The Childlike Empress – Far Rockaway
Just like the characters in the film after which they are named, The Childlike Empress has faced darkness, and emerged not unscathed, but stronger and wiser. While the fictional Atreyu battled the Nothing, the real-life Empress battled addiction and suicidality; “Far Rockaway” tells part of the story in three acts; a banjo-led outlaw hoedown, a back-porch acoustic ballad, and a cathartic emo-folk coda. The Empress and their significant other wander the streets of New York, smoking cigarettes and wondering if the world is ending; “I won’t mind if you won’t mind,” they agree. Despite the gloom, the track peaks in transcendence, strings ascending like birds toward an obscured sun.
Reese Youngn – Silent Screams
Reese Youngn’s voice on his October single, “Silent Screams,” sounds like Kevin Gates’s gruff warble abraded by a cheese grater and smoked over a fire. Reese uses this striking instrument to express unbearable levels of pain, shedding tears for his late grandfather, questioning his own mortality, and mourning the loss of a woman who he “brought to the streets,” only to have her abandon him. His vocal performance teeters right on the edge of total breakdown, exactly the spot where it yields the most powerful effect. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more emotionally raw trap ballad this year.
Hearken – Fix Me
Hearken’s Donny Donovan begins “Fix Me,” by singing, “Help me/I’m alive,” which tips you off to the song’s emotional stakes. The song’s skyscraping emo guitar riff is the perfect backdrop to Donovan’s soaring, powerful vocal performance. I’m not quite sure what the song’s subject is, but anybody who’s ever experienced anxiety or panic has been in the “Help me, I’m alive!” headspace before. The track is cathartic, gripping, and unbelievably catchy to boot.
Lyn Starr – S&G (ft. Saige Smith) (Friendship Session)
Legend has it that Nero fiddled while Rome burned; according to rapper Lyn Starr, we’re all doing the same thing in 2019. In “S&G,” the world is imagined as a hellish nightclub; people turn up and sing along to their jams while acid rain falls from a crumbling sky. Starr and guest singer Saige Smith repurpose Tenor Saw and Nelly when they prophesize, “Ring the alarm/City burning up […] It’s hot in here/But we don’t care,” even tossing in a nod to OutKast in the form of some belted “Hey yah”’s from Smith. The two keep it loose in their Studio Friendship performance; it’s only fair that we have some fun before we’re engulfed in flames.
Parnassus – Bloomsbury Gathering
The mysterious Parnassus pulled from drone, ambient, classical, and prog influences on dual August releases Mad and Fragmentations. No track distilled the Parnassus aesthetic, though, more than Mad’s “Bloomsbury Gathering,” a seraphic beam of sound and light that could bear the alternative title “Music For Pittsburgh International Airport.” Expansive sheets of wordless vocals float weightlessly, allowing a tunneling bass line to dart and drone beneath the surface. There’s even a Slint sample that fades in and out. Since we’re already in the end times, call this meditation music for the rapture.
Feralcat – Castle Song
Roger Rafael Romero both embodies and transcends 80’s cheese with his prog metal jazz fusion act Feralcat, and “Castle Song” is the most gloriously over-the-top song on his self-titled debut. It conjures images of charging knights, divebombing dragons, and magnificent vistas using video game synths and maximalist arrangements; the interplay between Romero’s sweeping sax motifs and his band’s fantasy-adventure, power metal chug is thrilling. Sprinkle in a few Paul Desmond-esque interludes, and you’ve got yourself a hybrid beast of a track.
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