The Matinee ’21 v. 086 is all about adventure and soul, and in some cases both converge in the same song. This mini-playlist is littered with song-of-the-year candidates. These songs are that good.
W. H. Lung – “Pearl in the Palm” (Manchester, England)
RIYL: LCD Soundsystem, POND, Talking Heads
In 2019, we took a hiatus to re-group. This meant we didn’t do our annual “Favorite Albums of the Year”, but if we had, W.H. Lung‘s debut LP, Incidental Music, would have unquestionably made the list. It was a swirling, twirling, memorable dance-off across the universe. It was basically the record that Arcade Fire should have made with Reflektor. At the time of their first record, W.H. Lung were just a three-piece, which makes Incidental Music all the more impressive. While Tom P has moved on, Tom Sharkett (guitar) and Joe Evans (vocals) have now added Alex Mercer Main (drums), Hannah Peace (synths, vocals), and Chris Mulligan (bass, synths) to the mix, which just allows them to make even grander intergalactic, psychedelic-disco. As a taste of what is possible, they share “Pearl In The Palm”.
Make some space and just allow yourself to move. Groove, spin, and shake to the glistening synths and sparkling beats. Turn the strobe light on your phone and transform your living room into a trippy disco. Or sit back, close your eyes, and pretend you’re the captain of Jupiter 2, hurtling through space at light speed. Your mission is to discover what life means, which exactly what Evans seeks. “As the saying goes, I feel like I’m close enough to hear the very grass grow”, he sings at one point to denote how close to the ground he is while others are celebrating with champagne. His life is less worthy than others for no other reason than wealth. For some reason, though, we don’t think this will be their destiny. On the contrary, they’re on course to be one of the year’s great success stories. One of 2021’s breakout stars.
Deafheaven – “Great Mass of Color” (San Francisco, USA)
RIYL: Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, Mogwai
In their 11-year existence that includes four studio albums and a pair of EPs, Deafheaven have become synonymous with “blackgaze” – the fusion of death metal with shoegaze. They’ve established a massive following with their explosive approach and the piercing, vocal chord-bursting screams of front-man George Clarke. While we admired their art from afar, their music wasn’t a great fit for what we did. So why are George Clarke, Kerry McCoy, Daniel Tracy, Shiv Mehra, and Chris Johnson showing up in these parts? The answer is obvious – the San Francisco quintet are evolving. Well, for one song anyway they have evolved, replacing the “black” with “shoe” and delivering a cosmic delight in “Great Mass of Color”.
Fans of Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, Ride, and even Mogwai may think “Great Mass of Color” is a long-lost single from one of these great shoegaze and post-rock outfits. A mesmerizing, interstellar dreaminess consumes the first five minutes of the track. Crystalline guitars, sparkling keys, a hypnotic bass line, and the urgent pattering of the drums come together to form a stunning soundscape. Clarke’s voice, too, is soft and intimate, sounding like a mix of Morrissey in his youth, AFI’s Davey Havok, and Nation of Language’s Ian Richard Devaney. In the final minute, though, a bit of the old Deafheaven is unleashed. The song intensifies as Clarke’s vocal turns harsh and nearly menacing. His final words perfectly encapsulate this story of a man on his death bed. He is like Hemingway’s classic protagonist, the Old Man:
“You are the sea and nobody owns you”
And nobody can say Deafheaven are a one-genre band. Instead people can say they are one of music’s great inventors.
illuminati hotties – “Pool Hopping” (Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: The Beths, Peach Kelli Pop, Caroline Rose
When Sarah Tudzin launched her project illuminati hotties over three years ago, she added some much-needed energy, wit, and creativity to genres that got stagnant. Heck, some may say that the pop-punk and guitar-pop scenes could sure use more bands that provide clever insights about the world while doing it with an unpretentious infectiousness. Kind of like what “Pool Hopping” is.
Right off the back, Tudzin tells us what this song is about. With some pep in her voice, she sings, “In every life there is a bell / One rounded curve of time or tell”. Anyone who has gone to school, had to punch the clock at work, or made an appointment knows exactly to what the LA-based singer-songwriter is referring. Our lives have been governed by other forces, where we are told where to be and when. We’re even told what to like and buy, and when we’re given the choice we don’t know what to do. As the song eases into its entertaining, perky frenzy, she then repeats over four stanzas, “Pool hooping! / Window shopping!” That’s all we can do because we’re nothing more than sheep in this big game of life.
Tudzin, though, is the wolf that is about to wreak havoc on flock. She’s not here to devour us but to liberate our minds. The breakout will happen October 1st when her new album, Let Me Do One More, will be released. Snack Shack Records in partnership with Hopeless Records have the honors. Pre-orders of the LP are available here.
Durand Jones & The Indications – “Love Will Work It Out” (feat. Aaron Frazer) (Bloomington, IN, USA)
RIYL: Curtis Mayfield, Curtis Harding, Michael Kiwanuka
A lot of artists and bands claim to be retro soul. Some for sure hit the mark, but let’s be honest – only a handful truly hit the bullseye. Durand Jones & The Indications are unquestionably one of those groups who always make listeners recall the days of Sam Cooke, Al Green, and Curtis Mayfield. They just don’t sound like these legends, but Durand Jones (vocals, sax), Blake Rhein (guitar), Mike Montgomery (bass), Steve Okonski (keys), and Aaron Frazer (drums, vocals) embody their spirit and, yes, their soul. They exude the timeless power of the ’60s and ’70s, where they can write a powerful, politically-charged number or a smooth, hopeful tune, like “Love Will Work It Out”.
No, this isn’t another love song. On the contrary, it is a song about humanity and, in the immortal words of Huey Lewis and The News, the power of love. After four-plus years of unrelenting conflict, the spewing of hate by a certain individual, and a disease that took too many lives while dividing families based on whether or not to wear a mask, now is the time to heal wounds. It’s time to set aside our differences and embrace one another. With a calm, groovy vibe and Jones’ emotional lyrics, this song will help us do exactly this.
“I guess I’m done being alone
Watching modern day lynchings in the streets that I call home
I felt so helpless the strife
But I knew I had to trust the faith that love will make it right
Joy will set us free (yes it will, yes it will)
If you do believe (if you do believe)
So don’t you ever doubt (hey, yeah)
That love will work it out”
Bess Atwell – “All You Can Do” (London, England)
RIYL: Sharon Van Etten, The Weather Station, Flock of Dimes
Bess Atwell has been performing for more than six years, yet we only discovered her this year. We have been left wondering what took us so long, especially after hearing the beautiful yet engrossing “Co-op” and the incredibly moving “Time Comes in Roses”. Her music isn’t just knee-buckling, but so are the stories she tells. The London-based singer-songwriter takes familiar themes but paints grand masterpieces that leave you in awe because you can see yourself in them. “All You Can Do” evidences her masterful artistry.
The low bellow of a searing guitar and the calm stuttering of percussion welcome us into this personal story. Once Atwell’s gripping voice arrives, we are captivated. We are her captives, as she takes us down the black hole she traveled down as she tries to make sense of an unreciprocated relationship. Her words are wonderfully poetic:
“I treat you like a confessional
But I’m no good at fearing God at all
And keeping things from you is hard to do
I can’t unring that bell I rang for you
Is that all you can do for me?”
We might be six years late, but Atwell is one of our favorite discoveries of the year. Let’s hope an album is coming soon. In the meantime, her singles are released on Lucy Rose’s Real Kind Records.
Tiberius b – “Stains” (London, England via British Columbia, Canada)
RIYL: Porridge Radio, Lala Lala, Bnny
Speaking of emerging, exciting artists, Canadian-born, London-based singer-songwriter Tiberius b is undeniably one of them. If you don’t think so, ask Mark Ronson, who signed them to his Zelig Records and will release their new EP, Stains, at the end of the month. Tiberus b gave us a hint at what was to come with the sensational and powerful “Big Deal”. As great that song was, the record’s title track is equally mind-blowing.
“Stains” is a number that must be heard from start to finish. Don’t skip any sections and don’t be distracted. Instead, allow yourself to fall into the tender grittiness and intimate starkness of their world. The shallow, grunge-y guitar strokes and the soft taps of the percussion create the feeling we’re slowing descending into a cavernous underworld. Tiberius b’s voice, meanwhile, is enrapturing yet it is filled with pain. They reveal all the ways in which people have hurt them.
“I used to feel fine
Now I feel like I’m losing my damn mind
People think I’ve got high standards
Those people must be eating shit
If this is it
I guess I’ll quit”
Eventually, they become immune to all the hurtful words, as evidenced when they sing, “I love the way pain tastes“. The payoff is the outro. Just as you think the song ends, a punk-ish fervor ignites where Tiberius b gets their revenge. “I’m the devil / You’re the tool”, they holler. They are now in control.
Stains drops June 25th. Pre-order it on Bandcamp.
Velvet Starlings – “Back of the Train” (Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: Black Angels, Black Lips, New Candys
When it comes to old-school rock, the UK pretty much has a monopoly on the genre. There are countless numbers of outstanding, young bands emerging from across the pond. Christian Gisborne and his mates, who are Velvet Starlings, might single-handedly change all this and make the US the center of rock ‘n roll again. They’ve already released two EPs that grabbed some of the biggest curators’ attention (like Earmilk, Buzzbands LA, and even BBC Radio), and their forthcoming debut album, Technicolour Shakedown, might make them a household name. For that matter, the first single from the LP should be spun in every home across the US of A and every establishment with a jukebox. So gather the family and all your friends, turn up the speakers, and pretend it’s 1965 with “Back of the Train”.
This tune is an absolute ripper. It is a 152-second burst of hip-shaking adrenaline that is meant for, as Gisborne says, “moving and grooving”. He’s cutting the rug in the caboose because that’s where the action is. This is where real life exists. But listen closely and the song’s title is an analogy for the elitism and classism that exists in the western world. Those at the back of the train are considered to be of a lower class and less worthy. This space, however, is where true soul exists and blossoms. And where bands like Velvet Starlings excel.
Diamond Thug – “Purple Skies” (Cape Town, South Africa)
RIYL: Portishead, Phoria, Krakòw Loves Adana
From the moment “Backpush” swept us away four years ago to when the multi-genre “Eclipsed dazzled us in 2020, Diamond Thug have made us experience so many emotions and recall memories we thought we had forgotten. If the South African quartet lived in London or Brighton, they would likely be hailed as the next Wolf Alice. Chantel Van T (vocals/keys), Danilo Queiros (bass/production), Adrian Culhane (guitar/synth/backing vocals/production), and Ted Buxton (drums) are that talented. To prove just how great they are, they surprise with an unexpected song.
Find a way to slow your heartbeat so you can hear every note and weeping lyric from “Purple Skies”. This song is gorgeous, breathtaking, and beautifully vulnerable. A delicate piano arrangement drives the track at first, sending us into a unlit, claustrophobic room. There we find Chantal Van T, whose brittle voice tries to break free from her self-imposed imprisonment. “I’m not afraid”, she sings defiantly at her surroundings. Stark beats, shallow pulses, and the hum of strings arrive, and the darkness slowly subsides. Gradually, Van T emerges but does she fully free herself? Does she truly find liberation and, thus, regain her identity? We may never know the answer to this question, but no one should ever question Diamond Thug’s potential and greatness.
The single is out on South African boutique label Kudukudu Records.
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