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Reviews Roundups

2021 Roundup

Dear friends,

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. 

XOXO, Jessica

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 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”

Honorable Mentions:

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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.


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Interviews Reviews

Eaglin: A Truly Dynamic Duo

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.

Kenzie and Bailee Eaglin
Kenzie, 17 (left) and Bailee Eaglin, 24 (courtesy of FRNDLY media)

“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.”

The duo announced the upcoming release of their 5-track EP on social media shortly after the release of “Maybe (We’ll Get Better Soon).”

We wanted to make a sunny, fun body of work that also showcases our different writing and music styles.

Bailee Eaglin, on what to expect from the duo’s upcoming EP

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.”

Courtesy of FRNDLY media

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.

Listen to “Maybe (We’ll Get Better Soon)”: