Augustine – “Coast” (Stripped)

With every track he releases, I find myself getting caught up in the purity of Augustine’s vocals. His stunningly unique falsetto, cut and sharpened to a razor’s edge, when placed adjacent to his thoughtful narratives, feels nothing short of visceral and otherworldly. Earlier this week, the twenty-three year old Gothenburg-based songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist released an absolutely stunning stripped-back, electric piano driven version of his most recent track “Coast,” the studio version originally shared back in May, and these vocals take center stage once again.

Though his past singles “Guts” and “Picking Up Speed” both comment on the thrilling and sometimes confusing and frustrating nature of past relationships, “Coast” instead has him a bit more simple and introspective. Earlier this week, Augustine explained the meaning behind the track:

“Coast” is a song about loneliness and a longing to understand this world a little better. I was confused and jealous of everything I laid my eyes on when I wrote it. And I often get struck by this feeling about wanting to escape from myself and from my body when I’m feeling down. I guess it comes down to the desire to have someone by your side who understands you and all your weird thoughts.

The stripped back version of “Coast” seems to express these ideas even more eloquently, with a heavy, gorgeous immediacy that still feels as light and airy as the setting it was filmed in. His vocals, effervescent and earnest, are even more pronounced, lifting high above the piano rather than being nestled underneath it. He cycles between annoyance and contemplation, admitting “I cursed the lovers and the fools that rushed in,” and going out of his way to scorn little things around him, saying he spent mornings with his “stomach turning,” but once the day ends, he falls into sad resignation; ultimately, he just wants every “evening to be over,” and admits he just “needs someone to call,” someone that’ll understand – something that deep down, we know we all want more than anything.

“Coast” is out now.

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Oro Swimming Hour – “Crocodile”

Earlier this month, UK based lo-fi duo Oro Swimming Hour released their wonderful third album Pteradactyl. Normally, in attempting to capture the spontaneous joy and happiness of not only creating music, but creating music their younger selves would have liked to listen to, the duo would spend just a few days together to write and record, using primitive recording methods and trying their best to keep it as improvisational and colorful as possible by limiting the number of takes. This was the case with their previous album Lossy, released last winter.

But with Pteradactyl, the Bristol based duo – composed of psych-pop musician Oliver Wilde and award winning children’s book illustrator Nicholas Stevenson – were instead forced to write and record the album during lockdown by exchanging ideas online. Despite this change, the collaborative, whimsical energy still remained, and is exuded beautifully throughout this album. The childlike wonder is still very much there, both figuratively as well as literally – the album is, after all, dedicated in part to Stevenson’s newborn child, Margot. 

Our favorite track from the album is the offbeat “Crocodile,” a woozy fever dream(scape) anchored on gorgeous violin. The lyrics, esoteric, fantastical, and calmly sung, go surprisingly well with the jaunty melody, relaying a story filled with towers, kings, and the occasional interstellar palm tree – like a blank coloring book with colors attached, Oro Swimming Hour’s music offers you, the listener, a bit of fun, ultimately leaving it up to you to fill in the gaps and interpret for yourself. 

Pteradactyl is out now via Deertone Records.

 

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Lilo Powder – “Flowers”

Last month, Swedish dream pop duo Lilo Powder released their debut EP The Pull. Their sound, evocative and encapsulating, feels like being suspended in a daydream, with cinematic narratives always seemingly on the cusp of yearning and desire. The most evocative of these tracks on the EP, for us, is “Flowers,” a gorgeous ballad on the beauty of appreciating present, simple moments of togetherness. I spoke with one half of the duo, Andreas Lundmark, via email, where he explained the track further:

The song “Flowers” was written during a very happy period in life…those rare moments when all the pieces seem to fall into place. We wanted to capture that feeling, something uncomplicated and positive, “just like a dream” kind of thing. We had to do some different takes to get the right vibe during recording. In the end we found that it was better to mute a lot of tracks and keep it as minimalistic and simple as possible.

Like a gorgeous mix of Sigur Rós and Perfume Genius, the track is euphoric, expansive, and subtly fervid – after opening with the sound of rushing waves, it moves into minimalistic, yet textured synth, building a foundation for the vocals to rest on. The last minute, marked by pinpricks of delicate piano akin to diamonds or something just as scintillating, feels nearly transcendental, reminding us that choosing to revel in those little moments we spend with those we love will never be a waste:

“Flowers” is about sharing a small room apartment together. Playing PS4 quietly late at night. The lyrics are describing everyday activities in real life: I do have lots of flowers on the balcony and the neighbor is still talking too loud. I used to play white noise on my laptop just to distract my ears with something else. Thin walls!

The Pull is out now.

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Carter James – “Time”

Earlier this year, bedroom pop artist Carter James released his stunning single “Time.” A current student at Berklee College of Music, the twenty year old singer/songwriter wrote and recorded the single at his Boston apartment, showing off his overall skill in delicate, yet expansive synth and honest, memorable lyric narratives. 

Speaking of narratives, the one that drives the recent track, simple and beautifully written, is one all too relatable if you’ve found your feelings unreciprocated by a person you truly care about. James calls them out sweetly but firmly, explaining in the hyper-addictive chorus “you got a nasty habit of throwing me to the side,” and that he thought “we agreed we would value each other’s time,” that he’s been doing good,” but they “don’t even try.” The little pockets of introspection in between choruses, where the synth makes it feel suspended in space, are also where James’s vocals truly radiate, where he admits “I’m learning to be loved” but feels dismayed that “everyone talks / but barely anyone shows up.”

“Time,” at its core, is a gorgeous sentiment on punctuality and commitment – namely, just how painful and exhausting it is to always be the one that arrives first, feels first, falls in love first. The frustration of oscillating back and forth between feeling “clingy” and rightly expecting what you deserve radiates throughout this track, but in a gorgeously subtle manner that deserves multiple listens.

And ultimately, what James asks for at the tail-end of every chorus is really as simple and lovely as it gets: “if you care about me, be on time.” 

“Time” is out now. James also has an upcoming EP out October 2nd, so make sure you keep an ear out for that as well. 

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Mini Review: Vansire, Live from the Decorah Farmers Market

Upon seeing Vansire’s “Halcyon Age” (Farmers Market Version), I barely batted an eyelash. Perhaps this is because there’s always been something about Josh Augustin and Samuel Winemiller’s signature brand of intellectual, introspective dream pop that exudes a sense of idyllic, pastoral familiarity, a comforting tone that – perhaps due to the inexplicably vast, yet oddly encapsulating nature of the Midwest – lends incredibly well to these sorts of aimless, precious mornings, meandering adjacent to fruit and vegetable stands, trying to forget about the pandemic and injustice-ridden world that lay just outside the parking lot – at least, just for a few moments. 

Live from the Decorah Farmers Market includes six songs (seven, if you include the short introduction) from nearly all of Vansre’s discography thus far  – including tracks from 2017’s The Rolling, Driftless North and 2018’s Angel Youth, as well as their 2019 single “Metamodernity,” all presented in stunning, stripped down versions. Earlier this week, Augustin explained to me how the entire performance initially came to be: 

We had been planning to take a break from touring during the summer of 2020, so after the pandemic hit our plans didn’t change, we just spent the summer in Minnesota working on new music. In August, a high school friend of ours named Colin (who can be heard speaking at the very beginning and end of the release) reached out to see if we could back him on keys and bass playing some jazz standards at the Decorah Iowa farmers market. He’s a trumpet player who went to Luther College in Decorah, a small town in the northeastern driftless portion of the state (40 minutes south of where Sam and I were staying). I used to play jazz standards with Colin in the public atrium of Mayo Clinic’s Gonda Building in downtown Rochester before we graduated. It was always a fun time and having Sam on bass for this set was a nice way to expand the sound (all three of us were in our high school’s jazz band).

Colin needed a short break to rest his chops for the two hour gig, so Sam and I tossed together some stripped down Vansire songs. It’s the only gig we played this year, and it’s quite different from the gigs we were playing last summer, but there was a really nice meditative quality being there and the vibes were great. These are the recordings taken from two field recorders we placed next to the vocal amp and instrumental amp we used during the performance. 

The sheer quality of these recordings are wonderful, and hearing these tracks in this way – especially if you’ve been a fan of Vansire for a while – is a must. The atmospheric scattered sounds of steps and idle, unintelligible conversations are a delightful, incredibly fitting background for Augustin’s thoughtful vocals and Winemiller’s patient basslines – even the more upbeat tracks, like stand-alone singles “That I Miss You” and “Metamodernity,” end up sounding fragile, delicate, holding in all their narrative charm like a held in breath as they offer a new perspective on what that narrative really means. 

Pensive but calm, “The Latter Teens,” right in the middle of the session, is the only entirely new track – and admittedly, it’s our absolute favorite. The main guitar melody, soft as velvet, seems to spill into the air like a late summer’s breeze into heat waves, the slowly dimming light from a setting sun, still trying to hang onto day. It’s the quietest track in many ways, but also the one that has the strongest pull, the one that makes you wish you had been there to hear the entire set in person. Hell, this album, as a whole, makes me wish for live shows again. As Augustin says in the first verse of “Latter Teens,” “I guess we’ll wait and see.”

Live from the Decorah Farmers Market is out now. 

 

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Samia – “Triptych”

Yesterday, Samia released the fourth and final single to her upcoming album The Baby. Pensive and wistful, the New York based artist – full name Samia Finnerty – creates tracks flawlessly anchored by her thoughtful lyrics and perpetually somber vocals, breathlessly capturing within their duration something both delicate and otherworldly at the same time, something that continuously moves past nostalgia into an idea even more beautifully esoteric. She disclosed the inspiration behind “Triptych,” the new single:

I wrote “Triptych” sobbing in a green room in Denver. I’d just read the story of Francis Bacon and his lover/muse, George Dyer, whose chaotic lifestyle served as Bacon’s artistic inspiration. George Dyer overdosed in the bathroom of a hotel room paid for by Bacon, who famously painted a triptych of his lover’s final moments. I had just been through a pretty tough breakup and felt I might be purposefully getting myself into dicey situations to justify my big feelings and write about them. “Triptych” was a pretty blatant cry for help and an opportunity to confess my fear of being misunderstood.

Finnerty admits between minimal guitar strums her own experiences in love and the lack thereof, drawing on the story of Bacon and Dyer by explaining “I will entertain your feet or your hands for a triptych/ sell me at the strand on the stands for a fat brick” – ultimately, despite it all, she says “I’ll be good to you,” the choral “oohs” dissolving into the rest of the track seamlessly. The last minute, atmospheric, dreamy, but still anchored to reality, hints at something similar to self-realization – but ends anchored on that same phrase – “I’ll be good to you,” perhaps now a promise to herself rather than a significant other.

The Baby is out this Friday, August 28.

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Jonathan Something – “Sticky Love”

Man, I love a good concept album, and Jonathan Something’s Cannibal House Rules is a really, really good one. Released earlier this month, the newest LP – the third from Connecticut-based “anti-pop” artist and multi-instrumentalist Jon Searles – is the highly-anticipated follow-up to 2019’s Art So Small You Can Hardly See It and 2018’s Outlandish Poetica, all highlighting his knack for imagery-filled, whimsical, dynamic songwriting and baroque orchestrations. CHR has its hand in many jars influence and inspiration-wise – so much so that I’d like to present Solitaire Recordings’ bio for the album verbatim so I don’t get anything wrong:

Cannibal House Rules is a synth-driven album of pop songs that draw on the cultural ephemera of the mid 80s, blending the sounds of Italo disco and top 40 new wave with John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China and Brad Fiedel’s The Terminator scores on a release that is structured to play like the soundtrack from a non-existent film.

Perhaps fitting given the song title, we kept finding ourselves returning to stunner “Sticky Love,” a track on trying to escape a toxic relationship. Opening with eerie pizzicato and synth that sounds like transmissions from an alien spaceship, the track is an instant win, Searles’ fun yet controlled vocals at the perfect tone in order to  combat the otherworldly effects. He explains in the pre-chorus that “Cupid’s done stuck me/ with his arrow/ I’d like to leave / But you’ve got such sticky love,” his voice enamored but strained – we’re able to imagine him singing while he precariously looks back over his shoulder every other word. The absolute charm of the track, however, lies in the choral “oohs” and “ahs” that nestle within and repeat in the chorus, changing in key, rising higher and higher until you’re sure they could go on forever. Somewhere within the last minute, Searles seems to transcend along with the instrumentals, until it begins to brilliantly sound less like love and like unwilled hysteria. 

Cannibal House Rules is out now via Solitaire Recordings. And come on, who are we kidding – Halloween isn’t going to happen this year, so play this record instead. Pre-order the vinyl here so you’re prepared. 

 

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Rainout – “Universe 25”

Rainout’s self-titled debut EP, released earlier this month, sounds like an absolute dream. The musical project of Vancouver-based artist Ben McDuffle, Rainout utilizes nostalgia-filled, lo-fi synth and hazy vocals, all capturing some far-off, precious feeling so pronounced and potent that you feel you can almost reach out and touch it. Along with the absolutely beautiful, retro-tinged “Bleach,” reminiscent of a late summer’s morning, our favorite from the EP has to be closer “Universe 25,” a gauzy, jangle-pop stunner that radiates outwards with pure wonder. McDuffle’s vocals, soft and grainy like an old fading photograph, are surrounded by an aura of brightness, blending into the instrumentals like sunshine into the sea; the choral “ah-hahs,” similarly, are a burst of iridescent color within the track, a moment of pure, euphoric self-assuredness that  extends to the listener as well.

Summer may be over – that is, if we even had one to begin with – but, regardless, know you can return to it any time you’d like with this gorgeous EP. 

Rainout is out now. 

 

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Orchid Mantis – “Within and Apart”

Yesterday, Orchid Mantis – also known as Atlanta based artist Thomas Howard – released “Within and Apart,” his newest single since his absolutely gorgeous EP Light As Leaving released last year, and collection Long Division earlier in 2020. Part of a new album set for release later in 2020, this track, too, expresses Howard’s unique and intimate songwriting process, which, since 2014, has included melding together ambient and pop song structures, embedding obscure samples within his own compositions, and employing unusual recording methods to achieve that perfect, blissed out lo-fi sound. Howard’s tracks always feel beautifully lived in, always in the throes of some distant memory – and I’ve found that you’re always tempted to stay, even if it digs a little too deep into your emotions. His bio says he makes “pop songs about forgetting,” but, ironically, it’s music that makes you really want to remember

Written about moving away and going through a breakup at the same time, Howard’s vocals in “Within and Apart” sound weathered, out-of-breath at times, especially at the beginning – but later, as he is lifted up by the sharp slices of hazy, glimmering guitar, it grows more fervid, more impassioned and evocative. Soon enough, his pleas for more time in his current place, with his current person, feel fruitless (and i could stay here / or i could disappear / it makes no difference now / our time is running out / if i could have just one more day), and instead accepts that everything that begins must end, that it truly “never goes how you thought it would go.”

“Within and Apart” is out now.

 

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IAN SWEET – “Dumb Driver”

IAN SWEET’s track “Sword” is easily one of our favorite tracks of the year, so we were thrilled to hear about Jillian Medford’s recent signing with Polyvinyl records, her upcoming follow-up to Crush Crusher, as well as her newest track “Dumb Driver,” released yesterday. Medford explained the stunning new track in a press release:

[“Dumb Driver”] is an examination and grieving of, both during and after, a broken relationship. It describes the toxic cycle of being so overtaken by your love for someone that you put yourself in harm’s way for it – like a car crash you can’t look away from. On ‘Dumb Driver’ I am pleading with myself to stop the car, pull over, and get out of the situation before the damage is irreversible.

Following the same sort of tone as her past work, combining the best parts of soft, light, and delicate with sharp, brazen, and fervid, the guitar melodies within the track are stark and direct, almost like black paint streaks on a white canvas – but her vocals smooth and soften the space left behind, showing vulnerability underneath the drapery of noise. At the bridge, she admits “yeah I still believe in halos / no it’s not your fault yours left you a long time ago / it doesn’t circle around your head or glow in the dark / when we’re going to bed,” ironically highlighting the utter humanity of the person she’s now struggling to forget. She repeats “I want to stop / I want to stop / loving you” in a hushed tone that later grows more impassioned, more self-assured as the sentiment eventually fades into the distance. 

“Dumb Driver” is out now.

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