Mac DeMarco – ‘Here Comes The Cowboy’

Sounds like …a more grown-up, more curious version of the beloved slack-sound.

One of indie music’s finest slackers is back. The level of success Mac DeMarco has reached over the course of his past three studio albums is astounding for the Canadian singer-songwriter who never set out to do anything other than making the music he wanted to do which is mostly laid-back and mellow in general. DeMarco has never been keen on making it big in an industry that doesn’t work in favour of his musical interests in the first place anyways. However, his trademark easy-going vibes, sad clown image and charming, witty nature quickly made people listen up. Always the approachable, funny guy, Mac DeMarco felt very relatable as a person as much as a musician who displayed a much more intimate, reflective and melancholy side of him in his songs. Now being back after a little downtime with his new album Here Comes The Cowboy, one could be misled thinking that the title promises some sort of cheeky interpretation of the cowboy theme. Instead, Mac DeMarco actually explores the Wild West imagery as a “motif as a fantasy of escape from the modern world” as he recently revealed in an interview. The cowboy being just a simple guy who enjoys being out there in the world doing his thing and finding comfort in some quiet time as well. Surely something DeMarco can relate to after having moved to L.A. in order for his previous album This Old Dog and also being fully in control of his passions now having founded Mac’s Record Label to gain even more creative control over his work. 

Recorded in his garage in L.A., the home studio where DeMarco feels comfortable being surrounded by vintage equipment, Here Comes The Cowboy is the result of the emotionally mature nature of his musical growth over the past years. The overall slow pace of the record only being disrupted by funky outbreaks on songs like Choo Choo or the epic Baby Bye Bye that trade the mostly gentle instrumentation, mellow vibes and introversion against Mac DeMarco’s childlike curiosity and love for the occasional adventure. Due to the notable absence of hooks on this album, DeMarco appears to have found his focus even more which is being clearly more than being the lovable clown onstage whose entertaining nature sometimes overshadows his musical qualities. Some listeners might easily be put off by this new found seriousness (which has always been part of his music though), but Here Comes The Cowboy offers many songwriting gems like the beautiful piano ballad On The Square or the single Nobody which greatly emphasize DeMarco’s abilities as a songwriter. (Annett Bonkowski)

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Jamila Woods – ‘Legacy! Legacy!’

Sounds like … honoring the legends of the past with contemporary soul 

From Chicago a very special sound is coming this week. The activist, poet and singer Jamila Woods is bringing us her sophomore LP LEGACY!LEGACY!, a tribute to musical and political icons of colour. The thirteen-track-long record is a monumental ode to people who inspired her and many others with their fearlessness, artistry, or writing. Somewhere in between protest music and soul-soothing RnB, this singer found her place and movingly recalls and honors public figures with contemporary soul music forging a connection between the past and the future.

From Eartha Kitt, Muddy Waters, to Zora Neale Hurston, Jamila Woods delivers a great collection of musical and lyrical moments. The self-affirming track GIOVANNI, dedicated to the activist and poet Nikki Giovanni, is a moving depiction of newly found self-love. ‘Who is gonna share my love for me with me’ she sings on EARTHA. The gently RnB rhythms mingle with a bass-heavy drum section, while the singer lets go of a toxic relationship and discovers her own worth. The layered vocals give the single a powerful anthem-like vibe. Even though the artist is damn good at making smooth and modern soul music, she turns to a more electronic experimentation on OCTAVIA. The eclectic almost improvised sounding edgy electronica contrasts to the honey-like vocals on the ode to Octavia E. Butler. On the track dedicated to the artist Jean-Michael Basquiat, who is known for his expressive paintings, features the rapper Saba, whose rapped verses form a strong opposition to the gently crooned background vocals. Accompanied by a catchy bass-line and sparse almost psychedelic sounding drum and guitar parts, Jamila Woods and her background singers engage in a call-and-response like chorus. For blues legend Muddy Waters, the artists wrote an angry guitar-heavy track bordering on a Hip Hop beat. ‘Motherfuckers won’t shut up’ she spits and she would rather ‘stay muddy’. LEGACY!LEGACY! is not only an honor of past artists and activists, but also cements Jamila Woods’ position as a fierce female soul singer among the legends she sings off – who knows in a few years she might be the one sung about. (Liv Toerkell)

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HÆLOS – ‘Any Random Kindness’

Sounds like … music to dance to before the world is ending. 

British four-piece are back with their second album – a deep-rooted and dark examination of our society resting upon danceable trip-hop beats. On Any Random Kindness, HÆLOS are leaning more toward dance music, yet the driving topics behind the electronic distortions are displaying serious issues and struggles of our modern day living. Exploring the ‘isolating nature of technology and social media’, the band’s single Boy/Girl is an accurate depiction of a relationship lost in a claustrophobic digital limbo. The dark but catchy beat draws the listener right into the struggle of the call-and-response vocals by vocalists Lotti Bernadout and Arthur Delaney.

Another central topic of the record is climate change. The single Kyoto discusses the lost opportunities caused by big parties resigning from the Kyoto Climate Protocol. The mournful piano melody and the doomy beat create a feeling of impending disaster. While the opening track Another Universe is packed with melancholia of slow mellow synth waves and a subtle suppression of the instrumentation, making it sound as if it were drowning in an endless ocean of water, it peaks in an intense mix of electronica. The minimalistic intensity is transformed into a heavy electronic beat on Buried In The Sand, which remains nonetheless very substantial. Ghostly vocals and a nocturnal vibe speak of internal struggles and while the sound like something computer-made, the eclectic beat is loaded with emotional tension. Amidst of the dark and gloomy vision of the future HÆLOS paint, the single End Of The World Party stands out. The groovy beat and the dramatic vocal layering of the two singers, make this single a ready-to-party-track that might make you forget about the impending apocalypse. And that is exactly the mission HÆLOS was following with their single, a ‘satirical look at disregarding the apocalyptic aspects of humanity and focusing on the now’. Overall Any Random Kindness does fit into that motto as well. It serves to give the listener a hint at the changes we need to make, to make this world better, and hopefully longer sustainable, place. But not without being a whole lot of fun to dance to on the other hand. (Liv Toerkell)

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Von Spar – ‘Under Pressure’

Sounds like … a “how to write a pop song in 2020”-manual, written in 1979.

Under Pressure. Read those two simple words, express them, read them again. What comes to your mind? Ankle deep in the fog patches of a huffing and puffing Hollywood-driven comeback machine, that flushed an already famous 70s rock band in the minds of every kid in any town, kissed by the never ever disappearing aura of the greatest pop chameleon we’ve ever knew, we surely need to think instantly of an early 80s pop hit. Allegedly recorded in the rush of a studio session, when one pop genius steeped into the studio of the others. True that, it’s mostly myths and anecdotes ranking around these climaxes of super successful songwriting of pop music’s better days. Who was in the studio, which guitar did he or she play, who made the coffee and when did the guy arrive that brings the cocaine. What stays isn’t just the smell of cold smoke in dark studio booths, it’s an everlasting pop cultural history and pop music beauty.

Now, clearly admitting that we love to loose ourselves in these beauties of the past, the act of naming a 2019’s album Under Pressure made us curious and made us questioning what’s new in this constellation? Which pressure are we talking about? Is it you, pressuring yourself, is it society suppressing us and the other kids out there. Von Spar getting deep down the line of their well crafted soundscapes, equally build by synthetica and manpowered motorics, to show this tension and especially to give it a sound. A sound that isn’t neither dark or dystopian but straight forward and highly energizing. Five years ago we were amazed by their long player Street Life, an eclectic masterpiece of contemporary pop music, sounding as warm as a golden blanket. Now Under Pressure delivers that diversity once more, combining Von Spar’s solid music machinery with hand picked vocal performances of distinctive artists and well known comrades. Canadian singer and songwriter Chris Cummings, sprinkles his soulful falsetto over four of nine tracks. Followed by Stereolab’s very own Lætitia Sadier and DIY legend R Stevie Moore pushing boundaries in the understanding of how a song itself could work. Forming an exceptional piece of music on every single track, it’s an underlaying cohesive forwardness of the band that makes this exhibition of different works a full album. Maybe with pressure but without any boarders you could say. (Stefan Ibrahim)

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Matt Kivel – ‘Last Night In America’

Sounds like … the whole world is on fire but you couldn’t care less about it.

Although it often might appear as if we’re heading straight for dystopian doom these days one tend to forget that the lives of all of us mostly circle around way smaller things than the impending climate catastrophe or the decline of political leadership. Everybody’s trying their best to get through life, often worshipping small moments of joy and Matt Kivel made an intimate record about that feeling. While he was working on Last Night In America his main job was as a speechwriter for a huge government agency. In his office he visited a cafeteria every day where CNN or FOX News just sort of droning in the background as everybody continued to eat their lunch. Kivel explains: ‘Just the most terrible things were happening on that TV — shootings, natural disasters, catastrophic elections, murders — and people just sort of continued eating their burgers and potato chips and coleslaw. Talking with friends, laughing. Everyone seemed to process this abstract grief so quickly.’ It’s that feeling he’d like to capture with this album and he did a great job by doing it in a very unagitated way.

Following two great yet underrated records with Princeton (the band he found with his brother Jesse) Matt has been quite productive, releasing four solo albums between 2013 and 2016 while still flying under the radar. Last Night In America is a culmination of his solo work, combining Kivel‘s love for detailed storytelling, gentle Americana folk and haunting ambient sounds. Framed by instrumental pieces the tracks Tyrus and The Tower open the record in the most tender way, leaving the songwriter all the space he needs. Later Two Braids introduces a gentle nocturnal groove before Wendy & Roxanne turns out to be a, well, power-lacking power ballad (that’s a compliment). L.A. Coliseum is a quick turn towards pop before the record moves back to more gentle territory. Right until his guitar fades out into the darkness at the end of Radiance Matt Kivel creates a cohesive and captivating vibe with his fifth solo LP. It’s a mellow observation of life’s tiny wonders and stories right in middle of a colossal hurricane. This album needs a few spins but if you give it a chance it will unfold quite a unique beauty. (Norman Fleischer)

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