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New Artist Roundup: Aug. 2021

13 Sep

This month’s New Artist Roundup includes everything from indie rock to psychedelic, through submissions from all over the world. With the transition from summer to fall (or fall to summer) for much of the world, it’s a very fruitful period for songwriting in general, and this month’s submissions proved that to the tee. Read on for our top five picks from new artists this month!

Interested in getting featured in our next New Artist Roundup? Don’t forget to email us your music at artists.tfr@gmail.com!

“Place I Stay” by Funeral Lakes

Funeral Lakes is a two-piece outfit based out of Kingston, Ontario – “a small city where the St. Lawrence and Cataraqui rivers meet”, in their own words. Their background in a mid-tier town in the Great White North seems to seep into their folksy, jangly tunes. On August 20th, the duo (consisting of Chris Hemer and Sam Mishos) released their third album Redeemer – which “explores the meanings of faith and justice, interrogating the tension between them”, according to the artists. Our pick from the album is “Place I Stay”, which creates a quirky folk / rock vibe by mixing driving drums and guitars against gentle, echoing vocals. Lyrically, the song features themes of divine retribution “Descend, Holy Father / Cut them down like flowers” but there seems to be multiple parties at play. Interesting track and an interesting sound from the Ontario band.

Website

“Cosmic Saturation” by The Velveteins

The Velveteins describe their sound as a bridge between the bright psychedelia of the 1960’s and the indie rock explosion of the new millennium – and we must say, the first song of theirs that we heard fits that description to a tee. “Cosmic Saturation” features surf-rock guitars, relaxed vocals and a harmonized chorus that instantly elicit a throwback to the Beatles and such. But also, as the band themselves point out, the song’s guitar solo melodies and soft drums are definitely pulled from the catalogs of the Strokes, the Vines or any number of early aughts indie rock bands. This is definitely a band to watch, folks – don’t sleep on the Velveteins!

Website | Press

“Busy Body” by Cassie Marin

Cassie Marin is a young vocalist, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Los Angeles. She spent much of her childhood training for Olympic-level gymnastics until an injury cut short her aspirations at 13. Since then, Marin has found solace in her music, and says that she carries the same grit and self-discipline that inspired her Olympic dreams into her new chosen field. On “Busy Body”, you can start to see what she’s talking about. The song is meticulously produced, with woozy synths that somehow add melody and layers at the same time. Her dusky vocals – think Awkwafina’s speaking voice – give the track an air of unruliness. Lyrically, “‘Busy Body’ is about being a loner in a world where cliques never cease to exist,” says the young singer.

Website | Press

“Bubblegum” by Tommy Newport

Tommy Newport is a young Kansas-based musician with a surprisingly long list of commercial mentions under his belt. Last year, his song “Future Man” was featured in an ad for Apple’s iPad. Some of his other tracks have even been reportedly been used in TV shows such as What/If and Ballers. The sound behind his success seems to be a mix of groovy basslines, sharp drums and occasionally a hazy, Glass Animals-esque vibe. His latest track, “Bubblegum”, is a great example of that specific sonic profile. “Bubblegum is a love song about wanting to be wrapped up together like a piece of candy and keep all the sweetness inside…The message on this one is simple: Love is sweet,” said Newport. “Bubblegum” is a chill, sweet song that perfectly encapsulates an end-of-summer vibe.

Website | Press

“Moonbeams” by Fulton Lee

Fulton Lee seems like what one would call an old soul. The Nashville, Tennessee-based musician bills himself as a retro soul / pop artist, and seems to dress exclusively in ‘50s rock and roll outfits and associated hairstyles. But don’t let looks deceive you – his music has a very modern take on an old classic sound. The vocals on “Moonbeams”, his latest track, wouldn’t be out of place in a Buddy Holly tribute band’s repertoire, but the crisp production and multi-instrumental pop hook are definitely sounds of today. Fulton Lee is the freshest of fresh finds with the voice, production and aesthetic vision to make it big; and we recommend you take a spin through this song immediately. If you liked this track, be sure to check out the John Mayer-esque “The Wire”, which already has almost 2 million (!) streams on Spotify.

Website

Interested in getting featured in our next New Artist Roundup? Don’t forget to email us your music at artists.tfr@gmail.com!

Monthly Playlist: Aug. 2021

7 Sep

Better late than never, we always say. We may be a little late with our Monthly Playlist for August 2021, but we now have the goods for you below. Check out our top five picks below!

5. “Walking at a Downtown Pace” by Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts is a four-piece hailing from New York City by way of Texas, where Andrew Savage met Austin Brown. The two share lead vocals and guitar duties in the band, with Andrew’s brother Max on the drums and Sean Yeaton on bass rounding out the group. In the past, we favorably compared their third album Sunbathing Animal to the Strokes’ debut album (albeit edgier), and this new track from the band has the same NYC effortless-cool that enthralled us then. “Walking at a Downtown Pace” has a driving guitars that reminded us of Led Zep’s “When the Levee Breaks”, and a sing-along chorus that is going to do wonders in trendy venues in Brooklyn and around the world. This is the second track from the band’s upcoming seventh (!) album Sympathy for Life, scheduled to release on October 22nd.

4. “Meanwhile” by Gorillaz feat. Jelani Blackman & Barrington Levy

Three-quarters of a year after the near-perfect Song Machine, Damon Albarn is back with his virtual band and canny artist features with a new, three-song Gorillaz EP entitled Meanwhile. As we found out over the course of the Song Machine tracklist, Albarn is turning into a premier launchpad of talented British rappers to audiences outside of the UK; and that trend continues on the title track from this mini-album. London-based up-and-coming rapper Jelani Blackman’s catchy, sing-song style gels well with the dancehall stylings of Jamaican legend Barrington Levy. Throughout it all, Albarn lends his aloof vocals and his unique ability to meld all the disparate pieces into a great new track. If this is gearing up to Song Machine Vol. 2, we’re all for it. And if you liked this, check out “Jimmy Jimmy” from the same EP!

3. “Rumors” by Lizzo feat. Cardi B

“They don’t know, I do it for the culture, goddamn / They say I should watch the shit I post, oh goddamn / Say I’m turning big girls into hoes, oh goddamn / They say I get groupies at my shows, oh goddamn,” intones Lizzo at the start of her new track “Rumors”, listing out all the supposedly bad things that she’s been rumored to do. Nothing beats the humor of the first time you listen to the track, where she immediately follows up this verse with “All the rumors are true, yeah / What ya’ heard, that’s true, yeah”. This is a larger-than-life, catchy as hell track from two of pop culture’s reigning hit-masters that speaks to the incessant rumors at that level of public spotlight. Cardi B joins in with her own set: “Fake ass, fake boobs, yeah / Made a million at [strip club] Sue’s, yeah,” and the general vibe of the song is that these ladies just don’t care anymore about what’s being said of them on social media or gossip rags. Musically, “Rumors” is peak Lizzo, complete with funky synths and a rollicking horn section. One last thing: the music video is a modern take on the Disney movie Hercules, with Lizzo and a very pregnant Cardi, and should belong in an art museum somewhere for its extremely high production values alone.

2. “Oxytocin” by Billie Eilish

Technically, this song came out in the very last hours of July 2021 and hence didn’t make it into our July playlist, but we couldn’t not include it in this one. “Oxytocin” is one of the non-single tracks that were released as part of Billie’s highly-anticipated sophomore album Happier Than Ever. We’ll have the full album review out for you shortly, but this electro-pop song is definitely one of the highlights from the track-list. Finneas (Billie’s brother-slash-producer extraordinaire) really knocks it out of the park with this one. The lone beat at the start builds into a cornucopia of bits and beeps that adds a manic energy to the track – fittingly, for lyrics that lay bare her addictive relationship to her partner. Speaking of Billie’s lyrics, the singer takes the risqué factor from her debut album to a different level on this track about toxic addiction: for example, “’Cause as long as you’re still breathing / Don’t you even think of leaving” in the verses and the repeated “I wanna do bad things to you / I wanna make you yell” in the outro. “Oxytocin” is the kind of track that hooks you from the first second of the first listen, but it’s Billie’s creepy lyrics (in both delivery and meaning) that keep you hooked.

1. “Take My Breath” by The Weeknd

A couple of months ago at the Billboard Music Awards, The Weeknd accepted yet another popular music award with a somewhat cryptic message: “I just want to say, the After Hours are done and the dawn is coming”. In early August, the Canadian R&B phenomenon released the electro-dance record “Take My Breath”, signifying what he’s taken to calling The Dawn era. We have some clues about what this is going to be like, and boy it’s good. “Take My Breath” is a non-stop dance party that has the potential to be remixed into a million other dance tracks. A week after this song was released, The Weeknd compiled a list of songs that inspired “the new Dawn era” on his Apple podcast / radio show Memento Mori (yes, he has an Apple show) and readers – the list included not one but two Britney Spears songs. Here’s hoping that “Take My Breath” was our introduction into an upcoming electronic music-inspired 90s-throwback pop record from the Weekend!

New Artist Roundup: Jul. 2021

3 Aug

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had tens of submissions from aspiring young artists from all over the world – thank you! It was a monumental task to pick these out, but here are our top tracks from New Artists for July 2021.

Interested in getting featured in our next New Artist Roundup? Don’t forget to email us your music at artists.tfr@gmail.com!

“The Absence of You” by The Islas

The Islas are a young band from Norwich whose sound is characterized somewhere between the Killers and the Smiths. Their most recent single “The Absence of You” features a gentle, lilting guitar melody that supports Nathan Baverstock’s slightly-nasal vocals quite well, and the song takes an even more Coldplay turn in the upbeat, high-energy chorus. “The single is not really a love-sick song about wanting someone back, just the sensation of feeling empty and realizing that that chapter of your life has gone,” says the band – a feeling to which any young person can relate, no matter their age. “The Absence of You” is the first single from the band’s upcoming 6-song EP Oblivion. Be sure to keep an eye out for that if you liked this track!

Links | Press

“Generations” by Gede

As eagle-eyed readers may realize, Gede has already been on our radar since our March 2021 edition of the New Artist Roundup, where we loved his electric blues meets rap meets jazz track “Sinners” from 2021 album Forward. The Washington DC-based artist cites a wide array of musical references from Gary Clark Jr. to Tame Impala. He’s now out with another EP, the two-song Generations. The title track from this EP starts off with Latin trap beats that bring to mind a sunny Miami summer, and the rapper’s almost grime-style verses are perfectly produced to sync with the music. “Generations” is a vibrant, catchy song that lies somewhere between Stormzy and Bad Bunny – a tough bridge to connect, but Gede somehow pulls it off.

Links

“Mercy” by KiNG MALA

KiNG MALA (born Areli Castro) is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, California who’s just on the verge of a break-out hit. Spotify listener counts, which often precede mainstream fame, confirm our thesis: this young artist that you may never have heard of has over 350,000 monthly listeners. Her stage name, KiNG MALA, is actually carefully chosen: “Both [her] music and visuals experiment with masculine tropes.. and these masculine threads weave throughout everything [she] does, hence King rather than Queen and ‘MALA’ which roughly translates to ‘bad bitch’ in Spanish,” she said.

A lot of her Internet fame came through her TikTok hit 90s-vibe pop hit “she calls me daddy”, but new track “Mercy” proves that she’s no one hit wonder. This is a lushly produced track that belies her relatively-underground status, with her soft melancholic vocals reminding the listener of Billie Eilish. The song itself is about her mental health struggles with the darker side of herself. “I have said things I will regret forever and every day I search for the good within me and search for the proof that those things are not who I really am. Sometimes all you can do is forgive yourself and look for the good… that’s what this song means to me.”

Links | Press  

“Brand New” by TARYN

TARYN is an Atlanta-based singer-songwriter whose music is influenced by old soul and modern pop, in her own words. “Brand New” is a beautiful track from the clear-voiced singer, beginning with striking finger snaps that transition into lushly produced, warm vocals. TARYN grew up in a music-loving household. Her parents “filled the house with the sounds of artistic greats like Norah Jones, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, and Cat Stevens,” and it’s easy to see those influences in her ethereal, timeless yet radio-friendly music. TARYN wrote “Brand New” while driving on the freeway and worked with producer Joey Burcham to turn it into a fully-formed track – and honestly, it’s the perfect feel-good summertime drive song.

Links | Press

“Headlights” by Sgmaniak

Sgmaniak (pronounced S. G. Maniak) is a hip young artist from New York whose music lies somewhere in the summery sounds of neo-soul jazz. The lovely “Headlights” is the diary of a budding, summertime romance. “We met a club downtown last week… got out at the curb then we got between the sheets,” he describes about their meet-cute. “Laying on the roof under the blood-red skies, I know we just met but I think we might just last…” Ah, young love. “Headlights” is a summery, light track that really showcases Sgmaniak’s lyrical prowess and storytelling ability. This track comes off the artist’s recent nine-song album The Global Heart Awakens.

Links | Press

Interested in getting featured in our next New Artist Roundup? Don’t forget to email us your music at artists.tfr@gmail.com!

Monthly Playlist: Jul. 2021

31 Jul

This month’s top five tracks are an eclectic mix of hip-hop, indie pop, punk and everything in between. Read on for our picks:

5. “Wasting Time” by Brian Faiyaz feat. Drake

What’s Drake doing on a feature with a relatively unknown artist like Brian Faiyaz? That’s what we thought going into this song, but just a few bars made us see why Drizzy chose him. “Wasting Time” is a supple, smooth R&B track by singer Brian Faiyaz (real name Christopher Wood), tapped by the magic wand that is the Neptunes’ production. Drake’s verse layers decently well on the mellow R&B, shaking up your ears at just the right time so that Faiyaz’s vocals sound even smoother afterward. Come for the Drake, stay for the Brian Faiyaz on this one.

4. “INDUSTRY BABY” by Lil Nas X feat. Jack Harlow

At this point, Lil Nas X is an one-man industry juggernaut. We’ve spoken in the past about his ability to harvest outrage from outrage-mongers for his own benefit and, ironically, embodying the supposed right-wing ethic of pulling himself up by the bootstraps – all from a song about horses on a road. “INDUSTRY BABY” is an unabashed self-crowning by one of the biggest hitmakers of our times, and the fanfare horns in the background do add a lot to the coronation vibe. “Get your soldiers, tell ’em I ain’t layin’ low / You was never really rootin’ for me anyway,” he says, ostensibly taking aim at the industry suits trying to knock this self-made artist off his flashy perch.

And yes, the video is risque. Would you expect anything else from Lil Nas?

3. “Blouse” by Clairo

Singer-songwriter Clairo (real name Claire Contrill) has been making gentle waves in the indie pop community since her sparse electro-pop single “Pretty Girl” way back in 2017. Since then, her sound has refined to more on the acoustic and folk edge of pop, and that’s the ethos that she’s brought to her second album Sling which was released earlier this month. “Blouse”, the lead single from Sling, is as pretty as it gets, with a subtle violin that evokes green Irish pastures – or something of the sort. This is a wonderful, calming song that was the perfect gateway for us into the rest of Clairo’s album, and we hope you feel the same.

2. “BDE” by Shygirl feat. slowthai

“BDE” stands for exactly what you think it stands for. The raunchy combination features British DJ Shygirl and ubiquitous British presence, the rapper slowthai. This track is a bop, with its bouncy, club-ready beat, and it turns up to 11 with slowthai’s trademark staccato verse. “BDE” needs to be playing in every club that’s open right now. Be the star of your house party and add this to your party playlist, stat.

By the way – July has been a great month for slowthai features in general. Don’t miss out on the old-school vibes on “SLUGGER” by American rappers Kevin Abstract and $NOT featuring slowthai, and also his presence on the excellent remake of “MODEL VILLAGE” by his good friends IDLES.

1. “Clash” by Dave feat. Stormzy

Honestly, just having Stormzy on a featuring spot is one of the best indicators of a great hip hop track from the UK. And when you have British hip hop darling Dave – recently off of winning Album of the Year for Psychodrama at the 2020 Brit Awards – on the same track as well? Killer. “Clash” loops on a hypnotic piano melody layered with deliberate beats, as Dave and Stormzy talk about their lives and riches. In Dave’s case, life has changed substantially since his rise to fame. In particular, he now lives in a much richer area – to which he alludes in a number of intriguing metaphors. “Freaks, I got more than one, fuck, daddy and daughter one / Tory puttin’ in labour, this that Jeremy Corbyn one,” goes the hook, instantly bringing to mind a posh Tory girl with daddy issues. Seen in that light, even the background piano seems like a subversion of the stereotypically status-symbol instrument into a grimy beat for this duo.

Monthly Playlist: Jun. 2021

3 Jul

We are officially halfway through 2021 – somehow that feels too short yet not long enough. It’s been a rough year for some, a better year for others, but no matter where you are in life, these five tunes are sure to set your daily life on pause, even if for just a little bit.

5. “You Right” by Doja Cat feat. The Weeknd

Honestly, we are surprised that it took this long for Doja Cat and The Weeknd to collab. Both of these massively popular artists have a similar low-key, 80s-influenced vibe, and the confluence plays perfectly on this surprisingly poppy track from Doja’s new album Planet Her. Doja Cat carries the bulk of the first half of the track with her slightly raspy rapping style, and then The Weeknd steps in for his trademark wavering vocals. The entire track is a back-and-forth between two folks who are still in love (or at least lust), despite the fact that one of them is in a relationship. A tale as old as time, but not a bad version overall.

4. “LAW OF AVERAGES” by Vince Staples

Most people would have heard LA-based rapper Vince Staples from his star turn w hen a remixed version of his song “BagBak” soundtracked the landmark trailer for Black Panther. Since then, Vince has released his third studio album FM! in 2019, and is now set to release his next album – apparently self-titled Vince Staples – sometime in 2021. The first track from the new album is “LAW OF AVERAGES”, a meditative, slow-burn of a rap track that covers everything from bad friends to the heaviness of sudden wealth. You’re hooked from the first line: “Fuck a friend, I don’t want no friends with no open hands / Count my bands, all alone at home, don’t you call my phone / Everyone that I’ve ever known asked me for a loan.”

3. “Lost Cause” by Billie Eilish

The latest single from Billie’s upcoming sophomore album Happier Than Ever is very much on brand with the image that she’s beginning to cultivate. Earlier this year, Billie unveiled a newer, more adult, more body-confident version of herself, one that has outgrown the teenage angst and errors of her Apple TV documentary-era self. “Lost Cause” is a sneering goodbye to an ex that, in hindsight, was just not good enough for her. As always, props to Finneas’ fantastic, trip-hop production that amps up the cool detachment in her vocals.

2. “Venus Fly Trap” by MARINA

Welsh singer-songwriter MARINA (Marina Diamandis) has been leading up to her fifth album Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land for quite some time. Back in November 2020, we loved her track “Man’s World”, which was apparently the first single from this new album. Like most of Marina’s songs, “Venus Fly Trap” features her throaty vocals and a distinctive sense of outsider self-awareness that’s very unusual for a pop artist. “I never quite fit in to that Hollywood thing / I didn’t play that game for the money or the fame / I did it my way, baby / Nothing in this world could change me,” she boasts – although you could be forgiven for not paying much attention to the lyrics on this dance-pop track.

1. “Solar Power” by Lorde

Lorde is back! The young New Zealand singer first burst onto the scene with her debut album Pure Heroine, featuring the smash hit “Royals”. We quite liked her sophomore effort Melodrama as well, so we were excited to learn about her new track “Solar Power”, from the eponymous upcoming album. What we love about this track is the totally synchronous sunny vibe, from the title to the subject matter (“I hate the winter, can’t stand the cold… But when the heat comes, something takes a hold”) to Lorde’s bright yellow outfit on a sunny beach. This is a summer ditty about the simpler things in life, which hits particularly well after the bracing past year or two that most folks have had.

New Artist Roundup: May 2021

1 Jun

We are back with another edition of our New Artist Roundup feature! Thank you so much to all the artists that submitted music to us over the past few weeks. It’s getting tougher and tougher to choose just five from all the great submissions – and we couldn’t be more excited about that!

Interested in getting featured in our next New Artist Roundup? Don’t forget to email us your music at artists.tfr@gmail.com!

“Golden Sophism” by Glasgow

“Golden Sophism”, released in late April, is the debut single from Puerto Rico-based indie rock band Glasgow. Lead singer Marcos Del Moral has a crisp yet lackadaisical voice, with an almost sing-song quality – evoking the vocal styles of The Killers, Passion Pit and other indie darlings. With its upbeat drums, funky bells and whistles, and surf-rock guitars, “Golden Sophism” is an instant foot-tapper. If you liked this track, be sure to check out the next release from Glasgow entitled “Claire”, out May 28.

Links

“Winter Love” by Abhibyanjana Rubhi feat. Peeyush Nepal

“Winter Love”, from Sikkim-based singer-songwriter Abhibyanjana Rubhi Thatal, is a guitar-driven track with a surprisingly lush production. Abhibyanjana describes her musical state of mind as “a perpetual state of dreaming”, and it’s easy to see that on this track. “Winter Love”, featuring fellow Sikkimese singer Peeyush Nepal, is a pleasant, bright track that does justice to Abhibyanjana’s resonant vocals. The young artist has an EP coming up later this year, and we’ll be keeping an eye out for that.

Links

“Daisies” by Raye Robinson

“Daisies”, released on May 7, is the debut single from Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Raye Robinson. The track features Robinson’s breathy, crystal-clear vocals that are reminiscent of Gen Z superstar Olivia Rodrigo. The sharp production alternates between simple piano chords and bouncy bass-heavy beats, for an effect that the artist describes as somewhere between Lily Allen and Billie Eilish. “Daisies” is about overthinking after a break-up: “I couldn’t stop wondering ‘Does he miss me too? Does he hate me now?… I immediately loved using the word ‘daisies’ in the hook, and from there the rest of the song came together pretty quickly!” she explains. For a first single, this is a great start – excited to see what else is on the horizon for Raye.

Links | Press

“Feedback” by BINNY

The first time we heard “Feedback” (released May 6) by Maryland-based artist BINNY, we were a little taken aback by the production value – in a good way. The song was described by the artist as “hyperpop”, and it is admittedly quite an effective term for this smooth, catchy bop. From the opening few seconds, “Feedback” bustles with thick synths, driving bass and BINNY’s made-for-clubs vocals. BINNY has described the track as “a sexy and playful song about being receptive to love and needing that feedback to feel confident”, and his Britney-meets-Gaga vocal style exactly matches that lyrical sketch. The song was produced by Zhone, who has worked with up-and-coming artists like Slayyyter and Chaos Chaos.

Links | Press

“Bloom” by R.I.Pablo

If you pay a visit to R.I.Pablo’s Internet presence, you would likely get an image of a young, brand-new artist making his initial foray into music. But dig under the Pablo Navarro stage name, and you’ll find that this is actually the project of one Pablo Bowman – a prolific UK songwriter with hundreds of songs under his belt, for musicians like Bebe Rexha, Little Mix and Anne-Marie (including the mega-hit “Friends”). “Bloom”, the debut single from R.I.Pablo (May 12), is a hazy, synth-heavy bop that melds the line between R&B, pop and hip-hop. What’s most remarkable is the judicious use of Auto-Tune – an artistic choice so often reviled, but here used to great effect to elicit a dream-like, glitchy experience.

Links

Interested in getting featured in our next New Artist Roundup? Don’t forget to email us your music at artists.tfr@gmail.com!

Monthly Playlist: May 2021

31 May

This month in music saw a few news-making releases, including Olivia Rodrigo’s Gen Z poltergeist Sour, St. Vincent’s sixth album, further shenanigans from Lil Nas X and more. Below, we pick out our top five songs for May 2021. Read on and let us know what you think!

5. “Die For a Man” by Bebe Rexha feat. Lil Uzi Vert

Bebe Rexha’s sophomore album Better Mistakes released earlier this month, and just running through the tracklist makes it clear that the young pop singer-songwriter is aiming for a different vibe this time around. Featured artists on the new album range from Doja Cat to Rick Ross to Travis Barker – a wide array of artists and genres that ultimately showcase more of her musical chops. One such track is “Die For a Man” featuring none other than Lil Uzi Vert. On this track, Rexha asserts her stance as an independent woman who doesn’t need a man, with fairly predictable lines (“I would never die for a man, die for a man, die for a man / No, I would never cry for a man, cry for a man, change who I am”). Benign lyrics aside, the track is elevated by her cold-symptom voice, the well-produced guitars & beat work, and especially Lil Uzi Vert’s crisp verse.

4. “IN PINK” by CHAI feat. Mndsgn

We’ve previously appreciated nonconformist Japanese girl group CHAI, particularly their 2019 album PUNK. CHAI deals in light, surprisingly genre-defiant songs peppered with their trademark sing-songy lyrics. On “IN PINK” from their May 2021 album WINK, the band teams up with Japanese producer Mndsgn to create a fresh, bilingual electro-dance-pop track. Half lost-in-translation and half purposefully-vague, the song seems to be an homage to the color pink, which clearly means more to the band than just a color. “Ooo pink is the color of the future if you open your eyes forever / Yay, stand up with, stand up with, stand up with pink / Life goes on, so, life goes on / In pink we trust,” goes one line. Overall, it’s a quirky, fun track – if you liked it, be sure to check out the rest of WINK. And if you haven’t already, do take a spin through CHAI’s track with Gorillaz on the extended Song Machine album.

3. “Maré” by Rodrigo Amarante

Clocking in at #5 is a bit of a left-field pick, in the form of Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante. If the name seems unfamiliar, we encourage you to listen to the first few bars of “Maré”. Chances are, the music will seem familiar indeed: Amarante is the artist behind the “Tuyo”, the theme song of the massively-popular Netflix series Narcos. Just like its famous predecessor, “Maré” evokes a feeling of drama, nostalgia, wistfulness and more – with the upbeat guitar and full Latin background instrumentals offset by Amarante’s slightly melancholic vocals.

Also: if this song is your cup of tea, an interesting follow-up pick would be to check out the too-overlooked self-titled album (2008) from Little Joy, a three-piece consisting of Amarante, LA singer Binki Shapiro and the Strokes’ drummer Fab Moretti.

2. “brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo

18-year-old singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo has been a break-through act of 2021 with the record-smashing single “drivers license” and its equally well-received follow-up “deja vu” – so the expectations were high with the release of her debut album Sour earlier this month. We’ll write later about our full thoughts on the album, but suffice it to say that Rodrigo currently holds the mantle as the voice-of-Gen Z. “brutal” from the new album makes it obvious why exactly Rodrigo is being called a beacon for her cohort. The track musically draws from 90s alt-rock, particularly the hell-raising riot grrrl type of acts. Lyrically, Rodrigo alternates between anxiety, angst, impatience and everything in between – as one would expect from essentially a teenager. “They say these are the golden years / But I wish I could disappear / Ego crush is so severe / God, it’s brutal out here,” she sings on the chorus, and damn it if it doesn’t transport you to those awkward, uneasy teenage years.

1. “Down” by St. Vincent

St. Vincent, the stage name for multi-faceted singer-songwriter Annie Clark, released her sixth album Daddy’s Home earlier this month. The album centers around her father, Robert Clark, who went to prison in 2010 for a plethora of white-collar crimes, and was recently released from jail – making the album title very literal indeed. Daddy’s Home was produced by Jack Antonoff, and his high caliber pop-punk-funk fingerprints are all over “Down”, a stand-out track from the new album. Right from the jazzy, fun synth opening, the song immediately catches your attention, and then St. Vincent’s breathy, emotive vocals take front and center. There are fun bits throughout the track, including what a banjo (?) that adds an element of country-lore to what is ultimately just that – an Oklahoman stock broker taking his family down with him. Overall, this is an enjoyable, well-produced track that makes us eager to check out the rest of the intriguing Daddy’s Home.

New Artist Roundup: Apr. 2021

5 May

Welcome to the our New Artist Roundup for April 2021! Below are five songs from up-and-coming artists that caught our eye this month, so be sure to give them a listen. And of course, if you’d like to be featured, be sure to email us at artists.tfr@gmail.com.

“FUZZY” by Bandicoot

To us, Swansea four-piece Bandicoot’s music sounds like the point at which the rockabilly sensibilities of the 50s and 60s merged with the glam rock vibes of the 70s. After putting out two tracks (2021’s “Dark Too Long” and 2020’s “O Heavens!”), the band is back with a new track called “FUZZY”, released on April 9th. “FUZZY” is catchy, wild and brimming with energy: the kind of track that immediately causes some part of your body to start tapping along to the beat. If you happen to live in or near Wales, be sure to catch their upcoming festival dates in July and October – this is definitely an act to catch live.

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“Morning Sun” by M. Byrd

With over 200,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, M. Byrd is definitely not a “new artist” for many people around the world. However, we were glad to be introduced to the artist’s indie folk music this month, particularly his new track “Morning Sun” – released on April 16th. Byrd describes the song as a morning mantra, a kind of a musical manifestation of how he starts his day. “The idea came to me a few years ago in the morning right after I got up and it came back to me subsequently over and over again, like a kind of entry into meditation, until I finally recorded it and arranged it into form,” he says, and we can see what he means. With its gentle guitar strums and his crooning voice, almost reminiscent of the late Elliott Smith, the song is a great accompaniment to one’s morning coffee. If you liked this track, be sure to check out his other song, 2020’s “Mountain”.

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“Third Eye Witness” by Scott McKeon feat. Gavin Conder

We admit: Scott McKeon is the furthest entry on this list from being a new artist. We had first heard of McKeon from his feature on Spotify’s highly-popular Modern Blues Rock playlist, where this track was wedged somewhere between the Black Keys, Gary Clark Jr., and other blues mainstays. McKeon is an established sessions guitarist, playing with everyone from Lana Del Rey to Ed Sheeran to Sir Tom Jones, and has put out a couple of albums under his own name and under other bands over the past 20-odd years. McKeon’s third full-length album New Morning, on which “Third Eye Witness” is featured, was released on April 23rd and we didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to highlight this great talent. The song – with McKeon on guitar and Gavin Conder on vocals – is a groovy, chill track that would be perfect to play on a Sunday morning. And don’t miss the dizzying guitar solo from McKeon about 2/3 of the way through. If you liked this song, be sure to check out the rest of New Morning: the album was apparently recorded mostly on the first take, and you can hear that spontaneity throughout the record.

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“Get Up” by Sesame Girl

Canberra pop act Sesame Girl is exactly one song old – having released this very track on April 14th – but they show promise in our eyes. The song is buoyed by the contrast between the happy-go-lucky instrumentation and the lead singer’s melancholic vocals – like looking wistfully back at a childhood memory that, in retrospect, was probably the most fun you’ve ever had. Sesame Girl already caught the eye of Australian tastemakers Triple J, so good things are probably in store for the young band. Keep your eye on this one!

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“Hopelessness of Love” by Waiting for Smith

Waiting for Smith is the stage name for British singer-songwriter Harry Lloyd, who named his act after perpetually waiting for his (presumably ex-) drummer Smith. Lloyd makes lovely, light music that you would have probably heard on your local radio and (in the pre-Shazaam days) waited for years until you serendipitously find it again. “Hopelessness of Love” – released April 29th – is a sweet 3-minute ditty about fighting through a relationship’s rough patches. “It’s about the inevitable collision that happens in any relationship, there’s ups and there’s downs – that’s just life. We can’t fight the hopelessness of love but we can find a way to accept it and use it to become our strength,” explained Lloyd. Overall, this was a sunny, bright introduction to Lloyd’s music and we’ll certainly be back for more.

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Interested in getting featured in our next New Artist Roundup? Don’t forget to email us your music at artists.tfr@gmail.com!

Monthly Playlist: Apr. 2021

2 May

As you may know, we at Top Five Records have our roots in India, with several of our writers located in the country. This past month has seen some of the worst days of independent India with the resurgence of a deadly second COVID-19 wave. For all our readers who may be directly or indirectly affected by COVID – in India or anywhere else – we extend our heartfelt sympathies. Here’s hoping these five songs from April 2021 provide a moment’s relief in these dark times.

5. “Introvert” by Little Simz

Rapper Little Simz is back with another great track from her vantage point as a Black, politically-aware British musician and artist. We loved her previous output Drop 6 (2020) – a confident, well-crafted set of songs including the excellent “Might bang, might not”. “Introvert” is musically a little different from these often-barebones rap tracks, bringing in a certain cinematic quality with lush instrumentation. The track is about her own internal struggle between her outward personality and her inner demons as a confident Black woman. Can she be her true self? Why not? What’s stopping her? Her flow on this track is as sublime as ever, and pairs well with the orchestral background. “Introvert” is the first track from her upcoming album entitled Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.

4. “Boilermaker” by Royal Blood

Rock favorites Royal Blood released their exciting third album Typhoons last week, featuring the great singles “Trouble’s Coming” and “Typhoons”. The last single they put out just before the album release was the hard-rock banger “Boilermaker”. Royal Blood have always sounded like a wirier, leaner Queens of the Stone Age but on this track they ramp it up to 11 – for example, the starting few seconds of the song will make you wonder whether you’re listening to an excellent Royal Blood cover of “The Way You Used To Do”. Simply put, “Boilermaker” is as robust and heavy as the name suggests, with Ben Thatcher’s hard-hitting drums coiling around Mike Kerr’s energetic vocals. It’s classic Royal Blood and a great final lead-in into the new album – look out for a review on that soon.

3. “Crawling Kingsnake” by the Black Keys

Another song on the rock landscape this month was “Crawling Kingsnake”, the first new music from the blues-rock legends since 2019’s “Let’s Rock”. This is apparently the first song from their upcoming Delta Kream, a cover album of blues classics. The original version of “Crawling Kingsnake” has no real birth date, believed to have emerged out of the fertile Mississippi delta sometime in the 1920s, but the most famous version was recorded by legendary blues artist John Lee Hooker in 1948. The Black Keys’ version infuses their signature rock style into this classic track, giving it an almost Doors vibe – and we later found out that the Doors did indeed record their own version of this track. Full circle then; and we can’t wait for discovering more blues history through Delta Kream, out on May 14th.

2. “Your Power” by Billie Eilish

“Your Power” marks the first track of Billie Eilish in her first official pop-star makeover – as a blond; more grown up; and much more vulnerable compared to her rambunctious debut album era. She’s been hinting at this for a while with the intermediate songs like “everything I wanted”, and it’s nice to see the first full emergence of the new persona. “Your Power” is a slow-strummed ballad that essentially depicts the romantic power dynamic between a young woman – perhaps we can presume it’s Billie, perhaps not – and a seemingly older man. “I thought that I was special / You made me feel, like it was my fault, you were the devil,” she says in retrospection on her naivety, along with very specific lines like “Will you only feel bad if it turns out that they kill your contract?” that makes one think that she was perhaps the girl in the song. Musically, as always, her brother Finneas’ production is seamlessly suited to Billie’s voice, falling in and out at the perfect moments to underline her tender vocals. “Your Power” is the third single from Billie’s highly-anticipated sophomore album Happier Than Ever on July 30th, following singles “my future” and “Therefore I Am”.

With Billie, the actual stylization of the song titles are important. There was the all-caps titling of her debut album, filled with subversive, all-lower case songs. There were the more formal outputs like her James Bond theme written in normal capitalizations. “Your Power” is deliberately written with normal stylization, perhaps indicating an inner transition to a more “adult” person. After all, it’s sometimes tough to believe, but Billie is still a teenager that has been in the public limelight for the entirety of her teens, living more in those five or six years than most of us will do in half a lifetime.

1. “Chosen Family” by Rina Sawayama feat. Elton John

The original “Chosen Family” is a heart-rending track from Rina Sawayama’s fantastic 2020 debut SAWAYAMA, about her late-adulthood discovery of a LGBTQ friends group that becomes more family than friends. This is especially important given her rocky relationship with her actual family, which is a theme throughout the album on tracks like “Dynasty”. Rina has now re-recorded the track with the one and only Elton John – an LGBTQ icon himself. In a way, it’s arguably better than the original because Rina’s friends group – the other part of the “we” in the track – is given a voice through Elton John. Lines like “We don’t need to be related to relate / We don’t need to share genes or a surname / You are, you are my chosen, chosen family” hit much harder when it’s a duet, and of course Elton’s piano adds an additional air of sentimentality to this moving song. This track really needs to be experienced through the accompanying music video, so be sure to check that out above!

Top Five Charli XCX Songs

25 Apr

No matter what her future career looks like, I’m always going to have a soft spot for Charli XCX. There’s nothing more satisfying in music fandom than a called shot and Charli is mine. I was there from the bedroom indie phase, through the execrable school bad girl phase, into her hook girl phase, past stardom and into the present , where she’s established enough to just drop 37 minutes of how she’s feeling now.

It’s been nothing if not a fun ride and here are her top five tracks.

5. What I Like

I once went to the Golden Gate Park to catch a free show that Charli was putting up but I arrived a little later than I should have. I think I also wasn’t exactly sure where the show would be and so I needed to walk around a bit to find it. As I was walking and searching, Charli started singing this exact song and hearing the most ethereal of her songs while walking under startlingly green trees is still one of my favorite memories.

4. Boys

I love pop that just wants to pop. “Boys” doesn’t try for anything but pop and it’s glorious for it. The video game coin in the hook is an excellent assimilation, the music video is gold and above all, the straightforwardness of missing parties while thinking of boys is wonderful.

3. Nuclear Seasons

In May of 2013, I went to a Marina and the Diamonds concert. It was not a great decision. Marina sounded under the weather and the crowd had far too much teen angst for me. However, Charli opened for her. This was just after the launch of True Romance and I had never heard of her before, but she came on the stage, she had great energy and she absolutely killed it with this song. This one song was enough for me to track her down back then and still holds up as one of my favorites now.

2. SuperLove

The breathlessness of the hook really makes this song. A lot of Charli’s best pop is that kind of raw sincerity that comes with adolescence and this song is that supercharged. “I think your hair looks much better pushed to one side / How do you feel about me?” is young and true and just completely aflame.

1. 5 In The Morning

Even at her most commercial, Charli has always found time for some experimental pop and this is the best of it. Her auto-tune is endlessly intriguing and going for an R&B singing style over her normal bubblegum adds to it. The whole thing feels like an escapee from an alternate world where 2018’s trap came from pop instead of rap. Her beat is both dark and hard. This song is fully formed for all of its experimentation and just incredibly intelligent.

Charli’s career has been astonishingly versatile. She’s thrived in basically every corner of pop, including some that she made herself, and done it all with such aplomb. She is a titan of present day pop and somehow doesn’t even feel like she’s fully hit her prime yet. There’s nothing she can’t do.

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