The Matinee ’21 v. 127 celebrates the music of long-time favorites who have moved us with their emotional power and recent favorites who have made us believe that music can be transcendent. Today’s mini-playlist begins with a song that is both emotional and transcendent from one of the modern era’s most remarkable artists. For more music this weekend, spin our Songs of September playlist, which is on Spotify and SoundCloud.
Emma Ruth Rundle – “Return” (Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: A.A Williams, Chelsea Wolfe, Thom Yorke
The moment has nearly arrived. Emma Ruth Rundle‘s fourth solo album, Engines of Hell, is less than two months away. It’s not like the former front-person of Marriages has been idle. Last year, she co-released May Our Chambers Be Full with Gothic sludge rocker Thou as well as the emotional hurricane of a single, “Staying Power”.
Fans like us, however, have been waiting for a full collection of songs that are solely etched with the initials ERR because very few artists can match Rundle’s ability to write stories and create soundscapes that are devastatingly real. Her last two albums, Marked for Death and On Dark Horses were powerful, emotional, and unforgettable, and both landed on our Favorite Albums List for 2016 and 2018, respectfully. Can Rundle do the rarity in achieving a natural hat trick of stellar outputs? If Engines of Hell‘s lead single is any indication, Rundle responds with an emphatic “Yes!”
True to form, the LA-based singer-songwriter overwhelms us with “Return”. Whereas most of the songs on her previous two LPs were widescreen, Rundle opts for a raw, stripped-back approach. All that is heard is Rundle at the piano, a light synth at the very end, and her vulnerable yet gripping voice. Despite the minimalism, the song is enrapturing. It devours our soul with its brooding, Gothic darkness, and Rundle’s surreal story. It is like the foreword to Dylan Thomas’ classic poem, Do not Go Gently into that Good Night, where she pleads for someone dear to not succumb to the allure of the darkness. This darkness is not just death but where the “hound of Hell (is) looking for handouts”. Rundle’s songwriting is impeccable
“Some demimonde astride the crossing
You’re reaching for a life-like face
You stumble to the cellar door and
Your fragments glitter the eyelids of a child
Author of a Poor Design
No one to steady your gaze
And the things a pound of flesh can’t buy
Where have you gone to?”
Mark November 5th on your calendars because that is when Rundle will completely devour us with Engines of Hell. Her longtime label Sargent House has the honors releasing it. Pre-orders are available here and on Bandcamp.
Deserta – “Lost in the Weight” (Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Sigur Rós
Rapturous: this is the word that comes to mind while listening to “Lost in the Weight” from Deserta. Remember to breathe as these layers of dense shoegaze/post-rock wash over you. This is no easy feat given the tsunami-force waves conjured by project mastermind Matthew Doty. But trust us: this immersive experience is sure to leave you breathless yet awestruck. It is a stunning follow-up to Deserta’s 2020 transcendent debut album, Black Aura My Sun.
For six-plus minutes this song guides listeners on a journey towards catharsis. The extended intro introduces tones of tension that are soon eased by Doty’s nearly whispered vocals. Sonic waves continue to swell and crash as he offers calming reminders to hold on. In some ways it feels like an elegy for all our hopes and dreams lost since 2020. We need an outlet for grieving what the pandemic stole from us, and “Lost in the Weight” provides it:
“Take a little time
Afraid of what you want
For so long
Lost in the weight of your own design
There’s a way outside
Patiently as time goes by”
Nation of Language – “A Word & A Wave” (Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: ’80s synthpop
Make room on your Favorite Albums of 2021 list for A Way Forward from Nation of Language. The Brooklyn-based masters of retro-inspired synth pop stunned the music world last year with their sensational debut, Introduction, Presence. It made our list of 2020’s most outstanding records, a feat their sophomore LP seems destined to repeat if the previous singles – “Wounds of Love”, “A Fractured Mind”, and “Across that Fine Line” – are any indication.
The trio have a Midas touch, musically speaking. They succeed at minimalism: Aidan Noéll’s synth refrains and Michael Sue-Poi’s rhythmic bass lines provide the foundation over which Ian Devaney’s warm vocals soar. Their sound is authentic, echoing New Wave synth pioneers Yaz one moment and New Order the next. Yet in stark contrast to the ’80s – an era known for excess – their newest single “A Word & A Wave” is understated, full of lyrical gems to savor:
“Finally torn asunder
Fall asleep romanticizing
Heartache in the city center
Watering your pothos while you hum
Aching for something you could save
A word & a wave
Kindly pull me under
Softening the seconds as they’re
Falling from the open window
Carried on a careful, quiet song
Aching with nothing to be gained
A word & a wave”
Curtis Harding – “Can’t Hide It” (Atlanta, USA)
RIYL: Curtis Mayfield, Leon Bridges, Durand Jones & The Indications
Earlier this summer soul crooner Curtis Harding soothed us with “I Won’t Let You Down” and “Hopeful”, two tracks full of inspiration. Now he charms listeners anew with the next single from his upcoming album, If Words Were Flowers.
“Can’t Hide It” is an upbeat love letter with old-school grooves. The R&B hooks and soulful vocals are infused with psychedelic flavors that make the song truly irresistible. Harding’s talents have always shone brightly, but in the five years since his last album, Face Your Fear, he has reached new heights. His sound is even more vibrant and electrifying. Try to resist as he sings “I can’t hide it / it’s true / I only want you” – it’s impossible:
“You can see it in my face
Don’t walk away
When you leave I break down
You’re more than words what can I say?
Except that I need you around”
Gustaf – “The Motions” (Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: Shopping, Dry Cleaning, Wire
Some bands sound great but live they’re not the most entertaining. We highly doubt that’s the case with Gustaf, the art-punk band who consistently release awesome songs and amusing videos. Whether it is by “Design”, a figure of our “Mine”, them playing by the “Book”, or the quintet being on their “Best Behavior”, they’ve made us go ballistic again and again. So if you’re in Sweden next week or in the US in October and November, go see Lydia Gammill (vocals), Tine Hill (bass), Tarra Thiessen (vocals, percussion), Melissa Lucciola (drums), and Vramshabouh Kherlopian (guitar, vocals) on tour. Something wild, bizarre, and just awesome is bound to happen, including potentially the band replicating the events of the video for “The Motions”.
Gustaf likely won’t bring a car on stage, but Gammill could get sabotaged by her band mates. While this is happening, all the witnesses will be oddly dancing, lost in their little worlds and moving the way their bodies want to. This is the intention of “The Motions” and the brilliance of Gustaf, as the song concerns the little bubbles we live in each day and often oblivious to what’s going on around us. “I can’t keep track!”, Gammill hollers, as she realizes that her undoing may be due to her apathy. For us, if our predicament is caused by Gustaf’s zany art-punk, we will gladly suffer the consequences.
We’ll get to put that statement to test on October 1st. That is the date when the band’s debut album, Audio Drag for Ego Slobs, will be released on Royal Mountain Records. Pre-orders available at the label’s store and Bandcamp.
Laddermen – “Good Times” (Lucerne, Switzerland)
RIYL: Interpol, The Editors, Kasabian
Chocolate, cheese, raclette, and home to some of the most expensive cities in the world, Switzerland is known for the finer things in life. Walk around the cities of Zurich and Bern or even smaller towns such as Morges, and one will notice how every person is sharply dressed and every street is pristine. It’s hard to imagine anything in this picturesque, land-locked country being gritty or dark. Yet, a young trio arrives to show the nation’s underbelly. They are the appropriately named Laddermen, who could be considered the 2021 version of Interpol.
Like the legendary NYC post-punk outfit, the Swiss edition seamlessly merge brooding darkness with anthemic illumination. They reveal their skills on “Good Times”. The shadowy approach makes you think you’re lost in the shadows. However, instead of succumbing to defeat, one is invigorated by the song’s energy, which is represented by the piercing guitar. And one has to be if they are to escape her imprisonment. In addition to the stark sonic qualities, the song is a creative, fantasy story of a person encountering mythical creatures and those who similarly possess “cursed minds”. Somewhere, the Brothers Grimm are nodding in approval, particularly when the band share the following little vignette:
“Temptress lock it away and leave the trees to hang
They taught you little son and fed the terror loaf
Of trees with hangmen”
Yard Act – “The Overload” (Leeds, England)
RIYL: Blur, The Clockworks, Parquet Courts
If one solely depends on Top-40 radio for their music fix, s/he will be missing out on some outstanding songwriters. We’re not talking about individual singer-songwriters, but bands that either have a front-person who is an excellent lyricist or take a collaborative approach. Many of these groups, unsurprisingly, reside in the UK, where it seems like each band is trying to outdo the other. We have no issue with that. Instead, we celebrate bands that can write awesome stories and messages, which is why we’re quickly getting on the Yard Act bandwagon.
When James Smith (vocals/guitar), Ryan Needham (bass), George Townend (drums), and Sammy Robinson (guitar) shared “Dark Days” in January, we said they could fill the enormous gap left by Eagulls’ departure. We may have understated their potential because their latest single, “The Overload”, is Blur on steroids. From the jittery, art-Brit-pop vibe and the non-stop adrenaline that surges throughout the song’s 3-minute, 16-second duration, the song takes listeners on a wild ride that is life. The band brilliantly describe the absurdities that surround us – from politics to conspiracy theories to how the internet has made lewdness a profitable business. The music is outstanding, but the songwriting is pretty extraordinary. And while the story is bizarre, it is a pretty accurate description of the world we live in.
Yard Act’s debut album, The Overload, is out January 7th, 2022 via Zen F.C. Pre-orders are available at these links. Get to know this band.
Keg – “Presidential Walk” (Brighton, England)
RIYL: The Fall, FUGAZI, Sparks
We’ve read all sorts of ways in which bands have been inspired. We’ve never come across a band drawing inspiration from Wikipedia, which is how Brighton-based art-punk septet Keg came up with “Presidential Walk”. Specifically, front-man Albert Haddenham was reading about how former French President François Mitterrand used to take long walks to clear his head. Well, this is better than another sappy love song. Even better yet, the collective concoct one frenetic, off-kilter number to complement Haddenham’s clever lyricism.
Like Mitterrand’s tenure, the song is one wild roller coaster. It urgent shakes at the beginning before ebbing to a near standstill before rising again. Up-and-down the track goes, with the melody shifting often and each instruments – trombone, guitar, percussion, bass, guitar, synth, what have you – taking the lead. Yeah, there’s no uniformity to the track, which is what makes this tune so great. It is unpredictable, it is witty, and it is imaginative. What more could one want? Another love song?
Keg are: Albert Haddenham (vocals), Joel Whitaker (bass) & Will Wiffen (synth), Frank Lindsay (guitar), Jules Gibbons (guitar), Charlie Keen (trombone, shell) and Johnny Pyke (drums). The band’s debut EP, Assembly, is out October 22nd on Alcopop! Records.
Trace Mountains – “7 Angels” (New York, USA)
RIYL: Hiss Golden Messenger, (Early) My Morning Jacket, Grateful Dead
Former LVL UP member Dave Benton released one of last year’s best records, Trace Mountains’ Lost in the Country. It was a picture of the vast expanse of America from the perspective of a traveling performer and the isolation that can bring. On a recent single, Benton continued his portrait of the country, singing of the complex feelings of being an American on “America”.
The second single from Trace Mountains’ upcoming record House of Confusion is “7 Angels”. It’s an alt-country song at heart with gorgeous pedal steel, acoustic guitar, and brushed drums. Benton says “7 Angels” ties together many of House of Confusion’s themes, “the passing of time, a change of heart, the sometimes wistful feeling of being on the road”. It gives off those vibes as good as any artist who’s traveled those roads. Add in some gorgeous harmonies and a wonderful closing section, and you’ve got a fantastic single and preview of what may be one of the year’s finest records.
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