Forget Eurovision, The Matinee ’23 v. 036 is a Euro-invasion. It also could be considered a virtual version of a SXSW showcase (but every The Matinee feature could be that). Depending on your mood and musical tastes, most if not all of the nine songs make convincing arguments for being recognized as the song of the year.

To go directly to a song, click on the track in the list below. Also find them on The Songs of March and April 2023 playlist, which is available on Spotify and SoundCloud

Phoria – “Portland” (Brighton, England)

RIYL: emotional and cinematic indie / post-rock

With the songs that Phoria have released so far in advance of their third album River Oblivion‘s release – “New Beginning”“InTheDark”, and “Slope” – they have added new layers to their emotional and cinematic post-rock and post-classical. The gorgeous, widescreen soundscapes that defined their earlier works, however, remain, leaving audiences hushed and listeners in a state of gasping hypnosis. To offer one more glimpse into what should be one of 2023’s standout LPs, the English five-piece unveil “Portland”.

Trewin Howard (vocals/composition/production/electronics), Tim Douglas (guitar/bass/synth), James Cheeseman (guitar/synth), Ed Sanderson (piano/synth), and Seryn Burden (drums) submerge their ethereal music into the darkwave waters that Alt-J and Boards of Canada reside. An eeriness welcomes listeners with a chilling, hallow chime in the background and Howard’s vocal taking a more downtrodden tone. The track then quickly shifts, creating the feeling we’ve entered a dark, empty expanse where the only light comes from a flickering candle in the distance. In this shadowy place, we drown inside Phoria’s brittle yet stunning patience with each synth and rhythmic swell devouring us. Howard’s wish to be freed from entrapments, desires, and the past, too, devour us because we are all too familiar with this state of weakness. 

Just another gorgeous track from the masters of ethereal catharsis. 

River Oblivion drops April 21st via Akira Records. Pre-orders available at these links.

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BEA – “Sweet Adolescence” (London, England)

RIYL: an ’80s R&B-pop ballad that will leave jaws ajar

When we were introduced to Bea Elmy-Martin’s project, BEA, we could draw only a single conclusion after hearing “Go Slow”: she is going to be a star. Not only does she have one of the finest and sultriest voice around, the 22-year old has shown the ability to take moments that have defined her life and have us believe they are ours. And she’s only a year into her career, which hints at an immensely bright future that gets brighter with “Sweet Adolescence”.

This soaring R&B-pop number is reminiscent of the ballads that Prince wrote and produced for others but never released himself. It is intimate, dramatic, and stunning, moving from quieter moments to bursting at the seams. Like the great Prince tunes, a chiming guitar appears at the perfect moment and adds to the gravity of the situation, which in this case is one person taking away Elmy-Martin’s innocence. She, however, will not allow what was done define her. 

“So don’t tell me I look good
Head down where’s the power in that
Oh sweet adolescence
But it’s bitter and oh it tastes bad
This ain’t gonna age well
And for you I hate that”

The single is out on English boutique label, Indigo Kin. BEA is going to be a star. 

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HÆLOS – “Hear Me” (London, England)

RIYL: Trip-hop that is spellbinding and seductive

It’s only fitting that the next song on the list goes to the band that introduced us to BEA and whose members perform as her backing band. HÆLOS, though, are on today’s mini-playlist based on merit. They are, in our humble opinions, one of the great trip-hop bands of the past decade (and a long-time favorite) because both their music and words are adventures. On  “You” and “Last Days”, which will be on their forthcoming new album, Where We Bring Our Burdens, they took listeners through the galaxy and claustrophobic alleys, delivering experiences that were breathtaking and chilling. Lotti Benardout, Dom Goldsmith, and Daniel Vildosola also can leave fans in a state of delirium and have them spinning on the dance floor, which is the effect of “Hear Me”.

HÆLOS’ newest single sparkles with Maribou State-like rhythms and textures, which take over one’s body. We bask within the deep beats, the glimmering synths, and the accelerated percussion, all the while Benardout’s voice enchants. With an elegant desperation, she seeks to be released from the pains that come with uncertainty and eventually heartbreak. She calls out asking that light return and for her to shine again.

“Sunlight, don’t take away the starlight, the rhythm of you last night, please.
Day don’t fade away this night song, forget about the rainbow,
You’re everything to me.
Don’t stay, unless it is for love’s sake. Peel away the heartache, please.
Transcend, a sanctuary dreaming. ”

The release date for Where We Bring Our Burdens has yet to be announced, but we’re hoping for April or May. 

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Fenne Lily – “In My Own Time” (Brooklyn, USA via Bristol / Dorset, England)

RIYL: intimate and introspective songwriting from one of today’s great songwriters

Every time Fenne Lily releases a song, time seems to stop. Her whispery yet stunning voice is paralyzing in its effect, but it is her songwriting that causes us to pause, think, and assess our own vulnerabilities. She did that with beautifully brittle debut LP, 2018’s On Hold, and continued with 2020’s BREACH.

While Lily has moved to the Big Apple, her approach has not completely changed, although she’s added layers to her lush and intimate dream-folk, as heard on the jangly “Lights Light Up”. Meanwhile on “Dawncolored Horse”, Lily channeled the sound of On Hold in delivering a gorgeous yet knee-buckling tune. And we expect to be jarred many more times when Lily’s third album, Big Picture, is revealed in its entirety. We don’t even have to wait until its April 14th release date to experience this feeling because “In My Own Time” is, well, a gorgeous stunner.

The instrumentation is light, delicate, and spring-like, but its role, as is the case with nearly every Lily song, is to provide the foundation for the young Brit’s lyrics. Her words give the sense of a person coming to the realization that they’ve been stagnant too long, and they need to move on. However, there is comfort with the familiar, but she needs a reason to stay. But as we know now, the calls across the Pond were too much to overcome. 

“Listening to our neighbours in the garden
Grow their family tree
Sometimes I feel like I’m just killing time here
Or maybe it’s killing me

Just like you’re talking with an old friend
End at the start and you start at the end
Write me a love song make it all rhyme
Hold me up sometimes we’ll be just”

Big Picture is out April 14th on Dead Oceans. Pre-orders available at these links and on Bandcamp

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Guest Singer – “Puppy” (Doncaster, England)

RIYL: brilliantly dark and immersive synth-pop / new wave

More people need to know about Guest Singer, which is the brainchild of Jake Cope and France Lahmar. The duo are among a very short line of artists and bands revitalizing and reinventing synth-pop, new wave, and art-rock, and the list includes Nation of Language and W.H. Lung, who are two of our very favorites. We’ll say that Guest Singer is definitely in this selective group after delivering the clever and immersive anti-motivational track, “Divine Psychic Hotline”, and the now the outrageously good “Puppy”.

The song seems like it was concocted out of the combined minds of David Byrne and Dan Boeckner (of Wolf Parade, Operators, Handsome Furs, and Divine Fits fame), and Cope even sounds like the latter. His vocal lightly bounces on the percolating and humming synths and the stuttering beats. A desperation, too, builds, as Cope asks if “can you feel it”, referring to the kindness and forgiveness that exists (and always should exist) between and within us. If we can, then we also will experience a great weight lifted off our shoulders. We will be free. 

Guest Singer’s new EP, Divine Psychic Hotline, is out April 26th on MNRK UK.

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Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys – “Howl” (Berlin, Germany via Johannesburg & Cape Town, South Africa)

RIYL: spine-tingling, desperate, and glitchy Goth-pop-rock

For their first three albums, Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys delivered Gothic-melancholic brilliance. The songs from The Tapes Trilogy crawled under our skin as well as accompanied us under the covers thanks to Kruger’s brooding delivery and stories of lust, desire, loneliness, and abandonment. Despite releasing the LPs in successive years, the band immediately got back to work, and their fourth album in as many years will be their most expansive to date. We can say this with confidence after hearing the mesmerizing “Stereoscope”, the rah-rah Gothic-pop of “Burning Building”, and the moody heaviness of “Heaving”. On the fourth single from Heaving, Kruger & The Lost Boys head yet into another direction 

A heavy, Gothic mood still consumes “Howl”, but the approach is denser, eerier, and more widescreen than previous LKTLB tunes. It also bellows with more emotion – literally, Kruger’s voice wails, as she releases the pent-up pain, desperation, and yearning that consumes her heart and soul. “You’re beautiful / I want to be useful / I want to scream!”, she hollers. To whom is she directing her words? At first, it might to an uninterested lover, but it also could be the Evil Queen looking in the mirror and looking for validation. Or maybe Kruger is us, and we all are wanting to know our purpose in this messy game of life.

Heaving is due out April 7th via Unique Records and Polish Schubert Music Europe. Pre-order it on Bandcamp or at these links.

Joining Lucy Kruger (vocals, guitar) as the Lost Boys are Liú Mottes (guitar), André Leo (guitar), Andreas Miranda (bass), Gidon Carmel, (drums, percussion and electronic production), and Jean-Louise Parker (backing vocals, viola, violin).

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Vincent Littlehat – “How I Vibrate” (Berlin, Germany via Poland)

RIYL: chilling, hypnotic darkwave / electronica

Identifying what is real and true and what is not has become an increasingly difficult exercise with the rise of artificial intelligence and programs like ChatGPT. Music has not been immune to AI’s scope with animated singers and well-known artists embracing the technology. Polish artist Vincent Littelhat teeters this line, often depicting themselves in videos and photographs as a Japanese anime character. They, however, are very real. Their music, too, is futuristic, where the Berlin-based composer, filmmaker, and digital master creates music that could be conceived in 2055 rather than 2023. 

Co-written with Kris Steininger, “How I Vibrate” is something that could be heard in a time and dimension of Ghost in the Shell. The shallow synths, electronics, and rhythms are slightly foreboding and provide the perfect backdrop to a dystopian state. As the song slightly weaves, it becomes more mysterious and uneasy. Vincent Littlehat’s vocal is slightly touched to give it a slight, mechanical tone, but it still remains human. In this cyborg-like form, she describes how they indeed are above the law. That they are the ones – the visionaries – setting the tone for what is to come. 

“I don’t follow a style, I use the laws and break them
Into little pieces, with them, I glue my frame
I’m receiving something very simple but very wise
I sprinkle it on everything, I pay it forward twice”

New EP, Another Land Below, is out everywhere and available at these links.

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Saloon Dion – “Happiness” (Bristol, England)

RIYL: adrenaline-inducing, noise-rock fury

The UK is home to countless great rock bands. The majority of them likely will literally get just 15 minutes of fame while others may carve out lengthy, successful careers. Saloon Dion might be one of the latter. They have a memorable name, which certainly helps, and a sound that can be blistering, propulsive, or anthemic. And in some instances, a song, such as “Happiness”, could have all three of these traits. 

The track rumbles out of the gate, resembling the torrential rock that bands like FIDLAR, Wavves, and No Age have blasted for a decade or more. A pummeling drum line drives the track while glistening guitars cascade around it. Taryn McDonnell’s voice emerges through the middle, and he calmly expresses how “Happiness ain’t no crime”, telling people that it’s ok to treat oneself every once in awhile. In this imperfect and chaotic world, one of the most important things we can do is try to find reasons to smile, laugh, and just feel good. This tune definitely will get the endorphins firing. 

Saloon Dion are: Taryn McDonnell (guitar, vocals), Tom Simpkins (guitar, vocals), David Sturgess (synth, vocals), Luke Mullins (bass), and Ben Molyneux (drums). The band’s debut EP, Muckers, will be released May 19th on Mucker Records

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Keaton Henson – “The Meeting Place” (London, England)

RIYL: sobering yet captivating indie-folk from a great songwriter

When Keaton Henson releases new music, they are occasions to gather friends and family. This makes the title of his forthcoming album quite fitting even if House Party likely will not be result in dancing or big singalongs. Instead, the LP’s songs will probably lead to people coming together and swaying in unison, which is what happened with the made-for-huddling-around-the-campfire in “Envy”. Loved ones, meanwhile, will firmly embrace each other, which is the one thing that must be done on “The Meeting Place”.

Henson’s latest single is incredibly warm, sweet, and, at its peak, stunning and breathtaking. It commences with a little electric guitar and soft percussion, as Henson’s immersive falsetto calmly reaches through the speakers and offers to hold a loved one. “I’ll meet you there / Always where you can’t sleep for fear / I’ll share the madness / Holding you to the mast, my dear,” he sings right at the start. These meaningful words offer comfort to all. For the next three minutes, including through the Crowded House-inspired climax, he makes us feel safe. He makes us want to believe that the worst has passed and something great awaits at the end. 

“Oh, why don’t, why don’t you call it?
‘Cause I know that you’re for me
And I will, I will protect you
So you can go back to sleep
Oh, you can go back to sleep
I’ll meet you there”

House Party is due June 9th via Play It Again Sam with pre-orders from his online store.

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