Review: EP1_2020 by New Language

RIYL: Spicy quarantine jams with timely lyrics

It’s perhaps both a great time and horrible time to release music these days. On one hand, shows aren’t happening, chaos has manifested in some pretty tangible ways, and art itself seems far less important than larger social challenges.

On the other hand, the audience is more captive than ever – and more in need of messages of truth, sensibility, and critical thought to help discern reality in a sea of fake news, personal anxieties, and general apprehensiveness.

Here, New Language‘s latest effort, the simply-titled EP1_2020, seems to ring true. The band has been working on its second LP for quite some time, and while it’s uncertain if these songs are a subset of what we’d find on the album or not, these three tracks speak well into our current pandemic – and beyond. I’m led to believe that this EP wasn’t initially planned but that our current circumstances prompted the band to put out this release. After all, New Language is not the sort of band that takes unreasonable risks and giving listeners an anchor for reality amid socio-political and personal turmoil reflects the band’s brand of community-driven efforts. This is a band known for donating album and merch sales to charities, so dropping this EP should certainly not be taken as a cheap grab for attention.

Instead, EP1_2020 makes every effort to comfort the restless and weary. New Language has continually managed to navigate socially-conscious lyrics in a way that avoids taking sides, and this is something I particularly respect. There’s a common empathy that whatever ideals we might hold, we are all in the same world trying to make it through.

On this EP, the lyrics feel more personal than ever. Lead single “NO TIME” speaks to the consumption, if not over-consumption, of media and its consequent consumption of us. That’s not to say naivete is a good goal by any stretch, but so much of what occupies our minds can become burdensome. We see this exemplified in some of the lyrics: “Losing my sight, losing my mind, no time, no time”. It’s the sort of sentiment that works best laid so bare. While there’s certainly more to behold lyrically, suffice it to say our relationships with others are strained by how we prioritize our time and what we treasure most. In a time where we’re cut off from many people we love, it’s even more critical we direct our efforts toward those who are hurting rather than cower in escapist fashion.

“PARANOID” is a particularly striking track, and its name is perhaps the most direct of the three songs on the EP. These opening lyrics set the stage for this introspective piece:

Lost control
Trying to steer clear
Why are we still here?

It comes and goes
Try to be sincere
But why are we stuck here?

These are certainly sentiments we’ve experienced before to varying degrees, but they feel even more timely. Why are we stuck here? It’s a statement that resounds on multiple levels, from potential international distress to the millions of jobs lost in a mere few weeks. It is easy to think and feel the worst in all of this when good news feels so rare, but a panicked response certainly is not healthy either. Instead, the band has this call-to-action for us:

Can’t let go, don’t wanna be so paranoid
Can’t let go, don’t wanna be so paranoid

Take away, take away fixed patterns
Break away, break away right now
Overthrow
Don’t need to be so paranoid

There’s a recognition of the unhealthy thought cycle and a desire to do something about it rather than be passively overtaken by fear. We tend to forget how even small changes in thought can have a huge effect when applied on a mass scale.

The EP ends on “CAN’T EXPLAIN”, a track accompanied by a video of LA during the quarantine which the band has created for their community. Lyrically, it feels like the most resilient track so far: even when confusion abounds, we will carry on for the people and things we love. The song’s title seems to have two sides to it – not being able to explain the current difficulties and also not being able to explain the hope and desire to push forward in a time where it’d be easier to sit things out.

Musically, the band has continued down their experimental tangent we first saw with “House of Cards”. Synths are more prominent this time around (and a central part of “NO TIME”). Things feel a bit poppier overall, though not to any sort of detriment. These are certainly the most palatable songs the group has released to date, with the band taking a more minimalist approach to songwriting so that every second truly counts – and there is certainly no time to waste here, no pun intended. While the group’s first LP was grounded in solid hard rock and post-hardcore and the EP played a bit more off alt-rock influences, this EP shows a new direction altogether. Certainly, New Language is still a rock band – but subgenre labels feel less apt to describe the core of what this band is crafting. At the end of the day, EP1_2020 is a fresh set of timely tracks that glimmer with perseverance and fortitude in an uncertain age, and that’s worth plenty all on its own.

Our Rating: 8.2 (Best New Music)

Song Premier: Cloud Caverns’ “The Eleventh Hour Effort”

“We were always waiting for the shoe to drop,
Here it is.”

Chattanooga’s Cloud Caverns has been crafting intimate, progressive folk for the better part of a decade now. Manned by Brandon Peterson, with intermittent friends lending assistance, the project has three full-length albums under its belt. More recently, Cloud Caverns has been releasing singles in anticipation of a new new full-length album.

Never shy to the discomforts of political corruption, disillusionment, and the the simple (yet unrelenting) pains of life, Peterson pens visceral songs that are poetic without being esoteric: they’re songs that frame the common threads of life in a way that manage to make something beautiful out of a reality that is often harsh.

We’re excited to debut Cloud Caverns’ latest single, “The Eleventh Hour Effort”. It’s a particularly timely song given the current health crisis. While the song’s lyrics speak of a house literally collapsing, it’s a state that many of us are experiencing emotionally. We are inside the house, it is sinking, and we’re not sure what to do. But the song is not prescriptive, instead slyly remarking, “That’s just life, is that right?”

All of this is juxtaposed against an otherwise upbeat sonic landscape, with prominent use of flute-like synth tones. It’d be easy to lose the serious undertones of the lyrics with a casual listen. It feels warm and playful, a nice change of pace for a project known to oscillate between intense alt-rock and spacious acoustic arrangements.

Check out “The Eleventh Hour Effort” below:

The Eleventh Hour Effort by Cloud Caverns

Review: Honeymoon by Beach Bunny

FFO: early Best Coast, Diet Cig, surfing and crying

It may be late February, and we may be in the throes of winter (certainly here in New York, where upstate we got into the lovely sub-zero fahrenheit zone this month, fun!), but Chicago power-poppers Beach Bunny want you to feel like it’s the worst summer of your baby-adult life and you’re hitting the ice cream stand in Venice Beach for what was originally supposed to be a date, maybe getting a good bit of your vanilla soft-serve all over your face as you gaze blankly into the ocean because you forgot napkins. Then again, perhaps this summer-bummer pop serving is a timely release (they’re not an LA band, after all, so it’s not like everything has to be on script), as it dropped (intentionally?) on Valentine’s Day and could potentially fit the mood for you sad singles out there who spent the holiday sinking into the couch as you consumed cheap chocolate. That works too. Either way, Beach Bunny’s debut full-lenght, ironically dubbed Honeymoon, will hit that sweet tooth craving sugary melodies and songs of wistful heartbreak.

Forming in 2015, Beach Bunny has a genesis like many other projects by talented young songwriters these days, in the comfort of a bedroom, and perhaps in the discomfort of a broken heart, too. Lili Trifilio, a student at DePaul University at the time, solidified her project into a full-fledged rock band two years (and two EPs) later, and brought in the buzz with their 2018 EP, Prom Queen. Hitting all the right “sad-girl” notes, Trifilio’s songwriting on these early releases exhibited a sharp ear for pop melody that married the sweet and sunny with the melancholy, applying it to familiar post-Weezer power-pop dynamics. 

Soundwise, Honeymoon doesn’t stray too far from the pack. It’s simply an expanded version of what Trifilio has already established with her non-album releases. Opening with the breezy bubble-grunge of “Promises,” we find Trifilio wondering something we’ve all wondered before while in the depth of post-heartbreak: “When you’re all alone in your bedroom, do you ever think of me?” she sings in an honest alto that sounds a little bit like the singer she has perhaps drawn the most comparison to, Bethany Cosentino, while dipping ever so slightly into a subtle vibrato that sounds a little bit like a more subdued Marissa Paternoster. “Cuffing Season” follows faster punk dynamics. There’s a mindset that seems to define the romantic lives of the two generations that Trifilio straddles the line of, the self-embracing of introversion clashing with the desire for intimacy, a feeling she touches on here: “Maybe we are getting too close/Paranoid permanence is just an empty promise/Sometimes I like being on my own/I’m afraid of winding up alone.”

The highs of this brief album really hit in the middle. “April” brings in a janglier spin to Trifilio’s crying-fest. “I’m sick of counting tears, wishing you were here,” she sings over classically chipper Johnny Marr extract. It subsides with a noisy jam and is followed by the wonderful ballad “Rearview,” a quieter moment where the stripped back arrangement makes the heartbreak in Trifilio’s voice all the more noticable; there are moments you hear her voice shake, as if she’s about to cry (and kind of wants to). A quiet-to-loud outro a la grunge leads us into “Ms. California”. Trifilio dishes out all the envious angst a midwesterner might ideally have over someone from the Golden State, all through the use, ironically, of a chorus that should make any indie songwriter from Los Angeles green. It’s the kind of singalong chorus that hits all the sweet-spots for this melody-addicted reviewer, albeit couching a very common and tropey subject. Towards the second half of the album is a sprinkling of more diverse dynamics. “Colorblind” pulls a book from the Hop Along book of balancing an emo-punk flavour with a funky, almost danceable groove, and “Racetrack” keeps the mood of the music in pace with the mood of the lyrics, slowing things down and trading the four-piece rock band for a lone electric piano before the garage pop comes back twice more to close off the album.

This album is certainly nothing groundbreaking, nor even all that dynamic, but like Charly Bliss’s Guppy before it, it fulfills its promise of delivering a wonderful debut LP from an artist that had years ago announced their arrival through a string of online EPs and singles. It may lack variance specifically in lyrical subject matter, but it still speaks to very real feelings and insecurities. And as long as we have hearts for someone to break and pillows to cry in (and ice-cream to cry over), having those insecurities voiced back at us through a noisy wave of guitars and sun-kissed tunes will always be welcome.

7.1 (Stand-Out)

Release date: February 14, 2020

Label: Mom+Pop

Everything Matthew Milia Won’t Talk About

Frontier Ruckus is known for some deeply personal lyrical motifs, but even they still leave some points unaddressed.

Frontier Ruckus is a band that thrives as much on its lyrics as it does on its instrumental arrangements. Frontman Matthew Milia’s lyrics oscillate with ease better utter specificity (typically involving references to his home state of Michigan) and broad, speculative poetry. Even so, there are some things Milia just won’t talk about – and he has kindly laid these out for us in his lyrics. So, without further ado, here is a list of (mostly) everything Matthew Milia won’t tell us.

  1. Who killed who in a Top 40s country song
  2. All the sins he’s committed with a straight face
  3. How he abandoned his only companion
  4. What he farmed in his nightmares
  5. How he could be loved with all the phantoms in his mind
  6. The things rotting in the back of Kohl’s
  7. What they got from Little Caesars for the birthday party
  8. When Jacqueline is coming home
  9. What the glass in his friend’s eye implies
  10. If “it” is worth
  11. If he can bear the typos on the menu
  12. The secrets about Rebecca’s sister
  13. What it means to “go it alone”
  14. If his friend’s dad falls asleep holding the remote
  15. What he found in the woods behind the Taco Bell
  16. If the microphone is malfunctioning or broken
  17. If sad modernity has had its turn with his companion
  18. The joke that woke him up
  19. What made his special day dim
  20. If the “Queen of the downgrade” got paid for “making beds”
  21. If he got reimbursed for $27
  22. What the $27 is for
  23. If his friend’s dad found work on Craigslist
  24. If his friend made it back to the night of bluish black

And that’s about sums it up. Will we ever get answers or another Frontier Ruckus record? Only time will tell.

Sampler: Earthy Tones in Folk, Blues, and Jazz

Four earthy tracks from multiple genres that are perfect for your Sunday afternoon.

This week we’re breaking from our genre oriented samplers to give you something new: four earthy tracks from multiple genres that are perfect for your Sunday afternoon.

Nothing Turns My Lock by Kate Vargas

Kate Vargas’ brand of earthy, muted jazz is beautifully classic, but her perspective is anything but old-fashioned. Nothing Turns My Lock is a manifesto on sexual liberation, pulling out every stop and holding back zero punches. As each verse unfolds, Vargas confidently pushes the envelope farther with lines like, “I like good loving, that don’t make me bad”, “I’m not a big believer in monogamy”, and the god of all stanzas: “I don’t discriminate between Johnny and Sue/ He, she, they, and you can come (wink, wink) too/ Yes it may take many, many, many men and women to satisfy my needs/ But nothing turns my lock like your key.” It’s an expansion on the jazz standard form, which to use Vargas’ words is “usually pretty hetero and monogamous”, but it never loses the timeless feel of it’s source material. Her energy is defiantly infectious. As soon as her smoky jazz voice hits your ears in all its raspy, irreverent glory you can’t help but get hooked. Nothing Turns My Lock is a must-listen even if you aren’t usually a jazz fan, it’s a witty pop statement from a supremely talented rising star. We can’t wait to see where Kate Vargas goes from here.

Eyes to the Sky by David Ellis

Folk as a genre has exploded in the past decade, but even in such a crowded and diverse genre David Ellis has found a niche that makes him stand out from the crowd. Where the scene is largely dominated by pop folk acts cashing in on the Mumford & Sons/The Lumineers explosion at the start of the decade, one guitar male/female duos with tight harmonies, and emotive Justin Vernon-inspired experimental projects, Ellis has turned instead to the 70s to capture and modernize an up-beat, rhythmic kind of hippie folk that is both catchy and creative. A self-described “Pagan Rock” artist from London, his aim is to make earthy and spiritual music for an increasingly spiritually deprived Western culture, encouraging the listener to connect with the beauty of the world and find happiness within themselves. On his latest single, Eyes to the Sky, he does exactly that, creating an optimistic and nuanced song about love in the grander sense that is imbued with an undeniable vitality. The album it was taken from, Misty Heights, recorded and produced by Ellis while living next to the Byrdcliffe Colony in Woodstock, is slated for release August 15.

Caught Between Our Troubles by The American Buffalo

The 1970s were the heyday of rock music, marked by watershed releases from bands as varied as Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, The Eagles, The Ramones, and Rush. One particular subculture of 70s rock, however, largely faded into obscurity in the following decades except for two of its figureheads, Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Southern Rock was a thriving sub-community in the rock landscape of the 1970s, focussed on virtuosic, earthy guitar playing and storytelling lyricism more often than not about the everyday experience of the common man. On Caught Between Our Troubles, Dayton-by-way-of-Nashville artist The American Buffalo channel the 70s Southern Rock movement in sound and in spirit, resulting in a powerful mix of folk, country, and blues that paints a simple, but resonant scene: two brothers sitting in a park, deep in reflection over a pack of smokes. It’s part of singer-songwriter Josh Edwards’ modus operandi: dissecting the oft-ambiguous role of the white American male in a culture of white patriarchy. He does this with probing, storytelling songwriting in the tradition of American Popular Music (not to be confused with American Pop Music), a very historically aware movement including a wide variety of genres that is meant to be in direct conversation with the cultural meta-narrative. As a result, Caught Between Our Troubles feels timeless, a thoughtful track that is relevant today and would have been relevant even in the era it emulates.

FOMO by Great Aunt

Americana usually calls to mind the bayous of Louisiana, the pocket communities of the Appalachian mountains, or the great plains of the American heartland, but Melbourne, Australia’s Great Aunt prove that, despite its name, not all great Americana comes from the United States. Comprised of songwriters Megan Byrd and Chelsea Allen, Great Aunt have been steadily making a name for themselves in the Australian Country Music community since 2016 with their tight harmonies and instrumentals that are elegant in their simplicity. Lyrically they pull influence from old time, bluegrass, and gospel traditions, writing downtrodden music that masks its latent sorrowfulness in the joy of its expression. On their newest single, FOMO, Great Aunt drop back off their usually vocal-driven sound and instead highlight their guitar playing prowess, arranging the song around a set of slide guitar riffs that sound straight off a Georgia front porch. The sparse lyrics accent these riffs beautifully, creating an almost haunting vibe with their hushed, close harmonies. The sound feels like a captured live performance, creating a sensation of immediacy that draws the listener in to the deep valleys and dangerous peaks of the song as it undulates between dynamic extremes. 

Review: “Princess Diana” by The Mañana People

“Princess Diana, the debut full-length from German freak-folk/psyche-country duo The Mañana People is the kind of album that almost seems tailor-made for a quirky coming of age indie-movie.”

FFO: Space-Westerns, Olde-Timey, Freak Folk

In the early 2010s there was a string of movies where the protagonist somehow ends up involved with an eccentric indie band. Jim Carrey fell in love with the singer of an avant-garde noise pop band in Yes Man, Michael Fassbender wore a giant papier-mâché head and fronted a psychedelic rock band in Frank, and of course Ellen Page and Michael Cera formed their own quirky folk duo in the smash hit Juno, which briefly popularized bubbly, cutesy folk with its accompanying soundtrack. It was such a popular trend for those few years that it almost became its own subgenre and launched specifically Michael Cera and Zooey Deschanel into the spotlight. 

While these movies put a ton of underground artists in the spotlight for a brief moment, there was a certain sense that the viewer was supposed to see these kinds of music as weird, perhaps endearingly so, but still other to them. Where the obscure musician stereotype wasn’t fetishized (like in Scott Pilgrim V.S. the World) it was often played as a sort of joke. Fortunately for the actual artists in these obscure corners of music, these movies had an unintended side effect: a bunch of kids who never would have known these genres existed genuinely fell in love with the new musical world now in front of them. I was one such kid. 

Princess Diana, the debut full-length from German freak-folk/psyche-country duo The Mañana Peopleis the kind of album that almost seems tailor-made for a quirky coming of age indie-movie. Their blend of lo-fi country, harmonies that fall somewhere between The Beach Boysand The Eagles, and inventive sci-fi storytelling plant them firmly in a niche all their own. Top that off with the occasional whirligig synth line, a few timely handclaps, and the always-essential theremin solo, and you have the recipe for an immediate cult classic and/or the soundtrack to the next popular Sundance film. It’s infectious fun from the very first song, practically oozing with good-natured joy. 

The Mañana People draw from quite a variety of host material to create their unique brand of entertainment. What is particularly impressive is the way they contour their harmonies to further distinguish each song. On Matchstick Manthey resemble The Beach Boys, while on Anthrophagus they sound more like 70s Southern rockers The Outlaws, and on People Who Don’t Know They’re Deadthey once again reimagine themselves as a barbershop quartet. Musically The Mañana People are equally prone to experiment, usually leaning on old-timey country guitars, but occasionally dipping into Frankenstein organs, surf guitars, lo-fi electronic drums, and old-English balladry, doing each separate style justice and maintaining their indie-pop chops throughout. 

The lyrics more often than not tell tales of zombies, murder mysteries, and traveler’s woes, calling to mind the classic monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Though hoaky at points, both writers consistently display a talent for penning gripping lines that jump beyond their narrative context. Perhaps the best example of this comes on the chorus of the penultimate track It’s Harder to Try, a old-timey country tune akin to The Carter Family“May the road rise to greet you / May the songs fill your head / May your house be safe from tigers / May your youth be well-spent / It’s so hard to be kind / But it’s harder to try.” While their particular brand of lyricism certainly isn’t for everyone, it is unusually captivating for what it is. It takes a rare songwriter to get a listener invested in a song about zombie battles, but The Mañana Peoplepull it off more times than not.

While Princess Diana is a very unique album and generally quite engaging, it can feel a bit disjointed at times. The album’s composition is a little inconsistent, with the track order sometimes seeming very thought out and at other times haphazard. It sits in that awkward, uncanny valley between albums that were designed to be cohesive and albums that were really just a collection of songs, not really committing to either side. This makes listening to Princess Diana as a unit an uneven experience, despite each song for the most part standing on its own merits. Despite this, however, it is still quite a fun and enjoyable collection of tunes.

All in all the debut LP from The Mañana People makes for an intriguing listen, so unique as to peak your interest and yet with enough familiar ground to keep your attention focused. Fans of freak-folk and psyche-country will find plenty to enjoy here, but Princess Diana is such an endearing album that it also merits a listen from any outsider who might be curious. While it may be fairly obscure as an art-form it is also so laden with catchy hooks and infectious, quasi-space-western energy that most anybody can find something to enjoy.  

7.3/10 (Stand-Out)

For more information on how we score albums see Our Rating Scale.

Label: Unique Records
Release Date: January 18, 2019

Review: “i am > i was” by 21 Savage

Popularized largely as the result of his work with producer Metro Boomin in the later part of the decade, 21 Savage is one of the Atlanta trap scene’s up and coming stars, and he comes out swinging for the fences on his December release.  This is a guy who wants to prove that he’s not just a fad or free loader riding on the capes of his contemporaries.  For the most part, his sophomore album i am > i was succeeds at this goal, solidifying him for the time being as one of the stronger members in the mainstream trap scene.

My favorite aspect of 21 Savage’s sound is his singular voice.  It’s hard, but also strangely soothing.  Unlike other comparable artists like Future or Travis Scott, he rarely employs auto-tune in his music, or he does so more sparingly; he sounds much more natural than most for the style of music that he makes.  He is cool and confident; he sounds streetwise, but above all real.  21 and his producers recognizes this strength and capitalizes on it.

Opening track “a lot” is the perfect intro and example of this.  It’s smooth and easy, with laid back beats and a melodic soul sample that carries the listener effortlessly into the record; it’s the type of song you would hear cruising with the top down on a breezy day.  Although the lyrics are stereotypically hip-hop (how much money you got / how much money you got / how much money you got) in a braggadocios sense, it’s not distracting because it’s not anything you wouldn’t expect.  If you’re listening to 21, you’re probably there because you like rap, and are used to these tropes.  The trend continues throughout the rest of the album, in the sense that the lyrics do not break into any new territory and sometimes border on cliché, but it’s ultimately okay because that’s not why anyone listens to 21 Savage anyway.

Where the record succeeds is in providing hot trap anthems to soundtrack your parties and car rides.  Taken at face value this may denote a weak album, but that’s not what I’m trying to say.  Sometimes you just want a solid album to have fun with and turn up to with your friends, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  i am > i was is just that.  It illustrates the growth of an artist over time in terms of providing a more fully developed image, which establishes him as a star to keep an eye on as his career develops.

Rating: 6.0 (Solid)

For info on how we score albums see Our Rating Scale