There are a lot of protest songs in this week’s column, for obvious reasons. Among them, Noname’s simmering, visceral “Song 33”, a part-response to rapper J Cole’s apparent swipe on “Snow the Bluff”. The track is only a minute long, but Noname makes every second count, rapping over distant bass licks and sharp percussion: “He really ‘bout to write about me when the world is in smokes?/ When it’s people in trees?/ When George was beggin’ for his mother saying he couldn’t breathe/ You thought to write about me?”
R&B artist H.E.R has released the soulful, aching “I Can’t Breathe”, while newcomer Hemi Moore offers the dramatic “When?”. Born in the UK to Zimbabwean parents, Moore grew up in Southend-on-Sea and says he quickly fell in love with the piano and making music. He cites Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone and Ryan Tedder as inspirations, but “When?” evokes French artist and producer Woodkid.
Moore taught himself how to write and produce songs on his laptop: “It’s always an exciting moment,” he says, “when the sounds and colours of sound fuse to create something beautiful.”
Anderson .Paak’s “Lockdown” takes aim at US police for their behaviour during Black Lives Matter protests, along with the wider, systematic abuse of the black community. He raps: “We was tryin’ to protest, then the fires broke out/ Look out for the secret agents, they be planted in the crowd/ Said, ‘It’s civil unrest,’ but you sleep so sound/ Like you don’t hear the screams when we catchin’ beatdowns.” Public Enemy have released the incendiary “State of the Union (STFU)”, a huge middle finger to Donald Trump that marks the return of Flav.
New albums out this week include Bob Dylan’s first LP of original material in eight years. Our critic Helen Brown gave it four stars and called it “a soothing fit for the lockdown mood in which time and meaning feel strangely stretched and untethered”.
Neil Young released his “lost” record, Homegrown, 45 years after it was recorded (read the review here), while John Legend impressed me with BIGGER LOVE, something of a curveball for an artist so famous for his rather soppy piano ballads. Of Phoebe Bridgers’ “fantastic, fatalistic” record, Punisher, my wonderful colleague Alexandra Pollard writes: “Punisher is both poetic and prosaic, like a dusty drive along a dirt road.”
New band Teem Dreem, formed of Sophie van der Welle and Big Deal’s KC Underwood, have released an EP, Paradyse. The project was started after lockdown separated them from the other half of their band, Medium Love; the songs are built from ideas that came to Underwood in dreams. I really like “Thou Wilt”, which starts out on a funk-influenced guitar riff but soon ascends to a glimmering, synth-based jam.
Subscribe to the Now Hear This playlist
Australian rock band Ocean Alley have released their resplendent new album Lonely Diamond, their third album that follows 2018’s Chiaroscuro. It’s an album that nails that sun-drenched Seventies sound, that shifts across the record to take on more of a cinematic, Tarantino western quality.
French artist Dadju has released another new track, “Grand bain”, with Ninho, while rising pop/R&B star Tate McRae has collaborated with Lil Mosey for the alluring “Vicious”. Khruangbin have the irresistible “Pelota”, while French electronic duo Polo & Pan have also gone for a Latin vibe with “Feel Good”.
Enjoy unlimited access to 70 million ad-free songs and podcasts with Amazon Music Sign up now for a 30-day free trialSign up
Make sure you give that a listen if you haven’t already and check out my Q&A with him below:
Hey Stevan, how is lockdown treating you so far?
It’s been interesting, a really mixed bag. On one hand, I got the chance to get a lot of music done. On the other, I haven’t been able to play shows, so it’s strange.
Can you tell me a bit about where you learnt production and when you started to get into making your own music?
I taught myself from watching and listening to musicians I love. The indie vibes of my music pull from acts like Mac DeMarco, his “The Making of Another One” showed me it was possible to be a one-man band. Kevin Parker, Kanye West and Pharrell all have videos of them producing and I’d watch and try to learn. Tom Misch as well, he was a huge inspiration for my beats.
What kind of themes do you find yourself writing about?
On Just Kids I mainly address experiences during my adolescence. I talk about romance, friendships and growing up.
Who are the artists who most influence you, and what exactly about them – songwriting, playing style, vocal delivery etc – do you draw on?
Frank Ocean, D’Angelo, Andre 3000, Pharrell, Toro Y Moi, Thundercat, Moses Sumney etc. These artists inspire me because they are whole packages. They have the look and the sonics to back it up. I also appreciate how these artists have solidified their sounds.
What do you have lined up for the rest of the year?
Well It’s hard to tell because of the state of the world atm. But I’ll be working hard regardless I think people should keep their eyes peeled.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies