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.”
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.
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.
We’re cracking love open and taking a peek inside today– a look behind the curtain, so to speak. Inspiration for today’s installment of TGG’s Valentine series arrived in the form of UK-based soul singer-songwriter, Celeste’s “Strange.” With the aid of producer Jamie Hartman, Celeste perfectly encapsulates the emptiness love can leave behind and the ways in which love can evolve or deteriorate between two people. The lead single from her debut album, Not Your Muse, was released with an equally evocative music video. The video opens and closes with the artist standing in the middle of a dark road, surrounded by smoke and embers, symbolizing the sometimes cataclysmic aftermath of romantic love.
The Triangular Theory of Love, developed by psychologist Robert Sternberg suggests that the recipe for perfect love consists of three ingredients: intimacy, passion & commitment. According to Sternberg’s theory, different combinations of these components result in 7 varieties of love: infatuation (passion), liking (intimacy), empty love (commitment), romantic love (passion & intimacy), companionate love (intimacy & commitment), and finally, consummate love (intimacy, passion & commitment). The Ancient Greeks also had 7 words for the different varieties of love. It’s entirely possible to experience each and every variety of love over the course of a single relationship. Say a couple begin as friends (liking), until a mutual attraction forms (infatuation, romantic), they decide to become exclusive with one another and traverse life together (companionate, developing into consummate), but then somewhere along the line, the passion and intimacy may disappear (empty).
What can we do to avoid love becoming empty? In some cases, unfortunately, it’s unavoidable. As scary as change may be, it is the only constant in life. We are forever evolving– mentally, emotionally and physically. Over time, we may grow into entirely different people altogether. This is where we come to the intersection of loving and choosing to love. Actively loving someone takes work, patience, and dedication. A step in the right direction is determining yours and your partner’s love languages.
Dr. Gary Chapman developed the concept of the five love languages with his book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. The theory is that each individual has an internal hierarchy of how they like to give and receive love. The five love languages are as follows: 1. Words of Affirmation Someone whose preferred method of receiving love as words of affirmation finds comfort in verbal validation, encouragement and compliments. This could be as simple as letting your partner know how nice they look today or verbally expressing gratitude for your partner. 2. Quality Time Quality time is defined as “time spent in giving another person one’s undivided attention in order to strengthen a relationship.” Put your phone away and enjoy time together, distraction-free. 3. Acts of Service Giving love via acts of service can be as simple as accomplishing a household chore without being asked, warming up your partner’s car before they go to work, or even just plugging their phone into the charger. Any small act of service can speak volumes in love. 4. Gifts Gift-giving doesn’t have to be as grandiose as it may sound. This could be any small offering: “I was at the gas station and got your favorite candy bar” or “I saw this at the store and it made me think of you.” A lot of little things over a long span of time can be more meaningful than a few big things. 5. Physical Touch Physical touch doesn’t necessarily mean sexual intimacy. It could be as simple as carving time out of your day to just lay with your partner, a hand on the small of your partner’s back in passing or a squeeze of the shoulder.
Discuss love languages with your partner to better understand each other’s preferred methods of giving and receiving love. Communication is a building block for all relationships. Love languages sometimes make it easier to say what can’t be expressed with words. Express gratitude for your partner (and others!) as often as possible and be active in showing love.
Additional inspiration: Charlotte Day Wilson’s “Work”
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:
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: