1. “8:46 (Breathing Song)” – FROOS. This synthesizer-and-voice rumination is a protest song that calls out the amount of time that George Floyd was held with a knee over his throat before he died. The voice and breath that gently accent the washes of synthesizer point the song even further toward its protest goal. The delicate synths are disrupted throughout by grumbling, dissonant bursts of competing synth, evocative of the injustice in the situation breaking in.
2. “Let’s Leap” – Mesadorm. Here’s a different type of protest song: this is a call to action for people (including the singer) to get engaged in the work of making the world better. It’s framed in an enthusiastic, bouncy early-’00s indie-pop jam that will make old-school Of Montreal and Architecture in Helsinki fans do backflips. It’s not quite an anthem, but the quirky hook is solid and the arrangement is absolutely stellar.
3. “All American Singer” – Zephaniah OHora. Some things just fit together, like New York guitar-slinging troubadours with hauntingly familiar voices. Zephaniah OHora’s “All American Singer” is the first single of Listening To The Music, from Last Roundup Records August 28th. Recording in Brooklyn, the record also was the final project for producer Neal Casal prior to his tragic death. Rich yet restrained classic chord structures, slide guitar breaks, and perfectly mixed instrumentation suggest this could be a taste of brilliance to come on the upcoming twelve-song album. The iconic country sound brings to mind Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Lyricically relevant, each word speaks to music’s role in calling out truth and chaos in society. Music is a place to connect us despite our differences. Closing my eyes, I hear Glen Campbell’s phrasing and smooth vocal tone, with Fred Neil’s “EveryBody’s Talkin” from Midnight Cowboy “ thrown in. Genius, folks. —Lisa Whealy
4. “Cambridge, MA” – Holy ’57. Holy ’57 will finally complete the H-O-L-Y sequence of EPs when “Y” drops later this summer. (As a completist, I am thrilled to hear it.) The lead track goes deep into the Brit-rock archives, fusing Blur’s guitars and hectic vocal approach to Manic Street Preachers’ politics and a very funky bassline. The parody of a hardcore breakdown at the end of the song is funny and also serves the point of the lyrics brilliantly. It’s a lot more rock than dance this time, and fans of the downstream Vampire Weekend vibes might miss the approach, but it’s a compelling new direction nonetheless.
5. “Ode to Youth” – Liam Mour. It’s not chillwave anymore, I suppose, but this is certainly whatever we’re calling “major key, trebly, burbly, low-percussion electro jams with a lot of reverb.” It does have a lot more forward motion than the relaxed pace of chillwave. It grows to a giant, room-filling, spaced-out finale, too–evocative of Ulrich Schnauss, Tycho, and similar. Whatever it is, it’s excellently done, a lot of fun, and overall really appealing.
6. “ity bity” – Otis Sandsjö. This tenor sax, synth, bass, and drums combo creates music that draws equally on electronic music and jazz for its themes and moods; the track opens up in a low-key electro groove with occasional bits of sax before opening into a sax feature. Then it morphs into a lounge-y track with cooing vocals and lay-all-the-way-back vibes. Very cool.
7. “Part VI – Into Eternity” – Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. This composition is the very definition of delicate, as it wafts along elegantly and carefully, without so much as a brittle tone anywhere. The gentle percussion is perfectly done, the violin sounds gorgeous, and the soundscapes that fill out the composition are just excellent. It’s the best of modern composition, new age, and ambient rolled into one. Highly recommended.
8. “Palms Up” – Ezra Feinberg. Manages to be meditative and tropical at the same time, which is no easy feat. The synth, guitar, bass, and percussion arrangement is light and lithe without losing its groundedness; it feels real and weighty, despite also feeling warm and light. That’s an impressive arranging job.
9. “Leave It Loading” – Dan Drohan. I’m a big fan of foreground-grabbing bass riffs, especially if they have a punk/metal aesthetic of fury and/or heft. Drohan’s experimental work here has a lot of foreground-grabbing bass amid frantic drums and staccato keys. It’s like those bass/drums punk duos from the early 2000s (Death From Above 1979, represent!) but with (slightly) more expansive ambiance.
10. “Tightrope Tricks” – Redvers and Melissa. The duo branches out from twee-influenced acoustic-pop with new flourishes: autotune/vocoder, synthesizers, big ‘ol bass rumble, and percussion pushing the song along. There’s still an acoustic guitar in there, and the duo’s vocals are still sweet and lovely. But pretty much everything else is bigger and more technicolor. It’s a lot of fun!
11. “Eternal Turtle” – Joshua Van Tassel. A slow-moving ambient / classical piece featuring the rare but legendary ondes martenot. The lush yet dark textures make me think of a Christopher Nolan soundtrack (minus the bwaaaaa sound), as the piece has a dense, ominous, yet still inviting quality.