Atwood Magazine is excited to share our Editor’s Picks column, written and curated by Editor-in-Chief Mitch Mosk. Every week, Mitch will share a collection of songs, albums, and artists who have caught his ears, eyes, and heart. There is so much incredible music out there just waiting to be heard, and all it takes from us is an open mind and a willingness to listen. Through our Editor’s Picks, we hope to shine a light on our own music discoveries and showcase a diverse array of new and recent releases.
This week’s Editor’s Picks features Celeste, Joel Culpepper, Girlhood, Beyondsonny, Adeline, & Juke Ross!
Not Your MuseCeleste
Celeste’s debut album is sublime, stirring perfection: It’s no wonder that the 26-year-old singer/songwriter won the BBC Sound of 2020 poll and the BRITS Rising Star award. Intimate and raw, achingly visceral and resolute, Not Your Muse (released February 5, 2021) is an empowering overhaul of sweet, tender music brimming with substance and soul. The British artist blends alternative R&B, soul, blues, jazz, rock, pop, and more influences as she pours her heart out through a series of self-reflections and vivid upheavals that transcend the moment – becoming classics in an instant.
Celeste’s talent cannot be understated: She exists in the same space as Adele and Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, and Otis Redding. Her voice is breathtaking; her words overflowing with sentiment and meaning. She explores self-worth and acceptance, love and disconnect, joy and loss through a record that dwells in the deepest parts of our shared human condition.
“Not Your Muse is the power I found when I felt powerless,” Celeste recently shared upon the record’s release. “In making this album I have allowed myself to arrive at a place where I feel empowered, fiercely wide-eyed and fulfilled. I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved on my debut album and to be in this position, after the year that has been, I feel nothing but gratitude and excitement.”
While the overall Not Your Muse journey is a powerful listening experience that is not to be missed, the album’s individual tracks stand out as captivating, individual bits of grace and beauty in their own right. I’ve continuously found myself coming back to “Stop This Flame” over the past year since its release: Passionate and soaring, it highlights the power and vast depths of Celeste’s voice; it’s also an unabashedly fun, unapologetic and elevating assertion of self-empowerment. On the flip-side, Celeste lights an intimate flame on the smoldering “Love Is Back” – a seductive celebration of connection lit up by her achingly resonant voice, feverish brass and sax, expressive vibraphones and chimes, and an overall retro glow that burns as deep as love itself.
Is Celeste the new queen of soul? I don’t think that’s for me to say – but I certainly think we can find the answer on Not Your Muse, a triumphant debut unlike anything I’ve heard in a long, long time.
“Poetic Justice”Joel Culpepper
Southeast Londoner Joel Culpepper stunned me to silence with last October’s double-single “Return” / “W.A.R.” Dynamic, unapologetic, and urgent, those songs seamlessly captured the tension of 2020, representing two halves of a turbulent whole: One stunningly soulful, the other dramatically intense, the tracks continue to evoke the inescapability of the moment. Culpepper continues to ooze hot funk and soul on his 2021 entrance “Poetic Justice,” a gorgeously tender and sweet moment of self-expression immersed in an intimate, jazzy setting:
I don’t wanna fight
I tie died my flag white
I watched from the sides
Even when it killed me inside
I wanna love again
I wanna feel again
I wanna get better
I wanna surrender
The latest off Culpepper’s forthcoming debut album, Sgt Culpepper, “Poetic Justice” is as much a love song as it is a resounding statement. “I feel like Justice is poetry but it’s also complex,” Culpepper says in regard to the song. “Part of justice is forgiveness, no longer enslaved by the pain of what someone’s done to you, but the ability to move on from it.” Written and produced with Tom Misch, “Poetic Justice” embraces the idea of opening up – of revival, forgiveness, and moving forward. He embodies these ideas in a stunning chorus, his voice soaring high as he croons gracefully of love:
I let in your love, I let in your love
Whether a friend or foe
You know it’s love
I let in your love, I let in your love
Whether a friend or foe
Gotta let you know, it’s love
“Poetic Justice” is immersive: A buoyant, vibrant world of colorful sounds and dramatic textures that welcomes us in, wrapping itself around our ears. Culpepper’s ultimate message of “let love reign” rings out particularly strong in 2021, in the wake of so much emotional and physical distance folks around the world have endured. Make no mistake: “Healing” is a process that requires far more than just blank slate forgiveness – but if we can learn to love, and see one another through the lens of love, then no matter how different our views, we can hopefully come away with some sense of community and connection.
Some wounds run so deep
It’s impossible to cry
But forgiveness is our alley
No judgement, no sentence
Just growth and repentance
A reef for this hearse
I’ll say sorry, if you go first
“The Love I Need”Girlhood
Listen to Girlhood’s “The Love I Need” enough times, and it transforms from song, to mantra, to prayer. Just one of the many beautiful tracks off Girlhood’s 2020 self-titled debut (released in late October), “The Love I Need” radiates with inspiring light and uncompromising love. The London-based duo of Christian Pinchbeck and Tessa Cavanna soar through gilded sonics and uplifting melodies on an album closer that cleanses the soul, revitalizing and rejuvenating us lie a cool breeze on a hot summer day. Gospel and indie pop influences coalesce through glistening acoustic guitars, intimate vocals, bright pianos, and harmonized strings that together seem to continuously cascade upwards in an endless aural revelry.
In releasing the song last year, Girlhood placed extra emphasis on the song’s blueprint of joy: “We’re rooted in our need to communicate, understand and be understood,” Tessa Cavanna said. “This is the love I need.” In song, that sunshine is transmitted into a repeated chorus where she sings, “I want you to see the love I need, be aware.”
I would happily take a twenty-minute remix of Cavanna singing that one line on repeat. Her words are as intoxicating as Girlhood’s unique, mesmerizing sound, but what ultimately stands out the most is the band’s message: “The Love I Need” is an anthem that glows like a beacon of positivity, empathy, community, and of course, love – and I’m sure we’ll be coming back to Girlhood again and again over the coming years.
Brooklyn-based Beyondsonny’s second release of 2021, “Black Friends” is absolutely enthralling – a dramatic overhaul of the times that transforms from a personal reckoning to a stirring reflection on racial prejudice, Black Lives Matter, to a passionate embrace of his loved ones and community. “I believe the ultimate act of humility is taking the spotlight away from yourself and shining it onto others. ‘Black Friends’ isn’t about me, it’s about us,” the artist shared upon the song’s recent release. An enveloping mix of muted pianos and brass serve as the compelling backbone to an impassioned no-holds-barred rap that speaks truth to power on subjects of social injustice, police brutality, and more: Beyondsonny lays it all on the table, and we wouldn’t have it any other way:
Pondered really heavy on the climate of the rap game
Couple of little niggas that been moving to their mass fame
Selling kids gimmicks just to fortify their campaigns
Now these kids begging for advice from an at name
Addicted to the screen so it seems that’s the fan base
Typing lyrics on a phone our words not man-made
Feeling really lost, with these thoughts,
cause the cost of the gauze is more
than we afford but the poor gonna buy
Into all the lies we immortalize
The Aubreys, Garners, Martins, Taylors, Floyds,
Blands, Browns, Rice, Castilles, Sterlings
Niggas really out here, boasting earnings,
that’s concerning, crosses burning
Yall ain’t certain
Racism still alive, fuck your service
Now they like black lives matter
When our house used to shatter
From the KKK
Politician wanna pander to my people
All yall evil, I’m so tired
That phrase got like a million sequels
Used to hang us up on a tree
Now we smoke all the trees
Now we hot with degrees
Well educated even we segregated
“Black Friends is a song that celebrates the unsung heroes of the black community,” Beyondsonny tells Atwood Magazine. “The individuals that are often overlooked, but make us look beautiful or provide us with the resources we need but can’t find elsewhere. Filming the visual was an immense honor and seeing all of my friends display what they do best is far beyond anything I could have imagined. The more I make music and the more I write, the more I realize that I never know who I can inspire. My goal is to continue creating honest work and highlighting the people that inspire me. Black Friends is my overview of current society and the place my black friends have in it. We are here, and we deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.”
This song is a lot of things: A reminder, a reckoning, a call to action, and more. If you hadn’t heard of Beyondsonny yet, you won’t forget him now.
A deep R&B groove full of lively rhythms, exuberant horns, warm harmonies, and sultry melodies, Adeline’s “Middle” is an utterly hypnotic experience. The lead single off the French-Caribbean artist’s sophomore EP Intérimes (released July 2020) soaks the ears in sunlight, reveling in a moment of drama. It’s the kind of song you can’t help but listen to and smile: From her emotive voice to her the buoyant guitars and brass at her side, Adeline inspires while igniting a fire inside.
Seven feet above the floor
Looking for the exit door
I’m suspended in the air
Waiting for someone who cares
I can barely recognize
Who’s standing before my eyes
It’s hard for me to visualize
Seems like there’s no compromise
I guess it’s not surprising
See, I’m not good at pretending
I knew that this was coming
Is this the end or just beginning
“Middle is about being stuck in a situation,” Adeline shared upon the song’s release. “You know those moments when you just can’t move because you can’t see clearly? Making choices can be the most important and most challenging actions we make as adults, and no one really teaches us how to do that. It can be so paralyzing at times and most of the time no one has the answer for us but ourselves.”
While its lyrics may reverberate at a tipping point of uncertainty and indecision, Adeline’s song itself evokes a sense of unbridled warmth. “Middle” is bustling and bright – an affectionate burst of aural honey that is tantalizing as it is catchy.
Caught up in the middle
Right into the shuffle
Can’t find a way to get back into it
Look in your eyes and it just keeps me
Going round in circles
An instant standout off Juke Ross’ effervescent debut album Chapter 2 released last summer, “Sophia” is a beautiful acoustic love song. Ross shines with his charismatic, smoky vocals and sincere, heart-on-sleeve lyrics that capture the endless depths of connection between two souls – no matter how near or far apart they may be. The singer/songwriter embodies intimacy as he gently glides our attention through a declaration of devotion:
They don’t know you like I do
I know that your heart burns true
Still they try and send their waves after you
When evening falls
I know where your demons crawl
Can’t deny it, that you fight them face-on
When all is done and said, you are on my mind and
Ignore their greasy eyes, cherish your all
While we grow still
Sophia, oh, I might be gone tonight
But I’m never far from you, oh, Sophia
Know I said goodbye, but I’ll never forget your heart
An artist of many hats and sounds, Juke Ross is a modern singer/songwriter with a classic, timeless touch. Comparable to Ed Sheeran and Jake Bugg – with his own distinctive sound, of course – Ross has been actively releasing music for the past five years, with sundry tracks and EPs released through various record labels (including UMG’s Republic Records, who put out 2017’s GREY). Released via RCA Records in July, Chapter 2 is a dynamic, enthralling, and fitting introduction to Juke Ross’ artistry: And if you happen to have an inclination toward love songs, then “Sophia” is a great jumping off point.
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