The Matinee ’21 v. 130 is an all-alumni edition, featuring some of music’s finest songwriters and bands today. Some have already achieved indie fame while many are positioned to break out this year. or more music this weekend, spin our Songs of September playlist, which is on Spotify and SoundCloud.
Hand Habits – “Graves” (feat. SASAMI) (Los Angeles & Upstate New York, USA)
RIYL: Julien Baker, Adrianne Lenker, Bedouine
No matter how Meg Duffy chooses to communicate stories as Hand Habits, whether it’s through dazzling synth-pop (“Aquamarine”) or a rapturous folk-rocker (“No Difference”), they always find ways to touch our soul. The one constant is their sensational songwriting, which often is poetic yet grounded in the here and now. To call Duffy an artist would understate the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter’s abilities. They are a maestro, a poet, and a storyteller, and these traits come together on “Graves”.
With just a lovely piano and Sasami Ashworth on backing vocals supporting Duffy’s delicately finger-plucked guitar and stunning vocal, the song is a master class in simplicity. The light soundscape is breathtaking, like watching the sunrise on a spring morning. Duffy’s voice, though, is what carries the song, stirring our emotions with gentle textures while the lyrics crush our hearts. Their words are reminders to not give into sadness and to hold on to every memory while still living to create new ones:
“And is that how it ends?
Throwing stones to the wind
It’s a spark of the deadliest sin
How can you separate the blood from within?”
Snail Mail – “Valentine” (Baltimore, USA)
RIYL: Waxahatchee, Japanese Breakfast, Girlpool
It seems like Lindsey Jordan’s project Snail Mail has been around for ages, but she’s only 22. It’s incredible to look back and see what she has already accomplished. With a fantastic debut EP, Habit, and a fully realized LP, Lush, Jordan’s music has found wide appeal among music fans. After the acclaim and tours that followed Lush, Jordan spent some time in rehab in Arizona where she began to craft her upcoming sophomore LP, Valentine.
This week, Jordan shared the title track, and in almost every way it’s a positive evolution of the Snail Mail sound. Its production is pristine. Jordan’s voice has never sounded better, especially over the lush opening synths. When the song kicks into gear for the chorus, it’s that same Snail Mail energy fans have come to expect with loud guitar and Jordan’s voice soaring. As a brutally honest break-up song, “Valentine” shows how far Jordan has come as a songwriter, and how she’s matured since those early releases:
“Can’t love for us both
You’ve gotta live and I gotta go
As long as it’s us two
Fuck being remembered, I think I was made for you
So why’d you wanna erase me, darling valentine?
You always know where to find me when you change your mind”
The War on Drugs – “I Don’t Live Hear Anymore” (feat. Lucius) (Philadelphia, USA)
RIYL: Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty
Some bands make music that feels more like therapy than entertainment. Fans of American indie rock outfit The War on Drugs can attest, as the band’s albums are often immersive, emotionally resonant experiences. Next month they will release their fifth LP, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, and the title track serves up immediate heartfelt connections.
Frontman Adam Granduciel is, in many ways, this generation’s Bob Dylan. He conveys emotion in his songs with a no-nonsense minimalism. The moodiness of his writing pairs wells with the rich textures of the instrumentation. After name-checking Dylan on this track, Granduciel reveals one of the year’s best lyrics: “We’re all just walking through this darkness on our own.”
But this darkness is balanced by the light of guest vocalists Holly Laessig and Jess Wolf of Lucius. Their harmonies add a soft touch to the song’s lyrical and musical density:
“Tie surrounds me like an ocean
My memories like waves
Is life just dying in slow motion
Or getting stronger every day?
I never took our love for granted
You never left me wanting more
But you’d never recognize me, babe
I don’t live here anymore”
This song follows the album’s lead track, “Living Proof”, as a preview of what promises to be an Album of the Year contender. The band’s 2022 tour begins January 19th in Texas then heads to Europe in March.
The War on Drugs are: Adam Granduciel (vocals, guitar), Anthony LaMarca (guitar), David Hartley (bass), Robbie Bennett (keys), Nohn Natchez (keys, saxophone), and Charlie Hall (drums).
Adia Victoria – “You Was Born to Die” (feat. Kyshona Armstrong, Margo Price, & Jason Isbell) (Nashville, USA)
RIYL: Rhiannon Giddens, Valerie June, Allison Russell
Future generations will regard Adia Victoria as one of this era’s finest artists. The American gothic soul artist is a native southerner, born in South Carolina and now based in Nashville. Last year she released the powerful single “South Gotta Change” in response to racial injustice in the south and beyond. Her third album, A Southern Gothic, is out today and finds her revisiting the past on this cover of a 1930s-era blues tune.
On “You Was Born To Die” she enlists fellow southern artists Jason Isbell, Margo Price, and Kyshona Armstrong on a rousing rendition of the Blind Willie McTell classic. The female singers take turns on the verses while Isbell provides a scorching guitar solo. Each infuses the song with passion and transforms the original tune into a modern battle cry. The old adage that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned takes on greater urgency when these powerful voices sing:
“You made me love you and you made my cry
You should remember that you was born to die”
Adia Victoria is a force of nature to be reckoned with, and on A Southern Gothic she is taking her place among the greats. A Southern Gothic is out today from these links via Canvasback Music and Atlantic Records.
The Ophelias – “Twilight Zone” (Cincinnati & New York City, USA)
RIYL: Lucy Dacus, Mitski, Lala Lala
The year 2021 has been one of musical devastation, where many bands have found ways to make stirring art out of mournfulness. Among the very best at this craft are The Ophelias, who have with just three songs – “Neil Young on High”, “Sacrificial Lamb”, and “Vapor” – made our jaws drop. The quartet do it for the fourth consecutive time with “Twilight Zone”.
It doesn’t take long for the band to work their magic. “Holding you feels like a bomb went off in my chest” are the first words uttered from frontwoman Spencer Peppet. Surrounding her is a gorgeous, brittle, yet powerful arrangement that complements this tale of loss. The rhythm section of bass player Jo Shaffer and drummer Mic Adams trembles beneath the weight of the symphonic section that includes band member violinist Andrea Gutmann Fuentes plus Peter Boylan (horns), Kate Wakefield (cello), Nina Payiatis (violin), and Anissa Pulcheon (viola). The melancholy, in turn, reflects the grief in Peppet’s voice. She wishes the event was something from The Twilight Zone, but it is her reality. She must live in silence with the memory of what has happened. And once again The Ophelias leave us in complete awe.
The Ophelias again are: vocalist/guitarist Spencer Peppet (she/her), violinist Andrea Gutmann Fuentes (she/her), drummer Mic Adams (he/him), and bassist Jo Shaffer (they/them). Their new album, Crocus, is out September 24th via Joyful Noise Recordings. Pre-orders and pre-saves are available here and from Bandcamp.
W. H. Lung – “Figure with Flowers” (Manchester, England)
RIYL: LCD Soundsystem, POND, Future Islands
Is there anything W.H. Lung cannot do? The group comprised of Tom Sharkett (guitar), Joe Evans (vocals), Hannah Peace (synths, vocals), Chris Mulligan (bass, synths), and Alex Mercer Main (drums) have proven that they remarkable shapeshifters. “Pearl In The Palm” was intergalactic disco-pop; “Showstopper” was psych-infused disco-punk; while darkwave, post-punk, disco-psych, and Krautrock merged on the hypnotic “Gd Tym”. We have watched the quintet grow in their 5+ years of existence, they still mesmerize us with their craft. They make us scour the thesaurus to find new expressions to describe their art, and we’re doing that as we attempt to describe the awesomeness of “Figure with Flowers”.
And maybe that is all that needs to be said – this synth-driven, psych-infused, dance-pop number is awesome. What makes the track remarkable is its restraint. Instead of blowing us away with wall-shaking rhythms, explosive guitars, and surging synths, the Manchester outfit dial down every element so we can immerse ourselves in its layers. The song once represents all the things we adore about this band – masterful, addictive orchestration with some of the most imaginative storytelling in music today.
The new album, Vanities, is out October 8th via Melodic Records. Pre-orders, pre-saves, and tickets for the upcoming tour are available here. Also head to Bandcamp to pick up the album. It’s shaping up to be one of the year’s very best.
Magdalena Bay – “You Lose!” (Philadelphia, USA)
RIYL: Electric Youth, MUNA, Ralph
Despite their youthful ages (still in their early 20s), Mica Tenenbaum (songwriting/vocals) and Matthew Lewin (songwriting/vocals/production) are throwbacks. Through their project Magdalena Bay, they can create bubbly ’80s synth-pop or bustling ’90s and early-’00s electro-pop. Like much of the music of those eras, the duo’s music has a coming-of-age quality, which was very evident on “Chaeri”. So whether you’re a teen or heading towards middle age, you can empathize with the emotions and stories of their songs, such as on “You Lose!”
The song is a perfect encapsulation of Magdalena Bay’s talent and potential. It bursts with a radiant energy that ignites something raw and real within us. The throbbing beats and the buzzing synths revitalize our bodies and minds to encounter the next challenge. But first we must overcome the recent past, and Tenenbaum delivers the words to help us do just that. This heartbreak isn’t of our making, but instead it is the product of another’s vanity, betrayal, and conceit. We all know the feeling, and the pair helps us get through the pain in the only way they know how – with an infectious, euphoric energy paired with biting words:
“I’m running out of my time
A flower gone dry
Your lips touching mine won’t do
Only what’s left of my pride
Could lust for a lie
You aim, you attack, you lose”
Mini Trees – “Moments In Between” (Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: Fazerdaze, Frankie Cosmos, Faye Webster
Mini Trees provided a rekindling of hope on her recent single, “Carrying On”. It spoke to the power of project mastermind Lexi Vega’s ability to craft songs that are euphoric, emotional, and most importantly, human.
On her newest song, “Moments in Between”, Vega creates yet another indie pop masterpiece. Her reverb-laden vocals define the song’s early moments over a bit of hushed guitar. The song breaks down into Vega’s voice blurring with distortion before everything comes into a beautiful focus. The vocals are then accompanied by lush harmonies as a smooth bass line guides the track. The guitar comes in with a wonderful chime, and pristine drums keep things moving.
In just under three minutes, Vega creates one heck of a ride. Vega says she wrote “Moments In Between” during the early times of the pandemic. It’s about looking back at good times and ahead to new ones yet being stuck somewhere in between.
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