The Matinee ’20 September 16 edition is loaded with star power, as several of the biggest names in indie music have released new songs this week. Emerging artists are also featured, and they represent the next great wave of singer-songwriters.
Porridge Radio – “7 Seconds” (Brighton, England)
RIYL: Au Revoir Simone, Real Life, Talk Talk
Dana Margolin (vocals/guitar), Maddie Ryall (bass), Georgie Stott (keys), and Sam Yardley (drums) show no signs of slowing down with their project Porridge Radio. The quartet have already delivered one of the year’s finest albums in the heavy Every Bad (it’s in one of our writer’s Top 5), and in July they collaborated with Lala Lala on the broodingly delightful “Good for You”. The band have been using their pandemic-related free time to not only create new music but to challenge themselves creatively. Where their previous releases were guitar-heavy, Porridge Radio rewind the clocks, unwrap the synths, and deliver an ’80s gem on their new single.
“7 Seconds” is a dazzling synth-pop number that recalls all the great songs found of the very best soundtracks of the era. The track, however, is not duplicating the past. Instead, Porridge Radio have perfected it. They have layered additional elements, taking the song to delirious and awe-inspiring levels. While the synths are the musical star, the gorgeous, lingering guitar elevates the track.
Through this lushness lies Margolin’s angsty vocals, which at times sounds like Chrissie Hynde and then roars with the intensity of Shirley Manson. She sings about saying goodbye to people way too soon and wonders what they think about in their final moments. It’s a love song to friends, family, and each other, and one that should be on everyone’s personal soundtrack.
Future Islands – “Moonlight” (Baltimore, USA)
RIYL: Future Islands, Joy Division, New Order
When we think of great bands of the 21st century, Future Islands is always near the top of the list. They almost single-handedly revived ’80s synth-pop but bring a contemporary swagger and even more powerful songwriting to the genre. Some bands begin to lose steam as they approach their fifteenth year together, but not Samuel T. Herring, William Cashion, Gerrit Welmers, and Mike Lowry. They seem to only get better with age. The soaring anthems of their early years are less frequent, yet the trio find new ways to move us. Specifically, they find a way to bury themselves deep into our hearts and souls and make us feel something tangible and human. They did this on the rapturous “For Sure” and even more so on the tenderly contemplative “Thrill”. They do it again with the beautifully emotional “Moonlight”.
Lie next to your loved one and together listen to this endearing song. All the elements are stripped back to form a solemn yet breathtaking atmosphere, which is perfect for the two of you to reminiscent all the great (and not-so-great) moments you’ve shared. This is a song to ponder why you still love one another, and why it is even more important than ever to hold on to each other:
“Here’s our chance to make it
Make this into something more
Here’s my heart, don’t break it
It’s all that I ask
Pixey – “Just Move” (Liverpool, England)
RIYL: Deee-Lite; La Femme; Locate S,1
If you’re just waking up, forego the morning cuppa and instead hit play on “Just Move”. Trust us, this song is psychedelic disco-pop on steroids. It is the natural stimulant you need now and will need as the days progress.
The song is the unexpected pairing of ’80s disco-pop icon Deee-lite, the musical theatre of La Femme, and the swirling neo-psychedelia of Tame Impala. And this creative masterpiece has been concocted inside the mind of Lizzie Hillesdon and her project Pixey. One would expect this whirlwind of a single would be created by a seasoned artist, but this is Liverpudlian’s second official release, which reveals her immense potential.
There’s more to Hillesdon’s art, though. Beyond the bouncy rhythms and the whammy-jamming guitars, Hillesdon’s has written a song of women’s empowerment. She encourages women and girls to take control and not be enslaved to the wishes of others. She wants them to move because a non-stationary target cannot be easily overtaken. This can also be said about Hillesdon, who is moving to the top of new artists everyone must hear. Pretty soon, she’ll be an unstoppable force.
“Just Move” is out on Chess Club Records, which has a knack for unearthing gems like Pixey.
Sufjan Stevens – “Sugar” (Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: Sufjan Stevens
You might expect to hear the line “Come on, baby, give me some sugar” in a mainstream pop or rap tune, not in an indie song with strong philosophical undertones. But that contradiction makes perfect sense when you realize the lyrics come from Sufjan Stevens. On his latest single, the artist uses common clichés to convey a message set to a smoldering slow groove.
“Sugar” is a call to action. It urges listeners to do more than just repeat those lame mantras – “put one foot in front of the other” and “stand up straight” – and to instead use them as instruments for change. The timing of this song’s release is no coincidence, either. With the U.S. elections less than 50 days away, Stevens clarifies the urgency:
“All the shit they try to feed us
Don’t drink the poison or they’ll defeat us
This is the right time
All this rage has got to go now
Let’s take up this lifeline”
Jeff Tweedy – “Guess Again” (Chicago, USA)
While most of us have spent The Year of Coronavirus by doomscrolling and bingeing too much streaming content, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy has been in creative overdrive. He has written another book, titled How To Write One Song, a follow-up to his 2018 memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). Next month he will release his fourth solo album, Love Is the King, which features this instantly endearing single.
“Guess Again” showcases the warmer side of Tweedy, this time penning an unconventional ode to love. We say unconventional because most love songs don’t mention fresh tomatoes.
“Oh tomatoes right off the line
We used to eat them like that all the time
And if you think that’s the best thing that I ever knew
Guess again my love
Longtime fans of Tweedy’s work – both solo and with Wilco – know to expect witty yet heartfelt honesty in his lyrics. Here he delivers a campfire serenade for the ages. It is sure to be a singalong concert favorite once live music resumes. Tweedy also shared a video for the album title track this week.
William McCarthy – “The Vanishing Man” (New York City, USA)
RIYL: Augustines, Frightened Rabbit, Manchester Orchestra
Some artists shine a beacon in the night with their music. Their songs of hope sustain us, reminding us we are not alone. The problem is the rarity of this dying breed of troubadour: heartfelt, relatable ballads aren’t commercially profitable these days. You are less likely to hear an artist whose music speaks to your heart and soul on mainstream radio. However, they still exist. One such artist is William McCarthy, and his newest EP features just that kind of tune.
“The Vanishing Man” reminds listeners that indie rock is not just alive; it’s thriving. From the first rousing notes, punctuated by bright piano and a pulsing tempo, McCarthy applies sonic shock paddles to your heart. Those familiar warm vocals that fans have loved since his days in Pela and Augustines proclaim, “I can’t take it anymore / I’m out of here tonight.” From that point you can only hold on and enjoy the ride.
McCarthy knows a thing or two about journeys in life, both literal and figurative. The New York City-based artist recently completed a solo motorcycle ride across America, ending back in his home state of California. The thrill of that journey echoes in each note of this song. As he sings you can almost feel the rumble of the highway below you and the sunset glow of the horizon before you. This is what separates McCarthy from other songwriters: his music draws you into every verse and chorus. Much like Springsteen did in the ’70s, McCarthy creates relatable tales of American life. “The Vanishing Man” will inspire you to live each day as he does: with gusto, with purpose, and with a triumphant song in your heart.
His newly released EP, Tryin’ To See the Light, is out now and available directly from his Bandcamp page.
Told Slant – “Family Still” & “No Backpack” (Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: Modest Mouse, Bellows, Sufjan Stevens
Felix Walworth’s distinctive drumming style can be heard on many records, ranging from bands like Bellows, to Yohuna, to Mutual Benefit. They’ve also toured with Lala Lala as a guitarist, among drumming for countless bands in the lower New York State area. Walworth is a notable contributor, but their real strength resonates through their own project, Told Slant. The first two Told Slant albums have cathartic highs and heartwrenching lows, an emotional ride that has an unexplainable, inviting warmth.
Yesterday Walworth shared two new Told Slant tracks from their upcoming record, “Family Still” and “No Backpack”. “Family Still” feels like a Told Slant track of old, a relatively minimal instrumental composition centered around Walworth’s voice and lyrics. It builds like some of Walworth’s best tracks with the line “I don’t need your love at all” repeated. The second track, “No Backpack”, feels like a big leap forward for the Told Slant sound in so many ways. It feels huge, with synth and guitar like we’ve never heard from a Told Slant record.
When I think about Felix Walworth, I think of an interview from a few years ago where they said “If it’s not stuck in my head, it’s not good.” It explains the repetitive nature of their lyrics and chorus, and it’s quite an effective way to keep a listener engaged. Both tracks invoke that premise, and they’re a captivating introduction to the next Told Slant record.
Pom Poko – “My Candidacy” (Oslo via Trondheim, Norway)
RIYL: Deerhoof, Rubblebucket, Calliope Musicals
Norway’s Pom Poko have never been conventional, which is why we adore the quartet’s artistry. Their brand of alt-pop is off-the-wall brilliant in a Deerhoof way but more accessible. They’re not just sonic auteurs: frontwoman Ragnild Fangel is also a master at creating stirring dramas out of every small and eventual moment. Put these two things together and you get one of the great bands in all of indie music. Their latest single showcases their quirky inventiveness.
Get ready to jiggle, jive, and gyrate in all directions with “My Candidacy”. The off-kilter arrangements might be perplexing at first, but there’s no doubting the quick bursts of energy that emanate from the grizzled guitar, the feverish percussion, and throbbing bass. Even in the song’s lower points, you cannot help but bounce on your toes in anticipation of the next miniature explosion. Beyond the music, Fangel sings about one of the rare things on the planet – unconditional love in an age where everything has a cost. “You don’t have to but here’s the key”, she offers her home and heart to her friends or anyone wanting to join her little utopia. The contrast between the frenetic arrangements and Fangel’s story brilliantly captures the extremes of today’s world.
Pom Poko are: Ragnhild Fangel (vocals), Martin Miguel Tonne (guitar), Jonas Krøvel (bass), and Ola Djupvik (drums).
Hawksley Workman – “Dwindling Beauty (Let’s Fake Our Deaths Together)” (Toronto, Canada)
RIYL: Spencer Krug/Moonface, The Mounties, Jesse Mac Cormack
Most Canadians know who Hawksley Workman is, as he’s a two-time Juno winner and was once heavily featured on MuchMusic for most of the ’00s. He was a star and still remains so. Over the past decade, he’s divided his time between his solo work and his side project, The Mounties, creating good old-fashion Canadiana rock music. Then something changed.
Since the end of 2019, Workman has focused on, as he says, “self-improvement”, which has been amped up in these days of self-isolation. Now operating on his own timelines and with no pressure from labels, the veteran singer-songwriter is releasing some of his very best music. His latest singles have been outstanding, including “Dwindling Beauty (Let’s Fake Our Deaths Together)”.
The song is a straightforward, driving indie-rock number, but it possesses a beautiful urgency that grabs hold of your heart and soul and does not let go. It is an anthem for every person dealing with despair, depression, anxiety, or anyone who has lost hope. However, instead of succumbing to our conditions and fears, Workman suggests we own them and ride them out. There is too much at stake to concede now.
“What kind of drugs don’t you think we’re over using?
What kind of strangers do we think we both would make?
I hate the thought that either of us would be caught choosing
I hate the thought of losing anything for goodness sake”
Workman’s new album, Less Rage More Tears, is out October 23rd, but those who pre-order it on Bandcamp will receive it on October 16th.
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