Monthly Music Playlists #1: March 2017

Hey guys,

I listen to a hell of a lot of music – especially new music. As a result, every month I’ll be updating 3 Spotify Playlists which consist solely of new music released in the last month. Each playlist will have roughly 20-30 songs with each one being by a different artist. I’ll be making an active effort in the future to include a diverser range of music, not only in terms of genre and style but also in language. 

The three playlists are as follows:

  • Just Another Manic Playlist: A more accessible, upbeat playlist with plenty of electronic and indie music. 

  • Steady As It Goes: A more relaxing playlist focusing on atmospheric, ambient, folk and acoustic music. 

  • A Walk on the Other Side: A collection of everything else I didn’t feel fitted into the two playlists above. This is by far the most diverse playlist and has the most alternative music.


Despite the musical segregation, I’ve still tried to keep a variety of different artists and genres in each playlist. As well as updating each of the playlists on a monthly basis, I’ll also use this blog as a place to talk about some of my favourite songs and albums included in the playlists. Everything’s a bit of a mess this time around as it’s the first time but I’ll be experimenting over the next few posts and here’s hoping they turn out a bit more interesting and appealing.

Feel free to give the playlists a listen and here’s hoping you find something which tickles your fancy.

Cheers,

Rhys


Just Another Manic Playlist



Arguably my favourite album of the month comes from a band I only heard for the first time a few weeks ago. A mate of mine, Andrew, sent me the song The Body Electric by Hurray for the Riff Raff and I instantly fell for their instrumental arrangement and Alynda Lee Sagarra’s lyrics. Folk music has a long running history of dark lyrical undertones and The Body Electric is a feminist response to the history of murder ballads found in American folk music. Instead of singing a happy song about the brutal death of a woman, Alynda attempts to humanise the victim and highlight the tragedy of the event in a “world that’s so gone mad”. It’s a song which responds to the dehumanisation and objectification of women in American folk music while trying to underline the tragedy of having your own body used against you as a weapon. The song really had an impact on me and thus I really looked forward to the release of The Navigator at the start of the month. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Navigator tells the story of Navita, a fictional character trying to survive and navigate the world while she struggles with her own identity and what is her raison d’être. Navita is clearly inspired by Alynda Segarra’s own life and heritage. From the harsh nature of growing up in the city slums as presented in The Navigator (“I was raised by the street, do you know what that really means? All the hurt I’ve suffered, it just begins again”) to the effect it had on her mentality growing up in Living in the City, (“well I’ll lock my dreams away, I’ll watch the city quiver”) to the fierce condemnation of the abuse and dehumanisation of Latin American people in Rican Beach (“now all the politicians, they just flap their mouths. They say we’ll build a wall to keep them out… well you can take my life, but don’t take my home”). So personal and colourful are the accounts of Navita in The Navigator that it’s difficult to listen to the album whilst successfully separating the art from the artist. In an excellent interview with Democracy Now!, Alynda Segarra talks about her disappointment in her contemporaries in folk music for not being more political:

I felt for the last couple of years as the Black Lives Matter movement was growing, I was looking around at least folk singers around me and wondering where our voices were and now I feel like there is definitely more of a push for us to wake up and sing about what’s going around us. One of my heroes is Nina Simone, and I feel like it’s definitely the artist’s duty to talk about the times and to bring these fears we deal with alone are into the public sphere, and that’s how we can feel stronger and change something.

The Navigator has no fear of delving into politics and my favourite song of the album, Pa’Lante is no exception. It’s a song in which Navita laments her lack of belonging in the world (“well lately, don’t understand what I am… I guess I don’t understand the plan”) whilst simultaneously condemning those who have left her people’s humanity “colonized and hypnotized.. sterilized, dehumanized”, all the while commanding “be something”. The song finishes with an extract from Pedro Pietri’s poem, Puerto Rican Obituary, before casting a rallying cry to all those suffering in the world to march onwards,

To all who had to hide, I say, pa’lante!

To all who lost their pride, I say, pa’lante!

To all who had to survive, I say, pa’lante!

To my brothers and my sisters, I say, pa’lante!

Hurray for the Riff Raff have succeeded in making an easily accessible album which not only tells a tragic and personal story, but is also glaringly relevant considering the world’s political climate. The Navigator is quite simply a must listen.

Elsewhere, I’ve been listening to a hell of a lot of electro-pop in March. Crystal Bats’ song Anyone gives a real flashback to the synth-pop of the late 70s and 80s and in more recent times, Kavinsky’s electronica. They’re are a bit of an unknown entity at the moment with only one other song of theirs readily available to listen to. In the same vein, little is known about the electronic duo Kayex who sent Hype Machine into a craze with their track My Friends staying at #1 of their list of popular tracks for a lengthy period of time. Talos, an electro-group from Cork, Ireland, released the song Odyssey alongside a very trippy video. Their debut album Wild Alee is set to be released in a couple of weeks’ time so be sure to keep an eye out if you’re a fan of their ethereal sound. RITUAL also dropped a new track of theirs, When It Comes To Us, a collaboration with Frances as part of the deluxe version of her own newly released debut album, Things I’ve Never Said. I’ve been following RITUAL since hearing Bottle Tops last year, a song they collaborated on with Mononoke at the time but who has since joined the group on a permanent basis. RITUAL’s music is very reminiscent of BASECAMP, with their ambient RnB beats entwining with haunting vocals to paint an irresistible landscape of noise. If you like When It Comes To Us, be sure to listen to Drown All The Lovers too. If you’re after a more vibrant party soundtrack, Midnight Pool Party’s 5 track EP Dalliance oozes Daft Punk vibes and is electro-pop galore.

On a more indie note, I’ve been obsessed with Baby Strange’s track Mastermind over the last few days. Its distinctly punk guitar riff and high-tempo sound is just begging for it to be belted out live at festivals come the summer. St. Grandson released their debut album, Wildfire on the 10th of March, a record I’d been quietly looking forward to since hearing Midnight Swim a few months ago. Although I found the album disappointing overall, its title track Wildfire is still very catchy and is one of few signs of experimentation on a very repetitive record. Singer-songwriter Dermot Kennedy released a few songs ahead of his upcoming EP Doves & Ravens and I’ve been impressed by the range of the music he’s released so far. A Closeness is an example of a really upbeat acoustic song which when combined with Dermot’s strong yet raspy voice, sounds fairly like The Tallest Man On Earth. Whereas songs such as Glory and All My Friends make for a much more accessible, popular sound which should help spread his music out more.

Indie-rockers Real Estate released their latest album In Mind, the first of which they’ve recorded without long-time guitarist Matt Mondanile. There have been no significant changes in their sound since the release of Atlas (2014) and they continue to create more of the warm, refined indie-pop they’re known for. While some might find their sound too simplistic, songs like Stained Glass and Darling only go to prove it’s a style they’ve long since perfected. Real Estate have long been compared to Death Cab For Cutie and The Shins a lot throughout their career, the latter of whom have been touring the US with the support of Kid Wave who released their new track Everything Changes earlier this month, a hypnotic rock song I’ve had on repeat and I’d recommend to any fans of alt-rockers Garbage reading.

A Walk on the Other Side



The first song featured on the playlist is Apocalypse, the latest track from Cigarettes After Sex. A couple of weeks back I was feeling pretty restless one night when Apocalypse suddenly started playing. I’d been in a pretty bad place mentally and I’d been struggling to get to sleep but after having this song on repeat, I had the best night of sleep I’d had in weeks; as if it acted as a lullaby of sorts. In an interview with The Seventh Hex, the project’s leader, Greg Gonzales, described his writing process:

It feels like time traveling maybe. I can see the rooms I was in and start to recall the emotions I had. It’s a beautiful feeling to revisit these memories for me. I feel lucky to have had them whether they were good or bad.

Ever since hearing Apocalypse, I can’t help but relate. That night I felt transported into a dreamy haze in which the song’s lyrics resonated with me particularly, “when you’re all alone, I will reach for you, when you’re feeling low, I will be there too”. It had a curative, soothing effect and put my mind to rest and I’ve been a fan of Cigarettes After Sex ever since. Despite the band’s record for releasing music (to rave reviews) before disappearing into thin air for years, thankfully they’ve recently announced their debut album which is set for release in June and I, for one, can’t bloody wait!

Soley also released a couple of tracks from her album Endless Summer which is to be released in May. Listening to Never Cry Moon, I couldn’t help but think of Agnes Obel’s Citizen of Glass (2016), one of my favourite albums of recent months. It shares the same haunting, atmospheric melodies entwined with fragile vocals and ambiguous lyrics, all of which combines to create an ineffable, other-worldy sound. She also released the song Grow which marks a return of sorts to the more minimalistic approach of We Sink (2011), in contrast to the more grandiose elements of Ask The Deep (2015). If you’ve not heard of Soley before, I’d definitely recommend her music to you if you’re a fan of Agnes Obel or Lisa Hannigan. Plus she’s Icelandic, so what’s not to love?

For a few months now, Bruno Major has been releasing one song for every full moon, with the idea of collecting the songs together to be released later in 2017. Most of the songs are fairly simple love ballads, something I can’t say would normally pique my musical curiosity, but I’ve been enjoying Bruno Major’s songs in part due to his voice which needs little production in order to shine. The latest song released in the collection is Just The Same, a slow ballad entailing how regardless of what his lover does to him, the singer will continue to love them all the same. Even if the song is hardly groundbreaking in its lyrical content, I couldn’t help but smile at the imagery of the 2nd verse, “leave me for dead and love your way back home, and I’d still be smiling like a madman in the rain and love you all the same”. Regardless, anyone who not only likes cats but is willing to record a video of himself wearing a cat-mask while sitting in front of a cat, playing “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” on the guitar and then upload the video to Facebook has earned my eternal respect.

At the start of March, Richard Walters released a 4 song EP called Lightship EP (Live), all of which were recorded on a boat in London. In a Facebook post, he explained the reasons behind recording the EP in an unconventional location.

Recording music in the 21st century can sometimes feel a little like a computer game, there’s so many cheats and fixes.. you could edit every single word if you so wish and still make it sound human, but maybe a little too perfect. Sometimes it’s fun to do things without the safety net of an easy repair

The raw nature of live music is part of the reason I love going to gigs and concerts, for it’s the capture of a single moment in time; one that can never be replicated. Richard chooses to celebrate the inherent imperfections in live music by releasing the EP in the way that he did. It’s a lovely listen consisting of some of the singer-songwriter’s most cathartic songs such as the obsession with a person as captured in Infatuation (“you’re in my heart, you’re in my lungs, you’re in my stomach, on my tongue. You’re everywhere”) and the hardships of the end of a relationship in Last Words (“these could be the last words we speak, so make them good. You’re more than just somebody I used to love”). My favourite of the lot is the acoustic version of Awards Night which sounds particularly harrowing, if not more genuine than the original studio version. If you’re a fan of Richard Walters’ music, this EP will make you a very happy bunny indeed.

Elsewhere, London Grammar released Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, the 2nd song after Big Picture to have been released from their upcoming album of the same name. I’ve been a fan of theirs ever since I caught their live performance of Darling Are You Gonna Leave Me for the BBC at Glastonbury in 2013 and I still have the set-list from their Electric Brixton gig in 2013 with me, as shown below (Wicked Bruv!)

Setlist London Grammar

So it goes without saying that I’ve been looking forward to hearing London Grammar’s new material. Although I like both of the songs released so far, I do hope that they pushed the boat out a bit further with some tracks on the rest of the album. As thus far both songs would fit in quite well on If You Wait (2013) and I’d love to see them experiment given the resources at their finger-tips.

Fleet Foxes also released their single Third Of May / Odaigahara, the first song of theirs from their highly anticipated 3rd album Crack-Up set for June. The song is epic in length (8 minutes and 45 seconds) and represents their most experimental material to date, raising plenty of hype about their forthcoming album but also plenty of questions as to what we should expect. As to why the song’s named Third of May, the 3rd of May is a significant date for many reasons but it also marks the day on which Helplessness Blues (2011) was released (an album I hold very dear), something which might help on the way to finding an explanation. Regardless, it’s great to have Fleet Foxes back again as a whole and here’s hoping their new album comes close to matching their previous works of art.

Steady As It Goes

Jordan Klassen released an EP at the start of March as a follow-up to his album Javelin (2016). When I first heard Klassen I couldn’t help but be reminded of Sufjan Stevens, both in the sound of his music as well as his lyrics; there’s a darker side to his music upon looking beyond its vibrant melodies, something itself symbolised by the title of the EP: Curses. My favourite song of the bunch is Cool night which portrays someone in a pretty bad place, clutching to summer parties as a means of escape but just ending up feeling even more out of place with “nothing good to say and everything to hide”. Yet for all the song’s bleakness, it leaves an EP with clear undertones of depression on a rather positive note. The cool night grants “some room to breathe” and albeit nothing more than a temporary escape, it still represents a sense of respite and a reminder that everything’s going to be alright.

One of my unexpected delights in the past month was Jay Sum‘s album Everybody Works. Jay Sum is an indie project masterminded by Melina Duterte and virtually all aspects of the album, from the instruments played, to production and mixing are done by Melina herself. As she put it in a recent interview of hers with WXPN, music has always played a starring role in her life and she dedicated herself to her craft from a young age.

So I started writing songs, in a serious manner, when I was 12… I was also starting to learn how to record music, and I did that for years. I was putting up music on Myspace. It’s just always been something that I’ve done.

The most impressive aspect for me about Everybody Works is its sheer diversity in sounds, to the extent that it’s impossible to describe the album without doing it a disservice. The delicacy of The Bus Song, “I just want you to lead me… I just want you to need me” couldn’t be further from the grungy, frantic riffs of 1 Billion Dogs. When she sat down to talk with Pitchfork Melina stated that “all of my songs are so different, but you know it’s me… I just don’t like staying in one place at all”. There’s a clear desire to experiment and explore in Everybody Works and for all its variety, the album maintains a feeling of coherency and never lacks in intimacy.

The big musical discovery in March has been Kraków loves Adana who released their 3rd LP entitled Call Yourself New. I’d never heard of the Hamburg-duo before but I’ve been utterly captivated ever since they popped up on my radar. Their minimalism and lo-fi production mixed with Deniz Cicek’s haunting vocals create a harrowing, tender record. In comparison to their previous two albums, Interview (2012) and Beauty (2010), Call Yourself New seems to find a more refined sound with tracks seamlessly flowing from to another as if to demonstrate they’ve discovered their sound. I’ve struggled to find many interviews of theirs in English but in one they did with ColoRising, they highlight the sense of rebirth in their album as symbolised by the album title itself.

When we first started to work on the record, actually I didn’t have a special theme in mind for it. With Robert starting his own record label and us separating from our previous label and producer the idea of creating a new identity for Kraków Loves Adana kind of naturally evolved.

Despite the self-proclaimed evolution in their sound, the hypnotic, dreamy melodies of their older tracks such as Silver Screen and Porcelain can still be heard in songs like Beautiful Lie and Cold Glass. Another hallmark of the band is their melancholic lyrics, something apparent from the very first song on the album, Darkness Falls, when Denis states how “darkness taught me to be alone, take comfort in the unknown”. Said darkness is but one example of the omnipresent gloom in the album which is often lamented as is the case in False Alarm, “it’s dark again and I’ve become so sick of it”. Yet simultaneously the album presents a twisted solace to be found in the unknown and in sorrow (à la Sorrow by The National), as presented in Not Another Sad Guitar, “I want another sad guitar playing an unexpected song that is unfamiliar but somehow not wrong” and encapsulated best in the chorus of Youth Unbroken, a song about longing to escape from the familiar and never look back.

Let’s drive to the other side of the night… let’s drive and become another stereotype to people who may never arrive. No matter where we go, we gotta stay on the road.

Call Yourself New is an utter delight and its depiction of the inherent struggles to discover oneself while surrounded by sorrow and mental restlessness make it well worth a listen.

 

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