Even though this whole year has been a Horror movie, many of us are still celebrating this October as spooky season is here. To commemorate the favorite holiday of us weirdoes, Montreal-based singer/songwriter Maryze has released a brand new single titled “Squelettes,” and it’s her most ambitious track yet. I know I probably sound like a broken record, because every time Maryze drops something I describe it as “her most ambitious yet,” well, that’s because she continues to reinvent herself and experiment with new sounds, some even outside of her comfort zone, and that’s the mark of a true innovator. Meaning “Skeleton” in French, “Squelettes” is her darkest track yet. With hard-hitting production from Margo, and an explosive verse from Backxwash, the track is hauntingly catchy, but instead of delving into the typical “ghouls and goblins” tropes affiliated with Halloween, Maryze speaks on addiction and mental illness, which is far more disturbing than ghosts and zombies. Many of us have been forced to deal with our demons during this pandemic, and a lot of us have used unhealthy coping methods, and Maryze doesn’t sugarcoat this subject. The shouts of “what the fuck are you doing here?!” from Backxwash is all of us as we deal with that inner voice that tries to sabotage us, even when things are going well. It’s a dark yet inspiring track that dives deep into the darkness to trudge through the mud in order to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. “Squelettes” is a taste of what’s yet to come on Maryze’s debut album which is set to be released next year on “Hot Tramp Records.” You can listen to “Squelettes” below:
Montréal-based musician Maryze released one of the most enthralling and immediately captivating EPs of 2019. Titled Like Moons, the five-song EP was an exploration in Electro-Pop, Synth-Pop, and R&B. Her lusciously smooth vocals and inward looking themes combined with her ambition to experiment with various musical styles has made her an artist to watch in the world of Pop and R&B. Without a doubt one of the most standout tracks on the EP is “Dis-Moi.” Sung entirely in French, the song represents Maryze’s French heritage. When translated to English for people like me who aren’t fluent in French but admire the beauty of it, it’s clear that the song is about wanting to tell your significant other everything you keep inside. Your secrets of your past, the darker thoughts that surface in your mind, or maybe a mental illness, these are all things that can frighten one into not letting someone in for fear of being judged or losing someone over it. Is it a form of lying not telling my loved one everything about me? Will this person stay if I tell them my darkest secrets? These are questions most of us have asked ourselves at some point, and Maryze beautifully conveys this theme over smooth 80’s driven production that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Nicolas Winding Refn film. Today Maryze has released a new music video for “Dis-Moi,” and it perfectly captures the sensual but dark nature of the song. The video is intentionally lo-fi evoking the nostalgia of the days of VHS, and it also pays homage to Dario Argento with a color scheme similar to his style. The video even features various scenes from his film Suspiria, and being a Horror fanatic you can imagine my excitement when watching this video. It’s clear Maryze has a vision for every song she creates and there’s never a second of filler. You can watch the music video for “Dis-Moi” below:
There’s just something about Maryze’s music that will put you in a meditative state. A meditative state of self-realization and self-acceptance. Anyone can listen to her smooth, sensual, and thought-provoking sound and find solace regardless of what background you come from, so it’s no surprise that her single “B.O.Y.” resonates greatly. Off her latest E.P. Like Moons, an E.P. that displays her eclectic talent with mood-shifting “R&B” with an experimental side, “B.O.Y” (because of you) is described by Maryze as “reclaiming control from whatever toxic pattern is holding you back, whether it’s within yourself, or with another person.” Produced by BrotherNature, the track carries a 90’s R&B/Hip Hop feel, but manages to stand on it’s own while Maryze’s vocals carry a balance of melancholy and upliftment guiding the listener to liberation. The music video, directed by Mexican-Canadian artist Malaika Astorga is wonderfully shot with an earthly look displaying the spiritual beauty of mother nature. You can watch the music video for “B.O.Y.” below:
Montreal-based R&B artist Maryze has had quite the year. Her debut E.P. Like Moons was well-received and garnered much attention, and following her tour across the U.S. and Canada, her following continues to grow. Much of the Pop/R&B world feels a bit oversaturated at times with countless artists recycling the same clichés and predictable styles, but there are those who innovate, and Maryze is one of those artists. Whether she’s delivering her beautifully soulful vocals over a myriad of musical styles such as R&B, Hip Hop, and Electronic Music, writing thought-provoking content that allows you to look inward and search for self-acceptance, or incorporating French representing her bilingualism, she never fails to display her versatility. As colorful as her music has been thus far, it feels as if there’s always been a darker side just waiting to come out, and now on her new single “Bad Bad Dream,” that darker side is front and center. Produced by Toronto’s “Mouth Breather,” and also featuring a spoken word verse from British artist “Forever Next Door,” “Bad Bad Dream” is a dark yet fun banger that speaks on the terrors of sleep paralysis, and it’s cleverly disguised as a song about a toxic love interest. The song deals with darker subject matter yes, but it’s also not afraid to be playful with it’s bouncy Halloween-like production and sexy vocals. On the surface it can be a fun track to add to your Halloween playlist, but if you delve deeper into the lyrics you’ll find Maryze acknowledging her sleep paralysis and embracing it. She’s making light of it to the point where it’s almost as if she welcomes it. Does she hate it? Does she love it? Does she hate it and love it? Sleep paralysis is a subject that’s seldom explored in Halloween-themed music, and it’s a lot more terrifying than vampires and zombies, but don’t let that scare you off, because this song is immensely catchy with a hook that will stick in your head for days, proving that not all spooky music needs to be embedded in doom and gloom. Maryze is having fun with the darkness, and it’s refreshing.
Written By: Steven Sandoval
FKA Twigs’ long-awaited follow-up to her incredible debut album LP1 will be released on October 25th via “Young Turks.” Her previously released single “Cellophane” will appear on the album, as well as the brand new single she premiered this morning titled “Holy Terrain,” a more accessible “Trap” flavored banger that doesn’t sacrifice her unique sense of artistry. It’s sensual, it’s a tad bit dark, and it features a decent contribution from Future. About the album, Twigs says “I never thought heartbreak could be so all-encompassing. I never thought that my body could stop working to the point that I couldn’t express myself physically in the ways that I have always loved and found so much solace. I have always practiced my way into being the best I could be, but I couldn’t do that this time, I was left with no option but to tear every process down, but the process of making this album has allowed me for the first time, and in the most real way, to find compassion when I have been at my most ungraceful, confused and fractured. I stopped judging myself and at that moment found hope in “Magdalene.” To her I am forever grateful.” You can watch the music video for “Holy Terrain” below:
1. Thousand Eyes
2. Home With You
3. Sad Day
4. Holy Terrain [ft. Future]
5. Mary Magdalene
6. Fallen Alien
7. Mirrored Heart
Album: When I Get Home
Genre: R&B/Alternative R&B/Hip Hop
Label: Columbia Records
Back in 2016 Solange Knowles released a powerful album named A Seat At The Table. An album that was just as much a statement as it was an adventurous exploration in the realm of “R&B” and it’s many sub-genres. With a smooth and sexy sleekness, the album touched on topics such as race, anger, and escapism through our many vices, and as important as this subject matter is, the album was never obnoxiously overbearing. Instead, Solange lured us in with her soothing vocals that displayed the importance of subtlety. As groundbreaking and acclaimed as this album was, you can imagine how much hype a follow-up would get, so naturally her new album When I Get Home is definitely receiving that hype. Unfortunately, the album does not live up to the hype. Following a highly successful album isn’t easy. The bar has been set, and most will want you to create something that is on par with the predecessor. We all know Solange has the talent to do so, but instead, most of the tracks on When I Get Home fall incredibly flat. This leads to a frustrating listen. Like A Seat At The Table, When I Get Home is filled with interludes, but the ironic thing is that all of the full-length tracks on this album sound like interludes. Each track has imaginative and quite innovative production at times thanks to a laundry list of collaborators such as Pharrell, Tyler, The Creator, Panda Bear, Dev Hynes, Steve Lacy, and Metro Boomin, but each track is anticlimactic with it’s repetition. Solange most definitely wanted to experiment more and offer a Psychedelic experience, but her ambition to explore as much as possible was a detriment to this album, making the whole thing sound completely scatterbrained. Songs like “Way To The Show” and “Stay Flo” feel like they should be a lot more impactful, but like the rest of the album, the tracks sound like unfinished rough drafts with lackluster lyrics and underwhelming vocals that get cringeworthy at times. Yes this album does feature thought-provoking subject matter, but that subject matter is translated through lackluster songwriting. Important subject matter doesn’t suffice when it comes to constructing a full album where every other element has to be up to par. Solange can do much better. Hopefully her next release will be an improvement.
Written By: Steven Sandoval
Artist: James Blake
Album: Assume Form
Genre: Alternative R&B/Electronic
James Blake has proven himself to be an intriguing shapeshifter in the modern music world over the years. Everything from his early days of Electronic-tinged flirtation with “Post-Dubstep,” to his moody atmospherics on an album like Overgrown, predicting what a James Blake project will sound like has always been nearly impossible, but one thing is certain, he isn’t afraid to sing his sorrow and vulnerability, and his ambition to push the boundaries in “Electronic” music and to innovate is undeniably enticing. However, that desire to experiment was a detriment on his last album The Colour In Anything. With immense incohesion, the album felt like a compilation of short lived vignettes that didn’t reach their full potential, and that scatterbrained style is something that did not work in his favor. Following that album, Blake has worked with a myriad of artists, primarily in the “Hip Hop” genre, lending his talented hand and pushing his name into the masses while doing so. On his new album Assume Form, it’s evident that his work with other artists have given him a new sense of inspiration and rejuvenation. Just listen to the track “Mile High” featuring Travis Scott and Metro Boomin and you’ll know what I mean. The track is a head on exploration in the moody Pop Rap that has become dominant in the music world, but that isn’t to say Blake has completely adopted this style, because though he works with an artist like Metro Boomin who delivers that moody “Trap” flavor on a few tracks, Blake still delves into atmospheric sound and blesses us with gorgeous piano, strings, and sound textures that paint an ominous picture. However, the instrumentation is never overbearing, and it enhances the vocals and lyrics. Here we are hearing a love stricken James Blake. The album’s overall theme is love and it’s complex nature. The myriad of emotions that are associated with love, positive and negative are soothingly displayed. The negatives being the reluctance to get close to someone out of fear of being hurt like on the track “Tell Them,” or that pessimistic feeling that there has to be a catch or that something will go wrong when everything is going right in a relationship like on the track “Where’s The Catch” which features an impeccable verse from André 3000, but the positives far outweigh the negatives, because on the bulk of these tracks James Blake happily accepts the fact that he is very much in love, and that though no love or relationship is flawless, the feeling of loving and being loved is one of life’s greatest privileges. It’s that realistic detailing of love and learning as you go as a relationship progresses that truly flourishes on this album, and that optimistic encouragement to recognize that love is a worthy learning experience is something that will resonate with anyone. A realistic love record. It’s rare when we get those, and who better to give us one than an undeniably talented songwriter who wears his heart on his sleeve like James Blake?
Written By: Steven Sandoval
In this streaming age of music we’re leaving in now, it’s becoming harder and harder to differentiate an EP from an LP. Nowadays anyone can make a 25 minute album and call it a full-length LP, or even make a five track album and call it a full-length. Just look at the latest criminally short six track “LP” from “Nine Inch Nails,” or the string of Kanye produced seven track albums Mr. West dubbed “full-lengths” this year. Album length has become irrelevant, but to those of us who still hold the idea of the EP near and dear, those short bursts of creativity are still very much important in the music world. They still give us that hope that a full-length album from the artist might be on the horizon, or sometimes, those short but sweet releases are all we need. There were a great deal of EPs released this year, and many of them can’t go by unnoticed. Here are my top 15 EPs of 2018.
15. Artist: Tyler, The Creator
EP: Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch
Genre: Hip Hop/R&B
Tyler, The Creator’s creativity has moved into film now with his recent musical contributions to The Grinch movie. To coincide with the release of the film, Tyler dropped an E.P. inspired by the film. It is a fun Christmas filled listen packed with 80’s sounding synths and the tracks never stray away into cheesiness, which is no easy feat considering they’re inspired by a Dr. Seuss story.
14. Artist: Femme
Laura Bettinson under the “Femme” name has been creating delightful “Indie Pop” for awhile now, and on her new E.P. 2.0 She delves into the world of “House” music while keeping her Pop sensibilities. The result is a solid set of dance ready tracks that emphasize fun and optimism.
13. Artist: Little Dragon
EP: Lover Chanting
Genre: Electronic/Synth Pop
Little Dragon’s latest LP Season High was a bit of a step back for the band. Much of it seemed phoned in, and lacked the ambition their previous work had filled with colorful synth heavy Pop and just the right amount of odd experimental elements. The band have definitely redeemed themselves though with their new E.P. Lover Chanting. Being three tracks in length, the E.P. gets back to the band’s sense of fun, and is probably their most danceable release to date.
12. Artist: Wallows
Genre: Indie Rock/Indie Pop
It’s a bit ironic that the latest E.P. from L.A. based Indie Rock band “Wallows” is titled Spring considering the fact that all the tracks have a nice summery vibe to them. To some this E.P. might be a by the numbers “Indie Rock” release, but to others it’s undeniably addicting. I just can’t resist it.
11. Artist: Protomartyr and Spray Paint
EP: Irony Prompts A Party Rat
Genre: Post-Punk/Indie Rock
Post-Punk band “Protomartyr” had a busy year. They released a stellar EP, began a tour with “Preoccupations,” and even released a split single with “Preoccupations” where both bands covered each, but a more interesting split single to come out of the band’s work this year is most definitely their split single with the band “Spray Paint.” On this single, “Protomartyr’s” lead singer Joe Casey provided lead vocals for a new “Spray Paint” track, and the lead singer of “Spray Paint” provided lead vocals for a new “Protomartyr” track. It’s a match made in “Post-Punk” heaven, because the chemistry between the two bands is undeniable.
10. Artist: Screaming City
EP: The Vanish
Visalia, California’s own “Screaming City” released a string of Electronic tinged “Industrial Rock” that spanned three EPs this year, but the biggest gem of the three is without a doubt The Vanish. This release found sole member and multi-instrumentalist Trip Logic going in a heavier guitar-driven direction without sacrificing his Electronic roots. Everything from the lyrical content to the myriad of Experimental elements in the instrumentation that impressively manages to maintain catchiness, this whole E.P. showcases the immense versatility Trip Logic has, and there’s nowhere to go from here but up.
9. Artist: Code Orange
EP: The Hurt Will Go On
Genre: Metalcore/Industrial Metal
“Code Orange” are one of those forward thinking bands that make stubborn “Metalcore” traditionalists shout about how “lame” they are for Incorporating outsider genres that aren’t typically explored in “Metalcore,” but guys, put down your Monster energy drink for a minute and admit that the genre has become a bit predictable. “Code Orange” are here to break the stale nature of the genre, and it’s much needed. Following their breakout album Forever, the band dropped a nice E.P. titled The Hurt Will Go On this year, and it’s an impactful reminder that the band are ahead of the game at the moment. Packed with heavy aggression, the “Industrial” and “Nu-Metal” elements the band are known for, and even a Corey Taylor feature, this release has many of us eager to hear another full-length album from the band. Hopefully next year we’ll get what we’re wishing for.
8. Artist: S. Reidy
EP: And Here With You, I Am
Genre: Hip Hop/Alternative Hip Hop
The fact that an artist like S. Reidy isn’t mentioned when conversations about “Emo Rap” are sparked is ridiculous. The rapper/producer sounds like what “Emo Rap” should sound like. His latest E.P. And Here With You, I Am is far from being one-dimensional. The production consists of simplistic but effective beats, moody acoustic guitars, atmospheric soundscapes, poetic lyrical content, and vocals that evoke the “Emo Rock” spirit. To simply label him “Emo Rap” would not do his music justice, but he’s delivering the moody introspection that other rappers in the game should strive for, and he doesn’t need tattoos on his face to do it.
7. Artist: Converge
EP: Beautiful Ruin
Genre: Metalcore/Hardcore Punk
Leave it to “Metalcore” legends “Converge” to drop a four track E.P. out of the blue to show the youngsters how it’s done. The band’s recent E.P. Beautiful Ruin is unsparingly monstrous and is among some of the band’s most aggressive work.
6. Artist: Childish Gambino
EP: Summer Pack
We unfortunately didn’t get a new Childish Gambino album this year, but mastermind Donald Glover was definitely not quiet. Following the impactful music video for his single “This Is America” that lead to countless think pieces and theories, Glover dropped a two track E.P. titled Summer Pack. Though the tracks were a lot more laid back and summery on the surface this time around, this didn’t stop fans from formulating theories about how there is an underlying message about climate change and the state of our distractions of social media and celebrity culture. Whatever the message may be, these are fun soulful songs.
5. Artist: Chelsey and The Noise
EP: Blank Frames
Who says “Industrial” music and “Pop” music can’t coexist? Hayward, CA based duo “Chelsey and The Noise” proved that “Industrial” can be catchy with their E.P. Blank Frames this year. With hard hitting synth heavy production and Metal infused guitars, the duo incorporate pop sensibilities without giving into the typical predictability “Pop” music is known for. This music is catchy, sexy, dark, and at times sentimental, displaying the immense versatility the two have to offer.
4. Artist: Protomartyr
Genre: Post-Punk/Indie Rock
“Post-Punk” band “Protomartyr” released quite possibly their best album last year, which most definitely earned them the right to take a break for awhile because one would assume that you would need to take a break after you give your all on an album, but the band aren’t ready to take a break just yet. The band released an impressive E.P. this year titled Consolation and this four track E.P. progressed the band’s sound even further. Incorporating string arrangements and even collaborating with Kelley Deal of “The Breeders,” this release proves that the band work well with other musicians while not completely abandoning their signature sound. Is this the direction they’re heading in? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, they’re still the leading force in modern “Post-Punk.”
3. Artist: HMLTD
EP: Hate Music Last Time Delete
Genre: Synth Pop/Post-Punk/New Wave
“HMLTD” are quite possibly the most exciting band at the moment. You never know what to expect when going into a new track of theirs, and they haven’t even released a full-length album! Following a diverse string of singles that found the band exploring Post-Punk, Synth Pop, Electronic Music, Gothic Rock, Glam Rock, and whatever else the band feels like dabbling in, the band released a new E.P. this year titled Hate Music Last Time Delete, and it is a cohesive effort that sticks to a Synth Pop/New Wave formula. The band have proven that they can perfect just about any genre they pursue, but it’s clear they wanted to give us their own warped version of “Synth Pop” on this E.P. This music is fun and danceable, but the lyrical content deals with important themes such as social network addiction, learning to love yourself, oh, and falling in love with a mannequin. It’s a good time that leaves you begging for more.
2. Artist: Ravyn Lenae
Genre: R&B/Soul/Alternative R&B
Among the recent emergence of talented young artists from Chicago such as Noname, Saba, and Mick Jenkins, Ravyn Lenae has been garnering much attention for her beautiful artistry that finds the young singer delivering smooth “R&B” that isn’t afraid to branch out of traditional “R&B” sensibilities. Her latest E.P. Crush is a fitting title, because it’s impossible not to swoon and fall for her gorgeous vocals and attention to Soulful and at times off-kilter production provided by the one and only Steve Lacy. Lenae is one of the youngest artists in the realm of “R&B” at the moment, but her sound exudes immense maturation, and it’s clear she’s on a forward thinking path. Here’s to hoping she blesses us with a full length debut album next year.
1. Artist: CMON
EP: Confusing Mix Of Nations
Genre: Post-Punk/Synth Pop/New Wave
There’s no doubt in my mind that L.A. based duo “CMON” (or Confusing Mix Of Nation’s) debut E.P. is the best of 2018, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the best E.P. you haven’t heard. Absent from every major streaming service other than their own personal SoundCloud, the band most likely slipped under your radar this year, and that’s unfortunate because their debut five track E.P. is the stuff 80’s Post-Punk/New Wave revivalist dreams are made of. The lush and dreamy guitars, the “House” driven percussion that reflects “New Order’s” heyday, and the subtle but infectious vocals are all promising elements that should put the band on your radar. With very little information about the band online, it’s hard to dig deep into their background, but let’s all hope and pray they continue to release stellar material.
Written By: Steven Sandoval
Artist: Blood Orange
Album: Negro Swan
Genre: R&B/Alternative R&B/Alternative Pop
“You asked me what family is and I think of family as community. I think of the spaces where you don’t have to shrink yourself. Where you don’t have to pretend or to perform. You can fully show up and be vulnerable and in silence, completely empty and that’s completely enough. You show up, as you are, without judgment, without ridicule, without fear or violence, or policing, or containment, and you can be there and you’re filled all the way up, so we get to choose our families. We are not limited by biology. We get to make ourselves and we get to make our families.” Powerful words from Janet Mock, a transgender rights activist who provides frequent thought provoking narration on Dev Hynes’ fourth album under the “Blood Orange” moniker. The album is titled Negro Swan, and it is described by Hynes himself as “an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of color. A reach back into childhood and modern traumas, and the things we do to get through it all. The underlying thread through each piece on the album is the idea of hope, and the lights we can try to turn on within ourselves with a hopefully positive outcome of helping others out of their darkness.” Considering how much of a talented producer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Hynes is, the execution of this idea is unsurprisingly near perfection. Reiterating what Janet Mock said in the aforementioned quote, the idea of finding your own family and community where you’re truly at peace with yourself is the overall message in this album that explores the dark subject of being involuntarily cast as an outsider in order to find the light at the end of the tunnel. “After school, sucker punched down. Down and out. First kiss was the floor.” Sings Hynes on the album’s Marvin Gaye inspired opening track “Orlando,” a smooth Funk heavy track that comfortably welcomes the listener to the album despite it’s unhappy subject matter, but the understanding that things won’t be easy when your natural self just so happens to go against unfair societal norms leads to this album’s uplifting and encouraging nature. To accompany the album’s deep subject matter, Hynes utilizes his impressive ear for melody to produce instrumentation rich in lush vocal melodies, Funk filled bass lines, bouncy synths, dreamy guitars, and frequent infectious flute arrangements that will make anyone swoon. He even invites numerous musicians to contribute like on the track “Hope” which features gorgeous lead vocals from Tei Shi and a vulnerable Puff Daddy, a side of him we don’t normally see. A$AP Rocky and Project Pat add a powerful but laid back punch to the track “Chewing Gum,” and Steve Lacy provides synths on the Prince evoking track “Out of Your League.” The combination of all of this leads to an “R&B” odyssey that isn’t afraid to experiment, and instead of being preachy, this album explores vulnerability in order to reach a point of self-acceptance, and it does so while creating feel good tunes. This album creates the community and family Janet Mock describes on “Family,” and this is a place where we’re all free from judgement.
Written By: Steven Sandoval