The Matinee ’20 July 8 edition is dedicated to provocative songwriters. They take different forms in terms of the images, themes, and music they create. Some will rattle you to the core; others will whisk you away to another era. Wherever you find yourself today, toss aside the remote control and get lost in these eight fabulous songs.

Porridge Radio – “Good for You” (feat. Lala Lala) (Brighton, England)

RIYL: Warpaint, Cherry Glazerr, Bleached

Earlier this year, Porridge Radio released one of the year’s most outstanding records in Every Bad. It was a heavy, tumultuous, emotional shocker. It was also unforgettable. While Dana Margolin (vocals/guitar), Maddie Ryall (bass), Georgie Stott (keys), and Sam Yardley (drums) could have spent the rest of the year basking in the widespread acclaim for their sophomore output, they have chosen to remain active even while in lockdown. They’ve invited a friend, however, in this mini-adventure, calling on Lillie West – a.k.a. Lala Lala and immensely gifted artist herself (her 2018 LP, Lamb, landed on our “Favorite Albums” list) – to provide backing vocals on the stellar “Good for You”.

The single feels like a natural extension from Every Bad. It is broodingly delightful, as stark rhythms and horns pair with darkly chiming synths and a lingering guitar  to create a moody, haunting atmosphere. It is as if we have dove headfirst into the mind of Joel Barish from Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, where memories immediately fade into the darkness. Margolin and West’s words drive this home, representing a woman trying to find purpose and meaning. With an aching vulnerability they sing:

“Full of love, full of sadness
I have missed everything you’ve said
Be specific if there’s something you need
For some reason, you don’t think that I’m real
I’m not nervous, but I don’t know what I feel
I think about it, and I feel like I can breathe”

The song is out on Secretly Canadian and available on Bandcamp.

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Vita and the Woolf – “Confetti” (Los Angeles via Philadelphia, USA)

RIYL: Marika Hackman, Phoebe Bridgers, Snail Mail

Three years ago, Vita and the Woolf released their long-awaited debut, Tunnels, and Jen Pague and Adam Shumski delivered a beautifully cinematic experience and one of 2017’s most overlooked records. Much has changed in that time, as Pague packed her belongings and headed to Los Angeles. Her decision to move west wasn’t born out of a desire to seek stardom; rather it was forself-discovery. After working different jobs and making new friends, she found the sound she’s long searched for. The synth-driven, bursting soundscapes have been replaced by a gritty yet intimate indie-rock approach. The music is still breathtaking, but instead of taking listeners to far-away places she leads us to reality, as she does on “Confetti”.

While the ’60s and early ’70s gave us the Laurel Canyon sound, the late 2010s and now 2020 has revealed a new L.A. sound that Pague masters. “Confetti” is engrossingly vulnerable, where not only Pague’s voice weeps but also her trembling guitar and the tear-dropping rhythms. The stunning melody is knee-buckling at times, and the experience is accentuated by Pague’s honest, introspective lyrics. She shares her daydreams about moving to California, and how wonderful it would be. In actuality, she longs for “her East Coast friends” and Friday nights of foolish escapes. She longs to reclaim her innocence in a place where such a thing disappears almost immediately one steps foot on Hollywood Boulevard. With “Confetti”, Pague may have discovered her true self.

Or her alter-ego, Anna Ohio, has, which is the title of her sophomore album. It arrives August 21st on Tender Loving Empire with pre-orders available on Bandcamp.

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Iska Dhaaf – “Frida Kahlo” (Brooklyn & Seattle, USA)

RIYL: Sufjan Stevens, Elliott Smith, Nick Drake

One of the biggest grievances we have as music fans is why Iska Dhaaf aren’t universally acclaimed. This band consistently creates intricate, evocative indie music that defies genre labels yet always dazzles, so why hasn’t the entire world taken notice yet? Perhaps the duo of Benjamin Verdoes and Nathan Quiroga remain purists when it comes to their craft, preferring artistic honesty to mainstream mediocrity. Their newest single, “Frida Kahlo”, is their first new music since their 2016 album, The Wanting Creature. And in true Iska Dhaaf form, it’s stunning.

What you notice first about this single is its introspective mellowness. “Frida Kahlo” is a far cry from the psychedelic-tinged fuzz rock of their debut (Even the Sun Will Burn), instead echoing the pensive calm of Sufjan Stevens or Nick Drake. With loneliness as its focus, “Frida Kahlo” is a nurturing exploration of emotion guided by intimate acoustic guitar and piano. Questions like “Are we reckless now / losing pieces of ourselves” and “Are we lonelier now than before?” may go unanswered, but the beauty of the conversation – much like the work of artists they reference (Kahlo and Van Gogh) – remains.

This song is streaming now on Spotify, and available for purchase on their Bandcamp page.

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UNI – “Debris” (New York City, USA)

RIYL: Perfume Genius, Freddie Mercury, Anohni

It’s not often a video can match the lyrical and sonic poignancy of its song. This is why we gravitate to great songwriters who also double as storytellers. Every once in a while, though, sight and sound come together to form a captivating and unforgettable performance. This is what dramatic, psychedelic, glam-rockers UNI have achieved with “Debris”.

With the intense, emotional theatrics of Perfume Genius coupled with the dark intensity of Russian Circles, the New York trio have crafted a song that equally belongs on the stages of Rockefeller Center and the Sydney Opera House as well as in the grand foyers of the Guggenheim and Tate Modern. It is an artistic masterpiece that swells to great heights and shocks to the core. The video accentuates the song’s post-apocalyptic feel, where “The tree of life is bare” and people “tear down the statues, spray paint the sun”. This shadowy reality isn’t far off from the one in which we live, where chaos reigns thanks to blind cultists following its wayward leader.

UNI are Jack James, David Strange, and Charlotte Kemp Muhl. This absolutely brilliant single is out on Chimera Music.

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Grace Gillespie – “Empty In The Capital” (London, England)

RIYL: Aldous Harding, Lisa Hannigan, Rosie Carney

A month ago, Grace Gillespie had us repeating, “HUH”, in terms of how we had not shared her music in the past and how someone could create a fairy tale that sounded like it belonged in a Tarantino-directed children’s movie. It was a work of genius. For her latest single, she goes from skipping through the enchanted forest to being stuck within the stone-clad walls of London. Although the setting has changed, her intelligent approach to folk-pop and her clever songwriting remain. Actually, she’s one-upped herself.

“Empty In The Capital” is a bubbly serenade to isolation. The charming, folk-pop feels more apropos for an aimless wander through the Sherwood Forest, although there was a time not so long ago that London resembled an open expanse with its deserted streets. The image is surreal, and it provides the perfect scene for Gillespie’s examination about her and everyone’s place in this new reality. “What is we’re doing? What was it that we wanted to say? Are we ungrateful for the day?”, she quizzically asks herself and any other person wandering through Picadilly Circus in the midst of a pandemic. While we try to accept this new normal, Gillespie insightfully notes that our insecurities and rationalities have forever changed, where seeing ambulances race by will be as normal as blokes sharing an after-work pint.

It’s safe to say that we’ve found another favorite singer-songwriter, whose new single is out on Kaleidoscope Music.

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Dirty Nice – “Sunshine End Times” (London/Bournemouth, England)

RIYL: Coast Modern, Courtship., Vinyl Theatre

Dirty Nice have been creating unique and compelling indie pop for the past couple of years. Previous offerings have reminded a bit of Jai Paul or Jungle, yet “Sunshine End Times” is straight up ear candy in the classic feel good indie pop vein. This specific track reminds us of some of our favorite indie-pop bands who fly under the radar with songs you can’t get out of your head. The duo is well on their way to breaking out in a big way.

“Sunshine End Times” is pretty much the anthem for 2020 as we all have woken up at some point in time this year and wondered what the hell is going on. The lyrics are pretty much most of the world’s thoughts now that we are midway through this year.

“Try turning it off and on again, There must be a reset button somewhere”

Even though there are things going on in this world that make us thing WTF, the message is still upbeat and all about living out this crazy world with your ride or die. This track definitely needs to be immediately added to that upbeat playlist that will alter your mood for the better.

Dirty Nice is comprised of Charlie Pelling and Mark Thompson.

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Emmy The Great – “April / 月音” (London, England via Hong Kong)

RIYL: Feist, Laura Marling, Regina Spektor

If you have somehow missed the artistic brilliance of Emmy The Great, now is an excellent time to make her acquaintance. The artist born Emma-Lee Moss will release a new album, April / 月音, in October, and the lead single is a dazzling gem sure to take your breath away.

“Dandelions/Liminal” offers an ebullient pairing of pop radio-friendly hooks with her gorgeous vocals. Inspired by a full moon in her hometown of Hong Kong, the British singer/composer/writer captures the vibrance of a spring day. Her gentle delivery makes each note dance with a butterfly’s graceful flutter. In a time when the world has a surfeit of stress, Emmy The Great offers a beautifully melodic reprieve. 

Bella Union will release the album on October 6th with pre-orders here.

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All Them Witches – “The Children of Coyote Woman” (Nashville, USA)

RIYL: The Black Angels, Jaye Jayle, Lee Harvey Oswald

We have long stated that what a great story makes a great song. It can be a personal or fictitious tale, re-telling of a tragic event, or re-imagination of history. The music can take us places, but the words are what ignite our imaginations. One of the past decade’s great storytellers is All Them Witches, who treat every song like it’s a creative writing assignment. In their 2013 album, Lightning at the Door, they created Coyote Woman, who, depending on who you ask, represents a once great society / country, what humanity could be, the Creator, or a great literary figure. Now band comes full circle, channeling the memory of their now lost heroine on “The Children of Coyote Woman”.

With a stark, near Gothic-like patience, the trio delve into the deep tomes of Roman mythology and retell the founding of Rome. This is the story of Romulus and Remus, the sons of Rhea Silvia and the god Mars. While they were “two good old boys”, they grew apart as adults with their intensifying friction coming to a head in “squabbling” on which of the seven hills Rome would be founded. As the percussion rumbles and the guitar quietly strikes, Parks poetically illustrates the day Remus is killed, and Romulus would be Rome’s first king. The brothers are often depicted as two toddlers nursed by the she-wolf Etruscan; hence, the song’s title. And not just the title but the entire track is great imagery that further immortalizes one of music’s great literary characters.

All Them Witches are drummer Robby Staebler, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Charles Michael Parks Jr., and guitarist Ben McLeod. Their new album, Nothing as the Ideal, is available September 4th via New West Records. Pre-order/pre-save it here.

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