Making Sense and Start Making Success Vol 1, 2, 3 & 4, Sunwards continues Passage’s explorer narrative, bringing the listener into the sweet, sensual heat of a tourist’s gaze. In Passage’s world, one can picture soft linen sheets, the smell of tamales wafting up from the street, a lover showering in the next room. “I lead a complex life,” Passage tells AudioFemme. “It’s good years and it’s bad years. It’s been good years the last years now.” He’s referring to the upbeat nature of this album, with songs like his recent single “Heartbeat” talking directly to his current relationship with choreographer Ingrid Berger Myhre: “I didn’t play with open cards before/but the things you trigger is letting me know/it’s something/something that could be good and true/you increase my heartbeat/you increase my heartbeat.”

Passage grew up in Bergen, a coastal city in west Norway. His childhood was full of music, his father a passionate music hobbyist. “He would always sing me to sleep,” Passage remembers. “He would pull up the guitar and sing a song. The same song every night.” The song each night was always in the 18th century Swedish Troubadour style, following the same characters as they travel, fight, and love; the ballads often link stories and include complex references to other songs, weaving a tapestry, a world all their own. At age 12, Passage took up the acoustic guitar, joining his father in a song while the coffee was served at dinner parties. 

After one year at a conservatory studying composition, Passage felt the call of a journeyman, as well as the musical inkling to explore beyond the classical. “For me, this was finding back the joy,” he recalls, thinking back on the two year trip he took after he left school. The music he made on that trip felt fresh, more truthful to his soul. “Music can also be this simple. It doesn’t have to be new, complex Stockhausen. For me, the most important thing is to communicate feelings on a plain level. And that gives me great joy.”

“Not a slightest chance that this could work/that slowly I recall your type/I came down here to have some fun with you/but we are miles away/from having a good day,” Passage gently croons on the opening single “Miles.” With his first lines, Passage reveals his musical cards: he is funny, he is thoughtful, he plans to take you on a little ride. He describes his writing process as being initially quite easy. “The music comes really fast for me. It’s easy. It sounds cocky to say,” he admits. “Usually the music comes really fast, but then I struggle a lot with finishing the song because to finish it, it really has to make sense to me why I should finish it and why it should be a song. And that takes a lot of time for me. But coming up with a new idea for a song, that comes fast to me.”

The initial “emotional seed,” as Passage puts it, is the thing he has to search for. Music comes first, then he hums the tune repeatedly until the seed forms, blossoming from a meditation into a fully formed thought. The songs on Sunwards were all written on his Landola J-85, a Finnish guitar he bought when he first began songwriting. The guitar took a tumble off a truck during his Mexico trip and was totally crushed. He went to a guitar luthier in Mexico to fix it; the man was good, but Passage didn’t have the time to let him fix the whole thing, resulting in high action between the fretboard and the strings. As a result, most of the songs he wrote for the album were written in open tunings, which he admits influenced a few things.

Genres are explored openly and honestly throughout the album. “I Need A Holiday” has the cheerful sarcasm of a Ben Folds ditty, followed closely by another ’90s-influenced jam, “Homecoming,” with its gentle guitar strum and casual talk-sing cadence: “Soon I’m gonna see all my friends/I’ll tell them stuff they can not understand/so I’ve gotta keep on the ball/to not lose track of my calling/when I’m coming home.” This soft rock vibe is broken when “God Is In The Nature” hits the needle. Suddenly Passage’s stroll through cobblestone streets takes a turn into the wilderness, a canopy of trees shedding soft beams of light onto the forest floor. Its repetitive chant reveals a new, more spiritual aspect to Passage’s travels and hints at older themes, the kind of wink toward death that marks a maturing musician. A video for the song is currently being created by filmmaker Jenny Berger Myhre (sister to Passage’s girlfriend) at the couple’s summer home.

“The world is opening to me/I no longer have the need/for anything that’s not right here,” Passage sings on “Sunwards,” which has a decidedly beach-infused sound, complete with a horn section. After leaving Mexico, Passage spent many months working with friends in Oslo’s jazz community (Andreas Werliin, Jo Berger Myhre, Kim Myhr, and Eivind Lønning to name a few) to add the full, lush sound infused throughout the album. Songs like “Something Easy” shift focus to a tropical drumbeat, while “300.000 francs” seems to pull us back to a more melancholy winter mood. Recorded during the winter of 2018, Passage sought the help of Grammy-winning producer Noah Georgeson, known for his work with Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, The Strokes and Norah Jones. There is a gentleness to his work, a sweet reflective echo in Passage’s voice and the strum of his guitar that gives the album the immediate feeling of Polaroid pictures: tactile, transient, a quick shot of time.

“Unfortunately, it’s only me,” Passage said when asked if he builds his songs around a character or personal experience. “I need to have a problem or it needs to be a situation that I need to process.” For the moment, life is pretty regulated, with little to no drama to draw from. He is planning a live stream concert for the album, set for September 4th, complete with a full band setup. He is also spending quality time with his father. His days start with the smell of salt air and end with nutty coffee, brewed in preparation for a long night of stories, song, and star gazing. Travel is halted, but with Sunwards at his fingertips, Lasse Passage is able to move backward in time, exploring once again a strange city’s streets, with surf, heat, and sand just a few steps away.

Follow Lasse Passage on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Two New Bay Area Singles To Get You Dancing in the Light from Your Firmly-Closed Windows

Feeling extra trapped, Bay Area? It’s fire season again, and this year, the smoke feels particularly disheartening and apocalyptic. Before the doom sets in, check out the following tracks – they’re guaranteed to provide a little distraction, and may even help you get on your feet.

First up is Sacramento’s Madi Sipes & the Painted Blue, best known for their bedroom-eyed speakeasy tunes that celebrate queer love and heartbreak; they’ve released a remix for their single “Do You Think About Me?” The song is very much what it says on the tin – a moony, Sapphic disco-bop for a crushed-out mixtape. Lead singer Sipes muses on how to snag her chosen lady, explaining, “She made me smile like no other girls,” over a pounding backtrack.

The remix, handled by collaborative musical group Congratulationz, kicks the occasionally somber original into high gear with some Tron-like effects, ascendant EDM pitch builds, and a bubblegum-bass-adjacent drumline. The perfect song for the ’80s party you aren’t allowed to have, the remix takes on a welcome — if unexpected — sense of Menace Lite by putting extra emphasis on the line “promise you won’t put me in your friend-zone/I am not your friend.” In one fell swoop, Lounge Singer Sipes is gone, and Saturday Night Fever Sipes has arrived.

On a sadder — but not necessarily somber — note, is the new single from Oakland’s Shutups, “Death From Behind,” which includes the killer line “I’m a know-it-all/but I don’t know nothing ‘bout this” a perfect opener for a single that appears to be about trying to help someone out of a depressive episode while simultaneously dealing with personal mental health issues. The various instrumentations and shifts in the song are not particularly claustrophobic, but the lyrics are, with the unsettling chorus “I was sleepin’ in to pass the time/when you saw me lyin’/it must have looked like death from behind,” painting a picture of what it’s like to be stuck in close quarters with someone who is struggling to interpret things outside of the lens of their depression.

Despite this, there is a lot of sonic space between the instrumentals, like the beachy guitar that backs the verses. Somehow, these choices transform what could’ve been quite a melancholy song into something that makes you want to get up and thrash, even if it’s just inside your locked-and-sealed bedroom (don’t breathe the outside air, kids). The music video is similarly playful, with Shutups members Mia and Hadley starring as goofy, hapless knights who experience a missed-connection at their duel-to-the-death. Accompanied by some backyard bards and sky friars, the music video should be too silly to work with the heavy subject matter, but it does.

The single is not free-floating — the track will appear on the band’s fifth EP, fittingly titled 5, out October 2 on Kill Rock Stars. The duo has also released a ten-minute video with a repeated sample of one of the EP’s other tracks, “Can You Dance to a Feeling?” featuring a variety of health care professionals and a dancing doctor holding a sign with the song’s title.

Whether or not you can, indeed, dance to a feeling, it’s nice to have a few tracks from Bay Area bands that inspire dance-worthy feelings in such difficult times. Check out these resources to help those directly affected by the fires.

Musique Boutique: Maggie Herron, Tanya Donelly & the Parkington Sisters, and Norma Tanega

Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Before the darkness of the pandemic descended, you could see jazz pianist Maggie Herron every Wednesday through Saturday at Lewers Lounge, tucked away in a corner of the elegant Halekulani, a luxury resort in Waikiki. Over the course of an evening you might hear the classically-trained Herron performing standards like “I’m Beginning to See the Light” or “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” or perhaps something from a musical, like “Whatever Lola Wants.” There are modern songs too; her albums have included the likes of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” and the Beatles’ “I Will,” as well as original material.

The Lewers gig went on hiatus when Halekulani closed for renovations due to the pandemic, with the plan of reopening next year. Then Herron was dealt a harsher blow: her daughter, Dawn, was killed in a bicycle accident this past April. Mother and daughter were co-songwriters, and had been working on material for Herron’s next album. Mourning her loss, and housebound due to the pandemic, Herron decided to complete her album, and Your Refrain is an eloquent tribute to their creative bond.

The album is not without its humorous touches. “I’m not feeling very well” is the album’s opening salvo in the first track, “What Not,” but it turns out to be a light-hearted number about the joys of lethargy. “I just need to spend my days lying on this couch,” Herron sings, making that sound like a pretty good idea. The lively “He Can’t Even Lay An Egg” is a fun number with typical blues innuendo, about a strutting rooster who falls down on the job in other ways. Herron’s husky voice is well suited to this cheeky tune. The playful “I Can’t Seem to Find My Man” is in a similar vein.

On the other end of the spectrum are numbers like the beautiful love song “Touch,” with a lyrical acoustic guitar solo from Jim Chiodini. The album’s covers serve as further tributes to Herron’s daughter. Dawn loved the work of Joni Mitchell, and Herron’s simple arrangement of “Both Sides Now” (Herron on piano, Dean Taba on bass) brings out the underlying melancholy. The resonant “God Bless the Child” is enhanced by a smooth tenor sax solo by Bob Sheppard.

And the title track is the heartbreaker. “Your Refrain” is a song of loss, a song of holding your loved one close even when they’re no longer present: “Without breath, without sound, you still remain.” Herron’s piano is complemented by a string arrangement that adds to the melancholy mood. It’s a song about holding on, in the face of sorrow. But it’s not the end of the story. There are other songs the two have written that Herron has yet to record, so we can look forward to more work from this songwriting team in the future.

When Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses, the Breeders, Belly) was asked to record a covers album for American Laundromat Records, she initially demurred, thinking, how can you improve a song that’s great already? But then she realized she could bring in other artists as well, opening up the possibility of creating something truly special. So she tapped the Boston-based Parkington Sisters to join her, and their resulting self-titled album offers a diverse mix of songs, with some unexpected choices.

The Go-Go’s (“Automatic”) and the Pretenders (“Kid”) are some obvious picks. The use of violin, viola, and cello over the electric guitars of the original gives “Automatic” a warmer, richer feeling, while the mid-tempo “Kid” has a more wistful cast to it. Singers love to cover Leonard Cohen, and the Donelly/Parkington version of “Dance Me to the End of Love” has an ethereal, somewhat spooky quality (Maggie Herron covered the same song on her A Ton of Trouble album). They draw on Kirsty MacColl’s arrangement of “Days” (itself a cover, as MacColl was covering a Kinks’ track), their lovely harmonies a perfect match for the song.

There’s a move into classic rock, with the group taking on Wings’ “Let Me Roll It,” with a performance that scales back the volume of the original, but is just as emotionally powerful. Then there’s Echo & the Bunnyman’s sweeping “Ocean Rain.” In the hands of Donelly and the Sisters, it’s far more languid, and ultimately uplifting. And I actually prefer their version of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “You Will Be Loved Again,” which also spotlights the musicians’ exquisite harmonies.

“Hear the unloved weeping like rain/Guard your sleep from the sound of their pain” Norma Tanega advises in “You’re Dead,” the lead off track from her 1966 album Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog. More recently, you might recognize it as the theme song for the FX series What We Do In the Shadows, about modern-day vampires. The spare instrumentation and Tanega’s cool, dry vocals give her bleak observations (“Don’t ever talk with your eyes/Be sure that you compromise”) a world-weary matter-of-factness: This is real life. Deal with it.

Prior to Shadows, Tanega’s best-known song was the title number of her debut album (newly reissued in a limited-edition run on sky blue vinyl by Real Gone Music). It’s an upbeat number reminiscent of “Feelin’ Groovy,” with quirky lyrics rooted in truth. Tanega wanted a dog, but, unable to keep one where she was living, she did the next best thing – getting a cat and naming him Dog, a pet she’d then walk around town like a real canine.

It’s part and parcel of Tanega’s idiosyncratic approach to her music. “The folkies don’t like me and the rock ‘n’ rollies don’t like me,” she said in an interview, a quote that pinpoints the difficulty of slotting her into any one category. You’ll hear folk and pop all right, along with jazz, country, blues, avant garde experimentation, and unusual time signatures that keep you off balance. Tanega had a relationship with Dusty Springfield, who recorded a number of her songs; compare the poetic folksiness of Tanega’s “No Stranger Am I” with the crisp sheen of Springfield’s version. Another nice surprise; “Hey Girl” is Tanega’s arrangement of Lead Belly’s classic blues “In the Pines” (aka “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”). Worth rediscovering.

R O N I Premieres “Stop Motion,” the First Single from Forthcoming EP Crown

Credit: Pritam Siri

Credit: Pritam Siri
Photo Credit: Pritam Siri

New York-based singer-songwriter/guitarist R O N I was visiting Tel Aviv when a friend introduced her to producer FortyForty. It was a serendipitous encounter resulting in an impromptu recording that forms the basis of her new single “Stop Motion” and forthcoming EP, Crown.

At the time, R O N I was emerging from relationship. “My mind was all in there,” she says by phone from her home in Brooklyn. “I think that I would have never been able to let it out in that way if it wasn’t for that specific situation.” She estimates that about 85% of the improvised song remains in the version that would eventually be released. They even kept a lot of the original vocal takes. “There were just moments there that we knew were gold because there were no boundaries.”

The result is a reflection on a particular moment in the past relationship, related through powerful, melancholy vocals and set against a slow groove. “Even though we knew it was just not going to work, we would still walk down the street holding hands,” she says. She remembers wondering if onlookers would see the couple and not realize that things just weren’t good. “Even now, I see couples in the street sometimes and I stop and think to myself, I wonder if they’re dealing with a similar thing that I was dealing with,” she says.

“Stop Motion” is one of four songs to appear on Crown. A second single will be released on August 30, with the full EP set to drop on September 9 via Tel Aviv imprint InchPerSecond Records. On various dates in August, R O N I plans to release four music videos that, when played together, can be viewed like a short film. She worked with a friend to use astrology to select the release dates. “No release on any day is random for this record,” she says. “It’s all very intentional. All with the intention of helping the planet and helping humanity.”

Born and raised in Jerusalem, R O N I moved to New York a decade ago, after spending some time in Tel Aviv and London. “It’s probably the most mind-opening, mind-challenging place to be in the world,” she says of New York. Both her hometown and her adopted hometown have made an impact on her work.

“I think being born in Jerusalem and being raised in that city as well… my main agenda is to truly help bring peace into that area and at the end of the day,” she says. “There are different tools that we as humans can use to help those around us. I found that music to me is a really great tool that I want to bring people together.”

Meanwhile, she credits New York with opening her mind in many ways. “That is the place where I could meet and talk and befriend people that I never had the chance to do that with where I’m from, for many reasons that are beyond my control,” she says.

R O N I began playing guitar at the age of eight. A few years later, a teacher got her into playing jazz professionally and introduced her to classic bands like Pink Floyd (specifically, she says, David Gilmour) and Led Zeppelin. R O N I recognized that she didn’t have many guitar heroes who were women and says that was likely a big motivation for her to keep going. She spent six years in music school, focusing on guitar and, by her late teens, began studying voice on the sly. “I was just very proud of the guitar part and I didn’t want anyone to hear me sing at that point,” she says.

Credit: Pritam Siri
Photo Credit: Pritam Siri

Later on, she would find inspiration in a new crop of artists, like James Blake, FKA Twigs and St. Vincent. She says that their songs “were simple and beautiful and could have been recorded with just a piano or a guitar, but this production around it was just bringing it to a whole other level for me.”

On that trip to Tel Aviv, where R O N I recorded the first draft of “Stop Motion,” she also began work on the rest of the Crown EP. Overall, though, the four-song release took about two years to complete, since she and FortyForty were collaborating remotely. R O N I recorded some of the vocals and guitars at her home in Brooklyn. She also recorded some parts in Los Angeles, when she was in town for a two-month stay and had brought her gear with her. Ultimately, she says, the “core” of that work done in Tel Aviv is still there on the EP. “Nothing went completely 180 degrees,” she says.

Conceptually, R O N I builds an arc on handling the end of a relationship, from the moments of missing someone, to self-destructive experiences, to finding a new beginning that lead to a sense of understanding and closure.

With “Stop Motion,” R O N I saw how important it was to incorporate these experiences into music. In the end, they are universal feelings. “It brings it to a point of unity, that you’re not alone and that a lot of people experience it in the same way,” she says. “In a way, it’s you’re-not-special, but, it’s okay to be where you need to be at the moment.”

Follow R O N I on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Glassio Bares Tremendous Heart With Debut LP For the Very Last Time

Photo Credit: Katelyn Kopenhaver

Glassio’s For the Very Last Time is the kind of record that submerges you from head to toe. His debut record, the eleven songs fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, resulting in a soundscape so vivid and immense you realize something truly special is unraveling. Known for remixing songs for Madge and Goldwash, Glassio (real name Sam Rad) takes various hyper-personal threads from his life and twists them together for a concept record based around “growth and rebirth of someone’s character out of a dark space,” as he describes it. He not only has more room to play, dashing through otherworldly textures, but finds true freedom in the rediscovery process. Start to finish, the record hinges on tragic events Rad experienced in 2018, but out of the ash, he emerges as a true pop visionary.

“It became clear to me that that year was going to impact the rest of my life. Without that year, this album wouldn’t have existed at all,” he explains. “Each song started off with a melody that I thought up with a lyric already attached to it — and then I began expanding outward in terms of lyrical approach. That’s usually the method I like most; it almost feels like cooking an egg on a frying pan. I never really like to critique what that first lyric or melody may be — instead I just try my very best to be honest about what part of my life this line is referencing and embrace that fully.”

Even as he invites the listener out onto the glitter-scattered dance floor, there is an inescapable melancholy tracking just beneath. In his personal life, he was dealing with immense negativity, so he turned to “drinking more and taking long walks by myself in the middle of the night through Park Slope listening to ‘Over The Hillside’ by The Blue Nile,” he says. “That was my initial coping mechanism. I almost, in a strange way, wanted to embrace being incredibly lonely, and that album, Hats, is honestly a perfect record to do that to.”

When the year was coming to an end, Glassio opted to get sober for a bit, and that’s when early album roots took hold with a flood of melodies. “I started off 2019 feeling fresher than I had in years. Two lyrics really hit me hard out of the blue that helped me understand what this record was going to mean to me,” he remembers. Those lyrics were “I’m saving my life with white wine and 909s” (from opening song “White Wine & 909s”) and “Remember the night that you fell down the stairs at your favorite bar” (from the starry “Almost Forgot How to Play Guitar”). “I remember saying to myself, ‘This is the kind of honesty I can get behind,’” he recalls. “And that kick-started the album and helped me regain myself.”

Formerly a duo, Glassio uncovered a willingness to let things be perfectly imperfect, if the song called for it. “I mixed every song (with the exception of two) by myself. I spent most of the process working out ideas on my own — whereas when [this project] was a duo, I had my partner to confer with. I think this actually gave me more confidence to let the music live in an imperfect place from a mixing standpoint and to let the idiosyncrasies of doing everything myself give the record a defining sound,” Rad explains. “That was incredibly liberating, and I didn’t anticipate that I’d welcome that freedom so easily. Usually, I’m incredibly meticulous about a mix or arrangement and will spend months working on a song.”

When listening to For the Very Last Time — from the planetary swelling of “Summertime (Kept the Blues Away)” to the medicating “Make No Mistake” — you can’t help but be bowled over by how much heart is truly on display. Coincidentally, he was falling in love during the album’s creation, which gives these tracks an even higher voltage.

“I think that actually played a big part in me wanting to write about my past with the energy that comes out of a new relationship. I wanted to put my heart into this — almost in such a way to be loved again, to be understood,” he says. “I’ve always felt misunderstood in life, and that’s actually been my biggest motivation behind writing music. Doing so with this album meant that I was learning to trust others again. Even though this album was very much about heartbreak, I was recording it while I was falling back in love, and I think that gave the album an interesting energy. It made it both about loss and trust all at once.”

Heartache certainly informs much of the record, but a working musician’s life also lays claim elsewhere on the record. “Tie my head to the back of a limousine,” his voice bends through static on “The Government,” among his most irresistible moments. Funny enough, he doesn’t actually recall what that line, in particular, means. He offers this explanation: “I initially really just liked the imagery. I was picturing the scene in the intro of the film The King of Comedy where Robert DeNiro hijacks Jerry Lewis’ limo to try and pitch himself as an up and coming comedian.”

“One more second ‘til the government flashes/And everybody’s on the scene,” he later sings. Here, he comments on trying to make a music career work amid “a political climate that almost makes it impossible to do so for so many,” he says, “and that line may have been me mocking the life that many of us fantasized about as kids: wealth, fame, celebrity.”

The chorus, which was “peripherally inspired by frightening exchanges between Trump and Kim Jong Un back in 2017,” draws a frightening apocalyptic picture. “I wanted the song to loosely depict a friend group getting together one last time due to the threat of impending nuclear war,” he notes.

Down to the song’s blistered synths, an unease soaks the production, as he wrestles with “that voice in the back of your head that says, ‘Well, what if you’re wrong?’ or ‘Are you sure this won’t lead you down the wrong path?’” he describes, “but I was hoping to achieve that very subtly. To do that, I think I tried to employ synth sounds that mimicked what I would imagine a Fisher Price synth to sound like, if they were to exist, and would have the part play something jarring and distinct.”

Glassio plays around with similar staccato synths on songs like “Almost Forgot How To Play Guitar” and “Thunderbirds,” stylistic choices he says were greatly influenced by “It’s Raining Today” by Scott Walker and “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc. Those compositions frame “vocals and pedal tones very eerily,” he says. “It’s the type of eerie that is heavily omniscient but that you sometimes don’t realize is there. Sort of like a very unremarkable painting in the lobby of a Holiday Inn — once you notice it, you realize how bizarre it is and how off putting it is. You begin asking: ‘Who made that? Where are they now?’ I love listening to records that make me ask those questions.”

On “Guitar” – which Rad says was the quickest to write on the record – he wields vocalist Daneshevskaya’s angelic vocals as a sword, slicing and dicing through a thick downpour. “Almost forgot how to play with stars / Remain in the light that you felt on the night/When the world went dark,” she offers up a lush prayer. “Almost forgot how to play the part/Remember the things that you said on the night when you broke my heart.” She guides us through the halls of past breakups, her voice adding a bit of heft to the lyrics. Paired with ambient production, the song takes flight all on its own; Glassio finds alluring beauty in such simplicity.

“I think some of my favorite lyrics do that… simple statements that mean so much or could mean so much,” he says. “The version of me that will hear the finished album six months after it’s release definitely strives for that kind of meaningful simplicity, but I almost never achieve that if I’m forcing it during the making of the music. It just never works out.”

With “Thunderbirds,” the album closer, a slick, almost grimy darkness sprouts in both the production and lyrics. “When I’m dead I hope I’ll find/It’s easy when you fall behind/Babe you know I’m broken up for you,” he whispers. He stabs right to the heart, yet it operates as a shimmer of hope. “I think I was tapping into the idea that when you lose, you gain. You discover who you are when you are in a desperate position and the search for something untouchable shields you from loving yourself and others in the most authentic way,” he says. 

“Some things can only be found once you are lost for a while. That was me in 2018,” he admits. “This song is my soul at its truest, I think.”

Death is another unexpected piece to his story. “A Million Doubts” clicks together a memoriam for his late grandmother and a bigger conversation on death itself. “I want to make you proud/Get a little bit stronger,” he pleads. “Can you show me how ‘cause I don’t know the game/I got a million doubts.” Neon-washed synths dip and bend around his voice, and the heaviness is tender but unapologetic.

“I was really young when she passed, and we were very close. I wanted this song to be the type of song you listen to to think of the people in your life no longer with you; people that may even be looking down on you and keeping you safe. I wanted to try to build off that connection,” he says of the song, which also explores “remaining spiritual and believing that you are being protected.”

“I was losing my touch with spirituality in the years prior, and this song, as well as a few others on the album, are about reconciling with my faith,” he adds.

The song, which references Celtic music traditions, was a co-write with Charles Fauna, who, Glassio says, is “like a brother to me. We’ve been close friends for years and have very similar backgrounds. We both worry about similar things and can very much sympathize with one another’s anxieties,” he says. “I know, as musicians, there is this underlying desire to prove to the people that doubted you that you were able to make something of your life. I think I was definitely tapping into that emotion a bit. We never really had a discussion about what the song meant to each of us together, but I think we both instinctively knew where we wanted to take it.”

Glassio’s For the Very Last Time races forward relentlessly, always adhering to tear-laced stories bound with celestial mixes. His ability to get you crying while dancing is bizarrely energizing. “Nobody Stayed for the DJ” shoots through the veins but provokes a deep-rooted pain in the chest. “Nobody stayed for the DJ, bless their souls/With the eyes of the world all attuned to rock and roll/Won’t you help them to understand,” he laments.

He grapples with playing shows to empty rooms and what, if anything, his art has to offer. “I wanted this album to be the first clear picture of what that bedrock is for me. I care about sustaining a career and making a living off of what I do,” he says. “That being said, I was very unhinged and honest when making this – even if my voice isn’t heard by millions, I’d still consider this record a personal success.”

For the Very Last Time clearly speaks for itself. It is rich, expressive, detailed, and viscerally moving. Glassio’s debut dares you to dance, to think, to hope, to dream, to reclaim your life. We could use plenty more pop music like this these days.

Follow Glassio on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Z Berg Populates Solo Debut Get Z to a Nunnery with Wintry Baroque-Pop Gems

Photo Credit: Alexandra Berg

It’s hot as hell in much of the United States, with temperatures rising as high as 128 degrees in Death Valley. Most of the country is in its fifth month of COVID-19 quarantine. Businesses are shuttering left and right, and beaches are left empty, with nary a sun-soaked child in sight. Enter Z Berg’s first full-length solo album Get Z to a Nunnery, a twisted journey into a dark, cold Russian tundra. The album artwork features LA native Z Berg holding herself, fur pulled up around her face, hair pinned up like a character straight out of Doctor Zhivago, eyes staring straight at the camera as if to say, “What did you expect?”

The album has been ten years in the making, a thematic and sonic shift from Berg’s earlier work with bands The Like, JJAMZ, and Phases. It’s a deeply personal record, documenting a decade of “hedonism, drugs, eating disorders, blacking out and cheating on your boyfriend” says Berg. It falls in line with Berg’s historic willingness to experiment; with each musical project, she’s donned an alternate persona, easily transitioning from garage rock girl group (The Like) to new wave pop darling (Phases). All the incarnations have been pure Z, with the accompanying videos increasingly plotted out and designed by the singer herself. It’s why the path to Get Z to a Nunnery feels linear, despite careening valleys and close-calls along the way.

Z Berg spoke to us from her parents’ home, where she’s been quarantining for the last five months. She has quite a sense of humor about the last bit of history we’ve all been living. “I was really into quar for the first two months,” she says with an ominous chuckle. “I’ve had a lifelong obsession/fear of plagues. I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was a child.” She describes her childhood as an education in classic rock; as the daughter of former Geffen Records A&R rep/record producer Tony Berg, Z’s backyard held a music studio where X, Squeeze, and Johnny Rotten regularly recorded. “Music was not a rebellion against my parents,” Berg says, describing the mixtapes her dad made her as a kid: Why Dylan Is Dylan, Why the Stones are the Stones, Why Bowie is Bowie, and so on.

It was a different set of mixtapes altogether that influenced The Like’s first album. Berg’s first boyfriend introduced her to My Bloody Valentine, The Sundays, and other “shoe-gazey music” that helped Berg define The Like’s style. The band was fresh, remarkably poised and confident despite their young ages: Berg was just 15 at the time, as was Charlotte Froom (bass/vocals); drummer Tennessee Thomas was 16. “The press narrative was that we were these three little fucking daddy’s girls and we were too pretty to be playing music,” Berg remembers. “A lot of inherently sexist narratives that surrounded us were really hurtful – and made people not trust us.” Behind the scenes, though, the bandmates held the reigns on both music and aesthetic, casting their music video directors, curating costume pieces, and ultimately laying the foundation for Berg’s solo work.

Berg wrote “Calm Before the Storm,” the oldest song on Get Z to a Nunnery, when she was twenty; around that time, her Phases bandmate (and drummer for Bright Eyes) Jason Boesel introduced her to Conor Oberst; Berg ended up singing on Bright Eyes’ 2007 record Cassadaga, which also featured Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. Berg described the group hosting parties that also acted as song circles, which Berg saw as something of a challenge; she remembers thinking “I have to go to a party and play a song that is self-contained and impress these motherfuckers.”

“Time Flies,” a single Berg released in 2018, seems to commemorate this time period and its ensuing creative burst. “To dance around in just our bones/We stopped our hearts, we sold our souls/We didn’t fear the things we didn’t know/But love, not sin, destroys Eden/If I knew now what I knew then/I’d do it just the same, I’d fall again,” Berg sings sweetly. Though it’s laced with bittersweet nostalgia, the album emerges happily in the present, where Berg continues to take full advantage of the connections she’s made. The album features a Who’s Who list of Los Angeles talent, including Ryan Ross (Panic at the Disco, The Young Veins), Phoebe Bridgers, and Blake Mills. Even with multiple featured guests, it remains a cohesive album. It’s remarkable that, despite the time warp, with featured musicians popping in and out, the album feels whole. It’s a testament to Berg’s continued growth as a musician that while the pieces floated, she was always putting them together in her mind.

Nico’s Chelsea Girl, with its moody strings and melancholy outlook, was a huge inspiration, as was Berg’s favorite Russian author, Dostoevsky. With such seemingly disparate reference points, the music doesn’t evoke a specific era; at times it feels like it popped onto Spotify from an alternative universe where women still dress in high-necked black ballgowns, their skirts making angels in the frosty snow.

Berg is the first to admit that she grew up fast, which likely contributed to the album’s blurry-around-the-edges feel. “My memory is truly terrible. I just don’t remember anything that happens in my life,” she says. “Trapping these memories in songs is the only way that I can keep a hold on things that have happened in my life. And I conveniently get to write them being much more beautiful than they actually were.” Ghostly kaleidoloop samples, sentimental strings and pristine piano render her gauzy recollections in surprisingly refined baroque-pop brushstrokes, but somehow, it isn’t hard to imagine synth-heavy remixed versions, either.

Berg is already hard at work on a new album and is pretty confident she’ll release it before the end of the year. In the meantime, she compiled a visual component for Get Z to a Nunnery using clips from films that are out of copyright, adding yet another cinematic layer to the project. Summer 2020 might seem like an odd time of year to drop this album – its penultimate track is even a Christmas song. But to Berg, the timing couldn’t have mattered less, given the state of the world. “We have become so untethered from time in any traditional sense; it feels like we have come unglued. The elasticity of time this year is just staggering,” she says. “I pushed [the album release] back a couple times for various reasons – it was supposed to come out much earlier. And then I just kind of realized: If it comes out in summer who cares? Summer doesn’t exist. None of this is real anymore. And everything feels like a hundred years of everlasting winter so let’s just give it a go!”

Follow Z Berg on Instagram for ongoing updates. 

PREMIERE: Neia Jane Falls in Long-Distance Love on New Single “Break Ur Heart”

Photo by Holysmoke Photography

Every relationship hits a fork in the road, a moment in time when both parties actively choose to walk down a path together (or not). In 2019, singer-songwriter Chloe Jane, aka Neia Jane, found herself anxiety-ridden, hoping that her boyfriend would be able to immigrate back to the U.S. from France, and worrying if the pressure of a long-distance relationship would break them. Fresh off the release of her debut album Magic & Honey, Jane attempted to mitigate that uncertainty through songwriting, and the resulting single “Break Ur Heart” is an exploration of how to work through pain and come out the other end stronger than ever before.

“Even when it feels like heaven and we’re floating baby/Love will always break your heart/We’re only human and we’re hurting and we’re trying baby/I didn’t mean to break your heart,” Jane sings, her voice fraught with tension. With “Break Ur Heart” she continues the themes from last year’s debut: love, loss, longing. However, the music moves away from girl-band ballads like “People Like You” and digs into a new, dark disco sound. It’s an exciting experimentation for an artist who already bends genre frequently, often pitting her ethereal voice against a straight rock guitar. The same voice takes a slight back seat in this single, allowing the production elements to take center stage. Synths surround, weaving in and out of the narrative of a girl wandering alone, dreaming of a lover half a world away.

Jane grew up in the “Adventure Capitol of the World,” aka Queenstown, New Zealand. Born Chloe Jane, she was raised listening to Pat Benatar and the women of classic rock. Her American parents were both artists; her father played covers in a local band and was the one who pointed out female rockers, women who Jane could respect and emulate.

In her teen years, the family moved from Queenstown to her father’s hometown of Seattle, Washington. Those first years were rough on Jane; her Kiwi accent and interest in music made her an easy target for bullies at school. “I had no idea how to cope with the emotions that I was feeling at that point. I think I shut down a lot of them,” Jane remembers. “Bullying effects people in long term ways. I think I’m still coping and still expressing those emotions – the feeling of being other, the feeling of not fitting in, and having people pick your differences apart rather than celebrate them. Obviously as a white woman, I didn’t feel that near as much as some of my peers did. But I felt outcasted enough to feel really lonely as an adolescent for sure.”

As a preteen, Jane gravitated toward singing, picking up a guitar by age 12 to find music that matched her lyrics. Jane’s dad started a business teaching rock music in Seattle, a la School of Rock; it was after she started taking classes at the school herself that Jane found bandmates, forming her first rock band at the tender age of 13. Outnumbered was the name of her first real band (complete with a legit Facebook page); they performed mostly covers, but allowed Jane the time and space to take ownership of her music. It was her first taste of leading, of forging her own path.

Cut to 2020 – Jane is now living in Boston, Massachusetts, and has been performing solo for years, though she only recently starting playing under the moniker Neia Jane. “[The name change] allowed me to create kind of a personae that felt free from my personal identity as Chloe,” she explains. “Neia Jane is a way for me to kind of go into another space and not tie my creative output to every aspect of my life. That’s been kind of invigorating for me. I feel like Neia Jane can be a bit more extreme, outgoing, do things that I wouldn’t do as Chloe.”

Initially the transition to being a solo artist felt off; Jane had always imagined herself in a band and the images she had of female solo artists didn’t fit with how she viewed herself as an artist. “I kind of felt like female solo artists weren’t representative of what I wanted to do, genre wise, sound wise. And honestly I didn’t want it to be about ‘the me show’,” she admits. She even reached out to her old bandmates, asking them if they wanted to be members of her new project, but they weren’t interested; they felt like she needed to strike out on her own. After that, Jane says, “I kind of realized: I like being a free agent. I like being in charge of what I do. I like being able to write the songs and call the shots.”

At this juncture, Jane is self-assured, happy with the creative control that comes with flying solo. Her new single “Break Ur Heart” is synth magic from the opening beats, its confidence drawn from rock legends Jane admired as a child. It is Jane’s first self-produced single, created in Ableton on her own laptop. She wrote the song the day her boyfriend left for France, beginning the long process of shaping his visa. It took him a year to get back to the U.S. full-time.

Though the song was inspired by the specific situation at hand, Jane says the whole ordeal dredged up deeper trauma, too. “It was about the feelings that I was facing within myself and the way that I responded to those feelings. My parents divorced when I was 17 and I definitely was marked by that feeling of things changing. There’s definitely an element of abandonment that I am afraid of in my life,” she explains. “I haven’t had too much luck with people treating me very well in relationships in the past. So I  definitely have had fear of love in general, just fear of being with someone. Afraid that they’re gonna leave, afraid that they’re gonna change. Afraid I’m gonna let myself get close to someone and that they’re gonna hurt me and leave.”

The crossroads had been reached and she wasn’t sure about the path ahead. Should they break up? Should they do long distance? Should they get married? They decided to trust the process and kept the relationship long distance while the paperwork went through the machine. Neia Jane’s boyfriend, who is also makes music as Fytch, came in at the tail end of the songwriting process and did a first mix of the song. During one of his trips to the U.S., they put together final pieces. It was a labor of love, signifying Jane’s blossoming talent as a producer, as well as the strength of their relationship, tested over time and space – a love song in every sense.

Follow Neia Jane on Instagram for ongoing updates. 

LonelyTwin Premieres Pretty, Nostalgic Breakup Bop “My Heart”

One of Sweden’s biggest exports, in music at least, is smartly written electropop, with heavyweights like Robyn, Tove Lo, Lykke Li and Icona Pop effortlessly churning out gems with an uncanny ability to permeate the zeitgeist. Assuming her place in that lineage comes Stockholm-based singer-songwriter and producer Madelene Eliasson, who honed her songwriting chops as one half of duo MAD FUN with Fanny Hultman, working with artists like Kygo, Ellie Goulding, Emily Burns, SKAAR, Karen Harding, Parson James, Julie Bergan, SHY Martin, NAAZ, and Miriam Bryant.

With diverse musical interests and skills, it was difficult for Eliasson to narrow down her own sound at first. But last year, she released her debut single “I Should Have Told You,” setting the stage for the melancholy but gorgeous brand of electronic indie folk she makes under the moniker LonelyTwin. Earlier this year, she shared a airy cover of MGMT’s “Electric Feel” that further hints not just at her vast array of influences, but the general vibe she’s going for: sensual, end-of-the-night party jams built from rich guitar loops and yearning, feather-light vocals.

Now, she’s released her latest single, “My Heart,” a nostalgic second glance at a relationship that’s over, but fondly remembered. Brassy synths give it a warmth not usually felt in breakup songs, distorted layers of vocals lifting the main melodic promise: “You will always have my heart.” Over the next few months, Eliasson will release a series of singles that will eventually form LonelyTwin’s as-yet-untitled debut EP, but for now, “My Heart” captures her pretty, if pensive, songwriting style and gives us plenty to look forward to.

Check out our interview with LonelyTwin and listen to latest single “My Heart” below.

AF: What was your relationship to music growing up? I know you started playing guitar at age eight, but eventually went more of an electronic indie pop route; can you talk about how that shift in your interests played out?

ME: I grew up listening to a lot of guitary folky stuff like Josè Gonsalez, First Aid Kit, Tallest Man On Earth, Joni Mitchell and that really made me wanna play guitar. But early on my music taste got way wider and I started to listen to more electronic stuff as well like The Knife, Justice, Miike Snow, Ratatat and that really inspired my producing. And after that I got into a rock thing as well with Rage Against The Machine and Eagles Of Death Metal. So I think in general I just loved any music that made me feel a lot and loved to just go into my bubble and dream away.

AF: How did your experiences at prestigious Swedish songwriting school Musikmakarna help you grow as an artist?

ME: I applied to the school with music that I had made for myself as an artist. Before I got in I didn’t really know anyone that also made music and I had never collaborated with anyone before. So going there became a crash course in songwriting and collaboration and I was learning so much that all of a sudden I felt a bit lost in what I wanted to do for myself. So I focused more on learning how to write for others and I met Fanny [Hultman] who I later started [MAD FUN] with and that kind of took off, so it made sense to put more energy there. But then when I finally got some more time to get back into my own stuff it all made so much sense. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and it felt so amazing to take everything I had learned and put it into my project.

AF: How did writing with MAD FUN inform your songwriting for LonelyTwin?

ME: It shaped it so much. I learned a lot from everything I did in MAD FUN with Fanny and other writers and artists. It just improved my skills to a whole knew level so it became easier to make stuff on my own for LonelyTwin.

AF: What made you decide to start recording your own material as a solo artist?

ME: That’s always been something that I knew I was going to do. I’ve always had a big need for alone time and to express my emotions. If I don’t I can get really moody and down – ask my family! – but when I do everything just feels lighter. I got to a point where I felt like I really needed that outlet again, something that I can control on my own. When you write for others you have no control in anything as soon as the song is done. It can be pretty tiring…

AF: Do you still write songs for other artists?

ME: Yes, and I think I always will. I love so many different types of music and it’s amazing when you get to join someone else’s vision for a while. It also gives me so much perspective on what I’m doing for myself. I think if I stopped [writing for others] I would try to make my own project fit everything and that’s not a good plan. They really feed into each other for me. When I get tired of pleasing others I can just go back to my space and my music and then when I get sick of my own thoughts I can jump into others’ again.

AF: What inspired “My Heart” lyrically, and how did you use the production to bring out its wistful mood? What was the writing process like?

ME: I wrote the song after a breakup and it’s for my ex. It’s about knowing that you have to let go even if you don’t want to and the confusion in that. It’s about how someone will always have a very special piece of you no matter what happens. I think most of my productions/songs get a wistful vibe to them. I am really one to romanticize things and then it just kind of happens through the music I guess. I heard the beat in my head and started with that, then the chords and then the song just kind of came about. I usually start with a track vibe when I write for LonelyTwin.

AF: What can you tell me about your forthcoming EP?

ME: It’s definitely a heartbreak EP! So much has happened in the last year for me and the EP just reflects my different stages since my breakup and also meeting someone new and just how messy and beautiful it can be at the same time. I try to be as honest as I can in my songwriting so you can expect that. Sonically, the whole EP is gonna be in the same line of combining the acoustic with the electronic witch I really love.

Follow LonelyTwin on Facebook for ongoing updates.

INTERVIEW: Sofie Discusses Moving to Austria from LA to Make Stones Throw Debut LP Cult Survivor

Photo Credit: Manuel Haring

On June 26, Sofie Fatouretchi will release her debut album, Cult Survivor, on Stones Throw. For the Vienna-based musician, who performs under just her first name, it’s a bit of a reunion; early in her career, she had worked for the label. “When I was 19, I applied for an internship at Stones Throw Records, not really thinking that I would get it,” she says on a recent call. “I wrote a very long, convincing letter – please hire me – and they gave me an internship.”

Sofie, who grew up in California and spent her teenage years in Austria, had graduated high school early and went on to study performance violin and computer science. “I guess that there has always been that love for music there, but the reason I ended up getting a job there was because I had a technical background to fall back upon,” she says. She was the label’s digital manager for several years and worked on the A&R end for a couple artists, including her former roommate MNDSGN, who she collaborated with on “Abeja,” a track from a Stones Throw mix she curated. Sofie, who is also a DJ, went on to spend a handful of years working with Boiler Room when the streaming network was still in its infancy.

On Cult Survivor, Sofie weaves narrative songwriting through a collection of soft pop-rock with occasional, exceptionally subtle nods to early ’80s electronic funk. There are traces of Los Angeles on the album, notably in the songs “Hollywood Walk of Fame” and “Figueroa,” two tracks that stand out in particular for their vivid lyrics. However, Sofie made Cult Survivor in Vienna, writing the songs primarily on a ’70s keyboard in a university basement.

Sofie had relocated four years ago, after her mother, who lives in the Austrian countryside, was diagnosed with cancer. “I was going through a lot of personal stuff at the time that I didn’t deal with well and it really hit me very hard. It was so uncertain to know how her situation would progress,” she explains. “I ended up moving here because of that and I was at a crossroads of what to do.” She headed back to school, but freed from the daily work grind that had been part of her life since she was a teenager, she was able to dive deep into her creativity without distractions. “I was very much removed from what I have previously known and what I was previously doing,” she says. Her music took shape organically as she was adjusting to her new life.

“For me, music was always very intrinsic and I really loved it,” says Sofie, who playing violin at age four and is self-taught in piano. Being in Vienna allowed her to make music without the kind of “external influence” that existed in the cities where she was surrounded by her network of friends and colleagues. “I had the luxury of boredom that I think allowed that creation to be a possibility,” she says. “I don’t know if I would have written this record had I been anywhere else.”

Sofie kept in touch with Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf and sent him some demos. “At some point, after we were emailing each other back and forth, he said, you know you have enough here for a record, at least,” she says. They edited the collection down to the 12 songs that are on Cult Survivor. Sofie released her most recent video, a melancholy clip with a vintage feel, for the song “Guest” earlier this week; it follows previously-released videos for the songs, “Asleep,” “Truth of the Matter” and “99 Glimpses.”

When we spoke in late May, Sofie had been working on music and painting since March, when Vienna, like so many other cities, went into lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’ve been at home for the most that I’ve gotten to be home in a really long time, which has been really great,” she says. “I know a lot of fellow artists and musicians have been saying that this time to yourself has been so valuable and we don’t really have the opportunity to do that, so I feel very lucky that was able to happen in my life without big, further repercussions and that my family would be okay.”

Still, it took Sofie a long time – and an overseas move – to realize her potential as an artist. “I think it’s very hard when you work in the creative industry and you are creative,” Sofie says. “When I was younger, I thought that you had an infinite amount of creative energy or potential and ideas, but you really don’t.”

Follow Sofie on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Musique Boutique: Junkshop Britpop, Bessie Jones, and MORE

Welcome to Audiofemme’s new monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

It was the summer of 1995, and the cool kids were dancing to delicious pop treats by the likes of Elizabeth Bunny, Powder, and Velocette. Wait a minute — who? Don’t be surprised if those names don’t ring a bell. These artists didn’t really make much of a splash outside their native UK, where their record releases were mostly confined to singles. Which is what makes Super Sonics: 40 Junkshop Britpop Greats (RPM) such an enticing collection of undiscovered treats.

Britpop was the UK’s answer to grunge, trading in the melancholy wash of the latter for something that was bright, sparkly, and above all, British. It had the catchiness of British Invasion pop, the stylishness of glam, and the sarcasm of punk. “Junkshop” refers to another source of musical inspiration: thrift stores, where those in search of recordings off the beaten track could find all manner of oddities awaiting discovery in the record bins.

Mix it all together and who knows what’s going to come out? It’s how you got numbers like the swaggering “Rough Lover” by Posh, which has Pippa Brooks ticking off said lover’s attributes with caustic relish, set against a jagged, heavy rock beat. Or the giddy good fun of “Come out 2 Nite” by Kenickie, which has singer Lauren Laverne reaching out to encourage you to join in: “We don’t have time to be sad/Come out tonight, you’ve got to grab it/If you want to have it.” Or the power pop/new wave drive of Heavenly’s sweetly sarcastic “Trophy Girlfriend.”

It’s especially fascinating to see the musical cross currents in evidence. The vibrations of riot grrrl jumped the Atlantic and were picked up by Huggy Bear, and their fiery punk is perfectly distilled in “Her Jazz.” You can also hear echoes of UK new wavers the Au Pairs in the track, the same rawness and dissection of sexual politics, the kind of anthem that demands to be played loud. “This is the sound of a revolution,” Niki Elliott pronounces as she claims new territory for her generation: “This is happening without your permission/The arrival of a new renegade/Girl-boy hyper nation!” It’s exhilarating.

The revolutionary zeal of riot grrrl was later mainstreamed into the less anarchic “Girl Power” of the Spice Girls. But Super Sonics reveals that they weren’t the first group to capitalize on that phrase. That honor was left to Shampoo, a lively UK duo formed by Jacqui Blake and Carrie Askew when they were still in school. “Girl Power” (“We might look sweet, but we wanna be sour”) was in fact the title track of their third album, but Super Sonics features an earlier track, the boisterous “We Don’t Care.” It’s a kind of playground chant of defiance, that starts out deceptively quiet, then explodes into a whipsawing beat as Blake and Askew celebrate the excitement of being young and being alive.

And that’s not even mentioning the brooding pop of Linoleum (“Marquis”), Showgirls’ concise depiction of the pleasures and perils of a crush (“So Small”), or Bis’ edgy love letter to a heroine (“Keroleen”). There’s a raft of great stuff to explore here, so dig in.

Also out this month:

Mary Elizabeth “Bessie” Jones was born in 1902 in Georgia, and grew up surrounded by the sound of music. “The parents, they would give quiltings, and they would have songs they would sing while they were quilting … And we would have egg crackings and taffy pullings and we would hear all those things — riddleses and stories and different things.” She heard stories of the past from her step-grandfather, a former slave. Every member of her family sang or played an instrument, or both.

Jones eventually settled in St. Simons Island, Georgia, where she joined the Spiritual Singers of Coastal Georgia. In the early 1960s, noted ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax recorded Jones with the Spiritual Singers, and Get In Union (The Alan Lomax Archives/Assoc. for cultural Equity) features 60 of these profoundly moving songs.

The opening track, “Sheep, Don’t You Know the Road,” sets the tone. Jones takes the lead in this gentle call-and-response: “Don’t you know the road by the praying of the prayer?” “Yes Lord, I know the road.” It feels like a welcome, an invitation to come in and make yourself at home. The folk, spirituals, and gospel songs are mostly performed acapella, with the occasional handclap or guitar for accompaniment. It helps keep the spotlight Jones’ rich, warm vocals, and the impressive harmonies of the group, as in numbers like “You Better Mind” and “O Mary, Don’t You Weep.” There’s a fun 35-second ode to preparations for the next meal (“Gator”), and Jones shines in her solo numbers, “Got to Lie Down,” “Go Wash in That Beautiful Stream,” and “Diamond Joe” in particular. It’s uplifting music that feels especially suited to these troubled times.

This digital only release, available on Bandcamp, is an expanded version of the 2014 CD release of the same name, featuring previously unreleased material.

Megan, Rebecca, and Jessica got their start as the Lovell Sisters, who released two albums of country music bolstered by their great harmonies. After that group disbanded, Megan and Rebecca came together as Larkin Poe (named after their great-great-great-grandfather), and took things in a solidly rock direction, though a distinct Southern flavor remains (born in Georgia, the sisters are now based in Nashville).

Their latest, Self Made Man (Tricki-Woo Records), gets off to a rousing start with the title track (the title slightly amended to “She’s a Self Made Man”), a bold, hard rocker, that has Rebecca in full battle cry on lead vocals, and Megan making an equally searing contribution on lap steel guitar. And that’s just the start in this rollicking journey that’s drenched in Southern gothic rock, and steeped in the blues. Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Moves on the Water” is given a modern spin, now referencing other disasters as well as the Titanic, as in Johnson’s original; “Holy Ghost Fire” burns with a fraught intensity; the upbeat “Easy Street” looks ahead to better days with foot stomping optimism. Rebecca told AJC that the band’s songs were written specifically to work well in live performance. So you can look forward to some sizzling shows by Larkin Poe once live concerts make a welcome return to our lives.

Why It’s Time to Revisit 2000 Saint Etienne Album Sound of Water

Photo Credit: Rob Baker Ashton

Twenty years ago, Saint Etienne released Sound of Water. It was the fifth full-length album for the British trio of Sarah Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs and it was an ever-so-slight departure for a band that had spent the 1990s at the intersection of indie pop and dance music. On the jacket notes, music journalist Simon Reynolds wrote, “Saint Etienne understand that ‘lovely’ is the new edge.” At the time, the album was touted as a pop take on what was then happening in underground electronic music.

For Sound of Water, Saint Etienne collaborated with To Rococo Rot, the German band that had garnered its own following in the late ’90s for their post-rock-inflected electronic music. They also worked with Sean O’Hagan, of the bands Mircrodisney and The High Llamas, who had played on beloved Stereolab albums like Mars Audiac Quintet and Emperor Tomato Ketchup. With that line-up, Sound of Water was a very heady indie outing that would go on to foreshadow the emerging century in unexpected ways.

By the dawn of the 21st century, Saint Etienne was firmly established as a cult band. Stanley and Wiggs emerged in the early ’90s with “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” a radical transformation of the 1970 Neil Young song into a cover that was ethereal, groovy and representative of the era when rock, pop and rave lovingly collided. Originally conceived as a duo with rotating vocalists, Saint Etienne introduced Cracknell to the fold with their third single, “Nothing Can Stop Us” (Moira Lambert sang on “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”). As a trio, they would go on to create a body of work that often alternated between indie pop with a vintage vibe and contemporary dance music. They had their share of club hits, notably with “He’s On the Phone,” a collaboration with French singer Étienne Daho, and wooed the college radio crowd with their 1998 album Good Humor, released on beloved labels Creation in U.K. and Sub Pop in the U.S.

Saint Etienne was in the midst of a creative peak; the previous year, they had released the EP Places to Visit, which featured the wistful house track “We’re in the City,” known to indie film fans for its use in But I’m a Cheerleader. Just a few weeks after the release with Sound of Water, the band was featured on Paul van Dyk’s single, “Tell Me Why (The Riddle),” which remains their biggest international chart hit. With all that they had been doing, one might have expected for Saint Etienne to drop an album of dance floor bangers. Instead, they took time to hang out in the chill out room. It was a cool move from a band that had long been full of those.

Reviews, however, were mixed. Pitchfork said it was “ear-candy all the way through.” Meanwhile, AV Club remarked,” Saint Etienne has acknowledged a strong Krautrock influence on Sound Of Water, but it would be better off staying in touch with its inner ABBA rather than its inner Can.”

Even Stanley would have his own criticisms of the project. Nine years later, he reflected on the album in an interview with Pitchfork. “Coming into 2000, we were listening to a lot of electronica, some German and sort of West Coast electronica at the time, and we wanted to do something in that vein, production-wise,” he said in the interview, “And again, it could’ve done with a couple of things that sounded like singles.”

I loved Sound of Water upon its release and my vinyl copy has been a staple of at-home listening for many years. It’s an album best heard in its entirety, an eclectic collection that plays with everything from baroque pop (“Late Morning”) to bossa nova (“Boy Is Crying”) to IDM (“Don’t Back Down”), but always with a singular vision tying it together.

Even in the clubs, in those early years of the ’00s, I would drop “Heart Failed (In the Back of a Taxi),” perhaps the most accessible single from Sound of Water. Typically, I would play it early or late in the night. With a tight beat and melancholy atmosphere, that song lent itself to either warming up the indie crowd on the dance floor or calming people down near last call. In the middle of the night, though, I continued to gravitate towards “We’re in the City.” Listening to Sound of Water twenty years later, it’s striking to hear how the band seemingly predicted the avant-pop wave of artists, “vibey” DJ sets and “soft dance” playlists of the ’10s. It’s the band’s most prescient album and an essential one.

Timing is everything, and Sound of Water came out at a particularly odd moment. While 2000 was a stellar year for music, it’s also underrated. A small handful of albums – Madonna’s Music, Outkast’s Stankonia, Radiohead’s Kid A – would become instant classics. Other releases, like Peaches’ breakthrough album The Teaches of Peaches and Ladytron’s EP Commodore Rock, would cement the sound of the first decade of the new century. And some albums were so far ahead of the curve that it would take years to catch up with them. Sound of Water falls into that last category.

After a Decade in the Club, Dance Loud Celebrate Debut LP “The Moment”

Photo Credit: Belén Romero

Dance Loud’s The Moment has been more than ten years in the making. It’s what happens when an electronic duo whose career has been as energetic and careening as their namesake, has to pause — literally. Chicago-based artists Kristin Sanchez and Desereé Fawn Zimmerman were touring in 2017 when a semi rear ended their vehicle, landing the onstage collaborators and offstage couple in a month-long hospital stay. They’d spent a decade activating dance floors across the country with house beats layered with live music. But if life ended tomorrow, what would they leave behind? As they recovered, releasing an LP became their top priority.

On a phone call with Sanchez and Zimmerman, the women effuse positivity and laughter. It’s an interesting contrast to The Moment, which simmers with a melancholy optimism. The tracks feel meditative: field recordings of cyclical sounds like crickets, electronic drum rhythms that pump like heart beats, existential questions such as “are we as one?” repeated and stretched with echoes. Each song forces a range of emotions — anger and disappointment as much as excitement and longing — making The Moment a potent debut from two rising dance musicians.

Sanchez has been a house DJ since she was 18, and Zimmerman is a classically trained musician. They’re both multi-instrumentalists with audio degrees. Here’s what the pair had to say about the life and love that went into The Moment.

AF: There’s a lot of optimism and hope in how you talk and market yourselves, which seems at odds with the album’s darker qualities. Do you feel pressure to put a positive face forward? And if so, where does that come from?

KS: One thing we’ve learned [over time] is that you just have to figure out a way to be up. You have to program your brain to stop always thinking someone’s lying to you. You can’t be angry or hate all the time.

DZ: It doesn’t matter how good of a person you are. In someone’s story, you’ll eventually be the villain. I’m coming to terms with that. There’s always a reason people do the things they do and still sleep at night. Some of our brains get wired a certain way because of the culture we live in, but it doesn’t make them “bad.”

KS: For example, my mom grew up in a culture — she’s very homophobic. That’s really difficult for me, but I can’t hate my mom.

AF: I admire that you can put your mom’s attitude into context, but how do you find the energy for patience and compassion towards her? That seems like a heavy burden.

KS: I always say it took my mom about eight years to stop crying about me not being her dream child. She’s still slightly in denial [about my sexuality], but I was born in 1984. In high school, I would sneak out and hit the gay club scene [in Chicago]. I would do this nightly because I just had to escape. I stopped going to school. I’d only come home during the day because that’s when my parents weren’t there. We were in a cold war.

They took my car battery, so I went to the South Side and got my own battery. They’d hide my car, and I’d go rollerblading to find it. Then they put a club on my steering wheel. I tried to drive it with the club on while my parents chased me down the street. They were like, “Are you on drugs? Are you in trouble with the law?” But I knew my mom knew. She knew. She just wouldn’t say it. And finally I was like, “Mom, I’m GAY!” Once I said that, they took off the club and just let me go.

DZ: I’m from a small town, and I had to move to Chicago because I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to be myself in this town. I was going to be outcast and treated poorly if I had come out of the closet there. When I was finally in a relationship and I told my mom, she was like, “Oh, just don’t tell anyone.” I don’t think she understood that that’s much more hurtful. There were points when I wanted commit suicide because I knew I couldn’t change it. I thought, I have to learn to love myself or I’m going to commit suicide.

We’ve both come to terms with our parents. I think deep down, our parents still wish we were straight, but now I’m to the point where I’m like, I love myself, and I believe I’m a good person. If you think me being gay makes me a bad person, that’s a burden you’re carrying. I’m not.

AF: That’s a great attitude. It seems like you’re both spiritual people, and that really comes through on the record. Can you expand on where that comes from?

DZ: Well, my mom’s side was Pentecostal, my dad’s side was Mormon. I got in trouble in high school and got sent to Baptist private school. I’ve had a fair share of religion and realized it wasn’t for me. But I’m very spiritual person. I believe in balancing with the earth and not taking more than you need, so I think that that’s an underlying tone [to our music].

There’s a quote by [Nikola] Tesla: “If you wish to understand the Universe, think of energy, frequency and vibration.” Just being in audio, we have a really good understanding of how deep this rock can really be. There are octaves unknown. You can’t [hear them] with our human bodies. Imagine this whole universe has so many more octaves we have to learn about.

KS: A good example of this is sympathetic frequencies. Take two tuning forks that are tuned to the same number. If you strike one tuning fork, the second fork will start to resonate. But if you tune the forks slightly differently, you start to create a beat and a wobble. I think as humans, when we find people on our frequency range, we start to resonate from each other. We’re vibrational creatures, and even our thoughts carry frequency. People who are sensitive to frequency are empaths. You know, they just feel the vibrations of someone else.

DZ: Growing up, my parents were metalheads. I got really into jazz on my own, and I loved gospel drummers, but I realized that I just really loved high tempo [music]. It was more fun. And when I was introduced to electronic and house music — oh, wow! There’s a quote [by Eddie Amador]: “Not everyone understands house music. It’s a spiritual thing, a body thing, a soul thing.”

AF: In what ways does being a couple help your music? And how do your disparate musical backgrounds complement one another?

KS: We have, like, silent designated duties. Living together, working together, doing everything together — we just know what one another is really good at. Desereé’s really funny, and she’s really good with tone. She’s got years of playing the guitar, and she’s great at trying new techniques. I’m really into drum machines and synthesizers and anything electrical happening with the sound. I usually take care of a lot of the production processing.

DZ: I think, if Kristin created music on her own — she’s very happy-go-lucky person. I think her music would come out very happy. And I feel the world. I have a lot of feeling. I’m a Cancer, she’s a Gemini.

KS: But I have a secret sad side no one knows about! [laughs] I kept trying to add cello to the record.

DZ: There’s definitely an underlying tone of emotion Kristin adds.

KS: But I grew up with almost no music in my life. All we had was a karaoke machine. I had a Michael Jackson CD and a Toni Braxton CD, and that was it. I got exposed to pop music later, but I didn’t try an instrument until I was older.

DZ: When I got sent to that Southern Baptist High School for being a troubled kid — like, not accepting myself and not caring if I lived or died — you couldn’t listen to music there. That was really hard for me. I went there with a guitar, and my art teacher — she was so sweet. She let me transcribe literally hundreds and hundreds of hundreds of pages of tablature so I could play the music I wanted to hear. And I realized that there was a very specific feeling to a lot of music [I was] playing. Just very melodic music with tones that make you feel. Kristin loved pop music growing up, but I wasn’t a big fan of pop music. So I kind of feel like you never fully stray from your roots, and we combine really different things in the studio. It hurts us a little because Spotify doesn’t know how to categorize us. We’re not just one genre. But I always think about it like Thelonious Monk. He put his foot down and said, “No, I’m not going to play the jazz you want me to play! In time, the world will catch up!” And it did.

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Colbie Caillat Goes Country with Gone West, on Their Expansive Debut ‘Canyons’

Country’s musical threads have long been tattered, torn, and intertwined. The vastness of the genre ─ from bluesy front porch pickin’ to the pristine pop-country of Patsy Cline and Eddy Arnold to today’s hip-hop filtered stride ─ relies heavily on its music-makers and a willingness to remember the past but push the needle forward. It can often seem as if mainstream radio has largely ignored its own roots, but there remains great traditional commitment on, and off, the airwaves.

Rising four-piece Gone West ─ an effort forged by Grammy winner Colbie Caillat, Justin Young, Jason Reeves, and Nelly Joy ─ call upon an array of styles, approaches, and aesthetics for their debut album. Canyons operates as a canopy of the format’s expansive countryside, switching among dusty C&W, glistening pop-framed sweeteners, and electrifying rock-fueled anthems. They never seem to lose their way, simply darting from one song to another, adding on thick harmony work you’d find on any Carter Family or Little Big Town record.

Their eponymous song cracks open the record, spinning out with dream-seeking ambitions, as they learn to let the past go and carve their own path. “I’ve gone west, rollin’ down the highway like a tumbleweed,” the lyrics keep time with the rhythmic pulse coursing in their veins. “I’ve gone west, where the canyons fall into the deep blue sea.”

Immediately, there is an invigoration and life-confirming thrill motoring throughout the entire 13-track release. Their first Top 30 radio hit, “What Could’ve Been,” is sorrow-baked, a gripping tune in which they reminisce about a former lover whose memory falls through their hands like water. “I haven’t stopped thinking about you / Has it really been this long?,” ponders Caillat, her silky voice draping over the melody. Only scorched earth remains between the two lovers, and drenched in unbridled passion, even now, the imagery they paint bubbles up in vivid, sharp colors with the chorus: “We left blood on the tracks / Sweat on the saddle / Fire in the hills / A bullet in the barrel,” the four croon together. “Words never said in a story that didn’t end / Looks like you’re on the mend and I’m on the bottle.”

It’s quintessential pop-country, dancing between sunny rays of throwback style and contemporary flair, and the quartet ride that musical saddle start to finish. “When to Say Goodbye” slides into a similar emotional side-pocket, shades of melancholy casting a heartfelt shadow, and it is their vocal framework that is most striking. “I don’t wanna leave / I don’t wanna stay / I don’t wanna keep saying the things we don’t wanna say… truth or lie,” their ache is irresistible.

“I’m Never Getting Over You” skips across a piano base, allowing Caillat’s lead vocal to break your heart again and again and again. Reeves takes the reigns in select moments, Joy and Young heaving with some absolutely stunning harmonies that’ll leave you breathless. “I can’t stop you from leaving / And you can’t stop me from loving you” is the kind of admission you don’t want to hear, but it’ll eventually be for the better. Crashing and burning is never easy in the moment, but time, and the slow climb out, leads to transformation.

An airy, acoustic arrangement, “This Time” is perhaps the crown jewel, a performance both exquisite and draining. “Oh I’m gonna stop right now and call my momma this time / Gonna take a sick day when I’m feeling great,” they sing, their words a reminder that time is a relentless force in our lives, but in relinquishing some control, we can learn to cherish the small moments before it’s too late and it all becomes nothing more regret. “I’ll keep my coffee black and sip my whiskey honest / Hold on to hope, and let go of the hate,” they continue. They unravel their heartstrings with clarity, the frays part of the journey, and its reminder to love and live life could not have had better timing. “Life and love don’t age like fine wine / There’s no time to wait to taste the sweetest vine.”

Gone West’s Canyons zip-lines over other emotional focal points (“Gamblin’ Town,” “Home is Where the Heartbreak Is”) and radio-charged ear-candy (“Slow Down,” “Confetti,” “R&R”). With a collection of producers, including Jamie Kennedy, Jimmy Robbins, Eric Arjes, Nathan Chapman, and Alysa Vanderheym, as well as themselves, the band plant their flag firmly in the modern conversation. Their foundation is so clearly nurtured that when they do veer into fluffy, feel good territory, they’ve more than earned that right. They are here to stay.

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