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Whited Sepulchre on YouTube

Denver's Allison Lorenzen has spent time making her way back from intertwined musical and romantic turmoil, and has built her first solo outing, Tender, out of the process. On "Chalk," the light and dark coexist — the remnants of what she's overcome still linger in the periphery. Twinkling droplets of piano keys glitter her ascendant choir-like vocals, bolstered with a low-end fuzz foundation from fellow Denverite Madeline Johnston (of "heaven-metal" outfit Midwife). At the song's conclusion, she looks outward to a new direction, an opportunity to start again: "How 'bout a second chance?"

November 24

Sailor Goon, 'Persian Rugs'

WJCT News 89.9

Symphonic Distribution on YouTube

After toiling in the digital ether of Soundcloud for a time, 21-year-old singer-songwriter Kayla Le has emerged as Sailor Goon. Le tastefully deploys her agile and powerful voice, hurdling over the mixes of 100-meter-dash-length joints like "Josephine" and "Just For Me."

For "Persian Rugs," Le enlisted multi-instrumentalists and producers Glenn Michael Van Dyke (Boytoy) and Lena Simon (La Luz); the trio intricately knits pop, R&B and psychedelia, as Le offers a thousand-plus thread count of blunted navel-gazing ("Maybe my mind's gone / but believe my heart's with you / I'm smokin' too much / tied it to my youth") over a relentless bass vamp, minimalist drum samples and restrained atmospherics.

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When 100 gecs' self-titled EP was released in 2017, its hyperpop sound felt insular – there was an alluring insider quality to it, a queer-oriented "if you know you know" magic that gained the group a cult-ish following. Four years and one debut album later, Laura Les and Dylan Brady have crossed over into the mainstream, gaining a feverish and dedicated fanbase, not to mention co-signs by Charli XCX, 3OH!3, Fall Out Boy and more.

Les and Brady love nu-metal as much as they do ska, as much as they do chiptune. Their songs are sonic blenders that scratch an itch deep in the brains of the eclectic listener. It's fitting, then, that their lead single for 10000 gecs, "mememe," starts with their signature windup: "Gec, back once again." As if it was a hodgepodge of their greatest hits, the track includes gec staples like an overblown chorus, Brady's vocals stretched to the maximums of AutoTune (Les' voice is more natural here, a welcome turn), MySpace-worthy melodrama and a melody with maximum replay potential – "mememe" is even backed by ska guitar (see: "stupid horse"). 100 gecs has always had the potential to reach their freaky arms out and welcome listeners to stadiums, dance floors, and mosh pits alike; "mememe" recognizes the duo's transfixing power to do so, with a supercharged confidence.

November 19

Adele, 'To Be Loved'

YouTube

There are so many standout tracks on Adele's fourth studio album 30, but her track "To Be Loved" is the vocalist at her absolute best. Lyrically the song is a sister to the album's "Easy On Me," echoing similar motifs about being too young to have made certain decisions. But where "Easy On Me" is timid, afraid of moving on, "To Be Loved" is a song about unbridled bravery in making the leap towards better days.

Adele's voice is really at its best on this track. This is the song that demonstrates why the singer is your favorite vocalist's favorite vocalist. She's mastered a stunning chest belt that flows seamlessly between vibrato, vocal growls, and dynamics to convey an emotionality that could move even the coldest cynic. She begins the song with a potent, unashamed piano line over which she discusses her previous reservations about falling in love. As she moves through the song, the lyrics become a hymn of her surety in her decision to love again, and Adele's voice overflows into a sanguine, booming forte.

"Let it be known, known, known, that I will choose, I will lose," she sings at the song's very end, with a redemptive passion that feels like it has the power to heal all her old wounds. "It's a sacrifice, but I can't live a lie ... Let it be known, that I tried." The song's end feels more like a prayer to herself than anything else.

Poclanos YouTube

As a trans person, I liken my ever-changing relationship with gender to playing a video game. It's enjoyable, but it also feels like I'm progressing forward towards an indistinguishable end goal, with levels, checkpoints, blockers, and even villains crossing my path. To me, this is an experience that makes perfect sense, but the full metaphor never crossed my mind until hearing KIRARA's "HRT," a nearly seven-minute electronic number.

The song immediately evokes the chiptune sensibility of early arcade soundtracks — it's bright and directly digital. While electronic music tends to look towards the future, KIRARA looks backwards, using sounds that evoke the childlike wonder of squaring up in a boss level against an unspecified bully. She plays with the concept of the aforementioned trans experience being a video game, straight down to the name of the song: "HRT," or for the unfamiliar, hormone replacement therapy. Loosely translated from her artist statement on the song, she states that "changing the mood to one extreme or another [through the genre] is also an expression of the mood swings experienced during hormone therapy." As the song jumps from bouncy arpeggios to half-time 8-bit guitar and back again, it's clear that for those of us who can relate, it's a perfect representation of what it means to navigate the game-like minefields of your lived experience.

A24 Music on YouTube

I felt euphoric when I left the movie theater after seeing C'mon C'mon, eager to tell more stories through my favorite medium of sound. Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National wrote a stunningly melodic score to accompany the moving family drama (with a guest billing from public radio's own Molly Webster). In the film, Joaquin Phoenix's character asks kids to answer the question: "What do you think the future is going to be like?" The Dessners' mesmerizing instrumental "I Won't Remember?" makes me want to close my eyes and take a deep breath as the sounds of the synths and clarinets wash over me.

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You don't simply listen to Sweeping Promises — you move, you groove, you strike a pose with an effortlessly cool 'tude. The post-punk band's Hunger for a Way Out was released in the middle of lockdown, but every song was made for punk-packed dance parties.

"Pain Without a Touch," a one-off single co-released by Richmond's Feel It Records and Sub Pop (the band's new worldwide label), retains all the elements that made the 2020 debut pop: a hard-picked punk bass line, crisp drumming and Caufield Schnug's sparse-yet-splashy guitar work as Lira Mondal belts over a mono mix with an audible mile-wide smile. But what the duo's learned in a short year (and across several different bands together) is structural drama; even as "Pain Without a Touch" pulses with incessant ecstasy, Mondal mixes her powerful vibrato with percussive sighs and, after a brief guitar solo, gets a lil' bit softer now (a la "Shout") to punctuate "some type of new invention / To ease up off this tension." It's a subtle reinvention, but redoubles Sweeping Promises' exuberant energy.

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"It's only gotten worse!" What better way to bellow our collective angst about the still-very-much-in-progress pandemic than with screamo? Overo's title track contribution to Another Year in Hell — a 4-way split featuring Punch On!, Zochor and Coma Regalia — is an exasperated thrust into Zoom-fatigued abyss. The Houston band features members from Perfect Future and Football, etc. in a '90s post-hardcore mode somewhere between I Hate Myself and Rainer Maria: chugging riffs and hoarse yelps in tandem with twinkly arpeggios and pop-punky vocal hooks. In just a couple years, Overo's quickly nestled into a nostalgic screamo sound, but "Another Year in Hell" is a great example of how dynamic personalities can reinvigorate memory. Case in point: the accompanying video, a tongue-in-cheek slideshow presentation graphing the rise of false screamo, egg punk's market saturation over chain punk and the ultimate screamo formula: riff, noodly bit, riff, scream, breakdown, repeat.

YouTube

Slayyyter has a knack for capturing the essence of 2000's nostalgia and all of its related aesthetic idiosyncrasies. Whether it's the Britney-esque earworm potential of her collaborations with Ayesha Erotica or the clear Kylie Minogue inspiration on her debut studio album, Troubled Paradise, her songs invoke the past while glitching their way into the future. On the new track, "Stupid Boy," Slayyyter turns her sensibility towards stadium-filler jock jams. Alongside the queen of bounce, Big Freedia, the two tear up the EDM-inspired track, blowing through their verses with aplomb and disparaging the himbo agenda once and for all.

November 16

Elise LeGrow, 'Feel Alright'

Jefferson Public Radio

YouTube

Toronto's Elise LeGrow had a major hit on Canadian radio nearly a decade ago — "No Good Woman" — but it was 2018's marvelous covers album, Playing Chess, that completely recalibrated her trajectory. On the new single "Feel Alright," LeGrow's smoky and soulful delivery is set to a driving pop arrangement, with an added punch of horns that lend a retro sensibility, harkening back to her earlier work mining classic gems from the Chess Records archives.

"Feel Alright" showcases her confidence and attitude as a singer, teetering on the edge of rasp and growl while thoroughly maintaining control. Working with producer Neff-U, there are some moments here that bring to mind Mark Ronson's work with Amy Winehouse fifteen years ago, on Back To Black. Just in time for windows-up season, this is a volume-at-11 jam, a sweet goodbye to the baggage of the past and a full embrace of the present moment.

November 16

alt-J, 'Get Better'

WKAR Public Media

YouTube

Stripped of the band's usual art-rock synths and clenched-throat vocals, alt-J's second single from their newest album, Get Better, is a reflection on the experience of losing a loved one during quarantine. As he sings about keeping a loved one's uneaten jar of Nutella and noting the missing sound of them flushing the toilet in the middle of the night, we hear frontman Joe Newman's coping ("I still pretend you're only out of sight in another room / Smiling at your phone"), reckoning and, by the end of the song, his acceptance. Whether you relate directly or in the abstract, it's a progression we can all relate to.

YouTube

When you speak of Brockhampton these days, it usually comes with an "Oh, man, remember when..." thinking back to their apex, as GOLF-wearing Gen Zers everywhere folded into the mania. Despite the hip-hop group still releasing music, they have begun to pursue outside avenues of expression, with each member having an archetype to draw on.

Brockhampton's hype man, Merlyn Wood, has released a solo track with production from CONNIE. "S.Y.K." contains all of the best parts of Brockhampton from the last several years, especially the futuristic feel of 2018's iridescence, and smashes them together with snares straight out of a SOPHIE sample pack. "That's just so you know," he repeats over and over again, a phrase determined to lodge itself in your brain alongside other memorable Merlyn-isms. "S.Y.K." is really promising, showing that maybe the move for them to make good music again is to just let everyone do their own thing.

For the first minute of "Magnolia" all you hear is Michael Cantor's voice, overdubbed using a harmonizer, the same effect used on the one Imogen Heap song that makes everyone cry. Cantor, who records as The Goodbye Party, is usually surrounded by peppy-yet-mopey indie rock, but on the 20-minute Stray Sparks EP he weaves ambient experiments into lowercase songs that recall the quirkier back half of the Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. "Magnolia," with its pitch-shifted harmony, lays bare the winsome sadness of Cantor's sweet voice as "love rewinds itself." Then, like the pink and white flowers that bloom from magnolia trees, shimmering synths spring into high-definition, reflecting the awe of a new day.

YouTube

With the rerecording and rerelease of 2012's Red, Taylor Swift's fourth studio album and pop entry point, we are invited into nostalgia's candied embrace — frozen in time, simmering in heartbreak until we boil over with memory. Over forlorn acoustic guitars, insistent drums and a halting piano, Swift wove together a collage of memories so vivid that loss was renewed fresh. Meticulously crafted with the same attention to detail we devote to understanding our lovers, "All Too Well" remains Swift's magnum opus and today she shares a 10-minute version she says is closer to its original form. This less-edited and less-censored version finds the singer-songwriter with unrestrained anger, now unafraid to place blame where it lies.

Unlike on the songs shared on Fearless (Taylor's Version), Swift, with the help of a restrained Jack Antonoff, offers new production on the extended "All Too Well." Layered instrumentation creates a crescendo of pain as Swift reveals more intimate particulars — her father's disapproval after her then-partner missed her birthday and how a significant age difference weighed heavy on their relationship — while the track grows from a dreamy pop ballad to an explosive bloodlet. By the time Swift delivers the single best line of her discography — "You call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest" — loneliness's dull blade has transformed into a piercing knife. Swift shouts into the void of remembrance, a cathartic release that grants a moment of clarity: When the dust has settled, memory's temptation no longer lines the path ahead.

Nine years removed from her anguish, Swift reimagines "All Too Well" into a lush, cinematic tale: a slow burn that heavily leans on matured vocals. For all her righteous anger, this new version transcends lore to become an isolated fable. "All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor's Version) (From The Vault)" is a folk tale, the stuff of legend memorialized in fiction released alongside a short film to tie together the last of Swift's relationship's loose ends.

Lucy Dacus on YouTube YouTube

"Thumbs" — a narrative song that takes the listener through a night where Lucy Dacus accompanies a friend to see her estranged father for the first time in years — is an untraditional love song. When it was first released earlier this year, the song had intentionally barebones production, described by Dacus as "acapella plus": vocals, pad, bass synth and an occasional sound of the blowing wind. Now, she has re-released the song, aptly titled "Thumbs Again," with additional instrumentation that doesn't overwhelm Dacus' story, but complements it.

This is especially notable when the chorus hits with the lyrics "I would kill him / If you let me / I would kill him / Quick and easy." The various sonic layers that Dacus and her band have been building up leading up to those lines are immediately stripped, hitting you in a way that feels like having the wind knocked out of you. The song's message of both incredible selflessness and selfishness, of affection and raw, utter disdain is accentuated by the new version's supplementary and finely intentional instrumentation.

Kaia Kater on YouTube

In turbulent times, the events and changes of three years can feel like three lifetimes gone by. Seconds into "Parallels," the first single from Toronto's Kaia Kater since her 2018 album Grenades, a tonal shift is immediately felt: the pulsing keys, reedy string swells and smoky atmosphere that were hinted at on that LP are now fully realized. A hazy sound world feels a fitting place for Kater to sort through the wreckage of modern life, here depicted as a world of fear, distrust and promises unkept. With a stellar duet partner in trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Kater's smooth alto paints a picture of two lives in turmoil, an aching waltz with a simple desire at its core: "And I wish you would just / Care for me / Care, care for me."

The Orchard Music, UMG and Cooking Vinyl Australia on YouTube

Formed more than a decade ago, punk quartet PUP has built a career off thunderous odes to self-destruction. Hearts on their sleeves, the group captures the rage and frustration of human fallibility with crashing drums and infectious irreverence.

PUP's melodrama continues on the band's latest release, "Waiting." Detailing the small indignities of a thankless relationship, frontman Stefan Babcock howls out, "And if you don't want me around / why am I still waiting?" Propelled by raucous drums and gritty guitar riffs, Babcock's snarled chorus create a sprawling paeon of pain and fear as he searches for a sense of belonging that seems just out of reach. Still, amidst the chaos, "Waiting" ultimately becomes an assertion of choice as Babcock declares, "That's why I'm still waiting / Yеah, I'm still waiting right here for you."

Diglossia is a split dialect in a single community — code-switching between high and low language. The decades-spanning Pelt has always been instrumental, yet in its pursuit of cosmic ecstasy through various folk music forms, achieves a musical diglossia. (Pelt's members also make up the like-minded Black Twig Pickers and Spiral Joy Band.) The 21-minute opening track from Reticence / Resistance, Pelt's first album in nine years since the Jack Rose tribute Effigy, seeks enlightenment through Patrick Best's hypnotically frenzied piano, Mikel Dimmick's droning harmonium and Nathan Bowles' bowed banjo and delicately ornate percussion (heard mostly at the track's denouement). Mike Gangloff's plunging fiddle is the buoy bobbing in and out of these choppy waters, like hillbilly drone maestro Henry Flynt jamming to a transcendent Alice Coltrane improvisation. It's a thrilling piece of music that stays in one place, yet brightens every corner.

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Folk and blues singer Karen Dalton died in 1993 without finding the success to match her enormous talent. But she's reached a fervent cult following — especially among musicians — that's been fueled by past reissues of her two fantastic albums (1969's It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best and 1971's In My Own Time) and an assortment of rarities and live recordings. This fall, her legend is growing further with the release of an excellent documentary film and an extravagant reissue.

Due out on March 25, In My Own Time: 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition will come bundled with fancy tactile extras and a modest-but-mighty trove of previously unreleased recordings, including a newly unearthed live set. It'll also feature a handful of alternate takes — including a surprisingly lively, country-inflected version of "Something on Your Mind."

Alternate takes are often mere curiosities — glimpses at ideas that were explored en route to versions that would become definitive — but this take on "Something on Your Mind" feels genuinely revealing. Dalton was known for her discomfort in studio settings, but there's a lightness to this take that hints at a looser direction she could have explored. Replacing the plodding ominousness of the original's bass line with an arrangement that's positively sunny by comparison, Dalton's vocal can't help but lilt alongside it. It's hard not to daydream about a kinder world where she could have recorded so much more.

[Merlin] Secretly Distribution and Dead Oceans on YouTube

It's been said that self-awareness is the first step toward personal growth, but no one mentions how undertaking said step invites unshakeable pain, a type you can't move past. Mitski, however, revels in being a guilty party. Her latest single "The Only Heartbreaker," co-written with Semisonic's Dan Wilson and released today alongside an announcement of her forthcoming sixth studio album, Laurel Hell, enlists an '80s sound in classic "Take On Me"-style that emphasizes the histrionics of intentionally sabotaging something or someone. Simple in its attempt to process the dreadful stomach-pit feeling of being the only passionate one in a relationship — even if it means knowingly invoking pain — "The Only Heartbreaker" succeeds in its sing(or scream at the top of your lungs)-along potential and aching honesty.

Joy Electric was truly unlike anyone or anything in '90s and '00s synth-pop: an all-analog eccentric in every way, from his hardware and fashion sense to his pouty falsetto and high-fantasy (but also very Biblical) lyrics. Ronnie Martin (brother to Starflyer 59's Jason Martin) dropped the moniker long ago, and returns to the Electric vibe under his given name in a reclamation of sorts.

"From the Womb of the Morning, The Dew of Your Youth Will Be Yours," a title and chorus taken directly from Psalm 110, nods at the heavy synthwave textures that have become so popular in the past decade, not to mention a heightened sense of M83-style pop drama. But spend any time with 1994's Melody or 2001's Legacy: The White Songbook and there's a clear through line from Martin's inquisitive synth reveries to the neon-lit profiles that litter Bandcamp with '80s nostalgia. Dazzlingly complex in its glittering arrangement, pushed to the edge by hard-hitting drum machine beats, and featuring a vocal delivery both aged and sure, this is a fabulous reintroduction and discovery.

Run for Cover Records on YouTube YouTube

When Camp Cope released How to Socialise & Make Friends in 2018, the Australian trio earned a reputation for its fearless, minimalist punk and takedowns of music industry sexism and skewed power dynamics. But beyond the bombast, in the band's quieter moments, singer Georgia Maq's honest introspection feels just as powerful. "Blue," the band's first new song in three years, is a midtempo reflection on the struggle of loving someone through the fog of depression. Singing over a winding bassline and layered harmonies, Maq sounds not resigned but undeterred: "I put down your pain / but I'll pick it up again," she sings, "It's all blue / that's why I fit in with you."

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Today's essential songs, picked by NPR Music and NPR Member stations