Every week, there’s more new music waiting to be discovered.
We are deep into fall, and yet the warm days have me unsure what season we’re actually in. We are still stuck at home. Cities are slowly opening up, but everything still feels so surreal. COVID is here to stay. Saturday feels like Tuesday and Netflix’s well of passive entertainment seems all but dry. We’re all over “social distancing,” so it’s time for new music to ease the nerves.
Somehow, it feels like there is less time in the day. 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.
Enjoy this week’s hidden gems.
Blackstarkids, “Friendship” — “Wait, what?!” was my first reaction to Blackstarkids. Coming straight out of high school in Kansas City, Missouri, this band is already making solid jams! They first caught my attention by name-dropping cool bands in interviews, but their cross of seemingly every genre (both as fans and as musicians) blows me away. “Friendship” is the perfect blend of synth-pop, hip-hop and R&B.
The song begins with a throwback to the heyday of label-mates Matt Healy of The 1975 and beabadoobee. Over trippy beats, the band raps about family and friends, bringing the ’90s hip-hop hits back to life. The song evokes a low-key, chilled-out dance party when bandleader The Babe Gabe comes in with a cheerful singing about friendship bracelets. Make sure to listen to this from start to finish—because at the three-and-a-half-minute mark the song grows into a futuristic, experimental dance number.
Rusty Eye, “Hellbound Witch” — I’m not exactly sure what captured my eye first: a video of strippers gyrating against a pole at the infamous Jumbo’s Clown Room strip club, or the actual music. L.A. trio Rusty Eye packs this heavy metal track with pulsating drumming and fiery riffs. But it’s the vocals by drummer Miss Randall that really stand out. The song brings sultry and hard-hitting vibes as progressive, thrashy guitars ignite behind her voice. The chorus, “Hellbound witch/ Burn her,” is guaranteed to get stuck in your head. The trio spurs Halloween preparations with this dark, well-crafted banger.
Carolina Story, “Christmas Time Is Here” — Full disclosure: I love Snoopy and “Peanuts,” so I was elated when I caught wind of this cover of “Christmas Time Is Here.” By some twist of fate, I listened to this rendition by husband-wife duo Ben and Emily Roberts immediately after I found out that neither “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas“ would not be airing this year. With Halloween around the corner, Carolina Story gave this early Christmas present. The band’s cover of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here” is hauntingly beautiful. It takes on a dark, psychedelic vibe with layered, echoing vocals. The song’s major draw is the duo’s intimate vocal chemistry, adding warm harmonies to the bluesy guitars.
Ryan Webster, “Always Blue” — This video’s swirling psychedelic images immediately draw you in. Nashville singer-songwriter Ryan Webster’s falsetto harmonies remain achingly gorgeous and swoon-worthy. The gritty, grinding guitar playing flows into dazzling psychedelic textures that fill all of the sonic space. The song mixes alt-folk and Americana, blended with the classic ’70s singer-songwriter genre. “Always Blue” is light and carefree, centered on a groove made for swaying back and forth. Webster played most of the instruments himself, which he recorded in his shed in rural Tennessee. His album Stranger will be released next year.
James Hersey, “Forget (About Everyone Else)” — James Hersey has joined with producer Will Hicks (Ed Sheeran) for this infectious pop banger. As synth-pop electronic beats fill the air, the hook becomes a total ear-worm: “Let me take you away/ Forget about the problems that you can’t escape everyone else/ Put ’em on me/ Look into my eyes/ Come in closer.” The song will have you singing along in no time. Long after it ends, the lyrics will still be stuck in your head. Fans of Post Malone will definitely love this track.
Imelda May, “11 Past The Hour” — It has been three years since Irish artist Imelda May last released a song. In “11 Past The Hour,” May’s sultry, dark and haunting vocals have a spoken word cadence. They also carry a lingering sadness. As she sings, “Dance for me darling/ Forget the words,” you can feel her every emotion. Her music is poetry in motion. At the two minute mark, the song yanks you out of the reverie with screeching, screaming guitars and piercing sound effects. The combination of her beautiful vocals with grating guitars shouldn’t work, yet it comes together as an artful masterpiece.
Rachel’s Pick: It’s funny to me that a band just out of high school knows what made music from the ’80s and ’90s so good. Blackstarkids have captured in lyrics a time that’s so nostalgic for me. Lyrics like “let’s go to the mall and buy nothing at all” work perfectly over R&B beats. The groove is catchy and danceable. The song changes tastefully from rapping into singing, as a cool Caribbean, beachy surf sound takes a turn for electronic ambient beat music. The song becomes a hypnotic ambient banger, with bars that can’t and won’t stop. This band is one not to miss!
P.S.: Happy Birthday, Dad! Thanks for getting me into the great psych bands of the ’60s—you just might like Ryan Webster.