Chet Faker – ‘Hotel Surrender’

Sounds like … the genuine result of personal growth and creative self-fullfilment with a soulful groove.

The truth is something that is often hard to get to. Even if one does, it certainly takes strength to let it in and even more so, accept it to move on. Australian born Nick Murphy who has been making music under his birth name after 2014’s remarkable Built On Glass, has returned to releasing his work under his moniker Chet Faker. Hotel Surrender, the first new album in seven years, now happily co-exists in symbiosis with his previous, eclectic work, which also included last year’s stunning Music For Silence. Fast forward to 2021, Chet Faker’s return to his musical roots now very much portrays his own heartfelt truth across the ten – at times beaming – new songs that radiate a great amount of melodic and personal warmth, relaxed beats and a soulful and laid-back vibe. It is an album that comes from a joyful place, even though life has not been particularly easy for the New York based songwriter who unexpectedly lost his father in 2020 all while the world around him was turned upside down on a global scale, too. 

The self-written and self-produced album often goes with the flow at a moderate pace while being carried by Murphy’s comforting vocals and an ever-present groove that feels contagious and effortless. The core of Hotel Surrender – which Murphy describes as ‘your reality and whatever is in front of you’ in our recent interview – is about letting go and being open. Chet Faker manages to do exactly that in a vulnerable and confident manner throughout the record all while coming from a state of reflectiveness and reaching a place of lightness, eventually. Opening the album with Me Oh My and a spoken word intro, Murphy confesses ‘music does something, I still don’t know what it is, just accept it as the sky is blue’ – surrendering to his own reality and whatever feels right in this very moment. As well as the moments to come which include the vivid Get High with its catchy piano chords, the soothing Peace of Mind or the smooth Whatever Tomorrow in which Murphy addresses the future, but rather seeks the now while trying to disentangle himself from any tension or expectation. Hotel Surrender is the genuine result of the artist’s personal growth and creative self-fulfillment and therefore elevating and down to earth in the best possible way allowing Chet Faker to become his personal best. (Annett Bonkowski)

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Eliza Shaddad – ‘The Woman You Want’

Sounds like … the fragile, sensitive, powerful, self-reliant, warm statement you want in your life

If you happen to struggle with Social Media and its superficialities or negativity sometimes it’s best to hold on to the few accounts and people who are restoring your faith in the merits. Apart from being the highly gifted songwriter she is, Eliza Shaddad might just be one of those persons that you can’t help smiling about when following her activities. Wether it’s the awe of a new guitar, her marriage, a simple surfing trip in Cornwall or her weekly IGTV concerts during the pandemic: you get the sense of a person that always hits the sweet spot between oversharing and the lust for entertainment. But you also might just happen to witness how Shaddad deliberately spotlights a current political and humanitarian crisis in Sudan, the country of her ancestry. There is nothing shallow about how Shaddad approaches both her image and her music. Different from many other artists her Social Media presence is not so much of a marketing tool but an actual, controlled but real glimpse into her life. And as such, a good indicator of how her songwriting works.

Being the natural born artist she is, Shaddad was very aware, that three years after her full-length debut, it wouldn’t be helpful to just hit the stop button when the life of so many artists came to a hold over a year ago. So she decided to trust her guts and improvise a home studio with her husband and producer Ben Jackson. The Woman You Want naturally didn’t become the “band record” she was planning for – but it still extends the power pop introspection that her debut already hinted at. There are richly instrumented tracks like Heaven or Now You’re Alone in which you feel her lust for the self-proclaimed “ethereal grunge” but there are also the fragile, sensitive and delicately woven ruminations like The Man I Admire or, foremost, the heartbreaking In The Morning. Overall, The Woman You Want feels very humane in all its contradictional emotions. It is a rare gift: To be able to write songs that make it seem effort- and flawless, meandering between deeply melancholical and questioning lyrics on the one side and a pure lust for life on the other. Eliza Shaddad is already very far in that mastership and, considering her dedication, there is still a lot more to expect from her. Hit the follow button, guys. (Henning Grabow)

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Clairo – ‘Sling’

Sounds like … a mostly easy-going journey through gentle, rolling hills, with the occasional hidden ravine.

Anticipation has been high for Sling, the second album to arrive from the Atlanta-born artist Clairo, ever since April last year when an online announcement revealed she was writing songs for it. If followed on from 2017’s viral track Pretty Girl and a debut album Immunity in 2019, which was rightly hailed as a critical and commercial success. Surrounding herself with a slew of stellar companions, her stock has been rising ever since. Listening to Sling, it’s clear that Clairo herself has grown in confidence, offering a caustic take on the state of the music industry, but equally capable of moments of tenderness and warmth. Teaming up with producer Jack Antonoff for the record was always going to result in more pronounced commercial appeal. But fans of the 22-year old multi-instrumentalist will be reassured to hear that she’s lost none of her unique charm in the process.

Delicate opener Bambi sets the scene, with Clairo’s softly-softly vocals flowing gently along, wrapped in easy breezy lounge vibes, before giving way to the bouncier Wurlitzer sounds on Amoeba. The pace picks up temporarily on Partridge and Zinnias, and whilst Blouse appears at first to slow things down again, it’s clear that there is fire bubbling away beneath its surface. Of this particular track, Clairo says: “I think a lot of people know that feeling of having to compromise a part of yourself in order to be heard. You finally get to where you’ve hoped to be for so long, and there’s just this guy looking down your shirt.” It reveals the strength an artist like Clairo has and serves as proof that a restrained response is often the most powerful. It also features Lorde on backing vocals – a favour which was returned on the New Zealander’s recent release Solar Power. Beyond this, Sling continues to ebb and flow, more babbling brook than raging torrent, with Just For Today reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s latest outputs and the instrumental Joanie, written for Clairo’s recently adopted dog, channelling Carole King chords. Together, Sling is a carefully constructed record which sees Cairo meander, albeit cautiously, through the journey of early adulthood. It’s a steadfastly mature record that will offer comfort to many, whether that’s for the feelings of solidarity or unity that emerge in equal measures throughout. It serves as a reminder that there is plenty of warmth and brightness to be found, but also a need to take heed of warning signs when they appear. (Dan Cromb)

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Novaa – ‘She’s A Rose’

Sounds like … a musical reclaiming of one’s mind and body.

Few albums sounds as intimate and touch as deeply as Novaa’s latest release (which arrives less than a year after its predecessor). On She’s A Rose the Berlin-based artist digs into her emotions and works through past traumas. The vulnerability on the record and the honesty of the lyrics sometimes even makes listening a challenge, but leave you feeling the cathartic power of music.

On This Ain’t Your Home Novaa reclaims their body, I’m Hungry deals with an eating disorder, Audre examines unjust social structures, and Don’t Tell Her What to Do recalls an abortion. Novaa tells each of the stories not as sad ones but with a therapeutic gaze making them sound like much needed closure. The lyrics are bluntly honest and that is exactly what makes them crawl under your skin. “I’m gonna feed myself like a mother would feed her child, I’m gonna hold my body like a father would hold his newborn” she sings off overcoming the fight against her own body on I’m Hungry. The empathic ability of conveying complex feelings in relatable lines is one of the most intriguing facets of Novaa’s music. Through music the producer and singer gets in touch with their emotions and the gentle RnB instrumentation of the record reflects the lyrics’ emotiveness. She’s A Rose is an album that recounts a long journey to self-confidence but instead of regretting past events, it comes from a place of peace, reconciliation, and empowerment. Novaa finally owns herself and She’s A Rose is the musical tribute to that. (Liv Toerkell)

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Charli Adams – ‘Bullseye’

Sounds like … shouting a liberating ‘f*ck off’ to your own past

Oh bittersweet adolescence! The longer you move away from that crucial period in your life the more you tend to fictionalize it, leave out the bad parts and focus on the carelessness and all the experiences adulthood and the end of naivety take away from you. But if you’re still pretty close to it, the stories you tell become more authentic and intense and in the case of Nashville-based songwriter Charli Adams she’s got quite a lot to tell on her debut album. Bullseye is a personal goodbye to a youth spent in a deeply conservative, Christian environment in Alabama and a joyful “hello” to her musical career which she kickstarted by relocating to Nashville. During that search for her true identity she even briefly ran into Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon who inspired the album-title by playing darts with her. And yes, these songs hit directly into the heart and they burst out with so much … well, “life” if you like to call it. Emo Lullaby is a gentle personal mission statement that opens the album. While it might hint on a more gentle Phoebe Bridgers-like direction, it’s only a gentle intro before Charli Adams’ goes full pop. Somewhere in the territory of Girl In Red, Lucy Dacus, Pale Waves and – yes – even good ol’ Taylor Swift there’s still space for another story to tell.

Bullseye tells the personal, unfiltered story of a big awakening she had in 2020, after realising she had spent my entire life desperately trying to please other people at her own expense. Like a personal journal the record talks about toxic relationships with men, her parents, god, freedom, therapy but also self-destructive coping mechanisms. It’s a lot but Charli Adams manages to transport it through wonderful little folk-infected songs. Sometimes they get a bit more epic like Didn’t Make It or the mighty Headspace; sometimes they even make you dance like the groovy Get High W/ My Friends which celebrates much needed carelessness. On the other hand we get romantic almost-acoustic ballads like Bother With Me or the really wonderful Novo Amor collaboration Seventeen Again. This album really feels like it has been a liberating experience for this young talent. It might be a bit slick and you shouldn’t look for many musical edges but as a first musical exclamation mark this really is a massive debut release and it will be fascinating to follow Adams’ path towards adulthood. (Norman Fleischer)

Stream ItSpotify / ► Apple Music / ► Bandcamp