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 Nabaté Isles (ft. Mumu Fresh, Badia Farha, & Nikki Grier), Geese, Alicia Blue, Alexa Dark, Vistas, Cat Janice, deary, Nyokabi Kariũki, RAGS AND RICHES, and Micky James!
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:: “Black Girl Magic” – Nabaté Isles ft. Mumu Fresh, Badia Farha, & Nikki Grier ::
Mitch Mosk, New York
The standout single taken off Nabaté Isles’ brand new album En Motion, “Black Girl Magic” is effervescent, euphoric ecstasy: An inspiring, soaring anthem written from a father to his daughter and to Black girls and women around the world. It’s a stunning song of unapologetic self-love and confidence, with an invigorating blend of jazz, soul, and R&B coalescing over equally invigorating, galvanizing lyrics. Together with Broadway artist Badia Fahra, Grammy nominated hip-hop artist Mumu Fresh, and Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Nikki Grier, Isles – himself a Grammy Award winning trumpeter, composer, and producer – makes sure we never forget about the singularity that is “Black Girl Magic.”
Hey you, make room
A Queen’s coming through
Ooh you, Graceful
You break all the rules
Starlight, Starbright I’m wishing on you
Turned the world fanatic
Made of Black Girl Magic
“‘Black Girl Magic’ is a sonic creation that is necessary to celebrate the beauty, brilliance, strength and perseverance of Black and Brown women all over the world,” Isles tells Atwood Magazine. “I thought that the organic and uptempo vibrance of the music track I composed during the pandemic would be a foundation for uplifting and inspirational lyrics and soulful melody by Badia Farha, with whom I go back to graduate school at New York University. And when I heard Maimouna Youssef (Mumu Fresh) perform with the group August Greene, I said to myself that she had to be on my next album.”
“Fast forward a couple of years later, I realized this track would be perfect for her illuminating words and rhythmic presence. Shoutout to the versatile Nikki Grier for providing the festive atmosphere with her vocal effects. I’m blessed to have such a powerful Black woman as my mother and to be a new father of Black baby girl. I envision my daughter to exude the energy and message of this song throughout her life. I hope many other Sisters will be uplifted when they delve into the sounds of ‘Black Girl Magic.'”
With a chorus line like, “Hey you, make room, a Queen’s coming through,” “Black Girl Magic” is inspiring – igniting a fire within all who listen. It’s a beautiful collaboration – one that instantly feels as timeless as it does fresh, with a message that resonates deep down inside. As Mumu Fresh so powerfully put its, “Success is your birthright, faith is your search light, Respect is what we deserve, aight?“
:: “Cowboy Nudes” – Geese ::
Mitch Mosk, New York
Bluesy, groovy, sunny, and soulful, Geese’s first song of the new year is a radiantly warm and charming reintroduction to the Brooklyn-based band. Released January 31st via Partisan Records / Play It Again Sam, “Cowboy Nudes” is a feel-good rock n’ roll celebration that sounds like it could have been plucked right out of the late ’70s; the band’s glistening guitars and frontman Cameron Winter’s heartfelt, up-close vocals can’t help but recall bands like The Grateful Dead, and yet Geese make sure to give this song their own fiery signature twist.
All the while, there’s a sense of camaraderie and connection flowing through these uplifting three minutes. “Be my warrior! My love and light,” frontman Cameron Winter sings in the chorus. ” Be my warrior! It gon’ be alright.“
“The song is about life getting better, and more fun, after the end of the world,” Winters explains. “When we were doing overdubs I wanted to add something Eastern-sounding on the second verse, so I had our drummer Max bring over this busted up sitar we’d had lying around since high school. I went to buy some new strings at a world music store, and the guy told me one pack was $80. I thought he was kidding so I bought two. He was not; sitar strings aren’t cheap. I didn’t even end up fully restringing it, I just played the one not-broken string. So you better appreciate that goddamn sitar on the second verse. I’m also proud of the line about falling in love with a tumbleweed.”
I’ve got eyes for anything moving
Fell in love with a tumbleweed
You gotta say goodbye
Drop whatever it is you’re doing
We’ll be grooving all under the sea, oh
The 2020s have certainly felt apocalyptic; for those in need of a soundtrack to dance our cares away in the midst of Armageddon, then Geese are here for you. With a fun, spirited rock sound akin to Mt. Joy and Caamp, the Brooklyn band are back in action and ready to get us up, out of our funks and into a good mood. It’s hard to frown when “Cowboy Nudes” is around.
Morning of my execution
I’m backstroking the hole in my heart, God
Oh, New York City, underwater!
Yeah, open up your eyes!
:: “I Want It Faster” – Alicia Blue ::
Sophie Severs, Boston, MA
Alicia Blue is running a race, her strides are strong, her form is stellar, but she has found herself to be neck-and-neck with her biggest enemy: her own psyche. Known for her introspective indie-folk melodies, Blue has always had a knack for shedding light on the human experience, illuminating the darkest moments with her clever prose. The singer-songwriter has done it yet again, with her track, “I Want It Faster,” released Dec. 2, 2023.
The track is the freshest cut from her upcoming EP, Inner Child Work Pt. 2, which will be released March 3, 2023 via Magnetic Moon. Opening with a punchy guitar riff, followed up by her smooth vocals, Blue introduces listeners to a rock-oriented soundscape as she begins to describe all of the pressures bearing down on her. Though, these pressures are not unbearable, but instead thoroughly motivating as she sings: “I want it faster / Don’t wanna slow down now.” Speaking on the track via Instagram, Blue asserts, “There’s a curiosity in the expression that feels right. Some type of expedition ahead and an excitement for leaving the past behind.”
With an accompanying music video directed by Blue herself that features the musician’s DIY iPhone editing skills and a scrapbook of clips compiled over various months, it’s clear that Blue has taken charge of her artistry; ready for the next phase of her career. And while you unfortunately can’t have Blue’s upcoming EP right now, you can, however, spend the time waiting by streaming “I Want It Faster.”
:: “Villain” – Alexa Dark ::
Josh Weiner, Washington DC
A “stripped back tune that would be at home on a James Bond soundtrack” is how the new song by Alexa Dark is being promoted. It’s true that “Villain” features some of the lingering hints of menace that characterize some of the theme songs from the few most recent Bond films, including “Skyfall” and “No Time to Die.” But in addition, The Dark Knight springs to mind as Ms. Dark sings, “I should be the hero in the story I’ve written. But I’m watching myself turn into the villain.” (James Bond meets The Dark Knight, though? NOW we’re talking!)
Alexa Dark has shifted between Barcelona, Munich and London over the years, and currently has set up shop in the Hell’s Kitchen district of New York City. She’s managed to publish a lucky seven single releases on her Spotify page; the most recent of these was designed to be an ode towards “realizing you might be the villain of your own story,” while also “accepting the shadowy parts of who you are [and] hinting towards a darker, painful underlying origin story.”
It’s memorable and compelling thematic material, and the eerie production by veteran beatmaker Matt Chiaravalle, whom Dark crossed paths with in New York, adds marvelously to the effect. It’ll be intriguing to see the singer expand on these themes on her upcoming debut EP, for which “Villain” is serving as the lead single. That will give her more space to broadly expand on the song’s main topic: “the darker side of femininity, how heartbreak and loss might shape us into being something other than ‘the hero’ in our story, and how most oftentimes the battle between the good guy and the bad guy takes place inside of us, facing off ourselves.”
:: “Follow You Down” – Vistas ::
Isabella Le, Garden Grove, CA
Effortlessly bold, bouncy, and buoyant, creating punchy earworms has never been difficult for the Edinburgh indie trio Vistas. The third of five tracks in their January 27th EP, The Beautiful Nothing, “Follow You Down” shows Prentice Robinson (vocals), Dylan Rush (guitar), and Jamie Law (bass) playing at hotter and higher volumes than ever before. With euphoric guitar melodies, dynamic drums, and angst-ridden lyrics, the three-piece’s feverish energy and unbridled adrenaline are devilishly infectious.
“This is by far the heaviest Vistas tune to date, and I think it has an early-2000s indie feel to it,” Robinson shares. “It came right at the end of a session when we wanted to try to squeeze out one more idea. All the parts fell into place out of nowhere and the lyrics flowed out essentially in one stream of consciousness. ‘Follow You Down’ is about the feeling of being in love with someone to the extent that you’d do anything for them, even if it was self-detrimental.”
An aggressive sonic departure from the jangly, feel-good melodies characteristic of their signature sound, “Follow You Down” shows that the band are far from one-trick ponies; consistently memorable, fun, and expansive, there’s no doubt that I’ll be continuing to follow Vistas down.
:: “Chill the fck out” – Cat Janice ::
Joe Beer, Surrey, UK
Virginia artist Cat Janice is a true inspiration. Despite her recent battle with cancer, she is still able to create some of the best music I’ve heard in a long time. In fact, the songwriter states her diagnosis as an inspiration for her new single “Chill the fck out,” which narrates the need to extinguish overwhelming thoughts of stress and anxiety. She shares, “I would say to myself “chill the fck out” when I would stress about work or school. Then I finished the song while I was starting chemo and I would be stressed about going into that chapter of my life. “Chill the fck out” kind of became my mantra for getting through that time.”
Reminiscent of Remi Wolf, Benee and Willow, the new track features an infectious melody, spirited grooves and luminous synths, putting her own fresh stamp on alt pop. For Cat, this song comes from a very personal and vulnerable place, however she has cleverly made it into an anthem for anyone who is struggling with their mental health.
:: “Fairground” – deary ::
Mitch Mosk, New York
Beautifully ethereal and achingly intimate, deary’s debut single is a visceral shoegaze dream: The kind that envelops our ears and drenches our hearts in its glistening wash of sound. The kind that cuts deep and leaves a lasting mark. Released January 25 via Sonic Cathedral, “Fairground” is a soul-stirring introduction to the new London duo of vocalist Dottie and multi-instrumentalist Ben, whose lush dream pop sound instantly evokes Mazzy Star and Slowdive – two personal favorites, who similarly had a way of immersing their listeners in wave after wave of intense sonic and emotional wonder.
“Fairground” is utterly hypnotic, layered in lilting, reverb-drenched guitars and shuffling drums, with Dottie’s seductive voice melting over everything like the moody, soothing cherry on top:
Did you hear
I’ve been trying to make my way around
The big city
It’s the loudest fairground
A few more hours
Maybe one more ride
I’ll make it in time
The pair describe their debut as capturing “the sensory overload of life in London” – one that started out as a letter to a loved one.
“As a kid, I found fairgrounds incredibly overwhelming, an entanglement of anxiety and perplexity,” she explains. “This is how London feels to me now. The excitement of the lights and the noise can sometimes leave you pondering the meaning of it all. I am constantly astounded by the vibrancy, community and creativity that surrounds me every day. At the same time, the corruption in our society is inescapable. The letter now is a reminder to be cautious of going too fast and missing the important things.
“Early versions of ‘Fairground’ were earmarked for a different project of mine but rejected on account of it sounding too fragile, which admittedly it did at that stage,” Ben adds. “The drum break in the verse ran all the way through trying to emulate ‘Soon’ by MBV, but it was a bit one dimensional. It was calling out for something bigger. A friend of mine turned me onto Locust, and that’s when the trip-hop drums and the bass came into play. When Dottie and I first started working together, it was the demo that immediately stood out to us. She said that it sounded like one of those songs used underneath highlights of the football.”
And monster tall
Break the dark
Before the storm)
Hide in glass
From its atmospheric shoegaze elements to its alternative bliss, “Fairground” is absolutely stunning: A beautifully raw debut for a band I cannot wait to hear more from over coming year. As far as introductions go, this one is surely unforgettable.
:: “Nazama” – Nyokabi Kariũki ::
Josh Weiner, Washington DC
As a music writer, I’ve heard plenty of stories about how COVID has influenced many musicians in the past few years, mainly how the isolation time caused by the pandemic allowed them to gather their thoughts and devote their efforts towards creating new music solitarily. Yet I have never heard of COVID influencing an artist quite like it did Kenyan composer Nyokabi Kariũki – she was infected with the virus for over a year, and once she finally healed, wrote music inspired by her long road to recovery.
“I am ever in awe of our bodies, and how they keep going… in spite of all the pain we go through in life,” she says. It is in that spirit that she has recorded “Nazama,” a gorgeously sung ode to human resilience. Only a few slow-burning strings accompany her vocals– along with, interestingly enough, water shifting about in the background. This sound effect allows for Kariũki to spill her personal identity into the track in several key ways. Water is a prominent geographic feature in her native Kenya– especially the Tanna River, which passes by Mt. Kenya and carries on for 1,000 km– and the Kikuyu community, to which Kariũki belongs, has often prescribed river therapy to women with mental struggles.
That sort of therapy must have guided Kariũki across the finish line in her recent battle with COVID. “Nazama” (meaning “to sink” her native Swahili) documents the feelings she received upon conquering the illness; when the accompanying album, FEELING BODY, is released in March, we will get to hear the story told in full. No doubt, it will be an extraordinary story to hear recounted in musical form.
:: “holiday.” – RAGS AND RICHES ::
Joe Beer, Surrey, UK
Kentucky duo RAGS AND RICHES are here to take you on a “holiday.” with their bright and freeing new single. Speaking of the painful woes and stresses of work, as well as the mundanity of day to day life, brothers Tanner and Peyton Whitt wanted to create a song that will remind you to stop, take a breath and realize that there is more to life than work. Tanner shares, “It came from a place of feeling burnt out on the schedule we were living. We had been doing the same schedule for a few years and this was our “get me out of this way of living” mindset.”
“holiday.” soars with energetic synths, fun, upbeat percussion and the ultimate catchy chorus. With clever, light-hearted lyrics, you’ll find yourself singing along with the Whitt’s as they instantly bring out a playful side to you, that’s often easy to lose in the midst of everyday worries.
:: “New York Minute” – Micky James ::
Mitch Mosk, New York
I’ve never shied away from a “New York” anthem, but I was sincerely surprised by how quickly I took to Micky James’ new song. Released January 27 via Shelter Music / BMG, “New York Minute” is far from a Don Henley cover; rather, it’s a kinetic, sonically charged immersion all about living in the moment; of feeling lost, and finding your anchor once more; of leaning into the present and giving it your all, because the right here and the right now is ultimately all we have. “I wanna live forever like I did when I was 17, we’d do our lips like Robert Smith and pass out comin’ back from Queens,” James beams bright, a nostalgic twinkle in his eyes and youthful verve in his step. “We could live or we could die, we just don’t care, we just got high.”
Take me from your memories
And put me on the Hudson line
I’ll give you back your shoes
if I can’t have back all my wasted time
I’ve been seeing so much clearer
Patched up all the holes in my mind
When I thinks of all the times
I’m losing track of my goodbyes
Those days are gone gone
New York minute
Dreams go fast in a sleepless city
What we gonna do now
What we gonna do
“‘New York Minute’ took on many variations over the past few years,” James tells Atwood Magazine. “I would constantly revisit the demo and re-work it for months, but it never seemed to get off the ground. Originally the song was written as a love letter to New York City – a city that I grew up in and a city that has created so many memories for me as a young adult. But I wanted the meaning to feel more open-ended so it applied to everyone. The song is about letting go of the past and learning from those lessons to create new beginnings in life.”
“During the lockdown in 2020, I was living in New Jersey, and I was aware of how hard New York City was getting hit with the pandemic. I couldn’t help but feel reflective in that moment and look back on all the beautiful memories I made in that city and how much that place means to me. I revisited the song again and it eerily and ironically connected with the chorus. I finally felt like the song had found its purpose.”
“New York Minute” smiles and soars in spite of the pain going on around the time of its conception. It’s a resilient, radiant, roaring testament to perseverance and persistence; to chasing down our dreams and making the most of our time, because that’s ultimately the one thing we can never get back.
Add to that a beautiful lyric like “street lights singing,” and you’ve got one hell of a New York anthem. Give it a year or two, and I’m sure they’ll be singing this song across the five boroughs, at Rangers, Yankees, and Knicks games (I’m sure it’s already on repeat for the Cyclones).
Say so long
Street lights singing
They all went out in a New York minute
Where we gonna go now
Where we gonna go
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