Earlier this year, in a March listening party following the release of her acclaimed third album Little Oblivions, Julien Baker sat down with NPR columnist and host Jewly Hight and Mackenzie Scott (who performs as Torres). Their conversation revealed an uncomfortable undercurrent of the way today’s booming female indie musicians are framed in popular media: the ever-present discourse of “rawness” and emotion that accompanies critical reception of their work.
“Sure, call it ‘raw’ because it was totally spontaneous,” Torres remarked sarcastically; the term hardly applies to Little Oblivions, Baker’s first release with a full studio band and released after a lengthy reckoning with her creative persona. “It’s just a journal entry. Right.”
Hight describes this “raw” characterization as a misplaced focus on “purging as opposed to craft,” and once identified, it’s easy to see how often that lens is focused on the performers who comprise the loose umbrella of contemporary “sad girl indie.” The term “raw” has not only been used for Phoebe Bridgers’ debut Stranger in the Alps, but also her 2020 releasePunisher, which was praised by NME for its sonic experimentation and Stereogum for its “biting, hilarious” lyrics. It’s been bounced around to describe Lucy Dacus’ Home Video, featuring “Thumbs,” a track so layered and personal that Dacus spent years refining and reconsidering it in live show performances that she asked audience members not to record. Last month, she released another version of the song, too, with additional instrumentation.
“Raw” is an odd term for the intimate, candid work of these musicians. It implies a certain undoneness, a lack of artistic focus resulting from ecstatic emotional clarity. It also connotes an ancient, patriarchal idea that art created by women is taken directly from personal experience, rather than the filtration of creative vision and process. Conor Oberst, for instance, a longtime influence and current frequent collaborator of Phoebe Bridgers, has largely escaped seeing his music called “raw” — except when he’s specifically sought it out.
“When people hear ‘sad boy music,’ they don’t assume it’s a heartbreak,” Audrey Neri, who releases music as Cherry Flavor, points out in Marissa Matozzo’s zine Sad Girl Indie: The Genre’s Relevance in 2021. In contrast to “rawness,” men like Oberst, Christian Lee Hutson, and King Krule – who create music on the same emo-folk-indie pop spectrum that “sad girl indie” comprises – are seen as philosophical troubadours, engaging with emotion on an abstract level. Héloïse Adelaïde Letissier, who lays claim as Christine and the Queens to unabashed, public female sadness in “People, I’ve Been Sad,” put it this way in a recent conversation with Crack magazine: “even in art, women are refused the apersonal.”
Linked to “raw,” the term “sad girl indie” occupies a complicated gendered space in contemporary pop culture. It’s been cited as a space of solace by New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino, and claimed as a moniker of feminist community and genre by fans and certain artists. But it’s also been lambasted by Dacus, who doesn’t even consider most of her songs to be sad — as well as Bridgers and Baker, her fellow members of supergroup boygenius, who joined forces after being relentlessly pigeonholed and compared to each other as members of the “sad girl” set. These recent criticisms have led some to argue for abolishing the categorization altogether.
The question of who gets to be in the “sad girl” club has also been raised. Though sad girl indie has been praised for its queer narratives, transfemme musicians like Ezra Furman and Ethel Cain are rarely included in the conversation, to say nothing of the “girl” moniker’s implicit exclusion of nonbinary musicians. Discussions of Black and Indigenous artists like Arlo Parks, FKA Twigs, Black Belt Eagle Scout, and Indigo de Souza are also rare, though de Souza recently offered a compelling perspective on “sad girl indie” hagiography in the Michigan Daily podcast Arts, Interrupted. As TN2 Magazinepoints out, the women of color who are included under the “sad girl indie” umbrella (typically Mitski, Jay Som, and Japanese Breakfast) have been tokenized and ascribed troublingly-racialized descriptions like “feral,” in addition to the old standby of “raw.”
Of course, effusive emotion has always been a double-edged sword for women in the public eye, dating back to Victorian diagnoses of hystericalism, or even the dismissal of medieval “madwoman” mystic Margery Kempe for her public, psychosexual devotion. Reclaiming this patriarchal notion and finding strength in intense, uncomfortable vulnerability has been a hallmark not only of contemporary “sad girl”-ism, but also the musical forebears who influenced it.
Take Joni Mitchell for instance, who Brandi Carlile recalls dismissing for being “too soft” before listening to Blue at the behest of her wife, which forced her to “reconsider what ‘tough’ is.” Proto-“sad girls” like Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, and those that followed in the ‘90s feminist punk and singer-songwriter scenes used the aesthetics of emotion to construct artistic spaces in a world that refused to listen to them, giving voice to complex narratives ranging from unwanted pregnancy to systemic poverty, environmental anxiety, and queer desire. This is echoed in today’s “sad girls,” whose music reckons explicitly with abuse, addiction, and mental health concerns.
The potential strength of sad girl indie, however, is diluted by the critical presumption that its artists’ songs are “raw,” unprocessed “journal entries,” rather than artistic acts of ownership and cultivation. It’s also vastly diminished by the exclusion of trans and BIPOC artists, for whom the reclamation of the complicated, ruminative emotions so key to the subgenre’s success is even more urgent.
There may be hope for “sad girl indie,” if it can escape the “raw” paradigm and be considered expansively as a springboard for artistic community. At the very least, moving on from “sad girl indie” may offer a chance for something new to rise from its ashes: an evolved understanding of the queer and feminist undercurrents of today’s musical landscape, one that appreciates the complexity and artistry of its performers outright.
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”
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”
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)
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”
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”
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
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”
ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Tamara Mesko details the resolution that led to revolution when she decided to bring more music made by women into her rotation. Check out her playlist here.
New year’s resolutions are generally difficult for me to keep. Lofty goals are written down, gym memberships are acquired, healthy recipes are copied to a vision board. But a few weeks into the dark winter, all is abandoned in favor of binge-watching shows and eating comfort foods. Instead of repeating this unsustainable cycle, over the past year I’ve set intentions for myself in areas where I actually felt willing to be challenged, and then worked out the details of incrementally pursuing these ideas. As someone who’s almost constantly listening to songs, I’ve realized that the bulk of my music library consisted of albums by male artists. Looking to diversify and expand my music-listening habits, I decided to immerse myself in more music made by women. By devoting my time and funds to prioritize and promote female musicians, I hoped to amplify their voices and support them. Seeking out women who hadn’t been publicized by the traditional gatekeepers led me to discover such an incredible variety of albums that have transformed my life in countless ways. The connection I now feel with these women has revolutionized my perspective, repaired my self-image, and encouraged me in my daily attempts to navigate the male-dominated world.
One of the most transcendent moments of my year was the night I saw Petal opening for Camp Cope in concert. Both bands are primarily made up of women, and the crowd that night was as well. Petal is primarily the work of bandleader Kiley Lotz, who was touring in support of her second album for Run For Cover, Magic Gone. I’d heard a few of her songs before that night, and was instantly transformed by her performance. The unique energy emanating around the venue was overwhelmingly beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so safe and supported at a show before; at concerts where the band members and crowd skew heavily toward the male side, underneath any positive feelings I have about the music, there’s a constant apprehension, an edgy anxiety that covers my decisions with a shell of protection. Hearing Kiley’s vulnerable stories about mental health between her stunning songs felt like a revelation. Her encouraging and therapeutic presence filled the room with a redeeming light.
Another musician I discovered in the last year was Lucy Dacus. Her latest album, Historian, is a masterpiece, and convinced me that seeing her on a headlining tour early this year would be well worth my time and energy. The evolution happening in my psyche that night was a direct reaction to Lucy’s boldness throughout the concert. Her voice exuded incredible power from the very start, when she opened with a brand new song, to midway through, when she decided something felt off and had to restart another. Her admissions of imperfection spread a sense of authenticity into the audience, urging us to join her in singing through our problems, perceived or real, that we’d carried in with us. As I drove home, I felt my levels of compassion for and confidence in myself rising to new heights.
By extension, I’ve been slightly obsessed with boygenius, a newly formed supergroup comprised of Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker (whose music I was already familiar with). All three are masters of their solo craft, yet I was unprepared for the overwhelming harmonies they created together. The day the album was released, I was at the ocean at a women’s retreat, harboring some disappointments while feeling generally directionless. Breaking up the communal times spent with friends by walking along the shore with these songs in my headphones gave me such solace and was a perfect reprieve from “real life.” Singing in community is a sacred act, one that’s sustained me long after that weekend ended. Indeed, the women of boygenius are incredibly supportive of each other, and the music they produced while cheering each other on encourages me to try to infuse my daily tasks with this same love and support for myself.
Lesley Barth’s music came into my life this summer just as I’d canceled on an opportunity to see a male musician playing that same night. I’m sure his show would’ve been good, but seeing Lesley impacted me on a much more deeply personal level. A New York City native, Lesley has been singing and performing for many years. She released her first full-length album, Green Hearts, in 2017, and in a live setting, is engaging and connected to her audience. As part of a local concert series, her set was more of a conversation, with intimate stories to go along with each song. I felt inspired and proud of her as she talked about quitting her unfulfilling office job to pursue being a full-time musician, about how much she loves sad songs, and about how frequently we as women struggle to develop and maintain a healthy self-image.
I haven’t yet had the privilege of seeing Mitski in concert, but she manifests a particular bold energy on her fifth album, Be The Cowboy. These songs seem less personal than her earlier work, though just as powerful. Through a more fictionalized worldview, she introduces a character in “Nobody” who tries on countless personas in an attempt to avoid loneliness. As she progresses through this montage of selves, she realizes that not only is she still alone, but her acts of desperation are destroying the very possibility of connection. Throughout the album, Mitski continually subverts expectations, musically and lyrically, while describing ways to develop a more authentic sense of self.
As a late-December addition to my absolute favorites, I first heard Tomberlin on a podcast, discussing her restrictive religious upbringing. I promptly bought her debut album At Weddings, and was struck by how wise she sounds, how much of her background she’s already deconstructed in a healthy way. Her voice has a stark beauty and a healing quality. She both anchors and directs me in how to dig myself out of my struggles and gracefully move forward. “I’m Not Scared” works its way in mid-album to speak honestly of the female human condition: “And to be a woman is to be in pain / And my body reminds me almost every day.” It’s a song that destroys all my defenses so effectively that I actually don’t want to know specifically what it’s about; I want it to simply exist as a daily incantation for women everywhere to adopt as our own.
For a lot of listeners, music is mainly background noise, something to occasionally notice while they’re busy doing something else entirely. For me, music is a lifeline, and it’s been revolutionary and breathtaking to find new perspectives along that line in the past year. I’ve discovered new facets of my identity that I didn’t realize I was missing. Diversifying how I listen to music and which artists I decide to support has become a year-round, life-long resolution.
Cardi B made Grammy history on Sunday night with a huge win in the Best Rap Album category for Invasion of Privacy (she had five nominations total). She’s the first solo female rapper to take home the award – the only other woman to have received a Grammy for Best Rap Album is Lauryn Hill, when her group The Fugees nabbed the 1997 honors with their iconic album The Score. Cardi appeared on the red carpet dressed in vintage Thierry Mugler and husband Offset on her arm, signifying the end of a tense hiatus for the couple following rumors of Offset’s infidelity. Cardi also made fast friends with Lady Gaga, who offered support in the face of a backlash D, she also spent time on the red carpet chatting with Lady Gaga, who was quick to support the rapper in the face of backlash from haters following the award ceremony. Cardi took a brief break from Instagram but, never one to rest on her laurels, capped off the week by releasing “Please Me,” a duet with Bruno Mars.
Donald Glover also had a big night, though he didn’t attend the awards ceremony; Childish Gambino’s “This is America” won both Song of the Year (distinctly given to songwriters) and Record of the Year (which goes to the performers, producers, and engineers). It was the first rap single to do so.
Other big winners included Brandi Carlile, who won three of the six awards she was nominated for (Best Americana Album for By the Way, I Forgive You LP and two awards for its single “The Joke”); Kacey Musgraves, who won overall Album of the Year for Golden Hour as well as three additional awards in Counrty categories; Lady Gaga, who won an award for “Shallow” as well as “Joanne” despite it being released two whole years ago; Ariana Grande who nabbed the Best Pop Vocal Album; St. Vincent who won Best Rock Song for “Masseduction;” Greta Van Fleet who won for Best Rock Album; and Best New Artist Dua Lipa.
We’re Not Surprised Ryan Adams is a Creep
“If people knew they would say I was like R Kelley lol.” This is a pretty damning text coming from a 40-year old man who’s soliciting nudes from a teenager, and they came from none other than Ryan Adams, according to an investigative article by the New York Times. The report details the online relationship between Adams and a woman they call Ava, who was just fourteen when the two began to exchange messages that eventually culminated in phone sex less than two years later. The piece has prompted an FBI investigation into the singer-songwriter, though the alleged victim never disclosed her actual age during their relationship and never met in person.
Whether his actions are criminal or not is somewhat beside the point, though, as the rest of the piece establishes a pattern wherein Adams promised young female musicians – including Phoebe Bridgers, Courtney Jaye, and his ex-wife Mandy Moore – a boost in their careers via collaboration, mentorship, production, tour spots, releasing music via his label Pax-Am (an offshoot of Capitol), et al, but then attempted to shift the relationship to something sexual, even exposing himself to women who came to his studio to develop their projects. In instances where consensual relationships resulted from his advances, they often became obsessive and abusive, and he allegedly held collaborative work hostage as a means of keeping contact open. After remaining vague in a profile in Glamour earlier this year that prompted him to refer to her as a “soggy piece of cardboard,” former teen-pop-star turned actress Mandy Moore went into much greater detail about the control Adams wielded over her career and their relationship, admitting that he was psychologically abusive.
It’s no secret that Adams has penned vindictive tunes about his exes; one of his most beloved songs, “Come Pick Me Up,” from his 2000 solo debut Heartbreaker, is said to be inspired by the end of his relationship with music publicist Amy Lombardi (another track on the record is titled with her first name alone). And though his back to front cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 was critically praised, it certainly raised eyebrows for some. Since the NYT article was published, Liz Phair, Karen Elson, and others have hinted that professional endeavors with Adams went awry due to similar behavior, which through the years has often been seen as erratic, owing to drug abuse an mental health issues. But in an industry that (as manyhavepointedout) still needs to have its #MeToo reckoning thanks to the seemingly inextricable tangle of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, Ryan Adams’ creepitude is a whole new layer of yikes.
That New New
This delightfully bizarre video for “Under The Sun” has got us so pumped for Spellling’s new record Mazy Fly, which drops February 22 via Sacred Bones.
Pecas are all about the smooth grooves on their latest single “T-Shirt.”
Watch an adorable turtle monch some kale in the new Mal Blum video ahead of their tour in support of Lucy Dacus.
This Robyn video is equal parts promotion for her 2018 album Honey and her new clothing line.
Bebe Rexha shared a video for “Last Hurrah” as a teaser for her yet-unannounced sophomore record.
Lizzo shared a video for the epic title track from her forthcoming album, out April 19.
Lydia Ainsworth returns with “Can You Find Her Place,” from the upcoming LP Phantom Forest, out May 10.
Tim Hecker is releasing more music from his Tokyo sessions with Japanese gagaku musicians, which resulted in 2018’s gorgeous Konoyo. The companion album, titled Anoyo, will be out May 10 via Kranky; Hecker will do a series of sold-out performances with the Konoyo ensemble at National Sawdust next week.
Julia Holter shared a video for “Les Jeux to You,” which appears on last year’s Aviary LP.
Hand Habits’ sophomore album placeholder comes out March 1 via Saddle Creek; the video for latest single “what lovers do” follows clips for “can’t calm down” and the LP’s title track.
Flock of Dimes and Madeline Kenney are releasing a split 7″ after working together on the latter’s 2018 LP Perfect Shapes; Jenn Wasner’s other musical project, Wye Oak, just released a track called “Evergreen” for Adult Swim’s singles series.
Potty Mouth are back with SNAFU, out March 1, and have a new video for “Starry Eyes” to get us psyched.
A shooting at Westlake Recording Studio in Hollywood on Tuesday jeopardized the recording sessions of Usher and Rich the Kid; members of the latter’s entourage were pistol whipped in the apparent robbery, but no one was shot.
Katy Perry has pulled a controversial pair of shoes from her website and other retailers after facing backlash from critics who say the design is a little too reminiscent of blackface.
Capcom has uploaded the soundtracks to some of their classic video games, like Mega Man and Street Fighter, to Spotify.
Louisville, KY’s Forecastle Fest announced their lineup for this year, which includes The Killers, The Avett Brothers, Anderson .Paak, Maggie Rogers, Chvrches, and more, and will take place July 12-14.
Ozzy Osbourne is reportedly doing much better after being hospitalized for complications of the flu.
Democratic nominee contender Kamala Harris failed at an attempt to seem cool when she claimed to have listened to Snoop Dog and Tupac while smoking reefer in college… before either had released music.
Record Store Day has named Pearl Jam its official ambassadors for RSD2019. The esteemed position has previously been held by the likes of Metallica, Foo Fighters, St. Vincent, Run the Jewels, Jack White, Iggy Pop, and Chuck D.
Rekindling a decades old beef, Courtney Love had some choice words for Kathleen Hanna following the news that the latter’s riot grrl act Bikini Kill would play a handful of reunion shows in LA and NYC this spring. In the comment thread of a Bust Magazine Instagram post lamenting the shows’ record sell-out times, Love referred to Bikini Kill as “the biggest hoax in rock and roll,” later adding: “Two of the band total amateurs. Hanna is a good hype man but her persona is such a diy nonsense dilettante. A big idea they cannot convey, because they suck.” Hanna has not responded and Love has since deleted the comments, but her words reminded everyone that these two feminist icons haven’t seen eye to eye since Lollapalooza ’95, when a backstage altercation ended any hope of them uniting to crush the patriarchy. We have a sneaking suspicion that Love’s dislike of Hanna is rooted in jealousy over Hanna’s friendship with Love’s late husband Kurt Cobain (Hanna is credited with inspiring the title of Nirvana’s breakout single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”). We’re taking Hanna’s side on this one; Love’s comments were petty and we’re impressed Hanna didn’t take the bait.
The saga between Grimes and Azaelia Banks deepens! Back in August, Banks visited Grimes at the home of Grimes’ then-boyfriend, tech mogul Elon Musk. The two musicians were supposed to collaborate on a single, but in a series of social media posts, Banks described being trapped in the home as Musk did damage control over a tweet where he claimed he planned to take Tesla private at $420 a share. Banks says that Musk was on acid at the time, and postulated that he and Grimes had invited her to Los Angeles for a potential threesome. But because the Securities Exchange Commission sued Musk over the tweet, texts between Grimes and Banks from that time period have been subpoenaed, and Banks posted some of the exchange on Instagram; the posts were deleted, but not before someone grabbed screenshots that Jezebel was all too happy to repost (and we are all too happy to recommend you go and read immediately). We can’t get down with either going for the low-hanging fruit of insulting one anothers’ appearances, but have to name Azealia Banks the winner of this spat. Maybe it’s all the practice she’s had talking shit to or about damn near everyone on the planet, but we have to give props to the biting specificity of referring to Grimes as a “brittleboned methhead” who smells “like a roll of nickles.”
And finally, Princess Nokia noted the similarities between her song “Mine” (from her 1992 mixtape) and recently released Ariana Grande single “7 rings.” “Ain’t that the lil song I made about brown women and their hair?” she asks in a video posted to Twitter (and since deleted), concluding “Hmmm… sounds about white.” Soulja Boy also chimed in, claiming Grande had ripped off portions of his 2010 hit “Pretty Boy Swag.” The opening bars of Grande’s single crib more obviously from The Sound of Music‘s “My Favorite Things;” though Julie Andrews has yet to jump on the outrage bandwagon, someone who must be a literal genius mashed up all four artists and it kinda slaps. While we’re no fan of Grande’s ongoing issues with cultural appropriation, we’re calling this beef a draw – there’s nothing new under the sun, especially when it comes to hip-hop samples.
Chris Brown Accused of Rape in Paris
We’ll never forgive Chris Brown for using former girlfriend Rihanna as his personal punching bag – but we’re especially disgusted by the new lows he’s reached this week. A 24-year-old woman accused the singer and his entourage of taking turns raping her in his hotel suite at the Mandarin Oriental in Paris, where Brown had been attending Fashion Week events. The French are notoriously skeptical of rape victims, so it’s no surprise that Brown and the two other men accused of assaulting the woman were released within a few days on their own recognizance; the investigation is still ongoing. Rather than lying low, Brown took to social media in an attempt to discredit his alleged victim, even going so far as to create some truly tasteless merch that plays on the unfounded trope that women lie about sexual assault.
For what it’s worth, this isn’t the first time that someone has accused his entourage of mistreating women in their periphery – there’s a pending legal case against Brown, in which a woman claims she was raped by one of Brown’s friends at one of the singer’s drug-fueled parties.
That New New
Spanish sensation Rosalía released what has to be our favorite video this week, with a clip for “DE AQUÍ NO SALES” from her stunning 2018 album El Mal Querer.
Jenny Lewis is back with Stevie Nicks-ish jam “Red Bull & Hennessey,” a drink we do not recommend. It’s the first single from On The Line, due March 22.
Broken Social Scene shared details on their forthcoming EP Let’s Try The After – Vol. 1, which will arrive next month, along with early single “All I Want.”
Sneaks, the difficult-to-define solo project of queer black feminist Eva Moolchan, returns with Highway Hypnosis, her third studio album.
Sascha Ring, who produces electronic music as Apparat, announced LP5, his first album in six years, with diaphanous lead single “Dawan.”
J. Cole is producing a comp featuring artists from his Dreamville imprint entitled Revenge Of The Dreams II; his track “Middle Child” is the project’s official first single.
Groove Denied, an electronic solo album by Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus that was reportedly rejected by his label, will be released via Matador in March. The first single is the delightfully weird “Viktor Borgia.”
Lady Lamb announced her next album Even in the Tremor will arrive April 5th on Ba Da Bing Records, and has shared its title track.
Teyana Taylor, Lena Waithe, and Mykki Blanco vogue their way through a ballroom dance-off for the ages in Taylor’s new video for “WTP,” from last year’s Kanye West-produced K.T.S.E.
Capping off her EP trilogy in March with Blue Pine, Munya shared the first of its three songs, “It’s All About You;” all three EPs will be packaged together as a full-length LP released on the same day.
Seattle’s Dude York have released two new singles alongside two previously released singles as the aptly titled EP Happy In The Meantime via Bandcamp.
Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst have appeared on each other’s albums in the past, but now the pair have teamed up to release a surprise record as Better Oblivion Community Center.
Vampire Weekend are back with a pair of singles, titled “Harmony Hall” and “2021;” both will appear on their fourth album and first in nearly six years. Titled Father of the Bride, it’s supposedly got 18 tracks and future singles will be released in pairs as well.
Florence + The Machine released a jazzy stand-alone single and its b-side on the heels of last year’s rousing High As Hope LP.
Ariel Palitz, NYC’s new Nightlife Mayor, sat down with Billboard to share what she’s learned in her first year on the job, and how she plans to support the city’s DIY music community.
The Oscar nominations are in and we’re totally rooting for Lady Gaga, who’s up for Best Actress for her role in A Star Is Born. The film is nominated for best Best Picture, alongside Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody (despite some recent sexual abuse allegations against its director). Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper seem like favorites to win Best Song for “Shallow” but Kendrick Lamar and SZA could give them a run for their money with “All The Stars,” from Black Panther. David Rawlings and Gillian Welch (“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns), and Diane Warren and Jennifer Hudson (“I’ll Fight” from RBG) round out the Best Song nominations.
Spotify introduced a “mute” feature that allows users to essentially block particular artists from popping up on your playlists. It’s a nice compromise given their failed attempt to censor artists they’d deemed problematic, not to mention allowing folks to avoid that overplayed earworm-of-the-moment.
Pickathon 2019 lineups have been announced, with Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats and Khruangbin scheduled to headline.
We’re still not sure if it’s really the Pixies without Kim Deal, but the rest of the band are gearing up to release their seventh studio album (due in September), and a podcast about the band called “The Past Is Prologue” and hosted by Tony Fletcher will debut in June.
Some of hip-hop’s biggest stars, including Jay-Z and Meek Mill, have founded REFORM Alliance, aimed at much-needed criminal justice reform.
As the government shutdown stretches on, musicians from Kiss to Nile Rodgers are donating concert tickets, hot meals, and more to furloughed workers.
What do Robert Johnson, Black Sabbath and Celine Dion all have in common? They have all been accused of devil-worship. This week, Dion has joined this category thanks to comments made by priest and exorcist Msgr. John Esseff. Dion hasn’t visited the crossroads or beheaded any doves. She’s launched a gender neutral children’s clothing line with Nununu, called CELINUNUNU. Essef is “convinced that the way this gender thing has spread is demonic” and believes “the devil is going after children by confusing gender.”
I always thought that pants were a basic gender neutral clothing item, but Essef doesn’t seem to have a vendetta against women wearing pants so much as he wants his followers to buy into the myth that both gender and sex are binary, rather than a spectrum. With a color palette that eschews typical blue and pink, Dion hopes to “inspire your children to be free and find their individuality through clothing.” Do uselessly small women’s pant pockets enforce gender norms? Personally, I’m just hoping the kids from her target audience will grow up to design a pair of adult gender-neutral pants with pockets that can actually hold stuff; til then, I’ll feel a little more rock n’ roll when “My Heart Will Go On” gets stuck in my head.
The New New
Grimes released a track called “We Appreciate Power,” inspired by North Korea and AI. PhoebeBridgers released a cover of McCarthy Trenching’s “Christmas Song” featuring Jackson Browne. NickiMinaj and Lil Wayne released a music video for “Good Form.” Neil Young released “Songs For Judy,“ a collection of live acoustic recordings from 1976.
Idles are raising money for Samaritans by auctioning off 18 pieces of artwork from their album Joy As An Act of Resistance that’s been featured in galleries in New York, London and Paris.
When you’re new to the music industry, it can be really tough to crack the top ten of a critic’s year-end list. Oftentimes, the artists with the most accolades are established entities releasing their third, fourth, or tenth album, having a massive comeback after a decades-long absence, reinventing their sound or finally finding a niche and boring down into it, or waving goodbye for good.
And while old favorites (usually) deserve the attention they get, the unfortunate flip side of that is that newer artists sometimes get lost in the tide, even when their debuts manage to make some waves. Sometimes, the freshest new sounds are branded as novelty simply for their newness. And while a nascent artist’s staying power can only be proven over time, 2017 seems to have produced a flurry of future stars. Here are a dozen albums that threaten to disrupt the zeitgeist.
SZA – Ctrl (Top Dawg/RCA)
The long-awaited debut from neo-soul chanteuse Solána Imani Rowe, better known as SZA, has been well worth the excruciating process that brought it to fruition. Following three acclaimed EPs and co-writes on tracks from megastars like Beyoncé and Rihanna, SZA hunkered down in earnest to begin writing Ctrl, then under its working title A. Mired in the anxiety of producing something that would live up to the hype she’d already generated for herself, she painstakingly wrote and rewrote some 200 tracks; it’s rumored that her record label actually had to confiscate the hard drive which housed her material just before the LP’s June release, because otherwise, SZA may never have settled on anything. Lyrically, the album reflects SZA’s indecision as it relates to the process of coming into her own womanhood and navigating its attendant relationships and self-discovery, but ultimately lands squarely as a radical dissertation on feminine sexual power – the kind that demands respect, exacts revenge, and fucks solely for the sake of pleasure. SZA’s scathing honesty is softened by luxuriant, sometimes unusual production choices that bridge gaps between genres as far ranging as indie rock and trap, her infectious patois exhorting baes and besties to spark blunts and eat tacos one moment while questioning their motives the next. Whether channeling Tisha Campbell’s Gina or sampling the matriarchs of her own family, SZA dazzlingly represents the millennial iteration of strong female identity, and Ctrl is her powerful mission statement.
Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps (Dead Oceans)
As confessional singer-songwriters go, Angeleno twenty-something Phoebe Bridgers has an uncanny knack for rendering unforgettable heart-piercing details that, while they feel hyper-personal, evoke the kind of universal emotions capable of stopping listeners dead in their tracks with recognition. One potent example is “Funeral,” which begins with Bridgers planning to sing at a dead friend’s wake. Later, in a moment of listless, empty depression, she chides herself for moping with the starling realization that “Someone’s kid is dead,” but in the choruses, she resigns herself to “being blue” all the time; in another verse, she laughs off suicidal ideation while strings soar softly behind a delicately strummed guitar. Bridgers’ wispy voice has just enough grit to direct unexpected expletives toward cops in the midst of what is essentially a love song, or to implore a long-distance lover for nudes in “Demi Moore,” or to open “Motion Sickness” with the nonchalant vitriol of a line like “I hate you for what you did/And I miss you like a little kid.” Having made friends with the likes of Conor Oberst (who makes an appearance on “Would You Rather”) and Ryan Adams, the prospect of Bridgers whittling her songcraft into an even sharper point might be almost too much to handle.
Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens (Smalltown Supersound)
With its almost synaesthetic qualities, Kelly Lee Owens’ eponymous debut taps into something subconscious, mysterious, and utterly absorbing. Its evocative sparseness gives the record the homemade warmth of a newish, naturally intuitive producer; much like Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (who released her similarly lush sophomore LP The Kid this year), Owens builds worlds from the breathiness of her voice and a keen sense of depth, space, and light. Owens has a surprising ability to cull new sounds from familiar instruments, teasing an intangible nostalgia out of rarefied air. She can induce a trance with cascading marimba (as she does on “Bird”) just as easily as she does with droning sitar (on nine-minute closer “8”). Counterbalancing clubby numbers like “Cbm” (color, beauty, and motion) with dream pop bliss-outs like “S.O” and “Keep Walking,” each of these ten tracks radiates its own frequency squarely aimed at providing a blunted body buzz that feels satisfyingly therapeutic.
Sophia Kennedy – Sophia Kennedy (Pampa)
If ever there was a sucker for quirky art pop, I’m definitely one, and if ever there was a record that oozes the polka-dotted plastic charm of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Sophia Kennedy’s self-titled debut is it. With joyous abandon, Kennedy indulges every whimsical tendency she has to offer – husky vocals, playful poetic panache, and plucky piano lines abound – and then goes on to deliver “Being Special,” a direct ode to embracing her weirdness despite the isolation it can sometimes create. It’s as if Kennedy is attempting to soundtrack her own cartoon musical, replete with the occasional slide whistles, warped gongs, boingy spring sound effects, and gurgled psychedelic asides. But Kennedy isn’t all kitsch, using that buoyant energy to boost darkly observed truths about herself, her peers, and the everyday scenes that play out in the city around her.
Kelela – Take Me Apart (Warp)
Following up her explosive 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me with a studio debut four years in the making, Kelela pulls no punches on Take Me Apart, daring listeners and lovers alike to get to know her inside and out. Backed by fluttering Technicolor production, Kelela’s contemplative and deeply sensual turns of phrase explore desire and disappointment in equal measure. Minimal beats from collaborators Arca, Ariel Rechtshaid, and Jam City put Kelela’s buttery soprano front and center, making each of her missives seem that much more urgent, those sentiments hovering in the liminal spaces where fantasy meets reality.
Sloppy Heads – Useless Smile (Shrimper)
Produced by Yo La Tengo’s James McNew (and featuring YLT biographer Jesse Jarnow, along with Ariella Stok and Billy the Drummer), Useless Smile tickles all kinds of indie pop sweet spots. Not since Times New Viking has a band so gloriously vacillated between punch-drunk lo-fi ruckus and delicious post-shoegaze psych jams. Though album opener “U Suck” makes for an annoyingly juvenile introduction, that track turns out to be a false flag for what’s to come: the gentle, laconic reverb of “Suddenly Spills;” the smoky twang of “Always Running;” the interplay of insouciant organ and rumbling drone on “I’ll Take My Chances;” the title track’s hints of Mazzy Star meets K hole. When it comes to amalgamating the sound of a late-Nineties/early-aughts college rock royalty, Sloppy Heads certainly don’t slouch.
Bedouine – Bedouine (Spacebomb)
The songs on Azniv Korkejian’s debut as Bedouine are simple affairs that beg a hushed reverence. They are snapshots of moments you’d want to bask in, unsuspecting until they open and flourish like a rare night-blooming orchid. Listening to them feels similar to the comforts of coming home; the irony is that their progenitor spent most of her life globe-trotting. She was born in Aleppo, lived on an American compound in Saudi Arabia, and spent her adulthood bouncing between Boston, Houston, Austin, Savannah, Lexington, Kentucky and Los Angeles, where she currently resides and works as a sound editor on film projects. And though she’s adopted a moniker that harkens to her Middle Eastern heritage and her nomadic history, her self-titled debut is where she finally puts down roots. Working with Matthew E. White at Spacebomb Studios, Korkejian crafted timeless, traditional-sounding folk songs with an introspective, almost off-the-cuff approach that makes for a stunning introduction.
Sheer Mag – Need to Feel Your Love (Wilsuns RC)
Since 2014, Philly quintet Sheer Mag have been hard at work, reinventing Seventies classic rock with modern, punk-inflected ethos. Three bracing EPs and lots of buzz for their beloved live sets have certainly helped audiences acclimate themselves to the band’s lo-fidelity leanings, and Need to Feel Your Love delivers AOR’s feel-good trappings in abundance. But perhaps more importantly, nestled within that unabashed pastiche are truly subversive songs of protest railing against Trump-era policies of doom, death, and destruction. Tina Halladay’s snarl is truest when threatening corrupt politicians on “Expect the Bayonet” and most resilient when paying homage to the Stonewall rioters on “Suffer Me.” Gone are the problematic trappings of a genre that was always notorious for excluding voices like Halladay’s, and while she may not be interesting in soothing the white male rockist egos of yesteryear, Sheer Mag makes music that’s got the same soul.
Stef Chura – Messes (Urinal Cake)
2017 turned out to be the year that Detroit-based musician Stef Chura cleaned up. Re-working her best Bandcamp songs from some seven self-released albums, Chura made molehills into mountains on Messes, and then stood upon their peaks, yodeling her biting lyrics in the curious warble that’s become something of her trademark. Clearly informed by a love of the ‘90s alt-rock Chura grew up on, the album has some folksier inertia as well, like the iridescent “Human Being” or its final aching track, “Speeding Ticket.” Chura claims that she’s a perfectionist, but the album’s best moments are those that are flawed – say, when her voice cracks or she slurs her lyrics. Paired with the candid nature of her songwriting, this realism ultimately makes Chura more relatable. If Messes were a mirror, it might be cracked and dirty, but it would absolutely reflect the beauty of a chaotic life well-lived.
Nick Hakim – Green Twins (ATO)
In 2014, Nick Hakim posed a simple question via the title of a two-part EP: Where Will We Go? Already bursting with potential, it took three years and a stint at Berklee College of Music for Hakim to find his direction, but the sprawling, euphoric Green Twins makes it clear he’s on another plane entirely. Surreal grooves float in a warm haze of unexpected, quirky production flourishes that make them endlessly endearing; stray piano here, a distended vocal loop there, an occasional burst of brass, doo-wop drum machine reverb throughout. But it’s Hakim’s soulful croon that connects and cuts the deepest, his breathy register perfect for the many intimate realizations that comprise his love-stoned lyrics. Green Twins has the same homemade eccentricity of vintage Ariel Pink or Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but Hakim’s music feels far more earnest, more inventive, and certainly more dreamlike, an opportunity to poke around in one man’s gauzy, pulsating subconscious. Due in large part to those sensual qualities, it activates an almost instinctual response to stay and explore a little longer.
L’Rain – L’Rain (Astro Nautico)
Though multi-instrumentalist Brooklynite Taja Cheek’s solo debut turned into something of a treatise on mourning, it’s not as immediately obvious as say, Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked At Me. That’s because Cheek was almost finished with L’Rain when she lost her mother Lorraine (from whom she takes her stage name) to sudden illness; it’s comprised of Cheek’s field recordings and Soundcloud snippets going back several years, making it somewhat tricky to pin down. Certainly indebted to free jazz as much as it is bedroom-produced dream pop, fluttering vocal loops rewind through spritely guitar arpeggios, Cheek’s vocals like some version of herself refracted, a Gaussian blur of her matrilineal roots. The soupy “Bat” gives way to a tumultuous vignette of “Alive and a Wake,” which itself gives way to a field recording of a storefront church on “Benediction,” which then gives way to the album’s mesmerizing carousel of a lead single, “A Toes (Shelf Inside Your Head).” This collage-like assembly amounts to a dizzying meditation on the inexorable march of time, its fragments wafting in and out like distant memories; in that way, it’s a fitting tribute to loved ones lost, even if L’Rain keeps those parameters pretty loose.
Hoops – Routines (Fat Possum)
Though its title suggests stability and even monotony, Hoops’ debut record was born of anything but routine; in fact, it’s the direct result of founding member Drew Auscherman shaking things up. Initially conceived as Auscherman’s direct to four-track solo bedroom recordings – Hoops’ three cassette-only releases are now available as a compilation – he welcomed longtime pals Kevin Krauter and Keagan Beresford into the fold. It wasn’t a move solely meant to up the ante on Hoops’ salt-of-the-Earth Midwestern image, though all three are the sort of nice Indiana boys you’d introduce to your mother; as a trio, they co-wrote the songs on Routines and swap instruments with aplomb when playing live. Signing to Fat Possum also put some legitimate dream pop shine on Auscherman’s formerly lo-fi affair, though the project still retains its homemade charm. While Auscherman may have been set in his ways, it was a wholly newfound approach that made Hoops a breakout band in 2017.
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