The Matinee ’21 v. 153 mini-playlist might break your heart, lift your spirits, or leave you in a state of bliss. The nine songs include some of indie’s brightest stars and a few under-the-radar gems that shine brightly above the pack.
Mitski – “The Only Heartbreaker” (Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: Kim Carnes, Kim Wilde, Future Islands
When Mitski first started her hiatus a few years ago, it left quite a void. As one of the most important and influential songwriters of the 2010s, few artists matched her intensity, proficiency, or artistry. There have been glimmers of activity during the hiatus, however. Earlier this year it seemed something big was coming after she did the soundtrack for the Z2 graphic novel, This Is Where We Fall. She then officially ended the hiatus when she followed that up with “Working for the Knife”. Now there is no doubt: Mitski is back, as she announced her sixth album, Laurel Hell, will be released March 4th via Dead Oceans.
Where “Working for the Knife” felt like a combination of all the things that make Mitski who she is, new single “The Only Heartbreaker” shows a different side. Full of synth and a bouncy bassline, she channels ’80s pop throughout. Lyrically it’s simple yet impactful. She is singing of breaking the heart of one you love and taking responsibility for that action. It’s not a unique sound for today, as many artists are finding inspiration in ’80s-era synth pop. But Mitski’s artistry helps separate this song from the others. Add in the pairing with “Working for the Knife”, it’s clear why Mitski is one of this era’s best artists.
San Fermin – “You Live My Dream” (feat. Wild Pink) (Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: Júníus Meyvant, Small Black, Wild Pink
When artists like Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, Thao Nguyen, Sorcha Richardson, and Wild Pink freely agree to collaborate with a band, you know that group is special. Then again, San Fermin are in a category all their own. The collective that at one time had a membership in the double digits can weave between creating exhilarating orchestral-pop tunes to wondrous fairy tales. There really is no limit to their abilities, which happens to extend to breathtaking indietronica as displayed on “My First Life”. That single featured the aforementioned Jenn Wasner, and their newest tune sees the band showcase another side to their art.
The soothing and stunning qualities of the song make it ideal for levitation, whether one is actually gliding through the skies or doing so within one’s mind. Wild Pink’s John Ross’ supple vocal is the perfect complement to San Fermin’s band leader Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s exquisite arrangement, which is one part folktronica and another part dreamy electro-pop. Like every aerial adventure, the track features multiple breathtaking moments, which is fitting given Ross’ little message of the enduring power of love.
“You live in my dream
I’ll always run to you”
San Fermin is led by Ellis Ludwig-Leone (keyboard/composer) with Allen Tate (vocals), Charlene Kaye (vocals), Rebekah Durham (violin), John Brandon (trumpet), Stephen Chen (saxophone), Tyler McDiarmid (guitar), and Michael Hanf (drums). The band’s new album, In This House, will be released December 10th on their own Better Company Records.
Letting Up Despite Great Faults – “Corners Pressed” (Austin, USA)
RIYL: Ride, Chapterhouse, Pains of Being Pure at Heart
We all need an occasional break to recharge. For artists, a hiatus may be required to get the creative juices flowing once again. In the case of Austin-based Letting Up Despite Great Faults, an eight-year separation from music helped them rekindle their passion. Their return at the end of 2021 also presents an opportunity for a new generation of indie fans to discover these under-the-radar gems. In the process, young fans can understand why shoegaze never will die as they indulge in “Corners Pressed”.
The shimmering reverb guitars, the tapping cymbals, the shallow bellows of bass, and the sweet vocals of lead singer Mike Lee yield that familiar dreamy and intoxicating sound we first heard back in 1989. And yet it all feels fresh and reinvigorating, sending us into a state of bliss. While we levitate, Lee seeks forgiveness while simultaneously tackling the turmoil in his mind. This song is his apology, his eulogy to all he’s hurt, including himself:
“The entire crescendo, it’s all in my head
Now I’m dressed in all black
Sometimes I mouth the words ‘I’m falling behind’
How do I make it right?”
Simply brilliant and moving. Welcome back, Kent Zambrana, Daniel Schmidt, Annah Fisette, and Mike Lee. The band’s new album, IV, is expected some time in 2022.
Constant Smiles – “The Things I Miss” (Martha’s Vineyard, USA)
RIYL: Yo La Tengo, Luna, Sparklehorse
Rainy autumn days are perfect for the music of Constant Smiles. The Cape Cod band’s lo-fi folk/shoegaze is an ideal daydreaming soundtrack. Amid the gauzy layers of mellow vocals on their new single “The Things I Miss” you find a sonic intimacy worth embracing.
This follow-up to last month’s “Daisy, Table for Three” is from their upcoming album, Paragons. After a decade of recording with a rotating cast of players, frontman Ben Jones has a lengthy discography. While the group has yet to play an NPR Tiny Desk Concert or a Newport Folk Fest headlining set, this song makes both scenarios seem inevitable. The shuffling pace prompts head swaying or perhaps quiet contemplation. It’s been a long time coming, but Paragons could be the release that propels Constant Smiles into a much-deserved spotlight.
Some artists can imbue their music with elements that take listeners to the scene of a song’s origin. The softness here conjures cool summer evenings in New England: eyes cast on the horizon, a blanket providing warmth from the ocean breezes while you recall people and places long gone. Wistful never sounded so lovely.
Nilüfer Yanya – “Stablise” (London, England)
RIYL: Millie Turner, Tash Sultana, Unknown Mortal Orchestra
In Nilüfer Yanya‘s young career, she has never failed to amaze. Her debut album, Miss Universe, is an example of alt-pop perfection while her 2020 EP, Feeling Lucky, is an ethereal yet cathartic experience that made our Favorite EPs of the Year list. She also released Inside Out, a compilation featuring tracks from her early EPs. While the EPs are all good, they left us even more ready for Yanya’s sophomore full-length.
Thankfully, the wait for new Nilüfer Yanya music is over. With a frenetic pace dictated by the song’s complex drumming, Yanya reinvents herself again on “Stabilise”. This is more of a post-rock sound than what we’ve heard from her before. Layered whispers balance her powerful vocals, while tasty guitar hooks underline the choruses. She describes “Stabilise” as being about living in the city, and how it’s “just grey and concrete, there’s no escape”:
“Nothing goes above the high rise
Like no one gets back into your life
In a couple days I’m gonna lose this
In a couple places getting bruises
Just to heal my body”
English Teacher – “Good Grief” (Leeds, England)
RIYL: Dry Cleaning, Gustaf, Ganser
If something is unpredictable, you cannot call it boring. Quite the opposite actually: the more unpredictable a band is, the more exciting they are. This explains why English Teacher are one of the most exciting musical discoveries of 2021. For starters, they wowed fans with the poignant and jarring “R&B” while guiding a sonic expedition with the ill-fated “Wallace”. The Yorkshire quartet once again showcase their talents with “Good Grief”.
We can’t help but wonder if David Byrne would be as awed by the band’s quirky, manic approach to art-punk as we are. At first the song bops with a smooth, catchy groove led by a plucky bass line. Meanwhile, lead singer Lily Fontaine nonchalantly narrates two hapless lovers’ experiences in a pandemic world. Her storytelling is equals part Terry Gilliam-like satire and Sir David Attenborough-esque documentary:
“Bring out your dead
Make them a hashtag
The internet is the only one keeping track
And Trace woke up
And bumped her head
Smack on the cold hard matt, she spent the night with in bed
But she doesn’t see red, she just sees you”
As the track progresses, it reaches a chaotic, almost delirious moment. The world, after all, is in flames, so we may as well enjoy our last moments. We may as well dance, spin, and rock out with a great band, who are signed with Nice Swan Records.
English Teacher are: Lily Fontaine (vocals, rhythm guitar, synth), Douglas Frost (drums, synth), Nicholas Eden (bass, synth), and Lewis Whiting (lead guitar, synth).
Jill Lorean – “Kneading” (Glasgow, Scotland via Belfast, Northern Ireland & Chicago, USA)
RIYL: Jenny Lewis, Pearl Charles, Basia Bulat
The Scottish music scene is arguably one of the most overlooked, partly since artists and musicians from Alba tend to be labeled as from the United Kingdom. Some of the most talented and inventive musicians, however, have come from there, such as Frightened Rabbit, Young Fathers, The Ninth Wave, Mogwai, and Boards of Canada. We haven’t even mentioned Belle and Sebastian, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Teenage Fanclub, CHVRCHES, and Franz Ferdinand. That’s a “Who’s Who” of artists, which should grow to include Jill O’Sullivan.
Well, the list should already include O’Sullivan, as she fronted indie bands Sparrow and the Workshop and Three Queens in the Mourning. While these groups were celebrated within Scotland, her newest project, Jill Lorean, has the chance to adored abroad. Assisting O’Sullivan on this journey is Frightened Rabbits’ Andy Monaghan, who established his own label Monohands Records and released O’Sullivan’s debut EP, Not Your First. O’Sullivan takes further flight with a single that resurrects one of the great music genres.
“Kneading” sounds like it came right out of Woodstock. It is a vibrant psych-folk tune that Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez could have sung with Ravi Shankar supporting them. Like the music from that era, the song possesses a swooning and uplifting effect. This can be heard in the stammering guitar line, the unexpected yet delightful accordion, and O’Sullivan’s Gaelic-tinged vocals. And akin to Mitchell and Baez, O’Sullivan’s songwriting is impeccable, as she sings about “a woman who looks like Julie Garland”. This woman is someone who O’Sullivan knows very well, recounting how she went from endless baking to marrying the man of her dreams. Sadly, she loses him to a heart attack, and the mother of three returns to baking in order to support her family.
Whoever the person may be, O’Sullivan has immortalized her idol’s status. Soon we might be saying the same thing for the Belfast-born, Chicago-raised, now Glasgow-based artist.
Supporting O’Sullivan on this song are Andy Monaghan (bass, accordion) and Peter Kelly (drums).
This track is available now on Bandcamp.
Izaak Opatz – “Chinook Wind” (Missoula, MT USA)
RIYL: Clem Snide, Conor Oberst, Langhorne Slim
Izaak Opatz is one of America’s most talented yet overlooked singer/songwriters. The Montana-based artist pairs jaunty Americana riffs with wry lyrics so well you wonder if a soul-selling deal once occurred on a dusty roadside somewhere. This level of brilliance simply doesn’t come along every day. But this only partially explains why his new single is such an entertaining romp.
“Chinook Wind” is a hapless romantic’s adventure tale. The mid-tempo verses draw you into the story of someone who is rarely Cupid’s target. Vivid lyrical imagery keeps you hooked, eager to embrace every plot twist. What becomes of the guy “sitting in the steam with a cold gin & tonic / sweating in a plastic cup”? Does a Happily Ever After ending await him? Or will his dreams of romance become roadkill on the highway of love?
The lines “I felt you swim up behind me like a reaper / and softly kiss the back of my neck” offer some clues. Check out the video above to learn his fate. Then spend some time delving into Opatz’s back catalog, including his 2020 album, Hot & Heavy-Handed. Fans of off-kilter artists (singer Clem Snide and actor/author Nick Offerman, for example) will want to keep Izaak Opatz in heavy rotation.
Gold & Youth – “Blush” (Toronto and Vancouver, Canada)
RIYL: The Jesus and Mary Chain, Memoryhouse, Psychic Ills
The best way to end the day is to feel like you’re going somewhere with your best friend and partner-in-crime. Whether you actually are physically moving or stationary, Gold & Youth provide the perfect soundtrack to make this a memorable getaway.
After a lengthy hiatus, the pan-Canadian band announced their return with the illuminating shoegaze of “The Worse the Better”. They cement their status as one of the country’s hidden gems with “Blush”. The stuttering percussion and lingering reverb guitar at the start are the perfect way to begin the journey. A calmness sweeps over us as Matthew Lyall and Louise Burns sing. The opening lyrics, “Suddenly you’ve got the nerve to wander up and crash right through this world again / And hang it on your wall”, set the tone for what is to come. The crescendo to a euphoric moment full of escapism makes us believe we can dream together again:
“A whisper or mention, what I’d do for attention
Conniving persona, I let you take me over
The joke of the clowning, suffice to say I’m drowning
But didn’t I mention what I’d do for your attention?”
In addition to Lyall and Burns, Gold & Youth also include Murray McKenzie and Jeff Mitchelmore. Their sophomore album, Dream Baby, is out now via Paper Bag Records. Get the LP at the label’s store and at Bandcamp.
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