WIBLT: New year, new music!
What I've Been Listening To, 2/2/22
‘What I’ve Been Listening To’ is a bi-weekly series that highlights 8 projects, 1 song, and 1 video that have been on repeat for me. Be sure to follow the ‘What I’ve Been Listening To’ playlist that is always up to date with the eight standout tracks from all of these posts in 2022.
Welcome back! I enjoyed a nice little break from posting, but am excited to jump back into these. Catching up here with some recent projects from January, and some that I missed from the end of 2021.
Forever The Moment - Zepkins
11 tracks, 22 minutes
Released: August 20th, 2021
From: Los Angeles, CA
Recommended For Fans Of: Bbymutha, Hook, Bootychaaain, Cupcakke, Barbies
Zepkins, the persistently online personality, took the end of 2021 to step out with their music, releasing their first full length project. The artist was already known for her looks, creativity, and clothing design (which is all up and for sale) before this release. “If you were on social media 2018-2021 it is no way you could not see me,” she says in her bio. Writing for this project began in January 2020, which is when she started taking music seriously despite dabbling in recording as far back as 2017. Forever The Moment lives up to its name with Zepkins dropping bar after bar about being a showstopper, all with the bravado of Megan Thee Stallion. Sure, Zepkins may be the moment herself, but when she raps her confidence is so infectious that you can easily get caught up in it as well. Because why couldn’t the line “Bitch imma star and my twins are too, even Cinderella couldn’t walk a mile in my shoes” be about you too? In addition to the cocky trap hits, the tracklist also takes some exciting turns into hyperpop (Mint Condition) and punk rock (Takeover). In the end, it’s unclear what the young go-getter can’t do, and this project is clearly just the beginning.
Standout Track: Showstopper
Archive Material - Silverbacks
12 tracks, 38 minutes
Released: January 21st, 2022
From: Dublin, Ireland
Genres: Alternative, Indie Rock, Post-Punk
Recommended For Fans Of: Parquet Courts, Television, Pom Poko, Wire
Silverbacks deliver glimpses into the mundane ridiculousness of the ‘new normal’ on their latest album Archive Material. The title references the idea that this project can provide insight to future historians on how people lived their lives in the midst of a pandemic. “Capturing the absurd mixture of monotony and creeping disquiet experienced by many of us this past 18 months, it’s simultaneously sobering and wickedly droll,” is how the album’s described on Bandcamp. Silverbacks have gone through a few lineup changes since brothers Daniel and Kilian O’Kelly founded the band in college, with this being the band’s second album. Topics range from interaction with neighbors during lockdown, working office jobs while others are working in hospitals, and the culture of recycling. “I can't remember who it was, but I saw a musician who said that they'd be keeping away from writing anything about the pandemic, because who wants to hear about that? But I’d much rather hear about an event via someone who actually lived through it, rather than someone writing about it retrospectively,” Daniel said. If you’re feeling burnt out on Covid related content though, fear not. The tight and impactful post-punk production, combined with varying vocalists and energetic gang vocals, give more than enough opportunity to lose yourself in the sound before you even realize what the lyrics are referencing.
Standout Track: Different Kind of Holiday
Brown Sugar Baby - Gayun Cannon
6 tracks, 22 minutes
Released: November 27th, 2021
From: Chicago, IL
Genres: Indie, R&B, Alternative
Recommended For Fans Of: Lana Del Rey, Etta Marcus, Omar Apollo, Solange
Through the final days of 2021 (when I wasn’t listening to Mariah Carey), I spent time going through other people’s year end lists, searching for great projects that slipped past me. Inadvertently, I stumbled upon the year end playlist from twitter user @matrizora which put me onto a few projects, including this one from Gayun Cannon. Daughter of blues guitarist Toronzo Cannon, Gayun has been playing instruments since the age of 4. As a result, she is now a singer/songwriter that can play piano, flute, bass, and is also, “sharpening her skills on the drums and the guzheng,” per Faith Hennig’s interview. All those year’s of learning have built up to this spectacular debut project, Brown Sugar Baby. Throughout this EP, Cannon expertly pulls from soul, alternative, R&B, some Funkadelic inspiration, along with the sounds of Chicago and her peers to craft her unique sound. On the purpose of the project, Cannon told These Days Mag, “this should be a healing experience. I know a lot of people have trouble with their emotions and I always hated how emotional I was myself. After I started putting that into my music, I’m thinking we should all at least let some emotion out.” Healing can often be a difficult process but, as she says in my standout track (which features guzheng!), just having your weed and crystals is a good start.
Standout Track: And My Crystals
Forever at Last - HighSchool
6 tracks, 23 minutes
Released: November 1st, 2021
From: Melbourne, Australia
Genres: New Wave, Synth Pop, Post-Punk, Alternative
Recommended For Fans Of: New Order, Joy Division, The Cure, Euphoria (I guess? I don’t know I don’t watch)
HighSchool, the synth pop three piece from Melbourne, came onto my radar while sifting through NME’s list of 100 Essential Emerging Artists for 2022. This debut EP, Forever At Last, arrived at the tail end of 2021, more than a full year after the project’s first single (Frosting) got them signed to UK label Dalliance Records. Much of HighSchool’s aura comes from the past, as they combine 80s new wave sound with VHS aesthetics. It never feels old or outdated though, because they execute so well with their fuzzy synths/guitars, head bumping bass lines, and ‘too cool to care’ vocals. The EP just comes off as fresh music with a warm coating of ‘classic’ feeling glazed over it. While the whole project is of stellar quality from start to finish, Frosting and New York, Paris and London kick things off with the strongest one-two punch on the tracklist. In their own words, the EP is a reflection of their, “unique outlook on how post-punk grit and youthful sophistication can coexist.” That outlook has already earned them a following across Australia and the UK, and it could only be a matter of time before that’s true in the states as well. On the below track, the band said, “New York, Paris and London are three highly desirable yet clichéd destinations that symbolise the elusiveness of our own self-expectations.”
Standout Track: New York, Paris and London
The Afterlove - Emily Blue
9 tracks, 29 minutes
Released: January 14th, 2022
From: Chicago, IL
Genres: Pop, Synth Pop, Bubblegum, Queer Pop
Recommended For Fans Of: Jessie Ware, MUNA, Charli XCX, the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror
I do believe that the 80s pop revival has passed its pinnacle, and will be waning itself out over the next few years, but Emily Blue proves that we have still yet to see everything the sound has to offer. The Afterlove drips with nostalgia, for both the sound and relationships of past. The album began coming together with Blue’s longtime producer Max Perenchio, but after his tragic passing in 2020, Blue had to finish writing and producing the album alone in her apartment during quarantine. “Throughout making this record I learned so much about self-love, loss, grief, and also explored my own identity through the music,” Blue told Atwood Magazine. She emerges on the other side of that difficult period with some of her best work to date. There’s songs that play it straight, with pop anthems like 7 Minutes and The Afterlove evoking the best of Jessie Ware or Carly Rae Jepsen. But Blue isn’t afraid to experiment with the sound either, see the breakdowns at the end of Me Without U and San Junipero if you have any doubt. All the tracks come together to create a pop music backed world of freedom. “A lot of pop music, but especially pop made by queer artists, is about providing that space where people can dance and celebrate life and find joy and togetherness rather than always focusing on the trauma of our lives,” Blue said for Audio Femme. “It’s a fine balance—it’s about love and loss and queerness and identity, but these songs have just poured out of me. I don’t even question it. It’s been empowering.”
Standout Track: Me Without U
Deep Break - Operator Music Band
3 tracks, 11 minutes
Released: January 21st, 2022
From: Brooklyn, New York
Genres: Artpop, Indie Rock, Nu-Disco, Alternative
Recommended For Fans Of: Stereolab, David Byrne
“With shades of art-pop experimentalism and electronic minimalism, New York’s Operator Music Band is a blend of the comforting analogue old and the kinetic digital new,” or so they say on their website. Operator Music Band’s first EP was released in 2015, and they’ve undergone a lot of changes since then (Anna Fox Rochinski, whose 2021 album Cherry I wrote about here, is a former member of the band and is credited on this project). A remix album of their LP Duo Duo withstanding, Deep Break is their first new release since 2019. Currently, Operator Music Band is composer/producer/DJ/engineer Dara Hirsch, and electronic instrument designer Jared Hiller, with Daniel Siles on drums and percussion. Pulsing synth and bass bounce throughout these three tracks that demand your attention entirely. It doesn’t make sense for a song like Finnik, relatively minimal and sans-vocals, to be as captivating as it is. But Operator Music Band pulls it off. There’s a wide array of sounds used across these three songs with various percussion, electronic whirrings and hums, and even a saxophone solo being pulled out of the arsenal. Everything somehow fits snuggly into place.
Standout Track: Is This Reason?
Disaster Pop - Nukuluk
5 tracks, 16 minutes
Released: November 17th, 2021
From: London, UK
Genres: Experimental, Hip-Hop/Rap, Trip-Hop
Recommended For Fans Of: Injury Reserve, Massive Attack, Danny Brown, Gorillaz
Another find from the NME list linked in the HighSchool writeup, experimental trip-hop group Nukuluk give so much to sink your teeth into. Disaster Pop is the five piece’s first project, but it comes off way more advance than you’d expect from a debut. Pay close attention to the opening seconds of each track, as the band’s manifesto is: “can you set the feeling of a song from the first sound?” I’d say they achieve that, given I can best describe their tracks as feeling unpredictable. The minimal beginnings of uneasy synths and electronic drum kits evolve into something completely new by the end of each track. As the beats swirl and evolve with various samples and field recordings, the vocals flip between Syd almost sulk-singing through lyrics of helplessness, and Monika’s energetic raps rupturing through the mix with the captivating oddball-ness of a Danny Brown verse. It all compliments each other perfectly. On the unorthodox approach and resulting sound of their music, Syd told Hard of Hearing, “it’s important to remember that people love being tested and experiencing art that feels new. You look at the innovation going on from the likes of SOPHIE, JPEGMAFIA, Standing On The Corner etc, loads of people including myself are grateful for the risks they take with structure. Why not go down this road?”
Standout Track: Feel So
Anemoia - Spaceface
12 tracks, 37 minutes
Released: January 28th, 2022
From: Memphis, TN
Genres: Psychedelic Rock, Electronic, Indie, Alternative
Recommended For Fans Of: Tame Impala, Pond, Toro y Moi, MGMT, Future Nostalgia
Spaceface came about as a spinoff from founding member Jake Ingalls’ former gig, guitarist and synth player for The Flaming Lips. Ingalls started as a fan of the band before jumping to action while waiting outside a gig (as The Flaming Lips’ tour manager unexpectedly found himself without stagehands for load in). That lead to him becoming a stagehand for the band, then guitar tech, and eventually working up to full on band member. “Everybody says, ‘The Flaming Lips changed my life,’ but they actually changed my life. It’s pretty bizarre how that happened,” Ingalls told Mountain Xpress. Spaceface was born back in 2012, and this second album Anemoia feels like it could be a breakout project for them. Recorded over several months at Blackwatch Studios in 2019, these songs have the bright and cozy feel of a band that had no idea what was coming. More than two years into a worldwide pandemic, it’s nice to step back and lose yourself in that feeling for even just a few minutes. Though the downside about waiting that long to release your project is, it gives people a chance to beat you to the punch. “I was thinking about how everything nowadays is kind of recycled and there’s this cult of nostalgia, this repackaging of a time you never actually lived or experienced,” Ingalls told Range while explaining how he wanted to name the project Future Nostalgia before Dua Lipa’s 2020 project of the same name was announced. “So then I really went hunting for a word that actually meant what I wanted and I found ‘Anemoia,’ which means longing for a time you’ve never actually experienced,’’ he continued. Anemoia is stuffed with layers of warm 70s sounds, no space is wasted in these mixes that are bursting with color. Though listeners like me never actually experienced this era of music in real time, listening to this project may be the next best thing.
Standout Track: Rain Passing Through (Feat. Mikaela Davis)
Salt Lake City - Etta Marcus (With Matt Maltese)
Seemingly a tad late on the Etta Marcus train, with her new EP View from the Bridge tuning me into this excellent single that dropped in 2021. It’s a tale as old as time, sonically reminiscent of a more ‘modernly’ produced Tomorrow Never Came (Lana), with thematic callbacks to Fast Car (Chapman) or any other song about young lovers on the run. All with Marcus’ own charm sprinkled over it. I had to laugh on my first listen as you can almost hear an eye roll going along with the “are you serious?” in the opening lines. A question that becomes more earnest as the verse goes on.
Jackie Down The Line - Fontaines D.C.
The first single from their upcoming album Skinty Fia (4/22/22), Jackie Down The Line has Fontaines D.C. picking up right where they left off on 2020’s A Hero’s Death. The Dublin band displays some hypnotic choreography, archery, lots of roses, and a dunce cap to draw you in with this beautiful video.
You won’t want to miss what DBA has in store for 2022!