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 Casper Skulls, Hands Down, Keyan7e, ANJXLXE, Princess Century, Chloe Lilac, The Greeting Committee, Dirtsa, Single Girl, Married Girl, Fritch, Babel, Johnny Stimson, and CAL!
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:: “Tommy” – Casper Skulls ::
Mitch Mosk, New York
Intimate alt-rock comes to life with warm radiance in Casper Skulls’ “Tommy,” a stirring, cinematic outpouring of passion and wonder. The second single off the Toronto band’s forthcoming second album, Knows No Kindness (out November 12, 2021 via Next Door Records) is a majestic slow-burner anthem of sorts – the kind of song that builds and builds, until it spills forth in a fresh flood of feverish energy and raw emotion.
A nuanced soundscape consisting of subtle pianos, charming guitars, and more comes to life around singer/guitarist Melanie St-Pierre’s voice as she treats listeners to a vivid snapshot of humanity in motion, essentially retelling the life story of the titular Tommy:
Tommy lives for classics
Rain fills the lawn taps the rooftops with all its might
Can hear it from the attic
Small dark room without a window for him is bright
Something so familiar
Hum of the walls as it travels from room to room
I can never go there
I will never see how he lives this
Tommy I just don’t know
“Tommy is about a neighbour that Neil and I had when we lived on Caledonia St. in Toronto,” St-Pierre tells Atwood Magazine. “He was an older British man and we would exchange pleasantries sometimes, but I never learned his real name. I decided to name him Tommy because he reminds me a bit of my grandfather Tom and he was listening to “Hey, Little Tomboy” by the Beach Boys one day out on a lawn chair.”
“Items started mysteriously appearing in the bus shelter in front of his house. One day there would be a box of assorted jams, another there’d be CDs, bike helmets or trolley bags. Thoughtful, curious, or useful things seemed to be planted there to bring people joy. It began happening more frequently and eventually I saw him placing something in there. I had this odd connection to him like I might be one of the only people who knew it was him doing this, which inspired me to write a song about him. Knowing next to nothing about him, I decided to make up an entire life story. Maybe he immigrated to Toronto a long time ago and perhaps met his wife here and had kids? Perhaps she passed away not long ago due to an illness? Who knows. The song is driven by mystery. The same sort of mystery he gave me. While writing the song, Neil had a phase where he learned how to play a bunch of Televisions’ Marquee Moon songs, which had a big influence on his guitar parts.”
To say that Casper Skulls outdid themselves with “Tommy” is an understatement, but the real wonder is sure to be the band’s sophomore LP. Earlier this month they release the album’s third single, “The Mouth,” once again showcasing their ability to tastefully juxtapose intimate, hushed sounds with roaring overhauls of feeling, all while embarking on a journey that intrigues the mind and stirs the heart. Knows No Kindness is out November 12, 2021.
:: “AFSY (I aint finish the song yet)” – Keyan7e ::
Joe Beer, Surrey, UK
Keyan’7e isn’t embarrassed to admit he “aint finish the song yet” in his latest drop. Bringing to mind the likes of Kanye West and Andre 3000, the Chicago born artist has created a tune which blurs the lines between Detroit rap, R&B and hip hop. Built upon freestyles and layered samples, “AFSY (I aint finish the song yet)” is a fun and playful track which represents the fashion in which it was created. Through pure inspiration, the song came to life, as the artist shares, “This release definitely has a hype vibe so you need to be in the car and turn that joint all the way up and enjoy. The next steps are gonna be more of an experience, more of a journey, trust.”
The accompanying visuals give us a glimpse into Keyan7e’s life, surrounded by his friends. Through a raw and unfiltered lens, the Chicago rapper touches on some of his life experiences, unafraid to reveal his most authentic self
:: “Stupid Things” – Princess Century ft. Fragrance ::
Ben Niesen, Pacific Northwest
Maya Postepski’s third full length is something else; a stunner of subdued Eurodance glamour that has too many choice cuts to count. What’s in between them may not have the same glow, but that doesn’t stop this record from plucking my heartstrings multiple times over. You might be better served to purchase the pared down physical copy as the digital only cuts, “Generous Lover” and “Cosmic Minivan,” make for overqualified fluff. They’re good, but in the interest of a more compact record their absence is hardly noted. It’s harder to pinpoint the biggest highlight of the record. Everything from “Still the Same” to “s u r r e n d e r” shines and twinkles.
However, “Stupid Things” best exemplifies the microhouse approach of the record, with Postepski’s soft vocals and genial production puts her in a league of electropop cultivated by the Chromatics and contemporary to Kelly Lee Owens or evne Actress. The question is will she continue along her newfound electropop sensibilities or if she will return to the more esoteric musicality of the Canadian electronic scene? Regardless, s u r r e n d e r is a record for those who need a loving touch for their electronica.
:: “19” – Chloe Lilac ::
Anthony Kozlowski, Los Angeles
Whoever said rock is dead has not come out from under their pile of Nirvana records in nearly a decade. With the advent of streaming and the magic of TikTok, artists are forgoing the traditional boundaries of genre and making whatever they damn well please. Where one might imagine listening to their discography would sound like hitting shuffle, in reality this allows them to express their voices unshackled.
In a similar way, singer-songwriter Chloe Lilac bucks expectation with “19,” a slow-burning rager with roots in classic grunge a la Hole and the Breeders, but with its feet firmly planted in 2021. Like many of her young contemporaries, an affinity for early 90’s disenfranchisement howls its way onto squealing guitars and basement bar distortion. “19” finds Lilac in her rawest and most unbridled, taking the garage rock that she married to R&B sway on her albums DOUCHEBAG and Manic Pixie Dream and blazing it like an afterburner. Her crisp, pop vocals shine through, but with a melancholy that oozes sincerity. Drop this into your sad banger playlist and be careful not to punch any drywall.
:: “Never Been That Happy” – Hands Down ::
Mitch Mosk, New York
It’s hard to not feel a twinge of empathy for the narrator in Hand’s Down’s “Never Been That Happy.” Synths soar and sulk in this melancholy melange, one of the highlights off the Swedish artist’s recently released debut album Paintroller (released September 9 via Youth Recordings). Dulcet tones cascade upward in a constantly-moving backdrop while drums pulse with heavy intent, constantly pushing the beat forward – but it’s Filip Sjörgren’s stunning, grief-stricken vocal performance that brings the tears, making this song the powerhouse of pain we can’t keep ourselves from coming back to time and again.
You never changed me
even if you wanted to
summer said: I love you
I’ve never been that happy
Summer said: I love you
I’ve never been that happy
The sun was out to get me
it burnt me down
“While writing ‘Never Been That Happy’ I also finished repairing my old synthesizer from the ’80s,” the artist tells Atwood Magazine. “I made very hollow arpeggiated sound with it and had some fun with fast tempo-shifts in the arpeggio. I wrote it in a sequencer that fed MIDI-information to the synth. And that became the whole basis for this song. Then I played around with old voice memos on my phone where the drummer of Hands Down (Josef Ask) was fooling around at a rehearsal. I took snippets of his playing and made the drumbeat for the song. This was later replaced with a live take by Josef trying to imitate chopped up snippets of his own playing. It was a lot of fun recording that, even though the songs theme is a bit sad maybe or it’s more melancholic I would say. I think I was in a ”weather mood” when writing it, a bit sad. But when we recorded it I was in a great mood, so maybe that’s why it’s melancholic it that sense to. As my piano teacher said when I was 17, ‘You always try to write one song with all the emotions and musical ingredients in it,’ and I think that is still true today.”
“Never Been That Happy” speaks to a seemingly ever-present truism of the human experience, and chasing that always elusive high. It may leave you longing, or you may find yourself contemplating your own emotional state; regardless, there is no denying the depths to which Hands Down dove in order to create this affecting piece.
:: “Can I Leave Me Too?” – The Greeting Committee ::
Kelly Liu, Philadelphia
The Greeting Committee took a hard left from their debut record This Is It in their sophomore effort, Dandelion, a blue-eyed record that showcases the band’s widening range: what once were vibrant chamber pop tunes that recall The Hush Sound have turned into buzzing, heavy rockers with a dose of ‘90s nostalgia. There’s “Ada,” an LGBTQ+ cut that tells the story of a trans woman and affirms her place in the world; there’s “Dandelion,” the puff ball of white flower metaphorized into a protective coat. Here we have somehow taken a dive into the heart of one’s interiority.
“Can I Leave Me Too?,” the album’s lead single, begins in the throes of a breakup: “Why does everybody drive the same car you do?” In the music video, lead vocalist Addie Sartino stares into the camera in a concussive state, as though she were a character from a Lucrecia Martel film, against synth dollops and distorted guitar cuts. And if there’s any song that captures the spirit of Dandelion, it’s this — a track that yearns for something to hold our sense of self together in what seem to be the most unrescuable moments.
:: Aletheia’s Calling – Dirtsa ::
Josh Weiner, Washington DC
When it comes to France, I may have spent much more time in Paris over the years than Toulouse. Yet I remain a fan of the latter city thanks to its awesome collection of Roman Empire-era ruins, the lovely artwork in the Musée des Augustins, the easy access to the bike paths of Canal du Midi, and much more. And now, here comes another reason to smile upon Toulouse: one of its local daughters, Dirtsa, has delivered a seriously impressive new EP, Aletheia’s Calling.
The Cameroonian-born 24-year-old may not have been in the game for very long— Aletheia’s Calling marks her first formal release, after a successful outing on a French music contest caught the attention of local record labels. But she’s already achieved a high level of artistic maturity. Her debut EP is a stellar showcase of her dual command as both a fiery MC and suave R&B singer— Dirtsa balances off both creative identities in a way that Lauryn Hill (and everybody else) would surely approve of. Plus, thematically, Dirsta is able to explore widespread global themes— she says much of the album was inspired by the fight against racial injustice that the world has embraced in recent years— as well as more personal topics— the track “Leon” “is an allegory and letter to my family and the things we’ve been through together.”
There’s more than enough quality material here to make a powerful impression in the span of 15 quick minutes. If this is Dirsta channeling her inner Aletheia (the Greek goddess of truth, justice and honesty), then I’m certainly looking forward to taking her on a sling of further personas over the course of her career.
:: “Material Things” – Johnny Stimson ::
Chloe Robinson, California
You know that rush you get from getting the latest iPhone or going on a shopping spree for a new wardrobe? Well Johnny Stimson’s new tune “Material Things” is all about that intoxicating high that comes from buying stuff. With this single he challenges us to ask ourselves… is that real happiness. With smooth, charismatic vocals and catchy pop/R&B arrangements, everything about this release is so hypnotizing.
The retro style visuals are as laid-back as the song itself. From chilling in the pool to playing on his Tamagotchi and riding his motorcycle, the video has a definite cool factor. The ’80s/’90s aesthetic is bringing all the nostalgic vibes. Stimson is a seductive soul/pop artist that has garnered major acclaim. Creating music with so much passion and heart, it is no wonder he has been praised by huge talent such as BTS and Elton John. His aim is to spread joy and positivity through his music. “Material Things” certainly provides that infectious energy.
:: “We Lose Our Cool” – Fritch ::
Mitch Mosk, New York
An instantly haunting dreamwave overhaul, Fritch’s “We Lose Our Cool” is not for the faint of heart. Cinematically immersive and intimately bittersweet, the slow, brooding song envelops the senses for five minutes of grief. Pain is manifest within the soft confines of tender, naked and harmonizing vocals and resonating piano chords – some melodic, some discordant. It’s a beautiful malaise; a deeply melancholic, introspective mood-setter that leads us to pause; to breathe; and to let go.
We lose our cool
We lose our cool
We lose our cool
We’re a hangtight
A hold fire
A hand shake away
We’re a cool eye
Curse word’s worth away
“Writing about a song I’ve lived with for a year now feels like a strange thing to do,” Fritch’s Will Wilkinson shares with Atwood Magazine. “That process of writing, recording, mixing and mastering… then a long wait before a DIY push to promote, it gives up a strange disconnection. But I remember how it got written. And all the accidents that make up the sounds. I’m no musician but I have instruments to hand, and so I do my best to produce the ideas that bug me and keep me awake. ‘We Lose Our Cool’ was just that: A mix of the post-heat that follows an argument, the mood that hangs ‘round still in love. Chords and pianos were tripped over clumsily, and the notes I couldn’t find were sung, stretched out and slowed down and sampled. I can’t play the cello (or anything much else), so what started as a cheat to replace those sounds became the bare bones of the song. Alongside it there was this loop, a phone recording of a violin that was sampled on old Cassio SK-1. A friend played strings on the last Fritch EP, and Stephen Tee who co-wrote that album, had twisted the sounds into chords. That phone recording was all that remained after the SK-1 lost the sample.”
“And so these two ideas bled in. One thing needed to led to the other. Back to the panic and heat and the love in the sound of an argument’s cool-down. With the help of Phil Booth at JT Soar Nottingham, we dug out every pedal, reverb box, box of tricks, and spent days swapping out digital effects with analogue twists and contortions. These songs would not sound the same way without him. As for what came out… Well it’s a long way from the laptop in Vietnam where the ideas for that first Fritch EP started. I never imagined that this thing would grow. And while this song and next EP is close to a solo project, the number of people involved has been mind-blowing. Videos from Germany, a record label in Russia, bangra and dhol drums and violins in Nottingham, producers who have worked The Fall and Sleaford Mods, and Stephen Tee who’s the musical soul brother. Hope that don’t sound too pious or precious, these songs were accidents waiting to happen.”
An intimate darkness engulfs “We Lose Our Cool.” It’s the ugly side of human nature coming out, brief enough to die back down but present long enough to be acknowledged and lamented. Of all the songs I’ve heard this year, Fritch’s release truly is a heart-wrenching lament.
:: “Breathe” – Babel ::
Josh Weiner, Washington DC
I’ve written about a lot of Swedish artists for Atwood, and we often hear about all of the successful Swedish hitmakers out there. But Finnish hitmakers? Not nearly as much, it seems! In order to keep my Scandinavian equilibrium better balanced, I’m going to be offering up a platform to Karin Mäkiranta & Mikko Pykäri, a Helsinki-based duo who perform together under the moniker of “Babel.”
They have definitely merited that additional attention as well, given the work ethic they’ve demonstrated as of late. Their debut EP, Honeyspell, surfaced this past spring (see the music video for the title track here), and now they’re already back at it with the release of a new single, “Breathe.” It’s an absorbing slice of electric guitar-layered dream-pop, with lyrics they describe as “plunging deep into existential ponderings.” Jean-Paul Sartre would be so proud….
“Who’s gonna love me 100%?” they ask in the song. Hopefully a lot more listeners, once their music makes its way to a broader audience! The upcoming release of their debut album, Yoga Horror, will likely help out in that regard. But “Babel’s breathing exercise,” as they term their newest single, should be able to earn them some early attention even beforehand.
:: “Feel It” – ANJXLXE ::
Joe Beer, Surrey, UK
Canadian R&B artist ANJXLXE asks if you “Feel It” too in her sultry new single. Velvet vocals, echoing guitars and soft percussion create the backdrop to this sensual tune, resulting in the perfect accompaniment for those dark fall evenings. ANJXLXE is the moniker of bilingual Montreal based singer/songwriter Anne-Julie. Taking inspiration from fellow soul makers including Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera, Anne-Julie parades her powerful vocals, displaying her incredible range as she sings, “You got me believing in your magic, you put a spell on me, don’t ever wanna leave, I’m caught in your mystique, tell me can you feel it?”
“Feel It” is the debut single from ANJXLXE, who has set the bar high. Tinged with an infectious pop melody, this track reflects the feeling of a new relationship, where you excitedly anticipate future dates, slowly unwrapping the beginning of a love story. Something I’m pretty sure we’ve all felt!
:: “Roll the Credits” – CAL ::
Chloe Robinson, California
It is hard when a partnership is so clearly facing its demise, but you are struggling to accept it. CAL song “Roll The Credits” was conceived after trying to offer a friend advice about his relationship woes. With striking synths, infectious melodies and passionate vocals the track is a true standout. He emotively sings of broken love and finally being able to face the reality of it all.
CAL is the talented former frontman of Timeflies. Now he has discovered his most authentic voice and his solo project really reflects that. The release is the fourth single off his upcoming EP out this fall. An artist, producer and songwriter, he has worked with some prominent TikTokers such as Griffin Johnson and Benson Boone. “Roll The Credits” is an honest offering and pure feel-good fun.
:: “Looking” – Single Girl, Married Girl ::
Mitch Mosk, New York
A classic tale of chasing your dreams out of your hometown set to a sweet country-folk backdrop, Single Girl, Married Girl’s “Looking” burns with a fire deep inside. Taken off the Los Angeles-based pop/folk/Americana group’s forthcoming album Three Generations of Leaving, the song roars with a bevy of charming harmonies, with driving guitars, drums, and pedal steel adding a nostalgic element as well as an edge to a song that yearns for something more – even if it’s not quite sure what that is, or how it may come to be.
She picked up
She moved across town
To be the girl who found her way in this big ol’ world alone
With one dream
She had all her life
The same thing
Her mama once tried and failed at the age of twenty-nine
“‘Looking’ is about the granddaughter’s quest for validation in life as she attempts to do what her mother couldn’t, by making it as country singer, but she is haunted by dreams of her mother, who she has not seen since she was a child, fear of abandonment, and nagging feelings of inadequacy (even if she won’t admit to having them),” the band summarize. “This song was explicitly inspired by [singer/songwriter and banjo player] Chelsey Coy’s own ongoing journey to find validation as a performing artist and songwriter, from its naïve beginnings (equating a crosstown move as part of making it alone in the “big ole’ world,” because that’s how some young people think before they develop a more worldly perspective) to its current state, with its more complex feelings of inadequacy.”
“People have been asking me for years when I’m going to get a ‘real job’ or ‘why aren’t you famous yet?’” Coy explains. “As if I have any choice in the matter. There are definitely feelings of resentment and anger that comes from that. [My husband and co-writer] Gary [Wright] also infused his own feelings of abandonment from his childhood into the lyrics. His father left when he was just a child and he rarely saw him before he died in 1998. On the surface, this song really captures the joy and drive of pursuing music as a career, but there is an undercurrent of pain and self-doubt.”
Perhaps the best thing “Looking” does is implore us to think a little more critically about the act of leaving, and what it means for ourselves, our loved ones, and those relationships. To focus on one’s own story may be a noble pursuit in some ways, yet it inherently means leaving others behind and not being there for them when they may need us. Life is rarely so black-and-white and certainly this experience is steeped in grays, but there’s a poignant balance to be struck between our own individualistic goals, and our familial responsibilities and engagement. How we navigate those waters defines who we are to others, and it ultimately impacts how we see ourselves. What are we “looking” for?
She went looking for her place among the stars
Everybody thought she wouldn’t make it far
But to prove them wrong, she told her stories well
But some things she wouldn’t even tell herself
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