Although Hues was released in December of 2020, it was a project I recently revisited with fresh ears. Subsequently, I felt called to write about it. I felt “called,” in part, as an act of defiance against the collective obsession with “newness,” and partly out of sheer guilt and shame for not having written about it in the first place.
Hues’s music is similar to that of Solange– amorphous by genre and nature, and equally captivating. Though not technically an album but rather an assemblage of previously released and unreleased tracks, Hues contains all the necessary qualities to be considered a concise body of work. My only complaint being that it seems each bite-sized interlude only leaves me wanting more of the story. A combination of next-to-perfect sequencing and, at times, jarring instrumentals, Hues carries us down a mystical path on the outskirts of society, with various obstacles and challenges along the way.
The intro, “Slippin,” serves as our call to adventure– a haunting, bluesy warning sign, begging us to turn back while simultaneously luring us further into the river. Wasting no time, we transition into “Notice Me,” the EP’s siren song and the true genesis of our expedition. Like the solace of sunlight peeking through the blanket of darkness and tree limbs overhead, Hues sings of perceived romance on “Lay Up.” With daintily melodic deep sighs, the tale of “Icarus” reminds us who is both the hero and the villain in this story.
With perhaps the most harmonious transition on Hues, we experience the first tragedy of our journey. On “If Ever,” its hair-raising instrumentation and melancholy lyrics leave us yearning for a long lost companion on this quest. The track effortlessly seeps into its foreboding successor, “Ends.” “You know how this ends, don’t you? Just like I do,” Hues sings.
Before becoming too comfortable with our new, lonely reality down on the stream, we’re reminded of treachery that’s afoot with “snakes x elephants.” We mustn’t linger too long, as Hues sings, “Snakes and elephants they crowd the room / No room for comfort / Lost all time to stop and lick my wounds, nor would I want to.” Nearing the end of our haunt, Hues ever-so-gracefully sings of heartbreak while pondering self-worth on “Desert Flower.” Then, as though we’ve abruptly woken from a poison-induced daze, we hear the EP’s deepest cut, “Death on the Vine.”
After drifting past the last rocks of the riverbed, we find our final resting place. Hues’s final track, “Yellow” is a bright, welcoming meadow. The pleasant destination serves as a reminder that traveling off the beaten path, though sometimes unnerving or intimidating, may ultimately lead to peace and prosperity. Thus, our journey is complete as we approach the meadow, having lived to tell the tale.
If 2020 was purgatory, 2021 was hellfire. Both personally and universally, 2021 was an absolute mess. Throughout the year, I felt as though I was missing something from music. I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I used to enjoy it. One could call it depression, some may call it “being in a funk.” However you spin it, I was frustrated with myself. Here, with the world at my fingertips, with the help of the supercomputers we’re all so dearly attached to– and yet, no interest in what once was my refuge. So imagine my annoyance when I sat down to write the annual roundup for TGG. No, really, just imagine it. Me, staring at a blank white page on my computer screen, sifting through my library, in an attempt to scrounge for enough to create a list worth writing about. “Impossible,” I thought to myself with Imposter Syndrome pumping through my veins, “Nobody cares and nobody wants to read old news.”
Upon further reflection of the previous year, I’d realized that I had actually enjoyed quite a lot of music this year. Then– faint, like a whisper in a long hallway, a different thought came to me. What if you just wrote about what you want to write about, how you want to write about it? The little devil on my shoulder taunted me. I couldn’t do that, could I?
I could, and I did. Enjoy.
Heaux Tales – Jazmine Sullivan (2021)
At the top of a somewhat chronological list, we have Jazmine Sullivan’s EP, Heaux Tales. Although 2021 ultimately felt like scraping the barrel for music, there were a few exceptional releases. Sullivan’s January release of Heaux Tales presented me with hope for the year to come. As a single woman in her late 20s, it felt like Jazmine was singing directly to me. With anecdotal interludes about relationships and sex, Sullivan and company created an experience similar to a night in with the girls, sipping wine and talking shit. Favorite tracks & interludes: “Put It Down,” “On It” (with the ever-lovely, ever-real Ari Lennox), “Donna’s Tale”
Come Over – Kowloon (2021)
Up next, we have Los Angeles musician and filmmaker, Kowloon’s Come Over. In addition to the ladies of R&B, Kowloon’s debut album restored my faith in music in 2021. Written, recorded and mixed entirely in Kowloon’s apartment, Come Over is, essentially, a post-apocalyptic love story with hefty amounts of tragedy weaved throughout. Kowloon’s voice– reminiscent of Matt Berninger of The National– exudes a natural melancholy that bodes incredibly well in contrast to the somewhat upbeat, 80s-inspired instrumentation. Favorite tracks: “Life In Japan,” “Wake Up,” “Paradise”
Skin – Joy Crookes (2021)
British singer-songwriter and TGG favorite, Joy Crookes, released her debut album, Skin, in October. A soul album with jazzy instrumentals (think: brass, wind, bass– all of our favorites, and lots of it), Skin was a breath of fresh air among some questionable releases this year. Crookes’s raspy vocals paired perfectly with timeless lyrics and violins on “To Lose Someone” should be enough for you to consider giving the rest of the album a spin. Favorite Tracks: “Skin,” “To Lose Someone,” “When You Were Mine”
Vince Staples – Vince Staples (2021)
July was, by far, the best month for music in 2021. With artists like Charlotte Day Wilson, Snoh Aalegra, Isaiah Rashad and many others releasing full length albums, I was almost overwhelmed. Joining my July playlist of “to-listen-tos” was Vince Staples, who released a self-titled EP, produced by Kenny Beats. Clocking in at just over 22 minutes, Vince Staples was easily one of my favorite releases this year. A more mature project, Vince Staples highlights Staples’s best attribute: his ability to interweave humor with somewhat grim lyrical content. Vince Staples is an artist with an abundance of personality; with this EP, we’re privy to just one evolution (of, hopefully, many more) of the spectrum of his character. Favorite tracks: “The Shining,” “Take Me Home,” “Law of Averages”
Inside Out – Nilüfer Yanya (2021)
London-born singer-songwriter, Nilüfer Yanya, released 7-track EP, Inside Out ahead of her upcoming sophomore album, PAINLESS, in October. Yanya’s unique voice maneuvers itself over airy melodies and ear-catching chord progressions so well that you almost forget about the somber lyrical content. A collection of previously released and unreleased tracks, Inside Out‘s sequencing is what left a lasting impression on me. The steady transition from anger and confusion on “The Florist” to dismal melancholy and fear on “Sliding Doors” presents a full range of emotion to sift through, both sonically and lyrically. Favorite tracks: “Sliding Doors,” “Thanks 4 Nothing,” “Small Crimes”
Limbo Cherry – LAUREL (2021)
“I was expecting a lot of people who did listen to my old music to maybe say they weren’t liking the new music,” LAUREL shared with Pile Rats earlier this year. “Sometimes people want us to just stay the same, and not change anything.” As a continuation of her 2020 pop rebrand, UK’s LAUREL released her EP, Limbo Cherry in June. The artist made last year’s roundup with the first ideation of her newfound sound, Petrol Bloom. With the four-track collection, Limbo Cherry seems an apt sequel of exploration of sound and artist persona for LAUREL. Favorite tracks: “You’re the One,” “Wild Side”
The House is Burning – Isaiah Rashad (2021)
The long awaited third studio album from TDE’s Isaiah Rashad presented another glimmer of hope for music in the previous year. This one, I couldn’t wait to spin. With a five-year gap in his discography, it’s guaranteed that Rashad felt the pressure of millions to conceive a project that would be as indelible as 2016’s The Sun’s Tirade. I’d wager he succeeded in those endeavors with The House Is Burning. Rashad enlisted the talents of several others on THIB, including the talented Amindi. Favorite tracks: “Darkseid,” “HB2U,” “Lay Wit Ya”
A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun – Aly & AJ (2021)
Keeping up with the alt-pop rebrand trend, up next we have Aly & AJ‘s A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun. The duo’s fourth studio album follows 2020’s We Don’t Stop, a project that I also thoroughly enjoyed (“Take Me” was at the top of my “Dance Alone and Drink Wine” playlist– don’t judge me). A Touch of the Beat is a 47-minute drive along the coast, with the wind and groovy basslines intertwining your fingers and tangling your hair. Forgive me, but listening to it makes me wanna leave it all behind. Favorite tracks: “Slow Dancing,” “Lost Cause”
soft thing – LOONY (2021)
Neo-soul songstress, LOONY released soft thing, an 8-track EP in June. LOONY wears her heart on her sleeve with soft thing. Beautifully narrating the charms of unabashed vulnerability and trust in love with tracks like “raw” and “mine,” soft thing ended up being one of my favorite releases this year. Favorite tracks: “beg,” “ours”
A Good Night in the Ghetto – Kamaiyah (2016)
This one is just for fun. Although fashionably late to the kickback, coming across Kamaiyah‘s 2016 mixtape was the most enjoyable musical experience I had this summer. When personal problems felt overwhelming, I called on Kamaiyah to remind me to, despite everything, “live every damn day like it’s Friday.” With bangers like “Ain’t Goin Home,” A Good Night in the Ghetto transports us back to a simpler time, when going out was more socially acceptable. Favorite tracks: “Freaky Freaks,” “Mo Money Mo Problems”
Elephant in the Room – Mick Jenkins Home Video – Lucy Dacus the melodic blue – Baby Keem Not Your Muse – Celeste Both All the Time – Faye Webster USEE4YOURSELF – IDK Alpha – Charlotte Day Wilson Lionel Boy – Lionel Boy Lyrics To Go Vol. 2 – Kota The Friend
An album that feels like an unchaperoned walk through dark and empty streets on a holiday back home– Lonesome Reunion is Cassidy Waring’s tormented debut.
Picture: families cozied up in warm houses, with bellies full and throats sore from a healthy balance of laughter and bickering as you carry on with your solitary stroll. Canadian folk singer-songwriter, Cassidy Waring‘s Lonesome Reunion is comparable to holding a snow globe. As an omnipotent outsider, you peer into a world so perfect, it’s almost fictitious. Knowing that life imitates art somehow makes beholding this tiny treasure more isolating– to know there are little towns with little houses and little families as happy as the replica you hold in your hands and yet, still so far removed from you.
A poignant, personal display of loss of innocence, Lonesome Reunion is somewhat of a study on the complexities of family and grief. Recorded and mastered by producer Jonathon Anderson, Lonesome Reunion features deep, folk-rooted instrumentals and sweeping, catchy melodies. Waring’s debut came to fruition after she sat for hours on end watching old VHS tapes of her family. The album’s intro, “Everybody’s Good,” features audio from one of these tapes. In the intro, we hear intimate, playful banter between Waring’s grandfather– to whom she affectionately refers as “Grandug”– and then-3-year-old Waring. “The tapes have become fascinating to watch because they are such a contrast to my painful memories as a teenager,” Waring stated in an email to The Greater Good.
The tapes, to Waring, are an ode to the glory of innocence and blissful ignorance only possessed in early childhood. “Part of me is comforted by them, they have served as proof that I have never been wrong about the amount of love and warmth that surrounded me as a kid and that we really were as happy and healthy as everyone remembers. It’s also confusing and devastating to watch these videos knowing what will happen for us in the future,” Waring stated. “When I was seventeen my mom died and her cause of death was chronic ethanol abuse,” the artist shared with me. “She and I were still very close when she passed. The main statement from anyone in and around my family is usually ‘But they were so happy, what happened?'”
On the outside, Waring’s family could have lived in that aforementioned snow globe: “We were one of those families that went on bike rides together every week and talked about our feelings at the dinner table. It’s something I am still trying to understand, what pulled both my parents into addiction when I was about twelve. Very quickly, our house became a dangerous place to be, physically and mentally. I’ve just been trying to understand both of my parents and their relationship in a deeper way, after the fact.”
Waring released a music video for the fourth track on the album in September. In it, we see the songwriter through several days of sitting in front of an old CRT TV, captivated by family pictures in motion. “Leaving” is a wistful track about managing grief, with guitars sounding similar to what you may find yourself doing after listening this song (crying). I’d wager it nearly impossible not to feel a catch in your throat as Waring sings, “If I believed in ghosts, would you haunt me just to talk?”
Led by melancholy piano keys, “Everything You Lose” is another painfully intimate look into the stages of grief. The song was written after Waring experienced a series of losses including the ending of a romantic relationship and the break-up of her last band, all while still grappling with the loss of family years later. “I lost the sympathy cards from my mother’s funeral,” Waring sings.
When asked about this line, Waring said she was with her boyfriend at the time when she lost them: “Someone broke into his car in the mall parking lot and stole everything, including my big stack of unopened sympathy cards everyone gave me– I wasn’t ready to open them yet. What are the chances! After that verse poured out, so did the rest of the song.” Waring sings, “Everything you lose, needs to lose you.” Perhaps that sentiment works in reverse and everything that finds you, needs to find you.
The unfolding of unfortunate events in the previous year or so created a rare vortex in which many were allotted some of life’s most precious currency: the time to create. Nebraska-based DIY band, Uh Oh made good use of their time apart and away from the stage by writing and recording their upcoming album, Good Morning. “When the world went into hibernation mode,” says the band’s frontman, Joe Champion, “we poured our hearts into writing this album remotely via demos and video chats while missing each other like crazy.”
The anticipation of an in-person meeting of the minds carried the band through their remote collaboration for months– until, post-vaccination, the four were finally able to reunite. Champion describes the homecoming as a giddy experience: “We all piled ourselves and our equipment into our bassist Erik’s house, set up the living room as our home base, gave each other a huge group hug, and then played music and goofed around and watched Space Jam and danced and sang and laughed for like 4 days.”
“There was a bunch of hard work happening too,” Champion continued, “nailing down our parts and experimenting with a bunch of new ideas and recording day and night, but it just felt so good being back together in person that every second was fun.”
The band was created as the brainchild of frontman Joe Champion and bassist Erik Trent six years previous. Once drummer Jay Jacobson and frequent collaborator and co-songwriter Mari Crisler joined the group, “everything clicked into place,” says Champion. An example of the group’s effortless cohesion is “Still Life,” the first single from Good Morning, which was released last week.
Uh Oh gained local recognition by performing any and everywhere in the area, from house shows to festivals. Although the band thrives while performing, Uh Oh hasn’t seen a stage since February 2020. With plans to return to live music later this year, Champion says, “There is absolutely nothing more fun and gratifying than playing music together, it’s always been therapeutic for us and we can’t wait to get back out there with these new songs in tow.” The group will be performing at The Sydney in Omaha on December 10th to promote the release of Good Morning, due to drop December 3rd.
Following the June release of their debut album Distance Keeps Me Distant, Boston-based independent band, Juniper— composed of Scott Johnson, Ahren Shreeve, and Alejandro Marin—, had their first Manhattan live show at the Berlin Underground theatre this past Wednesday, October 13th. Lead vocalist Scott Johnson described the experience as “something you dream of.” Not only was it a packed crowd for a Wednesday evening, Johnson mentioned his awe at how interactive the show was: “It blew me away, not only as validation for what we’re doing, but as in, people are showing up and wanting to be a part of it.” The set consisted of the band’s new tracks, mixed with a few covers.
Throughout Juniper’s five years of existence, releasing an album was always the long-term goal. Touching on themes of distance, love, and anxiety, Johnson describes this album as one based on relationships. Stemming from the idea that “the most authentic thing I can relate to that other people can share, is relationships, whether that be with a significant other, or with friends and family, with the world around you, or with yourself, and how that changes as you continue to live, especially during the pandemic.” Johnson continued to discuss how being forced into isolation changed his outlook on relationships and the everyday decisions he would make. It’s from this notion that Juniper developed the title and central theme for their album (and the title track): “Distance Keeps Me Distant.”
When speaking on the album’s recording process, Johnson explained how the making of the album was not linear, but rather eclectic: “it’s a process of reacting and listening at the same time, and that kind of drives the creative process.” Some of the recording was done in Maine, at drummer Alejandro Marin’s family home, and some was done in Johnson’s bedroom closet. The different locations and recording process is what gives the album such a variety of sounds and, ultimately, enables it to feel more their own. Johnson explains, “We make what we feel in that moment.”
Songs like “Angelina” and “More Than I Can Handle” have an indie-pop tone, while “Puzzle Pieces” and “Overthinking” lean more in the indie-folk direction, “Out of Nowhere” and “Fighting Wars From Every Direction” have an alternative rock vibe, and songs like “Daydream” and “Driving” maintain more of a soul and R&B sound. This wide variety of genres and influences throughout the album make the listening process fresh and avoids it from feeling oversaturated for both the band and the listener.
Johnson discussed the writing and recording of the ninth song of the album, “Overthinking,” which was written during the height of the pandemic within a time-span of about 45 minutes. Describing it as a “more introspective song, that is vulnerable…I try to lead with vulnerability with my writing, and after I came up with the first progression on the guitar it felt like such an emotion.” The tone and the energy of the chords was the driving force in how the band came to the idea of overthinking: “your mind is racing like a highway, and each thought is like a car driving by.” This resonates with the band’s TikTok bio which reads: “if you’re overthinking, send a text.” Johnson felt that being really specific with the writing of feelings and emotions is what enables the listener to relate more closely to the song. So for the closing verse of the song, “we wanted it to feel like this big cataclysmic moment of realization and energy.” It’s rare to find artists that can convey raw emotion through both their lyrics and music, but this is exactly what Juniper does by being vulnerable in “Overthinking.”
New music and more shows are in Juniper’s future, as they’ll be playing another live show in Manhattan at the Bowery Electric on November 12th, and at Pearl Street Warehouse in D.C on November 19th. Ultimately, Juniper wants “to maintain this mentality and identity of feeling and sounding like a band, but with modern production.” They want to be that next big band, and with what they’ve been able to accomplish thus far as independent artists, their goals may not be so far out of reach.
Written by: Molly MacDuff
Molly MacDuff is a writer and editor currently attending Emerson College’s Publishing and Writing MA program.
Ahead of her forthcoming album, Public Storage, bedroom-pop artist Hana Vu releases latest single, “Keeper.”
What goes up, must come down– as with summer loving comes autumn heartbreak. Luckily, bedroom-pop artist, Hana Vu has provided us with the perfect bed to cry on with her latest single, “Keeper.” Encompassed by a haze of synths, “Keeper” emphasizes that we all have a choice; how we choose to view situations can differ greatly from how those situations may actually be. From wearing rose-colored glasses (“Are you a dreamer? / Oh, I dream in gold / Are you my keeper?”) to adopting a villainous narrative (“Oh, I’m fake, unreal / and all other evil things you think that I could be.”), Vu traverses different lenses and masks of the truth with the track.
The single was released in conjunction with a music video featuring Vu performing emotive choreography by Jas Lin. After hearing the single, the video’s director, Maegan Houang, wanted to create a visual that would stress how isolating it can be to feel invisible or misunderstood: “By shooting the video in a single take we never let the audience off the hook. Just like Hana, we’re trapped in a cycle of being constantly ignored. I set the film in a family environment because as viewers we usually associate families with a sense of security and safety. The family environment created a contrast to Hana’s bursting performance and underscored the pain of not being visible, even sometimes by your own relatives.”
“Keeper” is a satiating appe-teaser from Vu’s forthcoming album, Public Storage, set to be released via Ghostly Nov. 5. Having moved around a lot as a child, Vu and her family made good use of storage units, hence the album’s title. Vu takes a similar approach to writing, producing and curating her chronicles as one does to moving house. A press release for the album describes Public Storage as Vu excavating an internal universe: “loading and unpacking memories, moods, and imagined scenes with brooding introspection, agency, charisma, and conviction.” Written from her bedroom, Vu describes the collection as “these public expressions of thoughts, feelings, baggage, experiences that accumulate every year and fill little units such as ‘albums.’” For most of us, our baggage tends to remain hidden and tucked away, but the courageous 21-year-old is proudly displaying her skeletons.
The album’s lead single, “Maker,” is very sonically different from synth-heavy, booming “Keeper.” The track is a gentle, banjo-driven cry to the universe: “Save me, oh, my angel /Are you angry? / ‘Cause I’m not strongеr and I crumble / Oh, that’s my nature / Just like you.” Vu explained her thought process behind writing the song: “I am not religious but I imagined a sort of desolate character crying out to an ultimately punitive force for something more.”
The video for the single, directed by Lucy Sandler, provides a stunning visual representation of desperately seeking refuge, peace and guidance during times of feeling lost. Sandler stated: “I want the little girl to speak to everyone’s inner child, and remind us that nothing has really changed. We are still allowed to feel lost and search for meaning in everything we encounter, that the journey may be long and scary but we will all end up back in the fold of safety eventually or just where we’re meant to be.”
In astrology, Mars is the god of war; the planet of energy, action and desire. When we think of Mars, the first phrase that should come to mind is “do it.” A testament to the unwavering energy of the planet, Louisville R&B freshman, Marzz released her debut EP Love Letterz with Keep Cool/RCA Records last month.
Written in the artist’s bevy of color-coded notebooks she keeps in her backpack to help process her synesthesia, the project is a collection of diary entries in the form of song. “I’ve come to a point in my life where I really don’t care what people say,” the artist stated in an interview with Uproxx, “I have to do this, I have to put my feelings out because if not, it’s going to eat me up alive.”
Co-written by Timbaland, “Cleopatra” exemplifies the artist’s commitment to truth, even when it’s hard– especially the second verse: “I haven’t seen you shine in a long time, why? / Guess that means I gotta give you space, then bye / I see your true colors, please don’t make me / Feel your emptiness, you know that ain’t me / I got way too much on my mind, yeah we / Ain’t going back ’cause that shit ain’t healthy.” After stumbling upon it purely on accident, the first listen of “Cleopatra” resulted in an embarrassing amount of head nodding and shoulder shaking. In the music video for the track, you hear Marzz’s voice accurately preface what’s to come: “You are now entering a vibe.” And oh, what a vibe it is.
From childhood, the artist has used her color method to process and express her emotions as well. In an interview with Women In Pop, she dove into each color’s meaning, saying, “Blue is for when I’m excited. Purple is when I’m anxious, yellow’s when I’m sad, red is when I’m angry.” She continued, “I know for a fact that my red notebook was definitely my favorite. I used to write in that and whenever I got mad– I was never a verbal person –I’d hold my notebook up and be like, ‘No, listen, this is why I’m mad!’”
Marzz describes “Countless Times,” the latest single from the EP, as red and purple, saying, “You’re seeing a lot of anxiousness, a lot of worry. It was definitely a lot of draining emotion that definitely put a toll on me.” The track describes being on the precipice of the decision of whether to stay or walk away from an up-and-down relationship. “I know what I want now. The way that I want to be treated,” she stated, “I’m putting in the love and respect that I would want in return. I definitely believe in karma, so I feel like the good energy you put out is the good energy that you receive.”
Sad Girl Summer is in full swing, and once again, Charlotte Day Wilsonhas provided a most fitting soundtrack.
The R&B singer and producer released Alpha, her debut full-length album on July 9th. Clocking in at 33 minutes with 11 tracks, Alpha showcases not only the artist’s silky voice and solemn songwriting ability, but her undeniable brilliance as a producer.
CDW has a knack for accurately emulating otherwise difficult-to-process emotions through the layered production that she executes. Produced and written solely by Wilson, the project’s intro, “Strangers,” is a perfect example of this. The track begins with the recurring press of a single piano key, gently swaddled by an overlay of somewhat distorted vocal harmonies, as more strings bleed and blend into the lyrics: “Girl, you’ve got to listen please, as I talk in my dreams / As I speak a illegibly / Apologize if I can’t come to you coherently / As I feel this weight in me.” The song as a whole encapsulates the final gasps of forlorn one feels in a love unrequited before acceptance.
It’s almost impossible to understand just how Wilson is able to evoke such complex emotions through music. There is a natural talent there that isn’t easy to dial down to a definitive source, even for the artist herself. “It’s strange because I’m kind of a quiet person. I really don’t like public speaking; words aren’t always my friend,” the artist said in an interview with Billboard. “And then when I’m singing, for some reason I find that clarity when I’m mixing words with melodies. I find that I’m able to communicate ideas that I can’t communicate without music.”
Another thing CDW would like us to be aware of is the fact that these are songs of love that isn’t heteronormative. In a 2018 interview with Vice, the artist spoke about the lack of lesbian representation in music, saying, “I don’t think a lot of women are singing about their lesbian love to R&B. I don’t know if I’ve heard that that much.” There is a void within the industry that’s slowly being filled with romantic love between women that isn’t overtly sexual nor cleverly cloaked queer bait.
She continues, saying, “If you know that I’m gay, you’re like, ‘this is a little more interesting’—there’s another layer of identity and sexuality that’s happening.” Thanks to Wilson and other artists like Syd (who is also featured on “Take Care of You“), and Deb Never, songs written about same sex love are becoming more normalized within the industry. At its core, CDW’s music can be universally understood by anyone who’s ever been lucky enough to experience the spoils of love and the growth that heartache can incur.
The emotion behind “If I Could” is a testament to Wilson’s human identity, sexuality aside. Written by Merna Bishouty and produced by Wilson and Jack Rochon, “If I Could” is a stripped-down track that Wilson fancies as a letter to her younger self. “I felt a deep and immediate connection to Merna’s perspective on the desire to protect and save someone from their demons, and I was honored to collaborate with her on the song,” the artist stated in a press release for the music video. The music video features poetry by Mustafa, fellow musician and good friend of Wilson.
Although Wilson has proven her ability to create magic unaccompanied, she is no stranger to collaboration. The project features an interlude written and performed by Daniel Caesar with Wilson providing backup vocals. “…When I heard his verse just on its own with nothing underneath it, I was like, ‘This is just so powerful and would be a perfect moment in between ‘Mountains’ and ‘Changes,”” the artist told Billboard, “And I mean, his lyrics are very beautiful, and they’re personal to him, and I feel like they also speak to me, so I just felt like it fit perfectly on the record.”
Co-written by industry legend Babyface, and featuring the backing vocals of Caesar, CDW released “Mountains” in 2019. Produced by Wilson herself with additional production by D’Mile, “Mountains” is steeped in gospel and drenched in torment, making it the most emotive track on the album by far. The sound of streaming water and gentle piano keys open the track as the chorus creeps in with increasing intensity: “Up on a mountain / Search through the valley / Can you hear me calling? / Won’t you come find me?” The track is chalked full of The Good Stuff we call peaks and valleys, no pun intended.
The latest single from the album, “Keep Moving” navigates the abstract minefield of subtle rejection and portrays the evolution we make from desperation to acceptance in due course. When it feels like something is slipping right through your fingertips, eventually you’re forced to come to a place of acceptance; you begin to accept that what once was is no longer, no matter how hard you may try to bring it back. “I came to collide, but you grip in case / You just wanna fall back, babe / I need you to love me like that, babe,” CDW croons on the second verse.
The track’s own production somehow captures the hesitation felt before making the reluctant decision of forward motion away from a relationship. “While you might want something, it might not be the best thing for you,” the artist said of the song in an interview with VMP. “I tend to be a cerebral person,” she continued, “and I’ll sit and think about things forever and, for me, it was kind of just a reminder to get out of my head and make sure I continue to actually live in the real world and not only in my head, and just, yeah, keep moving.”
Imagine hovering just a few inches above the ground, donning a pearly-white smile with a far-off look in your eye, a gentle hum of strings following you wherever you find yourself. This is how I envision neo-soul songstress, Mereba, drifting through her day-to-day life. The Philadelphia native released an equally ethereal EP last month. 7 tracks of musings tinted in beguiling shades of hazel and cinnamon, AZEB follows Mereba’s 2018 album, The Jungle is the Only Way Out.
There are three common themes spread throughout the EP: war, peace and gold. “Aye, aye, it’s a war like every day / Keep my gold up in my safe / They won’t bring me to my knees,” Mereba croons on the project’s intro, “Aye.” On the track, the artist navigates combat while clinging to pacifism: “I’m tryna master peace / Please don’t you disturb me / Your weapons can’t hurt me / My essence is shot-proof.”
AZEB‘s minimalist approach to production leaves plenty of space for Mereba to do what she does best: flex her songwriting talent. AZEB is laden with social commentary cloaked in and intertwined with poetry, a skill that Mereba executes better than many songwriters today. The artist’s folkloric songwriting ability is the brush she uses to paint dark realities a golden hue. This has been proven true with previous tracks like TJITOWO’s “Heatwave” and “Black Truck.”
The music video for the EP’s first single, “Rider,” sees Mereba and company in the middle of a barren desert landscape. The scene is almost dystopian, like a crew of drifters seeking refuge in a post-apocalyptic era. The song itself is a declaration of commitment to a deserving lover: “I needed a real one/ Call me if you’re on the run / You knew just what it was / I knew just what it was / We knew that it was love.”
References of gold are generously sprinkled throughout AZEB. Similar to Mick Jenkins’s proclivity for drinking more water, gold to Mereba is representative of pure, all-encompassing love. “I want to remind people of love, too. The very thing we deserve the right to do, and to be,” the artist has stated. On “Go(l)d,” Mereba solidifies this deduction by equating it to being “like a lighthouse in a blackout,” even as “the world we know, it went up in smoke.”
“Beretta,” my personal favorite track on the project, is a song gilded in optimism and commitment: “If this ink could seep into your cerebellum / I would so eloquently scribe my feelings unto thee / So that you would never not remember / But lemme see, if the way I feel for you is reciprocated too.”
“Another Kin,” the project’s only interlude, highlights the mental and emotional fatigue of seeing death day in and day out. Clocking in at just one minute and eighteen seconds, “Another Kin” is a gentle proclamation of how grief has become a daily occurrence for people of color. “News Come” is a more in-depth plea, rather– demand, for social and racial justice, equality and a call for reparations: “I’m done being nervous / When they see us switch lanes and swerve it / Ah, we’re diamonds under the dirt here / System don’t deserve us.”
The title of the project, AZEB, is Mereba’s middle name. The word is an Amharic term for the very point in which the sun rises. With this project, one can assume Mereba hopes to not only shed light on systems that directly affect her and many others but to also bring light and precious gold to those who may be stuck in the dark.
Hailing from Denton, TX, sister duo, Eaglin, released their latest single, “Maybe (We’ll Get Better Soon)” last month. The single is a goosebumps-inducing, blues-infused ballad that somehow sounds the way that homesickness feels, with an incredibly captivating bridge that will, without a shadow of a doubt, have you singing, “Thinkin! About you! Brings a smile to my face, even now.” The track was blessed by the hands of Grammy award winner McKenzie Smith and lauded guitarist Joey McClellan. When the single popped up in my inbox, I decided I would be remiss if I didn’t try to make contact.
“Maybe (We’ll Get Better Soon)” is an ode to the pandemic in a way. Societal anxiety of the unknown became the cultural norm during the early days of the pandemic, which in turn, became a breeding ground for creativity for many artists. We have a cocktail of isolated free time and spiraling thoughts to thank for a good portion of the creativity that has been displayed in the last 15ish months. Eaglin is no exception to that.
“I was laying outside at my family’s home in Texas, with the sun shining down, after being cold in New York for the past 6 months,” Bailee said, painting the picture of how the track was written. “There was a moment where I felt so hopeful for the future and what the next year might bring following the grim, sad reality the pandemic was sure to bring. I also remember feeling so unbelievably grateful to be at home with my parents and sister,” she continued, “I was missing friends who were far away but I knew there’d be a day when we could reconnect and thought about how sweet it would be.”
Kenzie offers a more melancholy and less optimistic perspective to the track. “When I wrote the second verse,” Kenzie stated, “I was feeling some emotions that were dark and confusing, and I feel as though this song paraphrased those feelings, which resulted in a beautiful body of work.”
Eaglin released “Maybe” as a follow-up to “Vanilla,” which was released back in February. The tracks differ vastly in sound and subject matter, as “Vanilla” is a sweeter-than-candy pop-rock track. Eaglin’s self-titled debut EP, set to release later this month, will be an exhibition of their sweeping wingspan of talent. When asked what to expect of the debut, Bailee stated, “A range of different sounds with one common thread: summer! We wanted to make a sunny, fun body of work that also showcases our different writing and music styles. We have a lot of influences, Kenzie has a lot of vocal range, so we didn’t hold back. We really think there’s something for everyone, here.”
Those influences that Bailee mentioned include practically their entire family. I’m talking the whole roost. “We have a large family and are blessed to have known our grandparents and even our great-grandparents,” Bailee said, “We are multiracial and ethnically diverse as a family, so we really had access to so many different cultural norms and traditions.”
Eaglin’s multicultural rearing heavily impacted their musical preferences, which vary in genre. “Being biracial in the 2000s really effected my music taste,” Kenzie said, “I grew up listening to what our parents grew up listening to, as well as new artists they were into. Our dad played gospel and R&B, while our mom was super into Aerosmith, Journey, and Celine Dion. This introduced me to different worlds of music at a very young age, and I’m forever grateful.”
Bailee and Kenzie were blessed from both sides of their family with the musical gene; the duo’s aunt is a respected gospel singer in Houston and their father grew up singing in church choirs, but no one has inspired these sisters like their mother. “Our mother is an incredible singer as well,” Bailee said, “She’s my biggest inspiration without a doubt.”
The familial inspiration doesn’t stop there, though. Bailee, 24, is a self-taught guitarist who picked up the instrument thanks to her aunt. “My moms sister, my aunt Amanda, if I really take a second to think about it, might’ve been one of my largest musical influences,” Bailee said, “She was always listening to the coolest albums and going to live shows. She’d take me to live rock concerts on week nights when no 6/7 year old on earth was probably out, and it absolutely shaped my perception of musicians and performance.” She continued, “She bought me my first guitar when I was six years old or something like that and signed me up for lessons.”
Despite taking lessons, Bailee struggled to hone her attention, saying, “I couldn’t sit still or focus on anything the instructor was trying to teach me, so I quit very soon after and would only pick up the guitar to pretend to play or try strumming along to something but I couldn’t read music, and I didn’t know any chords so I’d mainly pluck along with single notes. At ten, my uncle bought me a new guitar, and showed me a g chord. The rest was history! I played so much and began to write nearly every day.”
I asked the sisters what the next year has in store for them, as a duo and individually, and the two agreed on one thing: more music. “A year from now, I think we can count on several Eaglin projects that we are super proud of,” Bailee said. “We have plans for later this year that I can’t even believe we’re getting to share. Individually, I see myself someplace sunny, chugging along and continuing to expand the role of music in my life.” Kenzie plans to attend college in the fall, but says music will remain a high priority for her.