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Love 'Em & Leave 'Em Reviews

Romantic Resonance: Celeste is Not Your Muse

Love ‘Em & Leave ‘Em:
TGG’s Valentine Special

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.

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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

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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Reviews

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

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Reviews

The Bad Days – Japan, Man

Public pools may be closed, but we’re diving right into Sad Girl Summer with today’s review– The Bad Days, an EP by 15-year old Beirut artist Japan, Man. With The Bad Days, the young artist gives new meaning to the phrase “off the beaten path,” delightfully offbeat, in fact. Released with the help of Honeymoon Records, this EP is a charming look into the mind of a young artist in her formative years.

The project fires off with the title track, which the artist described to Read Dork as being about “how people tend to try to forget about traumatic memories through different ways; for instance, living in their imagination or even distracting themselves with other intense feelings.” The track can be compared to that little voice in the back of your head, this time crooning in your ear with a ((gentle echo)) over a heart-thumping bass drum on the second verse, “Let’s pretend to fall asleep/ So we can live in eternal fantasy/ Have we drowned yet?/ ‘Cause I can barely breathe/ Is it possible to suffocate on dreams?

With the second track, the artist flexes her metaphorical muscles– with lots of actual metaphors. Corresponding with the face of a clock, “Stop Staring” addresses the passing of time and how time doesn’t stop even if you do. As a society that often values productivity over quality of life, the passing of time can indeed be quite anxiety-inducing– “I’m stuck in the moment, and suddenly I’m frozen/ What am I to do?/ If I tell you that’s the motion, but I smell the scent of roses / But that’s who?” The track should remind us that it’s perfectly acceptable– and encouraged– to take a break when needed.

It’s evident the concept of time and the anxiety it can bring are recurring themes throughout this project as we transition into the third track on the EP, “I Like To Wait.” This track will put you in front of a bay window on a rainy day, ready to embrace the angst with the artist as she sings, “Too scared of surprise/ Won’t dare to roll the dice/ Stay still and pay the price/ Won’t die in paradise.” Impatience can be detrimental to relationships and overall well-being– if we’re constantly thinking about the future, are we ever present?

On the project’s latest single, “Cautious,” the artist makes a plea for emotional intelligence in interpersonal relationships. Whether it be in adolescence or adulthood, we all so desperately want to not only be heard but understood. The track is the embodiment of bedroom pop as a genre– slight dissonance over particularly spunky instrumentals.

Japan, Man tackles “pack mentality” on the next track, “Easy Target,” where she sings in the pre-chorus, “Make sure to keep your mouth shut, it’ll pacify you/ You’re so melodramatic, but there’s nothing I can do.” There’s really no better way to describe this track than a girl coming into her own, sussing out whose friendship and loyalty is circumstantial versus genuine connection.

Perhaps the most poignant song on the EP, the closing track and the project’s first single, “The Law,” gently broaches the battle of maintaining a sense of self when you’re not sure just who that is yet.

The Bad Days is a project that I’d like to imagine Heather Matarazzo’s character in Welcome to the Dollhouse would release if she was in fact not a fictional character of the 90s, but instead an artist in 2020 on a steady incline who was raised by the internet. 7/10

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Interviews

AyeGritty is Figuring It Out

Naptown Native, 25-year old AyeGritty, or Aaron Grinter, is a perfect exemplification of what it means to have all irons in the fire. From theater to comedy and music– Gritty is all over Indianapolis. Gritty’s genre-bending full-length, Figuring It Out, dropped in April of this year. I had the opportunity to sit down with the artist over tacos– to discuss his past, present and future as a creative.

In one of the earlier songs released with Gritty ‘n’ Craft (a performative amalgamation of hip-hop, comedy, and dance with fellow creative, Joshua Short), “In the Cut,” Gritty wrote in reference to his relationship with music, “This is Plan A, I don’t believe in Plan B.” When asked at what point he decided music was his Plan A, Gritty said, “I always had an innate love for music—that shit was always in me,” stopping to take a swig of his Dos Equis, “I was raised Jehovah’s witness, and being raised that way, I never thought that I would be able to pursue music… Back when rapping was all about the bars and shit, I would take rap songs and sing the words– it’s funny watching how the game has transitioned to be so melodic. I have a love for good music, and my mom and pops brought me up on good music.” When asked about his musical influence, Gritty mentioned a slew of artists, ranging from legendary artists like Prince to alternative artists, like Toro y Moi and APRIL + VISTA.


Figuring It Out has had positive reception among listeners, myself included. A particularly gripping track on the project, “$31.35,” seems to be a letter of manifestation to the universe, that this artist’s time is coming. When asked about the visualization of the peak of success and what it looks like for Gritty, he said, “The peak of success isn’t a goal of money or reaching certain material things or certain accolades—I do hope to achieve those things because I hope to be great enough to warrant those things.”

For the artist, the peak of success is more internal rather than external: “It’s not necessarily about the way that people view me, but about the way I’m able to affect change in the world.” When asked to elaborate on the kinds of change he’s hoping to make, he said, “I come from a broken people, and a broken system, especially being Black.” Gritty continues, saying, “We got a late start—we started way behind the 8 ball and there’s been a very concentrated effort to keep us there. I think success looks a lot like being able to affect positive change in Black people and oppressed people everywhere.” Gritty makes his point by leveling with me, “There’s things about being Black that you’ll never understand and there’s things about being a woman that I’ll never understand. Making change for the people who need it– I think if you have those abilities, it’s an empty life if you just use it for yourself.” The artist hopes to reach a certain type of immortality, in the form of positive change: “I hope it’s something that is able to live on way after my body is gone; I hope that my spirit and my energy will still be able to affect the world way after I’m gone.”