Singer-songwriter Eva Tolkin never imagined she would have a career as a musician. She was working in fashion when she met Solange Knowles and auditioned as a last-minute whim for work as a back-up singer, only to exceed expectations and ultimately get the gig. And after Solange’s Truetour cycle wrapped, Tolkin went on to book tours with Blood Orange, Robyn, Lykke Li, and Charli XCX. The unlikeliness of it all inspired her to keep going, booking more tours and beginning to write her own songs.
“I feel like I didn’t even realize I was writing music. I was writing poetry, and coming up with little melodies, but it was when I got into the music industry that I fully realized what was possible,” she explains. “I think up until that point it never even occurred to me to follow through with any of these songs I had written. And so in a lot of ways, my music is very influenced by the artists I worked with, just by proximity and being inspired by them.”
By 2017 she was releasing her own singles, followed by her debut EP Truthfully in 2019. Though the pandemic halted touring, it gave Tolkin a chance to truly find her voice as a songwriter – an unexpected result of pandemic isolation. “I was used to touring constantly and never really gave myself the time to focus and dive into my own music and what I want to write about,” she says. “‘Weak as Water’ was the first song I wrote when touring was canceled last year, so it was more personal and thoughtful than some of my previous releases.”
“Weak as Water” appears on her brand new solo EP City and Sky, out last week. In many ways, it’s the culmination of years of refining her musical talents and finding the confidence to write and record her own music. The seven-song EP travels between sparse, melancholy acoustic tracks carried by Tolkin’s vocal prowess and more upbeat pop-inspired songs. The shifts in mood weren’t necessarily intentional – the pop-based songs were largely written pre-pandemic, while shutdown gave her the mental space to grow creatively and explore more personal themes. She says that it should be easy for listeners to identify the pre- and post-pandemic songs. Compare, for instance, the quiet introspection of “Weak as Water” with “Is It Love,” an upbeat track that sparkles with early-aughts radio pop vibes, all the way down to the clapping effects tucked into the beat.
Tolkin had never played an instrument until this year. The cancelation of tours offered her the opportunity to sit down and learn the guitar, which ultimately contributed to this shift in sound. With that comes the uncertainty of endless potential; she didn’t expect any of this to play out the way that it has, so who’s to say what comes next? “It’s really just evolving all the time and I don’t even know, I feel like the next thing I do, next year or whatever, could be a different vibe,” she says. “I’m really just exploring right now. I kind of feel like I’m starting from scratch.”
This creative freedom is not without flaw, though, as Tolkin deals with the same type of existential dread many have faced with the loss of routine. “I have days when I feel like I’m forcing myself to do it. There’s just been so much time over the last year, because I have been completely out of work,” she admits. “There are some days that are very creative and fulfilling [but] I still have days where I feel like a total waste case, that I’m not doing anything.”
In the end, it’s all an exercise in patience, and Tolkin is a poster child for trusting the process, in that her commitment to listening to her heart has worked out in so many ways and taken her life to so many unexpected places. None of the artists she works with had announced shows as of the last time we spoke, but even after they do, she plans to “continue learning,” she says. “There’s so much more now that I’ve opened this whole new can of worms.”
The success Eva Tolkin won with a last-minute Solange audition years ago was formative in that way, a lesson she still carries with her to this day: “Saying yes to opportunities, going for things even if you feel like there’s no shot, that’s something that’s carried through and opened so many doors,” she says. “That one decision to go through with the audition has really changed my life forever.”
Let us all carry this wisdom into our new, uncertain present moment. Listen to your heart, follow the hunch – you never know where it may take you.
Follow Eva Tolkin on Instagram for ongoing updates.
Shelley Thomas composes and produces lush orchestral arrangements that she has dubbed “world chamber pop.” She has figuratively and physically gone around the world with her compositions, traveling to 17 countries and studied with over 40 music teachers that have influenced her style that melds Balkan, Arabic, Hindustani, African, and classical music. She can sing in 15 different languages and plays the oud, which is like a short scale pear shaped lute that has been used in Middle Eastern, North African and Central Asia for thousands of years.
Shelley’s latest single release, “Mirror,” guides you through a sonic journey to the beautifully haunted side of yourself. Her vocal harmonization traps you in a trance that eventually leads towards acceptance and healing. If that isn’t enough to meditate on, her recent video for “Cancer Moon” captures her immense live band while boiling down all the intense emotions the moons of this past summer have ushered in. The next chance you’ll have to catch Shelley making her world music magic is September 25th at 1pm via YouTube. She also does a livestream from her Patreon on the last Friday of every month. We chatted with Shelley about the transformative power of music, what rituals inspire her and shaman drums.
AF: What got you into the oud, qanun and composing world orchestral music?
ST: I grew up with a classical pianist mother, and took dance, piano, voice and guitar lessons as a youth. I studied World Music Performance at CalArts (BFA ’08), where I had a six-piece band called Blue Lady I wrote songs for. I got into Arabic music shortly thereafter via a vocal class. I fell in love with the style, and picked up the oud a few years later to accompany myself while singing Arabic music. Then another few years later, I felt inspired to start composing again after years of only singing traditional music – but with a bigger vision, for more instruments, including strings and qanun, because I love the delicate and emotive textures. After many years of absorbing and learning from masters, the music started pouring out of my mind. And that’s the album I’m working on now. I’ve always felt that music is the soundtrack to my life, and enjoyed profound journeys and transformations through listening. I hope to give listeners such an experience.
AF: Can you tell us some stories about some of the countries you’ve traveled to and music teachers you’ve worked with?
ST: Two of my incredible vocal teachers were Rima Kcheich and Ghada Shbeir, whom I studied with in Lebanon and also at Simon Shaheen’s Arabic Music Retreat in Massachusetts. Rima taught me to pay attention to the details and sing maqam, and Ghada taught me to improvise and add different vocal timbres to my toolbox. Simon himself teaches me passion, discipline, and affirms music as my greatest love. I spent about six months in Lebanon and loved the culture, nature, and its music especially. I also studied Manned drumming from Guinea with Jebebara ensemble there.
My mentor at CalArts was Alfred Ladzekpo, a Ghanaian chief and master drummer. I was obsessed with Ewe drumming, and my friends and I spent all of our free time playing and learning those rhythmic compositions. He taught us to know when we’re “OFF!” While at CalArts, I also studied Bulgarian choral music with Kate Conklin, and Hindustani music with Swapan Chaudhuri and Aashish Khan. Aashishji said, “You can’t sing both rock and Raga.”
I’ve traveled to Morocco several times, also toured with Vlada Tomova’s Bulgarian Voices Trio in Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and Russia. I’ve studied Fado singing in Lisbon, Portugal, and Bulgarian Folk Singing at Plovdiv Academy of Folk Music. I sang with Petrana Kucheva, a fantastic vocalist and mentor whom I met there, for a few years. I’ve toured with Black Sea Hotel in the states, Sweden and Denmark and performed at Emirates Palace in UAE with Mayssa Karaa. I’ve been to Turkey, where I witnessed Ottoman music in the otherworldly cave-chimneys of Cappadocia, and Oman, where I saw an exquisite concert of Amal Maher singing Oum Kalthoum at Muscat Opera House. I’ve studied oud with Charbel Rouhana, Wassim Odeh, George Ziadeh, and Bassam Saba, a dear mentor and Artistic Director of the NY Arabic Orchestra. Bassam has taught me style, taste, humbleness and soul.
AF: What’s it like learning to perform a song in a language you aren’t fluent in? What language do you enjoy singing in the most?
ST: It’s a fun challenge. Language lights up my brain. Just as an opera singer learns to sing European art songs well, I study and dedicate to the linguistic nuances the same way. I’d say it’s 80% listening, and 20% translating that into your body. I watch old-timey videos of singers and study the shapes of their mouths. I had a fantastic Arabic diction teacher, Dr. Iman Roushdy-Hammady. I’ve dedicated a lot of time to Arabic and Bulgarian singing, but I am now enjoying the most singing my own songs in English. You have to learn to lighten up, let go of perfectionism, and not take yourself so seriously. It’s okay to make mistakes! At the end of the day it’s about following your heart to what’s interesting, and joyful expression through music and cross-cultural understanding.
AF: What types of symbolism and ritual inspire your music?
ST: I love psychology and Jungian symbolism of the shadow and the divine child archetype, also expressed by Carolyn Myss. I love the artwork of Alex Grey, which portrays us as multidimensional beings, and I’ve performed in his sacred space at CoSM. I’m fascinated by many rituals around the world, from Amazonian ayahuasca healings and their beautiful icaros songs, to the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, to West African dance drumming, to Episcopal church services with epic organ arrangements, incense and flags, to sound baths and crystal energy healings. Drumming is very important to me and I maintain a strong rhythmic element to my music. Drums and shakers, in particular, have been used in healing rituals since ancient times. When I’m around drums, I can hear them speak, and feel them cleansing my body and shaking energy up inside. Also language, poetry, and the power of the spoken word, with sound and intention, is an important element of ritual. Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way is my anchor, and I write morning pages regularly. Essentially, I’m interested in the all ways humans have created meaning, healing and transformation, and connect to higher realms through music and sound.
AF: What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen this month?
ST: The most inspiring thing I’ve seen this month is the sun setting over the ocean, and the sea’s iridescent colors of dusk; the way they work together to create something more beautiful than they could be individually.
AF: What would you want listeners to take away from your latest release?
ST: “Mirror” is specifically about shadow work and integration of all parts of yourself into one loving whole. The more we can accept and understand ourselves, the more we can begin to accept and understand others. Transformation begins from within, and it takes time, patience, and humility. The way forward to a better world, in my vision, is with greater compassion, sensitivity, and this knowledge of self, which can be catalyzed by music. So we can become less violent and reactionary, and more inspired, loving and proactive. We are creative beings, meant to create, meant to shine, and meant to enjoy life, not just to suffer. We can heal, we can let go of our old stories. We can become friends with ourselves and create a life we don’t need to escape from. It’s up to us to choose joy in each moment, to make the best of our current situation and find a positive way forward, and to choose to be willing to move towards this healing with honesty. When we make this choice individually and then come together, with all of our gifts and solutions and ideas, that is the power of community. Then, we can truly live and flourish in harmony, and fulfill our potential.
AF: What is your livestream set-up like?
ST: I use the streaming platform Stage Ten, link it to my Youtube Live, and press go. I have a BOSS RC-300 loop station that I improvise with and program vocals into with some beats. I have a Shure Beta-58 microphone, my oud with pickup mic attached, and various percussion like shaker, frame drums, and riq, which I layer with the looper. I have a Fishmann Loudbox Mini amp, so I plug 1/4’ cables from my loop station into that. I plug the mic and oud directly into the loop station.
AF: What are your plans for 2020 and beyond?
ST: I am in pre-production for recording my first full album of original music with a ten-piece microtonal chamber ensemble! I’m finishing the scores, arrangements, and parts in Sibelius, and planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign to support this work. First I’ll record and make a music video for my next single, “Dreamtime.” Once the world opens up again, I’ll be touring a lot with this ensemble.
My ultimate goal is to open an artist retreat & performance center with music and photo/video production studios. This space will be available to artists from around the world from all socio-economic backgrounds to come and create the art that’s meant to be made through them, in a supportive, inspiring, and unpretentious atmosphere.
RSVP HERE for Shelley Thomas livestream via YouTube at 1pm ET. To pre-order the upcoming album, email email@example.com.
More great livestreams this week…
9/25 Langhorne Slim, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Mt. Joy & More via Philly Music Fest. 7pm ET, RSVP HERE
It’s been a long time since music videos have aired on television, but as the popularity of YouTube soars among a generation who doesn’t even remember what MTV used to be, artists are now approaching the medium with a new creative fervor. As you’ll note from this list, by and large we’re seeing women and people of color taking advantage of visuals set to their work as a means of bridging cultural gaps, making grand political statements, and finding more immediate ways to relate to their audiences. The following picks re-examine everything from female sexuality to black identity to gun violence, and while many of these songs stand on their own, it is the videos that take their messages to the next level, adding new layers of meaning and, in a time when we are seemingly inundated with media to consume, forcing viewers to truly pay attention.
Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
In an intense four minutes and a single long take, this eerie, graphic video sums up the atrocities of systemic racism and gun violence in American society. Donald Glover – who has made a name for himself as an actor as well as via his rap moniker Childish Gambino – weaves a narrative that’s hard to ignore, using traditional African dances and minstrel expressions meant to entertain and critique the viewer’s gaze all at once. This may have been the most important video of the year, forcing people to have hard-to-stomach conversations and analyze the subtext of the clip, all over a catchy trap-influenced song that hit the Billboard charts despite its radical content.
Tierra Whack – Whack World
Whack World is surely the best depiction of the millennial mind in motion. Tierra Whack was first recognized for her “Mumbo Jumbo” video, and immediately doubled down to create this fifteen-minute “visual album.” Her quirky aesthetic is set to an eclectic flow, and poignant lyrics make her a singular force in the hip-hop sphere and put her on the map. The video follows Whack through a variety of different worlds, each one surreal and bizarre, but simultaneously illuminating a feeling and emotional landscape the lyrics work to connect with. Mimicking the lightning pace of our scrolling, tumbling, social media comsumption, Whack World managed to get everyone’s attention, even in a time when attention spans seem to be growing smaller.
Janelle Monáe – “Django Jane”
Janelle Monáe had a phenomenal 2018. Coming out to her fans and community, releasing a major hit album, going on a global tour, and sharing vulnerable, introspective work that was followed by critical praise, Monáe has pretty much been living the dream. While all the videos from this year’s Dirty Computer album cycle are praiseworthy in their own right – we’ll never get the vagina pants from “PYNK” out of our minds – “Django Jane” is a nod to her hip-hop predecessors. Hearkening back to the heyday of Biggie Smalls and Lil’ Kim, the video has the feel of a ’90s-era rap video. This time around, it’s Monáe who sits squarely on the throne of her Queendom.
Blood Orange – “Charcoal Baby”
Five of the tracks on Blood Orange’s new album Negro Swan start off with the voice of writer and activist Janet Mock. Her voice weaves a line through the album that carries small doses of wisdom into the songs themselves, seeming spontaneous, but too polished to not have been chosen on purpose. “Charcoal Baby,” one of the first videos released from Dev Hynes’ phenomenal concept album, starts with Mock talking about the concept of family: “I think of family as community. Just show up as you are without judgement, without ridicule, without fear or violence… We get to choose our families, we are not limited by biology.” The words are a perfect segue into the video, a split-screen depiction of two different families mirroring very similar lives. It’s a thoughtful, positive meditation on black identity, and what it feels like to be at home and at peace with those you choose to surround yourself with.
Kendrick Lamar feat. SZA – “All The Stars”
Linked to one of this year’s most enthralling and groundbreaking films, Black Panther, the video for “All The Stars” creates an equally beautiful backdrop for the soundtrack’s lead single. Both Kendrick Lamar and SZA have proven to be unstoppable forces in the musical world, capping off a very successful 2017 with this early 2018 release. Cinematic in its own right, this video plays almost like a short film, its rich visual cues a nod to diasporic African culture, through a lens of cosmic chaos. The video was not released without controversy, though – British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor accused the Black Panther team of copyright infringement, claiming that the gold patternwork that appears roughly three minutes into the clip looks suspiciously like her Constellations paintings; the official lawsuit was settled just last week.
King Princess – “Pussy Is God”
King Princess is the queer idol we’ve all been waiting for, and if “Pussy is God,” then we can all thank pussy that she’s finally arrived. Though she released her five-song EP Make My Bed before she had even turned 20, Mikaela Straus has a top-notch team behind her insuring her success, including producer Mark Ronson, who signed her his Zelig Records imprint, and her creative director, Clare Gillen, who has consistently done a fantastic job styling the up-and-coming artist’s cheeky, ironic, and stylistically iconic videos. “Pussy Is God” is a fun ’90s throwback to what any of us might have done in our bedrooms as adolescents had we been given green screen technology, but it is Straus’s dreamy stare and unabashed celebration of her queerness that makes it so essential.
Sudan Archives – “Nont For Sale”
Watching a Sudan Archives video is often times like falling into another world – and make no mistake, that world that belongs to the Los Angeles-based violinist/vocalist at the helm of this project, Brittney Parks. Self-directed with help from Ross Harris, Parks put out Sink, her second EP for Stones Throw, this year, and its lead single is an ode to unapologetic existence: “This is my light, don’t block the sun/This is my seat, can’t you tell?/This is my time don’t waste it up/This is my land, not for sale.” Still, the video is a welcoming melange of vivid hues and surrealistic impressions of Black culture, always portrayed with parks at the center of the narrative – just where she wants to be. Luckily, she’s invited us along for the ride.
Nao – “Make It Out Alive”
Nao’s latest album Saturn is all about the Saturn return – that period in a person’s late twenties that signifies astrologically-driven upheaval. “Make It Out Alive” is a song geared towards the strength and conviction it takes to steer through this tumultuous time and find yourself on the other side, for better or worse, and begin to rebuild everything from the rubble. That bleakness is reflected in the song’s video, with its desolate landscapes, dilapidated lots, and the anxiety and anticipation of being stuck in a nondescript waiting room. But the song’s lyrics – and Nao’s lilting falsetto – are bracing. The singer takes stock of her preparedness for the fight, and her resolve is her best weapon. If there’s ever a time we needed a song that helps us keep going when the going is tough, 2018 was it.
Okay Kaya – “IUD”
Singer-songwriter Kaya Wilkins created an ongoing narrative in a series of videos she released earlier this year with filmmaker Adinah Dancyger. Both “IUD” and “Dance Like U” tell the story of a woman who has created an alter ego out of her trauma. While the latter sees her come to a resolution with the doppelgänger, “IUD” hinges on tensions – Kaya either ignores the alter ego or engages with it in a kind of defenseless way – watching it from a distance, dragging it around in her wake. These videos were a perfect introduction to the Norwegian-born artists, whose brand of pop favors both minimalism and biting wit on her debut album Both.
Alice Phoebe Lou – “Something Holy”
Berlin street musician turned independent European musical sensation recently released her first single “Something Holy” from her upcoming album, Paper Castles. The frayed edges of her busker’s past have been cleaned up as she polishes her sound, and allows her lyrics to shine through like never before. “Something Holy” is a song about feminine sexuality, and being treated like a holy being – a theme we saw cropping up this year in the mainstream thanks to artists like Ariana Grande. But these lyrics speak to her desire to be held, not lusted over, the sumptuous visuals bursting with random blips of animation, pastoral vignettes, romantic candlelight and often Phoebe Alice Lou’s challenging gaze, daring us to follow her on her sensual journey.
Here we are again! As the new year approaches, it’s time to look back and take stock of the albums and singles that defined this moment in music history. 2018 was an eclectic year, to say the least, and there are a lot of new names on the list: Tirzah, Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, Noname, King Princess, and Kali Uchis all had phenomenal debuts this year, not to mention the inimitable Cardi B, who made good on the promise of last year’s smash hit “Bodak Yellow” with Invasion of Privacy in April. There were established artists who still managed to surprise us, whether in the form of unearthed Prince demos, The Arctic Monkeys’ loungey sci-fi concept album, Tim Hecker introducing us to ancient Japanese court music, Dev Hynes making his most personal Blood Orange record yet, or Lil Wayne finally dropping Tha Carter V. And then there are those artists who fall somewhere in between, their ascendant careers a thrill to watch as 2018 saw them finally hit their stride. US Girls. Yves Tumor. serpentwithfeet. And perhaps most spectacularly, Mitski and Janelle Monáe.
As each of our writers (and editors, too) created their own mini-lists, those were two names that kept cropping up, and there’s no doubt you’ve seen them on just about every year-end list on the interwebs. If there’s any chance you haven’t heard Be The Cowboy or Dirty Computer, by all means, fire up that Spotify Premium post haste. But the recommendations here are as diverse as our writers themselves, so we hope you’ll take time to explore some of the lesser-known, hardly hyped artists we’ve highlighted, too – and keep your eyes peeled for more year-end coverage as we cruise in to 2019.
Marianne White (Executive Director)
Top 10 Albums:
1) boygenuis – boygenius
2) Soccer Mommy – Clean
3) Nenah Cherry – Broken Politics
4) Mitski – Be the Cowboy
5) serpentwithfeet – soil
6) CupcakKE – Ephorize
7) Blood Orange – Negro Swan
8) Autechre – NTS Sessions 1-4
9) Snail Mail – Lush
10) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy Top 5 Singles:
1) Let’s Eat Grandma – “Hot Pink”
2) Jon Hopkins – “Emerald Rush”
3) The Internet – “Look What You Started”
4) Cardi B, Bad Bunny, J Balvin – “I Like It”
5) boygenius – “Bite The Hand”
Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)
Top 10 Albums:
1) Low – Double Negative
2) US Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
3) Madeline Kenney – Perfect Shapes
4) Yves Tumor – Safe In The Hands of Love
5) DJ Koze – Knock Knock
6) Caroline Rose – Loner
7) Tim Hecker – Konoyo
8) Virginia Wing – Ecstatic Arrow
9) Frigs – Basic Behaviour
10) bedbug – i’ll count to heaven in years without seasons Top 10 Singles:
1) Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
2) Loma – “Black Willow”
3) The Breeders – “All Nerve”
4) SOPHIE – “Is It Cold In The Water?”
5) Jonathan Wilson – “Loving You”
6) Empath – “The Eye”
7) Sibile Attar – “Paloma”
8) Jono Ma & Dreems – “Can’t Stop My Dreaming (Of You)”
9) Shopping – “Discover”
10) Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – “Dunce”
Mandy Brownholtz (Social Media)
Top 5 Albums:
1) Miserable – Lover Boy/Dog Days
2) Snail Mail – Lush
3) Mitski – Be The Cowboy
4) Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.
5) Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer Top 3 Singles:
1) Nothing – “Blue Line Baby”
2) Hinds – “The Club”
3) Mitski – “Nobody”
Lauren Zambri (Events)
Top 5 Albums:
1) Amen Dunes – Freedom
2) US Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
3) Beach House – 7
4) Iceage – Beyondless
5) Tirzah – Devotion Top 5 Singles:
1) Jenny Hval – “Spells”
2) US Girls – “Velvet 4 Sale”
3) Yves Tumor – “Licking An Orchid”
4) Amen Dunes – “Believe”
5) Low – “Always Trying to Work it Out”
Top 5 Albums:
1) Alice Ivy – I’m Dreaming
2) Sudan Archives – Sink
3) Marlon Williams – Make Way For Love
4) Earth Girl Helen Brown – Venus
5) Rüfüs Du Sol – Solace Top 3 Singles:
1) Rhye – “Taste”
2) Alice Ivy – “Chasing Stars”
3) Sudan Archives – “Nont For Sale”
Top 5 Albums:
1) DRINKS – Hippo Lite
2) Shannon & the Clams – Onion
3) Lost Boy ? – Paranoid Fiction
4) Prince – Piano & a Microphone 1983
5) Sloppy Jane – Willow Top 3 Singles:
1) Public Practice – “Fate/Glory”
2) The Nude Party – “Chevrolet Van”
3) Big Bliss – “Surface”
Top 10 Releases Out of the Brooklyn DIY Scene (in Chronological Order):
1) THICK — Would You Rather? (Self-Released)
2) BODEGA — Endless Scroll (What’s Your Rupture?)
3) Baked — II (Exploding In Sound)
4) Pecas — After Dark (Broken Circles)
5) Big Bliss – At Middle Distance (Exit Stencil Recordings)
6) Kevin Hairs — Freak In The Streets (GP Stripes)
7) PILL – Soft Hell (Mexican Summer)
8) Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend (Exploding In Sound)
9) Lost Boy ? – Paranoid Fiction (Little Dickman Records/ Rich Moms)
10) Janet LaBelle – I Only See You (Loantaka Records)
Top 5 Albums:
1) The Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
2) The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
3) Charles Bradley – Black Velvet
4) Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You
5) Jack White – Boarding House Reach Top 3 Singles:
1) The Raconteurs – “Now That You’re Gone”
2) Mac Miller – “2009”
3) Dead Naked Hippies – “Rare”
Top 5 Albums:
1) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
2) Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V
3) J. Cole – KOD
4) Preme – Light of Day
5) Jazz Cartier – Fleurever Top 3 Singles:
1) Lil Wayne feat. Reginae Carter – “Famous”
2) Cardi B – “Thru Your Phone”
3) J. Cole – “Brackets”
Top 5 Albums:
1) Noname – Room 25
2) Flatbush Zombies – Vacation In Hell
3) Mountain Man – Magic Ship
4) Lucy Dacus – Historian
5) Nao – Saturn Top 3 Singles:
1) Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
2) Twin Shadow – “Saturdays”
3) Sudan Archives – “Nont For Sale”
Erin Rose O’Brien
Top 5 Albums:
1) Mitski — Be The Cowboy
2) Antarctigo Vespucci — Love in the Time of E-mail
3) Car Seat Headrest — Twin Fantasy
4) Soccer Mommy — Clean
5) Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer Top 3 Singles:
1) Bad Moves — “Cool Generator”
2) The Beths — “Future Me Hates Me”
3) Miya Folick — “Stop Talking”
Top 5 Albums:
1) Mitski – Be The Cowboy
2) Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
3) Brockhampton – Iridescence
4) Soccer Mommy – Clean
5) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy Top 3 Singles:
1) King Princess – “1950”
2) Childish Gambino – “This is America”
3) Pusha T – “If You Know You Know”
Starting with a slam poem and full of choreographed dancing, Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes may have figured out a great recipe for directing a captivating music video with his clip for “Better than Me.”
Its poem accompaniment (Ashlee Haze’s “For Colored Girls [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][The Missy Elliot Poem]”) immediately brings up the bitterness of envy and the insecurity that often follows. The dancers, led by Hynes, are lost in their world – and if, like me, you’re a sucker for great choreography, then you’re probably equally immersed. The tinkling synths and rushed, whispery vocals from Hynes and featured artist Carly Rae Jepsen give it an ominous backing reflected by the warehouse dance scene.
“Better than Me” comes from Blood Orange’s latest album Freetown Sound, which dropped at the end of June.
From elaborate roll-outs to surprise releases, 2013 was a banner year for comebacks, break-outs, break-ups, and overnight sensations. The fact that the most oblique content could cause rampant controversy to reverberate through the blogosphere turned every song into a story and made every story seem epic. At the heart of it all are the sounds that defined this particular calendar year, from electronic pop to punk rock to hip-hop to hardcore and everything in between.
For some, 2011 was just a year where seemingly every other girl/gay man in Brooklyn decided to shave a random swath of hair down to the scalp. But for me, it was a collection of moments that have inspired me to whole-heartedly evaluate the way I experience music and actually make something out of my passion.
My meditations on this began out of a repugnance for getting older. I had tickets to see Washed Out with openers Blood Orange and Grimes, but the night of the show, a Monday, everyone bowed out, citing the old “have to be up early for work” excuse. It dawned on me that while I was still serving tacos in a tiny Mexican restaurant, these people, my friends, had careers, and that these careers were so important that they could not waste hours of sleep to see a once-in-a-lifetime lineup play to a packed house, everyone with dancing shoes on. I wrangled a friend who, like myself, had few daytime responsibilities, or at the very least could handle being a bit sleepy the next day. We had a phenomenal time, but even so I was bummed. Was I somehow immature or unaccomplished because I enjoyed this sort of thing? On Thursday, aheart-to-heart with a friend who had bailed resulted in the followingconclusion: the two of us were at different places in our lives, andapparently I was not the adult.
The thing is, it didn’t really matterto me. If being an adult meant forgoing unexpected Bastille Dayfireworks over the Hudson after a free tUnE-yArDs performance so thatI could efficiently alphabetize files in a cubicle for a steadypaycheck, then I was content to sling salsa for at least a few moreyears. I wouldn’t trade losing my shit over those first hauntingstrains of Dirty Beaches’ “Lord Knows Best” billowing throughGlassland’s papery clouds to change a dirty diaper, because Alex Zhang Hungtai is the coolest dudewho ever lived, and that night he vowed to “croon the fuck out”which is exactly what happened.
I wouldn’t want to miss the chance tojump on the Music Hall of Williamsburg stage for Star Slinger’sclosing cut “Punch Drunk Love” or to witness Phil Elvurum on thealtar of the gorgeous St. Cecilia’s church, his soft voicereverberating angelically around the cathedral. Or to have folk heroMichael Gira kiss my hand after the Swans show, which was theloudest, sweatiest, and single most transcendent rock-n-rollexperience I’d ever had. Nor would I miss the incredible stageset-up as it virtually came alive to Animal Collective’s ProspectPark set, even as the heat and hallucinogens caused teenagers allaround me to pass out. Had I not decided on a whim just a day before the show, I would never have seen Dam-Funk shred akey-tar as we sailed around Manhattan on a ferry, the sun settingagainst the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty waving hertorch over the deck. I braved the pollution of the Gowanus Canal tosee a Four Tet DJ in a garden that managed to be verdant despite allthe toxins pulsing through the ground.
This was my fourth year at CMJ, and itstands as one of my favorite events because in that moment, you’reright with those fledgling acts, waiting to see a performance thatwill build their buzz or totally break them. This year, at a TrashTalk performance replete with band members flinging themselves frombalconies, a friend of mine well into her twenties found herself in acircle pit for the very first time. Later that week, I watched PatGrossi of Active Child strum a person-sized harp, its stringspractically glowing as they vibrated against his fingertips.
Fiercely loving music is one thing thatdoesn’t get boring for me. As I age, it doesn’t get old. Seeing aParty of Helicopters reunion performance at Death By Audio inFebruary proved that. I used to see them religiously when I lived inOhio. In my veins was the same blood that was present when I wastwenty, and every muscle, every cell, remembered what to do – Idamn near gave myself whiplash, working myself into a frenzy.
And despite spending hours researchingobscure bands for music supervision projects I freelance, I stilldiscover bands just by attending shows. While dancing my ass off atthe 100% Silk Showcase at Shea Stadium, I discovered a whole label’sworth of material harkening back to club jams of the nineties, andthe Amanda Brown vs. Bethany Cosentino debate was forever settledin my mind in favor of the LA Vampires frontwoman; Brown is avisionary while Cosentino is just cute.
In roughly fifteen years of attendingrock concerts, I’d say I had the best one yet. I’ve decided thatsince growing up is not worth the trade-off of giving up live music,or changing the way I experience the music that I love, that I willhave to marry the two. While this trajectory began years ago, thisis the first time I’ve felt any sort of mission behind the fandom. Iam the person people call and ask “are there any good shows goingon tonight?”, the person with extra tickets who drags friends alongto see bands they haven’t heard of, the person who brings a hugegroup of old friends together for a show, the person who barring allthat will go to a show alone and still have a blast. I am one of thethousands of people who log on to Ticketmaster at 9:55am forRadiohead tickets and still won’t get any. I’m the person at thefront of the crowd, snapping a few quick pictures for those whocouldn’t make it, and then dancing like a thing possessed for therest of the set. For me, it’s dedication. It’s all part of beingsomeone who was there.
Each week Audiofemme gives away a set of tickets to our featured shows in NYC! Scroll down to enter for the following shindigs.