Friday Features: Ambient vibes usher in moments of reprieve amidst a chaotic, changing world
This week's playlist takes stock of new music that has emerged from a space of anger, distress and the toll recent events have taken on everybody
From a space of anger and distress has emerged a new wave of music that contrasts some of the best ambient genres with poignant, introspective lyrics that mull over our journey so far, while simultaneously questioning where we go from here.
Let's take a look here:
Brad Peterson: 'Charcoal Soul'
Written and performed entirely by Brad Peterson at his self-built Lake Michigan garden shed in the spring of 2020, 'Charcoal Soul' is a somber meditation on how we go from young, idyllic souls to ones who can barely remember 'when they've last smiled'.
Speaking about the track Peterson states, "I spend quite a bit of time in my shed; it’s very quiet here. So quiet that the tiniest of sound seems especially conspicuous: the sound of birds, an airplane, or the hissing of an amplifier at the ready. There’s a sort of music to it -all hushed within my deadened burlap walls. As an engineer, I’m normally compelled to squelch these uninvited sonic contributors whilst I record and mix my songs, but for this experiment, I asked: why not invite it in? And why not capture the sound of the homely shed as it is?"
And out came tumbling 'Charcoal Soul'. "It’s a sort of ode to the songs that could be heard emanating from neighborhood teenage kids’ bedrooms in my childhood," the indie-pop singer-songwriter continues. "I suppose there’s a juxtaposition of idyllic memory backdropping a more cynical lyrical commentary about how time has slightly embittered the sweetness."
He adds, "I can imagine listening to this song as a six-year-old, sprawled out on shag carpeting and staring at an album cover with the smell of patchouli incense." There is something mesmerizing about this track, and as it winds down with the lyrics, "When did we get so old / How did I get a big black charcoal soul," you recognize that a lot of its allure has to do with the fact that it drags out the words hiding in the deepest recesses of our souls and allows them to spill out into the world.
Emmanuel Franco: 'Broken Man'
Pop singer-songwriter Emmanuel Franco's latest single 'Broken Man' paints a picture of grief and loss, but instead of being a commentary on what these emotions can feel like, this song is a soft telling of what it feels like to be 'broken', detailing feeling hopelessly lost after losing a loved one and having to hold on to their memory just to get by.
The accompanying music video, which dropped last week, sees Franco engaging in self-destructive behaviors in between aimlessly wandering through a cold town and trawling empty railway tracks, ending with a powerful yet beautifully understated moment: the protagonist of this tale stands, arms outstretched, the wind beating down at him as he stands seemingly atop a fast-moving train, only to reveal the train passing him by as he stands firmly on the ground.
Eyedress: 'Can I See You Tonight?'
Off his upcoming LP, 'Let's Skip To The Wedding', 'Can I See You Tonight?' was a creation of Eyedress and his girlfriend prior to her moving away and recorded during the short moments the two managed to reunite for.
"The song is about the early times when I started seeing my girlfriend," shares the artiste. "All the first dates and wanting to see her really bad every day and every night. The feeling of wanting to be together all the time and falling in love."
Eyedress, the alias of Filipino artist Idris Vicuña, formerly the lead guitarist of psychedelic indie/noise-pop band Bee Eyes, has crafted his unique genre-bending sound for the better part of the last two decades. But on his 2018 release 'Sensitive G', the artiste switched gears and put together a deeply personal reflection on the joys and pains of his life in Manila told through the styles he was influenced by whilst growing up in the US, including R&B, dream-pop, indie rock, punk rock, and G-funk. A more solitary affair, 'Sensitive G' was recorded almost entirely by Eyedress in his bedroom and demonstrates a more refined and visceral approach to his process and palette.
His upcoming LP is the first album Eyedress had created since moving to the United States. A passionate exploration of the themes of love, settling down, adjusting to life in a new city, and preparing to welcome a child into this ever-changing world, 'Let's Skip To The Wedding' channels the uncertainty of 2020 into an eclectic collection of songs and a remedy for the times.
XIXA: 'El Condor Pasa (If I Could)'
Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan are well known on the Tucson scene having worked with Calexico and Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta, in addition to both being members of Howe Gelb’s Giant Sand. Inspired by Peruvian Cumbia, the two began to explore the hard edge, guitar-driven trippy cumbia popular in the Amazon and the poorest barrios of Lima, eventually creating their own brand of psychedelic cumbia, blending elements of country, rock, Latin, and western styles into a sound that is largely unclassifiable.
Their latest release is a cover of the Peruvian song 'El Condor Pasa (If I Could)' from the 1913 zarzuela of the same name by Peruvian composer Daniel Alomía Robles made famous by the late 1970 English version from Simon & Garfunkel. But unlike the earlier version, XIXA delivers a dark, gritty, gothic take on the track, a rather fitting accompaniment for a song that muses about the those that struggle to survive every day contrasted with the blissful peace of the unwitting who believe they are free, which makes the song oddly fitting for the current times.
A portion of the song's proceeds was donated to The Sphinx Organization, a Detroit-based non-profit dedicated to the development of young Black and Latino classical musicians.
Quinn DeVeaux: 'Holiday'
Of all the latest releases, DeVeaux's 'Holiday' is one of the most gut-wrenchingly powerful tracks to not grace the radio stations - simply because it hasn't been released yet.
The soulful blues track from the Nashville musician offers a musical look into his sense of grief and loss and the passionate need for positive change during these uncertain times. Referencing the 14-year-old black child who was brutally murdered in 1955 for offending a white woman, DuVeaux sings, "I can't forget the face of Emmett Till / And all the faces they take from us still," in honor of Till's lasting impact on the Civil Rights' movement as well as the continued impact every subsequent life has taken has had on both the movement and the emotional state of those left behind to grieve their loss. The message of this song is crystal clear, but it is made even more poignant by the raw, solo performance DuVeaux delivers in the song's video.
Chronicling the crimes and injustices lodged on African Americans throughout the ages, 'Holiday' is a song that resonated heavily with DuVeaux as began writing it back in 2014, when Tamir Rice was murdered by Timothy Loehmann, who mistook the 12-year-old's toy gun for a real one. With each subsequent death of a black person at the hands of the police, more of 'Holiday' would find itself being written. And with the death of George Floyd, the song found itself completed.
As DuVeaux plays the solemn blues track on acoustic guitar while plaintively singing, "it ain’t changing fast enough for me," it's hard not to feel the pure anguish in his voice. The artiste stated in an interview with American Songwriter that writing personal tracks like 'Holiday' were draining, adding, "A song like 'Holiday' is the pain I've felt for years, and anger I've felt for years, frustration and love I've known for years, and to wake up every day and expect yourself to pull it all out is tough."
He adds, "But over time, you get somewhere. I hope that we can keep the pressure on these lawmakers and keep having these conversations with each other. This is the best way to start making it safe for people of color in America."
Friday Features is a column that brings you the week's latest releases that you may or may not have heard of yet.