Every Friday, Atwood Magazine’s staff share what they’ve been listening to that week – a song, an album, an artist – whatever’s been having an impact on them, in the moment.
This week’s weekly roundup features music by The Killers, Pinc Louds, Dylan Cartlidge, Lingua Ignota, Hush Kids, Wing Vilma, AVIV, Linda Varg, Brainiac, Kills Birds, Marlow, LEVVELS, Aliché, and LonelyTwin!
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:: Pressure Machine – The Killers ::
Mitch Mosk, New York
Intimate, cinematic, and stirring, The Killers’ seventh studio album is more a full-bodied experience than it is your standard collection of rock songs. Set in Brandon Flowers’ hometown of Nephi, Utah, Pressure Machine is a character-study-driven album fueled by true stories of small town American life and the poignant pursuit of the American dream. It’s heartland music depicting the heartland of the country – a journey through the “middle of nowhere,” as the band affectionately says, that stops to take stock of the many lives living out their days there.
Tales of loss and tragedy, depression and disenchantment, nostalgia and longing comprise The Killers’ softest, most tender record to date – one that reckons with everything from the ravages of the opioid epidemic on close communities (“In Another Life”), to the personal impacts of extramarital affairs on those involved (“Desperate Things”). Bookended by the impassioned upheaval “West Hills” and the heartfelt finale “The Getting By,” Pressure Machine might be seen as cataloging deaths of despair – but despite the great pain and suffering found in Flowers’ songwriting, there is beauty there as well – albeit beauty tinged with grief. The Killers have long written about breaking out of that unnamed small American town, and tracks like the radiant anthem “In the Car Outside,” the bittersweet “Runaway Horses” (a serene acoustic ballad featuring indie folk superstar Phoebe Bridgers), and the beautiful title track “Pressure Machine” bring to life those feelings of yearning and thirsting for something more – or perhaps, not? – with intensified vulnerability and visceral, moving imagery.
For maybe the first time in The Killers’ musical career, Brandon Flowers allows himself to explore what it would have been like to stay at home; to marry his high school sweetheart, buy a house with a mortgage, work a 9 to 5, and raise a family. Pressure Machine tries its best to not cast judgment, but rather let the stories do the talking and allow listeners to interpret them at will; per some of the soundbites that help introduce its songs, many folks in Nephi are happy with where they live and the lives they’ve led.
Still, for much of Pressure Machine, the rose-colored glasses are cast off as life’s hardships take center stage. One can’t help but get absorbed in the album’s permeating sense of darkness and helplessness – the sense that for many, “getting out” isn’t an option. Sometimes a single line can sum up a world of feelings, as a forlorn Flowers manages to achieve on “In Another Life”: “When will I make it home? When that jukebox in the corner sops playing country songs of stories that sound like mine.“
“I discovered this grief that I hadn’t dealt with,” Flowers shares, speaking to the reflections of his home that spurred to Pressure Machine‘s conceptualization and creation. “Many memories of my time in Nephi are tender, but the ones tied to fear or great sadness were emotionally charged. I’ve got more understanding now than when we started the band, and hopefully I was able to do justice to these stories and these lives in this little town that I grew up in.”
Pressure Machine isn’t your typical Killers rock album. Rather, it’s a collection of mostly somber ballads and power-ballads (with some notable exceptions) that reflect on sobering topics in deeply vulnerable spaces. Nevertheless, its journey is a memorable and meaningful one: From the shining warmth of “Quiet Town” and the utter devastation of “Terrible Thing” (which explores depression and suicide), to the explorations of faith and disillusionment in the impassioned “Cody” (“We keep on waiting for the miracle to come, fall from the firmament and give us nice things“), The Killers ensure their seventh album is an immersive adventure, home to some of their most powerful storytelling to date.
She’s in the house with the baby crying on the bed
She’s got this thing where she puts the walls so high
It doesn’t matter how much you love
It doesn’t matter how hard you try
We got a place with a fence and a little grass
I put this film on the windows, and it looks like chapel glass
But when shе turns, it’s like the shadow of the cross don’t cast
No blеssing over our lonely life
It’s like waiting for a train to pass, and I don’t know when it’ll pass
But I remember when she used to set the room on fire
With her eyes, swear to god
It’s like a flood of grief and sorrow from a haunted life
When she cries, like a train, it’s a lot
:: “Rabbit” – Kills Birds ::
Sophie Prettyman-Beauchamp, Long Beach, California
Having just recorded their upcoming record at fan Dave Grohl’s studio, LA newcomers Kills Birds give us an eviscerating taste of what’s to come with torrential first single “Rabbit.” The song is a biting reflection on the impacts of an abusive relationship, grounded by Nina Ljeti’s confessional stream-of-consciousness and the poetic simplicity of her soul-baring wit. She makes snide allusions to the toxicity and manipulation in the darkly sing-songy line “I’m not like the other girls,” and alludes to the patterns of degradation that she faced “exactly like the other girls” that came before her. Her devastation echoes like dying breaths in painfully whispered refrains of “How could I let you?” so that she can re-emerge as herself, reveling in the catharsis of her own screaming, the pummeling drums, and wailing guitars. Their sophomore album Married is out on November 12 via Royal Mountain and KRO.
:: Hope Above Adversity – Dylan Cartlidge ::
Oliver Crook, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Few records have gripped me with sheer joy and a longing to move my body like Dylan Cartlidge’s debut Hope Above Adversity. It’s powerful, eclectic and carries enough good vibes to weather the toughest storms. But it’s not the corny, fake happiness of Pharrel Williams’s “I’m Happy.” Cartlidge tackles difficult topics with realistic eyes, underpinning it with a sense of white-knuckle hope. After the few years the world has been through, Hope Above Adversity is exactly the message—and the dance party—we all need.
:: “Blame It” – Marlow ::
Joe Beer, Surrey, UK
Five-piece indie rock band Marlow urge people to take responsibility for mistakes in new single “Blame It.” In a world where it’s so easy to hide behind screens, Marlow speaks about how lack of communication and sweeping problems under the rug can ultimately make situations worse. The UK lads deliver this message through a fast-paced, toe-tapping rhythm, shimmering synths and euphoric guitars, in what they describe as “feel-good melancholy.”
Vocalist Freddie tells his story of frustration through a rugged lens, while fellow members Joe (Guitar), Seb (Bass), Archie (Synth) and Liam (Drums) bring a tight and polished performance. The result is a delightful mix of raw emotion and youthful, vibrant energy. The accompanying music video is nothing short of perfection. Capturing the narrative behind the single, we see a struggling relationship and all their highs and lows. The stunning cinematic shots allow audiences to soak up the feelings and heartbreak, while intermittent scenes of the band’s explosive performance give us a breather from the pent-up emotions.
:: From Dayton, Ohio – Brainiac ::
Sophie Prettyman-Beauchamp, Long Beach, California
Gone too soon, ’90s noise punks Brainiac’s underground legacy is apparent in every VHS recording of their high-energy performances sprinkled throughout the internet, but that artillery of once-forgotten material is now cemented by a crucial new compilation. From Dayton Ohio is a chronological, sonic history of the band’s experimental influence in remastered covers, singles, live recordings, and previously unreleased songs that fleshes out their story like never before. Among these salvaged treats are gems like the jerky, barreling “Superduper Sonic” and live recordings of essentials such as their performance of “Vincent Come On Down” at The Blind Pig. These live remasters in particular offer a uniquely immersive experience, as late frontman Tim Taylor’s impish banter and spitting delivery shoots through the speakers with an indestructible life force. Brainiac wasn’t just ahead of their time, they were on their own plane.
:: “Love Don’t Disappear” – Hush Kids ::
Mitch Mosk, New York
A soft and tender outpouring of sweet folk, Hush Kids’ second release of the year is as soothing as it is seductive. Following the wistful “Weatherman,” the sun-kissed “Love Don’t Disappear” showcases the very best of Jill Andrews and Peter Groenwald – putting the Nashville folk/alt-country duo’s evocative harmonies and stirring acoustic work on display for all of us to feel deep down in our guts.
Love let me in
Oh love, when did you begin
Tell me what you want from me
Love show me how
Oh love, I am ready now
Find me when i’m all alone
Find me when i’m far from home
And all I know
Ooo ooo I call your name out loud
Ooo ooo can you hear, can you hear
Ooo ooo get through to you somehow
Ooo ooo don’t disappear
“This was the second song we wrote together, and the song that turned us into Hush Kids,” Peter Groenwald tells Atwood Magazine. “I was working on a mix a while after we wrote it, and Jill asked if I wanted to start a band. I hadn’t been asked that question since high school. I’m very glad I said yes.”
“Peter used to have an old ski boat parked in his yard,” Jill Andrews explains further. “I didn’t know him well because we had only written once together. When we hit a wall a couple hours in, I thought about packing up and coming back to finish the song another day. I remember Peter going to the kitchen, coming back with two Miller Lites in hand and asking me if I wanted to finish the song in the boat. I asked him if there was a lake around and he replied, “Well yeah, but I just meant in my yard.” After a few good laughs and some sun on our faces we did finish this song, still parked there, yet somehow moved.”
“Love Don’t Disappear” is poignant and enchanting – a call to, and plea for love. Beautiful and warm, it harkens back to Hush Kids’ 2018 self-titled debut album, an utterly graceful collection of lilting and wondrous folk. This is what Hush Kids are all about: Channeling honesty and deep, vulnerable emotions into vivid, majestic musical masterpieces. Ultimately, we come away from “Love Don’t Disappear” charmed and pacified; ready to welcome love into our lives.
:: “Perpetual Flame Of Centralia” – Lingua Ignota ::
Nick Matthopoulos, Chicago
With a sound that is rooted in a history of playing heavy music, singing in her church’s choir, and survival, Kristin Hayter, or Lingua Ignota has crafted a sound quite uniquely hers. All at once beautiful and harrowing, “Perpetual Flame Of Centralia” conjures images of notable religious context(hell, blood of Jesus, a holy kingdom, and the snake of Eden) with that of Centralia; a former mining town in Pennsylvania that has, more or less, been burning since 1962. For a somewhat minimal composition, there is no shortage of impact and weight. The piano, which makes up the foundation of the piece, is simple and gorgeous, but ominous and numbing, especially coupled with Hayter’s looming, vibrato-tinged vocals. While there is additional instrumentation that helps to lighten the atmosphere, like what sounds like a trem-picked mandolin, the atmosphere still feels grim. This piece, from Lingua Ignota’s most recent album, Sinner Get Ready, is an excellent example of Hayter’s songwriting and atmosphere-creating abilities.
:: La Atómica – Pinc Louds ::
Sophie Prettyman-Beauchamp, Long Beach, California
The ever-colorful NYC buskers’ new record is city summertime incarnate. Sung in Spanish (and some Spanglish), La Atómica bursts at the seams with the color and vibrance that have made so many gladly fall into Pinc Louds’ delightfully watch cartoonish world of whimsy, feeling, and puppetry. The band draws from a swathe of influences ranging from Latin genres like tropicália to doowop and punk, with rousing harmonies, jumping percussion, and jubilant horns that invite everyone to come and play. Claudi’s irresistible voice is all spunk and romance as she slips into characters like the overheating, fed-up wife of “Aire Acondicionado” and the crooning dreamer on Luis Miguel cover “Si Nos Dejan.” From the subways to Tompkins Square to more traditional venues, Pinc Louds imbues a special kind of magic in every space, place, and person they encounter, and this record is a testament to their indefatigable, pure joy. Pinc Louds is currently in the midst of a US tour.
:: “Standing in the Middle of the Road” – Linda Varg ::
Joe Beer, Surrey, UK
Swedish sensation Linda Varg brings a poignant message of hope with her latest single “Standing In The Middle Of The Road.” Written from the depths of her heart, the track highlights the musician’s own experiences with bullying, providing an uplifting sense that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. We all experience bumps in the road, some bigger than others, but if there is anything to take away from our hardships, it’s that we always come out of them stronger and wiser. The singer shares, “The message is that you should never let anyone, anything, or any circumstances run you over. What might seem like a failure, broken dreams, or insurmountable obstacles or challenges can instead be the passage or opening to something much greater than you could ever have imagined. So do whatever you want in life and don’t live as a victim of your own bad thoughts.”
This powerful song was co-written with platinum-selling artist Ulf Nilsson and emphasizes the inspirational message through it’s motivating folk pop soundscapes. Soft vocals and gentle guitars gradually build into a soaring chorus, glistening with jangly instrumentation and self-empowering lyrics that make this the ultimate feel-good anthem. So if you’re needing a little pick me up, then this is the track for you!
:: “You Don’t Know Arts” – Wing Vilma ::
Ben Niesen, Pacific Northwest
You probably won’t find as much good a find of techno/microhouse/folktronica if you were to ride up to Kieran Hebden’s house with a death wish for a new Four Tet record. Miles Coleman does us one better; they ride up to that same house of the same turntable legend to deliver a solid sophomore record which carves a sonic space from the same silicone parts quarry. Imagine if two sticks of RAM broke out in a dance off inside the motherboard of your computer. But The Spirit Practice moves in cycles, with each phase taking a dominant tonal direction while the other two support and inform. On “Astrology Cup,” rock solid percussion initiates microhouse synth passages and then submits to wiry harpsichords and muted xylophones.
Microhouse, per its name, receives applicable ur-genre criticisms of simplistic 4/4 rhythmic sensibilities, but this always seems to be parroted in a vacuum; the simple fact of the matter is four on the floor gets people in the door. Further, it can preclude arguments for a successful house record. Much of The Spirit Practice practices tonal and melodic variations of the central synthesizer riff on “You Don’t Know Arts.” To break any rhythmic monotony however, Coleman takes a page from Nicolas Jaar’s more industrial techhouse inclined projects and fixes distortion and skittering breakbeats on the cut to introduce a dynamic range. They don’t stop there, exploring the contrast of a crystalline piano and an eight-bit MIDI solo. Such is “Thunder.”
The wiry harpsichord chrysalis returns in a two-for-one deal of “Oak and Vine” and “Sun and Vine,” ready to prep the record for the seal: the nervous, Gothic downtempo closer, “Mtl@9pm.” The dark vaporwave outro takes The Spirit Practice to a final meditative space. Coleman’s record features plenty off-kilter, if not otherwise awkward, arrangements that somehow work in rather sublime ways. And sometimes that’s more impressive than just making a solid record. The Spirit Practice is one of those records.
:: “Black Coffee” (Remix) – AVIV ::
Chloe Robinson, California
Previously covering this gentle tune, once again Atwood Magazine highlights AVIV’s “Black Coffee” – but this time it is the remix of that acclaimed hit. Featuring OCTAVIO the Dweeb, the tenacious talent provides a uniquely colorful take to AVIV’s wistful track. Warm vocals wash over sleek synths and glittery guitars as they sing of life’s most honest and melancholy realities. The soft piece is sure to sweep you up with its cozy quality.
The 15-year-old Toronto native AVIV is known for her emotive, indie pop pieces that delight fans with a delicate nature. Examining her deepest feelings and putting them into mesmerizing music is a true passion for her. OCTAVIO the Dweeb is a Mexico born and Kentucky-raised artist, dripping with dedication. When he was younger he took a job busing tables to have gas money to travel to Nashville from Knoxville and record his tracks. Together the two possess so much persistence and heart. That truly shows in this radiant release.
:: “Keep Me Alive” – LEVVELS ::
Chloe Robinson, California
Ever been in a relationship where you are on a completely different page than the other person? LEVVELS’ debut single “Keep Me Alive’ ‘ expresses that feeling of longing for something more then the other person is willing to give. Through pulsating beats and deep passionate vocals, you can feel that need for affection and the loneliness of being left bare. The powerful black and white visuals convey emotions of lust, hurt and desire creating an esthetic that is highly compelling.
The intoxicating trio is known for their unique style. Melding a dark synth 80s sound with 90s and new millennium, they boldly push genre barriers. On “Keep Me Alive” they collaborated with famed production and songwriting duo, HEAVY (Lovelytheband) resulting in a driving, elevated release. The electro rock standout is a definite must listen.
:: “Hurts Like It Hit Me” – LonelyTwin ::
Mitch Mosk, New York
Heartache doesn’t have to be something we “dwell” in; as Swedish artist LonelyTwin (Madelene Eliasson) displays in her latest single, we can also dance our pains away – or at least revel in an external physical expression of inner turmoil. Released on August 5th, “Hurts Like It Hit Me” follows “If I Know Myself” as LonelyTwin’s second single of the year, pulsing with clean, cathartic electro-pop sound and cinematic energy:
she won’t say that she just wanna be friends
gave her a minute that she wasted
but I get why I go for the madness ’cause
It’s the only thing I’ve tasted
I just wanna feel like it’s fine
gotta stop caring about Caroline
don’t know what I want but I chase it
and then I crash and burn and die
I guess I don’t know what is worse
being friends or just a thought
dodged a bullet but It hurts
hurts like It hit me
As Eliasson explains, “It’s about the same girl in ‘If I Know Myself,’ written a while after I had gone home. She couldn’t really make up her mind about wanting to be with me. Even though I know it was messy, it still hurt like I lost something worth keeping, so I wrote the song about that. ‘Dodged a bullet but it hurts like it hit me.‘” Even the healthiest breakups have aftershocks; “Hurts Like It Hit Me” may help transform our pained experience into one of healing.
:: “By Surprise” – Aliché ::
Mitch Mosk, New York
Just like love can sweep us off our feet at a moment’s notice, so too does Aliché’s latest single, “By Surprise.” Her first release of 2021 (and the first teaser off her forthcoming debut EP, Good While It Lasted) finds the London artist dwelling in a soul pop reverie, rising to a radiant crescendo that celebrates how passion can absolutely knock the wind right out of us:
Ooh, I stumbled on you.
I was cold till you laid me down.
Ooh, I think that you new.
Spent that first time in your arms, with no guard.
When daylight comes, the sunlight runs
Trees stand tall, the waters fall.
You bill it up & lay, describe my day.
I keep you close, I keep your focus.
By surprise, By surprise, By surprise
Now you’re mine, Now you’re mine, Now you’re mine…
“‘By Surprise’ takes us to that first moment when you meet someone unexpectedly,” Aliché tells Atwood Magazine. “You’ve been working on yourself. You’ve gotten yourself to an unprecedented place of self love. And what that means is, your eyes, your heart & your arms are open for the love of others. ‘By Surprise’ is about who steps through that open door.”
Pulsing bass and churning drums make for an evocative, dramatic rhythm section; together with swirling lead guitars and other sounds that pop and sizzle, the artist’s vision of intense romantic immediacy comes to life. Atop it all is Aliché’s sweet, strong vocal work: Building gracefully, she channels passion with effortless ease. Whether you’ve had your own surprises in love, or even if you’re still waiting for that special moment, this song radiates a good kind of heat.
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