New music roundups are a monthly recap dedicated to covering the latest music in a series of short, descriptive reviews. This month’s edition includes new releases from Hand Habits, Kyle Dion, Stella Donnelly and more.
Choosey & Exile – Black Beans LP
The long awaited full length collaboration from the CA duo is as jazzy and soulful as one would expect. The consistency of this project lies in Exile’s finely detailed sampling and infectious drum programming, but the heaviest punch is ultimately delivered from Choosey on the mic. Earnest and reflective meditations on his childhood and multicultural upbringing work hand in hand with the signature West Coast production to create a harmonious body of work, thematically and musically. Black Beans is undeniably linked to other great projects in the Dirty Science catalog. In both its vibe and sense of concept, the album recalls moments of Blu’s Below the Heavens on the sweet soul-hop banger “Teen Angel,” while the Fashawn-assisted “Satisfied” nods to the shifty rap-sung piano tunes from 2015’s The Ecology. Perhaps the best tracks come at the forefront of the record: “I Did” serves as Choosey’s proclamation of arrival and the horn-drenched “Low Low” is a fitting soundtrack to a long and lazy Daygo summer night.
Hand Habits – Placeholder
The intricate delicacies of Meg Duffy’s songs form warm and tender enclosures, filled to the brim with fragile narratives that ponder themes of loss, past love and a yearning to feel fulfilled. Off the bat, placeholder brings to mind the intimate folk ballads of Adrienne Lenker and Big Thief. Much like her indie rock contemporaries, Duffy has an ability to meld a heart-wrenching breakup song and soft-rock textures into full-fledged compositions that are subtly psychedelic and pressingly atmospheric. Slow burners like “jessica” and “wildfire” are as pretty as they are heartbreaking, while more steadily paced tracks like “can’t calm down” utilize higher energy (though still quiet) to purvey the same sense of sorrow through a different lens.
Kyle Dion – Suga
Kyle Dion is a rhythm & blues chameleon, capable of delivering a knock-out ballad in many forms. His new record Suga is an enthralling portrayal of his soulful artistic persona, borrowing from retro soul, hip-hop and other neighboring styles to form a contemporary sound that is truly R&B. Dion’s voice operates with both suave and restraint, enhancing the warmness of the instrumentals from flirtatious and inviting to sweat-dripping and fully aroused. One moment he strikes with an intimate love-making lullaby (“Not All the Way”), the next he’s showing up full guns-a-blazing, ready to get it on (“Cherry Blossom”). The raw energy of this record resembles the lush and fluorescent aesthetic of recent projects by Kali Uchis and Daniel Caesar; colorful guitar work drives the hyper smooth rhythms of “Hands to Yourself,” while rich bass grooves lead the way on “Brown.” Dion artfully pulls from different kinds of soul music in the same way he shifts between silky falsettos and hushed, seductive sing-talk. Whichever lane he occupies, the end result is impressive on either side.
Little Simz – Grey Area
Little Simz has been one of the UK’s most interesting rappers since she arrived half a decade ago, but up until now, she had yet to make a truly poignant and fully-realized album. That’s no longer the case. On GREY Area, Simz’ rapping is yet again razor sharp, but noticeably more coherent thematically, almost free of flaw. She weaves in and out of the hyphy production with precision and style, never losing sight of the concept at hand. The more aggressive and braggadocios tracks, like the lively opener “Offence” and the mean-mugged bass groove “Boss,” lean towards Simz’ electronic and UK influences, while the more introspective cuts, such as “Flowers” and “Selfish,” favor elements of jazz rap. GREY Area isn’t particularly unique in its makeup, but the detail the detail in each beat and the grace with which Little Simz is spitting are exciting at every turn. This is unquestionably her most essential work; the sound is definitive, sure of its direction and she sounds hungrier than ever.
Spellling – Mazy Fly
One glance at the cover of Spellling’s new LP and you can sense the supernaturalism that lies within its grooves. Released on the ever-consistent Sacred Bones label, Mazy Fly is a slow-paced dive into the worlds of ambient and dance music, often performed with a loosely structured and experimental edge. Some tracks are more bare in instrumental layers and can test your patience the first time around or two, but embed yourself in this album over and over again and eventually, these cuts become irresistibly hypnotic. “Haunted Water” and “Under the Sun” are the standouts, evoking an ethereal vibe through their dark and spacious rhythms. Similarly, instrumental-dominated tracks like “Melted Wings” and “Red” create eerie yet enamoring soundscapes with unsettling string arrangements and sudden jolts of warped out synthesizers. Mark Mazy Fly down as the latest hauntingly beautiful entry in the Sacred Bones catalog.
Stella Donnelly – Beware of the Dogs
Sonically, Stella Donnelly’s debut leans heavily on the feel-good jangle pop wave started by Mac DeMarco earlier this decade. The warbly guitar tones and light, icy synthesizers are a familiar yet charming aesthetic. Nestled in between the standard folk-rock songs are shorter tracks like “Bistro” and “Die,” which stray away from straightforward indie rock with their quirky production choices and creative instrumental passages. Whether she’s carrying out a sassy guitar jam or a soft lullaby, Donnelly’s storytelling offers little remorse and her vocal style has both bite and character. The music, however, is pure sunshine. Even on sadder or more aggressive tracks, like the pensive and painstaking shot at rape culture “Boys Will Be Boys” or the angst-filled ballad “Beware of the Dogs,” the guitar work is utterly beautiful and her voice has a fine quality that makes her brute confidence all the more captivating.