Yifan Wu – “Say the Words”

As I write this, I’m sitting by the window in a tiny coffee shop, with my eyes darting back and forth from my laptop to the giant trees swaying back and forth in the wind outside. Soon enough I’m focused exclusively on the trees, also taking note when the sun disappears for a split second and bathes the interior of the shop in blue tinted shadow, only to go back to piercing light once again. The heat in Austin has been incredibly stifling these days, but the fact that we have the chance for even a little bit of wind or the tiniest probability for shade is enough to brave going outside. Maybe it’s because I’m listening to it at the same time, but I can’t help but equate the soothing nature of Yifan Wu’s newest track to the same breeze in spite of our perpetual summer, a much needed breath of simple, yet equally refreshing indie soul to brazenly cut through the heat. The production, done by Wu as well as writing and recording, is bright, clean, and crisp, subtly overlaying a wobbly, slinky pop melody over classic jazz-inspired chord progressions. The instrumentals sound patient and tender to match the narrative, which expresses the facets of a personal subject for the Toronto based musician:

“The song is essentially about one of the struggles of being in a long-distance relationship – being unable to connect to the person that you love. You can try your best to text and call and visit each other, but sometimes there are just periods in time when life gets busy and the connection is lost for even a split second. The lyrics describe that feeling of yearning and needing to be to reconnected.”

Wu, in flawless falsetto, shyly explains that “I know that you’ve told me this before/ I just need to be sure,” later admitting that “the silence is eating up my soul” before unleashing a barrage of gorgeous, meticulous vocal runs, adding to the potent soulfulness introduced at the beginning. Though it originally came from a place of frustration – as Wu explained – he instead chooses to be whimsical and charming, to the point where you can nearly hear the sly smirk on his face as he sings, almost as if he knows how it will all turn out. Most of all, however, he manages to convey an addictive sense of hope, putting equal faith in both himself as well as the one he loves. 

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photo courtesy of artist
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Andrew Younker – “Oracle Girl”

Well Wishes, the newest jangle pop stunner from Michigan based artist Andrew Younker, honestly contains some of the most luxurious, unique synth I have heard in quite some time. They sound incredibly intimate yet painfully distant at the same time, chaotic and overflowing yet organized and collected with such immediacy that it doesn’t end up sounding heavy or disingenuous, instead the complex little details and flourishes he chooses to use ultimately adding to it’s warmth and color. The album, recorded, mixed, and mastered by Younker himself, begins with love songs then moves on to those that sound more introspective in nature, all prefaced with the idea of turning twenty, of being a “grown-up” without having any “grown-up intentions.” Younker further explained his intent for the introspective tracks, which was, again, highly specific:

“I’m definitely not as mopey as the song titles would imply but sometimes it’s just cathartic to write a sad track and I’ve always loved listening to people experience catharsis in their music, so I just do what I know.”

While some of the later tracks do tend to go through their own respective catharses – including the anxious synth that merges into a murky haze in “Lucky Saw The Lights” as well as the nostalgic, near technological sounding blubbery chimes in “Wasting My Life” – it is, in fact, the so called “lovebird” track “Oracle Girl” that houses the most stunning catharsis within the entirety of Well Wishes. A smorgasbord of varied techniques, the track seems to contain multiple energies, yet ultimately powered by an incredibly distinctive, coursing surge of jagged, brooding synth that has since nestled in my brain like a familiar friend. Younker pleads that he “don’t wanna be the boy of her dreams/ ’cause no girl should be wasting her dreams on me…don’t wanna be attached to these things,” the self-deprecation enhanced as soon as he steps foot into the pool of synth that, in turn, seems to lead us into an entirely new expanse, cornered on each side with embellished, harpsichord-esque instrumentals. They grow louder and louder, hypnotizing and overwhelmingly simulating an emotional purge, with Younker throwing in different melodies and flourishes one after another to the point where you think everything will run over the sides. But at the last moment he effortlessly takes back control, that same brooding, mesmerizing synth appearing as a saving grace for us to latch onto once again.

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Matty – “Nothing, Yet”

Even though it might sound hazy and untroubled due to its chillwave and synth pop leanings, the debut solo album from BADBADNOTGOOD’s Matthew Tavares is an incredibly vulnerable, personal work, with evidence of pain, heartache, and the process towards eventual, albeit intense self-healing in just about every single one of its lyrical narratives. It’s also not completely clear from the enamored instrumentals that make up “Nothing, Yet” that the rest of Déjàvu is a project three years in the making as well as the result of Tavares’s self-described mental breakdown, which he explained on social media:

“I felt completely defeated by life and constantly at odds with a voice in my head that could only scream negative things at me or predict the worst possible outcomes…I finished my touring obligations and subsequently started working non stop on music, which I felt was my only outlet to mental recovery. I realized that art is a laboratory for facing that negative inner voice in a controlled environment.”

It is the moments within the track where Matty switches from self-criticism to honest vulnerability, where that same lush, iridescent orchestral melody changes to muted pastels, that ultimately induce chills – his voice, hazy, delicate, but sincere and fearlessly direct, tells us outright that “before I die I want a world of/ connections/ but I’m too afraid of always being/ rejected,” his voice entering that second falsetto breathlessly, seamlessly as if being slowly relieved of the weight on his shoulders as he sings. Not long afterwards, he introduces the full palette once again in the form of an avant-garde, Beatles-esque orchestral interlude, but now it sounds sensitive, fragile, even hopeful underneath all the gauze. Although it comes from a place of emotional and mental strife, the album is, ultimately, a beautiful example of what can result from working towards some kind of peace within yourself, as well as a chance for others going through similar hardships to feel less alone.

Déjàvu is out now.

Photo by Matthew Tavares

Rosemother – “Sympathy”

The beauty in dream pop ultimately lies in the way it manages to remain warm and inviting despite addressing complex and sensitive subject matters, allowing it to be both an escape from reality while at the same time bringing the listener closer to their own. Given the specific intimate tone in these types of compositions, it can often feel almost empathetic, for both artist and listener. Unfortunately, often in reality, empathy – the wholesome act of placing yourself in the position of another in order to experience their personal emotions – is easily set aside in favor of sympathy – simply offering pity, hesitating to venture further into another person’s internal psyche. This is a phenomenon Sacramento based musician Haley Junker addresses in her newest single as Rosemother, her own experiences with past lovers guilty of this exact confusion interwoven into the narrative. After years of creating music alone, the project has now turned into a full outfit with the addition of drummer Jake Romine (who also mixed and mastered the track) as well as bassist Avery McPherson, leading to a full, lush sound that wonderfully supports Junker’s soft vocals. The near smoldering instrumentals beautifully mimic the feelings right alongside her – at times they even break that dream pop illusion with short, fiery bursts of guitar, cutting up the tapestry only for the synth to immediately stitch it back up again. Amidst the haze, Junker addresses the desires to become more emotionally involved with the person she’s with while also running the risk of potential heartbreak:

“It kind of describes my idea of how it can be wonderful or horrible because when you become more romantically involved there is a much deeper connection, and at that point I guess the chance for heartbreak is much greater.”

Yet, in the way Junker croons “I’ll take my chances” at the end of the last verse, there’s also clearly this purer sense of excitement embedded within all the swells and swirls – she has not grown weary or emotionally cold, but instead perpetually hopeful for the possibility of empathy and reciprocated love this time around, despite it going wrong in the past:

“I think the song also has a bit of positive light because I believe it’s beautiful to find a person who loves everything about you and grows with you. So, I talk about taking my chances with someone new because the beauty of life is you don’t really know the outcome. And whether things end up good or bad you’ll eventually be okay.”

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Ginger Root – “Having Fun”

Ginger Root has truly been one of our favorite musical discoveries of the year, which is mainly due to the way Cameron Lew manages to seamlessly blend together the sounds of ’60’s and ’70’s soul with modern day flourishes, as well as poetic, yet empathetic narratives and feelings. Judging from his first three singles – including the soft, delicate stunner “Jeanie” – his upcoming sophomore LP Mahjong Room should follow suit in expressing something both nostalgic and immediate, and “Having Fun,” the latest tease, only furthers that sentiment. The heavy piano and percussion sway in a perpetual waltz all while Lew’s voice switches from an almost whisper to a jagged croon at the flick of a wrist, both growing in power as the track plays on. His narrative touches on nearly everything from determination to hesitation, at first secure in his thoughts but later asking “Haven’t I shared too much of one thing?/ Haven’t I paired us with the wrong thing?” Ultimately, it ends as it began – sparse yet glimmering, minimal yet with a heavier sense of emotion that lingers unanswered. He’s through with making himself vulnerable, but also shies away from the chance to reconcile – he lives with “no worries, no laughs.”

Mahjong Room will be released on June 29th.

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Candy – “Hiding From The Sun”

The best thing about Candy – also known as Melbourne-based artist Calum Newton – is his wonderfully direct and unapologetic vocal style. It darts around the room like an angrily thrown bouncy ball, taking on and absorbing different textures and forms like a sonic shapeshifter as it hits each wall; it desperately begs in a raspy croon one moment, only to tilt his head back and sing la la las the next. At least, this is the case in his newest single “Hiding From The Sun,” a track that brilliantly blurs the lines of indie pop and post punk to the point of near total eradication of both. Though it sounds punchy and energetic, even euphoric with the addition of those short whimsical interludes, the lyrical narrative tells a completely different story, and the track becomes far more complex as a result. Throughout the track he’s constantly on edge, frustrated that the sun – a duplicitous being responsible for life but an unforgiving atmosphere physically – has quite literally shed light on his attempts to hide away from the world. Newton attempts to explain his frustrations further, but not without revealing the small amount of guilt secretly woven into them, explaining that “There’s no way to get away from your gaze/ ‘Cause I can’t look upon you without knowing that I’ve been hiding here for days.” Surrounded in barbed, sharpened guitar shards reminiscent to the beams of light piercing through his blinds, Newton reaches his limit, yelling out “I need peace,” craving empathy while cornered in his own room. The track as a whole remains an incredibly visceral and emotional testament to having the strength to not only face the world during moments of intense, painful vulnerability, but ultimately having the courage to face yourself at the same time – and  again, it’s this directness that makes Candy a force to be reckoned with.

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Wild Nothing – “Letting Go”

When Nocturne – Jack Tatum’s sophomore album as Wild Nothing – was released, I remember sitting in my room and practicing the guitar to “Shadow” over and over again until my fingers hurt. There’s still something euphoric and brilliant within those particular set of notes, the way they persevere throughout, piercing, bright as sunlight, through a heavy, meandering bassline and hazy, layered swaths of synth. It, along with the rest of the album, still remains as one of the greatest testaments to pop and nearly all of its adjacent varieties – dream, synth, what have you – as well as proves Tatum to be an innovator, through and through. And although his follow-up album Life of Pause was just that – a synth heavy, blatant pause from this unique, focused yet mellowed style in order to explore more modern (and retro) techniques – his newest release “Letting Go” from his upcoming album Indigo seems to return back to his tonally complex  roots, but also better melds together the two distinct vibes of his past discographies. Yes, there’s plenty of ’80’s inspired synth, but his voice is clearer, more self-aware and direct in the way he breaks down his own walls, looking us in the eyes and telling us “I wanna be happier now” with nothing but conviction in his. Triumphant, trumpet-like blares of synth and supersonic effects attach themselves to his voice, and as the song plays on we’re more inclined to believe him, taking his words to heart like a signed agreement placed before us.  Like that legendary guitar melody that still simultaneously jolts and calms me to this day, Tatum is once again exploring the concept of euphoria within his music while now at the same time embracing modern humanity, and the result is absolutely mesmerizing.

Indigo will be released on August 31st.

photo by Cara Robbins

The Beths – “Happy Unhappy”

Auckland four-piece The Beths recently announced the upcoming release of their debut album Future Me Hates Me, sharing both the gritty title track and, as of yesterday, the fast-paced, giddy, transparent single “Happy Unhappy,” showing off more of their warm, summery guitar-heavy sound. Reminiscent of indie pop contemporaries Alvvays, part of their overall charm lies in their remarkable and acerbic lyrical wit, as well as the way in which these darker, direct narratives are expertly shrouded in upbeat, shimmering instrumentals. In the midst of incredibly meticulous guitar melodies that always seem to be following along with her in perfect synchronization, singer Elizabeth Stokes switches from comical, near stream-of-consciousness verses (’cause you’re in my brain/ taking up space I need for/ remembering pins and to take out the bins/ and that one particular film that that actor was in”) to a far more vulnerable chorus all about a past relationship, desperately thinking out loud that “wish my heart were really made of stone” so she doesn’t have to keep pretending to be so emotionally indifferent all the time. Pretending not to care is exhausting – and emotionally straining – but when it’s surrounded on all sides by a warm, sun-kissed instrumental tone, ironically there’s instead an aura of confidence that’s louder and more prominent, eliminating any trace of timorousness.

Future Me Hates Me will be released on August 10th via Carpark Records.

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photo by Mason Fairey

Movie Brain – “Strychnine”

The unfortunate thing about toxic relationships is that they rarely ever seem toxic to begin with. Much like the incredibly lethal, insidious chemical strychnine – colorless and ultimately causing death from asphyxiation – the pain caused by these relationships can often appear harmless or invisible, even inviting at first, but soon the heartbeats get more terrifyingly frantic and rapid, leading to something suffocating rather than charming or comforting. Movie Brain, the dream pop project of Tennessee native Jonathan Sellers, explores this particular concept in their track of the same name, but, much like his past works, partly makes it a point to shroud the lyrical darkness in gorgeous, hazy swirls of synth and deep, soothing bass, his focused, yet impassioned vocals smothered in a thick blanket of reverb. Though he nearly falls back into his tortured thoughts towards the beginning (“Solace/ I’ve been looking for it daily/ Nobody calls me baby”), you can almost see him shaking his head and walking the other way, respectfully singing “so long/ loving you was strychnine/ poisoning my bloodflow/ poisoning my damn mind” with an imaginary wave of his hand. But most interesting is the way his vocals remain soft, completely free of contempt or malevolence, a genuine realization of both parties’ mistakes rather than a blatant attack on their individual personalities. He even succeeds in giving it that wonderfully cinematic, far away quality, which also fittingly appears throughout the rest of his upcoming album Fernweh, named after the German term for “farsickness:”

“This album is, to me, a process of healing, celebration of love, and the grief that comes with loss…Fernweh is a German word that literally means ‘Far-sickness’ or longing for far off places. Longing for another place far off, or even just the idea. Fernweh the album is about realizing how short life is, and loving, losing, and becoming aware of everything that goes on around you. But in contrast, it’s about taking the time that we have and using it for good, for change or for love or for whatever we want!”

The album is ultimately a product of intense heartache and strife, and it shows once you dive a little deeper. And although Sellers mentioned that he’s slightly taken aback whenever others point out how emotional his music can be under the disguise of shimmers and glimmers, it’s this humanity, this honesty, this directness perpetually and permanently embedded in his compositions, that keeps his version of dream pop genuine, the vulnerability that makes it strong.

Fernweh will be released on June 18th.

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photo by Goldie Paris

Alfred Hall – “Since I Saw You”

I’m fully aware that this miiiiight be too much information, but forgive me because I’m going to share it anyways. Back in February, I was the most sick I had ever been in my entire life – I’m talking severe bronchitis that required a prescribed inhaler, aches and pains to the point of insomnia, even partial deafness in both of my ears that lasted for two full weeks afterwards – and it was near impossible for me to do anything, especially listen to music (which was incredibly torturous for me given my obligations here). For whatever reason, however, I remember that one of the only songs that I could physically take during that time was “Pearl Diver,” the first single that was to be Norwegian indie duo Alfred Hall’s now released sophomore album. Sure, yes, I had written about it just a few days prior, but there was something more to it, something incredibly special that drew my eyes towards it. Maybe it was Bjorn Tveit’s soothing vocals shrouded in sun-kissed synth, or perhaps it was Hans Thomas Kiær’s infectious (no pun intended) guitar melodies, or maybe it was the lyrical narrative of perseverance in the face of intense hardship and heartache. Whatever it was, it allowed for a few moments of peace before returning to my head splitting migraine. Thankfully, I’m completely back to normal now, but upon hearing the album in full, I’m pleased to say that they’re still offering up music that can practically double as a medicinal salve – title track “Since I Saw You” centers around a scintillating guitar melody that bursts forward in waves directly after the chorus, mysterious and inviting, sounding almost like the sounds of something ancient, something frayed in the most precious of ways. You hear it once, and greedily your ears want to hear it again and again, and thankfully, the duo is more than happy to oblige, fading out into the distance rather than stopping completely – that guitar melody could perpetually be endless if you’d like it to be.

Since I Saw You is out now – go give it a listen or two.

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Photo by Pernille Wangsmo