The Matinee ’20 October 26 edition is filled with songs that are intended to provoke and empower. Some do it with powerful lyrics while others do it with jaw-dropping instrumentation. With just 8 days until an important election, these songs come at just the right time.
Raye Zaragoza – “Rebel Soul” (Long Beach, CA, USA)
RIYL: Brandi Carlile, KT Tunstall, Julia Jacklin
Get to know the name Raye Zaragoza now, and maybe mark your calendar while you’re at it. You will want to remember October 2020 as the time when this future superstar stole your heart. Trust us: she will, and “Rebel Soul” is one reason why. This standout track from her newly released (and independently created) sophomore album, Woman in Color, showcases her talents in ways sure to leave you awed.
For starters, Zaragoza has powerhouse vocals on par with Brandi Carlile. Her delivery is intimate and warm as she draws out the final syllable in the phrase “I’m a rebel soul” with an aching vulnerability. What you hear is not a young singer. Zaragoza is an old soul whose stories are emerging from a young artist’s lips. You hear strength shaped by the struggles of her Native American and Japanese ancestors. She reveals poise and wisdom beyond her years in vivid lyrical imagery:
“So I walked into the desert, fighting through the heat
Searching for the answers that I can’t seem to see…
When the only thing you’re left with are your torn and tattered clothes
And you find yourself a’wandering down a dark and lonely road
When you’ve got a feeling in your heart that no one seems to know
Feeling like a complete unknown”
Zaragoza will not feel like a complete unknown for much longer. Her new album (which was produced by Tucker Martine and features indie folk favorites Colin Meloy and Laura Veirs) should have music fans across the globe singing her praises.
Kaki King – “Can’t Touch This or That or You or My Face” (Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: Michael Hedges, Preston Reed, Gustavo Santaolalla
Ask any music fan to name their favorite guitarists, and the odds of hearing Kaki King‘s name are high. While she may not have global name recognition yet (perhaps because she is a performer/composer instead of a Top-40 singer), her talents as a guitar virtuoso are undisputed. This award-winning artist has been defying genres for nearly two decades, earning praise from no less than Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder.
With the release last week of her 10th studio album, Modern Yesterdays, King has soundtracked this pandemic year with more of her artistic brilliance. The track “Can’t Touch This or That or You or My Face” is an acoustic exploration of our collective feelings in the age of COVID-19. The sombre into mirrors our mood: stark, anxious, and edgy. But listen as she incorporates atmospheric layers of bright passages and her signature percussive fingerpicking style: the moods shift, turning despair into defiance. You can sense frustration dissolve into determination with each tone-bending pluck of the strings. She guides listeners into a clearer headspace. She shifts our focus and wordlessly encourages us to reach deep within ourselves to find our inner grit and resilience. In times like these, Kaki King serves as our musical therapist and spirit guide. This is an artist who conveys more inspiration in an instrumental than any politician on the campaign trail.
Kacey Johansing – “No Better Time” (Los Angeles via Kalamazoo, MI, USA)
RIYL: Weyes Blood, Faye Webster, Molly Burch
In these unsettling times where fiction is accepted as fact, determining what is real and what is not has become a daily and often challenging task. “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, we’ve been told countless of times. This applies to music, where a song is not always what it seems. It’s important, as such, to listen intently or otherwise you’ll miss something. So sit down and take in Kacey Johansing‘s stunning new single, “No Better Time”, embrace you.
This folk-pop song brims with the breezy beauty of the Laurel Canyon sound of the ’70s. Every element does its part in recreating the feeling that we are in safe, familiar place where warmth radiates from every corner. At the center of this breathtaking oasis lies Johansing’s calm yet stirring voice.
With a slight, country quiver, her story is far from idyllic. This oasis is nothing more than a mirage. Johansing asks herself, “It makes me wonder how much further can I carry the weight of a lie?” as she attempts to protect herself from an abusive alcoholic. She has kept this secret to herself for far too long. Now she wants to finally tell others of her painful prison. The first person she’ll tell is the person who inflicted the pain because he has to know. He needs to know. As this song reveals, even honesty between two people is becoming a rarity. An artist like Johansing is also quite a rare find these days.
Cloves – “Dead” (London, England via Melbourne, Australia)
RIYL: Allison Mosshart, Hayley Williams, Meg Myers
Five years ago, Kaity Dunstan unveiled her project Cloves to the world with the beautifully brittle “Frail Love”. With her sultry, soulful voice, she received comparisons to Adele and Joss Stone. Festival spots, including at Coachella and Lollapalooza, shortly followed, and her popularity soared. Her 2018 debut album, One Big Nothing, further her spot as music’s next great voice. But instead of being pigeon-holed in the area of new-age soul or risk being called a diva, the young Australian native has changed her colors (sort of literally as she’s sporting a new hair tone) and gone down an unexpected path.
“Dead” is a brooding, dark, and edgy number. It’s not just in the heavy, industrial electronica where the transformation is noticeable, but Dunstan’s lyrics are visceral, as she reveals her internal struggles with anxiety. Through her sultry delivery, she reveals:
“I’m blacking out
Check check on me, I think I’m blacking out
I’m bags of crazy, it’s without a doubt
Boozy words come the wrong way out”
Catch me as I fall
I’m crawling up the walls
Push me to sleep
Don’t Talk, talk to me”
We like this new Cloves, whose sophomore album is expected in 2021. The single is out on Interscope Records.
Beverly Kills – “Trophy Hunt” (Gothenburg, Sweden)
RIYL: Makthavarskan, Agent blå, Hater
Earlier this year one of the most exciting Swedish bands to arrive in the last two years released a terrific EP. Elegance in a State of Crisis from Beverly Kills turned Scandinavian dark-pop into a suspenseful, dark, yet exhilarating enterprise. Many people may have overlooked the record, and if you’re one of them this is your chance to familiarize yourself with this rising band as they’ve unleashed another rapturous tune.
“Trophy Hunt” is a driving, pulsating number meant to be heard in the wee hours of the morning. Its throbbing soundscape mimics the uneasiness that arises when the night grows black and the darkness begins to play games on our minds. For Alma Westerlund, Viggo Mattsson, John Jonsén, and Hampus Höggren, this uncertainty comes from being the prey to a person on the hunt. This manipulator and smooth-talker is searching for his next victim. But will the band succumb to his tactics? Listen to the track and decide for yourself. Maybe they’ll turn the tables on this assailant.
HÆLOS – “I’m There” (London, England)
RIYL: Portishead, Zola Blood, Phoria
So far in 2020, London trip-hop extraordinaires HÆLOS have shared three tremendous singles: “Hold On”, “Unknown Melody” and “Perfectly Broken”. Despite the new material, Lotti Benardout, Arthur Delaney, Dom Goldsmith, and Daniel Vildosola have still yet to formally announce a new album is on the way. They keep fans like us guessing on when a record will arrive, so for now we’ll completely wrap ourselves in their latest single, “I’m There.”
The song captures the dark beauty that defines HÆLOS. With the synths, beats, percussion, and guitar patiently executed, the London-based quartet create a world that seems completely devoid of people. It is the sound of isolation and loneliness, where the calming blackness causes one to become absorbed within one’s own mind. This song, however, is about freeing us from this solitude and bringing us back to humanity from the ledge. As Delaney and Benardout emotionally sing:
“Give me one more chance to notice
I just need you to know i care
Ive been so lost trying to find the surface
I just want you to know I’m there”
The single is out on HÆLOS’ own Æ imprint. We’re still waiting for album news (fingers crossed!). In the meantime, head to Bandcamp to support this outstanding band.
Topographies – “See You As You Fall” (San Francisco / Oakland, USA)
RIYL: Flock of Seagulls, Nation of Language, Cold Cave
“The apple doesn’t fall from the tree” is a popular old adage. This applies to families, where we’ve witnessed a son or daughter following the footsteps of their more famous parent. Most are familiar with Frank and Nancy Sinatra and Bob Marley’s sons, Ziggy and Damian. A less-heralded combination is Lol and Gray Tolhurst.
The former is a founding member of The Cure while the latter fronts the awesome Gothic post-punk / synth-pop band Topographies. While similarities exist between their two projects, make no mistake that Topographies are carving their own niche. Whereas The Cure took us on extravagant journeys through the Deep Green Sea and to Fascination Street, Topographies send us to unforgettable, breathtaking places. Their previous single, “Rose of Sharon”, welcomed us back to the trio’s cinematic universe while “See You As You Fall” keeps us permanently there.
The single is a gorgeous piece of Gothic synth-pop that is simultaneously engrossing and unsettling. The lingering guitar, trembling rhythms, and bursts of synths draw you while Tolhurst’s ghostly vocals keep you on your toes. He tells the story of “the fate of the end” of the Earth, but life continues. “I’m in heaven”, he tells us, and there he sees an unexpected someone. The last time he saw her she met her end, and now they could possibly start a new life together in this spiritual place. But is this real or just a dream? Is he seeing what he wants just to find peace again?
We might find the answers come December 4th, which is when the debut album from Gray Tolhurst, Jeremie Ruest, and Justin Oronos is released. Pre-orders are available on Bandcamp.
Grace Gillespie – “The Child” (London, England)
RIYL: Aldous Harding, Tiny Ruins, Mary Chapin Carpenter
The great storyteller Grace Gillespie has enraptured us all year with her stark, Brothers Grimm-like tales. Lately, however, she’s opted for more solemn soundscapes, creating songs that are best described as post-modern lullabies. This was the case with “Hoppers” and validated with “The Child.”
Listen to this tune next to someone you love and allow Gillespie’s gentle voice take you both back to a wonderful shared memory. It could be a moment of innocent bliss or a joyful time of your lives. Maybe you’re snuggling up to your child and recalling the day she was born. Or possibly, you’re next to your parents and feeling like you’re five years old again. Feeling like you are a child once more, where you felt free, secure, and loved. As the instrumentation slowly builds in this beautiful fable, all you can do is smile at those memories
It takes a special artist to make us recall moments in our lives that we thought we had forgotten. Gillespie is indeed one of the most gifted songwriters of her generation.
Her sophomore EP, After the Harvest Moon, is due November 27th. You can find her earlier releases on Bandcamp.
Space Case – “Asking for a Friend” (Nashville, USA)
RIYL: “Weird” Al Jankovic with Portugal. The Man, STRFKR
Mainstream music is littered with tracks about hooking up or “love at first sight.” You know what we mean, and let’s be honest: most of these songs tell the same story over and over again. This is why we tend not to share such tunes. Once in a while, though, an artist or band puts a different spin on it. Some tell a story with a surprising ending. Others may craft an incredible tale of unrequited love. In the case of Space Case, they make this over-told event into one humorous occasion on “Asking for a Friend.”
The song is what we imagine a collaboration between “Weird” Al Jankovic and Portugal.The Man – that is, when they’re not working on their current get-out-the-vote project. The groovy, electronic-funk is right of PTM’s playbook while the lyrics are clever and funny. For those who have watched Napoleon Dynamite, this could be the moment when our hero gains the courage to ask the popular girl out but then comes up with some cheesy pick-up lines like, “I think I’ve lost my number, can I have yours?”
And when she actually wants to dance with him, he gets the warm and fuzzies, thinking this might be the night:
“Out on the floor, she was putting it on
Dancin’ to the music we were moving along
The bar is closing, and I was hoping
That we can kick it later ’cause you’re turning me on”
Maybe we shouldn’t be laughing because us gents have, umm… experienced this. Oh well, let’s go dancing!
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