With American Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales thankfully in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to start another adventure with the nine songs on The Matinee ’21 v. 161 leading the way. Just like the diversity of where the artists and bands call home, today’s musical selection is quite the mix. These songs make up the final nine of our Songs of November 2021 playlist. Hear hours of the best new indie music from the past 30 days on Spotify and SoundCloud.
Mild West – “Life Again” (Sydney, Australia)
RIYL: Methyl Ethel, Grizzly Bear, Here We Go Magic
The ARIAs – Australia’s (better) version of The Grammys – were held last week. While some lamented the lack of “superstars”, the Award show does a great job of recognizing the great music being created by Australians regardless of their popularity. As such, you will rarely see an artist and band who has released a few albums nominated for “Best New Artist” because most Australians already know them from their first LPs. So why bring up the ARIAs? The answer is simple – Mild West will surely earn a few statuettes in the future.
For a few years, the quintet have been hovering under the radar in New South Wales, but they had a semi-breakthrough two years ago when they won Triple J’s Port Macquarie Festival of the Sun competition. An unusual thing happened along the way: the band took a break. It’s a mature decision to hit the brakes instead of chasing after quick hits. By regrouping, the outfit are able to create a song like “Life Again”.
This art-rock tune sounds more like the music of Brooklyn bands, such as Grizzly Bear, The Antlers, and Here We Go Magic. Like those star groups, Mild West take a methodical groove and make it both delirious and anthemic. The multiple transitions are brilliantly executed with each turn getting more urgent than the previous. The approach is akin to traveling along a coastal highway where curves get sharper and the angles steeper with each kilometer. It’s exhilarating yet a sense of caution echoes in frontman Liam Bell’s voice and lyrics. His tale could be that of the band’s recent history or anyone who has faced a fork in the road:
“Oh how we change
Red sunsets after rain
Even the cloud knows my name
Ghost towns repaved
Now full of life again
From quiet lanes to grave highways”
Mild West are Liam Bell, Isaac Laurence, Nat Tyrrell, Helen Griffith, and Adam Dooker. Their new album, Machine Learning, will be released April 22nd, 2022.
Bridge Dog – “Gone South” (Sydney, Australia)
RIYL: Belle and Sebastian, Alvvays, Fascinations Grand Chorus
Whereas one Sydney-based band guided us through rural Australia, another takes us to Glasgow and Edinburgh in a time when twee took the UK music scene by storm. The music was innocent and cheerful yet also timely. While the somgs felt like sunshine, bands such as Belle and Sebastian, The Softies, and The Pastels shared the experiences of a lost generation. Twenty-five years later, the world finds itself at a similar crossroads, attempting to find normalcy in an era of instability. We also find ourselves needing music that puts a smile on our faces while also connecting with our feelings. Bridge Dog is exactly the band we need and their new single, “Gone South”, is the exact song for the moment.
The young duo of Grace Ha and Brian Park could be considered the Molly Rankin and Stuart Murdoch of this decade. A jangly yet dreamy atmosphere emerges from their perfectly executed instrumentation that yields a sunny vibe. This feelgood number brings warmth to these gathering darker and colder days. Ha’s vocals are intimate as she sings about how people can suddenly grow apart as stresses increase. Her story, meanwhile, is one that many have lived too frequently these past two years:
“Try not to wear it on your sleeve
A vicious circle by design
Does my curiosity
Make you trivialise your life?
All the things that you despise
I let you win another fight
And what is left of me
You’ll think of how to spin into a lie”
amy michelle – “the bottom of the well” (Mullinger, Ireland)
RIYL: Holly Humberstone, Let’s Eat Grandma, Bnny
One of the great things about music is when an unknown artist astounds with a song that elicits an instant Wow! response. When you learn that the song is also the artist’s debut, that response becomes doubly impressive. This is how we reacted when hearing “the bottom of the well”, the debut from Irish artist amy michelle.
Sit down, put on headphones and immerse yourself in this hauntingly beautiful song. Reminiscent of the lo-fi indie rock of the mid-’90s, “the bottom of the well” may be simple in its arrangement but delivers a devastating impact. The low tremble of the guitar pulses ahead of a slight synth before a throbbing bass joins the strikingly dark arrangement. Her whispery voice sits above it all, uttering intense lyrics. She is searching for the light that exists within the darkness, seeking a comforting voice to awaken her from an endless nightmare and help her discover who she is:
“I could be the forest, where you used to pray
I could be the Sunday that was always so gray
I could be the killer, but I won’t set you free
I could be the me that you want me to be”
Remarkable and one of the most stunning songs we’ve heard all year. Not surprisingly, michelle is signed to Method Records, who introduced the world to Disclosure.
El Michels Affair – “Progress” (Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: The Budos Band, Menahan Street Band, The Olympians
This has been a productive year for Leon Michels, frontman of El Michels Affair. The prolific artist/producer/record label owner released the Yeti Season LP in March and dropped a new EP, The Abominable, last week. This is in addition recording with Menahan Street Band and producing albums for Norah Jones and a single for rapper Freddie Gibbs. You may not know his name, but you have most likely heard his work with Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, Lee Fields, and The Arcs. His music has been sampled by Jay-Z, Eminem, and more, making him one of the hottest names in music. But back to that EP: the nine tracks on The Abominable are a perfect way to wrap up 2021. Most of the songs feature his hypnotic blending of funk and soul with Turkish and Bollywood world beats. Instrumental tracks like “Progress” provide a glimpse into his genius.
Take a three-minute journey to another time with this tune. These vintage vibes seem plucked from another world. The first ten seconds offer no directional clues, so you are left wondering what kind of adventure awaits you. But once the grooves begin you wisely strap in for the journey. What matters here is not the destination but the savoring of every twist and turn as spirited horns lead the way. Funky percussion guides the melodies that keep you engaged. The final minute’s increasing tempo may leave your head spinning, but you’ll be far too blissed out to care.
HVOB – “Bruise” (Vienna, Austria)
RIYL: Georgia, Paradis, Trentmøller
In their near decade as HVOB, Anna Müller and Paul Wallner have established themselves as chameleons of their craft. They can send listeners to the cosmos with glorious post-rock or into the underworld with bleak trip-hop and downtempo. The duo have made their name as one of the past decade’s most fearless industrial and electronic bands, as their music’s intention goes well beyond the dance floor. They consistently show a willingness to address sensitive issues, whether political or social, even in the form of a techno track like “Bruise”.
But this is no ordinary techno number. Heavy, driving industrial-inspired beats pulse in the foreground, jolting our ear drums and pounding hard on our chests. Swirling in the background is a stunning, intergalactic melody of delayed synths and Müller’s dire vocals. So while the rhythms encourage us to dance, her voice causes us to reflect on what is really happening. Should we just give ourselves to the mind-bending catharsis or seek to help Müller and those like her who live a life of pain and suffering?
“It‘s the hardest thing to choose
What to keep and what to lose
It‘s the hardest thing to prove
Do I stay or do I bruise
“Bruise” is taken from the duo’s forthcoming fifth album, TOO, which will be released early in 2022. The single is available now on Bandcamp.
AURORA – “Midas Touch” (Bergen, Norway)
RIYL: Lana Del Rey, Highasakite, Cloves
Movie producers often seek big names to write theme songs for their films. When that happens, fans hear songs like Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” for Spectre instead of Radiohead’s superior creation. But when a gifted independent artist gets a chance, the odds are likely they will create a song that adds to the film’s or show’s mystique and, in the process, raise its status. For Amazon’s Hanna, they asked one of Norway’s greatest artists. For those who have followed the career of Aurora Aksnes – or simply Aurora – they already know what to expect from the musical mystic. Those new to her music will be introduced to her magical and fantasy world as heard on “Midas Touch”.
Latin vibes swirl with Scandinavian folklore, and the combination yields a beautifully mysterious and spellbinding track. The start sounds like an unrehearsed tango between two people who have just met. As the song progresses, the mystery grows, and the dance turns to a chess game. In this case, her story brilliantly builds on the show’s concept of a young woman seeking answers of who she is and why others seek to hide the truth:
“I would watch you fall in love
But you love me like a kid
You needed someone close
And I never really did
I’d find you on your knees
And you’d beg for me to be
The woman on your throne
But I’d rather be alone”
This song is featured on the trailers for season three of Hanna. It is released on Glassnote Music.
Prima Queen – “Chew My Cheeks” (Bristol, UK/Chicago, USA)
RIYL: Nilüfer Yanya, Julia Jacklin, The Big Moon
Prima Queen only have three singles to their name, but that was enough to get them signed by Nice Swan Records. It’s easy to see why because their first single, “Milk Teeth”, has all of the ingredients to a great indie-pop track. They followed up with “Brownstone”, which built on the original’s foundation with some saxophone and painted a picture of a faded American dream.
“Chew My Cheeks” is the first single of 2021 for duo Louise MacPhail and Kristin McFadden. An addicting guitar lead makes the song inviting. As the song progresses, however, Prima Queen increase the tension and anxiety. The vocals switch effortlessly from nearly spoken-word moments into infectious, poppy harmonies. The bridge makes the song’s meaning clear, describing an obsession with someone just out of reach as a “masochistic game”. After the bridge, the song’s tension is released in a big way. Guitar kicks in with a bang, followed by an encroaching snowball of sound, more guitar, and layers upon layers of vocals.
Grace Cummings– “Up In Flames” (Melbourne, Australia)
RIYL: Aldous Harding, Weyes Blood, Jessica Pratt
Melbourne’s Grace Cummings already has an impressive resume. An accomplished stage actor as well as a singer, songwriter, and producer, Cummings released a fantastic record in 2019, Refuge Cove, on King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s Flightless Records. Refuge Cove showcased her powerful and gritty voice over understated instrumentals. Earlier this year, she released “Heaven”, which featured religious imagery.
Written on the day Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned, “Up In Flames” is Cummings’ latest single. Leaning into religious imagery again, this time of one of the most recognizable religious sites in Europe lit aflame. The song is just Cummings and her guitar, and her voice makes the imagery even more powerful. Cummings sings of endings, of a relationship, of the end of normalcy. The song’s final line is a powerful statement that drives everything home:
“The shepherds have led their sheep astray and it’s all going up in flame.”
Great Lakes – “Baby’s Breath” (Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: The Jayhawks, Golden Smog, Old 97’s
The heart of indie rock might be New York City, but any music fan worth their salt knows that Athens, Georgia, is equally important. That small southern town is a valve, if you will – another musical chamber that beats with the same urgent honesty now as it did when R.E.M. began four decades ago. Singer-songwriter Ben Crum formed indie rock outfit Great Lakes there in the ‘90s, which explains why their new single “Baby’s Breath” retains the energetic passion of Americana’s beginnings.
Great Lakes are masters of their craft. Along with fellow ‘90s-era bands like The Jayhawks and Old 97’s, their music sounds timeless because it eschews fads. Ben Crum excels at crafting relatable lyrics and tight hooks. His talents combine here with driving percussion from Louis Schefano (Remy Zero) to create an instant Americana classic. The heart of indie rock beats strong and true thanks to Great Lakes.
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