For The Matinee ’21 v. 099 edition, we have opted to showcase the power of stellar songwriting, where no matter whether the song is melancholic or anthemic nothing can replace the catharsis of a great story.
Nation of Language – “Wounds of Love” (Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: New Order, OMD, Chromatics
Certain pains in life cannot be avoided; they can only be endured. There is no fast-forward option on grieving a lost love. This explains the timeless popularity of heartbreak songs. No matter the genre – pop, country, rap, or even opera – one person’s emotional anguish can become a work of art. This explains the instant appeal of Nation of Language, an emerging band we have loved for several years.
After honing their sound since 2017, the Brooklyn-based synth-pop trio released their stunning debut last year with Introduction, Presence. It was an instant favorite and made our list of 2020’s most outstanding records. Their latest single from follow-up album A Way Forward is a modern heartbreak tale with their signature vintage sound.
“Wounds of Love” achieves in three minutes what most therapists take months to produce: clarity and healing. The understated synth and bass lines elicit a healthy head-bobbing sway. The upbeat rhythms and smooth vocals invite movement. You find comfort in the words “I can’t stop / there’s no ceiling in my heart” and an epiphany in the line “What is it that I hang around here for.” When love’s wounds cut deeply, Nation of Language provides the perfect balm.
Nation of Language are Ian Devaney (vocals), Aidan Noéll (synths), and Michael Sue-Poi (bass).
Curtis Harding – “I Won’t Let You Down” (Atlanta, USA)
RIYL: Michael Kiwanuka, Durand Jones & The Indications, Son Little
Future generations will have much to say about this current era. They will likely agree that despite (or perhaps because of) the sadness and strife of the early 2020s, music was our refuge. Nowadays artists like Curtis Harding and Michael Kiwanuka deliver sweet melodic truths the way Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke did in the ‘60s. The latest single from Curtis Harding has a message we all need to hear today.
“I Won’t Let You Down” is more than just reassuring phrases sung by one of the warmest voices in modern music. With five simple words, Harding rekindles our dormant feelings of hope. His soulful delivery reminds us that we are not alone. This is no trite platitude but gospel tidings to be heeded. His musical influences (gospel, soul, rap, and rock) are incorporated so seamlessly that his songs become a spiritual experience. How can you not feel uplifted hearing him sing these words:
“Don’t worry baby
Everything is fine, even here lately
When you need me I won’t let you down
No I won’t / I’m here for you”
Gold Star – “Surrender”” (Los Angeles, USA via Vienna, Austria)
RIYL: Bruce Springsteen, Prosphorescent, Hiss Golden Messenger
Everyone knows the feeling of seeing a friend or a family member for the first time in years. Excitement, elation, and pure joy are some of the emotions one feels. This is how we feel at the moment in hearing Marlon Rabenreither and his project Gold Star return after a three-year break.
The last time we heard from Gold Star was in 2018 when he released an underrated gem of an album in Uppers & Downers. That was a rock album made for the ’60s and ’70s. It was timeless and proved why we consider the Vienna-born, LA-based singer-songwriter to be one of the industry’s most underrated and overlooked talents. To demonstrate what people have been missing, Rabenreither delivers another classic with “Surrender”
Gold Star’s latest single is a simply amazing. It is a wonderland of pure catharsis, as Rabenreither and his band mates – Jordan Odom (guitar, bass), Winston Willingham (synth, piano), and Nick Murray (percussion) – turn ’80s stadium-rock into an unforgettable anthem. The song is filled with moments that approach unadulterated ecstasy with the urgency that rings through every note and lyrics. Like a young Springsteen, Rabenreither delivers a tale of regret and innocence lost.
“I felt blood rush out on the dance floor
I saw blue lights turning red
I spent 20 hours in a hotel room in Memphis
Dreaming about how it was when we were kids”
Gold Star’s new EP, Headlights USA, is out September 3rd. It should be, well, a classic. By the way, Phoebe Bridgers is a super-fan of the band, but we wonder if she was listening to them in the mid-2010s when they released “Against the Wall”.
Sam Fender – “Seventeen Going Under” (North Shields, England)
RIYL: The War On Drugs, Kyle Craft, Frightened Rabbit
Sam Fender is a star. There is no question how popular he is across the pond, as evidenced by his debut album, Hypersonic Missiles, shooting to #1 on the UK charts. But unlike a lot of modern-day music stars, the 27-year old native from North Shields is crafting songs meant to strike deep inside one’s memory and, thus, last for lifetimes. He is essentially an indie artist who has found mainstream success, and he shouldn’t penalized for this. Instead, he should be applauded for not abandoning his roots and continuing to make songs like “Seventeen Going Under”.
A cathartic urgency rings across the track, as boisterous horns, whirling keys, and a soaring rhythm section gradually surge together into a welcoming wall of sound. Through the classic-rock approach that rivals anything The War On Drugs have created, Fender opens up about living in a single-parent home. His story largely centers around his mother, her struggles, and his own failures for helping her. To this day, he remains angry at himself for failing to stand up for her years ago. “I was far too scared to hit him / But I would hit him in a heartbeat now”, he emotionally hollers. The image of her mother on the floor as she succumbs to the stress of poverty, though, leaves a lasting impression. Because of the family’s suffering, Fender contemplates selling drugs (reference to “shifting gear”).
“She said, ‘The debt, the debt, the debt’
So I thought about shifting gear
And how she wept and wept and wept
Luck came and died round here
I see my mother
The DWP see a number
She cries on the floor encumbered”
Fortunately for everyone, Fender found another way to support his family and he’s done it by telling his story and never forgetting his roots.
Bess Atwell – “Nobody” (London, England)
RIYL: Fenne Lily, Sam Valdez, Lucy Rose
Everyone has a list of favorite artists. Every time they release a new song, it must be heard immediately and the reaction is, “This is perfect.” While we have only come to appreciate Bess Atwell‘s talent this year, she is already one of our go-to singer-songwriters thanks to songs like the engrossing “Co-op”, the incredibly moving “Time Comes in Roses”, and the crippling “All You Can Do”. With one of the most alluring voices in the business and stories that most people can relate to, Atwell is must-listen music. Even when she strips things back and amps up the melancholy, as she does on “Nobody”, there is no denying the power of her art.
An immensely delicate and brittle arrangement is formed by a single guitar and Atwell’s vulnerable vocal. Some keys, a light trumpet, and dabbling production later join, but the heart of the song is Atwell’s story of a woman in an empty relationship. “I feel like a child when I lie in your bed / One foot out the door to be honest”, she sings immediately at the start, and we can feel the deadness in her. This loneliness is further accentuated when she later reveals:
“Either way are we fucked
Is it ironic that we don’t touch enough
I want to find my ending and cut
To the chase”
We’ll cut to the chase and say Atwell is a star in the making. No wonder Lucy Rose has signed Atwell to her Real Kind Records.
Laura Stevenson – “Don’t Think About Me” (Hudson Valley, New York, USA)
RIYL: Adult Mom, Nada Surf, Kurt Vile
On her first two records, Laura Stevenson has gained a reputation for being an honest, and intense songwriter. As she heads to the release of her third record, that seems to be upheld. Stevenson has a lot to say since 2019’s The Big Freeze. Since then, Stevenson has given birth to her first child. She also released the heavy “State”, which was inspired by someone close to Stevenson being nearly killed, and the rage that she felt afterwards.
On her latest song, “Don’t Think About Me”, Stevenson sings about love that is growing stale. Where “State” brought in a heavy sound, “Don’t Think About Me” has a much more laid-back, indie-folk vibe. Lush guitar work, wonderful drum work, and Stevenson’s voice with a perfect accompaniment from harmonies make the song a joy to listen to. As it should be, as the record is produced by John Agnello, who has worked with Kurt Vile and Dinosaur Jr. in the past.
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine – “Olympus” & “Reach Out” (Los Angeles & Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: Angelo De Augstine, Sufjan Stevens, Elliott Smith
Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine are more than just label mates; they’re both good friends and collaborators. Each has sung on the other’s albums and songs, and Stevens has often acted as a bit of a mentor to De Augustine. It was only a matter of time before the two collaborated on an entire album. While secluded in a cabin in upstate New York, the two spent weeks to craft what can only be described as impeccable pieces of art. Then again, the two are no ordinary artists, as they demonstrate on “Olympus” and “Reach Out”.
The former is a stunning and beautiful piece of atmospheric dream-folk. It is lushly melancholic. The two share lead vocal roles, re-imagining Greek mythology into a modern-day crusade of self-discovery.
“Who will arrange my great escape?
Hopelessly I have been torn from this outrage
Tossing and turning uneasy it cost me the cross
Am I at rest or resigned in my chaos?”
The latter, meanwhile, is a tranquil yet illuminating folk tune. It is surprisingly spry and uplifting, as if the dark clouds have dissipated in the presence of the warm sunshine. The tale is similarly embedded in history, yet it is still present. It concerns learning from the past to change the future, realizing that our stories are still to be written.
“I have a memory of a time and place where history resigned
Now in my reverie
For the guiding light that opened up my mind”
This is the perfect way to end the week and The Matinee ’21 v. 099. Happy weekend everyone!
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