5. Quick! Send An Ambulance Bnny Are On Fire
Bnny is the Chicago-based project led by Jess Viscius, alongside her twin sister Alexa and a host of musical friends and collaborators. Formed almost on a whim after someone left a guitar in Jess’ apartment, Bnny serving as a therapeutic medium for her in a way that visual art couldn’t replicate. Now signed to Fire Talk, the debut Bnny album, Everything, is set for release in August, and this week Jess shared the latest single from it, Ambulance.
Discussing Ambulance, Jess has spoken of its multi-faceted meaning to her, a song, “about wishful thinking. It’s about guilt and forgiveness. It’s about reconciling with your past. It’s about saying goodbye“. There’s a certain wistfulness to the performance, reminiscent of Eerie Wanda or Jess Williamson, as the spectral chord progressions and the most minimal of bass-line create a lightweight, yet beautiful frame for Jess’ pensive vocal delivery. The opening track on Everything, Ambulance sets the scene for the emotional journey that is to come, a record that explores a relationship from the moment of falling in love, through to a tumultuous end. The record has been described as, “haunted by romance”, the whole thing underpinned by the unflinching, unwavering honesty of Jess Viscius’ musical vision, the result is a truly special record just waiting to be discovered.
4. Maja Lena Is Going To Be A Star
A former member of acclaimed alt-folk band Low Chimes, Maja Lena last featured in these pages back in March, when the Stroud-based songwriter shared previous single, Sacred Practice. That track was lifted from her upcoming album, The Keeper, due out next month, and this week Maja has shared the latest track from the record, Antares.
Named after the night sky’s fifteenth brightest star, the red supergiant Antares, Maja’s new single is dedicated to a close friend. Despite its impressive visual display, the binary star of Antares is, in star terms at least, not long for this universe. It is set to reach Supernova within the next ten thousand years, an event that if human’s are still around at that point, could be seen as brightly as the moon is currently. In Maja’s lyrical hands, Antares becomes a metaphor for the circle of life, musing on ideas of loss and existentialism. Musically, the track, which was recorded with producer Rob Pemberton, is a drifting piece of psych-folk, falling somewhere between the vocal tones of Joni Mitchell and the hazy, experimentation of contemporaries like Shannon Lay or Molly Linen. With The Keeper’s arrival appearing fast on the horizon, the next step from this most intriguing of songwriters might just be her most compelling release to date.
3. The Felice Brothers Hit The Open Road
It was fifteen years ago now that The Felice Brothers released their debut album, having initially got their break busking on the New York Subway near their Brooklyn home. The band have gone on to release countless albums, with the core duo of Ian and James Felice remaining constants throughout as other members came and went. Their upcoming album, From Dreams To Dust, features the same four-piece line-up as 2019’s Undress, with further contributions from Bright Eyes members Nate Walcott and Mike Mogis. This week, ahead of the album’s September release the band have shared the second single from the record, Jazz On The Autobahn.
From Dreams To Dust was recorded in an 1873 Church in upstate New York that having fallen instantly in love with, Ian decided to convert from a ruin to a studio. It’s not just the project that is an adventurous expansion though, musically too this record is new territory for The Felice Brothers’ sound, as perfectly showcased on Jazz On The Autobahn. The track tells the story of two people on the run from the apocalypse, although as the lyrics point out this isn’t some sort of Mad Max-style drama, instead they picture the smaller details; the faces obscured by oxygen masks, chemical rain and, “poisoned birdbaths”. They even try to imagine the sound, “loud as a mushroom cloud…ghostly like a glockenspiel, like the testing of bombs or the tapping of stiletto heels”. Musically, the track is a sheer delight, all stomping, swamping bass, choppy piano chords and splashy cymbals. Sing-talk vocals in the mould of Lou Reed, are shadowed by cooed backing oohs, before some truly wonderful brass wafts in, as free and easy as the breeze rolling off the mountainside. If this is the sound of the apocalypse, at least there’ll be something good to listen to as we all go up in smoke together.
2. You Can’t Just Shrug Lunar Vacation Off
The story of Lunar Vacation starts back when the band’s songwriters Grace Repasky and Maggie Geeslin were just thirteen. The pair met at school and immediately began sharing music, then by the time they were old enough to drive, Lunar Vacation was born. Now expanded to a quartet and based out Atalanta, the band impressed with a pair of self-released EPs, Swell and Artificial Flavors. Along the way, they must have caught the ear of the good people at Keeled Scales, as this week they’ve announced their signature to the label, as well as sharing a brand new single, Shrug.
Although they might not have realised it when it was initially written, Shrug has become an important song for Grace Repasky as they explain, “this song was a pivotal moment in delving into self-identity and ultimately identifying as a non-binary person. The more I tried to fit into a box, the more I felt out of place“. The song is laced with a deeply relatable lyrical anxiety as Grace sings, “invited but I’ll never show, sit at home and playing too much Wilco”. The constant questioning of the lyrics is matched in a way by the slightly untamed nature of the guitar line, it seems to swoop from high notes down to low, at once playful and deliciously wild. Throughout the song, there are moments of quiet contemplation, yet they never last long before it swoops off into something triumphant and noisy, recalling acts like Alvvays or Best Coast, bands who always know struggle sounds best with a certain bombastic musicality. With their as-yet-unannounced debut album apparently being worked away on currently, don’t expect this to be the last you hear from Lunar Vacation.
1. Fortitude Valley Blast Off To Another Planet
Back at the start of last year, I declared Fortitude Valley one of 2020s must-watch acts. The brainchild of songwriter Laura Kovic, the Durham-based indie-punk supergroup, consisting of members of Night Flowers, Martha and Tigercats, had caught the ear of many with their excellent debut single Wreck. It wasn’t the Nostradamus-like moment of predictive glory I had hoped, as the band end up releasing precisely no music that year, although I can probably claim the global pandemic was a mitigating circumstance in that. Better news arrived this week in the shape of Fortitude Valley’s new single, Cassini, which they shared alongside details of their debut album, due out in September via Fika Recordings.
Cassini is Fortitude Valley’s tribute to the NASA Satellite, Cassini-Huygens, which set off on a mission to Mars in 1997. The satellite took seven years to arrive and spent another thirteen orbiting the planet, before, due to fears it would crash into a potentially life harbouring moon and contaminate it with Earth microbes, it was deliberately sent to a fiery end. The song anthropomorphises Cassini, charting its long, lonely journey and the inevitability of its eventual demise. Musically, the band set the sad tale of lost space hardware to a surprisingly fiery slice of power-pop, with the Pavement-like lurch of the rhythm section, contrasted by the rambunctious assault of the twin-guitars, and Laura’s vocal tumble of lyrical gems, “send me a picture of the planet that you’re orbiting, I’m still here and you’re going on to better things”. Sure it took longer to arrive than I might have predicted but just like Euro 2020, Fortitude Valley are shaping up to be well worth wait.
Header photo is Fortitude Valley