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Monday, January 29, 2024

Music Monday: End of 2023 Playlist

Just in under the wire, it’s time for another Music Monday Playlist! As usual, here are the links to the YouTube and Spotify playlists:

The notes on what’s missing: I couldn’t find 7mai or alpha’s songs on YouTube or Spotify, so I’m just linking their Bandcamp pages here. Also, I could only find Flood District’s music on YouTube, but it is on the Spotify list.

One thing I will note here: I’ve historically included YouTube and Spotify playlists in these articles that you can listen along to or sample. Those two platforms are the most requested ones, but I’ve been strongly considering dropping the Spotify one; the most recent reason being the platform changing their rules and demonetizing over 80% of songs on the platform. Essentially (assuming my understanding is correct), artists who can’t reach minimum average listens across their catalog aren’t eligible to claim royalties any more.

I didn’t want to just stop offering it without a warning, but I also don’t know if any of the artists I mention here fall under that threshold, so I’d push people to listen to the YouTube version if possible. Their payouts still aren’t great, but at least they aren’t doing that (to my knowledge). Also, maybe consider supporting ones you really like through Bandcamp or something (which is having their own issues, but nothing on that level); many of them have pages there, and that’s even where I find a lot of the smaller artists. And if the next playlist post I make doesn’t have a Spotify version, that’s probably at least part of the reason.

I feel like I usually have a strong outline here, starting with my favorite release and going down from there, but… I kind of didn’t this time. So instead, here are just my collection of thoughts, roughly assembled into the order they are on the playlist.

The Beaches: I had a friend recommend their new album Blame My Ex to me the week it came out. It was some fun and catchy indie rock, and I enjoyed it enough to check out some earlier EPs and singles (which also got some representation on the list). Several weeks after that, I saw them starting to pop up in more places, so I get to say that I was (moderately) ahead of the curve here! (Although maybe it’s just my local alternative station; their peak chart position feels low given how much it’s been popping up, or maybe it’s just slowly rising?)

Underscores: I feel like Underscores has been on a solid upward trajectory. I liked her debut album Fishmonger, and I enjoyed her follow-up EP(?) Boneyard AKA Fearmonger even more (both featured on one of my playlists), but Wallsocket is yet another step forward. It’s an interesting album, one that focuses on storytelling and characters, a rare approach that I really love. We get stories about bank robbers on the run, young obsessive not-quite-stalkers, feuding small town elites… there’s a lot, and I need to give it another listen trying to piece together a larger narrative (it’s supposedly about the small town of Wallsocket, from the little bit of behind-the-scenes descriptions I’ve let myself read, but I don’t want to spoil myself entirely). It’s hyperpop, but the much more experimental end, the kind that pulls from any- and everything; you’ll get traces of pop-punk, folk, alternative, electronica… I’ve already included my favorite songs, “Cops and robbers” and “Locals (Girls like us)” on past lists and don’t like to re-use, but “Old money bitch” and “Johnny johnny johnny” are also solid choices.

St. Lucia: I called their fourth album Utopia one of my favorite albums on my End of 2022 Playlist, but one of my reservations at the time was that it ended on a relatively weak note. One of my favorite things about St. Lucia albums are that they tend to end on a high note: usually a longer track that starts small and driving, then gradually builds to some crashing finale to drive the whole thing home. Sure, maybe it’s a specific trope, but damn if they don’t do it well.

Utopia was missing that, and trying new things is nice and all… but the Deluxe version of the album adds banger “Two Moons” at the end, and gosh, does it just make things feel right. I love it. They also released an album of unreleased songs from their debut When the Night to celebrate its tenth anniversary, and “Poet” is here for that.

Lauren Mayberry, CHVRCHES: I’ve been working on a larger CHVRCHES post when I have free time, and it’ll hopefully be coming out soon. In the meantime though, I’ve added a song here from their tenth anniversary special edition of The Bones of What You Believe. Also, I loved lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s new single “Shame”, although I still haven’t seen news on if there’s a full album in the immediate future?

Monday, September 11, 2023

Music Monday: Summer 2023 Playlist

Happy Music Monday! It’s once again time for a playlist!

As I mentioned in my last playlist article back in May, this year I’m splitting my normal massive End-of-Summer Playlist into two smaller ones, with this one roughly covering music I found from May through September… except as I’ve said in the past, I’m also not very timely when it comes to new music anyway, so I guess it’s a little debatable how much those timeframes matter to anyone else. Ah well. I’m also doing my usual write-ups, except I felt less wordy this time, so it probably won’t be as long (although last time was also a little extreme in length, so maybe that’s for the best).

Here are the YouTube and Spotify playlists:

The notes on what’s missing: Mouse removed her music from Spotify, so that’s only on the YouTube playlist. I couldn’t find “Strange Luvv” by King Isis on either platform, so here’s a Bandcamp link. And 7mai doesn’t use either, so here’s a link to their Bandcamp page; the picks on this playlist come from the Gray, Pink, Yellow, and Violet “Colorful Palette” EPs.

And speaking of, as always, a lot of these artists have Bandcamp pages where you can purchase their music directly. So if there’s something that you really like, maybe consider throwing some money their way as well!

Carly Rae Jepsen, The Loveliest Time

Once again, Carly Rae Jepsen followed up an album release with a B-sides collection the following year. I don’t really have a ton to say here; Carly Rae Jepsen released an album of very good pop music? And I liked it a lot? Wow, what a shock, who could have guessed any of this!

It is kind of interesting that this one dropped the “B-Sides” label this time in exchange for its own (derivative) name, although it’s also probably the B-Side album that feels like it most strongly stands on its own, so it makes sense. It does feel like The Loveliest Time dabbles around in styles more than any of her other albums. I wish it had a song I liked as much as “Run Away With Me” or “The Loneliest Time” or “Want You In My Room”, but it’s also not hard to recommend songs like “Shy Boy” and “Psychedelic Switch”. Overall, I’m not sure if it’s my favorite of CRJ’s projects, but that’s a difficult catalog to stand out in, and probably partly personal taste.

PRIZM, All Night

This one was my big, new discovery while browsing Bandcamp over the last few months. I know that I have a thing for those sparkling atmospheric synths and haunting saxes and powerful vocals singing big hooks cutting through it all… but also, this Dallas-based duo makes it so easy to love it. They have the style down pat, writing banger after banger and polishing them to a gem-like gleam, and splashing them across the night sky with a sense of cinematic grandeur. The songs I’ve picked for the list (“All Night”, “Lost You”, and “Can’t Bring Me Down”) were all easy calls, instant classics that I immediately fell in love with, but really, there are no weak links on All Night. I tore through the rest of their releases and can recommend it all, although for the sake of this playlist, I included “Sober” (one of three recent singles, hopefully prelude to a new album?) and cover “Don’t Stop” (one of a trio of Fleetwood Mac covers they released; I like them all, but felt like this one was the most interesting, really putting a unique spin all their own on it).

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Cassette Beasts, Side B: Steam in the Subway, Earth Is Afire

I’m finally back with my promised second article on
Cassette Beasts! If you missed the first one, you can read it here; that one serves as my mostly spoiler-free general recommendation of the game. However, I also wanted to do some deeper looks into the game, its systems, its themes, and so on, which necessitates some spoilers. I’ll give a general warning when I start getting into mild things (like discussing specific monsters or the game’s mechanics), and then give a warning at the midpoint when I start moving into more serious story-related spoilers (as well as a few mentions about the story of Bytten Studio’s first game, Lenna’s Inception, which I covered here). Generally, I think this game is strong enough that being spoiled wouldn’t ruin it for you, but if you are sensitive to those, feel free to take advantage of those warnings as jumping off points, or even bookmark this for later, and come back later after you’ve played it some .

In the first part of my Cassette Beasts review, I mentioned that the game lived up to all of the expectations I had for it after loving Bytten Studio’s first game, Lenna’s Inception. And I want to look at that a little more; I’ve already said that they make for an interesting comparison, but there was something specific that stood out to me when I was looking at what I wanted to cover in a spoilered review. See, while it lived up to Lenna in quality, it was actually kind of funny how much expecting Cassette Beasts to be like its predecessor ended up surprising me, particularly in its world building.

Not to spoil it too much, but Lenna’s Inception breaks the fourth wall several times over the course of a playthrough, culminating in a few big reveals during the final dungeon that recontextualize everything you’ve seen to that point, in a way that directly calls attention to the fact that it is a video game. It’s a really big and fun twist, the kind of thing that makes you go back and think “Oh, why didn’t I notice that earlier!”, and I kept expecting something like that in Cassette Beasts. Maybe it’s not fair to expect some huge surprise like that twice, but I can also see why I thought that; there are a few moments where you can see some similar ideas popping up, so it’s maybe not too big of a stretch to think that Cassette Beasts might at least have similar ideas on its mind.