2019: 40 Songs

Lanterns on the Lake – Every Atom

‘Every Atom’ is an incredible return from Balloon Machine favourites Lanterns on The Lake. Hazel Wilde has always been capable of summing up feelings you could never illiterate yourself. She once simply sang “I wanna feel human” on ‘I’ll Stall Them’ – words so simple yet relatable that I grow goosebumps just thinking about them. Wilde is as relatable as ever on ‘Every Atom’, this time singing of how she’d do absolutely anything to spend just one more moment with a deceased loved one. “If I have to split every atom / Just to find a trace of you / that’s what I’ll do”.

Laura Stevenson – Living Room, New York

On ‘Living Room, New York’ Laura Stevenson visualises herself at home with her partner from the bed of yet another indistinctive hotel room whilst on tour. The verse is wonderfully tense and fraught with her voice bouncing over a loaded acoustic guitar before the world falls out from under her when she sings ‘I’d give an arm just to hear you in the dark saying living room, New York’ over complete nothingness. From there the song explodes into an angellic volcano of emotion before unravelling into nothingness again. By the end we’re changed.

Lazy Day – Real Feel

The brainchild of Tilly Scantlebury, London’s Lazy Day have followed up their ‘Letters’ EP with new single ‘Real Feel’.

Their most angsty, most visceral track yet, ‘Real Feel’ sees Scantlebury take on her inner voice with brute force. With her voice right out front on the mix, Scantlebury howls “but you always blame me / for the way you feel”, her vocals ducking and diving as she lands punch after punch on her self-conscience. In a way not too dissimilar from Porridge Radio’s Dana Margolin, Scantlebury is bawling in one moment then sounding as cool as ice in the next. Vocally it’s her best performance so far, and her band match her every move, the guitar reverberating fiercely and the drums punching relentlessly. “Forwards, forwards, forwards for me” she sings in the song’s climax. And if ‘Real Feel’ is anything to go by, they’re moving in that direction extremely swiftly. Don’t blink. 

Lightning Bug – September Song

‘September Song’ is the stand-out track from Lightning Bug’s full-length ‘October Song’; a collage-like exhibition of Audrey Kang’s sensitivity for moving soundscapes. Bearing the hallmarks of ambient music, ‘September Song’ is transportive, lulling the listener into a sleep-like state. Kang barely murmurs, sounding like an ASMR professional, whispering “let it die, let it go”. A spectre haunts the track though, a mournful gloom that Kang can’t shift. When a whimsical synth blares, the clouds gather blocking out the sun. But for how long? 

Lilith – Decency

From Hannah Liuzzo’s opening line, ‘So you’re feeling underrated / well good for you / I’ve got a vacancy,’ Decency is instantly anthemic. Built around their classic guitar sound, ‘Decency’ drops in and out of its structure, each ‘in’ producing a wave of immeasurable joy. Their wonderful forthcoming longplayer ‘Safer Off’ explores issues and feelings that aren’t straightforward, and ‘Decency’ is no exception, “I asked my mother to explain it / but even she’s come up dry’ Liuzzo regrets. Lilith may struggle to arrive at conclusions of their own but we’ve come to one – Lilith bangs! 

Mannequin Pussy – Drunk II

Though ‘Drunk II’ has fervent guitars and punishing drums, this song is all about the frenzied, unhinged performance of lead vocalist Marisa Dabise. Downright angry about an unwanted break up, Dabise’s voice squalls and bites, “I was so fucked up, I forget we were broken up, I still love you, you stupid fuck”. Dabise submits to the heartbreak, refusing to put on a strong face “And everyone says to me, missy you’re so strong! But what if I don’t want to be?” Sometimes letting the pain take hold is the only way to heal.

Michael Cormier – Dinners

The lead single from Michael Cormier’s album ‘Days Like Pearls’ is symbolic of its episodic nature. The songs are based on fleeting memories from Cormier’s childhood years in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, the handheld camera zooming in and out, catching glimpses, snatches of conversation, the insect flying in the distance.

On ‘Dinners’ Cormier is particularly anxious to relive those memories, so much so that he’ll riff on anything that floats in his subconscious – the lipstick on the glass, the buzzing light by the window, the telephone by the piano. This banal-heavy approach sees Cormier follow in the footsteps of masters of mundanity, Frankie Cosmos and Sidney Gish. 

Instrumentally ‘Dinners’ fuses hushed toms with meandering William Tyler-like guitars, the instrumental quality of Cormier’s band Hour making its presence known. ‘Dinners’ seeps ever slowly until it takes an intense stranglehold, so much so, that you start to count Cormier’s memories as your own. Staggeringly good. 

Miyha – Palm Trees

I fall in love with new songs every day but some songs ascend to an echelon above even that. Miyha’s ‘Palm Trees’ is comfortably in that upper echelon, the kind of song where you get a minute into it and an internal or even external ‘oh my god, this is good’ comes flying out of your mouth. It may start simply enough with just guitar and an arresting vocal, but the amount of stages the song’s instrumentation takes you through leaves the listener drunk.

Nailing down the song’s subject isn’t easy though as Alejandra admits herself, “each of the songs…has an under layer of meaning not necessarily obvious to the listener.” The narrative shifts just as quickly as the Wisconsin’s band instruments, in one moment we hear about a girl questioning the intentions of her boyfriend, in the next we meet Christine who’s doing her laundry and finally, the story of a 17-year-old leaving her partner.

The best songwriters arm the listeners with the weapons to interpret their lyrics for themselves, Alejandro Perez is adept at that and on this evidence, she has all the tools to become one of our great songwriters.

Molly Sarle – Suddenly 

Following on from Daughter of Swords, Molly Sarle is the latest solo project to emerge out of the largely acapella Mountain Man. Despite the addition of folk-rock guitars her voice is given no space to hide on Sarle’s solo project, soaring from the off. The chorus sees Sarle sing ‘I am exactly what I want to be’ before the instrumentation vanishes, returning her to her acapella beginnings. Do not fear though the rollicking rhythm soon returns, driving us to the song’s close where Sarle sings “I’m changed.” She’s right and by god, does her new look suit her.

Palehound – Aaron

Palehound has been mastering her unique brand of understated yet emotionally powerful music for years now. Based on her Trans partner, ‘Aaron’ is a paragon of compassion, “My friend if you want me to call Aaron I can, I can, I can, I can” she sings acceptingly. Kempner embraces drastic change, and communicates its beauty with clarity and strength.

Porridge Radio – Give / Take

‘Give / Take’ is largely about indecision. Dana Mangdolin, Porridge Radio’s guitarist and vocalist, begins coolly by presenting different points of view before her mind hijacks itself, the many competing voices gaining too much power as she descends into chaos. The instrumentation mirrors that turmoil as the guitars go from a strum to a squall and the drums go from a thud to a crash. It’s a fantastic first taste of what Porridge Radio have been able to produce now they’ve got the financial backing they deserve.

The Sonder Bombs – I Don’t Have One Anymore

Book More Women is quite simply one of Twitter’s finest accounts. Using flashing gifs, the account shows a festival’s full line up before removing the all-male acts to show the remains of the line-up. It makes for shocking viewing. The acts featuring women from the last three festivals they posted made up 24%, 0% and 19% respectively. It’s this male-dominated industry that Sonder Bombs rail against on ‘I Don’t Have One Anymore.’ 

Not steeped in doom though, ‘I Don’t Have One Anymore’ is Sonder Bombs’ announcement that they’re out here on the battlefield fighting for a better future. They don’t do this with melancholy acoustic guitars or maudlin lyrics but instead bring handclaps, the best backing singing I’ve heard in yonks and a huge chorus, where they sing ‘I’m worn out on you’ over and over. The song opens with a snippet from Lady Gaga’s feature film ‘Five Foot Two’, where the pop star remarks “I don’t really have a threshold for that bullshit anymore.” And Willow Hawks, Sonder Bombs’ lead singer, is done with your bullshit too. Towards the song’s close Hawks sings “Moving forward from here I think you should stay clear of me.” Stand in Sonder Bombs way – or any woman making music for that matter – at your peril.

Tummyache – In Between

Combining the rich tones of Sharon Van Etten and the vulnerability of Julien Baker, Soren Bryce aka Tummyache sounds rawer than ever on ‘In Between.’ Throwing off the armour of her more folk-indebted past, Bryce surrounds herself with fraught, meditative guitars that match the emotion present in her voice. She sounds brooding, pregnant with her own emotion, casting it off only when an army of drums transports her above the surface. Once there, a primal desire emerges, “I wanna feel better” she sings repeatedly, desperately even. 

Twain – Royal Road

Twain’s latest single, the second from his frankly remarkable new album ‘Adventure’, interrogates the idea of binaries, good and bad, black and white, better or worse, male and female. As children, my brothers and I would often gather around my grandad, eager for him to impart some wisdom upon us and Davidson takes on a similar role here, gold nugget after gold nugget spouting from him. “Call yourself a man / call yourself a woman / I call myself alive” he sings. In the chorus, Davidson shows his contempt at the process of categorisation that society subjects us to as children. “I know my mind / and it never knew the difference between the two / ‘til they say, ‘hey you, this is what you are’”. Just like you and I, Davidson is beyond categorisation, his music is beyond words, a man-made system of language could never do justice to something so otherworldly.

Wished Bone – Trees We Couldn’t Tell The Size Of

The naive curiosity inherent in the song’s title permeates the entire track, its gentle lilt reminiscent of aimless walks through country lanes, snatching white dandelions out of the ground and blowing their petals away. Rhodus’ thoughts lean towards the existential, from questioning the size of things to questioning the kind of person she is, “Am I the kind of girl you marry?”, she sings over a toned-down trumpet and bouncing toms. While its instrumentation may be rooted in the light, the words belong in the grey – the precarious in-between that exists between black and white.

Yohuna – Stranger

On sophomore album ‘Mirroring,’ Yohuna carves out her own sonic world. The unpredictable nature of the vocals are a trademark feature of that sonic world, at times they meld together, and in other moments they appear and vanish within each other’s thrall. Friend Emily Yacina contributes to the effect in ‘Rain and Prairie Snow’ but it’s at its strongest when Yohuna loops her own voice around itself on ‘Stranger.’ The vocals are riff-like here, on an even playing field with the threading guitar and drum machine. Sharing characteristics with Julianna Barwick and Jessica Pratt, the vocals are primal, enveloping you like two plumes of smoke racing one another around your being.

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