Hailing from New Zealand, The Beths are making waves with their freshman album, The Future Hates Me. The band was formed from a close friendship starting with guitarist, Jonathan Pearce and lead vocalist and primary songwriter, Elizabeth Stokes in high school. These two met bassist, Benjamin Sinclair and drummer, Ivan Luketina-Johnston at the University of Auckland. The four were studying jazz and gigged together in many configurations. They eventually found their way to exploring a guitar pop sound that was reminiscent of their youth.
The Future Hates Me follows The Beths’ 2016 debut EP, Warm Blood. For a debut album, impressive is an understatement. Track after track and hook after hook the album is exploding with energy over crunchy guitars and rich vocal harmonies. It has all the makings of a summer album and is begging for group sing-alongs to accompany the playful pop-punk band.
The whole album is full of a dry sense of humor that stems from lead vocalist, Elizabeth Stokes. Most of the hits from this album are on the subject of a hesitancy towards love. She doesn’t want to overthink anything, she just wants to live. This attitude goes for how she writes her lyrics as well. As she told Rolling Stone, her writing process is in the form of stream-of-conscious writing. From these sessions she filters through to find what she feels is the best. There is no second guessing from her or the band. Interestingly enough, her boyfriend of three years and fellow band member, Jonathan Pearce, is the subject of many of her lyrics, but even this does not cause them to press her on her lyrical choices.
What does shine through, however, is a musical chemistry that is born from the band’s close friendship. Aggressive drum fills are able to blend with clean vocal harmonies which are enhanced with distorted guitars. This combination of sounds doesn’t necessarily want to mix well, but the band has studied and played together for so long that there is no room for anything to clash.
My favorite moment from the record and what one Rolling Stone reporter called “the song of the summer” is “Happy Unhappy.” It is a cheeky number that highlights everything there is to love about The Beths. It opens with a catchy vocal melody which gives way to Stokes’ vocal hooks with driving guitars that help convey the feeling of being unable to get over someone who really isn’t worth your time. It is one of those summer jams where the melody will stick with you for days while you play it on repeat in your car.
Stokes told Rolling Stone, “The Beths is almost reactionary to jazz school and trumpet. It’s a guitar band. We make guitar music. I like it that way.” It is a simple concept that leaves headspace for the organic stories told in the album to be heard. There are no hidden meanings, just the honest emotions of super-happy and super-sad fighting for their moment in the spotlight.
The story of Irene was introduced to the public back in the beginning of 2018 when producer, Medasin, released a 16-track mix on Soundcloud. It served as a teaser for an upcoming EP full of instrumentals and unreleased tracks. This was a pivotal moment in Medasin’s career as most of the music he had released to this point had been remixes. The otherworldly sound that Medasin brought to his popular remixes had clearly transferred to his original productions.
On August 10th, the long–awaited EP was released and our understanding behind the significance of Irene increased. Just four years ago, Medasin was struggling with addiction, his mental health, and the people he chose to surround himself with were not pointing him in the right direction. Those that cared for him could not find common ground with him in order to help make the changes he needed in his life. Irene was the person who was able to forge this necessary connection.
Irene works at Access Counseling Group in Plano, Texas. This is an outpatient rehab facility where Medasin was able to refocus his energy to creating his sound. In an interview with Billboard, the producer reflects, "the idea of Irene is essentially me elusively telling the story of where Medasin came from." The time spent with Irene was a pivot point in the producer’s life from a life of distraction to a life of creative innovation and Medasin does not take this for granted. A GoFundMe page was set up by the producer to raise $30,000 to fund Irene’s dream. This dream is to open a coffee shop near her facility that would serve as a communal and safe space for recovering addicts. With the growth of Medasin’s voice and platform in the music community, he hopes to rally his listeners behind this idea and help Irene’s dream become reality.
Medasin’s music has always impressed me with his use of Foley and auxiliary percussion that is so cleanly melded into the mix of many other layers of synths and drums. It is an uncanny sonic footprint that can be traced through all tracks of the project and his earlier remixes. After the short opening–almost a booting up sequence–in “Weird Summer,” a bouncy and animated tune begins in “Ramen.” Live percussion elements add to the brightness of the track while catchy melodies are layered on top of one another. The sonic qualities of the keys and organs hint at steel drums. The rhythms suggest this Caribbean vibe as well, but as the title indicates and as producer mentions in the same Billboard interview, it is more a reflection on the joy of getting lost in the taste of really good ramen complete with field recordings outside a Tokyo ramen shop. Field recordings give this album a personal touch. More of these field recordings can be heard in “Warm Blue,” with a more relaxed tempo, but equally striking melodies.
A string of impressive vocal features can be heard in the latter half of this album. “Work For You” featuring vocals from Kaz Moon–someone Medasin was turned onto by a manager of the Korean BBQ restaurant where the singer works–has some of the most intriguing sound design on the entire album. While minimal in the number of sounds in comparison to the rest of the project, this gives the floor to Kaz Moon’s voice to soar over top the track. Each element is meticulously picked and programmed to stay out of the way of the vocals while complementing them timbrely.
Irene is a thank you, a reflection, and a means of healing all rolled into one. Medasin is on a mission to give back to the woman that helped him so much and helped open the creativity of this talented producer to the world.
Please consider donating to the GoFundMe and help support Irene’s dream.
“Work For You (feat. Kaz Moon)” is featured on this month’s On Queue Monthly Mix. Listen here.
Be The Cowboy is the fifth studio release for Mitski. At the young age of 27 she has had a level of success that many artists can only hope for. In an interview with Pitchfork during a series of shows opening for Lorde, she remarked, “I can pay for my health insurance. I can eat. I can drink clean water. I can pay for a roof above my head. I’ve done it,” she tells me. “Now my goal is to only make music that I feel is necessary for me to make.”
Mitski has experience this success while remaining still somewhat anonymous and this is in part to her efforts to talk exclusively about her music in interviews. What we do know is she grew up moving frequently for her father’s job. She began by studying film at Hunter College but chose to shift her focus to music and enrolled in the Conservatory of Music at SUNY Purchase. It was here that she recorded her first two piano-based studio albums. It was her third studio album, Bury Me at Makeout Creek, that caught the attention of many publications in 2014.
Her latest triumph, Be The Cowboy, is full of references to a romantic life that has seen its share of struggles. Mitski’s desire to keep her personal life private makes the source of these feelings expressed in the album a mystery, but this does not take away from their effectiveness and rawness. It has been her relationship to music that, as she mentioned to Pitchfork, “has been the only one worth pursuing.” It is an album born from heartache, but the lack of insight into the specifics of this relationship does not bother the listener as the relationship worth exploring is unfolding as we listen.
“Nobody,” the lead single from the album, has emerged as the most popular track from this August 17th release. The song was born from Mitski’s experience living alone in Malaysia. The purpose of the trip was to decompress in a place where she had spent much of her childhood, but the unforeseen feeling of loneliness was overwhelming during her stay. She sings about opening windows in her apartment just to hear other people being alive and longing for the simple feeling of having another human being near her. It is a hauntingly sad story contained in one of the most infectious, catchy, and upbeat songs of the album.
To me, the final four songs are the perfect example of Mitski’s versatility and the perfect balance of tragic ballads and upbeat pop melodies that make up this album. “A Horse Named Cold Air” is dripping with dissonance as the piano wavers back and forth in a manner almost akin to a funeral march. The second and final verse of this short song creates the metaphor of a racehorse claiming “I thought I’d traveled a long way/But I had circled/The same old sin.” It is an unsettling song that leads into “Washing Machine Heart,” one of the liveliest moments of the album. Similar to “Nobody,” it carries a rather gloomy story of powerlessness and the negatives effects of over control on one’s self and environment.
“Blue Light” creates a seamless transition from the driving backbeat in “Washing Machine Heart” to the tragic finale that is “Two Slow Dancers.” This transition track is mirroring a feeling of unraveling. There is a sense of having no direction and just pure madness which fades into “Two Slow Dancers.” An electric piano trudges along while Mitski sings the story of two lovers reminiscing on their lost love together. They have only this short moment together before they must go back to their lives.
Mitski’s gift for story telling is clear. She conveys an enormous amount of emotion in a very compact form. As Vulture put it, “She can pack a lifetime into a single sentence.” Be The Cowboy is a journey from new love to breaking up that leaves the listener in a trance.
The story of a phoenix is often associated with the idea of rebirth. Many of my generation might think of the scene out of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes, burns to ashes in front of Harry only to be reborn from the ashes…no? Just me?
For Javier Santiago, the life of a Phoenix has a much more personal association. Born and raised in Minneapolis, MN, Santiago has spent his late-teens and early to mid twenties moving from coast-to-coast, finding his sound, and gaining some impressive accolades in the process. He grew up in a musical family and was raised by parents who already had a solid foothold in the Minneapolis/St. Paul music scene. In 2007, Santiago was selected to study at the Brubeck Institute in California followed by the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He was given the chance at these prestigious institutions to rub shoulders with some of the greatest living musicians in the world such as Christian McBride, Robert Glasper, Eric Harland, and Joshua Redman to name a few. Beyond being a regular performer in some of NYC’s most well known venues, Santiago has established himself as a prolific composer, arranger, and producer commanding a unique blend of Jazz, R&B, and Hip Hop.
Phoenix was released in late June of 2018 and features eight original Javier Santiago compositions realized by an impressive personnel including Santiago on Rhodes and synthesizers, saxophonists Dayna Stephens and Ben Flocks, guitarist Nir Felder, bassist Zach Brown, and drummer Corey Fonville. Also featured is vocalist J. Hoard as well as Nicholas Payton and John Raymond on trumpet.
“River Song” opens the album with sound of a solo synth bass pumping underneath more synths and drums that slowly fade in. The solo bass with a rhythm clearly influenced by hip hop marks a transition from Santiago’s previous discography that includes four volumes of beats. Slowly a new sound–a new life–is fading in. It is a sound that is hinted at in his 2015 EP, Year of The Horse, but which is fully formed in this opening track. A boom-bap snare and thick bass trudge along almost as a sort of funeral march for the previous life of this composer before they are lost amid the vocal performance of J. Hoard. The phoenix is beginning its rise from the ashes.
The third and title track of this album is the true center piece. This ten-minute triumph soars from the beginning. Solos are passed around the banding giving everyone a chance to contribute their voice to this powerful track. Fonville keeps a busy and driving beat throughout almost the entire tune before the groove takes a sudden change about 45-seconds before the track concludes, slowly tapering off the immense amount of energy that has built up.
A true highlight of the album and my favorite from the project is the closing track, “Alive.” After having spent the seven previous tracks establishing and showcasing his ability to effortless blend genres into a mature and modern sound, Santiago leaves us with a composition in a more old-school style. Fonville adds a plays a swing groove which gives the melody a charming and vintage quality. Nicholas Payton’s forceful trumpet performance leaves the listener with their jaw dropped as the album comes to a close. It is an interesting but effective choice closing the album on this note. Started with a quasi-808 bass, Phoenix weaves its way through Santiago’s influences finding its way to a comfortable and classic sound.
Santiago’s career is still young, yet Phoenix is an impressive collection exhibiting the already touted and celebrated musicianship of this Minnesota native. The album carries an intense amount of energy and expansive harmonies. A new life was born with this project, one of impressive skill and unearthly vigor. When the inevitable comes, Javier Santiago will rise from the ashes again, revitalized and renewed, just as he always has.
Hailing from Toronto, Witch Prophet sings from experiences lived as a queer, Ethiopian/Eritrean singer/song writer. Since it’s release in May, her debut LP has exponentially climbed in popularity being featured on lists of “albums you might have missed” in publications such as Pitchfork and Bandcamp. What may have once flown under the radar, The Golden Octave is a display of confident artistry and a formal introduction to the life of Witch Prophet, a.k.a. Ayo Leilani.
Leilani posses the ability to seamlessly drift between thumping dance rhythms and laid back, simultaneously straddling several genres. She creates a welcoming opening to the album in “Loops.” Featuring only a capella vocal loops, this organic and raw opening track is an outlier to the variety of production styles that are heard through the rest of the album. Despite its unique composition, “Loops” feels far from out of place and serves as evidence for Leilani’s flexible vocal style creating cohesion within an album featuring six different producers.
In the closing moment’s of “Loop,” Witch Prophet bridges the human and bright opening of the album into the dark and driving tone of “Time Traveler,” produced by fellow Toronto native, Sun Sun. A line heard in “Loop,” “What if I told you just who I was / Would you be more careful knowing what I am capable of?” is heard in “Time Traveler.” It is an ominous question which is effectively recontextualized across these differing sonic landscapes.
Sparkling with chopped samples of jazz piano, “Indigo” is my favorite moment off the LP. As the piano shows its range and speed, Leilani maintains the grounded and level quality of her vocal lines that ties the album together. There are no flashy gimmicks as telling her story as clearly and poetically as possible is the main objective.
The soul-infused beats are balanced by occasional moments of 90s house-inspired production. “Reprogram” is one of these moments. Dreamy synths and crackling percussion repeat behind equally mesmerizing vocal statements.
Leilani carefully guides you through the warm atmosphere of this album. In times of comfort, you feel connected to the narrative of her life and as though she is speaking directly to you. If encountered by harsh realities or darkness, she is there to see you back to tranquility. This moving album, ten years in the making, leaves you overwhelmed with a sense of authenticity and curiosity.
I stumbled across a track on Soundcloud a little over a year ago amidst one of those deep Soundcloud binging session which are so easy to get lost in. It was getting late, my eyes and ears were starting to glaze over–I had gotten so deep to the point where everything was sounding the same. The track was titled “fog” by an artist named quickly, quickly. It’s a special moment when you hear a song that sits with you so profoundly it gives you a strong visceral reaction and “fog” certainly did that for me. To later find out quickly, quickly was a 16-year-old kid from Portland, OR made this discovery that much more remarkable.
Now 18-years-old, quickly, quickly has just released his debut EP. While only five tracks in length, the project shows an incredible sense of maturity and growth in his production style from an already impressively rich sound that has lived on Soundcloud these past two years. He can do it all. Listening to his music, you’ll hear him featured on vocals, guitar, bass, piano, and drums, all of which he can play with a simply unreal amount of musicality. This is paired with a control of playful and attention-grabbing electronics giving his music a unique timbre with a soulful and human feel. This caught the attention of prolific Australian-born producer, Ta-Ku, who released Over Skies as the second release of the new creative project he founded, 823, which showcases musical and visual artists.
As the EP opens it feels like we are waking up. There is a bright shimmer in the background of ambient noise and conversation. It is an unassuming snapshot into the producer’s surroundings from which electric piano grows yielding a melody, prominent bass line, muffled bass drum. This first track, “Stilted,” is fleeting, just as many of the tracks on the EP feel. They are, without a doubt, complete thoughts, but feel like only glances into the life of this composer. Each track brings an intricate texture to the listener’s ears, but never to the point of over saturaturation.
The second track, “Swingtheory,” is about as hard and driving as the relatively laid back EP gets. It’s upbeat and reminiscent of a 90s boom-bap style in its groove. Combined with hazy chords, it is a mixture of old and new-school that is a refreshing addition to the album.
“Ghost” is one of the most popular singles from the EP and has been one of quickly, quickly’s most popular tracks on Soundcloud since it’s release about a year ago. With acrobatic bass lines, rich piano chords, and interesting sound design choices, it is perhaps the best example of this young producer’s musical maturity beyond his years. About halfway through the track a high lead synth enters playing an impressive solo. This moment along with the rest of the track is a window into the eclectic range of influences quickly, quickly is drawing from throughout this project. Whether it is jazz, hip hop, or R&B, he shows a deep understanding for these traditions in his sound.
He is touted as “the Portland wunderkind” by Ta-Ku’s 823 label and in my opinion this is an understatement. This young producer is gaining significant buzz and this EP is a clear indication of the heights quickly, quickly can reach. My only problem with the EP is it’s length–I’m left literally begging for more. The Portland wunderkind is on the come up and I, for one, can’t wait to see his next move.