As outdoor dining and other indoor business finally opens up in California, the rain is back along with cold days. Somehow, I’m still stuck inside. Welcome to the new new. If it feels like there’s less time in the day… there actually is because Daylight Savings Time just hit. Who really has the time to figure out which new tracks are worth a listen? RIFF still does! We’re happy to bring you the latest, greatest new songs in this weekly segment.
Valleyheart, “Stepping Stone” — The song opens with the fuzziest of guitars. Immediately, you are drawn in. The Boston quartet created a toe-tapping, driving number. While it has a mournful melody, guitars bring out an energy in which you can get lost in, lyrically. At just over three minutes, it seems to end before you know it. Singer-songwriter Kevin Klein evokes complete contentedness in his lyrics. This verse captures the world we currently live in quite perfectly: “Why is my room filled with things I don’t need / Books I don’t read anymore / When I sit and I soak up the light from my screen / With so much to see I’ve never felt so bored.”
Alessandro Cortini, “Chiaroscuro” — Chiaroscuro, in the art world, means the use of strong contrasts between light and dark. The song is an exploratory sound journey. It’s a perfect exercise to let your mind escape. The sonic dissonance of the guitars is an odyssey of noise by the artist. The song is ambient, emotional and brings up feelings of sadness, longing and fear. Darkness to lightness and a feeling of rebirth have never been captured so perfectly. The video is an art composition come to life. At a bit over eight minutes long, it fits in a modern art museum.
Jason Collett, “Crab Walking Home In The Rain” — The moment I see a song is by anyone from Broken Social Scene, I know I will like it. Collett is a former member of Toronto’s famed indie group. Produced by indie stalwart Andy Schauf, “Crab Walking Home In The Rain” is a folky gem. As a singer-songwriter, Collett has created a playful folk number. While the song has a melancholy sound, Schauf brings his own vibrant touch. The addition of clarinets, bouncy guitars and piano brings a lightness. It makes me feel nostalgia, and it will make you smile.
Slenderbodies and Tim Atlas, “Focus” — Tim Atlas is the man about town when it comes to collaborations. On “Focus,” he joins forces with Slenderbodies’ Max Vehuni and Benji Cormack. Sultry vocals meet smooth downtempo R&B. The song is funky and screams “cool.” The video is weirdly captivating in a hallucinatory/sleep-trip way. The only real problem I have is that it seems to just cut-off abruptly. It feels like the song still has so many more places to go! “Focus” was written early on in the pandemic. The lyrics capture this time effortlessly: “Can I focus / Can’t seem to keep myself from falling off track.” Slenderbodies are scheduled to perform at The Greek Theatre in Berkeley this September.
Nick Waterhouse, “B. Santa Ana, 1986” — Psychedelic, garage-rock guitars fill the air. Over Nick Waterhouse‘s cool swagger, he takes on California, New York and Texas. My mind immediately kept going back to the now infamous “bagel wars” (see Boichik Bagels as the reigning bagel champion out of Oakland—oy vey!). Waterhouse brings a laidback California surf vibe. There’s a grooviness as he sings, “I’m from California and I don’t mind.” The song is infectious, fun and has a sunshiny feel, emblematic of the California beach sound.
Cannons, “Bad Dream” — L.A. band Cannons have created a synth-pop gem with “Bad Dream.” The song screams out in neon and brings the ’80s to life. The song evokes the film “Drive” and the score by composer Cliff Martinez. It captures this mood and time period perfectly. Singer Michelle Joy’s hypnotic vocals are like a lullaby. There’s a haunting sadness to the song as Joy sings, “Now you’re somebody’s baby, so I’ll be on my way/ I been living in a bad dream.” It could have ended up quite somber, but the light keys keep it buoyant and easy to dance to.
Rachel’s Pick: When a song gives you chills upon first listen, you know you have discovered something amazing. I wasn’t familiar with Alessandro Cortini’s work, but now I am hooked. It’s rare for a song to evoke so many feelings, from euphoria to the deepest pits of sadness, to anger. “Chiaroscuro” captures it all so beautifully. And the composition of the video turns the music into a religious experience. On a personal level, I have run the gamut of emotions over the past month, dealing with health issues. This song is the embodiment of what I’ve gone through, and it made me feel reborn.