The Matinee ’20 October 5 edition is part fantasy and part reality. Some songs explore the wonders of the galaxy, others tackle the pertinent questions before us in these chaotic times, and a few share hopes, dreams, and pain. We hope you have a safe week.
Agent blå – “Lay in My Arms” (Gothenburg, Sweden)
RIYL: Makthaverskan, Amason, Slowdive
Let’s kick off the week with a song from a band that has perfected dizzying shoegaze. They are Agent blå, who follow a long line of great Swedish bands who take your breath away while rejuvenating your mind and soul. Although Lucas Gustavsson, Emelie Alatalo, Felix Skörvald, Tobias Bauer, and Arvid Christensen are less renowned than their predecessors like Makthaverskan and Amason, it’s only a matter of time before they get the recognition they have worked hard to earn. Now with a new EP out in Atopos and with the backing of great label in Kanine Records, the world is their oyster. The third and final track from the little record exhibits why we’ve been bullish about Agent blå’s potential since nearly the beginning.
Right from the start, “Lay in My Arms” steals you away. The chiming guitars are out of Slowdive’s grand songbook while the urgency that rings through the rhythms, particularly the throbbing bass, echo Amason’s titillating epics. It is as if we’ve been launched high into the skies, never to come down. Alatalo dreamy vocals and lyrics add to this effect as she recalls more innocent times sleeping in the comfort of her mother’s arms. There are few things more blissful than being close to someone you love dearly. The music Agent blå might be the exception.
Drive-By Truckers – “The Perilous Night” (Athens, GA & Portland, OR USA)
RIYL: Neil Young, My Morning Jacket, Jason Isbell
Music and politics make easy bedfellows. It’s been that way for generations, from Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie to Sinead O’Connor and The Sex Pistols. Artists of every genre write about current events, especially when the news headlines signal worrisome changes. One reliably outspoken group is southern indie rockers Drive-By Truckers. No strangers to hot topics, the band formed in Athens, Georgia, just delivered The New OK, their second album of 2020. This scorching track is a testament to the power of musical protest.
“The Perilous Night” delivers a walloping dose of urgency in every massive riff. Principal songwriter Patterson Hood wrote the song in June, amid the Black Lives Matter protests. Here he addresses the surge of alt-right evil and cites the obvious cause:
“Dumb, white and angry with their cup half-filled
Running over people down in Charlottesville
White House is glowing from that Red Square light
The gates at the border being slammed down tight
“Putin’s on the rise, Ukraine’s under siege
Fascism’s knowing and Trump says ‘Let them in’
I’d like to tell you there’ll be better days
But optimism’s running low today
We’re off the deep end with a lifeguard that can’t swim”
These lyrics accurately portray the lost hope felt in the USA now. This band has an uncanny way of taking inspiration from the bleakest headlines and making good of it, inspiring listeners to embrace action over apathy. Hopefully their message will reach American voters next month. The “flags of oppression” can’t block out the light forever.
BATTS – “Dancing On The Moon” (Melbourne, Australia)
RIYL: Nadia Reid, Tiny Ruins, Adrianne Lenker
We’ve long stated that the best songs are those that tell a story. Outstanding storytelling is the pinnacle of great music and nothing can really beat this. Then again, there is one thing: a song that tells the other side of a story told in another tune. Rarely do artists build on another person’s work, but Tanya Batts – who simply goes by BATTS and has been on our radar since 2016 – has done exactly this. The result is one of the most beautiful and intimate songs you’ll hear all year.
For those who have watched The Time Traveler’s Wife, First Man, or the new Netflix series, Away, imagine you are the spouse or child on Earth and looking at the stars while listening to “Dancing On The Moon”. As Batts’ humble guitar strums and her gorgeous, delicate voice effortlessly fills the quiet void, her words cause you to wonder where your partner or partner is. Is s/he safe out in the great black yonder? Could s/he be doing a jig on the distant celestial body that shows itself on most nights? We can only nervously guess at what is going on, but Batts gives us a bit of comfort with this stunning number.
The backstory of this song is that Batts contacted by Philadelphia-based This & That Tapes owner Joseph Carlough to collaborate on a tape. Carlough is also in a country band called Gravey Train, and they released a song about “an Astronaut who goes to the Moon”. Drawing inspiration from that song, the Melbourne-based singer-songwriter put herself in the shoes of the Astronaut’s wife, gazing at the nighttime sky and imagining what he could be doing at this hour.
Floating Room – “Freakshow” (Portland, OR USA)
RIYL: The Beths, Sunflower Bean, My Morning Jacket
How is the Maya Stoner-led project Floating Room not more popular? We don’t have the immediate answer to his puzzling question, but we think the young Portland band’s luck may soon change. Just call it a hunch. Call it another hunch that within two to three years they’ll experience a breakout like The Beths did two years ago. Like that great New Zealand band, Floating Room’s music is intelligent, infectious, and always pertinent. Take for instance “Held Open Door”, which they shared last month. With its message of resilience and self-empowerment, the track belonged on any coming-of-age soundtrack of the ’90s. Their latest single continues down this path, but there’s more bite to their words.
“Freakshow” is a melodic yet groovy indie rocker that could equally be played to a bunch of uni students at the local dive bar or to the well-heeled who are sipping on their cosmopolitans on a roof-top bar. An air of sultriness whips through the hazy, jangly approach. The intoxicating vibe, though, masks Stoner’s true intentions, which is not to seduce nor even to welcome us into her world. Instead, her clever lyrics are middle fingers at the voyeurs, manipulators, and judgmental types of the world, who feed on other people’s misfortunes. Stoner, though, won’t let them off that easily.
“Everybody loves a freakshow
They don’t like the freak though
Come on baby
Why do this to me?
Love me right”
Floating are Maya Stoner (guitar/vocals), Mo Troper (bass/guitar/keys/vocals), Jared Ridabock (drums), Jon Scheid (guitar), and Aaron Liu (keys). Their EP, Tired and True, is out October 30th. Pre-order it on Bandcamp. Like we said, this band is on the verge of a breakout.
Brett Newski – “What Are You Smoking?” (Milwaukee, USA)
RIYL: Pavement, Cake, Presidents of the United States of America, Beck
Brett Newski was born in the wrong time. If he was conceived in the ’70s and performing in the early ’90s, he would have been a college-radio star and compared to Pavement and Cake. But then again, maybe he can be the person what introduces a younger generation to the era that launched indie music to another level. At the same time, he might motivate young Americans to vote in what could be a generation-changing election should they listen to “What Are You Smoking?”.
From the catchy, ripping melody to the immensely clever and sometimes tongue-in-cheek lyrics, the song echoes Stephen Malkmus in his prime. Like the Pavement front-man’s music, you come to hear the off-kilter, head-popping melody and the blistering guitar strikes, but you stay to hear what Newski has to say. He questions the people in power, his friends, and “an armchair doctor” who spread conspiracies and false claims. From climate change to the current pandemic, he’s puzzled by people’s willful blindness (or is it deafness?), and their constant lies only creates more chaos around him. And like so many people, the dizzying array of information and falsehoods wears on him to the point his mental health becomes frayed.
If we’re going to change the present, people need to get out and vote. November 3rd is coming quickly, so make a difference. This isn’t, as Newski states, a joke.
Mallrat – “Rockstar” (Brisbane, Australia)
RIYL: Girl in Red, Mall Girl, Skott
When we were first introduced to Grace Shaw’s project Mallrat more than four years ago, she released “For Real” and dubbed herself “Hannah Montana of the rap game”. At the time, she was full of energy and with plenty of things to say about grown ups, society, her friends, and herself. Now 21 years old, the Brisbane native changes pace with “Rockstar”.
Forget Hannah Montana and raucous rap, “Rockstar” is a dreamy, indie-pop stunner. The track is intimate yet warm and inviting, feeling like we have spent the final day of summer on the beach and watching the sun slowly set before us. Through this moment, a swell of memories and hopes washes over us, where we hope for what could be and try to forget about what was. For Shaw, her story sounds like one that every person, young and old, has had, where we wish to either meet that special someone who also happens to be rich and famous or is the one winning “all the Grammys”. It would be our way to tell the world and those who have hurt us that I’ve become someone. That I have succeeded despite their doubts.
In many cases, this song is about Shaw, who has beaten the odds to be a star in Australia. Now it’s time for her to be a global star, which should happen in 2021 when her debut LP is released. Dew Process (Australia) and Nettwerk Music Group (world) will have the honors.
Bryony Williams – “Dive” (Wolverhampton, England)
RIYL: Gordi, Fenne Lily, Lorde
We were a little late to Bryony Williams‘ party, as the young English singer already had two EPs to her name. It’s better late than never, right? Fortunately for us, we’ve arrived just in time to hear what she has in store. In August, she released the boisterous personal anthem, “Knockin'”, which is one of the year’s great indie-rock tunes. Her latest release, though, traverses different territory, yet it still bowls you over. As such, sit down and be prepared to be overwhelmed by the ethereal beauty and lyrical fragility of “Dive”.
The song demonstrates that subtlety can be powerful and poignant. With gentle piano strokes, a delicate string arrangement, and the echo of a steel guitar, Williams has crafted a storm of emotion. Her soft, intimate voice is like a cool ocean breeze. Her words, though, hit like thunder, as she reveals the emotional and psychological scars inflicted upon her by another. They are not for the feint of heart.
“Head in the gutter, oh how I better myself
Throw it in the river, let it sink
Watch it disappear, through the murky water
As the sun shines, I’m a little blind
By the way you treat me, I thought that you could see me.
I thought that you could…”
Sjowgren – “I Don’t Know” (San Francisco / Oakland, USA)
RIYL: Blouse, Widowspeak, Alvvays
Since their formation about five years ago, Sjowgren have not only emerged as a Bay-area favorite but an indie darling. The only thing holding the Maija Sjowgren-led outfit from stardom is volume – they tend to release a few songs every several months. For that matter, fans are still waiting for their debut album. Beggars can’t be choosers, so we’ll take what we can get from a band that knows how to brighten our days. They do it again with “I Don’t Know”.
There are songs that get you moving, but this single will encourage you to put one foot in front of the other. The groovy, dream-pop melody glistens like the morning sun, and it will put an extra bounce in your step as you leave the comforts of home and welcome the outside world. As you skip down the street, your head will be bopping to the fantastic percussion line while your mind will wander aimlessly as a result of Maija’s whispery yet intoxicating vocals. Her tale, too, is one about escaping the claustrophobia of home, particularly during these times of quarantine and social distancing.
“It’s the late afternoon
And there’s family now
I don’t wanna be inside
I go on in a daze
I got nowhere to stay
Another petal falls down”
As her words indicate, we just need a breath of fresh air and some time to ourselves, but such days are a distant wish. For now, our escapism resides in the music of groups like Sjowgren, who we hope to hear more from soon because the world needs some sunshine.
Freyr – “Avalon” (Stockholm, Sweden)
RIYL: Bon Iver, José González, Massive Attack
This change of season has us slowing down a bit and enjoying the cooler weather. As we stroll through autumn leaves, one artist continues to keep us company. Swedish indie singer/songwriter Freyr makes music that perfectly complements the mellowness of a crisp fall day.
“Avalon” is the latest in his series of single releases this year. Back in July we shared his captivating “I’m Sorry” track that left us in awe. Now he continues that trend with a song so intimate you will feel its warm caress as you listen. Like his indie dream-folk peers (Bon Iver and José González), Freyr excels at enchanting listeners.
The opening percussion is minimal, evoking the Massive Attack classic, “Teardrop.” From there, Freyr layers in subdued atmospheric textures. His rich vocals pair with soft piano that invites listeners to step into this sepia-toned dreamworld.
The lyrical imagery is equally vivid, as Freyr’s fans have come to know and appreciate. Freyr brings to life the scenery he sings about – from moons and avalanches, red soil along a muddy riverbank and barley in the sun – each element a secondary character to reflect upon. We all seek a reprieve from the insanity of the world around us these days. What better way to find it than in a song that provides a peaceful escape? Freyr is a gifted talent whose music is nourishes your soul. Listen and you’ll understand why we love this artist so much.
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