Chroma Artist Picks: December (By Dave Mantel)

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This month’s playlist is brought to you by Dave, who just released a brand new NAAL album a few weeks ago. This playlist isn’t about slow music, though (that was his backup playlist). I’ll let him explain what this month’s theme is all about. But you can get listening right over HERE on Spotify!

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I used to be the guy who said, “I just don’t really like bands with female leads.” I don’t think I was trying to be sexist. I think I was just an idiot. Today I wanted to make a playlist for that past version of myself. And for you too: a list of some of my favorite recently released or (recently discovered by me, in a few cases, maybe) tracks by amazing female artists.

 

Mitski- Nobody

I saw Mitski live for the first time as she opened up for Lorde and Run The Jewels earlier this year. That is not a joke. She and her band played a blistering 20 minute set of mostly songs off of Be the Cowboy, her as of then unreleased smash album. It was weird seeing a pop/shoegaze band play this giant arena for people who, for the most part, didn’t know who she was. Most of them were young teens and twenty-somethings there for Lorde, while a few bros in Rick and Morty shirts were obviously there for Run the Jewels. But that didn’t deter her or her band. Mitski blasted through those 20 minutes, hardly stopping between songs, only saying a quick hello, and then she was gone. But the energy and passion that she left on the stage with which she intended to capture the attention of as many of those several thousand people as she could in that short time blew me away. When Be the Cowboy came out later this year, full of powerful bops about relationship failure, lopsided affection, and unrequited love, I was hooked. Oh, and Nobody has two key changes in the same chorus. Also not a typo.

 

Angel Olsen- Shut Up Kiss Me

I’ll admit it: MY WOMAN takes a little bit to get going. When I first heard all the hype surrounding the album I got pretty excited- I’ll give anything from Jagjaguar a shot- but when I started the album the first few tracks had me feeling like I had been duped. Then Shut Up Kiss Me hit and I understood what it was that everyone was fascinated by. A pop sensibility with the passion and fire of her more indie oriented contemporaries, Olsen grabs on and doesn’t let go at this point. Sappy, happy, raucous and just fun! This song slams.

 

Paramore- Idle Worship

If you had told me one of my favorite albums of last year would be a Paramore album I would have laughed in your face! But here we are. It’s 2018 and I’m still rocking After Laughter. Idle Worship is easily my favorite song on the album, but the whole group of surrounding tracks are so good, too! There are so many things that shouldn’t work on this album (you can start with literally the first like Donkey Kong sounds you hear when you start it up) but when you let it go it absolutely rips!

 

Lucius- Gone Insane

Lucius is an incredible duo of Robyn look-alikes who are queens of power ballads and pop bops alike. They pack so much energy into their studio recordings it’s insane. You can feel the dynamics of every belted harmony and hook. Speaking as someone who records a lot of bands, let me tell you: that is a rare thing to be able to capture. Gone Insane is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Listen to the tension between them as they sing together. It’s incredible.

 

Lorde- Perfect Places

My friend Caleb and I went to, as I said earlier, see Lorde earlier this year. I’m not usually one for big pop shows but I couldn’t miss the lineup, especially since I loved Melodrama, Lorde’s sophomore album, so much! Caleb told me once that listening to that album made him nostalgic for relationships he had never had. It’s hard to explain how a young popstar like that can communicate so clearly about teenage angst and, literally, melodrama in a way that makes a 29 year old drone musician say “YES!” but, again, here we are. Perfect Places is like all of my immaturities being captured and put on display, as if there was some younger version of myself pulled out from my existing self and was like, “Here I am and here are my thoughts on everything!” which is kind of how Melodrama is in general, but in the best way.

 

Sia- Alive

Chances are very low that you have not heard of Sia. But let me tell you about this project anyway. Before Sia was the international big haired pop sensation that she is now, she was a ghostwriter for a label. Her album This Is Acting is a collection of songs that were turned down that she decided to record herself and put out as a collection of works, which I think is a fascinating showcase of a part of her life not often thought about until now. When I hear Alive, I have to ask myself what INSANE IDIOT turned that song down. It is absolutely killer. The performance from Sia brings it way over the top to MEGA BANGER territory. I’m serious. This is like the most extreme song ever. There is a two hit drum fill that I think is up there with like Phil Collins In the Air Tonight as far as best drum fills in music. You’ll hear it when you listen.

 

Robyn- Missing U

Robyn returned after a long absence with a brand new album this year and did NOT disappoint. While I think Honey is definitely more of a grower than, say, Body Talk, there are still some amazing tracks to grab ahold of right away. Missing U, one of the pre-release singles from the album, is definitely one of those instantly-latch-on-to tracks. It’s everything I want from Robyn, it’s danceable, it’s melancholy, it has a great hook, the synth sounds are amazing. Total package. Forget dancing your problems away, let’s dance TO our problems. That’s been Robyn’s theme since day one, and it’s still here on this new one.

Gordi- Aeon

Gordi’s debut, Reservoir, is definitely a first album. But dang it if there aren’t some amazing moments. I think Aeon is the strongest song on the album, and is pretty much the perfect representation of her project, to me. Beginning very delicate but ramping up in to a powerful expression of her organic flavored indie pop, I will scream along with this song whenever it comes on my radio. For real. Gordi and I sing in the same range. It’s great.

 

Half Waif- Lavender

I think Half Waif was a Spotify recommendation for me. I hadn’t heard of her and then all of a sudden WHAMO Lavender Burning came on and I was like, “What is this?? This is great!” All ultra dramatic, a mix of pop but mostly slow indie, key based tunes, the album really speaks to me. Back in Brooklyn has, in my opinion, the best moment on the record: when Nandi sings “The farther away I walk the more I’m a whisper/Listen for me now/You’ve gotta listen for me now” is so intense, and the irony of the lyrics being about her as a whisper being the most powerful moment on the album… Just so cool.

Ex:Re- Romance

I had already finished this list- written everything I had to say, and then I listened to Ex:Re’s debut self titled album. The solo project from Elena Tonra, frontwoman for the folk inspired shoegaze band Daughter, this album plays like an amazing mix of ambient electronic backing and minimal guitar or keyboard shape, with amazingly intricate vocal melody that remind me of the best Jose Gonzalez tracks. Sometimes relaxed, sometimes surprisingly driving, each track is not only musically rich in its minimalism, but lyrically dense and poignant. Romance covers the feelings of being in an abusive relationship. The imagery is powerful and the performance captivating. Highly recommend listening to this whole project.

 

Lucy Dacus- Night Shift

I found Dacus’s album because of her involvement in boygenius. Sure enough, her album does not disappoint. Her frank, sometimes shocking lyrics (see opening line of the album) are only half of the charm here. Her guitar work- fuzzy, powerful rhythm with really thick lead lines- and sense of melody make this album shine. Night Shift is a funny yet tragic idea of having to avoid an ex forever by working the opposite part of the day from them (“You’ve got a 9 to 5, so I’ll take the nightshift/And I’ll never see you again if I can help it”). But dig that guitar solo, too! So good.

 

Phoebe Bridgers- Smoke Signals

Like some of the other artists I’ve mentioned on this list, Phoebe Bridgers is definitely an emerging artist. Her album Stranger in the Alps has some shining moments, and I think Smoke Signals, the opening of the album is one of those. She describes very frankly a lot of the same thoughts many of her peers have been having- dealing with death and relationships and celebrity and what it all means. I think it’s really great.

 

Julien Baker- Hurt Less

I couldn’t have the other two members of boygenius without including Julien. One of the most enthusiastic musicians I’ve ever seen, and someone who is almost singlehandedly forging a way for young solo female singer/songwriter artists in a space that has been very often dominated by men, her anxiously awaited second full length has some amazing moments on it. Hurt Less is quintessential Julien Baker- chimey guitar, reverb, her very exposed vocal performance, and themes of the struggle of sobriety in many forms. You’ll have a hard time not yelling along.

 

The Staves- Make It Holy

The Staves, a trio of sisters from Watford, England, are some of my favorite musicians. I originally found them through their work with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) for the recording of their latest full length, If I Was at his studio in Eau Claire. I have a little bit of an obsession with that place and those people. But as soon as I heard the early teases of the music The Staves were cooking up, I knew it would be something spectacular. I think Make It Holy is the perfect picture of what that whole aesthetic became. The simple guitar work, the rich harmonies (including Justin and some of the other guys who helped on the album at April Base), the song ramps up and really gives me an image of what my favorite aspect of making music with other people is: the community. The song is beautiful by itself, but there’s an X factor for me that makes it more than just the sum of its parts. It’s something really special.

 

Boygenius- Salt In The Wound

Alright, I’ve mentioned them several times, so here it is: my favorite track on the boygenius album. I think this track is really the highlight of what happens when each of the respective members (Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus) bring their individual strengths to the table and really collaborate. Each song on the album (even this one) leans pretty obviously in the direction of the primary songwriter for that song, but I think Salt In The Wound, more than any of the other tracks, really gets to the feeling of this being a cohesive project. I dig it a lot.

 

Anais Mitchell- Ships

I really struggled with which song from Anais’s mindblowing album Young Man In America to include in this playlist. Ultimately, though, I thought I would end this playlist the same way she ends her album. Ships is a slow burning ballad. But man. What a closer to an incredible record. When I showed this album to my friend Caleb (who I mentioned earlier), he said, “Man. This music really sounds like it’s from SOMEWHERE.” And I really like that. Young Man In America is really the most Americana sounding album I could think of. Each song is not only lyrically very grounded in a physical place, but the sounds are so… I don’t know. America. In the best way. The way I want America to be.


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Remember, you can follow THE PLAYLIST to get treated to more expertly curated playlists like this one every month from one of our artists! And don’t forget to check out Dave’s new album over on HIS WEBSITE, or stream that on SPOTIFY, too!