Music of 2023 – February

James Gummel, EHS class of 2025, contributor

Welcome to month 2 of the underground and best-of-the-month music recap of Ewing’s Voice. Another month of putting you guys on to some stuff that isn’t widely-known, or touching on some more popular projects that I thought were great. As always, my hope is that you can find something to enjoy.

Fitting for Black History Month, Black artists or bands that try to branch out into newer genres or experiment with their music always tend to pique my interest. Right at the start of the month, I caught wind of Young Fathers, a band completely new to me, who released a new album, Heavy Heavy. The thing that caught my eye the most was actually the album cover, which has got to be one of the coolest I’ve seen. The band consists of 2 black members and one white, who have been friends since childhood. I love to see multi-racial music acts like this, similar to Soul Glo, another band I enjoy. Songs such as Tell Somebody sound ethereal to the highest extent, while others like Drum vary greatly and are unfortunately more generic in sound. Thankfully, a lot of the album IS on the side of interesting, with only a few boring moments in between. 8.7/10

Trap-metal rapper from California KxllSwxtch returns this year with his third album, THE WALLS HAVE EYES. This is a genre where a lot of the songs tend to sound similar. Artists like ZillaKami and SosMula were some of the first to put an atmospheric and sad touch to this wave of music, with the collaboration of City Morgue, and Zillakami’s 2021 album DOG BOY. KxllSwxtch takes this and really pushes the depressive aspect, with many songs barely resembling rap music at all. If you listen to only his top songs on Spotify, you’d never know this genre derived from rap. This new project combines some songs with the original style, containing the important angry vocals. Other songs take the form of what I just described, with a much sadder sound. It just about splits up into 2 halves, with each having the respective style. One thing this album does fantastically is the sampling on the rap songs, which gives them that uniqueness that many trap-metal songs lack. If you don’t like the first few songs, try one of the further down ones, which I dare to say resemble some slower Nirvana songs. 9.3/10

Paramore’s new album This Is Why breaks their 6-year hiatus and stays true to the style they shaped by themselves.  There’s not too much to comment on, as it retains many similarities from their earlier music. One thing it does lack is a lot of the angst that their biggest songs have, and the reason they were such an important band in the emo scene.

A band I’m personally very familiar with (enough to be in their top 30), Narrow Head finally releases their anticipated album after periodically dropping some singles that can be found in the tracklist. Thanks to this, many people were already hyped for Moments of Clarity, including myself. I made sure to listen to it right away since this is one of my favorite bands. Narrow Head have already established themselves as a predecessor of Deftones, since you can hear countless similarities between the two, ranging from things like the echoey reverb and the smaller sections that are more metal-based. While I love both bands, I think this project does dwell upon the style a bit TOO much, with songs such as The Real, which has an almost identical pattern at the beginning to Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away). Despite this, the band proves themselves once again to continue this genre with a breath of fresh air, and gives us another great album. 9.6/10

Neutral Milk Hotel makes a return after their last album, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, which was met with IMMENSE critical acclaim. 25 years later they release a new EP, Everything Is. This short, yet loud project proves to have the same experimental element that put them on the board with their last album, to a new degree which works in a few ways, however, fails in others. Throughout, they try to use a lot of clips taken from little kids talking, which I can only assume are taken from older media because of the quality and way they speak. Now, I don’t mind when people use things like this, as it can be an amazing addition to a song, but my God do they do this a lot. It’s so much to the point it seems there are more kids talking than there is music. Another artist, Asian Glow does this perfectly in his song Siren, which begins with a children’s TV show for no more than a few seconds, providing an intro to the song ahead. This can also be done at the end instead, where once again Asian Glow does well in Lapsed, sampling Todd from Bojack Horseman. Neutral Milk Hotel really makes it hard to enjoy the project itself when it’s so bloated with this. I know I’ve been trash-talking it so far, but some parts are actually really great and compare well to the last album. Snow Song for example is an extremely mellow tune that is a lot more depressive than what the rest of the album has to offer. While Tuesday Moon begins with another annoying clip, the rest of the song features pitched-up vocals, similar to many demos from Kurt Cobain, and makes for a really good song that retains the distortion the band is known for. 7.2/10

The lesser-known R&B singer-songwriter Kelela rises the charts fast, thanks to her new album Raven. After a feature with Danny Brown on Gorillaz’s Humanz, she gained some notoriety and continued her solo work, and worked hard to create space for herself in the genre. Some songs are congruent with works by Frank Ocean, one of the most well-known R&B singers. I think the biggest difference within Kelela’s style is the long breaks between lines, unlike many mainstream artists. The entire project has a spacey feel to it, allowing it to stand on its own. This style might be derived from Björk, who reinvented the Art-Pop genre that Kate Bush established. An R&B project isn’t complete without some great drum fills, which surprisingly aren’t featured on every song. Of course, there’s some kind of rhythm that’s followed, but a lot of the tracks experiment with what elements are even needed to create a great song, a reason to love this release even more. Can’t recommend any song more than the next, they all flow together nicely. 9.3/10

One band I’ve heard a lot about in the past, but never listened to more than a few songs by is Yo La Tengo. Many appreciate their take on a classic sound done by bands like The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth. This Stupid World gives us a taste of the classic style, with the quiet, barely-singing vocals. The bare-bones acoustic sound put together with indie ambient sounds is a great combo. The singing only adds to these elements, as Ira Kaplan’s soft voice makes every song sound almost like a lullaby. Some songs feature Georgia Hubley as the vocalist instead, like Aselestine which is one of my favorites. At some points, you can hear simple chords from the guitar, or at others you may hear melodies that complete the indie sound. At some points there’s a significant amount of distortion which helps out faster-paced songs like Fallout. I could fall asleep to this any day. 8.6/10

Skrillex absolutely destroys february with not one, but TWO full-length albums, both of which are different and pretty great. The one i like a bit less of the two is the bass-heavy Quest For Fire, which stays faithful to the club sound Skrillex is really known for. Many have called this new era a revival for him, which I must say isn’t far from the truth. His sound and output have been lacking recently, but here we are with 2 great projects, both featuring huge names. Quest For Fire is very reminiscent of some of Skrillex’s best music, containing various looped vocals and drum patterns, which more often than not are leading up to some sort of big drop. Because of this, it seems a bit on the gimmicky side. I can forgive this however, due to how good a lot of the songs sound. A lot of the artists that are featured on tracks in this album are from a wide range of genres, from similarly aligned electronic in songs like Still Here that feature Porter Robinson and Bibi Bourelly, to tracks like RATATA which Missy Elliott provides vocals for. Many already know despite being a notable female rapper, she has always been associated with the club scene, only adding the the conformed sound. 7.3. 

The reason my rating for the previous album might seem a little low is because EDM is a genre that has a lot of room for creativity, which Quest For Fire didn’t really exhibit. The adjacent album to Quest For Fire, Don’t Get Too Close takes a different approach, once again featuring many big names, but this time swapping the style in favor for more full-fledged songs that highlight the strengths of each artist individually. Selecta and Summertime feature BEAM and Kid Cudi respectively, who have a similar sound to eachother. I LOVE the melody of Kid Cudi’s singing through the whole song, and the beat compliments his voice so well. Ceremony and Real Spring, featuring Yung Lean and Bladee both have production that neither artist would dare to attempt on their own, yet it works out so perfectly. Chief Keef is apparantly featured on Bad For Me, but this song is SO far from his style that I would NEVER know it was him if I didn’t see the names. I love this approach for an album, and I love the cute porcupine on the cover even more. 9.3/10