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Look & Listen Reviews Roundups

2020: TGG Roundup

It should be no secret that creativity kept the majority of us afloat throughout a very tumultuous and traumatic year. With unforeseen obstacles around every corner, some new beast lurking and watching nearby, waiting for the right moment to pull the foundational Jenga piece right out from under, it was difficult to remain optimistic in the face of 2020. Today’s roundup is dedicated to the artists whose music kept me company during an emotionally, financially and socially grueling year.

A brief aside: With 2021 right around the corner, I’d like to take a moment for some mild sappiness to extend a hand of gratitude to this blog’s readers. I started TGG as a distraction from a lot of things I was struggling to face, and in turn was forced to face them in roundabout ways through music, introspection and discussion with a diverse group of people. With each roundup, it’s typical of me to mention the horrors of 2020, but without the trials of this year, you wouldn’t be reading today because this blog wouldn’t exist as it does in its current form. Thank you for reading, for the support and for continuing with me on this ride through 2021. Thank you to the artists for your submissions. May we all find ourselves sailing smoothly into the new year.

Back to business. Sadly, there will be no roundup for the month of December, but the roundup playlist has been updated in accordance to the month’s listens and releases. The autumn playlist has also officially transitioned to winter vibes, and will continue to be updated almost daily throughout the remainder of the season. Now, in no particular order, let’s get to the goods.

Synthetic Soul – Chiiild

A mysterious concoction of R&B, soul and synthesized pop results in 7-track EP, Synthetic Soul, the product of Montreal-based Chiiild. Virtually genre-less, Chiiild accelerates down a lane adjacent to Blood Orange or Tame Impala, where the point of focus falls mostly on the band’s sweeping instrumentals and sonic fluidity. We’re met with a gentle daydream of strings on the EP’s intro, “Count Me Out” which carry us through to the outro, “Easy On Yourself,” transforming into a luminous awakening.
Favorite tracks: “Pirouette,” “Hands Off Me”

SuperGood – Duckwrth

As mentioned in a previous roundup, Duckwrth’s major label debut is, essentially, a 44-minute long love letter to the ladies. Bridging gaps between pop, hip-hop, funk and soul, SuperGood is a fitting soundtrack for one’s romantic reverie. Duckwrth eclectically executes the manipulation of classic sounds paired with modernity with personality and catchy craftsmanship throughout the album. The project’s undisputed standout, “Kiss U Right Now” might find some religiously moisturizing their lips out of sheer anticipation of the mere possibility of a kiss.
Favorite Tracks: “Kiss U Right Now,” “SuperBounce”

To Myself – Baby Rose

Released in August, Baby Rose’s To Myself was a fitting conclusion to 2020’s Sad Girl Summer; the artist’s debut is a tender, simultaneously thunderous arrangement of truth and vulnerability. Pouring from an overflowing cup of talent and wisdom far beyond her years, Baby Rose’s velvety, rasping vocals sing tales of heartache and healing over somber, bluesy production on To Myself.
Favorite tracks: “Borderline,” “Show You”

The Circus – Mick Jenkins

Following 2018’s masterfully executed Pieces of a Man, The Circus admittedly pales in comparison but shines in its own right. If there’s one thing Mick Jenkins isn’t gonna do, it’s waste a word. If there’s one thing Mick Jenkins is gonna do, it’s monopolize any opportunity to contort and stretch a phrase with the utmost of ease. We’re smacked in the face with a reminder of just that on the project’s intro, “Same Ol,” where the rapper’s undeniable witticism is matched evenly with a bass-heavy Hit-Boy beat. A professional in the game of double entendre, Jenkins’s wordplay leaves The Circus in rotation for more than just a couple of spins. If you’re left wanting more, allow me to direct you to the cornucopia of songs lucky enough to have been blessed by a Jenkins feature this year. From alt-indie band Vansire’s “Central Time” to Kipp Stone’s “Sprague Street,” to name a couple, no one can say Jenkins hasn’t put in the work this year.
Favorite Tracks: “Different Scales,” “The Light”

Dance Without Me – DRAMA

If there’s anything DRAMA can do, it’s provide ample content for your breakup playlist. The Chicago-based electro-pop group released Dance Without Me, a body of work composed of upbeat songs contrasted by elegies of heartbreak, on Valentine’s Day. Two parts of a whole creates DRAMA: singer-songwriter Via Rose provides the whimsical lyricism and somber subject matter buoyed by producer Na’el Shehade’s golden touch. A valentine to those without a valentine, Dance Without Me requires you do just that– dance (and probably cry).
Favorite tracks: “7:04 AM,” “Good For Nothing”

“GED” – Lute

A tale of a humble come-up and letter of encouragement for all who are down bad, Lute’s “GED” was one of my most played songs this year. The single was released in February, following Lute’s debut with Dreamville, critically underrated West1996 Pt 2 and a particularly explosive verse on 2019’s Revenge of the Dreamers III‘s intro, “Under the Sun.” With Dreamville bankrolling your promotion, your resources are virtually limitless; as yet another act of clever marketing from the label, released with the single is the GED credit card.

Petrol Bloom – LAUREL

Sneaking in just under the wire, LAUREL released 5-track EP, Petrol Bloom just this month. The EP’s first two singles, “Scream Drive Faster” and “Best I Ever Had” received a lot of love from me upon release, so it’s only fitting that the UK vocal powerhouse and creative wunderkind made it to the final roundup. Differing vastly from her debut, Petrol Bloom is a retro-pop time warp adorned with colorful synths and LAUREL’s echoing, sometimes aching vocals.
Favorite tracks: “Best I Ever Had,” “Appetite”

Lost In June – Pip Millett

April showers bring May flowers with Pip Millett’s 8-track EP, Lost In June. The British singer-songwriter has been on the radar since her melancholic 2018 single, “Make Me Cry,” which still remains in rotation almost three years later. What sets Millett apart from the sometimes all-too-saturated world of UK neo-soul is the natural humanity and grace portrayed when delivering sweet and stirring vocals swaddled in emotionally profound lyricism. Why would anyone want to make Pip Millett cry? In order to gain a deeper understanding of something or someone, you must find the root. Millett pierces the veil with Lost In June, granting us an intimate peek at how and why she came to be the young woman she is today, paying homage and due retribution to her family and upbringing.
Favorite tracks: “Heavenly Mother,” “Ava”

Alfredo – Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist

The recipe cooked up between Freddie Gibbs’ effortlessly audacious lyricism and The Alchemist’s collation of beats sprinkled with soul and jazz brings Alfredo to the table. A surprise serving of sustenance, the collaborative effort between two hip-hop heavy hitters set social media ablaze upon release. With the project’s intro, “1985,” we pull back the velvet curtain to reveal a dimly lit room in the back where Gibbs’s sustained flow permeates the air like a haze of smoke. Like flies on the wall, we watch as the sequence unfolds to reveal much more than meets the eye.
Favorite tracks: “1985,” “Something to Rap About”

New Me, Same Us – Little Dragon

Practiced and ever-evolving Little Dragon’s latest project finds the group at the intersection of funk and R&B, with Nagano crooning anecdotes of long-term growth and revelation. Formed in 1996, Little Dragon has journeyed through varying genres throughout the years, leaving some of their finest work on other artists’ projects. That isn’t the case with this album; a rose-colored bulb in the early days of the pandemic, New Me, Same Us was a soft light in the very dark room of 2020.
Favorite tracks: “Where You Belong,” “Water”

Circles – Mac Miller

Posthumous albums were, unfortunately, in high demand in 2020. Mac Miller’s Circles ultimately set the tone for the rest of the year with its January release; beginning our year in remembrance of loss, forecasting another 12 months of, well, loss. Barely a month prior to the artist’s untimely goodbye in 2018, Mac released Swimming, a project held very dearly to many. In a similar light, Circles— which was also produced in part by composer John Brion– is one to sit with and ponder a while.
Favorite tracks: “Right,” “Woods”

Spilligion – Spillage Village

The latest generation of Atlanta’s vanguard of hip-hop and neo-soul apostles ban together to bring us an offering of salvation in the form of 12-track Spilligion. The collective’s first project since 2016’s Bears Like This Too Much differs from the group’s Bears series, which can be described as chronological checkpoints for each artist; an outward display of their creative growth throughout the years. Spilligion preaches themes of family, spirituality, sex and weed and is bolstered by the project’s gather-round-the-campfire-style production.
Favorite tracks: “Oshun,” “Mecca”

BETTER – Deante’ Hitchcock

Deante’ Hitchcock’s debut album, BETTER, holds a very special position in TGG’s archives as the first published review on the blog. Read my full review and see how far (thankfully) we’ve come since then.
Favorite tracks: “Angels,” “Circles

For a more detailed overview of the year, peruse my 2020 playlist:

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Look & Listen Reviews Roundups

Who-Knew-Vember: TGG Roundup

Hopefully this month’s roundup finds you well-rested (probably not), well-nourished (maybe if you’re lucky) and in your bag (in this economy?). With 2021 and the holiday season looming like a turkey vulture on a hot day, I believe we all may need a little reprieve from 2020’s dark realities. I come to you bearing gifts and a feast of a different sort– a feast for your ears. If you’re hungry for a little appe-teaser, check out my autumn playlist, updated daily. Tuck your napkins in, say grace and prepare to eat.

“Notice Me” – Fana Hues

25-year old singer-songwriter, Fana Hues pays homage to her roots with her latest single’s music video, which stars all 8 of her siblings and both of her parents, augmenting the song’s true meaning to Hues. Drawing from an arsenal of inspiration from the likes of Beyoncé and Anita Baker, “Notice Me” serves as a profound tribute to the artist’s upbringing.

Hues reflected on the song in a press release: “…I had found a sound that truly felt like me, so I was extra hyped about everything. I was rooted and reminded that all the things I doubted myself about, all my fears were ‘just an unpleasant dream.’ Just like my mom had said. At every turn of my life that I find clarity and meaning, I go back to the truest form of faith that I know, which is my Family. So when I shot the video, I just had to have that moment with my people.” The video, directed by Amira Hadiya, closes with an aerial shot of Hues enveloped by the arms of her family.

“Be With Me” – Miki Fiki

You might listen to Miki Fiki and wonder exactly what it is that sets them apart from your typical alt-rock indie band– one of those can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it ordeals. Hint: it’s the lack of guitar. The Nashville-based quartet consists of lead singer and keyboardist Ted Hartog, Julia Meredith providing all that sweet, sweet wind and brass, Alex Clayton on percussion and Hunter Mulkey on bass. Ted describes Miki Fiki’s sound as playful, saying, “I’ve been a bit sensitive my whole life, and time always seems to reveal an element of drama in those emotionally-charged experiences. [The emotions] are valid and what you feel is what you feel. But this band is a place to look at those emotions, those real, lived-experiences, and throw a soft smile on the whole thing.”

The band’s latest single, “Be With Me” is a declaration of ultimatums and boundaries in what one might call a “situationship.” The context of the song would be painfully transparent if it wasn’t so elegantly draped in those hopeful instrumentals Miki Fiki executes so well, softening the blow. The words “I don’t need to make you love me” never sounded so sweet.

England. – Gus Harvey

UK-based alternative R&B artist Gus Harvey released her 4-track EP, England., back in May. With a sound self-described as “UK street soul with grimy basslines,” Harvey takes us on a bit of a wild ride with this 14-minute EP. The artist gets in touch with her roots, literally, on the first track, “Garden,” which is written from the perspective of the earth. The second track, “The Frangipani Fellowship” goes deeper and darker as a diss track with experimental sampling of once-romantic-turned-ominous Cambodian music. Harvey slows things down with the last two tracks on the EP, allowing a brief but plaintive peek at unabashed vulnerability, specifically with the EP’s stripped-down standout, “Albion.”

there goes the neighborhood. – grouptherapy.

Fresh-faced LA hip-hop collective groupthrapy. released their debut album, there goes the neighborhood. in late October. Consisting of Jadagrace, KOI, and TJW, grouptherapy. brings a three-course meal to the table with their latest project. The group released an EP earlier this year titled this is not the album. which prepared us for the heat to come on there goes the neighborhood. With a trio as talented and versatile as this, we’re given a different flavor with each track on the album.

In the project’s intro, “yessir,” we enter the group session with confident words of affirmation: “Look like diamonds when I glow / Turn my trauma into commas / Take my time before I go.” Further along in the project, we have Jadagrace providing untamed and well-timed idiomatic bars over a Dee Lilly beat on the project’s first single, “raise it up!” which was released with a nostalgic music video paying homage to an early 2000’s classic, Bring It On. Things slow down with the project’s latest single, “watercolor,” a melodic track clothed in R&B. The project’s striking and abstract artwork is brought to us by ASLUR, which sees the three members distortedly and pleasantly portrayed in blue, orange and purple.

Therapy Through an LP – Nocturnal

From Connecticut-based hip-hop artist Nocturnal, conceptual album Therapy Through an LP has found a home in my library, and here’s hoping this project couch-surfs its way over to yours as well. The 15-track project cleverly begins with the outro which then leads into the spoken intro– a dialogue between the artist and a therapist over distorted dial tones and rising strings, preparing us for the voyage ahead. Nocturnal lays it all to bear throughout the project, staying true to the theme. Nostalgic, hungry production is a puzzle-piece perfect fit with Nocturnal’s classic cadence and merciless lyricism; Therapy Through an LP is a bloodthirsty and poignant exposition of what it means to feel without inhibition and leave it all on the page– or the mic.

“Broke Times” – Huckleberry Funk

Bringing in some hometown pride, we have Indiana-based Huckleberry Funk entering the ring with “Broke Times,” which hits a little too close to home. The best way to describe Huckleberry Funk is as a melting pot of sound– a sprinkle of hip-hop, a pinch of R&B, dash of soul and a whole lot of funk, of course.

In an email to TGG, Huck Funk’s lead singer Dexter Clardy details his hopes for how “Broke Times” may serve those who listen, saying the track “speaks a firm message that as people listen, it more hopefully can turn into more of an affirmation for folks to no longer allow themselves to be broken. Broken whether that be financially, in spirit or in faith in oneself.” Clardy continues with a concept I’m sure we’re all very familiar with, saying, “It’s very easy in this world we live in to get caught up in the day to day rat race of life, and follow the path we’ve been told all our lives. ‘Go to school, graduate, get a good job and you’ll be happy.’ We’re always told that we should follow dreams, but oftentimes aren’t encouraged, nor do we allow ourselves to do so once the time to actually grab life for ourselves comes.” Clardy closes with some final keys of wisdom: “We all have the same 24 hours, but what we do or don’t do with that time is up to us.”

“If I Gotta Run” – Tim Chadwick

Irish pop artist, Tim Chadwick is no stranger to identity confusion; in an interview with Gay Times, the artist spoke on his struggles with coming out, saying, “…when I came out I was actually struck with a lot more anxiety than I had before, because now there was this expectation that I would be my true and authentic self – but if you’ve never been that, how do you know what that is? I came out when I was 21, and it’s taken me until now – and you can see it in the music – to own my sexuality and finally be comfortable in a setting where everyone else is so proud and just being themselves. I tried to fit in to be straight and that didn’t work, so I was like, obviously I need to come out, but then it was like, ‘I don’t know how to act now’. It wasn’t that big euphoric coming out that I thought it would be. It was very much like, ‘Oh well now I have even more soul-searching and growing up to do’.”

Since 2019’s “I Need To Know,” the artist’s career has seen a steady incline and Chadwick is leaning into his booming emo-pop sound with his latest, “If I Gotta Run.” The single’s predecessor “Only Me” personally read me for filth so you could imagine my excitement at a new release from this one-of-a-kind artist– thankfully, I was not disappointed. “If I Gotta Run” couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for my fellow singletons during the most confusing time of the year: cuffing season. Chadwick is set to release a 5-track EP in January of 2021, so for now, we’ll be dancing in our bedrooms alone, eating the crumbs he’s so graciously left for us.

“Terry Crews” – Lo Village

TGG favorite Lo Village released an open letter in the form of “Terry Crews” to the actor back in October. In case you missed it, the actor has been in the hot seat for quite some time for his controversial takes on the BLM movement via Twitter. Lo Village’s discordant single, produced by Frankie Scoca features pensive verses from group members Ama, Kane and Tyler. The track is not only a letter to Crews but is addressed to others whose perspective might have become blurred by their own celebrity and status, as the melodic phrase “the money not gon’ save you” is sprinkled throughout. With the single comes a can’t-look-away visual from 3D artist, Daun, where Crews’s warped and lifeless floating head rolls to and fro.

If after this feast, you’re still hungry, listen to the roundup playlist, updated every month:

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Reviews

Terrell Hines’s Ominous Premonition: “We’re All Gonna Be Killed”

Renaissance man and TGG favorite, Terrell Hines couldn’t have released his sardonic yet harrowing single “We’re All Gonna Be Killed” at a more appropriate time. The first single since his August debut, Portal One: The Mixtape, “‘We’re All Gonna Be Killed’ is just me reflecting on how sinister humans can be,” Hines stated in a press release, “Nothing is okay.”

Hines doles out harsh realities cloaked in satire shortly after the eerie and stripped intro, exposing our collective naïveté over a frenzied beat: “It was so many designs, the whole world they computing / stuck inside the parallel, goddamn, we hyper-looping.” Reflecting on the beast that is 2020, the artist brings darkness to light via his crystal ball on the second and final verse: “I don’t do politics, it’s all lawless / this is titanium mixed with rawness / yeah, I’m back like I never left / told me to tell you that you need help / sinister leaders that follow scripts / just a head with a body and nothing else.”

Photo credit: Cynthia Parkhurst

Released with the single is a burlesque-style music video in which Hines portrays a caricatural master of ceremonies in a top hat and white suit, akin to the White Rabbit. Directed by Danielle DeGrasse-Alston, the video features Hines governing wrestling matches between children while a door, left slightly ajar, leading to the “Death Room” looms in the background.

In the outro, the artist gives an inauspicious albeit cheery farewell: “See you next week– same time same place, but the way the social climate looks, we may never see each other again.”

Stream “We’re All Gonna Be Killed” in the swiftly approaching hours of election night and don’t forget to vote. 🙂

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Reviews

Navigating Dreamland: Sarah Meth’s Dead End World

London-based 20-year old songwriter, Sarah Meth, released her debut EP, Dead End World, last week. Consisting of just four songs, the EP was written over three years ago. “Dead End World is an EP I wrote during my teenage years, so naturally the lyrics are more centered around trying to make sense of the near-adult world around me, as well as who I was at that age,” the artist said of the project. Dead End World is a showcase of Sarah Meth’s confounding songwriting abilities accompanied by exquisitely assembled instrumentals.

Similar to the illusory experience of waking several hours before the sun on an early Sunday morning, the EP’s intro, “If Only You Knew,” leaves you in a fog, feeling somewhat isolated yet hopeful for the day’s potential. The song’s hazy layers of brass and strings interwoven with Meth’s lush vocals will find you wandering through daydreams without haste or any desire for grounding.

The EP’s title track comes next, guiding us through our continued delirium. “Dead End World” is the disembodied hand poking through the fog, and because we’ve just been left in a daze, we blindly reach out to follow suit. Despite being written 3 years prior to the EP’s release, the song eerily and aptly portrays today’s societal climate: “I see hospitals surrender to people sickly thin / but those first in line don’t seem to bat an eye / because they have the money rolling in / and our friends, our friends are dying / because of the color of their skin / so we cry because the system just ain’t right / but the sirens aren’t sleeping tonight.”

“Tangled,” the artist’s latest single follows the title track. The song is a stripped, raw reminder that as easy as it is to give all of ourselves to another, self-love should always hold precedence. In a press release, Meth said the song is “really a ‘note to self’ about how easy it is to get knotted up in the way you feel. It’s meaning to me continues to change over time, but it’s a song that always seems to make sense when I come back to it.” Watch the artist’s intimate live performance of the song:

“What Does It Mean” is our reflective and groggy end to the lucid dream that is Dead End World. Written when Meth was just 15, the song examines community standards of womanhood. Throughout the brief, 3-verse song, we hear Meth navigating the familiar– sadly, often sordid– path from adolescence to adulthood in the position of a young woman: “What does it mean if everything I stand for / is betrayed by my greed to give myself away? / and so, I lose all of my dignity / have I failed to be / everything a woman should be?

Listen to Dead End World here.

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Interviews Reviews

Capturing Butterflies with Bea Bitter

Fluttering about anxiously with bright-eyed optimism and breathless anticipation, Bea Bitter’s latest single, “Serpent,” perfectly encapsulates the drunken euphoria of plummeting down The Rabbit Hole of Something New. Similar to those colorfully winged vibrating insects, this song can be felt in the gut. The single’s bewitching instrumentation tells a story of its own– a bass-driven expedition, gracefully catapulting our vessel into an ocean of brassy swells with beautifully assembled elemental percussion navigating the route. “Serpent” is Bea Bitter’s Siren Song.

The single follows Bitter’s first solo endeavor, “Dopamine,” a melancholy song about coming to grips with the love lost over a relationship’s lifespan and the sudden sobering realization of what the self truly needs in order to be happy.

“I think ‘Serpent’ is almost the emotional antithesis to ‘Dopamine,’ in a way,” the artist told The Greater Good. “The song is about deeply wanting to be intoxicating and entrancing to someone in the way that they are to you— it’s all about longing and desire, whereas ‘Dopamine’ is about being stuck in a relationship that feels dull, muted, and suffocating,” she continued, “I think you hit the nail on the head, the lyrics for ‘Serpent’ were definitely inspired by those butterflies you get when you are absolutely infatuated with someone, and all you want is for them to see you the same way.”

Hailing from Nashville, TN, Bea Bitter, or Brenna Kassis, gained primary traction with indie-alt band Ill Spector. Former Ill Spector band mate and life-long friend of Kassis, Max Colbert is responsible for the single’s production. Fellow Nashville artist, Noah Nockels, mastered the track.

I asked the artist about the trials and tribulations she’s experienced while being a young maverick in the industry, to which she responded, “I would say being an independent artist comes with restrictions in the way you can make your ideas become a reality when it comes to resources.” She continued, “It can feel lonely and a drudge in the worst moments, but those are the moments I try not to dwell on.” Keeping your circle full of those whose energies rejuvenate and inspire is of the utmost importance to help stave off the looming malefactor for any creative– burnout. “I’ve found that by surrounding myself with artists of all mediums that I respect and admire, we as a community can create some really beautiful stuff that we can showcase and be proud of.” She continued, “I think it’s so important to build up and support the creatives around you— I mean some of my favorite artists are also my closest friends. I look forward to watching them grow and pursue their art and hopefully grow alongside them.”

The young artist has much more in store for the future– in addition to an upcoming stand-alone single, “Pocket Knife,” Bea Bitter is currently working with Max Colbert crafting and formulating her debut EP, aptly named The Lull Before the End of the World.

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Reviews

Charlotte Day Wilson’s Sad Girl Summer

Charlotte Day Wilson has somehow managed to acquire the coveted recipe for sonic success, consisting of the following compounded elements: the emotive prose of a celebrated folk songwriter, unique vocal capabilities– unobtainable by us mere peasants– and equal parts both heart and soul. Whether the artist made a deal with the devil in exchange for her creative gifts is yet to be determined; Wilson steers her metaphorical wagon down her own musical lane, taking alternative routes to the final destination: The Feels. In this week’s continuation of Sad Girl Summer, we’re covering Wilson’s most recent release, a transcendental single two-pack: “Take Care Of You” and “Summertime.”

Produced by Wilson and Jack Ro, the singles are an auditory expedition, with whispering acoustic instrumentation progressing into layered and augmented swells. On “Take Care Of You,” Wilson is joined by Syd, best known as the front-person for R&B collective, The Internet. The song is a sobering plea for vulnerability and trust, a delicate topic to broach with any relationship flight risk.

Wilson balances coping with the detachment from a romantic partner and welcoming the almighty villains of interpersonal relationships: time and distance with “Summertime.” The track gives us a sample tasting of the specific breed of confusion often only found in love, leaving us in a mental fog long after the song’s breathy outro. The track is short, coming in at two minutes and thirty-two seconds, and begs to be repeated.

With a catalog chalked full of collaborative efforts with the likes of Daniel Caesar, BADBADNOTGOOD, and KAYTRANADA, the vocalist surpasses others in the game with a trained yet subdued passion and funereal gloominess. The singles come almost a full year after Wilson’s 2019 single, soulful and somber “Mountains,” which continues to be in TGG’s regular rotation. The artist has yet to release a full-length, so here’s hoping this dual drop is foreshadowing the artist’s album debut.

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Interviews Reviews

Finding Paradise with Whesli

“‘Lost In Paradise’ was a specific vibe we produced based on the song I wrote about my life and experiences recently– feeling unsure about my future and not really enjoying myself in the city I live in.”

From Tulsa, OK, Whesli was met with a cultural shift when she moved to Los Angeles to pursue music. The independent songwriter released her soulful single, “Lost In Paradise” in June. The track is a wake-up call, with somber lyrics like “Guess I’m swimming in a shallow ocean/ My comfort don’t comfort me” and upbeat production converging to create a very specific breed of song– the type of song fit for your early morning drive to a new job on a beautiful summer morning, only to be met with stop-and-go traffic. Hopeful but anxious.

“I write about experiences that are very personal and real to me, mostly as a therapeutic way of dealing with my emotions, but also on the off chance that someone might be able to relate to what I’m saying and not feel so alone with their emotions.”

Sometimes, we miss something we never really had; the record’s homesick feeling isn’t directed towards Whesli’s hometown so much as a home she’s yet to find. When asked where the longing for familiarity on “Lost In Paradise” stems from, the songwriter told The Greater Good, “I wouldn’t even say that the song is about missing my ‘home,’ because sometimes I don’t even know where that is. But it’s just feeling like where you are right now isn’t ‘it.’ Just waking up and not remembering why you’re doing what you’re doing, in a place that can feel really cold at times, just feeling unsure about everything.”

The artist announced the single’s release on Instagram, crediting the likes of audio engineer Damien Lewis and producer Daniel Perback.

The record’s production is atmospheric of Sad Girl Summer. “We wanted it to have these warm vibes that reflect a lot of Los Angeles mixed with this underlying coldness and uncertainty a lot of people have living in big cities,” Whesli explains, “You’re around a lot of people but can still feel alone. And I had this feeling and idea for the song for a while, the verse and the chorus, but the song didn’t really click and come together until a pretty dramatic event made me almost lose somebody,” she continues, “which made everything else feel pretty insignificant in comparison to having this person in my life. That’s when I finished the pre-chorus, which basically is saying, all these other things in life are great and can be fun and all, but what really matters is you.”

Growing up as a preacher’s daughter, Whesli has always found herself around music. The artist spoke of her journey to her sound, saying, “I basically just fell in love with all kinds of music and digested any and all music that spoke to me. From there, the natural step was to pick up a guitar and try to see if I could imitate what I heard. And not long after, the music became an escape and a way for me to express my emotions and what was on my mind.” The artist picked up that guitar and performed a particularly lovely rendition of The Beatles’s “Blackbird” for her Youtube channel in 2015.

Whesli describes herself as “free spirited when it comes to my art. My journey, like many others, has consisted of highs and lows– trying to figure myself and my music out, but I feel very positive about where I’m heading.” We feel very positive about where this insightful songwriter is headed, too.

Listen to “Lost In Paradise” now and keep your peepers peeled for Whesli in the future.

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Reviews

Astral Projection with Ellie Dixon

UK artist Ellie Dixon routes our journey to infinity and beyond with the her newest single, “Space Out.” This alt-pop certified banger hones in on the fine line between reality and fantasy. In addition to lyrical witticism, the DIY artist takes quirky craftsmanship to the next level, planting “sample easter eggs” throughout her production, collecting sounds from glass jars and microwave doors, among other things. If Marina and Still Woozy were to unite in creative collaboration, that brainchild would look a lot like Ellie Dixon’s “Space Out.”

In an email to The Greater Good, the artist recounted her experience with writing the song, which is jam-packed with interstellar wordplay: “It was an unusual writing process for me because I don’t tend to write in stages, but this song was born out of a verse I wrote for a music challenge at the start of lockdown.”

“I had a really good response to the lyrics and the flow of it and lots of people asked for me to release it, so I got to work on producing a backing and writing the rest of the song.”

It’s important to have an active imagination and to connect with your inner child as often as the opportunity presents itself, as without imagination, we would have no innovation. Dixon clarifies, “The term ‘spaced out’ can mean a lot of things for different people but for me it was more about when I get lost in my music-making and retreat into my own galaxy,” Dixon says, “This state of two halves where you feel detached but also find great creativity and fun can be born out of it.”

The artist continues, touching on the hidden blessing of being a creative with nothing but time on her hands, “In lockdown, I’ve been making music 24/7 as I’ve had no other commitments, so it’s been an excuse to constantly make content. It has been amazing because it’s a free pass to do what I love, but it can become all-consuming and I forget to ‘come back down to Earth’ which can result in burnout.”

The 21-year old self-managed artist isn’t in any rush to put out a full-length at the moment; she’s planning to utilize this time to craft her individual sound, saying, “I would love to release a full album but I’m currently playing with where my sound is taking me. I’m going to be working on lots of new material and I’m working on more collaborations with other artists, so if things start shaping up into cohesive projects then album ahoy!”

For now, you can unleash your inner child and tap into your own imagination with “Space Out!

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Cat Ryan – Blessed Through the TV

Newcastle-based alt-rock group, Cat Ryan released their single “Blessed Through the TV” last month. The track is an anomaly– a wonder-cluster of insightful lyricism in marriage with contemporary grittiness and Japanese orchestration.

The track’s lyrics focus on a one-foot-in, one-foot-out mentality. The group’s front-woman, Mary-Anne Murphy, spoke about the inspiration for the track– an angel figurine sent to her by her aunt– saying, “The Pope had done a mass blessing through the television, telling people to hold items up to the TV to be blessed. It didn’t quite make sense to me; it was almost a half-hearted blessing, and this sparked the ideas behind the song.”

Cat Ryan can be best described as neo-90s alternative rock. “Alternative” is somewhat of a broad term that often refers to music created outside of industry norms. Cat Ryan is alternative in the way that they’re able to capture and utilize experimental aspects of sound and fuse those findings together to create something out of the ordinary. This, in conjunction with well-rounded yet complex lyrical themes, is what sets this group apart. While sustaining independent ingenuity, the group draws inspiration from the likes of Wolf Alice and Vampire Weekend.

Cat Ryan: Simon Tarbox, Mary-Anne Murphy, Lucas Rothwell (Photo: Kristoff Photography)

The creative brainchild of members Simon Tarbox, Lucas Rothwell, and Mary-Anne Murphy, Cat Ryan originated at Newcastle University. The group’s inception, as described by Murphy in an email to The Greater Good, was kismet: “Simon and I are studying the same course and were talking about music. He said he played guitar, but Lucas had already joined as lead guitarist – turned out that Simon also plays drums, so he became the drummer of Cat Ryan.”

According to the band’s manager, Jay Landman, “There are plans to compile both an EP and an album, but these are both in the development stages currently, so another single is most likely to be the next step.” For now, you can bless your ears with “Blessed Through the TV.”

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Lighter – Donna Missal

For Donna Missal, music was a generational inheritance; her father was a songwriter and musician who owned Shelter Studios in the 80s, her grandmother was also a songwriter. Missal released her second album, Lighter with Harvest Records, owned by Capitol Music Group, at midnight last night. Lighter follows the artist’s 2018 album, This Time. With Lighter, Missal walks us through her journey with a traumatic breakup. In an interview with Shania Twain (!) for Interview Magazine, Missal spoke about the album, saying, “I was concerned when I was writing the record, getting towards the end of the process thinking, ‘Is this what people need right now? Am I serving a purpose that I can stand behind?’ I realized that by being as vulnerable and honest as possible and putting my shit out there—that would probably be what someone needs more than anything else that I could offer as a person or as an artist.”

As we jump into Lighter, we’re met with the project’s first two singles, “How Does It Feel,” and “Hurt By You.” Both tracks give you a feel for what you’re to expect as the album continues: impassioned realizations of newfound independence and loss combined with vengeful lyricism and themes.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with just how ugly breakups can be; it can be hard to maintain humility or dignity after ending things, as jealousy, unaddressed trauma, and feelings of abandonment or guilt rise to the surface. On the booming ballad, “Carefully,” Missal makes an emotional plea for respect post-breakup. The artist belts with an overwhelming amount of fervor on the bridge, “The risk you convinced me to take / Gave you everything that I had / Now what’d you expect me to say? / When you let me slip from your hands,” bearing her bleeding heart for all to see. All I can really say about this song is “whew.”

On Lighter, we’re really being taken through the different stages of grief with tracks fueled by denial like “Best Friend,” and bargaining with “Who Loves You,” intertwined with tracks of acceptance, like heart-rending “Slow Motion.” The artist, with her heart on her sleeve, proves there’s beauty in vulnerability and the acknowledgement of human flaw.

Another stage of grief is anger, and let me tell you, there is plenty to spare on this record. The introspective and painfully cognizant “Let You Let Me Down” and the intrepid sleeper hit “Just Like You,” are jaded displays of the bitter aftertaste a traumatic breakup can leave behind.

The project ends on a “to be continued,” as Missal’s grief persists with an admission of fear of moving on with the final track, “I’m Not Ready.”

To be quite honest, you don’t feel much lighter after listening to Lighter, so I would recommend checking your own emotional stability before jumping in the passenger seat of Donna Missal’s wild ride. Lighter is an exhibition of raw vulnerability while mourning a loss, and ultimately highlights the ways in which music can ease the healing process. 7/10