A full slate of songs is on The Matinee ’20 September 14. It is Monday, so these nine tunes will hopefully pick you up. If you’re looking for a common theme, each one recalls an era from the past, particularly the ’90s.
Slow Pulp – “At It Again” (Chicago via Madison, WI, USA)
RIYL: Red House Painters, Dehd, Galaxie 500
The ’90s are remembered for bringing us grunge and alternative music. The era, though, also gave us another great guitar-driven sound and that was sadcore. It was the perfect medium between the heaviness popularized by mostly Seattle-based bands and the dreamy, shoegaze that infiltrated the London music scene. The songs of Red House Painters, Galaxie 500, Mojave 3, and so on were not simply dazzling and intoxicating, but they told powerful stories and uplifting messages. Nearly thirty years later, sadcore is making a comeback thanks to bands like Slow Pulp.
For the past year, the Madison, Wisconsin-bred, Chicago-based quartet of Emily Massey (vocals/guitar), Alexander Leeds (bass), Theodore Mathews (drums), and Henry Stoehr (guitar) have made us contemplate our existence while enrapturing us. On “Falling Apart”, which was released earlier this year, they captured feelings of confusion, anger, and fear due to the chaos in this world. But just as they were about to join us in thinking all has ended, they peel back the curtains and let the light in on “At It Again”.
Like the aforementioned ’90s, sadcore bands, Slow Pulp deliver an unforgettable, dazzling number. While the guitars churn with grit and the rhythms pulse with urgency, Massey’s dreamy, embracing vocals take the track to the heavens. She tells us to keep our heads up and do our apart to be better people. To help make things around us better again. This band, too, gets better with every new release, which makes their debut album, Moveys, a must listen. It will be available in stores on October 9th via Winspear. Pre-orders available here.
JEEN. – “Anything You Want” (Toronto, Canada)
RIYL: Ladyhawke, Laurel, San Cisco
Speaking of the ’90s, the indie-pop music of that time was equally sublime and provocative. It was not all big anthems and cheesy lyrics. The songs caused your chest to swell, your mind to go momentarily blank, and your body feel like it was levitating. If you’re too young to understand this experience, Jeen O’Brien – or simply JEEN. – offers a little history lesson with “Anything You Want”.
The track is guitar-pop perfection. It not only elicits all the emotions described above, but it also makes you believe that there are better things ahead. With the crystalline guitar and pulsating bass soaring in the background, JEEN. lushly tells us that we can do whatever we want. That even in these tough times, we can still dream big and strive to be the very best. Yes the world has changed and there are limits, but our imaginations and hopes are limitless.
JEEN.’s self-titled, new album is out October 9th. If it’s littered with other uplifting gems like this, it will be the warm, uplifting record we will all need come the fall.
Floating Room – “Held Open Door” (Portland, USA)
RIYL: Fenne Lily, Soccer Mommy, The Cardigans
Our first introduction to the Maya Stoner-led project, Floating Room, was in 2016. At the time, the Portland-based outfit released their debut single, “Fun”, which was a dark, shoegaze-drenched, introspective number. It was like Daughter collaborating with the Cocteau Twins, and the outcome was simply mesmerizing. In the four years since, the band have evolved – or check that, continue to evolve. Their debut album, Sunless, featured the heavy, harrowing tones of “Fun” while their sophomore LP, False Baptism, straddled between electrifying shoegaze and droning, bedroom-pop. So where would they go next with their next output? The answer is probably every direction, but on one song they head to the area of raucous indie guitar-pop and it will bring Gen X’ers back to their youth.
If we were living in the ’90s, “Held Open Door” would be on the soundtrack of one of the decade’s iconic coming-of-age films (like Empire Records or Singles) or even mentioned in Nick Hornby’s cult classic novel, High Fidelity (the movie is pretty good, too). Its first two minutes are reminiscent of the moody, urgent, and catchy music of the mid-’90s. The song then, just like the band, does the unexpected and delves into a slow, slumbering, gritty rocker. The approach mirrors Stoner’s intelligent songwriting. Through her captivating voice, she sings about how life constantly trips us up, including taking away the people we love. But instead of staying on the ground, she gets up on her feet and soldiers on.
“I know I am strong
but strength don’t get me high
I get so bored
and I want to feel alive”
Joining Maya Stoner (guitar/vocals) in Floating Room are Mo Troper (bass/guitar/keys/vocals), Jared Ridabock (drums), Jon Scheid (guitar), and Aaron Liu (keys). Their EP, Tired and True, rises on October 30th. Pre-order it on Bandcamp.
Shame – “Alphabet” (London, England)
RIYL: IDLES, Fontaines D.C., October Drift
Two years ago, Shame released Songs of Praise, which was not just an outstanding debut but one of the best LPs of the 2010s. It was bold, assertive, and relevant. Heck, it still remains a very pertinent record, as many of the themes covered then still apply today. The timeless quality in Shame’s songwriting and post-punk style positions Eddie Green, Charlie Forbes, Josh Finerty, Sean Coyle-Smith, and Charlie Steen to be one of 2020’s most important bands. To demonstrate why they are worthy of such accolades, the quintet have unleashed a roaring critique of ourselves with “Alphabet”.
The song echoes the driving, raw energy of IDLES and Fontaines D.C. Every element is delivered with the desperation of a person about to perform their very last song. Nothing is held back because there is nothing left for us to lose in these times. Or is there? As the trio of guitars chime and thrust while the rhythms heavily pound, Green harshly and sarcastically asks us if “we feel good”. He’s asking us if we are satisfied with what we have, where we are, and what is happening. He’s directly wondering whether our desires are limitless or whether we all have a point where we say “enough is enough”. Surely we all do, don’t we?
The single is out on Dead Oceans. Here’s hoping their sophomore album is coming in 2021. Let’s hope there will be a 2021.
Kadija Kamara – “Best Moves” (London, England)
RIYL: Janelle Monaé, Erykah Badu, Connie Constance
Whenever we hear Kadija Kamara sing, two words immediately come to mind: versatility and grace. Like the great soul, funk, and R&B singers of the past – think Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Prince, and The O’Jays – the London-based singer-songwriter can easily write a groovy, dance-infused number or a powerful ballad of resistance, resilience, and hope. She demonstrated her throwback nature on her terrific 2018 EP, Nothing to Lose, and she returns once again with a much-needed message of hope.
Get up on your feel and slowly groove to “Best Moves”. Soul, Latin, and Afro-beat converge on this silky yet scintillating tune. As the balafon tickles in the background and weaves through the electric guitar and synth bass, Kamara sings with a stunning intimacy and tells us to get moving and put our best foot forward. She lets us know that we are all worthy despite what others might tell us. If we can celebrate who we are, maybe then we can start a new revolution to counter the lies, false realities, and hate that some are inciting. And Kamara will be at the front leading the march.
Kamara is working on a new album, which is expected in 2021.
La femme – “Paradigme” (Paris, France)
RIYL: Squirrel Nut Zippers, Christine & The Queens, CHROMEO
You might be looking at the RIYL and asking, “What?” Trying to find comparisons for Paris-based La Femme is like attempting to ace a Mensa exam – it’s not easy. Like the famed yet exclusive society, everyone wants to join the Sacha Got, Marlon Magnée, and Sam Lefèvre-led project. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a group that can spin nu-disco, extravagant orchestral-pop, and even some old-school funk? They are, in other words, a band that brings the jukebox and, thus, the party into your home. And every great event needs to kick off with a tune that gets the patrons out of their seats and on to the dance floor, which is what “Paradigme” does.
Even if you do not speak French, this multi-genre tune will get you dancing. Jazz, pop, and nu-disco converge to create a vibe that feels part Vaudeville and another part Saturday Night Live. It’s theatrical, it’s head-bopping delicious, and it’s immensely fun. Within the buzzing atmosphere, however, lies a sultry mysteriousness, as Got sings about living in another dimension. Or maybe this paradigm is the present, where reality has suddenly become distorted. It’s like our world has been turned upside-down, where the fiction is now fact and the surreal has become actualized.
The single is out on the trio’s own Disque Pointu label. See them if you’re in France and when live shows are back in full force.
Bathe Alone – “Curbside” (Atlanta, USA)
RIYL: Lush, No Joy, OHMME
A couple of months ago, we were introduced to Bailey Crone’s dazzling world called Bathe Alone. The moniker is fitting since Crone’s shoegaze-infused approach is a whole-of-body experience akin to swimming in one of the planet’s most lavish lagoons, as demonstrated on the scintillating “Calm Down”. The Atlanta native, though, can also create soundscapes that feel like an out-of-body experience, shooting listeners to the stars and beyond. So sit back and enjoy the intergalactic ride that is “Curbside”.
With hints of the shoegaze greatness of Lush, Crone at first seduces with a soft, melancholic approach. The lightness of the music is both intoxicating and relaxing, and the gliding mood is interrupted occasionally by the fireworks that ignite from her reverb-drenched guitar. Her voice, though, is angelic, floating through space just like we are. Just as our minds begin to fade away, Crone awakens our senses as her guitar sears and electrifies. This moment is not frightening nor menacing, but rather it represents the start of something new and exciting. It is us entering a new dimension that is full of awe and wonder. It is us awakening to the realization that the next great shoegaze artist lies before us.
Oddnesse – “Summer’s Almost Over” (Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: Tennis, Springtime Carnivore, Miya Folick
As we have watched Rebeca Arango’s project, Oddnesse, grow from afar, we have come to adore her ability to create wonderful tales from even the most innocuous moments. Her gift is akin to that of filmmaker Wes Anderson, where even the most unexpected person can triumph and be the hero. Her debut EP, Overindulgence, which was released earlier this year, featured vignettes of people chasing the American dream and questioning what they must do to survive in today’s dog-eat-dog world. Arango offers an answer on her surprise new single, “Summer’s Almost Over”.
The song is not an end-of-summer anthem. It is instead a breezy, ’70s pop tune that offers warmth and light in the cooler and darker days and weeks ahead. As the synths and percussion create the spring-like atmosphere, Arango offers encouragement and hope to anyone struggling to get through the days. She intimately tells us that “you will find your way out” of the darkness that occupies our realities. She speaks as one who has suffered through the same ordeals, wondering if she had a purpose in this life, especially as the world seems to be one step closer to imploding. Through this uncertain time, Arango has found her voice, which is to share stories, like “Summer’s Almost Over”, that make us feel alive and worthy once again. That makes us feel like we’re the hero of our story.
The single is out on Make More Records.
Spunsugar – “Belladonna” (Malmö, Sweden)
RIYL: The Jesus and Mary Chain, Chromatics, The Cocteau Twins
If we were to list our favorite discoveries of the year, Sweden’s Spunsugar would likely be on it. The trio of Elin Ramstedt, Cordelia Moreau, and Felix Sjöström are a bridge to the past and the present. Their music is entrenched in the classic sounds of early ’90s shoegaze and layered with the harsh tones of contemporary post-punk. Consequently, their singles to date elicit various reactions. They made us first go, “Ooh!”, with the dizzying “Happier Happyness”, and then “Ahh!”, on the shoegaze monster, “Run”. Now with “Belladonna”, all we can say is, “Whoa!”
A foreboding, disco-punk vibe immediately surges from the start. It’s like we’ve entered the dark, dank, underground music caverns of 1977 Berlin, where punk, disco, krautrock, and electronica were first forged. This combination is captivating, particularly in an age where cookie-cutter songs are preferred and experimentation is rarely rewarded. But it’s not just the instrumentation that dazzles but also the arrangements, as the song twists and turns on a few occasions. While its beginning is hypnotic, the song also crests into the harrowing edges of darkgaze. This varied approach is perfect in describing the false deities we follow, who occupy our dreams, and who influence our decisions. It is the mixing of the real with the surreal, where we can no longer determine truth from fiction.
The single is out now on Adrian Recordings, who will release the band’s debut album later this year.
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