The phrase “the fog is coming” has been everywhere over the last few weeks. Comment sections are riddled with this warning, I’ve even seen a post-it note with the warning in our supposedly-safe school library. But I saw the fog. It came at 9:03 PM MST on March 30, 2022 at 39.776374, -104.969329, aka the Mission Ballroom in Denver. This glorious haze swept over the audience resulting in dead silence. Darkness and silence. I’ve seen what the fog consists of, the lights shone revealing the silhouettes of the legendary Dream Pop duo Beach House.
The title track and intro of Once Twice Melody launched the concert with plainsong-like chimes; its hypnotizing instruments progress with Victoria Legrand’s voice. Legrand’s delivery has a similar effect to German artist Nico. Her vocals feel ancient, like she is telling some great prophecy carried by an atmosphere of lush synths and strings. Manipulation of the band’s shadows multiplied the allure, I did not see a single facial feature the whole night. Seeing Legrand raise her shadow of a hand at the peak of a song would cause the crowd to levitate in awe.
Soon the synths of “Lazuli” and “Through Me” would climb up and down on a dream-dimension y-axis. Legrand stands tall and mythical with her curly hair draped in the fog. Alex Scalley played his soothing guitar and James Barone hit his drums with gentle precision. Hexagonal lights twist and turn around through the mist, and I heard someone say “look at the lights on the ceiling.” For a moment, these geometric lights had us inside of the Bloom album cover.
Beach House’s sound is so sensory-oriented that the visuals of this show were crucial. Before the show, The band sent out a memo to every one of their ticket holders:
NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY whatsoever will be allowed. Additionally, any other distracting activities will not be tolerated.
This created a tunnel vision effect; I could only see the band and whatever synesthetic spotlight they occupied. Everything else was pitch black, it was impossible not to be hypnotized by that stage. The audience may as well have melted when the gut-wrenching first notes of “Silver Soul” came on. All of the lights turned white; it makes sense because this is a white-feeling song, right? Most Beach House songs have a specific color; they’ve explored this with the indulgent red sink-hole that is their 2015 album, Depression Cherry. The background lights matched each song and its sonic hue. A Starry Night-esque lilac background twinkled for the spellbinding “Myth.” A machine gun of red lights fired around with the drum machines of “Pink Funeral.” At the chorus, the aforementioned hexagonal lights turn pink and pan across the room in slow-motion as Legrand so gracefully pleads, “don’t let me go.”
“I’m a woman of few words” Legrand says to a crowd of hypnotized happy neanderthals. I can look around and see the simple thought behind many faces: Music make me feel good. Sure, we were all swaying parallel to the repetitive soundwaves of “Lemon Glow,” but to look around was to see a collective submerged state. Legrand looks down at her audience – or loyal followers – “This place feels like a spaceship, where should we go.” We follow and cheer, drooling. Beach House brain rot has never felt so good.
Our spaceship traveled through the Asgardian bliss of “PPP,” and soon, zero-gravity tears would float around during “Space Song”. As we continued somewhere between two galaxies, a Death Star shot out its dreamy rays from above. A disco ball the diameter of Chewbacca’s left nut is the first off-stage light I’ve seen in this theater. Once the show exited orbit, the crowd did not stop cheering until the band came back on for an encore with “Over and Over.” The audience exited the building like a stream of satisfied water molecules as Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” played over the speakers.
Guided meditation wouldn’t make me feel as serene as I did after the Beach House show. Is it dramatic to say I feel baptized? As a Jew, I don’t know what baptism feels like; I took to the Catholicism subreddit to understand the experience. To quote [deleted] account, “I felt peaceful and confident. I felt content and joyful.” Exactly. Immersion into the band’s cathartic fog has left me feeling like a toad in a zen garden. I tried to go through this whole article without typing the Beach House review buzzwords: dreamy, heavenly, ethereal –this word I promised myself I’d avoid. But shit, the shoe fits.
When I saw the 80 minute length and massive name of the new Big Thief album, my cynicism got the best of me. A quick, near-empty black and white sketch on the cover further confuses the assuming asshole in my head: big album needs big artwork, right? I saw that large-scale magazines were ALREADY giving this album extremely high reviews before it was released to the public. I texted my friend, curious as to what could possibly be so interesting about this massive record. She responded with a quote that would define the next month: “hey man, let those pasty basement fairies do their thing.”
Lead singer Adrienne Lenker starts the album with an arbitrary statement “Ok?”
The intro, “Change” is a hug. A hopeful one. Maybe change isn’t a bad thing? Maybe it’s beautiful, “like the leaves, like a butterfly.” Things change and death comes. Lenker is okay with this. Maybe I am too. Shit, I am already feeling sentimental. What are you doing to me, Big Thief?
Pulling me into a warm hug surrounded by sparkly fireflies and roaming deer, Big thief also offers acceptance to a presence much more dense than mine: time. The ever-present man in a double-breasted pinstripe suit holds his pocket watch; he points at it, showing that time is constantly taking its toll on us. Big thief looks back at him – looks back at time passing – with open arms of acceptance, bringing us comfort in simplicity throughout Dragon. It can be difficult to approach heavy topics with humor, but Lenker’s lyrics read like a wise, 200-year-old being with a goofy approach to the meaninglessness of life.
As the satisfying jaw-harp bounces on “Spud Infinity,” Lenker bounces back and forth from mature topics to mundane objects, comparing our stressful skinmobiles to a simple potato Knish. Her ease doing this through the whole album is a testament to Lenker’s fluid yet sharp songwriting.
“When I say celestial I mean extra-terrestrial I mean accepting the alien you’ve rejected in your own heart When I say heart I mean finish The last one there is a potato knish Baking too long in the sun of spud infinity When I say infinity I mean right now Kiss the one you are right now Kiss your body up and down other than your elbows”
The larger-scope, magic-infused topics near the start of the album – time, celestial bodies, death – are ambitious, but it is vital to the record that they are paired with smaller-scope, intimate affairs. After all, the celestial bodies Lenker sings of would be meaningless without the little animals that flail around beneath them.
“Certainty” could turn a cold, dark heart into grandma’s warm pie. It is one of the loveliest proclamations of feelings for another I have ever heard (“For you, I am a child, believing you lay beside me sleeping on a plane In the future”). Lenker’s country twang intensifies on this song; it is scattered throughout the album, warm and tasty like a tenderly crafted treat. This sound makes the weirdness and nostalgia on Dragon even more intimate in songs with personal stories like “Red Moon” and “Blue Lightning.” Big Thief has completely ignored how uncool country music is right now. With bro-country folks like Florida Georgia Line and Blake Shelton infesting the radios at our local grocery stores, people on first dates everywhere can commonly be heard saying: “I like every genre but country” when asked what music they’re into. It is easy to forget how satisfying a little twang can wiggle into one’s ears; past alt-country folks like Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billie made brilliant art out of their rural self-loathing, and Big Thief is carrying on the torch for country’s salvation.
Dragon is a big, slow-cooked stew of many flavors: the base folk stylings are the braised beef, spiced with savory introspection. The indie-rock turn that the band takes in the middle of the tracklist with “Little Things” is a flowing broth of 90’s influenced, swirly walls of sound. The fairytale-like curiosity that characterizes Dragon is sprinkled in here, especially on “Blurred View,” Big Thief’s otherworldly take on trip-hop. “I am the water rise/the waterfall/filling up your eyes when you give me the call/I run for you/run for you.” It is as if Lenker reads a prophecy; her critical moment in her own fantasy, not much different from Frodo’s mythical clash with The Eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings.
Eight years ago In the band’s debut album Masterpiece, an appalled Lenker proclaimed that wherever she was “smelled like piss and beer.” Dragon New Warm Mountain smells like earthy campfires and potions, and whatever elves and fairies smell like. If Dragon New Warm Mountain is a place we can picture, the latter half of the album consists of the folk tales that take place on the green spring grass here. Lenker zooms in on the beauty of real things: a laughing fox on “Promise is a Pendulum” and maple cherry leaves falling on “12,000 Lines”. Small ballads like “No Reason” give a gentle tap on the shoulder with warm, life affirming lines.
“Come together for a moment Look around and dissolve Like a feeling, like a flash Like a fallin’ eyelash on your sweater Threading future through the past”
Lenker wears her influences on her sleeve as songs become quieter – it is easy to hear Elliott Smith here; the moments of fresh craftsmanship give a delightful spin to her sound. Drilling drum machines come out of nowhere on “Wake Me Up to Drive.” Little pokes in the instrumentation loosen my brain in a knotted spot, untying the tangle of stress. Big Thief in all their hopeful magic dismantle the accepted constructs of country-leaning indie-folk. Usually this genre consists of a man who has been defeated by something, with tears in his beer, and a 35 minute tracklist. In contrast, Big Thief conjures a reassuring, romantic outlook on the wonders around them. Flutes fly up and down like the sparrow outside and Lenker’s soft voice is comforting, of the same family as the death-defying, benevolent deer that shows up every now and then.
After a very short 80 minutes, the final track, Blue Lightning, comes to an end. A band member says “what should we do now?” It’s almost like I forgot that these are normal people with normal lives. That is the effect Dragon has, for a moment it feels like they are channeling some kind of fairytale enchantment. But Big Thief is just a band, and this is just a collection of songs. The cover is just a sketch of animals at a campfire. Even with the unstoppable forces of time and death, we still get up and bake our potatoes and dance with our fingers and make campfires. Dragon points out the magic of the mundane; Aren’t we just a bunch of stupid animals trying to find some kind of happiness?
While the pandemic still feels far from over, the availability of vaccines has allowed some semblances of normalcy to re-enter our lives. For music lovers like me, perhaps the most celebrated change came with artists around the world announcing US tours—here are a few of my favorite artists that visited the Front Range.
In September, Mdou Moctar stopped through Denver’s Globe Hall on the North American tour for their recent album Afrique Victim. The Nigerien singer and guitarist brings a modern twist to Tuareg music, backed by a full band, and the result was a night of non-stop dancing to dynamic riffs and soulful singing. To see Mdou Moctar perform is to witness virtuosity in its purest form—I can’t remember the last time I was so awestruck by a musician’s mastery of their craft. In Mdou’s case, it goes beyond his stunning dexterity on the guitar; the whole band flowed in perfect synergy. Mdou’s hands seemed to move effortlessly between chords and complex picking patterns, and his coy confidence—sneaking smiles and smirks at the audience—felt far from arrogant. On the contrary, he had a unique and captivating way of engaging the audience with his body language. My favorite moment from the evening was a ~8-minute rendition of title track “Afrique Victime,” full of lightning-fast fingerpicking and bouncy vocals.
New York-based experimental group Pure Adult opened the evening with a strident mixture of alt-rock instrumentals and harsh (but oddly endearing) lyricism. I’m used to seeing younger demographics at most shows, so it was a pleasant surprise to see a gaggle of folks my parents’ age moving toward the front—dancing with (and sometimes harder than) the early 20s mainstays of Denver’s music scene.
Recently re-branded indie-folk duo Watchhouse (fka Mandolin Orange) took the stage at Red Rocks on a blustery night in early October. After the scheduled support The Tallest Man on Earth was held up due to international visa issues, they were joined by The Milk Carton Kids—who, sharing one microphone, kicked off the show with a rich neo-folk set equal parts cheery and sorrowful.
After changing monikers earlier this year, Watchhouse released two singles and an eponymous album to critical acclaim. Nonetheless, I wondered if we’d get the Mandolin Orange classics, and thankfully we did. Crooning harmonies and lush melodies filled the venue, bringing fresh life to older tunes and proving that—despite a name change—the music is as good as ever. Hearing “Wildfire,” one of my favorite songs since high school, from the very top of Red Rocks was an experience I won’t forget any time soon.
Just listening to UK production duo Jungle—in the shower, or on the way to work—is already a foolproof way to inject energy and good vibes into your day. So when they filled Denver’s Mission Ballroom, my hopes were already high. To my delight, they exceeded all expectations once live instruments, backup singers, and an expansive LED wall entered the picture. Shortly after they took the stage, there was a tangible shift in the room’s energy—as if the audience entered an ecstatic trance, eager to fall into the band’s infectious rhythms and driving vocals. The setlist found a balance between their 2021 album Loving In Stereo and the hit-packed 2018 For Ever—and, thank goodness, their 2014 “Busy Earnin'” made a much-anticipated appearance during the encore.
New York-born Caroline Polachek has released music under a myriad of monikers, most formatively as part of eccentric electro-pop outfit Chairlift during her years at UC Boulder in the mid-2000s. She has since collaborated with Beyonce, Solange, Charli XCX, and many others. When she released her highly anticipated debut album Pang (under the name Caroline Polachek) in 2019, the influence of her diverse discography and wide range of collaborators shone throughout the project.
Headlining the Bluebird Theater, she told the crowd, was an emotional and exciting experience—it was shows like these in Denver and Boulder that inspired her while first producing and performing with Chairlift. Parisian producer and singer Oklou opened the event with ethereal beats, live keys, and luscious vocals as powerful as they were soft. Caroline took the energy up a notch, incorporating spectacular stage design and vibrant, dynamic lighting that pierced through heavy fog and bolstered an already spirited performance.
Perhaps the best moment of the show was a cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop,” the first of Caroline’s two encore songs. Oklou joined Caroline center-stage on a rotating circular plate—standing back-to-back, they moved in sync, bodies and voices in glowing harmony.
I was eating Burger King in an empty Lowe’s parking lot as dusk fell. Earlier that day I had received an email from a close friend. The SoCC had a press pass to see The War On Drugs that very night at the Mission Ballroom. I responded to the email expressing my interest, but I didn’t think I had any chance at the tickets, given that I wasn’t a SoCC reporter. Because I felt that my chances of getting that press pass were slim, I decided I would spend the evening with my sister. Mid-burger, I get an email back from my SoCC liaison: I got the press pass! I wolfed the rest of the meal and set my course for the Mission Ballroom.
The energy in the ballroom was palpable. Hipsters young and old were forced to pack themselves into the cavernous hall. The hype was real, but the band came on stage with little fanfare. Front man Adam Granduciel, dressed in his usual button down and jeans, walked on stage balancing several beverages in his arms as the crowd erupted into applause. After Granduciel was armed with his Fender Stratocaster, the band launched right into “Old Skin” off of 2021’s I Don’t Live Here Anymore, their latest release and the subject of their current tour. As Granduciel strummed, he was joined by synthesizer player Robbie Bennett, playing a soft organ over Granduciel’s delicate chords. The crowd swayed and sang along to the melancholy, aching first verse. Granduciel and Bennett built a massive wall of texture, bringing the energy to its boiling point till drummer Charlie Hall brought in his thundering back beat, launching the song into its anthemic finale.
As they tuned and traded instruments after their first song, people around me talked to each other, predicting what would come next. Someone said “It’s gonna be ‘Pain.’” I hoped that this guy was right; 2017’s “Pain” was something of a pandemic anthem for me. As I waited with bated breath, Granduciel strapped on a beautiful Fender Jazzmaster and began to pick the somber arpeggio that begins “Pain.” The crowd positively burst into shouts of appreciation Apparently, I wasn’t the only fan of the song. The song reflects on how we experience loss and anxiety in conjunction with our own personal growth, or lack thereof. Saxophonist/keyboardist Jon Natchez played a haunting bass motif on his baritone saxophone, ensnaring the audience in the song’s innate gloom.
To use Granduciel’s lyrics, The War On Drugs exists “in the space between the beauty and the pain.” Though TWOD lyrics ponder the inherent pain and loneliness of the human condition and try to work through various traumas, the band crafts lush instrumentals that can move one to tears with both their tremendous beauty and their agonizing sadness. With their seven members, the band is up to this monumental task. Granduciel is flanked by some of the finest musicians on the scene. On his right, there is guitarist/keyboardist Anthony LaMarca, who adds a great deal of texture with his acoustic guitar. Then there’s bassist David Hartley, a no-frills rhythm player holding down the low end of the band’s infamous jams. Keyboardist/vocalist Eliza Hardy Jones stands on the risers above Granduciel, adding unique textures to the band’s vocal arrangements. In case you haven’t been counting, that’s three keyboardists on stage at the same time. This is how The War On Drugs achieve their infamous wall of sound.
The band fed off the crowd energy. Granduciel bantered with the crowd all night long. He praised the tenacity of the Denver audience, applauding their willingness to put up with the freezing temperatures to see the show. Halfway through the set, an audience member shouted “Play ‘Born in Time!’” Granduciel responded enthusiastically, and the band launched into the impromptu Bob Dylan cover. As the show drew to a close, Granduciel addressed the audience. He said “We’re only going to do three or four more songs. We’re not gonna do that bullshit where we walk off” to great applause. It’s this down-to-earth charm that cements both Granduciel and The War On Drugs as one of the great indie acts of our time. For anyone interested in seeing the band, they will be playing Red Rocks on September 19, 2022.
Watch their performance in Denver of their recent album’s title track song below!
Hip-hop has become an extremely fast-paced genre, with people constantly blowing up at a moment’s notice and fading into irrelevance just as quickly. This is a list of four rappers (one honorable mention) who are currently gaining popularity and could eventually break into the mainstream. Should they achieve mainstream success, I’m confident they will be able to maintain it. That’s why I wrote this article. All of these artists bring something new to the table and I think that they should be recognized for this. In this article, I delve into the artists’ background, their rise to fame, and what they’re doing that makes them stand out from other rappers who similarly haven’t achieved mainstream success just yet. Again, the artist’s future is not determined, so take this article with a grain of salt, but if any of them become household names, don’t forget where you heard them first.
Although these artists haven’t necessarily influenced the genre, I believe that they have the possibility to do so if they are able to continue growing their fanbase and artistic capabilities. This is why I’ve included this article in the Artist Spotlight series.
BabyTron is one of the most entertaining rappers gaining traction right now. Hailing from Detroit, BabyTron is a perfect representation of the unique sub-genre of Michigan rap. BabyTron started rapping in high school, forming the group ShittyBoyz with fellow Detroit natives StanWill and TrDee. ShittyBoyz started gaining some attention with the short-lived popularity of “Scam-rap”, a genre of rap that focused on internet scamming and credit card fraud. BabyTron stood out in the group though, with his casual delivery mixed with comedic lyrics that contain clever wordplay. Additionally, once Scam-rap started to lose its popularity, he was able to adapt and quickly change the focus of his lyrics from scamming to other illicit topics while maintaining the same entertaining flow. He was also signed to a local Detroit label, The Hip-hop Lab, which has helped him develop this unique style even further and improved the quality of his music. The production of his songs is also something that will stand out to a first-time listener. Most of his beats are lively and extremely fun to listen to as they utilize samples from songs from the ’80s and ’90s blended with unconventional 808 placement. This is also what makes BabyTron so special and what might make his music appeal to people who tend to stray away from modern rap music. His nostalgic production and epigrammatic delivery and bars could interest people who aren’t fans of the autotune heavy, futuristic-sounding music of Yeat and Ken Car$on. Fortunately, BabyTron doesn’t solely rely on nostalgia, which means he can innovate if he has to. BabyTron is set to be one of the leaders of the Michigan rap scene, but his success is also reliant on the growing popularity of the sub-genre. Only time will tell as the sub-genre still needs to grow and reach more listeners outside the midwest, but I believe that BabyTron is going to be one of the bigger artists of this sub-genre if Michigan, and specifically Detroit, becomes a more well-recognized capital of hip-hop innovation.
Ken Car$on is continuing the tradition of heavily autotuned Atlanta trap that was pioneered by Young Thug and Future while taking inspiration from Playboi Carti’s often criticized simple delivery and lyrics. It’s safe to say that Playboi Carti is one of his biggest inspirations, with the Atlanta rapper signing Ken to his Opium label and introducing him as the opening act throughout his 2021 King Vamp tour. However, Ken Car$on is not another Carti clone. Ken Car$on reminds me of youth. He coined the name “Teen X” for his brand, short for “Teen Ecstasy”, or “Teen High”, which is meant to represent the ecstasy and excitement of one’s youth. While youthfulness is a recurrent theme in pop culture, concurrent with the obsession and romanticization of teenage years in movies and TV shows, Ken Car$on reinvents this often played out concept. His music is genuinely fun to listen to; his lyrics that regard partying and youthful ignorance are complemented by his child-like voice and appearance. His production is just as spry as his delivery and lyrics. Utilizing 8bits and other similar plug-ins, Ken’s production is reminiscent of early-90’s video games music. While this may sound counter-intuitive to the youthful concepts surrounding his music, video games are often associated with young people, so this actually adds to his youthful essence. What makes his youthful appearance genuine is that it isn’t a facade. He started making and releasing music online at around 17. This contrasts with the “Netflix Teenagers” who are almost always played by adults well in their thirties reciting scripts written by people who think they know what 18-year-olds are like, but will just end up making Vine references 6 years too late. Ken’s appearance isn’t just a stage act either. People who have met him have stated that he is a genuinely funny person who does what he pleases, no matter how silly it makes him look. Ken Car$on is gaining popularity at a decent rate. Hopefully, a future collaboration with Playboi Carti can help gain him some recognition for his reinvention of youth representation.
If you don’t know who Yeat is yet, you will soon. With a simple name and simple lyrics, his music is so simple that you won’t be able to forget his innovative simplicity. The Portland (Oregon) rapper is set to be the next big thing, with cosigns from Drake and Kanye West, you’ll probably be hearing a lot more of his static, slurred flow on mainstream rap songs in the near future. As a matter of fact, you may have already heard his music without knowing it. His song “Sorry Bout That” blew up on Tik Tok last year, and is still one of the most popular Tik Tok sounds today. What makes Yeat stand out is his voice. The best way I can describe it is as if someone was attempting to melodically growl in the best way possible. His lyrics are nothing to write home about, but lyrics are not the focus of his music- as angry as it might make certain people. His futuristic-sounding production relies heavily on loud bass, very little sampling, distorted synths, and, most importantly, bells. He admitted to not knowing a thing about producing music and that the only production he ever does is when he adds the bells into the song himself after he receives his beats. With a record deal with Interscope in the books and his recent 2 million monthly Spotify listeners milestone, Yeat is hip-hop’s next big star who will help usher in an even simpler subgenre of trap music. He is the lyrical rap fan’s worst nightmare, for better or for worse. His music is modern. Modern art forms, such as visual arts and architecture, are often very simple in appearance, even if they took a lot of time and effort to create. This form of modern has now been adopted by hip-hop, with simplicity becoming a key element in how the music is presented by innovative artists like Yeat. Hip-hop is a living, breathing genre, and it’s constantly innovating and reinventing itself. The only way it can do this is by allowing rappers like Yeat to push the boundaries of the genre.
Honorable Mention: Sematary
Sematary is who Chief Keef could’ve been if he had grown up listening to black metal and had access to the experimentalism of Bladee’s music. The Northern Californian’s music relies heavily on extremely distorted guitars fused with twisted vocals that sound like they were growled into an Xbox 360 mic and heavily autotuned afterward. His lyrics mix black metal and Chicago drill, two of the most lyrically aggressive genres, putting him on track to becoming a very controversial rapper should he make his way into the mainstream. Low-quality is also Sematary’s image, whether it’s his purposefully poorly designed album covers or his Instagram page many of his posts look like they were taken in 2015 on an iPhone 5. His music isn’t for the faint of heart as it focuses on satanic imagery and one can find heavy distortion over almost every part of a Sematary song. Whether his satan worshipping is an attention-grabbing tactic or not is yet to be seen. Additionally, his music also attempts to reverse the reputation that black metal has gained as a genre that attracts neo-fascists. His lyrics are extremely anti-fascist, with many of his obscenely aggressive threats directed towards those groups; and when I say aggressive, I really mean it. While these topics can be shocking to some people, they could help him gain attention. The reason I give him an honorable mention is that I’m not sure if this type of music can gain enough popularity to thrust him into the mainstream. While it’s very unique, it will also turn a lot of people away as some of his songs are genuinely hard to listen to if you’re not used to the type of lyrical content or production. He could gain more popularity in the underground scene, however, which might be what he’s going for. While some may view Sematary as a bit cringe-worthy, which he no doubt is at times, I think that it’s part of the absurdity of his character. A kid who’s obsessed with 2013 Chicago drill, black metal, satanism, anti-fascism, and looks like he’s in need of a shower could be an underground sensation, or he could be the driver of a wave of nostalgia and experimentalism that will soon fade away.
Check out what some of our DJs and writers consider their favorite albums of 2021.
Whole Lotta Red, Playboi Carti
(Although it came out in 2020, it’s been considered a 2021 album since it came out at the very end of 2020). This album made me respect Playboi Carti as an artist. The experimentation on this album, both vocally and production-wise, is like no other hip-hop project of the past year. On Whole Lotta Red, Carti does everything outside of the box. While maintaining his simple, often repetitive lyrics that have made him such a polarizing artist, he pushes the boundaries of hip-hop even further by introducing distorted production and chaotic, punk-inspired vocals. This album is unpredictable in a good way. At one moment he could be screaming over a WAKEUPFILTHY beat while in the next song we see Carti hinting at his Die Lit/Self-Titled era with much mellower vocals over Pi’erre Bourne’s iconic production. The influence of this work of art is already being seen, with WAKEUPFILTHY producing more and more songs and similar vocal experimentation emerging in the underground Hip-Hop world (see Turban by Yeat). This album was very divisive when it came out (understandably), a common trend in albums that subvert expectations and break barriers. This album may not appeal to you on the first, or even second listen, but give it some time and you’ll understand why this album is going to be so important for hip-hop in the years to come. -Oliviero Zanalda
Home Video, Lucy Dacus
In Home Video, Lucy Dacus artfully talks about the parts of youth that only make sense in retrospection. An intimate and honest look at young and naive love, coming to terms with her sexuality and grappling with religious beliefs weave the songs together. A combination of the usual ballads that Dacus writes and a new look at some poppier songs with background vocals from her boygenius bandmates Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker creates the perfect album. – Margalit Goldberg
It Won’t Always Be Like This, Inhaler
Talk about a smashing debut! Inhaler, a four-piece indie rock group based in Dublin, came out with their first record in July, 2021 after a series of singles and EPs scattered over the course of the last couple years (some oldies and goodies of which are on their new album). Inhaler succeeds in proving their emotional and technical range on this album, drifting back and forth between grittier, higher-energy alt. rock tracks and slower, melodic, passionate ballads, all with strong guitars and punchy hooks. The titular song, “It Won’t Always Be Like This,” as trite as it may sound, provides a lot of hope for those stuck in old routines and patterns as of late, wishing to move onto something fresh and new, making this the perfect album to ring in 2022 with! – Jane Harris
Inside Every Fig is a Dead Wasp, Lunar Vacation
Lunar Vacation fully delivered after their 4-year hiatus, with some of their most layered and beautiful production. They’ve stayed true to the indie rock genre but just mastered their sound. Each song keeps you on your toes and it’s a lovely 30 minute listen. -Sadie Fleig
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, Little Simz
This album felt like listening to a coming of age story, with every song sounding like an epic outro that made me savor the album from beginning to end. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert was a big departure from minimalist rap common in her 2019 album GREY area, now sprinkling musical motifs and whimsical interludes throughout- creating a fairytale-land of Simz making. The instrumentals drew from the African diaspora, with Afro-Caribbean heavy beats and West African inspired chorus’ behind her grimey bars, which speaks to Simz’ British-Nigerian background and tied into the album’s theme of contemplating her current identity. The lyrics were introspective and poignant and made the album an emotional and spiritual experience to listen to. I have been listening to it on repeat! Honorable Mention: Call Me If You Get Lost- Tyler the Creator – Emily Faulks
Any Shape You Take, Indigo De Souza
I haven’t stopped listening to this album. De Souza’s sophomore album experiments with synth pop while still having just as much crunch as her 2018 album I Love my Mom. New sounds, new energies, and a really good listen -Tim Smith
Ok Orchestra, AJR
OKO is a pandemic anthem! It conveys so many raw emotions with alternative sounds. I would highly recommend it- everyone can relate to some of these lyrics! – Tess Rittenberg
Sidetrack My Engine, Nora Brown
Short listen – Appalachian folk songs as haunting as the hills they come from that have never been mixed this well. -Connor Rogers
A blue-haired fairy girl grazed the stage with her guitar on a cool Saturday night in Denver, Colorado at the Marquis Theater to tell a few stories about herself. Neon purple light eliminated the stage, which was covered in colorful drawings and various stuffed animals, signaling both the growth from child to adult but also the stories and experiences that shaped the girl and the music. Madeline is a 19-year old sing-songwriter from Bellaire, Texas embarking on an exciting journey telling her stories of growth and pain to the world. The melodic singer gained fame after sharing videos of her singing song covers on Tiktok gaining thousands of followers and even getting recognition from singers such as Lizzo and Billie Eilish.
My friend and I attended the show, excited especially since both of us were concert deprived since the pandemic. The crowd was small and intimate and were really able to feel as though Madeline was just a friend speaking to us about her experiences growing up. She opened the night singing songs from her EP CHAPTER 1: Longing, such as” As a Child” an ode to her late father, and “Gladly” a song that delves into the aching pains and the grieving process of losing someone you love. The EP has a more stripped-back instrumental and soft vocals, emphasizing the stories being told. Madeline did sing a cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” a Queen classic with a melodic twist. Madeline’s soothing voice singing the chorus really highlighted her ability to express herself through tone. The crowd proudly sang along to the words, waving phone lights as she sang “nothing really matters”, the song really showcased how powerful her voice range is as well as her versatility. She introduced a few new songs from her latest EP Chapter 2: The Shedding, which takes on the idea of growing up moving forward, playing songs “Unrecognizable” and “Growing Pains” which were my favorite from the set. This show being the last of her tour seemed extra special, Madeleine was often overwhelmed with the excited and interactive crowd as we sang along with her songs. My other favorite song showcases at the concert were “August” a song about a person this blue-haired fairy had a crush on that unfortunate moved across the country. The song detailed the lovesick feeling and completely losing oneself when missing someone, the dreamy piano really stands out in this song. She has a unique knack for building worlds within her songs and creating a sense of nostalgia and longing. Madeline’s soft bubbly demeanor is so sweet and magnetic you’ll instantly feel as though you’re just chatting with a friend. If you ever see that Madeline the Person is playing at a show near you, I encourage you to take the chance to listen to a fairy’s story.
Lo-fi pop powerhouse Japanese Breakfast embraced joy at Denver’s Ogden Theatre in October in support of her new album Jubilee. Korean-American multi-instrumentalist Michelle Zauner is the musician and songwriter behind Japanese Breakfast. She dazzled the sold-out venue as she brought us into her world.
Zauner opened the show with my favorite track from the album, “Paprika,” a triumphant song about “reveling in the beauty of music,” she said in the album’s digital liner notes on Apple Music. Moody synths undulated as she sang about waking from a dream, then the audience joined in as horns and snare drums crescendoed into a celebratory chorus: “How’s it feel to be at the center of magic / To linger in tones and words?” the audience sang rhetorically along with Zauner. “How’s it feel to stand at the height of your powers / To captivate every heart? / Projecting your visions to strangers / Who feel it, who listen to linger on every word?” An apt way to start the concert, we spent the next two hours lingering on her every word.
Japanese Breakfast’s first two albums, Psychopomp and Soft Sounds from Another Planet, revolve around the grief and trauma of her mother’s death in 2014. With Jubilee, Zauner channels hard-earned joy.
Although this album’s material has a happier tone than her previous work, her distinct sound remains. She continues to pull from a wide range of styles; this album incorporates disco, sax-heavy jazz riffs, guitar-shredding, and sincere odes backed by orchestral strings. Jubilee’s impressive production is difficult to re-create in a live setting, some of its songs have dozens of layers of instrumentation, but her pared-down band didn’t sacrifice any of the album’s sound. Four musicians supported Zauner’s guitar and vocals by rotating through violin, keyboard, synth, drums, saxophone, and bass.
One of the highlights of seeing Zauner’s live shows is getting to see her chemistry with her husband, Peter Bradley, on stage. He has played guitar and bass in support of her music since her debut album in 2016. Their chemistry is enchanting and brings an extra level of candor and passion to her stage presence. Zauner locked eyes with Bradley as she began a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again,” a sweet song about being helplessly in love. Bradley was blushing as he played twangy licks on slide guitar.
Other standout songs were “Savage Good Boy,” featuring an epic final guitar solo; the quiet and twangy small-town ode “Kokomo, IN;” and dark, sensual, and trancey hit “Posing in Bondage.” Although fans were eager to hear her new content, she sprinkled in some of her earlier hits: “Road Head,” full of guitar and voice loops; the dreamy and orchestral “Boyish;” and ended with Soft Sounds’ opener “Diving Woman,” a spiraling, pulsating, and epic grunge tune that lent itself to a few raucous solos from Zauner.
Not only is she an incredible guitarist, but a truly gifted writer. She garnered impressive acclaim this year for her memoir, Crying in H Mart, which reached #2 on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list upon its release this past April. Long-time fans of her lyrics shouldn’t be surprised that more mainstream audiences were quick to embrace her prose. She has a unique ability to articulate poignant romantic arcs, the emptiness of loneliness and self-doubt, and how it feels to depend on someone else too much without slipping into clichés.
If you ever have the opportunity to see Japanese Breakfast, seize it. Her energy and enthusiasm will keep you smiling for an hour straight. Her talent, confidence, and exuberance create a palpable kind of magic, and I count myself lucky to have been spellbound for two blissful hours.
Jonah Mutono is a multi-talented recording artist who released one of the best, and one of the most underrated, albums of 2020: GERG. This album is a story of accepting identity – it tells Jonah’s story. Born into a religious Ugandan family, Jonah struggled to accept his identity and come out as a queer man. This album describes just that. GERG, as he explained to me, was the secret name he saved his now ex-boyfriend as on his phone. This was done in an effort to cover up the fact that he was dating a man. If he ever got a heart emoji text from someone named GERG, his religious friends and family wouldn’t suspect him of dating a man, it could be anyone. This story is just the tip of the GERG iceberg. As you listen to this album, you’ll begin to learn more about Jonah as a person, whether it’s over intricate, catchy production on songs like “If You Mean It” and “Circulation” or on songs like “Spare” and “Smith Johnson Williams Brown”, where his voice dominates the simpler, but no less captivating production. I sat down with Jonah for an interview about his previous work, but also his future projects and next steps. He’s currently on tour with Kacy Hill and is working on a new project set to release sometime next year.
It’s been over a year since you released GERG. What are your thoughts on the album now? Do you think it’s aged well?
Yeah. I haven’t actually listened to a lot of it since I put it out since it’s a pretty accurate time capsule of my life for the four years it took to make. That’s not to say I was working on it every day, I was traveling a lot. I was in between continents and so in between I would sort of work on these songs. Lyrically speaking, I think it has. I think that people still feel the same way. People still feel isolated or out of place and so that’s why people are still discovering and realizing the album over time. I think to myself “we’ll see if people keep listening to it”. I don’t know if it’s my place to say if it’s aged well sonically. It sounds like the time it was put out and that’s for the best.
Who were your biggest inspirations and influences when you were working on the album (both musically and personally)?
I would always say Sufjan Stevens. I don’t think anyone can hear any Sufjan Stevens in my music but I really fucking love him. Everything he does he seems to have a great process. He puts out so much music. I think a lot of artists hold music back but he’s 12 albums in and I’m very very jealous. I love the brushes that he paints with.
On a personal level, I’d say my brother. My brother worked on 3-4 of the songs on the album and he’s an amazing producer. Anything he produces blows my mind. I’ve stolen and been inspired a lot from him as well.
Being emotionally vulnerable on songs like “Spare” and “Smith Johnson Williams Brown” must not be easy due to the fact that strangers are going to be listening to them. What did you do to get into a space where you can be emotionally vulnerable on a song? What advice would you give other artists that want to do this but are hesitant?
That’s interesting you say that. I try not to write with people in mind like that – that people are gonna be listening to it – I try to write for myself. I’ll probably be writing songs till the day I die, and maybe they won’t be released, but I do so to process information and process emotions. As long as you’re telling the truth, whether that sounds emotionally vulnerable to people or not, I think that’s all you can do. My advice would be to tell the truth and don’t skimp on the messy parts.
The transitions between each song on GERG feel natural despite stark differences musically. How did you choose the order of the songs? What did you do to make sure the transition between each song made sense despite the moods of the songs being different (e.g. Circulation -> Spare). Well, I actually did that mathematically. There’s a thing you can look up that’s really fascinating about how some of the biggest albums’ tempos do the same thing. They start at a certain point, they come down and then they peak again but at a place lower than the first peak. You’ll find it in albums like Random Access Memories, Innervisions, Channel Orange. Because I could hear the style discrepancies between songs, I just broke it down by tempo and mood. It’s almost like a film – you have acts 1, 2, and 3 – and it climaxes at a certain point and you always know when it’s gonna happen. When you start listening to a lot of the great albums, they all do exactly the same thing. It was a mathematical equation really and it worked out for the best. There was a point where I wasn’t sure if “Spare” was gonna go after “Circulation
Has this album found success in the LGBTQ community? Has it inspired certain members living in hostile environments to embrace their identity?
I don’t really know. I’m not sure what the metric of success is. I’ve received some really beautiful letters from people in places all over the world who are queer and who have really been suffering. They thanked me for telling the truth about my situation. I had a fan even tattoo some of my lyrics on his shoulder which was crazy. The fact that it touched anyone is a success in my eyes. I saw it as successful because it came out in the first place. The fact that anyone listening to it at all has been fantastic and the fact that, for a few people, it’s gone that extra step and helped them through a time in their life in any way is really important and cool. I’m so glad that I was able to be a part of that. It’s important that I get to tell my story as it is and exactly as I want to tell it instead of having to be an activist at all times or to feel like someone who has to be up on a pedestal. There are so many important voices along with mine. I think that as long as we stay together and we stay visible, we’re doing our jobs.
What are your plans for your next project? How is it going to differ from your previous album?
It sounds a lot different. I moved to LA recently. I feel like it’s a very Los Angeles record. There are a lot of guitars and a lot more natural sounds. We’re actually recording string sections. Sonically probably a lot more cohesive. I really like the songs so far. I feel like I’m seeking natural instruments to offset the artificiality of my new environment. I still feel very new here because most of my time here has been during the pandemic. We’re maybe 75% of the way through it. I want something to come out next year – whether that be a whole album, an EP, or a short film with some songs in it. Something to sort of show what my life looks like now. It will happen, next year maybe, spring/summer there will be something new
In the process of making an album, how many times do you need to re-record a song?
At worst I’ll record something three times and at best I’ll record something in 30 minutes. I “Smith Johnson Williams Brown” recorded in 30 minutes and never did anything to it. I re-recorded shoulders for a year because there’s 10 harmonies in every chorus and the bridge part has 20 different vocals at once and I kept having to re-record those vocals. It took a long time. When you listen to the finished thing it doesn’t sound like the case but I feel like maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe everything should sound easy but be difficult to make.
Who are your favorite artists currently? Who do you hope to collaborate with in the future?
Definitely Sufjan Stevens. I keep meeting people who know him and I’m like “hook me up”. I would totally work with him if we was down. I’ve been listening to Little Dragon a lot. I’ve been going over their album The Puma Rubber Band. It has this song “Clap Clap” on it which is incredible and the album as a whole is fantastic. Little Dragon is really cool and I’d love to work with them. I’ve been listening to this artist Yullola. She only has a couple of songs out and they’re very “vibey”, for lack of a better word. I’d love to work with her. I’d love to do something with Wet, I really like the music they put out. The music they put out recently is so good. I’m liking Lil Nas X for what it’s worth. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to work with him – we live in completely different universes. I did a lot of my first EP with Take a Day Trip who’s now doing all of Lil Nas X’s music. Now they’re out in the big time and I’m very proud. I love what they’re doing with Lil Nas X.
How did you get to know Kacy Hill? Are you planning on working with her in the future? What do you hope to gain from this tour?
I actually met her for the first time 6 years ago. We have very similar collaborators. We’re in the same little community of musicians. Many times I’ve seen her with our mutual friend Max, maybe Max is the one who introduced me in the first place. She’s fantastic. I love her and I love her new album. During the pandemic, we sent some things back and forth but nothing came to fruition or materialized. At some point it will though, mark my words. It’s been such a hellish two years and just being able to perform is great. The last show I did was at the end of February  and I want to do a lot more shows next year headlined by myself. I need to get my sea legs backs in terms of performing because I wouldn’t call myself a big performer. I think I’m really exposed and vulnerable singing in front of a crowd. There are those people at the party with the guitar but that’s not me. My dad used to have to force me to play piano for people and I had a lot of stage fright. It’ll be nice to have a friend around and Kacy’s fans are so chill that I think It’ll be a good experience. Getting out there and performing in front of people is what this tour will be good for.
The Front Bottoms’ performance at Mission Ballroom last Monday was a reminder that punk rock and roll is not dead. The genre is alive and well alright. It may not look the same as the days in which The Clash and The Ramones reigned supreme, nor does it sound like Metallica, or even Green Day. Nevertheless, fans of noise first and foremost ought not despair.
The Front Bottoms are not a new band. Guitarist Brain Sella and childhood buddy Mathew Uychich began to write music together in 2007, adding Uychich’s brother Brian to complete the original lineup. Sella and Mathew Uychich still form the heart of the New Jersey band, but on Thursday, the founding duo were complemented by Erik Kase Romero and Natalie Newbold. The next hour and a half quickly morphed into 90 minutes of exhilaration, energy, experimentation, happiness, and noise. The concert was easily the best I’d attended live in recent memory. While this distinction doesn’t really carry significant weight considering that I grew up in rural Middlebury, VT and spent my first year of college living through a pandemic, I have a feeling that it will take a while for another show to match this celebration of sound.
“You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)” set the tone for the concert, with a strong drumset backing a series of playful guitar riffs and a set of conversational based lyrics that embody any good Front Bottoms song. “West Virginia” brought hard hitting head bangs, “Jerk” crowd surfing and a sense of vulnerability through Sella’s words. Then we were into the classics. “Twin Size Mattress.” “Montgomery Forever.” “Peach.” The songs that stole my heart- each one building the excitement, the energy, and the joy on the faces of those that populated the crowd.
It’s the randomness, the human in the lyrics. I remember sitting in my room at boarding school, trying to write an English essay when Sella’s voice first reached my ears from my roommate’s Iphone 8 speaker. I was struck by the abstract, the volatility, the repetition. Lyrics like “this is for the lions living in the wiry frames of my friends bodies,” “I avoid using traditional techniques,” and “it’s snowing right now I wish it was summer” all define The Front Bottoms. They might seem pointless, unimportant, childish even. But it’s exactly this approach that makes the band relatable. It’s what makes the band identifiable. It makes them relevant. As a 21 year old kid, I don’t necessarily need wisdom in my music, nor do I desire it. No. I want friends. I want to feel someone else speaking about a sense of chaos and uncertainty. Who else gets the occasional feeling that they just need to voice their aimless and spontaneous thoughts?
“Au Revoir (Adios)” closed the show. Fitting right? One of my best childhood friends used to hate when I played that song for him. “There’s no point,” he’d exclaim. “The entire song has like 3 distinct lyrics!” I always thought he was missing the point. “That’s not what The Front Bottoms are about,” I’d tell him. I wouldn’t say I listen to The Front Bottoms to learn how to live my life for the next 10 years. No. If I wanted that, I’d turn to those podcasts from Yale professors that my mother loves to forward my way. Maybe I just want to laugh, to bounce up and down for an hour and a half, and most importantly, to listen to noise. And I think there’s some value in that too.