Eight singles fill up The Matinee ’21 v. 073 edition. It starts with a roar and then eases into a dream. Several of the songs below are some of the most imaginable and, thus, very best of the year.
Secondhand Sound – “Dominoes” (Nashville, USA)
RIYL: The Districts, Car Seat Headrest, The Pixies, The Shins
“WILL BE THE BIGGEST BAND IN THE WORLD”. These words are emphatically written on Secondhand Sound‘s Twitter and Instagram pages (although not all in caps on the latter). Some might call the young band’s actions as audacious, others might applaud them for their confidence, and a handful may chuckle. But we were all taught to dream big and shoot for the stars because who wants to be considered, well, second hand or second fiddle? Of course, it’s one thing to dream about possibilities and talk a big game. It’s another to walk the talk, which this quartet of 20- and 21-year olds does on “Dominoes”.
We’ll say this upfront – “Dominoes” might be the best rock song we’ve heard all year. It breathes of the urgent energy of The Districts and Car Seat Headrest, yet it also possesses an ’80s and ’90s swagger when rock was king. But unlike what The Pixies and The Shins once did with their head-first rock ‘n roll, Sawyer John Estok (vocal, guitar), Collin Plank (drums), Cameron Schmidt (lead guitar, keys), and Teagan Proctor (bass) take us on an adventure. The song transitions at least four times, commencing with a bit of hit-the-brakes distortion before a jangly, hazed-twinged melody commences. Then it gets a little gritty and grungy, turns into foot-stomping euphoria, and then finishes with a wall of distorted noise.
The varied arrangement is the perfect canvas for Sawyer’s tale of young love. The person that he has long had a crush is sitting next to him, and he has butterflies in his stomach. He recounts the many nights he daydreamed about expressing his true feelings. Then it happens, but how does it end? Are the fuzzed-out guitars the fireworks exploding in Sawyer’s head or is the disappointment that follows when he finds out she doesn’t feel the same? Whatever the ending may be, the young band’s own story is just being written and they may very well become the world’s biggest band.
Bambie Thug – “Ritual” (London, England via Ireland)
RIYL: Alice Glass, HEALTH, Nine Inch Nails, FKA Twigs
According to Spotify, there are more than 1,300 music genres. Given this enormous number, every song should be able to fit neatly somewhere. Right? Well, someone is going to have to develop a whole new category for Bambie Thug, the Irish newcomer is about to shake up the music scene across the pond. While their first two singles, “Birthday” and “Psyilocybin”, were in the hyperpop sphere, “Ritual” is the song that will make people turn heads and attempt to classify this masterpiece.
Multiple genres are woven together on this mind-bender. Industrial, darkwave, hyperpop, witch-rock, Gothic post-punk, and electronica are just some of the genres that Bambie Thug have added to their proverbial musical blender. As such, the song elicits numerous reactions. Its aggressive and harsh elements will startle while Bambie Thug’s alluring vocal will enchant. When the track enters into a slow-burning, sultry groove, it will leave people entranced. Their lyrics, meanwhile, are eye-opening. The story is one part Gothic fairy tale and another part an awakening. It is a calling to us to free our true selves, find our own agency, and in the end experience liberation. Experience the world of Bambie Thug.
Brilliant. Simply brilliant.
Desperate Journalist – “Personality Girlfriend” (London, England)
RIYL: Pat Benatar, Blondie, Wolf Alice
On its Facebook page, SXSW asked people to name a band or an artist that more people should know. To name one for us is an impossible task because we could identify a few thousand. But if pressed, one name that would immediately come to mind would be Desperate Journalist. The London-based quartet have emerged as a new generation’s Blondie, where they can easily craft a harrowing post-punk number or get people in a dizzying state with a scorching rocker, such as last month’s “Fault”. They, however, are not one- or two-trick ponies. They’re also quite malleable, contorting themselves to go beyond the sound that has made them one of the UK’s most exciting bands. They do this on “Personality Girlfriend”.
This dark pop-rock number echoes of the widescreen music of Pat Benatar and Laura Brannigan. “Personality Girlfriend”, likewise, is gripping theater. It is stark yet enthralling, as the heavy rhythms brilliantly contrast with the tingling sear of the guitar. All the while front-woman Jo Bevan’s voice wavers from alluring to urgent to a woman on a mission.
While the song might come as a desperate plea to be loved, particularly when she repeats, “Please will you love me”, it is much more than that. Listen closely at the point when her voice goes deadpan, as she delivers a biting critique of society and its treatment of women. She has made it her goal to destroy all stereotypes, where people go beyond the physical and look at the beauty that exists in all. Heck, Bevan (vocals), Rob Hardy (guitar), Simon Drowner (bass) and Caroline Helbert (drums) have made it their objective to tear down the male-dominated establishment and start a new world order. And this is why everyone should know who Desperate Journalist are.
Jelani Aryeh – “From These Heights” (San Diego, USA)
RIYL: Alfie Templeman, Gus Dapperton, CHILDCARE
From confronting the world order, we delve into the battles closer to home. Such conflicts can be even more difficult to address since the enemies are either well-known associates of ours or invisible since they are parts of our emotional and psychological being. Achieving victory in these cases requires a great deal of courage since one must proclaim their vulnerability and seek help. It means removing the tough-person persona, removing the masks we wear each day, and stop pretending that life is a walk in the park. It means being honest, which is what Jelani Aryeh has repeatedly done and helps explains why more and more fans are gravitating to his music.
Sure, the 21-year old Filipino/African-American artist creates infectious pop-rock and alternative R&B that are like great beams of light cast into the darkest environments. The music, in other words, offers a path for us. His terrific lyricism, meanwhile, is the guide by which we pull ourselves out of the depths of despair. This applies to “From These Heights”.
Illuminating our way out of the abyss is a shimmering piece of top-tapping guitar-pop. The melody is euphoric, as the jittery percussion and jangly guitar notes are like a refreshing sea breeze. One cannot help but to move in the direction from which the sound originates. Within the sonic current is a voice that reveals a person who feels detached from his country and his community. Aryeh describes the many ways in which he has “never felt so far from something in my life”, where he is like a stranger in his birthplace. Where he no longer recognizes the place he calls home. His songwriting is eye-opening real and poignant. His words make us realize that, even in these improving days, we still have a long ways to go to fully remove the darkness that lingers above and around us.
“I’ll diе, trying to pry my way inside that private mind
But violence is all you’ll find in here
Landmines and lighting strikes
Countless riots, wildfires
This heart wants to retire, and in their eyes you seem alright
But that’s a lie”
Aryeh’s debut album, I’ve Got Some Living To Do, will be released later this year on No Matter/Imperial.
Someone – “Strange World” (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
RIYL: Tiny Ruins, Nadia Reid, Maple Glider
It’s been a little while since we’ve shared anything from Tessa Rose Jackson, the woman behind Someone. She first mesmerized us with “The Deep” and “Chain Reaction”, and she continued to captivate us on “Forget Forgive”, which was from her Chain Reaction EP. When hearing the latter on season 2, episode 8 of the popular Netflix show Dear White People, we smiled and thought how great it was for an under-the-radar artist from overseas to get recognized. That experience, however, likely won’t be the one and only time her music will be featured on television or film. She might actually receive another placement very soon with “Strange World”.
This latest single arrives at the perfect time. With the string arrangement and slide guitar accompanying Jackson rhythm guitar, the song is transformed from a quaint folk tune to a lovely, cinematic alt-folk dreamer. It is tranquil yet stunning and made for the quiet moments at home, at the cabin, or on a long drive to the new destination where we can contemplate our situations. Jackson examines her solitude and isolation from the rest of the world, yet chaos still reigns. While she could succumb to depression, anxiety, and fear, she opts to find silver linings within the storms.
“I won’t let it get me down”, she confidently says to herself, realizing that it will take all her being to overcome. She’s persevered this long and was finally rewarded. All that is left is for the world to turn its attention towards Jackson and create the momentum for her own tidal wave.
Próxima Parada – “Begin Again” (San Luis Obispo, CA USA)
RIYL: Durand Jones & The Indications, Leon Bridges, Mt. Joy
No matter your musical preference, everyone finds time to hear a great retro-soul tune. When the smooth vocals and music of Sam Cooke, Al Green, and Otis Redding are heard on the speakers, we all stop, listen, and sway to the feelgood melodies and stories about love, family, and hope. Their music has an incomparable intimacy. While many artists and bands have attempted to replicate their sound, few have done it as well as Próxima Parada, who for more than a half-decade have been charming fans from coast-to-coast with their classic approach.
If this was 1975, they probably would have been asked to tour with Ray Charles, maybe collaborate with Marvin Gaye, or write a tune with Stevie Wonder. They would have been embraced as a band who understands what soul music stood for. It’s fitting that Nick Larson (vocals, keys, guitar), Kevin Middlekauff (bass), Josh Collins (guitar), and Aaron Kroeger (drums) return at this moment since the world could use some of those feelgood vibes. So sit back, grab your favorite beverage, and drown yourselves into “Being Again”.
With a gentle piano arrangement guiding the lovely melody and Larson’s cool vocal, the song is the perfect tonic for a tough day at work. It will relax every muscle in your body except for those on your head, as you’ll find yourself grinning while nodding to the delicate rhythm. And a great soul tune cannot be heard just once; it must be heard multiple times. After repeated listens, you’ll be humming along to lyrics and reminding yourself about the power of soul. Just as the title suggests, the track concerns new beginnings with either people we know or moving elsewhere to establish new roots. It’s about understanding that beauty and strength can be found in everything if we allow our eyes to see them, and slowing down to live in the moment.
“Greed is when what you need is not enough
It’s easy to forget how quick abundance shows up
In the form of wildflowers blooming
On this hill with no name or trail
In the form of an old woman smiling
‘Cause she’s not afraid to fail
And she’s strong as hell”
Telenova – “Tranquilize” (Melbourne, Australia)
RIYL: Unloved, La Femme, Portishead
So what happens when you bring three superstars from the Melbourne arts and music scene together? The answer is obviously Telenova, but what does it really mean? We’ve witnessed super-groups come and go, some more successful than others. Those that do not succeed is often the result of poor chemistry and the different parts not working as a whole. This, however, isn’t a problem for Angeline Armstrong, Edward Quinn of Slum Sociable, and Joshua Moriarty from Miami Horror. On the contrary, after just two songs, the trio sound like they’ve been playing together for years as they showcase on “Tranquilize”.
Fans of Slum Sociable and Miami Horror will be able to pick out Quinn’s and Moriarty’s contributions. The sleek, funk undertones are unmistakably the former, but the latter can be heard in the sultry grooves. Together, they brilliantly come together through the prism of ’70s psychedelic dream-pop, leading to a tune that is simultaneously intoxicating and suspenseful. It’s as if we’re sitting in a smokey, buzzing club that immediately goes silent as a mysterious woman enters. All eyes are fixated on her, stunned at her presence. This is Armstrong, whose stirring vocal is a show-stopper while acting as the bridge between Quinn’s and Moriarty’s arrangements. She is like the Siren, whose voice latches on to our mind and tranquilizes us. She has us in her hypnotic grasp.
Armstrong’s story, though, is about her being transfixed by another. Who is that other? Is that person in this room and could it be us? Her references to Greek mythology are beautiful poetry:
“Why does nobody save me?
Bring me a cure
The Sirens call me away
I give in
Starry-eyed but my soul is tired
Down, falling deep into slumber
Now the Siren song will haunt me forever after”
We have a feeling this super-group will be haunting people’s minds for years to come. Or we hope so anyway.
Sunjacket – “Passenger” (Chicago, USA)
RIYL: Small Black, Mt. Wolf, Atoms for Peace
It’s not accurate to say that Sunjacket are one of the most exciting bands to arrive this year. It would be fair to say that the Chicago-based trio could experience their much-deserved and long-awaited breakthrough. Their brand of art-rock and indietronica is a fusion of The Antlers and Atoms for Peace, where at any moment the song could be cosmically dazzling or surreal and enchanting. Regardless of the twists and turns, each song, like “Uptight”, feels like a dream. But instead of our minds being the pilots of this magnificent journey, Bryan Kveton (vocals, synths, guitars), Carl Hauck (vocals, synths, guitars), and Garret Bodette (drums, percussion) are the navigators. We, in the meantime, are merely just the “Passenger”, which happens to be the title of their latest single.
This aptly-named song is mesmerizing and an exquisite piece of musical art. Its drifting, mesmerizing approach yields a levitating effect, as if we were truly floating through the clouds. Like a great ride, there are moments of awe, particularly as the song swells into a stunning array of sound and texture. This does not happen just once, but on a few occasions. Through the traversing arrangement, Hauck’s gripping falsetto pierces through. His story is similarly about him and another passing the time instead of taking charge. Their lives have become stagnant with each day slowly passing by them.
“All we are is in passenger mode
Tired of waiting
All we are is a long way to go
Wired and fading”
Sunjacket’s sophomore album, More Lifelike, is out June 4. Pre-order it on Bandcamp.
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