Overloaded by all the “new music” options you keep hearing about? We’re here to help. Here’s four songs we think you should fucking know (this week). Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments too.
- Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
One of the shitty things about living in a world with 24/7 news-cycles, besides networks like CNN scraping the bottom of the barrel for news, is that sometimes actually newsworthy events get pushed aside for the next “topic of the day”, even if the “topic of the day” is something like this. When it comes to the ever-hungry world of music blogs, this occasionally means a great artist or album gets tons of praise in a small amount of time, only to be slightly forgotten once the next big single comes along from someone else.
So I wanted to take the time to revisit an album that deserves more than just a “Best of 2013” mention once December rolls around: Autre Ne Veut’s Anxiety. It’s something I’d been itching to do since April when I tweeted this:
(and it’s not just because Arthur Ashin aka Autre Ne Veut favorited it…)
I was one of those “everyone” who wrote about “Counting” when it came out in November, with nothing but good things to say about the song that I claimed “melded elements of George Michael (compliment), Prince (huge compliment), James Blake (huger compliment?), and How To Dress Well (sizable compliment) into an intimate but explosive R&B anthem.” And when the follow up, “Play By Play” was released a few weeks later, I fawned over how Ashin “harnesses a desperate insistence that emboldens every word he sings during the heartbreaking five and half minutes of the song.”
But while those songs are definitely album highlights, deeper cuts on Anxiety are almost more rewarding because of their hidden-gem status. “Ego Free Sex Free” has become a dark-horse album favorite for a few of my more vocal friends that are Autre Ne Veut fans, and though I admit to not liking it all that much at first, it’s grown on me immensely. While Anxiety is an intentionally downer record in terms of lyrical content, “Ego Free Sex Free” builds to a downright dance song by its end; something only emphasized by Ashin’s decision to follow it with the down-tempoed, sweeping “Lie”.
“Warning” hints at the Prince-esque guitar riffs that “Don’t Ever Look Back” uses to perfection two songs later (In my daydreams, Prince becomes friends with Ashin, produces his next record, and rips out amazing guitar solos during parts like the breakdown of “Don’t Ever Look Back”. A boy can dream…).
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” amps up the cheeky, playful side of Anxiety that helps balance out its bulk of emotions with a bit of levity; but all that disintegrates with the album closer, “World War”, a glitchy but soaring ballad that leaves a great taste in my mouth once this album ends.
At its core, Anxiety is a collection of intensely personal R&B anthems that have the soul, gravitas, and musicianship to bolster this album into an echelon higher than most temporarily buzzed-about records. Even if you think you’ve heard Autre Ne Veut, do yourself a favor and revisit it one more time.
- Clare Maguire – Changing Faces (demo)
There is nothing I enjoy better than the honeymoon phase of a new relationship with someone. Everything they say is hilarious, every little thing they do is adorable, and I want to learn every detail about them because they’re just that amazing. Every little thing, that is, except anything that involves any other guy she was ever with before me…
Now I know that sounds ridiculous, naive, and a bit insecure, but all those adjectives apply to me, so there we go. And I’m not saying I freak out when hearing stories that include “my ex-boyfreind” or “this guy I used to hook up with”, but there’s always that one story or detail that I wish I never ended up hearing. The specific phrase “scary big” still sticks out as a particularly “welp, didn’t need to know that” moment.
And that’s where Clare Maguire comes in…
Somehow, I stumbled upon her demo for her new song “Changing Faces”, and I immediately fell in love with the 25-year old’s Stevie Nicks-esque voice. The simple, bare piano is just enough support for a song that sounds like it was recorded in Maguire’s living room. It’s slight ebb-and-flow that swells with her growing intensity is such a subtle, beautiful touch that I can barely stand it. Grouped on her Soundcloud page with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “The Last Time I Saw Richard” that sits just behind James Blake’s rendition of “A Case Of You” as my favorite homage to the cranky Canadian songstress, “Changing Faces” paints an image of Clare Maguire as a tender but insistent talent that could destroy a room with just a piano and a microphone. I was so excited to share this gentle flower of a girl with the world.
Then I had to go and Wikipedia her.
It turns out, to quote the ever-reliable encyclopedia, “she was signed to Universal Music Group Polydor Records in 2008…was rated in fifth place in the BBC Sound of 2011 list of the top 15 most promising new artists…[and] singled out as one of MTV’s Brand New: For 2011 Acts. Maguire’s debut album, Light After Dark, was released on 28 February 2011 peaking at number seven in the Official UK Top 40, and spanning three single releases including ‘The Last Dance’ and ‘The Shield and the Sword’.”
I was a bit dejected that my gentle flower had already been plucked by UMG and enjoyed by the world, but who was I to get all snarkily possessive? I had a whole album of hers to enjoy now.
Then I had to go and Spotify her.
In a word (or three), Light After Dark kind of sucks. Sure, “Freedom” is stripped-down enough to showcase her talent, and “Happiest Pretenders” is enjoyable, but the entire album is dragged down by electronic drum beats, unnecessary string lines, and too much production that screams “we want this to sell, not just sound good.” It’s understandable, sure, but not appreciated.
I’m trying my best to not let my knowledge of her past influence my feelings about her presently, but I’ll admit it’s hard. I’m holding out hope that she’s pulling a Solange and, after finding reasonable success within the corporate music scene, is using her fame as a chance to explore more personal musical avenues; like more recordings of her singing with just a piano in a living room. That way I can forget about her “scary big” past and think about our great future together.
- The Preatures – Is This How You Feel?
Speaking of pasts, it seems as if The Preatures, a 5-piece band out of Sydney, are trying to erase theirs. The infamous All Things Go morning email pointed me to “Is This How You Feel?” by them, and while I had to remember that just because I heard HAIM first, it didn’t mean that this similar-vein of a song wasn’t great as well.
I’m a sucker for the quick beatbox at the beginning, and the intro-riff is undeniably catchy. The jangling rhythm guitar and lead-singer Isabella Manfredi’s voice seem meant for each other, which is a bit intriguing given the earlier material that they haven’t purged leans more towards “goth pop” then the vintage rock-and-roll that “Is This How You Feel?” captures. Either way, the song’s unescapable bounce and pixie swagger (yep, coining that phrase) make it a stellar feel-good song meant for road trips, bike rides, or especially awesome outdoor days in general.
I’ll be interested to see what their next release sounds like, with fingers crossed that it’s more of the same well-crafted female-driven rock that “Is This How You Feel?” nails so well.
- Ellie Goulding – Tessellate (Alt-J cover)
Let’s finish this up with another beautiful girl with a beautiful voice: Ellie Goulding. When I saw that she had released a cover of “Tessellate”, one of my favorite Alt-J songs, I couldn’t have clicked on the link faster, as her covers of Active Child’s “Hanging On”, The Weeknd’s “High For This”, and Elton John’s “Your Song” are some of the best songs in her catalogue.
However, “Tessellate” might have been a bit of a stretch for Ellie, as she isn’t able to capture some of the sinisterness that Alt-J teases in their version; but having said that, it’s still a pretty good way to spend 4 minutes of you day. But it did get me thinking about Ellie in a broader sense, and I’ve come to realize I have no clue who the real Ellie Goulding is anymore.
I was lucky enough to see her back in 2011 at Rock and Roll Hotel with The Knocks as an opening act thanks to my friend Claudia’s insistence that I check out “Starry Eyes” and the subsequent musical infatuation that followed listening to it for the first time. During her set, she played the guitar parts for most of her songs, and I even remember her, adorned in a trendy but simple jacket, snagging a drumstick and relentlessly pounding a mounted tom-tom during one of her louder tracks. Once the show was over, I walked down H Street dumbstruck at the British future-star.
But while I expected her inevitable fame, I didn’t think it would turn out the way it did. A Bassnectar remix of “Lights” catapulted her into superstardom, she began dating Skrillex, and she released a follow-up album that was unexpectedly tame and startlingly underwhelming.
I had all but given up on her, but her wise selection of songs to cover has me believing that somewhere, deep down, there’s not a girl who makes ridiculous music videos of herself on a beach, but a talented songwriter who knows a good song when she hears it and can still make one herself.
I’ll always carry a bit of a flame for Ellie, but I’m going to need something more sooner rather than later to keep that fire going.