The Matinee ’21 v. 114 is littered with surprises, featuring all-time favorites who offer unexpected songs and newcomers who deliver poignant stories. We kick things off with four of indie’s great artists.
Big Thief – “Little Things”/”Sparrow” (Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: Lady Lamb, Julien Baker, Hand Habits
There’s no denying the impact Big Thief have made over the last few years. Going from an underappreciated project to one of the best indie bands, the work of Adrianne Lenker, Buck Meek, Max Oleartchik, and James Krivchenia is truly something special. They released two LPs in 2019: Two Hands and U.F.O.F. Since then, however, they’ve been a bit quiet, releasing only “Love in Mine”, a cut track from Two Hands.
Big Thief has now delivered two new tracks, “Little Things” and “Sparrow”. “Little Things” is a gorgeous song from start to finish. Its guitar work is pristine and inviting, Lenker’s vocals are warm, accompanied by wonderful harmonies. Lyrically the song is about attachment to a partner and intense feelings of love. “Sparrow” offers a different vibe. Recorded in one take, “Sparrow” is slower, but there’s something magical about how it all comes together, especially the song’s later moments. Lenker’s voice is layered with haunting harmonies and reverb, with just acoustic guitar and lightly brushed drums underneath.
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine – “Back to Oz” (New York City & Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, Kishi Bashi
Raise your hand if you watched a lot of movies during the last 18 months. You aren’t alone: indie music icon Sufjan Stevens and his collaborator Angelo De Augustine did, too. Last year in upstate New York the pair joined forces to create A Beginner’s Mind, a new album of material inspired by those movies, including the ’80s-era Wizard of Oz sequel called Return to Oz.
Dreamy folk-pop melodies are Sufjan’s trademark, and “Back to Oz” is no exception. One difference here is the overall tone: everything shines a little brighter. The vivid melodies make it easy to envision yellow brick roads and emerald cities. And in true Sufjan Stevens fashion, the listening experience has fever dream elements that pair perfectly with the lyrics:
“All my life was calling
All my dreams were buried away
You love me but you don’t know me
In due time you’ll throw it away
Though it wasn’t there
Get it back
Get it right
Follow my heart
Back to, back to Oz
Where I was born at the start
Don’t be my last call
Do you mind that I’m falling apart?”
After our collective time of pandemic isolation, we can all relate to feeling like we are falling apart. Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Angelo – two artists whose voices have healing properties – guide listeners back to a softer reality.
Cherry Glazerr – “Soft Drink” (Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: Ian Sweet, Soccer Mommy, Lala Lala
Cherry Glazerr have been slowly releasing new music since last December. “Rabbit Hole” was a fantastic distorted groove. February’s “Big Bang” was a huge sounding song, from its deep, bass-heavy approach combined with one of Clementine Creevy’s most engaging vocal performances. It’s had us waiting for any news on a new record, or at least new songs.
It took a few months, but Cherry Glazerr has released a new single. “Soft Drink” is well worth the wait. This track is so much of what makes Creevy such a captivating artist. The newer, more electronic sound that Cherry Glazerr has adopted is prevalent from the synths and drum loops that provide the song’s backbone to the track’s layered vocals. The drums rumble and echo throughout, and a gnarly guitar solo creates a fantastic clash of styles. Creevy says “Soft Drink” is about finding some sort of validation after a year of loneliness, saying “Sometimes all you need is company and you’re not looking for anything specific, just someone to dance with.”
The song is out now on Secretly Canadian. While there is still no word on a new record, an announcement seems imminent.
Cherry Glazerr are Clementine Creevy (vocals, synths, electric guitar, bass synth), Tabor Allen (synths, bass synth), Jenn Decilveo (guitars, synths, electronic drums), Sam Kaufman (drums), and Patrick Kelly (bass).
Slothrust – “The Next Curse” (Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: Halestorm, Hop Along, PUP
Just when you think you’ve figured out Slothrust‘s next musical direction, they completely throw you for a loop. Fans expected their upcoming record, Parallel Timeline, would be a more lush, electronic affair. “Cranium” marked a huge leap for the band’s sound with an ethereal vibe driven by its deep synths, bass, and Leah Wellbaum’s vocals that reach spine chilling territory. They followed with the equally stunning “Strange Astrology”, only to shift again with the pure rocker “Once More for the Ocean”.
On “The Next Curse”, Slothrust get even heavier and enlist the help from Lzzy Hale from Halestorm. Hearing both Wellbaum and Hale sing the choruses together is a great treat. Hale’s powerful vocals create a dynamic with Wellbaum’s more laid-back delivery. This is Slothrust at their best: killer riffs, heavy guitar, and fierce percussion. The lyrical content is timely with the recent “Code Red” climate reports. As the world is burning around us, Wellbaum sings of the importance to take the time to take care of yourself:
“Earth’s gonna set on fire
But still I wait
Rabid with desire
But still I wait
Flames gonna kiss my back
I hope I can run faster than that
Earth’s gonna set on fire
But still I wait”
Roller Derby – “Whatever Works” (Hamburg, Germany)
RIYL: Molly Burch, Bleach Lab, Alvvays
A few things in this world are timeless, and music is one of them. A great song can span decades, touching the ears of generation after generation of music listeners. Similarly, a youthful band can create music that recalls eras that existed well before they were born, and some can even perfect the sound. Despite being about a year into their existence, Hamburg-based Roller Derby have mastered nostalgic dream-pop. Like the great Molly Burch, they’ve reinvigorated the music of the ’60s and ’70s on singles “Flying High”, “Can’t See You”, and “Underwater”. With “Whatever Works”, they again bring the past to the present, making us believe that what was old is cool again.
Roller Derby’s latest single is a warm dazzler. A jangly guitar, hip-shaking drum line, and a jittery bass create the shimmering soundscape with each note grabbing hold of our mind like a gripping dream. Rising above the hazy soundscape is Philine Meyer’s smokey yet intoxicating vocal. Like the musical approach, Meyer’s tale seeks to recapture the magic of the past. But is the relationship salvageable? She pleads to her partner for an answer, singing with desperation:
“Can we do anything tonight?
Tell me can I really win this fight?
What is it really that you fear?
Why don’t we wait another year?”
This band are ones to watch not just next year but now. Roller Derby are Philine Meyer (vocals, keys), Manuel Romero Soria (guitar), and Max Nielsen (bass).
Sam Evian – “Knock Knock” (New York City, USA)
RIYL: Jim James, Cass McCombs, Mt. Joy
Do you remember blowing bubbles in your youth? Either method – with bubble gum or a little plastic wand dipped into a soapy liquid – provided tiny flashes of joy. Time seemed to stand still in those fleeting moments between creation and disappearance. Your entire focus was on the immediacy of what was before your eyes. Those thrills don’t happen as often to grownups, but you can still find them if you pay attention. Sometimes, though, you hear them first. Such is the case with the new single from American indie singer-songwriter Sam Evian.
“Knock Knock” from his upcoming LP, Time to Melt, is a dazzling, melodic version of those thrills. He takes to you another place from the start with vintage, soul-inspired grooves. The intricate, psychedelic strings mesmerize you as the lyrics call out the darker truths of modern life:
“Living in America we cut our drugs and hold for payday
Everybody’s got a gun, but no one minds the capitol disgrace”
“How do I go on living through this ugly feeling
When I look outside the world is coming down”
Evian succeeds here on many levels. The music piques your interest and holds you spellbound by his Jim James-esque vocals. Additional support from The War on Drug’s Jon Natchez on baritone sax and Raymond Mason on trumpet increases the sonic richness. But the lyrical honesty makes “Knock Knock” a must-hear for everyone. Our modern world is full of disgraces and ugliness. Sam Evian provides a respite with his music, delivering moments of joy that recharge us individually. Then we can rise to effect positive change together.
Chorusing – “Blue Ridge” (Asheville, NC USA)
RIYL: Damien Jurado, Jason Molina, Sparklehorse
The mountains of western North Carolina have long inspired writers and musicians. There is something magical about the scenery there. The picturesque Blue Ridge range of the Appalachian Mountains in the southern United States resembles Scotland and feels timeless. This new tune from emerging North Carolina-based project Chorusing is infused with all the mystical, misty charms of that region. There is no denying the immediate appeal of “Blue Ridge”, so prepare to fall under its spell.
What you notice first about Matthew O’Connell’s musical style is his delivery: calm and unhurried, he follows paths trod by Jason Molina and Damien Jurado. Like his singer-songwriter predecessors, O’Connell elevates the art of musical folk storytelling. Every note tells a story and begs to be heard with closed eyes. Introspective minor keys set a contemplative mood, while the instrumentation evokes campfire warmth.
“Blue Ridge” is a song meant for repeated spins as each subsequent listen reveals new depths. Perhaps if you listen at night while gazing at the stars you can fully absorb its restorative calm. O’Connell makes a powerful first impression here.
Houndmouth – “Las Vegas” (New Albany, IN USA)
RIYL: Tom Petty, Mt. Joy, CAAMP
Ever since Houndmouth burst onto the indie music scene a decade ago, their songs have kept fans smiling and dancing. The band who first made a splash with “Sedona” once again take listeners to new places far from their home just across the river from Louisville, Kentucky. And just like all Houndmouth songs, “Las Vegas” serves up bold hooks and an anthemic chorus meant for festival singalongs. Songs meant to be performed from Newport Folk Festival to Coachella.
This little rocker echoes a young Tom Petty. Like the late legend, Matt Myers (guitar, vocals), Zak Appleby (bass, vocals), and Shane Cody (drums, vocals) deliver a track that is not just meant for a good time but also honestly tackles American life. So while the song gradually builds and begins to swell with a cathartic euphoria, pay attention to Myers’ story about a young person chasing the impossible dream that doesn’t have a Hollywood ending.
“You wore makeup for three days straight
Half a Xanax for the holidays
By the look on your face
You’re rolling eights the hard way
We came here to win
We didn’t come for the entertainment
I believe in Las Vegas
The city of plastic
So real it’s dangerous“
Bnny – “August” (Chicago, USA)
RIYL: IAN SWEET, Florist, Snail Mail
In a year filled with incredibly talented newcomers, one near the top is Bnny, the project founded and fronted by Jess Viscius. Together with her twin sister Alexa and best friends Tim Makowski and Matt Pelkey, the Chicago-based outfit have become one of our favorite discoveries of the year. With past singles “Time Walk”, “Ambulance”, and “Sure”, they made simplicity sound incredibly beautiful yet brittle. And more than that, their music pierces the soul, which is exactly what “August” does.
Forget thinking about a summer banger or a beach-appropriate swelter, Bnny’s newest single is meant for the damp, cool months of October and November. With the dual guitars and throbbing bass patiently spinning a brooding yet hypnotic autumn tone, Viscius’ breathy yet enrapturing voice paints a picture of a person falling and slipping away. She is the last leaf on the branch, clinging dearly for her life. “And some people never change / But I’ll change one day”, she desperately sings, as if seeking forgiveness or a second chance. As if seeking to start a new life after everything she and all of us have experienced.
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