Today, indie electronica mastermind Cassie Marin debuts her new single, “Busy Body,” which explores the voyeuristic thrills and pitfalls of being the watcher and the watched in the digital landscape of social media.
On “Busy Body,” Marin’s melodically ethereal vocals coast along effortlessly wavy synths, delivering reflective stanzas unpacking our culture’s obsession with with follows and likes in a time where social politics have become hyper-digitized, reducing one’s social life to a hollow shell of what it used to be.
I was fortunate enough to speak to Marin about the single, her initial forays into electronic music, social media, pushing boundaries with her production, and much more!
How did you initially get into making electronic-pop music and what was it that gravitated you to that specific field of music?
I think electronic-pop music is a genre I’ve been listening to since I was very young. The sonic direction I’ve taken over the years has been entirely unintentional. Ultimately, I think I blend many of the genres I listen to regularly into my music. It happens somewhat naturally.
You seem to have a serious knack for tackling hard-to-navigate experiences throughout modern life? Would you say it comes from both personal experience and people you’ve observed as an outsider?
I mean, I do like a good challenge! My life, like anyone else’s, has had various ups and downs. I think it’s important to learn from every experience and make the best of every situation so you can help others who may face similar challenges in the future.
If you could cover any song throughout music history, what song would it be and why?
“Moonriver” by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. This song is very special to me because it transports me to a time (before easily accessible technology) where music was all a person could need. It wasn’t about fame or a successful career path, it was about feeling good in your own company with music to aid you.
What is the process of sculpting these unique soundscapes in your songs like?
Each process is different, depending on whether I’m starting the song from scratch on my own or collaborating with another producer. But, usually my mood defines the atmosphere of the song as well as the musical elements I choose throughout the writing process.
Do you model your vocal stylings after any specific influences or would you say that you came up with your style of singing on your own?
I’ve admired and learned from many vocalists growing up. Most notably I would say, Hayley Williams, Anthony Green, The Weeknd and Jesse Rutherford.
What is the most difficult part of having to live in a world where it’s nearly impossible to have a social life without having an online presence?
I think the most difficult part is the lack of real connection. Communication and behaviors can be easily misconstrued while interacting online. You never know what a person could be going through based solely on what they reveal to you on the internet.
What was one of the most valuable and useful discoveries you made when you first taught yourself to produce?
That I could push myself beyond my own boundaries, surprise myself and experiment to my heart’s desire with my own sound design.
If western goth chanteuse DEVORA isn’t on your radar yet, it’s inevitable that she will be. In July, the Arizona native released her debut EP, Outlaw, an apocalyptic western oeuvre that tells the tale of a vengeful murderess on the hunt, hightailing her way through the desert wastelands of her hometown and leaving a trail of blood in her wake.
Ariel Levitan, the brains behind DEVORA, has described this project as a liberating coalescence of her unruly style and spontaneous output. “As an innate lover of dark music and country music, I’ve always wanted to fuse the two in some way,” she told Atwood Magazine last month.
On this masterwork of lawless ghost town pop, DEVORA packs zero punches with sharp bass licks that perfectly sync up with the percussion on the simmering opening track, “Fist Fight.” The lyrics on this EP teeter on the edge of self-destruction and the most delicious forms of vengeance. DEVORA sings about putting her traitors in body bags, dousing motels in gasoline, and setting fire to her hometown out of sheer boredom.
Each track is an event all its own, bolstered by DEVORA’s husky, domineering vocal deliveries and lyrics that are packed to the brim with crimes-of-passion narratives that echo Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads and a dark country edge that mirrors Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison tapes. The twisted subject matter and spontaneous industrial production feels like a modern western parallel of Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. “I wanna put you in a body bag/How’s that for acomeback,” she sneers on “Body Bag,” against swells of layered guitar overdrive, arpeggiating at lightning speed.
The anthemic title track, “Outlaw,” is the sonic equivalent of the SYFY hit show Wynonna Earp, a western thriller about a badass feminist demon assassin who takes no prisoners. I could easily picture this song soundtracking a murder sequence in the show where the leading lady massacres a flurry of demons in a drive-by shooting after dousing her liver with moonshine at the local saloon.
The distorted and devilish riffs on “Not Dead Yet,” draw from the post-Sabbath hard rock of 1976. If this were the ’80s and we were living through the Satanic Panic, there’s no doubt that this song would be on multiple lists just for that killer riff alone, which makes it even better. The stripped-down closing track “Elvis,” is essentially a dream pop song with a country twang, combining the reflective storytelling of Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton with the production stylings of Mazzy Star – a combination that works surprisingly well – complete with airy, layered harmonies and simple reverb-soaked strumming.
The soundscapes on this EP are distinctly imminent, alarming, and even cinematic. It’s the sound of a David Lynch surrealist thriller set in the scorching deserts of the Wild West. The mood board, the visuals, and the subject matter are all a product of DEVORA’s own vision, pulling from harrowing personal tales of trauma and rage, and heaps of poetry she’s written throughout her life. Wherever she’s headed in the future, there’s no doubt there will be watchful eyes anticipating her next move.
Today, California-based indie songstress and self-proclaimed “technological maximalist” Roo debuts her first ever single “Glo,” which she co-produced with JJStewart. “Glo” is an experimental dark pop tale about toxic relationships and the struggle to navigate queer romance.
Opening with frosty coldwave synths and static white noise, the track envelopes the listener in a ghostly sonic embrace that could easily go toe-to-toe with Portishead’s Dummy. Before Roo herself even utters a word, the song will already have the listener hooked and stopped dead in their tracks. Roo pulls absolutely no punches in this grandiose artistic introduction to the world, and what an opening statement it is.
The lyrics show Roo laying bare her emotional vulnerability and pleading with the subject of the song to do the same. “How could I be enough,” she preens in the second verse with a Bjork-style cadence over eccentric production, distorted and accentuated telephone-filtered vocals, coarse basslines, and spiky 808s, adding a distinct R&B groove to this experimental synthpop masterpiece.
I had the privilege of chatting with Roo about her artistic introduction to the world, how her computer science degree has been a valuable asset in her experimental production, and what she anticipates for future career moves.
“Glo” feels like an amalgamation of trip-hop, neo-psych/soul, and dream pop, which I loved. How did the process of building a sonic landscape for the single come about?
My approach toward production is about play and intuition rather than rules, which is what gives me my genreless sound. My genius friend JJStewart created the original composition, then we went through transforming pieces to achieve the feeling we wanted. I did some pretty off-the-wall vocal production on this one, trusting my ear and pushing things further and further out of the box. It was a blast.
How has your computer science background and affinity for technology informed your music?
A lot of experienced producers I’ve met don’t understand the nitty gritty of how their plugins work – but I do. And I’m pretty nimble with signal routing, which is how I achieve some of my more experimental sounds.
Also, I taught myself to produce over the past year. So much of coding is teaching yourself new skills, so I’m good at that – especially because production/mixing is really technical.
I ask everybody this because I’m always curious to know; what are some records that you’ve heard throughout your life that changed everything for you?
I’m very inspired by Vōx; Swim Good is one of my faves. The vulnerability and use of emptiness contrasted with the heavy bass and grit – it’s something I’ve never heard before.
Reconstruct by Photay is another one that ends up on repeat all the time. His composition is so off-the-wall, so clean, so effortless.
And all of Miss Anthropocene by Grimes. She was hugely influential to me before I learned about her relationship with Elon. The dystopian techno-fantasy universe she built completely blew my mind.
How has songwriting helped you traverse your individual experiences related to romance and identity?
I process experiences through songwriting that I couldn’t hope to in my journal. It’s a direct lens into my intuition. Sometimes I won’t even understand what I’m feeling until I sing about it, or I’ll figure out what to do next through the creative process.
Glo is about toxic love that I experienced while learning to navigate queer romance. My journey into queerness is a huge driving force in my music. I can’t wait to share more of that with my audience.
What is your current number-one played song on Spotify or Apple Music?
This is my first song out, so “Glo!”
What artist–living or dead–would be your dream collaboration?
SOPHIE. Rest in peace. A true visionary. Her enormous, mind-bending sounds with my haunting atmospheric flavor – a tasty futuristic blend.
Since Glo is your first single, what is the number-one thing you’re anticipating once it’s finally out to the public?
I’m really just excited to get on the map. Expectations will certainly be created based on this one project; I can’t wait to break them.
If the output of New York-based pop singer-songwriter ROSIE could be summed up in one word, it would be tenacity. She first picked up songwriting at the age of 12. Now 21, her ability to take on her personal demons and spin them into songwriting gold is uncanny.
This is no more present than on her newest single, “Sad Sad Sad,” the first single off her forthcoming EP slated to be released via Arista Records, which explores the five stages of grief. “The song represents acceptance and how, after a full year of healing and growing, sadness can still creep in,” she says. “This feeling is a reminder that sometimes there are certain scars that never go away, and when sadness is accepted it can serve as a lesson to never repeat the same mistake twice.”
The track gorgeously embodies melancholy dark-pop bombast with booming bass-drum machines and vocoder-coated harmonies, complemented by reverb-soaked guitar plucks that keep the song tethered to earth. It doubles the impact of ROSIE’s painstakingly desperate lyrics (“Twenty milligrams of happiness/But when I do the math, it doesn’t add up/’Cause I’m still sad sad sad sad sad”).
One particularly fatal emotional blow delivered in the song is the line, “It’s been the best year of my life, but it doesn’t add up,” proving that no matter how many amazing things an individual has going for them, stability, praise, and even success will never absolve anybody of grief. And she’s okay with that. “The scale of emotions that everyone feels is such a spectrum,” she said in the single’s press release. “The bad days are equally as important as the good days. Be strong when you’re feeling strong, be vulnerable when you’re feeling vulnerable.”
Sad Sad Sad is now available on all streaming platforms.
Hailing from Montreal, Canada, retro soft rock musician Annabel Gutherz has received heaps of praise for her introspective songwriting and warm vocals that echo legends of Laurel Canyon and folk rock giants from Fleetwood Mac to Crosby Stills Nash & Young.
Yesterday Gutherz released her newest single, “Remnant,” an Americana-influenced coming of age track lamenting the loss of an old friendship. In a press release, Gutherz says that she wrote the song to reflect on “the evolution of a friendship from childhood to adolescence, and how the dynamic between two people can change as they grow… And sometimes grow apart.”
Gutherz reminisces over vivid childhood memories, from molding clay and finger-painting to nocturnal drives to nowhere in particular. “Now you’re just a remnant of a dear old friend, stuck in the body of miss pretend,” she softly croons over twangy acoustic guitar plucks. It’s a gentle yet painful reminder that while the loss of former lovers can certainly cause a lot of anguish, severing ties with your closest friends can often feel like losing a part of your former self.
After spending the past few years at Berklee College of Music refining her craft, Gutherz is preparing to release her debut album Loose Ends later this year, which she co-produced with Dominique Messier, the owner of Studio Piccolo in Montreal, Quebec and a long-time member of Celine Dion’s band.
“Remnant” is now available to stream on all available platforms.
Raised on a diet of Taylor Swift and Shania Twain, pop punk powerhouse Caroline Romano, a self-proclaimed “loudest sort of introvert,” has had a whirlwind of a past few years. She first caught the attention of the public with her debut single, “Masterpiece,” in 2017, combining the iconic lyrical zingers of Taylor Swift with the dark anti-pop drawl of early Lorde. A year later, she achieved a Top 3 hit on Radio Disney’s chart with the commanding and ultra-magnetic single “Ready,” and later went on to work with one of the most in-demand producers in pop music when she teamed up with DJ R3HAB for a remix of her song “I Still Remember”—all at the tender age of 20.
And while it may seem shocking to some that she’s already achieved this level of notoriety at such an early age, it’s only natural; Romano has done this her entire life. The Mississippi native first picked up a guitar at the age of nine and started playing at open mic nights in Nashville—the songwriting capital of the country—when she was just 13. One of her most recent singles, “PDA of the Mainstream,” has received critical praise for her witty, cerebral songwriting that captures youthful Gen Z angst with a distinct pop punk flair.
Today, Romano unleashes her latest single, “The Hypothetical,” a gritty tongue-in-cheek punk-pop banger where she ruminates on her innermost fantasies involving a romantic interest. “I wanted to capture that feeling of being so infatuated with a crush that it’s borderline a state of psychosis… even if it’s only in your head. It’s just hypothetical,” she said in the press release.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Caroline about the new single, as well as her upbringing and her first trip into Nashville.
Was there anything specific (an artist, a song, a movie, a friend, etc.) that initially sparked your interest in starting to play the guitar?
I’d definitely say my affinity for guitars started with my love for Taylor Swift and Hannah Montana. “You Belong With Me” and The Hannah Montana Movie both came out the year before I turned 9, and I was physically addicted to both. Particularly, I think my interest in guitar stemmed from the “You Belong With Me” music video. It was one of the first music videos I remember ever really watching. It was unlike anything I’d heard before, and I think it was the first time I realized that Taylor Swift was just a girl too. I wanted to make noise like that, and I knew a guitar was what I needed to do so. I remember holding my first real guitar for the first time. My hands were too small to fit around the neck, and my arm was cramping from trying to strum. Despite my inability to reach the E string, it still felt inexplicably right. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, 9 year old me knew exactly what she was doing with that guitar.
What are some of your most vivid memories of your very first trip to Nashville and how have you grown as an artist since then?
I’m convinced no trip or vacation or beautiful place will match the wonder I experienced my first time in Nashville. I begged my parents for weeks to take me on that trip. I made a PowerPoint presentation to try to convince them that I was ready. I researched all of the best places to try to play, and I planned our entire week around trying to do as many shows as possible. My mom and I would wake up super early in the mornings at our hotel to call different venues and try to secure a spot for that night. The first night we got there, I played an open mic night at this little outdoor college bar. I was the youngest person there by nearly a decade, but I felt so certain that it was where I needed to be. With my mom and dad and little brothers in the audience, I got up there and played one of the first songs I’d ever written. It was called “Chase Your Dreams” (very creative title), but that’s what I knew I was doing in that moment. I was literally chasing after my dreams. It was happening. I played shows every single day that week, while exploring the city I’d one day call home. One of my favorite memories from that trip was when I played the Bluebird Cafe. That was the big one, the place I’d dreamed about since I first heard the name Nashville. While I was there, I happened to be in line behind a kid and his mom. He was very kind and he shared that inexplicable, silent fire that I also felt for music. It was a silent understanding that we were both going to give this all that we [had]. I played a show later with him in the week, and I told my mom that he was going to be a star. [That kid was] Jack Avery from Why Don’t We. I hold those memories close.
You seem to have found a sweet spot between extremely catchy pop hooks and head-banging rock instrumentation. Has combining pop and rock sensibilities always felt natural to you?
I’ve always felt a natural inclination towards the punk-pop space. It’s what I listened to to get me through middle school, and I find it’s the genre I turn to in the most intense of my feelings. I don’t like rules, and alternative/rock pop feels like a giant F-you to the rules of musical genres. I’m all about words. I simply cannot get enough of them. When I write, I often just word-vomit onto my paper. I like things unedited and raw and far from perfect. What I love about punk-pop is that you work to fit the music around the lyrics, instead of the other way around. The less edited and manicured, the better. There’s so much passion to it as well, combining pop and rock. I am not a lukewarm person. I often want to feel the extremes of everything I experience. Punk music is so dramatic and I love it. It’s always the end of the world. I can scream and whisper and jump up and down and lie on the floor all while performing the same song. It’s awesome.
Do you find that songwriting can be like having a conversation with yourself?
Songwriting started for me as writing journal entries after I’d get home from school in the 6th and 7th grade. I’d write about my day, or whatever 6th grade tragedy was occurring. I could always understand it better if I wrote it down. Once I started putting those journals to guitar, there was songwriting. I spend a lot of time in my head. I can’t say I like it there, but I’ve yet to find a way out of it. The only way I can really cope with my brain is talking to it through music. I’m always having a conversation with myself, whether that’s a good or bad thing. I am incredibly self-aware and self-conscious. I’ve never grown out of that feeling like when you’re twelve or thirteen and you’re at the popular kids pool party. You feel like everyone is staring at you, and no one likes you, and you definitely should’ve worn a different color swimsuit because everyone is judging you. In reality, none of that’s true, but I think a lot of us go through life like we’re still at the 8th grade pool party. Though it’s terrible, putting it into words makes it so much less terrible for me. It makes it kind of pretty in a way. Through me publishing these internal narratives I have with myself, I’ve come to find that most of us feel the same way. I don’t have much to write about when it comes to love or parties or kissing a boy behind the bleachers. Those things are not my field of expertise. But, I’ve been with myself for as long as I can remember, so I thought I might as well write about it.
How did the collaboration with R3HAB first come about? Was he the one who reached out to you or vice versa, and what was it like getting to work together?
I had written “I Still Remember” back in 2018 with some friends of mine. I knew it was a special song from the moment it was written, and I knew an opportunity would one day come along to do something special with it. I had the opportunity to reach out to R3HAB in late 2019, and I was ecstatic when he said he was down to remix the song. However, this was occurring basically at the start of lockdown/quarantine, so we basically sent him the song and said “do ANYTHING you want to it.” The first mix I got back from him is extremely close to what ended up being the final product. He’s a genius, and it was such an honor to get to work with him.
What I really loved about “The Hypothetical” was how relatable the subject matter is. It’s very common to have a fantasy play out in our own heads, and I was wondering how the song initially came about?
I’ve always said that I’m not much for reality. It’s just not as fun there. I’m fascinated with the scenarios and romances we create in our heads. You can imagine an entire wedding after an interaction with a hot stranger at a Target. In these little worlds our brains create, the only thing impossible is impossibility. I love that, and I try to take a bit of that mindset out into reality with me when I’m there. I wrote “The Hypothetical” with two of my good friends in Nashville, Michael and Chuckie Aiello. They are both well aware of how my brain works and my aversion to the limitations of reality. Michael came in with the idea of letting me build a hypothetical world for a song. We had way too much fun, as again, the laws of reality simply did not apply to this song. We took it to the extremes, in a psychotic Barbie sort of way, and I love it.
What is your favorite part of being a songwriter that you wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else?
Sometimes I still can’t believe that what I write in my lowest moments, or through tears in my childhood bedroom, is heard by people. I get to tie up my experiences and views on the world as they occur in little bows of poetry and ugly emotions and guitar strings. And sometimes, crazy things happen, like when someone reaches out and says that my words have helped them in some way. There are people out there who understand what I’m trying to say through my music, even when I didn’t at the time of writing it. It’s the loudest form of communication, often to people I’ve never spoken a word to. The thing I hate the most about myself is that I’ll never be able to put it into words. Words don’t exist for that innate whisper of a calling deep down in my bones that begs for me to make music. I must sit at my piano and thumb through my brain for words, or I will simply die. It is as simple and complex as that.
Despair. Elation. Regret. Relief. Rinse repeat. These are the feelings evoked in the initial listening stage when you hear the opening crescendo of synthesized drones and faded hums on the opening track of Bailey Baum’s debut EP, Over It. The title track smoothly transitions from despair into hope as she croons, “Over and over and over, till I’m over it,” over cushioned basslines and dreamy laidback orchestrations, ruminating on the constant cycle of post-breakup recovery, trudging through the five stages of grief until finally landing at the stage of acceptance.
To say that Bailey Baum is having quite the year would be an understatement. Her 2019 single “Simple Feelings” is approaching 2 million streams on Spotify and she has also been praised for her “reflective lyrics, stirring soulful vocals, and clever pop melodies,” in publications like Flaunt Magazine and UPROXX.
Baum released her first EP “Over It” today through Next Wave / Ultra Records. Her most recent single off of the EP “Bad For Me,” is a synth-laden lamentation on the constant tug-of-war between her common sense and the part of her that wants to go back to the way things were before the fatal impact of her first heartbreak.
This new EP is an incredibly clever subversion of the typical heartbreak ballad. Instead of dwelling in the sadness, she goes on a trajectory to find the light at the end of the tunnel. She expertly weaves the ethereal high-register melodies and lush harmonies of BANKS and Lana Del Rey with the razor sharp wit of Guyville-era Liz Phair on songs like “Thinking Bout Me,” and “Not Missing You,” (“Don’t wanna go back/Finally your gone and it’s clear that I’m not missing you”).
“I want the EP to help people feel empowered to get ‘over it,’ while also acknowledging how important it is to let yourself feel everything deeply,” Bailey said in a press release. “No emotion or thought you have is invalid, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel of heartbreak. We all deserve to find happiness and peace and fulfillment and that all starts within yourself. I’m still learning and growing from my experiences, this EP is all about that process.”
I caught up with Bailey over email to chat about the new EP, how songwriting has helped her heal, and what she’s most looking forward to in this new phase of her career.
What are you most excited for listeners to experience once they finally get their hands on this EP?
I’m most excited to see how people resonate with my music. This project is one that came from a really vulnerable place in my heart and sharing it with everyone is definitely scary in a lot of ways but I’ve had so much support from my team and everyone I work with and I’m confident that this project is something that can help other people get through similar situations and feelings of heartache.
What was the first piece of music that made you feel empowered to pursue life as a musician?
I always was always listening to music around my family or on the radio so from a young age it was always a very organic discovery process. I remember when I was 5 or 6 years old and started singing “White Christmas” and told my mom I wanted her to hear it because I thought I could really sing. I stood up on the fireplace in front of my whole family and sang my heart out and that was the moment I knew this was what I wanted to pursue. I started voice lessons soon after that and never quit.
Fiona Apple once said that it’s important to make art that scares you. Since this is a very personal record, were there any personal revelations you had that scared you?
I woke up a few months ago in the middle of the night freaking out because I was so scared for this project to come out. It’s so scary to be open to the world with your emotions and feelings, but the only way I know how to process how I feel is by turning it into music. Sharing my most personal feelings with the world is daunting, hoping that everyone perceives them in a positive way, but I know this is something that so many people can relate to at any age.
You said in your press release that you want this EP to help listeners on their journey to recover from heartbreak while also allowing themselves to “feel everything deeply.” How has music played a role in your own individual quests?
Whenever I feel literally ANY emotion, music is the first thing I run to. Music evokes so much emotion and even though I don’t project it in front of most people, I love feeling deep emotions. Music is that escape for me. I love driving around the city listening to different songs and just singing as loud as I can. It’s not always easy to let yourself feel things, so if you can find an outlet like music has been for me then it truly is the best feeling and the best way to heal.
You’ve been praised in Flaunt and UPROXX and I also noticed two of your songs on Viral Hits playlists on Spotify. How does it feel to see your music doing this well?
I’m so grateful for the support I’ve had on the music. Every little message, article, or other kind of support helps push me to continue going and not give up. There’s so much more I dream to do and accomplish but it really is the little things that help validate my journey and realize that everything I’m doing is reaching people in a positive way.
I really resonated with ‘Bad for Me.’ It feels like a universal experience to feel drawn to people that we know are toxic. How has writing about this allowed you to traverse this particular phenomenon in your life?
I think writing this helped me process the emotions I was feeling, and helped me acknowledge honestly to myself that the situation I was in wasn’t healthy. The truth is that I’m still learning and I haven’t totally figured everything out yet, I’m still making mistakes as I go but I’m forgiving myself at the same time because I know it’s all part of the process.
Something I really enjoyed about the progression of this EP–specifically on a song like “Not Missing You”–is how you seem to come to a genuine sense of closure as the EP goes on. Was that sort of progression intentional?
It was intentional in the way that once we had all the tracks ready for the EP we decided on the best order for them that felt like a progression of a relationship. However, when I was recording the music I wasn’t thinking that I was going to make songs for each stage of a relationship. Everything fell together as I was feeling it all. I recorded these songs at different times over the course of a few years and once I knew that this project was next for me I handpicked the ones that felt the most right and wrote and recorded the last few tracks based on emotions that I was feeling at the time and those just happened to be the last two tracks on the EP that give a feeling of “closure.”
Indie pop singer-songwriter TARYN just dropped her first single of the decade, “Brand New,” a hauntingly melodic song about letting go of the past.
The song opens with percussive finger clicks and TARYN chanting the refrain with an ethereal Norah Jones-y cadence: “Wash my mouth of all the little things/Clean it out, and begin again, brand new.” The song progresses over an equally engaging mix, courtesy of producer Joey Burcham. TARYN’s layered harmonies glide smoothly over interconnected drums, guitar, and a whirring, fuzzy bassline.
“There was a simple message I wanted to convey lyrically and the instrumental did the rest,” TARYN explained in a press release. “I’ve carried my past around and let regrets fuel decisions without justification. ‘Brand New’ let me realize our past is not something we have to correct, but it helps us understand our growth. We’re here to learn, experience, and explore. It’s a gift to be vulnerable, to feel comfortable expressing experiences in sonically harmonious ways.”
We are currently living in the golden age of dark pop that often romanticizes personal plight and struggle. TARYN’s positive affirmations on “Brand New” – promising that is indeed possible to move on and start anew – is an incredibly refreshing perspective that pop music needs now more than ever.
Berlin-based artist and political-journalist-turned-indie-icon Annika Henderson has finally come out with her long-awaited sophomore album after an eleven-year hiatus. Her eponymous 2010 album was comprised of dub and minimal wave reinterpretations of classic folk rock tunes by the likes of Bob Dylan, the Kinks, and Yoko Ono, with instrumentals that bonded like a magnet to Henderson’s frosty vocals that have drawn comparisons to the likes of Nico and Jane Weaver. Her self-titled record was produced by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow while Henderson was playing in his experimental band, Beak>.
Unfortunately, her debut was not positively received at the time. Pitchfork panned the album and called it a “minor pet project.” But that wasn’t enough to stop the record from becoming an enduring cult classic. Welsh indie darling Cate le Bon, who has been compared Anika a number of times, has frequently cited Henderson’s work as a major influence on her own music.
Anika’s new album Change was released on July 23rd through Invada Records and Sacred Bones, and unlike her debut, this beautifully fraught new collection of songs are all original compositions. It is a project that is hopeful for change and filled to the brim with angst about social ills, filtered through Anika’s icy and nonchalant vocal delivery that made listeners fall in love with her over ten years ago. Change sees Anika’s work take a left turn into a tunnel of effervescent synth blips and incredibly catchy synth-rock bass grooves on tracks like the opener, “Finger Pies,” where Henderson laughs in the face of intimidation, incinerating the self-centered subject of the song with her deadpan delivery (“Theory is you’re a monster, that you hate yourself/Afraid, afraid of you/Afraid, afraid of you.”)
On “Critical,” Anika adopts the role of a conniving murderess. “I always give my man the last word, I always give him what he deserves/But don’t forget that little twist of cyanide I put in his little gift,” she sneers over rhythmic Jane Weaver-esque computer blips. For me the highlight of the album was “Naysayer,” where Anika’s menacing vocals ascend with fury against a wall of sirens. “You say I can’t have it all/You say I can’t have what’s yours/I don’t want this world,” she righteously spews over spiky percussion, droning synths, and rhythmic helicopter blade effects.
On the anthemic title track, Henderson’s signature detached vocal delivery is nowhere to be found. Instead she adopts a much more emotionally-introspective tone. The hope that she expresses for a better world despite the cynicism of her peers is palpable as she chants, “I think we have it all inside/I think we can change, I think we can change,” with so much conviction that even her most ardent doubters are bound to come away from the song believing her.
With the electric-piano lamentation “Never Coming Back,” Henderson mourns a world on fire. Inspired by Rachel Carson’s environmental science book Silent Spring, the lyrics are filled with anguish and uncertainty (“I saw the warnings/I turned a blind eye, kept my hands over my ears/Before I could take a stand, it was too late/You were gone.”) “Freedom,” is another commanding touchstone on the album comprised of a repeated spoken-word mantra: “I’m not being silenced by anyone, least not you, least not you,” she chants over piercing synth drones. The final track, “Wait for Something,” trades the rest of the album’s electronic sheen for a guitar and drums setup, ending on a hopeful note as she commands with perseverance, “Don’t hold onto the past it’ll take you down… Be patient for something new.”
Certain critics have complained about points on the album where Henderson seemed to be lacking certainty. But considering the fact that the record was written and recorded at the height of the pandemic, the occasional uncertainty just adds another layer to the album, because it speaks to an ultimate truth: No matter how much conviction or confidence we may have in our own beliefs, it is virtually impossible to be alive at this point in history without experiencing any sense of doubt; so it’s only natural that her levels of certainty fluctuated throughout the album.
There’s no doubting the fact that Goth Lipstick—the eclectic duo helmed by frontwoman Francesca Fey and her creative partner Paperface—is one of the most exciting acts in the underground DIY pop scene. Last year their debut album, crystalline corset—a trans feminist coming of age album inspired by characters from Francesca’s favorite anime and Ghibli films—found its way onto several “Best of the Year” lists on Bandcamp.
Now, with their sophomore LP formless, shapeless, Goth Lipstick has adopted a much more raw, textured, and haunting sound that hearkens back to the ghostly dance pop of Farrah Abraham’s My Teenage Dream Ended, while staying true to their semi-fictional introspective roots. The production takes cues from SOPHIE’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, clipping’s Visions of Bodies Being Burned, and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. The album is narrated in the style of the Japanese Isekai literary genre–which revolves around characters being transported to a fantasy world–to tell the story of two wraiths on the run together who are forced to survive in a parallel universe.
“After being first exposed to [Isekai] in anime, I have been spellbound by the idea of resurrection in a new world.” Francesca tells me. “The genre was the perfect way for me to reflect on what it means to be a young trans woman growing up with a vision of what an ideal existence could look like as well as on the struggles I have faced personally that have shaped my [own concept of identity].”
The titular track, “formless, shapeless,” opens with a whirring drone that is promptly followed by glitching percussion and a succession of computer-blip effects that lay a sturdy foundation for the track with repeated chants of “I wanna be your love, I wanna be your love,” and paradisiacal background vocals from her girlfriend Gwendolyn.
The following track, “wraiths awake,” is an anthemic wakeup call from the previous track’s dream sequence, with blasting candy-coated synths and head-banging percussion plucked straight from the PC Music handbook. Fey delivers the line “If you wanna find the way to my heart/Then buying me a dress is the place you wanna start,” with so much conviction before letting out a blood-curdling scream of “WAKE UP!”
“Identity thief” opens with one of the nastiest, coarsest, and bombastic basslines I’ve ever heard, which rears its head at ongoing intervals throughout the song as Francesca professes in her whispery cadence, “I feel something when you sculpt me/Shapeshifting into anything/Skin like water, body of ice/When I’m someone else, there’s a place I can hide.” These specific lyrics highlight the malleability and plasticity of an unfixed identity, a philosophy that Francesca’s hero SOHPIE has also preached on songs like “Faceshopping” and “Immaterial.”
The fourth track is a cover of the 1975’s saccharine tale of chemical romance, “Chocolate.” It is an excellent reimagining of the original work. The engaging production begins with computerized synth blips that gradually build to a climax with distorted basslines, faded background screams, and glitching android sounds, making for a much more experimental reinterpretation of the song that is far more interesting than the original.
“I wanted to write a song about [two wraiths] getting super high together and falling in love, but the only way I could truly represent that kind of experience was with a song written by people who had been through it themselves,” Francesca says before going on to say, “a good cover should stand alone from the original, and the best way for me to achieve that was to completely reimagine everything from the ground up, distorted synths, wild vocal effects, and all.”
This is quickly followed by “fangs,” a sinister rumination on recklessness and self-destruction. It’s a whirlwind of unpredictability with masochistic lyrics (“Love is grip that squeezes me like a tourniquet/Take a whip to my hands leaving marks on my wrists”), complemented by sporadic blasts of glitching machines, which are guaranteed to catch every listener off guard in the best way, making it impossible to resist the urge to violently thrash your body along to the song.
“[That song] started when YouTube recommended a video [to me] about songs composed in extremely fast tempos, and that inspired me to write these quick, glitchy drum patterns that play throughout the track,” Francesca tells me.
The penultimate track, “faceless, nameless” opens with high, fuzzy guitar overdrive that hearkens back to My Bloody Valentine in their prime—specifically “When You Sleep” off the group’s iconic 1991 album Loveless—before climaxing in a crashing, grandiose solo and closing with cinematic piano keys. The abstract lyrics and the tinkering percussive droplets over the piano at the end transition into the final track, a brief love song entitled “forever,” which is forty seconds of utter silence that hearkens back to John Cage’s 4’33.
“John Cage actually went to my college! He might have subconsciously influenced that track, but it has a completely different intention than “4’33.” The main inspiration comes from my difficulty with writing love songs,” Francesca says. She then goes on to say that her aim with the track was to write “a song that quite literally can be performed for a lover regardless of how physically far away anyone in the partnership may be, [no matter] what technology or instruments are available, or even if anyone in the partnership is alive or dead. To me, it is the ultimate love song.”
What makes the silence at the end so profound is that it leaves the listener with a pang of bittersweetness, but plenty of space to breathe. It’s the perfect ending to the harrowing, heavenly whirlwind that the album takes the listener on. It’s our favorite slice-of-life movies with a mystical twist.