The Saturday Sampler March 11th edition features voices from around the globe (including Canada, England, Netherlands, Sweden, and the US), but with a twist. Since the world celebrated International Women’s Day earlier this week, our focus today is on strong women musicians. Seven of the artists on this playlist include talented female vocalists, because women deserve recognition every day of the year, not just on March 8th.
As usual, Hollie and Ben author this weekend’s selections, commencing with a band that is unquestionably right at the top of our list of favorites.
Black Honey – “Somebody Better” (Brighton, England)
RIYL: Wolf Alice, Paramore, young Blondie
If we were in the business of choosing a band of the year for 2016, Black Honey likely would have ran away with the prize. Their sophomore EP, Headspin, was electrifying, and one of our favorite mini-albums of the year. Their fiery song, “All My Pride,” headlined our Mega, Mega Playlist, which featured our favorite songs of the year. All this made them one of our Artists to Watch in 2017. After two-and-a-months, the Brighton four-piece have finally returned.
“Somebody Better” is everything that is Black Honey. It is fearless and anthemic, dramatic and engaging, and sheer brilliance. It is a “F*ck yeah!” moment. The guitar work is fiery and explosive, and the rhythm section is heart-pounding and sweat-inducing (the bass line is fantastic). Then there is frontwoman Izzy B Phillips, whose powerful vocals are akin to Gwen Stefani but with an extra layer of ferocity. She’s not only one of the best frontpeople in the business (her antics on stage are mesmerizing), but also one of indie rock’s great songwriters. On this track, she delivers an introspective number about moving on from disappointment and to prepare oneself for the onslaught of the future. The rest of the world, meanwhile, better be prepared for the oncoming wave of Black Honey, who already have taken the UK by storm.
Black Honey are Izzy B Phillips, Chris Ostler, Tommy Taylor, and Tom Dewhurst.
Benjamin Booker – “Witness” (feat. Mavis Staples) (New Orleans via Orlando, USA)
RIYL: Blind Boys of Alabama, The Neville Brothers, Childish Gambino
In 2014, Benjamin Booker released his fantastic, self-titled debut album. His explosive guitar skills and mix of blues-rock, classic rock, and Motown led to comparisons to Jack White and Gary Clark, Jr. while others saw a young Chuck Berry. In less than a year, Booker went from a relative unknown to being a must-see artist across North America.
Earlier this year, he teased fans by releasing two demos on his SoundCloud account. They were removed after a few days, but they piqued people’s interests. Well, it’s probably safe to say that the teasers are over after Booker announced two days ago that his new album, Witness, will be released later this spring. The first song out of the gate is the title track.
“Witness” features the legendary soul artist Mavis Staples (who seems to be collaborating with everyone including Arcade Fire). This powerful protest song is an extension to Marvin Gaye’s classic, “Can I Get A Witness?” (the chorus repeats these very words), but it is founded upon the uplifting soul and gospel music of the ’50s and ’60s. The song, as such, is euphoric yet moving, and the perfect song at exactly the right moment. Booker’s lyrics, in particular, hit hard:
Right now we could use a little pick-me up.
Seems like the whole damn nation is trying to take us down.
When your brother’s dying, mother’s crying, TV’s lying
All the reason’s in the world don’t mean shit to me now.
See we thought that we saw that he had a gun.
Thought that it looked like he started to run.
First Aid Kit – “You are the Problem Here” (Stockholm, Sweden)
RIYL: Emmylou Harris, Joseph, The Staves
Just because First Aid Kit doesn’t have a full new album doesn’t mean they’ve been quiet. In fact, their new single released earlier proves they’re on fire. “You Are The Problem Here” is a scorching anthem about a volatile topic: sexual assault. The release on Wednesday coincides with the 109th observation of International Womens Day. When they address the perpetrators of violence against women, they don’t mince words. Since this year’s theme is “Be Bold For Change,” that is exactly what they have done. Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg point the finger of blame where it belongs in these heated lyrics:
“I am so sick and tired of this world
All these women with their dreams shattered
From some man’s sweaty, desperate touch
Goddamn it, I’ve had enough… and I… hope you fucking suffer.”
It’s been nearly three years since the release of their last album, Stay Gold, which they recorded with an American symphony. Recently they have been recording with Jack White at his Third Man Records studio in Nashville. Hopefully that means a new album will be released by year’s end. Until then, you can grab this single at iTunes. It is available via Jagadamba, under exclusive license to Columbia Records. First Aid Kit is donating all proceeds from this song to Women for Women International.
If you don’t have a SoundCloud Go account, you can stream the video below.
Girlhood – “Say It” (London, England)
RIYL: Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah, Lauryn Hill
Since we love to shine the spotlight on emerging talents you may not yet know, this new song from British duo Girlhood has us especially excited. Their “Say It” single is the work of producer Christian Pinchbeck (formerly of the dream pop duo Elephant) and Kenyan-raised singer Tessa Cavanna.
Back in October they released their debut single “My Boy” on Team Talk Records. Experimenting with an iPad and sampling apps, the duo created a fresh sound that keeps getting better. Now they’re working on their debut EP which is expected later this year. “Say It” is the first taste we are getting from that album, and it has us ready to hear more.
The song’s foundation of looping beats paired with powerhouse vocals quickly becomes hypnotic. “It’s all choices” is Tessa Cavanna’s refrain, and we must admit, she’s made damn good ones on this track. At times she channels Lauryn Hill in the way she bends her voice around, over, and through each note with the careful attention of a jeweler appraising a fine gem. That’s exactly what this song is: a sparkling, shimmering neo-soul gemstone. Christian Pinchbeck’s nuanced touch on the production gives it added depth, making it shine all the more.
K.Flay – “High Enough” (Brooklyn via San Francisco, USA)
RIYL: Kate Tempest, Björk, Adia Victoria
We featured K. Flay last month and are still in awe of this emerging talent. The new single she unveiled yesterday from her upcoming Every Where Is Some Where LP has us singing her praises yet again. From the first beats of “High Enough,” Kristen Flaherty puts the world on notice with fierce vocals, a sizzling delivery, and lots of swagger.
She sings “I’ll take a hit of whatever you’ve got – maybe two, maybe three,” but she doesn’t need anything added into the equation of pure chemistry. The song is instantly relatable. Who hasn’t wanted to experience life with clear vision? Over booming percussion she whispers the song’s catchiest lines, “The world is a curse it will kill if you let it / I know they’ve got pills that can help you forget it / but I don’t do drugs.” The chorus drops massive tsunami waves of synth-punctuated truth that will leave you gasping for air. It’s highly addictive.
Pip Blom – “I Think I’m In Love” (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
RIYL: Courtney Barnett, Zuzu, Amber Arcades
The search has begun to find the next Courtney Barnett – a young singer-songwriter with an unpretentious attitude but with a sharp, witty tongue. An artist who can create some buzzing indie-rock music that will make us want to dance, jump, and shimmy in place. There are plenty of candidates, but one that we have taken a keen interest in is Pip Blom. The now 20-year-old singer-songwriter first blew us away with her whimsical single, “Taxi Driver”. Her new single isn’t as whimsical – it’s actually more serious – but just as engaging and contagious as her first.
The opening chords of “I Think I’m In Love” grab your attention right away with its discordant, jittery vibe. Then Blom’s vocals kick in, and her first words are:
I thought I would write this song
You said you don’t know me, fine
We knew we would spend the night
You said you don’t know me, right
I was alone.
Immediately, you know this isn’t an ordinary relationship song. It’s not a young woman singing about heartbreak, but in her round-about and polite way she’s telling the other person to “f*ck off” and to “get over himself.” To put it bluntly, we need more songs that depict the strength instead of the vulnerability of women. Thankfully, young singer-songwriters like Pip Blom are leading the way.
The single is officially out next Friday, March 17th via Toaster Records.
Spookey Ruben – “Mr. Everywhere” (Los Angeles, USA via Toronto, Canada)
RIYL: Ariel Pink, King Tuff, Future Islands
Yesterday, we shared one of the funniest songs of the year with Yawn Mower’s “This Old Shed.” Now we share arguably one of the most entertaining and even bizarre numbers you will hear.
Previously known as Spinski A. Raboinovic, Spookey Ruben has developed a reputation as being indie pop’s version of “Weird Al” Jankovic, although his imagination might even been more quirky. His new single, “Mr. Everywhere,” for instance, is extraordinarily weird, and we love it! The music is catchy, funky, and a party waiting to happen. Lyrically, Ruben follows the life and exploits of a small, unknown person who could be a spy, Ant Man, or the internet. Maybe the song is about Donald Trump because “he’s a tiny guy” – or maybe just Sean Spicer (that’s a scary thought). Whoever this person is, he is everywhere.
Forget going to the movies tonight; we’ll just spin this song all day. Honestly, “Mr. Everywhere” made our weekend! Thanks, Ruben!
Tracy Irve – “Keep Me Close” (Gothenburg, Sweden)
RIYL: The xx, London Grammar, Cigarettes After Sex
Siblings Linnea and Alexander Herlogsson – a.k.a. Tracy Irve – have been on our radar for a little while. We just haven’t gotten around to sharing any of their music, which is shameful because the duo are creating some of the most sensual electronic music around. But it’s not just the music they has won us over; the two write some serious stories.
Their latest single, “Keep Me Close,” is a perfect reflection of the brother-sister tandem’s talents. The production work is lush and intimate, giving the feel of a late-night charade between two lovers meeting for the first time. Linnea’s sultry vocals guide us along the escapade and the longing that occurs well after that the night. This experience is known to many of us, but Tracy Irve have described it in a way that is cinematic and breathtaking. If only all these experiences were as beautiful and memorable.
Tracy Irve released an EP, Strip, at the end of 2016, which can be heard here.
TUSKS – “Toronto” (London, England)
RIYL: Daughter, London Grammar, Agnes Obel, Sigur Rós
Emily Underhill records under the name TUSKS, one she chose in homage to the 1979 Fleetwood Mac album. That’s quite fitting since that album and her new “Toronto” single share a breakup theme. But nothing in Fleetwood Mac’s entire discography captures the ethereal brooding Underhill has created here. It’s impossible to count the number of times this single sent shivers up our spines. With just one listen, you will understand, though this is a song that simply cannot be played only once. Every repeated play reveals more ethereal grandeur on the scale of Sigur Rós and Daughter.
“Toronto” captures both the icy chill of a relationship change and the city where she recorded the song. Its dynamics are on display from the start, with intense bass drum beats that establish a dramatic soundscape. Then there’s the plaintive yearning in her voice when she sings, “Oh darling, what have you done?” that will haunt you with its raw honesty. It matters little whether that question is one she asks of herself or another; the answer is fraught with sadness. But one thing is certain: with a song this powerfully emotional, even the most painful moments yield beautiful results in time.
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