Tomberlin – ‘i don’t know who needs to hear this

Sounds like … acoustic diamonds of great sentimental value.

The story of Sarah Beth Tomberlin reads like a fairytale for the digital age and is the living proof that profound artistic virtue still trumps the harsh algorithmic nature of today’s music business. Leaving her home of Illinois at a young age to pursue songwriting, she aroused the attention of the prestigious Saddle Creek label after putting her music on Bandcamp, followed by her 2018 debut At Weddings, which was soon succeeded by the 2020 Projections EP. I don’t know who needs to hear this… is the impressive sophomore attempt of Tomberlin and while it picks up on the fragile and well-composed singer-songwriter ambiance of her previous recordings, it adds an even more complex space for emotion.

With this album, Tomberlin has explained, she wants to “hold space, to create an altar for the feelings” and it doesn’t take long until that ambition materialises in the initial songs such as easy, tap or memory. Her magnificent voice, which must be recognised as an instrument in its own right, seeps through the songs like a lush stream, as the instrumental side remains in a folky fashion, the mellow guitar pickings are often added with piano parts, or the occasional string or brass sections. On pieces like tap or sunstruck, the songwriter follows her core aesthetics, while songs as happy accident or stoned bring out a more ferocious side of the musician, showcasing a fuzzy and folk-rock pathway, but still no less compassionate than the other tracks of i don’t know who needs to hear this… The core of it all remains on the acoustic and lo-fi side of the spectrum though, as the closing tracks possessed and idkwntht demonstrate. And oh, how well they do that, wrapping it up in the most soothing and sentimental way. (Andreas Peters)

Stream It:Spotify / ► Apple Music / ► Bandcamp /

Listen to Tomberlin’s curation of our “For Folk’s Sake” playlist.

Toro Y Moi – ‘MAHAL

Sounds like … a summer road trip with your friends.

Since his beginnings in the orbit of the late aughts’ chillwave micro-genre, Toro Y Moi has been about escapism and what happens when you return from it. As the aquatic style of music he helped popularise with his debut Causers Of This slowly took over fashion stores and TV ads, Chaz Bear started venturing out into R&B, house, funk, psychedelic rock and everything in between, earning him a reputation as a versatile producer with an eye for vibes. His discography has since been bouncing around between more organic, guitar-based (Underneath The Pine, What For, Live from Trona) on the one hand and electronic, beat-driven sounds (Anything In Return, Boo Boo, Outer Peace) while never truly settling for either.

In that sense, it is not surprising that Toro Y Moi are firing up a jeepney (a quintessentially philipino vehicle that features on the album artwork and all music videos) and embarking on a quest for MAHAL (which means “love” in Tagalog). Originally an idea on the back burner, the pandemic hitting gave Bear the opportunity to enlist a range of collaborators, who bring a welcome breath of fresh air to his compositions: the slick Magazine features Bay Area musician Salami Rose Joe Louis cooing over a classic Toro Y Moi groove, while on opener The Medium (featuring Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and Clarity, more gritty, focussed sounds dominate. At other times, listening to MAHAL takes me back to the laid-back sounds of a Sea Moya or even Manu Chao. It feels almost as if Chaz Bear was trying to rehash the feeling of endless summer road trips, listening to disjointed classics mixtapes from years ago – and feeling increasingly comfortable with ignoring the latest trends. “Oh my, where did the weekend go? / Oh man, Monday snuck up so fast /No one keeps me in the loop when I kick back /Guess it’s up to me to stay in the loop” sings Bear in The Loop, and I certainly get the sentiment. One of the biggest strengths of Toro Y Moi is being able to distill the ennui of daily life into relatable tidbits, and while I find myself missing the fresh, focused sonics of a record like Outer Peace, MAHAL’s slick vibes will surely sneak their way into people’s summer holidays and afternoon festival slots. (Igor Franjic)

Stream It:Spotify / ► Apple Music / ► Bandcamp

Röyksopp – ‘Profound Mysteries

Sounds like … there’s a vital life after the end for the electronic sound wizards.

Making definite statements is a tricky affair, especially one you realized your decision wasn’t as definite as you thought it would. When Norwegian electronic wizards Röyksopp announced their final album in 2014 – shamelessly also titled The Inevitable End – while also claiming that this wasn’t the end of the band I was instantly sceptical because Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland weren’t in an age where you announce such things. But maybe that bold announcement helped the two producers to break free from the ever repeating recording-touring-promoting-cycle. Berge an Brundtland released a handful of standalone tracks over the past years and also cleared our their archives by releasing rarities on a regular basis. Eight years later, Röyksopp finally resurface with a new body of work. And while the band – for obvious reasons – tries to avoid the term ‘album’ in any form Profound Mysteries is … well, exactly that. And there is no reason to be ashamed of it all because the musical content itself is a very warm and profound return to the microcosm of these two.

While this record also comes with individual visuals and music videos you are also happily invited to enjoy this one as a cohesive album while making up your own visuals. Röyksopp‘s strengths of combining tender melodies with a tendency for melancholia and complex sound structures is still as vital as it was two decades ago on their iconic debut Melody A.M. Following the gentle piano intro the track The Ladder leads us right into this mysterious new adventure. It’s a great testament of how Röyksopp are able to slowly but stead build up a track. They also still got a great sense for picking the right vocalists for their songs. Alison Goldfrapp truly lifts the already pretty stunning Impossible to a new level and invites the audience to fly among the clouds with her. Pixx gives the gloomy groove of How The Flowers Grow a fragile human component while longterm collaborator Susanne Sundfør is obviously in for the big moments in which her powerful cinematic voice can showcase all her ranges. Profound Mysteries takes a bit of everything from the Röyksopp cosmos – you get the tender melancholia right next to the pumping, trance-infected floorfillers. It’s not even trying to reinvent the wheel musically. That might make you question the whole “last album” thing even more – but if you look past beyond that you get a really beautiful record of electronic soundscapes, profound pop melodies and synthetic beauty. Turns out the end was just a stopover and I’m really looking forward to that new beginning as well. (Norman Fleischer)

Stream It:Spotify / ► Apple Music

Johanna Amelie – ‘Fiction Forever

Sounds like … channeling the light of a mellow spring afternoon.

“Plans are fiction, they are the entrance doors to a journey to a yet uncertain future”, Berlin songwriter and producer Johanna Amelie is quoted on her latest album Fiction Forever, which contains “songs that consist equally of reality and imagination”. What is quite real though is the musician’s devotion to music and songwriting from an early age on. First gotten in touch with music at the age of 3, it was precisely the gift of a Regina Spektor CD on her 17th birthday that made her decide to become a professional songwriter. The output of her released records, including 2018’s debut Distance and Beginnings from two years back, serves her right, as does her engagement in the music industry, committed to increase the visibility of women and non-binary people at large: She founded Visibility*Breakfast (a monthly meet up for female* and non binary artists) and she’s a member of Music Women* Germany. 

Fiction Forever is on a whole a solidly concise album, bringing together Amelie’s crafty and yet catchy pop melodies and an overall ambiance of light-weighted comfort and ease. Well, the Regina Spektor experience has got to manifest somehow, right? Kicking it off with the piano ballad Swimsuit, whose falsetto vocal flights create an ethereal feel of sorts, is a song “about solidarity and how we deal with difficult feelings, especially when they are happening to someone you love”, while the following Wifi and Hope fortify that experience. Earth Wanted Plastic She Didn’t Know How To Make It, one of the central pieces of the record then is an unobtrusive wake-up call to action, as it addresses the impending climate catastrophe and exposes our human contradictions. Johanna Amelie avoids bold sonic excursions and the record mostly remains in resembling song shapes, but that is not a bad thing, quite the contrary. On the nine songs, she develops a stunning delicacy and heaves her musical and poetic skills to the next level, shining her craft wide into the open. (Andreas Peters)

Stream It:Spotify / ► Apple Music

Let’s Eat Grandma – ‘Two Ribbons

Sounds like … mighty yet honest pop songs with a progressive twist.

Even the tightest friendships can suffer from the challenge of adulthood and changing directions you take as an individual on your path towards it. Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth were tight friends since early childhood and their bond was so tight that they even promoted the first Let’s Eat Grandma record as twins. Their third full-length – however – tells the story of finding individual strengths within that special relationship which faced a few ups and downs following the release and touring behind their brilliant 2018 record I’m All Ears. Two Ribbons can be heard as a series of letters between the two friends, taking the place of conversations as they try to make sense of the rift in their relationships. For the first time ever, they wrote songs individually and turned these tunes into Let’s Eat Grandma songs afterwards. So, that tension is a fascinating foundation for the record which also functions as a cathartic experience for the duo with an open end, indeed. It’s that special honesty that still defines their sound … well, and the incredibly catchy melodies.

The pop of Let’s Eat Grandma is still quite a unique and fascinating listening experience, fuelled by various influences. Bright and partly cheesy synthesizers go and in hand with tight arpeggiator basslines but there’s also room for progressive structures and twists, just to make sure that this isn’t simple mainstream radio pop but something far for more profound. However, in past decades these would have been big pop tunes. The uplifting opening track Happy New Year for example which is an honest declaration of love. “And nothing that was broken can touch how much I care for you.” Levitationheads into similar territory and a track like Hall Of Mirrors combines the shimmering 80s synthpop setting with a tender groove. On Insect Loop the two women give the guitars a bit more spotlight and let them team up with cinematic soundscapes. Let’s Eat Grandma are one of the rare bands that can deliver big gestures with dignity and style … a ballad like Sunday always walks pretty close to a certain level of cheesiness but they never fall for those patterns. And even a folky ballad like Strange Conversations makes sense in the context of that record. And don’t even get me started on the tear-jerking title-track that closes the album. Two Ribbons is an intense right through the inner life of a band that got so much to offer – from a high level of musicality to stunning songwriting. Let’s hope the stony road of their relationship will survive all incoming twists and turns. (Norman Fleischer)

Stream It:Spotify / ► Apple Music / ► Bandcamp