The Matinee ’20 July 27 edition is filled with thought-provoking tunes. Many of them are “protest songs”, but unlike what we’ve grown accustomed to hearing. Some are protests against a great power while others encourage us to fight the demons inside us. The one thing they all have in common, though, is the believe that we all have an inner strength that has yet to be unleashed.
Diamond Thug – “Backpush” (Cape Town, South Africa)
RIYL: Warpaint, Saltwater Sun, The Big Moon
Regardless if you reside in the northern or southern hemisphere, the days feel more chilly than usual. The temperature might be over 35 degrees Celsius with high humidity outside, but we’re limited in our ability to do anything because wars are being waged all around us. A battle against a crippling virus, constant assaults from those who wish to redefine reality and the truth, and the multiple conflicts within our minds preoccupy our time. All we want to do is escape, and we still can with music that captures our emotions while also taking us away. Now strap in, close your eyes, and imagine your own personal paradise with Diamond Thug‘s “Backpush”.
Throbbing, head-nodding rhythms welcome us on-board this adventure. Front-woman Chantal Van T’s cool, bellowing voice immediately enters the fray, and she calms our nerves with her self-assured and no-nonsense nature. As the song traverses between pulsating peaks and dreamy valleys, she tells us that despite all the “bullshit” we’ve encountered, “We’re all right in this winter”. The sun still shines, and new days awaken. All we need to do is push back and persevere as a whole. We are, after all, on this trip together.
The band are Chantel Van T (vocals/keys), Danilo Queiros (bass/production), Adrian Culhane (guitar/synth/backing vocals/production), and Ted Buxton (drums).
Gold & Thorns – “Hollywood” (New Haven, CT, USA)
RIYL: Austra, Chromatics, M83, Porcelain Raft
The most delicious moment for music fans is discovering a song that sends shivers down your spine. Those ripples of delight are infrequent though not rare, especially when lush synths are involved. Our reaction upon hearing “Hollywood” from emerging synth-pop outfit Gold & Thorns delivered quite an ecstatic rush. Perhaps the music conjures memories long forgotten, of teenage heartbreak and loneliness. Maybe some of the mystique lies in the band’s relative anonymity? We know Gold & Thorns is the project of Connecticut-based artist Jesse Anders, but little beyond that. Minimal biographical details aside, the allure of “Hollywood” is undeniable.
Fans of Austra and Chromatics will savor these emotion-triggering minor key synths. This sleek, sophisticated dream-pop also achieves a perfect balance. It mirrors the urgency of M83 yet projects the calm of Porcelain Raft. The radio-friendly hooks here are tight and plentiful, accented by ethereal vocals and ’80s-era instrumentation. The early verses and chorus introduce the tension; the bridge delivers the release. If this tune were featured in a John Hughes movie (or in the next season of Stranger Things?), it would perfectly frame the scene where the protagonist suppresses tears when seeing their ex with their new love. Those familiar teenage feelings – of a tightening throat and welling tears held back as if by sheer will – all come surging back as you listen.
Gold & Thorns create more than just retro-inspired sounds; “Hollywood” transports listeners to places where the music comes alive. This tune is a fantastic voyage to an emotional place worthy of the silver screen. Hopefully we will hear more from this talented group soon.
“Hollywood” is streaming now on Spotify.
Mt. Doubt – “Dark Slopes Away” (Edinburgh, Scotland)
RIYL: The National, Destroyer, Nick Cave, Peter Murphy
Three years ago a Scottish band wowed us with their contemplative indie rock. What began as a fast fondness for Mt. Doubt has become a steadfast love with the arrival of their latest offering. “Dark Slopes Away” is simply breathtaking. This single from their upcoming album, DOUBTLANDS, reminds us why we fell hard for this Edinburgh band in the first place.
“Dark Slopes Away” takes listeners to a place of emotional catharsis. Dynamic, introspective, and deeply textured, the tune maintains its cloudy charm throughout. Ever the chameleonic frontman, Leo Bargery delivers vocals eerily evocative of Peter Murphy one moment with hints of Nick Cave the next. The inescapable comparison to The National still holds, though it is more than just in Bargery’s vocal delivery. Here the rich instrumentation envelops listeners at the first flutter of percussion, putting “Dark Slopes Away” on par with any of the tracks from Boxer. From there the lyrical imagery – of grieving trees and fires ripping through a church roof and Odysseus – begs to be visualized with closed eyes and bated breath.
The closing refrain will likely prompt an argumentative response from listeners. “I think I’ve had enough” is the exact opposite of how you’ll feel when the song ends. Keep this one on repeat as every spin delivers glorious rewards. Is “Dark Slopes Away” an early contender for Song of The Year? Without a doubt.
Mt. Doubt are: Leo Bargery (lead vocals, guitar), James Callaghan (bass), Ryan Firth (keys/synths), Annie Booth (backing vocals), and Peter Bunting (drums).
HÆLOS – “Perfectly Broken” (London, England)
RIYL: Portishead, Hundred Waters, Massive Attack
In the six years since their formation, HÆLOS – comprised of Lotti Benardout, Arthur Delaney, Dom Goldsmith, and Daniel Vildosola – have risen from BBC Introducing alumni to international trip-hop juggernauts. Unlike the EDM producers that draw ravers to their shows, the London-based quartet take listeners to distant places while writing compelling stories. Their 2016 debut album, Full Circle, was more than just a musical experience; it was magical. Now they’ve further mastered their art as well as become chroniclers of the present, which they display on “Perfectly Broken”.
As they have consistently done, HÆLOS craft a sublime and dazzling interstellar, sonic wonderland. Every element is executed with the precision of a surgeon – from the sparkling beats to the lingering guitars to the dark, rhythmic pulses. The interplay of the quartet’s voices further heightens the quiet urgency and drama in the track. Whereas Benardout’s lush vocals enchant, Delaney’s voice keeps us grounded. The two articulate a world that has collapsed on itself, where nothing is what it was:
“There ain’t no good by this thing
This fantasy we’re locked inside
Truth has lost its wisdom
White is black and black is white
The single is out on HÆLOS’ own Æ imprint. No word on whether a new album is coming soon, though we are hopeful.
Juanita Stein – “Snapshot” (Brighton, England via Melbourne/Sydney, Australia)
RIYL: Agnes Obel, Nadine Shah, Julia Holter
Two years ago, Juanita Stein released an enchanting Americana classic in Until the Lights Fade. It was a journey into the depths of a desert in search of one’s own oasis, and the experience was riveting. The Howling Bells frontwoman re-emerges from that arid wasteland and enters another surreal dimension on her latest single, “Snapshot”.
Orchestral pop hues of Anges Obel and Julia Holter combine with Stein’s trademark psychedelic folk, and together they spiral around Stein’s vivid honesty. She takes us deep inside her mind, where she’s a lonely wanderer traversing Dali’s landscape as depicted on The Persistence of Memory. The day and the hour meaningless here because she is stuck “in a moment of time”. She is lost inside her own recollection, and she poetically recites:
“You are a snapshot of my mind
All I can do is build a frame
Access the memory again
I call your name and no one’s there
There’s no spell to the ease the pain
Only a photograph remains”
AFTER LONDON – “Operator” (London & Hampshire, England)
RIYL: Dream Wife, The Joy Formidable, YONAKA
Alt-rock at its peek was a young generation’s protest music. Bands were unafraid to challenge the status quo, instead they either reflected a younger generation’s angst or encouraged people to stand up for their rights. The music was intense in all its forms, motivating listeners through its sonic fury and brutally honest lyrics. Songs of this nature are rare these days, but AFTER LONDON are one of the few that consistently deliver raging alt-rockers. Last week, they unleashed a track that would make Garbage, Soundgarden, and Hole proud. Specifically on “Operator”, the English alt-rock quintet encourage us to be ourselves and not conform to expectations. If there is ever a time to shake the foundations of our patriarchical society, today is it.
Right off the back of “Operator”, frontwoman Frank Ward hollers with a Shirley Manson flair, “You know I can tell / I don’t fit in”. As the guitars and rhythms intensify around her booming voice (the rhythm section is awesome), she refuses to back down. Instead, she calls out the marionettes who desire to make her a puppet like everyone else. She’s the leader of her own marching band and not some minion to be toyed with.
” Who called up the Operator?
Who said you’re the moderator?
Telling me when to speak.
Who called up the Operator?
Who said what of my behaviour?
Don’t pull me underneath”
In addition to Frank, she’s joined by her brothers Byron and Will, Jake Palmer, and Alex Tiffany.
Pieta Brown – “We Are Not Machines” (feat. Ani DiFranco, S. Carey) (Iowa City, USA)
RIYL: Land of Talk, Gordi, S. Carey
Protest songs don’t always have to be loud and rambunctious. The ’60s taught us that even the quietest numbers can be powerful because words speak louder than sound. Dylan, Baez, Mitchell, Prine, Seeger, Lightfoot, and many others led the way. And if we wanted to go even further back, Woody Guthrie was the trendsetter. Today, the music takes on many forms, including the delicate folktronica that Bon Iver and S. Carey trail-blazed more than a decade ago. While this genre is dreamy, it provides a moving canvas on which an empowering song can be created. It gives us a sense of what could be possible if we are to change the course of our future, which the great Pieta Brown achieves on “We Are Not Machines”.
With an assist from Ani DiFranco (who is no stranger to protest songs) and the aforementioned S. Carey, Pieta shares a beautiful and stunning ballad. The soft touches of the piano and the gently percolating beats, synths, and sax create a feathery soundscape that is breathtaking and evokes images of what this world could be at its most beautiful. As the melody soothes, Brown’s lyrics provokes. She encourages us to:
“Don’t give ourselves to these machine minds
Don’t let them in, these machine hearts
We’re not machines (x2)
We all have the power
Let us use the power”
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