Jaxon Lee Swain – “Never Takin Em Off”
On the lead track on Swain’s latest record, Night Diamonds, Swain and company come out swinging, singing a love song to how righteous it is to rock a sweet pair of shades, and goddamn it’s true. Like a sonic tribute to every Deal With It meme, Swain has a sneer and swagger to his voice and delivery that sells the premise that staying awesome is mission critical. The hero of the track lands in Hell, but still doesn’t give a fuck, sticking it just as much to Satan as anyone trying to cramp his style on Earth. Who can deny that kind of bravado, especially one backed by badass riffs and a plodding back beat?
Tony Wise – “outtatheway. Bombycilla”
A dreamy soundscape announces the arrival of Tony Wise, a lo-fi, ambient-soaked hip-hop producer making his name with some of the most ephemeral and magical beats imaginable. This is stellar stuff, the kind of mild bangers that feature enough dynamic to move you, but not necessarily out of your seat. The sample work is layers upon layers, thought-provoking and dense, waiting for unpacking on repeat listen. You coast through the sonic haze here, adrift in a sea of bits and bobs that coalesce into a beautiful whole. Wise lives up to his namesake, keeping his tracks short and memorable, with just the right amount of bounce to keep you entranced, despite the quiet nature of the music. In fact, it’s hard to say that this requires an emcee, as the wrong move could upset the already delicate balance at hand.
Dom B – “Moonshine” (prod. by Q-Mystik)
There is a vaporwave vibe to the newest by Dom B, which features the kind of production that repurposes corporate music into a reinvigorated whole. As such, the beat is like aural graffiti, a sonic middle finger to the commodification of music for corporate gains. It’s over this that Dom B drops in, rapping wise about moonshine, dreams and living your best life. This isn’t necessary party music, but it is music meant to touch that primal part of your brain that just wants to live in the heat of the moment. His delivery is on point, as he belts out bars with a staccato finish. When he talks about his mack game, chilling with his friends and drinking devil water, you believe him, because he sells that shit.
Bret Berry – “Nightlight”
A 10-minute meditation on mildness, Bret Berry’s “Nightlight” is a singular moment suspended in darkness. The piece is a slowly-evolving drone that pulls from atmospheric sounds, the mechanical whispers in the dark that serve as the quiet backdrop to our everyday lives. The crackling of electricity punctuates the earliest part of the movement, lending an eerie David Lynch-esque quality to the track. With the emergence of the central drone swell, a massive and all-embracing low rumble, “Nightlight” takes off. For the duration of the piece, subtle synth pads float in and out of your conscious, distant reminders of some sense of time and space upset periodically by asymmetrical percussion. It’s a tightly-wound composition that pulls from the Biosphere or Oren Ambarchi playbook in a way that satisfies and humbles, spellbinding and austere.
Sheri Streeter – “Home Videos”
It’s hard to listen to “Home Videos” by Sheri Streeter without feeling the heavy loneliness, stark and forlorn, carried equally by the instrumentation and vocals. Streeter’s voice features an undercurrent of fragility, and is vulnerable and earnest in delivery. On so many levels, “Home Videos” is relatable, playing with that tension between art and artistic success, between intent and purpose. Nostalgia is a rotten bastard, playing on your insecurities and what-ifs that you can never really reconcile. Built around the premise of a video looking back on past glory, the protagonist is torn between their former celebrity, regardless of how minor, and the economic necessity of adulthood. It’s there that Streeter grabs you, playing with tension by virtue of a simple guitar line and a punctuated by the beautifully bittersweet sound of a violin.
Howell Dawdy – “Please Don’t Kill Us Eclipse”
We should all take a moment to thank Howell Dawdy for offering a musical prayer to the old gods, ensuring that the eclipse didn’t murder the human race. I’m not sure that eclipses cause monsters or any of the other anxieties that Dawdy filters through, amplified by a stress-inducing guitar crescendo that lists his principle concerns. What opens with a strummed guitar ends with a rocking, Skynyrd-esque extended jam, the line “Please Don’t Kill Us” repeated, a timeless refrain that likely has immeasurable future social currency.