“What’s in a Name”, the lead single off of Jeni Schapire’s upcoming EP, is a window into the story-rich lyricism and soulful vocals that frame fractured relationships, pressures to compromise, and questions of identity. “What’s in a Name” deals with the third; Schapire molds images of her artistry, her name, and even her identity itself into melodies that gently soar across their sonic space. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter writes indie experimental pop songs, a genre that, in “What’s in a Name”, initially manifests itself as a background made up of fuzzy, nostalgic big band and string ensemble sound. Later, a jolting beat twitches underneath smooth-as-silk vocal lines, adding a fragmented layer to the otherwise smooth soundscape. The slow tempo, wistful orchestration, and expressive melodies give the track an overall moody sound, yet undertones of confidence peek through here and there. All of these details lead towards the final section of the song, where the beat bows out and we’re left with that blurry brass-string sound and Schapire’s ethereal voice. Together they paint the aural horizon with beautifully muted colours, creating a lovely space for the listener to immerse themselves in. Be sure to be on the lookout for “What’s in a Name”, and Schapire’s EP, which can’t get here fast enough.
A darling of charts and critics alike, Bette Smith is back with her wonderfully ferocious new album, The Good, The Bad And The Bette. Intrinsic to the wild rock and soul singer’s music is the connection that she made between the gospel she heard in church and the soul music she heard on the corner growing up in the rough Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Throughout her childhood, Smith was steeped in gospel music. She remembers, “My father was a church choir director. I was singing since I was five years old. I take it to church. I just break out, start speaking in tongues.” She also heard gospel around the house every weekend. “My mother listened to nothing but gospel,” she recalls, citing Mahalia Jackson and Reverend James Cleveland. “Every Sunday morning, she would get up and put on these records while dressing and praising the Lord.” In The Good, The Bad And The Bette, Smith and producers Matt Patton and Bronson Tew explore the power of soul and match it with the edge of rock music, going for a Southern rock soul/Aretha Franklin/”I once was lost but now I’m found” vibe. Sure enough, this album feels very much like rock, but with a blues/gospel attitude, with tracks embodying various feelings of comfort, anger, passion, friendship and even vulnerability in the form of rock-centric bangers, powerful gospel anthems, and even a few tracks that have the taste of a ballad.
But before we can delve into the tracks, we must take a moment to praise Smith’s lustrous vocals. She is gospel, through and through, and you can hear it in the way she sings, but more than that you can feel the years of immersion in gospel and soul that she experienced growing up. Her voice is rough, raw, and absolutely delectable.
But it’s amazing to hear the ways she can apply those vocals to so many different emotions. There’s the groovy comfort in lines like “Don’t be afraid, all is well, I’m here” in “Signs and Wonders” that guides you through the classic blues-rock harmonies, which are revitalized by fresh guitar sounds and colours from the brass. But there’s also the touch of anger that emanates from “Fistful of Dollars” that then diffuses into the passion of the sparkling “Whistle Stop.” Smith sprinkles some sweetness in “Song for a Friend”, complemented by the satisfying backing harmonies in the chorus. But even in the vulnerable, stripped back state of “Don’t Skip Out On Me” she maintains the attitude that can be so central to both rock and soul music, which is quite admirable.
Even in the softer songs, The Good, The Bad And The Bette has this incredible energy to it. This is an album of dance songs, and its magnificence desperately calls out to be heard live (please, COVID…) . Smith herself values the redemptive experience that touring has given her. “It’s amazing, like a dream come true,” she says. “It’s very spiritual and I go into a trance when I’m singing. The fans are like family. I feel very loved. They are very present. I went through all of this so I could sing and now that I can sing I’m finding the love that I’ve been looking for all my life.” Some of the anthems like “Pine Belt Blues” and “Everybody Needs Love” also hold some of the greatest lines that one could belt out with Smith as you watch her on stage. The sultry gospel singing in “Everybody Needs Love”, along with its anthemic harmonies and lines like “Everybody needs love, just like they need the sun and moon and stars above” create a beautiful and totally universal sentiment that would be so powerful in a live setting.
To finish things off, Smith offers “Don’t Skip Out On Me.” The track slows things right down, beginning with just Smith and some acoustic guitar. As more instruments are threaded in, touches of effects create this resonance that makes the space she’s singing in feel so much bigger. Midway through the song, there’s an echoing trumpet solo, which takes individual segments, offsets them and then weaves them together to make beautiful patterns of sound that ring out in their own world before joining the rest of the music once again. It’s this gorgeous interlude that comes as a surprise yet fits in perfectly with the album as a whole that makes the final track on this album the standout. At first the choice to end off with a slow song was surprising, but after listening through, the majesty of this track proved to make perfect sense as an ending.
The Good, The Bad And The Bette is a vivid marriage of rock and soul music that displays Smith’s rich background in the genres and envelopes the listener in a variety of emotions by means of colourful bops and sentimental ballads that are united in their unrelenting attitude and firepower. One can’t help but yearn for the day that these tracks can be heard in their full glory, on stage.
Twenty-year-old Caroline Culver’s new single “I Went Out With A Man” is an ironic lesson in enjoying disappointment in the form of a mesmerizingly moody anthem. Culver recounts her experience going out with a man in his late twenties and finding that her expectation that he would be any more mature or exciting than a boy her own age to be unfulfilled. Recorded and produced by Jason Cummings at the Cutting Room Studios in NYC, “I Went Out With A Man” uses Culver’s foundation as a singer-songwriter as a jumping-off point, exploring stately vocal lines superimposed on top of introspective soundscapes. The resulting atmospheric sound echoes that of bands like Alvvays and Soccer Mommy, but the distorted guitars and crashing cymbals give Culver a bit of an edge. Her powerful voice perfectly encapsulates the saturnine disenchantment of this song both in the softer verses and the grandiose choruses. Each melody line is surprising, compelling the listener as Culver’s voice flits upwards at the ends of words.
About the song, Culver says “Ultimately, this song is an anthem for single girls dating around in their twenties and all the excitement it brings.” So while the underlying emotion behind “I Went Out With A Man” is a sense of disappointment, it’s also a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the exhilaration that comes with a young girl finding her way.
Rising anti-pop star Dava is once again enchanting her listeners, channeling her unique brand of offbeat pop in her new single “Papercut”, the latest off her upcoming EP, Sticky. The left-of-center pop newcomer turned to music after her mom passed away when she was only 8, finding solace in writing songs on a guitar that her mother gave her. She grew up between Texas and Oklahoma, but has since moved to Colorado to build her career. Releasing tracks on SoundCloud and taking advantage of coffeehouse open mics earned Dava a substantial grassroots following, her warm R&B sound appealing to a wide audience. With “Papercut”, Dava further explores the sonic space she has created for herself. Its soulful and tangible pop sound feels like a cozy blanket wrapped around the listener. Dava’s vocals are delicately produced in a way that serves to augment her natural talent. As a whole, the track has this soothing, relaxed vibe to it. The verse melodies gently propel you along while the echoing choruses envelop you in static, yet infectious layers of the phrase “you’re just a papercut.”
Dava’s music is eccentric, yet feels instantly familiar when it hits your ears. It’s no wonder that her two previously released singles, “ASOS” and “Right Time”, have highlighted the emerging artist as one to watch. Sink into “Papercut” today.
In the midst of all the excitement surrounding Imperfect Fifth’s third-year anniversary event, Evelyn Cools cooled things down with her cozy and beautiful live performance on September 8th. Live streaming is different from recorded music, but it’s also not quite the same as true live performance either. In many ways, it feels like a kind of hybrid between the two, with the excitement from the live aspect, but still feeling intimate in the same way that listening to a record can feel. Evelyn’s performance emphasized the latter well, performing songs from her EP Misfit Paradise with only a guitar and her spectacular voice. The shining star of this performance, Cools’ vocals, were so incredibly striking live, inducing chills at least once on every track she sang. Not only that, the melody lines themselves were so well suited for live performance; their sweetness and beauty radiant amongst the bare musical background. They adapted to the tone of each song Cools performed, sometimes dulcet, other times haunting, but always gorgeous.
Aside from the enchanting sonic aspect of this performance, the visual was also fun to watch. Cools was open and humble, and it felt like she was simply just trying to share her wonderful music with us all. She often made eye contact with the camera, giving it that personal feel that is so elusive when at a live concert; wishing, hoping, and praying that the headliner will notice your face in the sea of the crowd.
It’s safe to say that Evelyn delivered an exquisite performance that engaged her entire audience– if you need proof, know that even her dog was compelled to sing along (and made a brief and adorable appearance on camera)! If you’re disappointed that you missed it, don’t fret! You can find the performance on Imperfect Fifth’s facebook page.
Much like a heart broken in two halves, Norwegian singer Dagny is gearing up to release the second half of her debut album Strangers / Lovers by releasing the first single, “It’s Only A Heartbreak.” Since the A side of the album dropped earlier this May, its two lead singles have received an impressive response; “Come Over” spent 3 weeks at the top of the Norwegian radio-airplay charts, while “Somebody” made its way the top 5, amassing over 14 million streams along the way. The album as a whole tracks the journey of a relationship. The half that has already been released traces the dizzying, butterfly-inducing blooming of a new love, but now it’s time for things to fall apart. Side B of Strangers / Lovers is out on October 2nd via Little Daggers Records, and it examines the fall out of the relationship that blossomed on side A.
Like the whole album, “It’s Only A Heartbreak” is personal, so Dagny uses conversational lyrics to reflect on her post-breakup emotions and to give herself a sort of pep talk in the aftermath. The song was partially inspired by Humphery Bogart’s famous quote from the 1942 classic Casablanca: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Dagny explains, “Like the movie, the song is about knowing that you will never get someone back, but you can secretly still look at, and admire, that certain someone. The song carries a nonchalant expression, but the undertone makes it pretty obvious that you’re not over that person yet.”
And indeed, from all sonic appearances, “It’s Only A Heartbreak” is an energetic, striking bop. Its infectious melody lines and vibrant array of jittering electronic sounds create a vivid soundscape that could be mistaken for a dance track– unless you listen to the lyrics. Dagny sings “Most days I wake up I’m okay / I’m doing my own thing, I don’t have a moment to think about you / Most days I’m up on a high wave, And I’m just like urgh, It’s only a heartbreak, I got to get through you,” and suddenly the brilliance and complexity of the sounds surrounding her seem to reflect the intense and complicated emotions that come with heartbreak. So whether you’re feeling heavy-hearted yourself and just want to feel seen, you just want to dance, or you’re a fan of intriguing musical settings and skilled production, “It’s Only A Heartbreak” is definitely for you.
If this were a Friends episode, it would be called “The One With A Chicken.” Stephen Clair’s upcoming single “Fixing to Fly” features strangely cute chicken-related metaphors to describe the complications of romance, supplemented by rustic visuals of a chicken coop in the accompanying video.
Clair is known for his intent singing and literary songwriting, something he channels in the lyrics to “Fixing to Fly” which have a certain poetry to them. But his songs aren’t wispy folk tunes that one often associates with lyrical storytelling, rather they are garage Americana tunes with classic, bluesy sounding guitar, crashing cymbals, and driven walking bass lines. The first few moments of “Fixing to Fly” reveal the song’s whole nature immediately, with the swinging guitar that meanders about on its own for a while before the bass comes in to ground it in the twangy Americana sound. Clair’s voice rings out clear and genuine, like a humble offering to his listeners, subtly asking them to follow along as he sings: “Cooped up in this roost with all these chicks / And the henhouse ain’t a funhouse / When you’re fixing to fly but your wings don’t get you high.”
If you’re feeling down and just can’t find the right way to express how you feel, give “Fixing to Fly” a shot. The odd metaphors that lie within a chicken’s wings may speak to your soul in ways you have never known before.
Tyrone’s Jacket has dominated the live performance scene with their dynamic shows that boast high musical/visual production value and energetic acts that have earned them spots on three national tours and multiple music festivals, including a national tour with Dirty Heads. Their satisfied audiences have hyped the band up to almost mythic proportions since so little of their recorded material has been available– until now. Their newly released single, “Streets”, is an emotional musical and visual narrative that chronicles the homeless epidemic in LA. It’s a deeply emotional and revelatory alt-pop ballad with a soulful vibe that’s driven by frontman and vocalist KnowaKing (son of the Commodores co-founder, William Wak King). While the band consists of KnowaKing (lead vocals), The Grateful Carl (vocals and guitar), and Ry Toast (DJ), the two-time Grammy-nominated producer King David is thought as an extension of the band itself through his faithful work with the band since their inception. His skilled, and gentle but prominent production knows exactly when to lift up the vocals, and when to strip things back to let the powerful lyrics stand on their own. KnowaKing’s vocals dance with the line between raspy and smooth, simultaneously pleasing the ears and allowing them to engage with the song’s message. The subject of homelessness in combination with the real-world images in the music video and the anthemic beat create a powerful environment that invites the listener to sing along, but more importantly, pay attention to what the band is trying to say. About the track, “Streets is a love song in every sense of the word,” explains vocalist KnowaKing. “Spawned from a broken heart while congregating with derelicts, the pursuit and ultimate discovery of self unknowingly was my destiny. In a city the size of a small country, we become desensitized to the downtrodden because they reflect our greatest fear. But they have a story, they have ideas, they have dignity and they deserve attention.”
“Streets” proves that Tyrone’s Jacket is just as captivating in the studio as they are on stage. The band’s debut self-titled album will be out in November, with more new music following on the heels of “Streets.”
The dual-vocal quartet Rakes are busting out traditional rock and infusing it with soul and danceability with the bold single “Dig Deep” off their upcoming self-titled debut album. The album explores the big, punchy sounds of rock in ways that are sometimes harsh and other times tender. “Dig Deep” features the use of horns, giving it a soulful, grand sound, but also has a very classic guitar riff with just the right amount of distortion to keep the track tethered to its rocking roots. The vocalists Andrew Foster and Chelsea Walker show off the dynamic interplay between their voices; his hearty and hers full with a bit of twang to it, together a duet that’s equal parts tough and vivacious. Their words have a bite to them, but bounce on top of the vibrant melody lines that from all sonic appearances are upbeat and happy. Foster and Walker each play a character, at times playing call-and-response to the storyline that their lyrics tell.
Rakes are an absolute treat for fans of classic rock, providing you with familiar and fresh sounds all at once. Buffs of the genre can easily fall in love with the soaring vocals and manic drumming, but at the same time they are exposed to the big band sound that the horns provide. “Dig Deep” is only a hint of the avenues that the full album will explore when it drops on September 18th.