Categories
Reviews

Listen: Hana Vu’s “Keeper”

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.

Hana Vu photographed by Jing Feng

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.”

these public expressions of thoughts, feelings, baggage, experiences that accumulate every year and fill little units such as ‘albums.’”

Hana Vu

“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.

Hana Vu photographed by Jing Feng

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.”

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.

“Maker” music video director, Lucy Sandler, via press release

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.”

Categories
Look & Listen Reviews

Listen: Love Letterz – Marzz

“You don’t have to be like everybody else. This is your life. Live it and be happy with it.”

Marzz, Rated R&B

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.

Photo credit: Elizabeth “Eli” Wirija

I’ve come to a point in my life where I really don’t care what people say. I have to do this, I have to put my feelings out because if not, it’s going to eat me up alive.

Marzz, Uproxx

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.

Photo credit: Braylen Dion

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.”

Listen to Love Letterz here.

Categories
Look & Listen

Listen: “Can I Leave Me Too?” / “Float Away” – The Greeting Committee

It wasn’t overthinking. It just felt like a genuine stream of consciousness and self-expression. I hope that’s what people hear.

Brandon Yangmi on “Float Away,” Rice and Spice Magazine

Here’s the thing– are these singles particularly emo? Yes. Do they still hit the spot? Absolutely. And that’s what matters. Kansas City’s The Greeting Committee has managed to pry themselves out of the box they’ve been hiding in for 2 years with “Can I Leave Me Too?” and “Float Away.” The singles follow the alt-indie band’s 2019 EP, I’m Afraid I’m Not Angry and 2018 album, This Is It, a project that held my hand and my hair back through the majority of 2020.

The Greeting Committee consists of four members: bassist Pierce Turcotte, frontwoman Addie Sartino, drummer Austin Fraser and Brandon Yangmi on guitar.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Miranda

“Can I Leave Me Too?” aligns with the band’s brand of happy-sad music, with melancholic lyricism held afloat by buoyant instrumentation: “Why does everybody drive the same car you do? / I’m scared of myself without you / I’ll change my ways for a few days if it means you’ll stay / I’m filthy, creepy, clingy for you always,” the band’s frontwoman, Addie Sartino sings in the first verse. “Can I Leave Me Too?” touts the kind of emotional codependency we’d normally rebuke, but that didn’t stop me from giving it multiple spins. It shouldn’t stop you, either.

“My girlfriend drives a Nissan Rogue, and after we broke up I felt like I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing that car,” Sartino said of the single in a press release. “I remember thinking, ‘There’s no way there are this many Nissan Rogues in Kansas City’ — but I think that’s a pretty universal thing to have happen when you’re going through a breakup.”

The latest single from the band is equally as emo, but in the best way. “Glad it’s raining, so I don’t have to go outside / And pretend I’m happy just to be alive,” Sartino sings in the first verse of “Float Away.” This record provides the kind of catharsis one can only find in music; anyone who has battled with depression and/or loneliness can identify with the single’s sentiments. When in that frame of mind, it can feel as though you’ve stepped completely outside of reality and outside of yourself; it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re walking through mud and thorns to get there.

In an interview with Rice and Spice, the band’s guitarist, Brandon Yangmi spoke on the single, saying, “This was a song that felt really genuine to all of us. It wasn’t a song that we overthought much; it was the easiest song that we wrote on the album.” He continued, saying, “We sat down, started playing the music, and it all came out. It wasn’t overthinking. It just felt like a genuine stream of consciousness and self expression. I hope that’s what people hear.”

“Float Away” was released in conjunction with the single’s music video, which features striking animation by artist Kezia Gabriella.

Categories
Reviews

AZEB is Mereba’s Golden Hour

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.”

“I want to remind people of love, too. The very thing we deserve the right to do, and to be.” 

Mereba

“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.


Categories
Reviews

Listen: Don’t Let Them See You Cry – Shantel May

It’s pretty clear that 2021 has been a good year for women in R&B, starting strong with the release of Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales in January. Sullivan is one of a handful of artists effectively setting the precedent (and the bar awfully high) for others who fall into that category of music. Toronto-based vocal powerhouse, Shantel May gracefully rises to the challenge with the release of Don’t Let Them See You Cry. The EP is just a small appetizer for the 5-course meal that’s sure to come. Although there’s some push and pull throughout the EP– some tracks standing out more than others– Don’t Let Them See You Cry is an enticing introduction to Shantel May’s work.

With seemingly unending support from fellow R&B group, dvsn, May’s path to success is looking brighter and brighter. The duo also featured May on their third album, A Muse in Her Feelings. Nineteen85, dvsn member and award winning artist, produced May’s 2018 single, “Back n Forth,” which is also on the EP.

The tone of the EP is set within the first few seconds of the intro: “How the fuck do we have a conversation when all you do is lie?” Throughout Don’t Let Them See You Cry, Shantel May broaches the classic tropes of romance, sex and situationships. The 7-track EP ultimately highlights the artist’s growth of talent by featuring songs written and recorded years prior to the EP’s release intertwined with newly recorded tracks. The project truly excels in the second half with “Waiting,” the obvious standout (Warning: May’s vocals may cause chills and/or severe head-nodding) on the EP. Watch the video for the latest single from the EP, “Don’t Wanna Pretend,” below.

Listen to this month’s roundup playlist:

Categories
Reviews

Listen: Billie Marten – “Creature of Mine”

Folk singer-songwriter and Certified Sad Girl, Billie Marten released the second single from her upcoming sophomore album, Flora Fauna, in early April. “It’s an end of the world, post-apocalyptic scenario – you get to choose one thing, one person to leave it with,” Marten said in a statement about the single, “It’s a love song to a stranger and a polite request to momentarily leave Earth when it’s all too much.”

Cover art for Billie Marten’s upcoming album, Flora Fauna

“Creature of Mine” begins like a soft breath, gentle and rhythmic, eventually building into a grand exhale of horns. The single has been in consistent rotation for me since its release, listening so often that I’ve found myself singing “makin’ looooooove’s not enoooooough” at any given moment for the past month.

“Creature of Mine” follows the album’s first single, “Garden of Eden,” which was released in January. The song is far more sanguine in nature as compared to previous (and much more melancholic) work by Marten. “I liked the idea of humans growing up like tomatoes in the greenhouse, needing water and oxygen and space, but not getting any of it,” Marten says of the song, “This was one of the first pivotal songs for me as the general sentiment breeds happiness and optimism, which is something I wasn’t particularly familiar with thus far.” Flora Fauna is set to release May 21.

Categories
Love 'Em & Leave 'Em Reviews

Romantic Resonance: Celeste is Not Your Muse

UK soul singer-songwriter, Celeste released her debut album, Not Your Muse just in time for Valentine’s Day. From the romantic cover art to the project’s overall themes of love and loss, Celeste and her team knew what they were doing when they released in late January. Celeste, who has been on the radar since 2018, has seen a steady and gradual career incline, with accolades building in her treasure chest by the pound. The 26-year old is bringing back sounds of old with jazz and blues influence and a one-of-a-kind voice. The artist credits the loss of her father as motivation and inspiration to further her passion for purpose and music, telling Evening Standard, “Until that point my life had been rosy to an extent. It shocked me. Then after that I had so much more drive to do something I cared about. I focused everything on doing music from that point.”

“This song is like a conversation with an old friend.”

– Celeste on “Ideal Woman,” via Apple Music

On the album’s intro, “Ideal Woman” we have Celeste’s velvety voice singing against societal standards of what embodies an ideal woman. Coincidentally, the track just so happens to be constructed just like my version of an ideal woman: unexplainably sensual and almost effortlessly commanding of attention with humility and grace. The track, produced by Josh Crocker and Charlie Hugall, is the perfect foreplay for the main event that is the rest of the album. From the slow creep of guitar and gentle, modest chimes to Celeste’s smooth-as-butter voice, “Ideal Woman” lets you think it’ll do one thing just to do something different entirely. Just as you expect a sonic or vocal swell, production slows and Celeste takes a right when you’ve anticipated a left, resulting in the unavoidable tap of the “repeat” button.

“I took a much quieter and softer approach that was informed by the chord progression, but also, I was trying to conceal the fact that my voice was weaker. I had such a clear and loud thought: ‘This is an important song. Take your time with it.’”

– Celeste for The New York Times, on recording “Strange” during a wildfire

Following the intro is the project’s lead single, “Strange,” which was originally released in 2018 on the artist’s EP, Compilation 1.1. The track, which was previously featured on TGG, is what propelled Celeste into the spotlight, incurring international discussion of the artist’s future endeavors. The deluxe version of the album features the original, extended version of this track with an additional chorus and bridge. Recorded in LA during a wildfire, Celeste gives credence to the smoke in the air for the rasp heard in her voice at the time of recording. Those gravelly vocals gracefully escort us through a somber tale as old as time: the evolution of love and loss, by choice or by fate.
Picking up the pace and picking our jaws up off the floor, upbeat singles, “Tonight Tonight” and “Stop This Flame” come next on the project. The video for “Stop This Flame,” a tune about keeping love alive, sees the colorful city of New Orleans painting the scene.

On Not Your Muse, Celeste brings different varieties of love– romantic, familial, self– to the forefront. The album’s title track is a slow burn that gradually grows into a raging fire. The zenith of the project, the song is placed smack dab in the middle of sequence. The record deconstructs the dated damsel-in-distress and manic-pixie-dream-girl tropes with a delicate nature and beautiful simplicity only Celeste can dispense. Tugging gently on our heartstrings, “Beloved” is a declaration of longing. On the track, Celeste croons a letter written to a love unrequited. With its almost adolescent yearning fueled by the purest of intentions, “Beloved” holds its place as my favorite track on this project.

Immediately following the gentle plucky instrumentation on “Beloved” comes horn-infused ear-candy “Love Is Back.” The impenetrable swagger heard on this track is succeeded by the haunting, drifting mystique found in “A Kiss.” Continuing the trend of romance, the next track, “The Promise,” is a pledge of recommitment to an old flame.
The transition from one track to the next here is an example of what I like to call “peaks and valleys” in a body of work. Where there is a rise, there’s sure to be a fall. It’s almost as if Not Your Muse is its own breed of love story, with a prologue of self-love and self-acceptance, love coming and going throughout until finally, bittersweet acceptance with the project’s outro, “Some Goodbyes Come With Hellos.” With a damn near perfect debut, Celeste has managed to bust down the doors of 2021 with lyrical finesse and a natural talent that’s yet to be matched. Not Your Muse will remain in my personal rotation until further notice. If you’ve got time to sit down with the album, without distraction, I would highly recommend doing so.