The eclectic Whoa Dakota’s new single “Walk Right By” is an enlightened look both at the past and the future. Blending together disco with a modern R&B sound, this bop emboldens you to believe that you don’t need anyone besides yourself to reach your full potential. The lyrics are inspired by her experiences with pushy, manipulative business people in the industry who antagonize those around them. “Walk Right By” aims to empower those who listen to it to trust in themselves. The single has a classically funky bassline, infectious danceability, and nostalgic synths that sound like something out of an arcade. It’s far from sounding like an imitation of late 70’s disco music, however. There’s this compelling groovy but chill vibe in the verses that fit in well with the sound of modern R&B music, and atmospheric layers of synths that remind listeners of ambient indie-pop. Whoa Dakota’s stellar vocals are really something else. She effortlessly handles the sultry, smooth vocals in the verses, and the powerful belting in the enthralling chorus that is a perfect sonic representation of self-liberation.
It’s no surprise that this mesmerizing artist has such an innovative grasp on her music as a 2017 Tiny Desk Concert favorite and the “Best Pop Artist” in the Nashville Scene’s Best of Nashville 2018 awards. You can (and should) also check out her “Spill The Tea with Whoa Dakota” podcast featuring Lilly Hiatt, Airpark, Laura Reed, and more, and her twitch streams every Friday at 6 pm CST.
Aime Simone is no stranger to misery. He fell victim to intense bullying as a child, the trauma of which led to early symptoms of PTSD and anorexia as a teenager. There were attempts to heal at clinics where he spent his time writing poetry, but there also was a tragic sucide attempt. During a stay at a clinic in 2012, Aime got permission to attend a Pete Doherty show since he was such a big fan of his and an avid songwriter. He took his poetry filled journal along, hoping to give it to Pete. Halfway through the show he still had no idea how he was going to get the journal to Pete, so he resorted to throwing it onstage, and accidentally hit Pete in the face. Pete began to read excerpts to the sold out crowd, and when Aime screamed for Pete’s guitar in exchange, he instead was pulled onstage and given the guitar to play. What resulted was Aime’s first-ever performance in front of a crowd, and after it ended in applause, Aime was invited to go backstage and began working with the Libertines frontman in intense songwriting sessions.
Today, Simone is a Berlin-based, Parisian singer and producer who is still mentored by Doherty. He produces alt-pop music that pulls from post-punk, hip-hop, soul, and 60s pop. The culmination of Simone’s incredible backstory and all his hard work with Doherty comes in the form of his debut album Say Yes, Say No, which was released on July 31st. The album was entirely self-written, produced, and mixed by Simone himself, and plays like his open journal, as earnest and honest as the one that he hurled on stage back in 2012. It’s inspired by Berlin’s iconic techno scene as well as his past life in other European cities.
The music of Say Yes, Say No is somewhat sparse and intimate, made up primarily of vocals, guitar, and a beat. The vocals are blurred by reverb, yet clear enough to hear every word. Its simplicity allows for sentimentality to be the focal point of the work. Although each song deals with emotions, the album doesn’t have a one-track mind. You find moving melancholy in “Don’t Be Sad”, danceable beats in the lead single “What’s Up With The World?”, and even tender love in “Shining Light.” With Say Yes, Say No, you find uplifting movements interwoven through the melancholia, an approach influenced by Simone’s unusual and complex being.
The first three tracks embody this brooding, yet moving trait well. To start us off, “Everything’s Changing” deals with his own mortality and the fear of death and the unknown, but he faces these inevitabilities with acceptance rather than letting them overwhelm him. It was inspired by the thoughts that occupied Simone’s mind when he became a young father. The intimate acoustic guitar, soft, yet emotive vocals, and chill beat behind the soaring line “I’ve got to let go of what I’ve always known,” amplifies the embrace of his feelings, especially in the bridge where Simone and the guitar become more spritely and when harmonies join the vocals in the chorus. “In This Dark Time” was recorded in reaction to the effects of the pandemic. It’s got a bit of a groove, but is pensive in tone, asking “could you take my pain?” a line that recurs throughout, right up to the very last line where the music drops out from behind it, the words stark against the silence. “Don’t Be Sad” progresses the album into a spooky realm, with its slow pace, ghostly harmonies, and morose guitar.
By the time we get to “Strange Inside” we’re enveloped by this eerie aura. The bassline, and minor 2nd interval that the guitar strums alternate between giving the track an ominous sound. The guitar is left bouncing at the end, finishing off the track without a resolution. “Strange Inside” was also influenced by the pandemic, specifically about how it can make one feel blocked, removed from human connection in the face of quarantine and isolation. The video features a performance filmed during lockdown in Berlin, providing a visual representation of the mental and physical barriers that the pandemic has created for many people. “Imaginary Lovers” is tenser, more anguished, with the lines “tell me what to do” and “barely holding on for tomorrow” showing a desperation that we haven’t seen on the record so far. But this desperation with the phantom-like background vocals whispering “imaginary lovers” in your ears throughout the track and the unrelenting off-beat attacks become somewhat unsettling, continuing the subtly haunted sound in “Don’t Be Sad” and “Strange Inside.”
With “Vienna”, the unearthly nature of the last three tracks transforms from eerie to dreamy. The guitar exists both as evanescent chords floating in the background and a solo part that seems to have a mind of its own. Simone sings “I need you baby,” letting some love trickle into Say Yes, Say No, a sentiment that is reinforced in “Hold Me Alive” with lines like “You hold me close, you hold me alive.” This track uses electronic chords that phase in and out to paint an emotional background for Simone’s delicate falsetto. When the guitar joins the chords at the end, it makes for a warm ending that embraces you with love. Even more, “Shining Light” marks the peak of adoration, put into words when Simone sings “All I need is the way that you love me.” A hint of groove comes from the muted guitar riff and calmly snapped beat, and the chord progression is the perfect complement to the tender words.
While Say Yes, Say No as a whole is touched with sorrow, it humbly offers some inspiring words to start to resolve that sorrow. “What’s Up With The World” and “Humankind” are the best examples of this encouragement. “What’s Up With The World”, beyond its rather pertinent title, is a message of hope: “I can defy my fate, I choose love, I will not give up.” The rhythms of this track give the listener a chance to clear their head and dance, comforted and invigorated by the lyrics. “Humankind” brings things down again, but it’s the perfect ending to this album because it’s about Simone’s restored faith in humanity– and himself. It shows just how far this sensitive, inventive artist has come, making it the most uplifting track of all. Say Yes, Say No is a brave and beautiful story of struggle and perseverance. Don’t miss your chance to experience it for yourself.
Sophia Nadia’s admired reputation as an “unapologetic do-er” comes from her remarkable dedication to her career. Her unceasing penchant for touring beginning at only 16 years old and her courage to move to Chicago not long after shows that her commitment to her work knows no bounds. In the moments of time when she’s not touring, Sophia is fervently writing and recording her next release, each one furthering her excellent orchestration skills and exploring pop and rock genres. Her Chicago-based project Cold Beaches dropped their new album Drifter today, a work of art that is as limitless as it is intimate. With a newly founded voice of empowerment for Nadia that makes its appearance in the album, Drifter is a vivacious, live recorded movement away from the band’s earlier lo-fi bedroom pop sound towards psychedelic rock ‘n roll. Some influences to keep an ear out for for are the plain-spoken lyrical integrity of 90’s Pavement, the hard garage rock sound of Ty Segal, and the hypnotic indie surf pop of La Femme. While Drifter deals with a variety of feelings, from the losses of relationships to the optimism of independence from depression and anxiety, it’s also an emotional blank page that any listener can fill with their own feelings and find comfort in whatever way they may need it. Nadia hopes that people find solace in her musical offering, especially those who are marginalized in the music industry.
Drifter must get its name from its transient tracks that freely move between grungy rock and dreamy psychedelic pop. Certain tracks drift closer to one side or the other, however. “Ride”, “Somebody”, “Band Boy”, “Boy, You’re Evil”, and “Grief Stricken Blues” all stay more or less tethered to the earth with their grounding drums and substantial guitar riffs.
“Ride” is twangy western guitar meets energetic girl-power pop, with its uncomplicated lyrics and matter-of-fact vocals. The song follows a narrative about stealing a “villain’s motorcycle.” Though it’s unclear whether it’s showing Nadia’s heartbreak or her ruthless besmirch of this man, this track is a poetic metaphor for giving deserving “villains” in the scene what’s coming to them. The chromatic descending power chords and her repeated vocals create revving instrumentals that show off Nadia’s orchestration skills, setting a tone for the album that says it’s going to be just as much about the instruments as the vocals. “Somebody” reveals a similarly manic and merciless side of Nadia. In the music video, her motel stay is interrupted by a troubling phone call and her night turns into a nightmare filled with paranoia as she barricades her motel door; protecting herself from an evil man trying to steal her heart. It’s brief, suspenseful, and incredibly fast-moving with fuzzy guitar riffs and straightforward drums and bass that are a manifestation of the true terror and disgust Nadia has towards anyone who may try to take advantage of her. The creepiness that pervades this track is enhanced by the whispered vocals– even more so with headphones.
“Band Boy” does feel a lot like psychedelic pop, but the strength of the beat and chromatic guitar overpowers Nadia’s muted vocals and the jazzy chords. The chorus is the epitome of pop, from its bouncy beat to the high vocal line, and even the word “bubblegum” finds its way into the lyrics. “Boy You’re Evil” also has dampened vocals and a full-bodied chorus, but the rock-centered drums and the brightly toned guitar are there to keep the track from drifting too far. “Grief Stricken Blues” uses major 7th chords halfway through the first verse, but they’re bright and thick in texture. The opening guitar riff is concrete, and once the bass and drums come in it gains that bit of grit that comes with blues-rock, but it somehow feels soothing rather than edgy. As tangible as the verses are, however, the chorus can’t help but detach with dreamy guitars that bring an element of sonic euphoria. The opening guitar riff persists into the next verse and the outro, and by the end of the song it’s comforting nature makes sense as the familiarity of its obstinacy feels like an old friend.
While the pleasant haze that falls on “Grief Stricken Blues” can feel quite salient at times, “Problems & Heartache (I Got Them)”, “Love Me”, and “Go Easy On Me” take it to a new level. These kaleidoscopic tracks are otherworldly in their instrumentation, once again showing Nadia’s aptitude for composition. The dream-pop synth chords, reverberating guitars and gentle, crooning vocals in “Problems & Heartache (I Got Them)” seem to bleed into each other, creating an otherworldly experience. The lyrics are vulnerable, transporting the listener to a place where the music– and Nadia’s feelings– are intricate, yet succinct. Touches of dissonant chords and notes add that bit of pain that is an inevitable part of opening up. When you listen to this one, close your eyes and let it envelop you. Feel the celestial surprises crash into one another. “Love Me” definitely leans towards soft rock with the prominence of the bass and drums, but after the initial pining solo bassline, a wave of illusory musical nostalgia crashes into you. Nadia’s misty, honest vocals sing “Love Me” on top of jazzy chords, the flavour of which is continued by an apt sax solo that floats in after the chorus. The ending track “Go Easy On Me” begins with a distorted organ-like part that creates a feeling of melancholia as Nadia sings “go easy on me” on a melody that embodies poignancy, again using discordant notes. Her singing is kept in place by the drums, but it’s on the verge of floating away, like a helium-filled balloon loosely fixed in a child’s grasp. The woodwinds in the instrumental interlude have the beauty of a whole orchestra and are followed by a sharp guitar solo that tries to cut through the magic but can’t quite. Sure enough, by the end of the track, all the music has floated away.
All the songs so far have explored the line that separates garage rock from psychedelic pop, and have dabbled on either side, but Nadia also offers two tracks that represent the poles of illusion and reality. The muted vocals and folksy, slightly out of tune acoustic guitar makes “SGIT” sound removed, like a dream or a passing thought. The lyrics are sad, “I hate myself and everybody else,” but perhaps hopeful as well, “I should stick around.” “I Miss You So So Much, I Really Do” isn’t concrete in terms of its music, the piano background is as tender and gentle as it is passionate and vastly resonant. Instead of a vocal line, however, there is a voice recording that sounds like it could be taken from a voicemail. It’s hard to make out much of what the voice is saying, most of the words are lost in the waves of ambient piano, but what does come through is the line “I really really really do miss you, I really do. I really really miss you… a lot.” It’s the intimacy and the honesty that pours out of this recording that makes this one-minute track the most tangible of all.
There is a lot going on in Drifter, but there are certain qualities that make it stand out as an exceptional piece of work. Its transitional nature that comes from Cold Beaches’ development into a more polished sound calls to mind ideas of rebirth and reinvention, something that is not only attractive for the album but builds intrigue for the band’s future. Each song has oodles of quirks to listen for, allowing you to listen to them on repeat without fear of them growing tired. Despite the fact that Drifter’s tracks are incredibly varied in sound, they have this unifying tone that to them that sounds like 9 pm in the middle of summer: warm, light, and seemingly too good to be true. Most of all, however, Drifter is dripping with potential, and I for one am excited to see what new heights Cold Beaches will undoubtedly reach in the future.
Avant-pop temptress Alex Lilly’s single “Terrible Person” is a pulsating, mysterious gem that plays with subtlety both in the music and lyrics. The track is as elusive as Lilly herself, having been a part of several groups throughout her career, including the Buddhist punk band Zero Dezire, the harmonic quartet the Living Sisters, and touring with names like Lorde, Beck, and the bird and the bee. She characterizes her music as “sexy psychological thrillers,” drawing the description from her honeyed, suspicious tunes. “Terrible Person” starts out as one might expect, with Lilly singing “that would make you a really really terrible person. and make me the dumb one for having loved you,” implying a sense of clarity and empowerment. But the intricacies of the situation are revealed in a later verse when she sings “or wait am i just a really really terrible person just like you so i deserve you, come back,” showing that it’s never as simple as the earlier line may suggest. Behind her words is a muted beat that seems like it’s accelerating, and a perpetually rising melody which works together to create an understated feeling of urgency. Her voice rings out like a siren, compelling her listeners with off-kilter melody lines and interesting vocal inflections. Her last words are overtaken with distortion and the music embodies a bit of harshness to drive the message home.
Explains Lilly of the track:
If you’re like me, then you dwell on your breakup and wonder who was actually the guilty party in the relationship which is what ‘Terrible Person’ is about. You break up and then you look back and toss the blame around until you get exhausted. I came home one night drunk and angry, thinking about how my ex had screwed me over. But then I realized that I sucked too and I couldn’t decide who sucked more so I wrote these lyrics to help me decide. This was the last song we recorded. In fact I had to do it from my home studio and Barbara (Gruska) produced it from hers. The quarantine had just started. Barb was in constant contact with a family member who could not afford to get sick. I sent her my vocals and that arpeggiated track. And she did her magic.
The Angry Lisas shine a light on life’s heartbreaking realities and how crucial it is to learn to let them go in their impassioned and deeply genuine new video for their single “Wingwalkers.” Sean Taylor, the principal songwriter for the Portland-based indie-rock outfit, found that writing songs for the band’s upcoming album Slate Violet was the only way he could process and heal from the regret, nostalgia, gratitude, and sorrow that he collected over the last decade, or “cheap man’s therapy,” as he calls it. The album not only reflects on pain but the elation that comes from the release of pain, a release that manifests itself in catchy rock anthems that are zealous and sincere. It humbly reflects on some of the most challenging moments in Taylor’s twenties. As a part of this, “Wingwalkers” comes on the heels of Taylor’s big move away from home. Where he expected catharsis and a fresh beginning, he instead found a reflective familiarity. The idea that you can’t escape your problems, and that the only way to move on is to let go provides the foundation for the narrative of “Wingwalkers.”
The visuals and narrative of the video amplify the humility of the music by adding a layer of authenticity that can only come from watching someone else’s story. It follows two people, sometimes flashing back to their life and relationship as children, sometimes confronting the harsh reality of their life in the present. While the shots are ambiguous at first, details are slowly revealed about the situation, until the narrative reaches a burning climax. You feel your heart both warmed and broken as you watch, until the end practices what Taylor preaches about letting go. Enveloping this story are varied, down to earth guitar riffs that feel like a wordless echo of the preceding lyrics. The vocals are classic; soft, yet earnest. But “Wingwalkers” is only a taste of the emotional atlas that is Slate Violet, and the rolling drums at the end of the track remind us that this isn’t over, there are more challenges and revelations ahead.
Eryn Martin has paired with Brazilian funk aficionado R2 to produce her new boundary breaking track “Namesez.” Martin’s personal brand of asymmetrical alt pop is known for using dusky instrumentals to create music that is poignant, contemplative, and softly menacing. A self-taught singer and songwriter, Martin shows off her capricious vocal style that moves through haunting melodies and smooth textures atop glitchy beats that are infused with elements of hip hop and electronic music. The impulsivity of her music keeps her listeners on their feet, and she certainly brings that energy to her new single as well.
Straight away the listener is struck by the unique music box/xylophone sounds that gently crash into one another at the beginning of the track. These sounds and the other beats that transpire have that kaleidoscopic nature that Martin’s music is known for, but they also have a great bounce and drive to them. The character that Martin’s voice assumes in this track sounds suave and relaxed, effortlessly gliding on top of the erratic music. The touches of harmony and textures that surround Martin’s voice and the beat do an excellent job of catching and holding the listener’s attention. Going forward, Martin is preparing to release new visuals and refining her live show, captivating her audience and inspiring them to stay true to themselves.
You can listen to “Namesez” here, and make sure to keep your eye on this groundbreaking rising artist in the future.
Influenced by “dreams, waves and outer space,” the celestial Mai Kino weaves together satin sounds in her single “Dopamine”, the title track on her newly released EP. Praised for her mesmerizing take on electro-pop and her intriguing voice, Kino’s music transcends sound, using her background in dance and multimedia art as well as her synthesia condition to integrate sound, video experimentation and self-directed video work into her own personal multifaceted universe.
“Dopamine” is an ethereal expression of this world, beginning with soft dulcet tones that induce a feeling of floating atop calm waters. Soon enough, however, you find yourself immersed in deeper waters as the music transitions seamlessly to ambient but grounded bass and other electronic sounds. These sounds create an entrancing soundscape, filled with waves of electronic bliss. Kino’s voice floats within this atmosphere, reminding listeners of the lead singer of Metric, Emily Haines, with her bright yet muted vocals. She sounds like an angel as she sings her charming words, suspended above in the ether.
With the mélange of sounds in “Dopamine” one could only imagine the array of colours that Kino would see as she listens. Fortunately the sweet sounds that enchant our ears are more than enough.
The valiant band Beautiful Dudes have channeled their determination and spunk into their newest single, “Nite Nite.” The single is first to be released from their upcoming EP Nite Songs, out August 14, the soundtrack to the current state of the world as it traverses dark, melancholic times with refreshing optimism. From Nevada City, frontman Tom Bevitori and the Dudes have always aimed to capture serious topics with infectious hooks and heavy riffs. There’s more to the band than meets the eye, however. Among the band’s brazen sounds are intimate lyrics that add a deeper dimension to their music.
“Nite Nite” embodies the courageous energy of four dudes who have tons of spirit and spite: “We are not afraid, we fear nothing.” It’s simple in structure– the opening combination of clashing drums, Bevitori’s turbulent voice, and the rumbling guitars including the persistent rising triplet figure continue basically throughout the entire song. This creates a feeling of static but excited energy, as though something is coming. And indeed, the first words we hear are “the revolution is coming.” The release of Nite Songs is coming as well, making this song the perfect first release to generate eager anticipation for the EP.
“Nite Nite” will only be released on a flexi vinyl record included with the purchase of their limited edition Skateboard deck. Beautiful Dudes will also be featured on the upcoming compilation album for the Nevada City Film Festival in August with their new song “Beverly Hills” and live performances and interviews.
Aja Volkman and Dan Epand of Nico Vega have come together to form the duo TWO, and just released their brilliantly painful EP Pull The Knife Out last Friday. The EP reflects a traumatic time in Volkman’s life, but while it certainly projects the feelings of sadness, loneliness, anger, and despair that plagued her at that time, a ferocious sense of empowerment surges from within the tracks and overshadows those negative emotions in favour of acceptance and self-worth. Written entirely by the duo and produced by Epand, Pull The Knife Out displays a varied set of seven songs that showcases the duo’s incredible talent in every facet of the record; the vocals, lyrics production, instruments, and even the structure of the songs and the EP as a whole are executed incredibly well.
“Live Forever More” is a hybrid song-poem with spoken word poetry verses and sung choruses. Not only are the lyrics expressive, narrative, and insightful, the rhythm of the words and the melody of the chorus invite you to sing along. The more you sing (or just listen) along, the more you believe in the words and their message. “Whoa Man” is also a spoken word performance, but the atmosphere is hauntingly empty, with Volkman’s voice and deep, throaty “mmm’s” intensified in the vastness. Her words reverberate into the silence when she pauses, amplifying their effect. Again, the words are profound. “If I am to be the woe, and you are to be the man, then let me blow your mind with just how great I am.” Even in this single line, you can recognize the trauma (“the woe”) and the empowerment (“how great I am”) that Volkman has gone through.
“Cage Fighter” also exudes confidence through its music and features more spoken word poetry in the bridge. It’s straight-up rock– heavy guitars, a pounding beat, and Volkman’s incredible gravelly vocals. From the music to the words, this track is powerful. In the bridge, sounding like she’s some higher being, hovering above. She says “when you’re small… it’s an opportunity to have humility and fall,” and “be a ball of fierce compact energy, waiting to explode,” and then the music does just that, launching into the chorus again with sustained energy. The only other song that rivals the energy of this track is “Phoenix”, a song that bleeds determination and resolution. It has a slow but firm beat that emphasizes her words– “you can’t take this song away from me.” Despite the slower tempo compared to “Cage Fighter”, even the quieter parts of this track are filled with energy that feels as though it can barely contain itself. Volkman’s astonishing vocals come to light once again as her voice sails at the climax of the line “for out of the fire I’ll rise again.”
The standout track “In This Rough” is also overflowing, not with energy, but with emotion. Volkman says that she “went through some dark times trying to find the kind of surrender expressed in this song.” As she sings her voice catches, brimming with emotion. The bridge has only drums and her voice in that classic anthemic manner, where, in a live performance, the audience would be screaming out the lyrics alongside her, tears streaming down their faces because at that moment– they’re understood. The guitar, spirited drums, and synths sound relatively carefree, but her words and voice are tortured. In a similarly contrasting way, the music of “Faces” sounds calm and nostalgic, with the initial guitar voices singing an easygoing duet and fun melodic “oohs” in the chorus. The lyrics, however, place the nostalgic sound in a more regretful context. Volkman’s vocals are especially intriguing in this track as well. Her inflections play with the placement of her voice, and it’s impossible to guess where she’s going to go next.
The closing track, “Crazy Love”, is full of conviction and honesty, something that’s easy to perceive in her voice. It begins with a unique drum part that sounds like deep water droplets. The rest of the track is an accessible song about exactly what the title says– a crazy love. In the transition to the bridge, the music feels as though you’re being submerged into water, and in the bridge itself, the classical background vocals contrast with Volkman’s sharp voice, creating quite a unique effect.
Pull The Knife Out is well done from the inside out. Volkman and Epand’s immense abilities as musicians create fantastic music, and their close relationship doesn’t hurt either. Volkman says “Dan and I have always remained close and supportive of each other. He has been my cheerleader for over a decade,” and Epand returns the sentiment in saying “We have been through a lot together, a friendship and a creative collaboration that continues to evolve.” It’s that close bond that truly makes their music shine, and combined with Volkman’s remarkable voice, it’s no wonder that the duo has been generating buzz and accumulating some influential fans including P!nk. The EP is out now, as is a music video for “In This Rough” that was shot in quarantine and written and directed by Epand.