It’s SXSW week, so most of the Stereogum crew is in Austin right now. We’ve already thrown a couple parties of our own and attended a whole bunch more thrown by other people. The timing couldn’t be better: This has been a particularly good week to get away from the fuckery of the real world and just immerse yourself in music. But you don’t need to be in Austin to do that. Here’s proof.
“Blow” is in essence a deep sigh of resignation — not to give up, but rather to give in to going on. You can hear the accumulated wear on Tara Jane O’Neil’s voice as she delivers a sublime submission to daily acts of resilience, the kinds that comprise the routine that withers us down over the years. On top of hushed overtones undulating as if drifting in and out of sleep, O’Neil discovers renewed meaning while walking once more through leftover footprints from the days before, as though they had always been a set path. “Searching the ground right in front of me/ What was buried for so long,” she sings, sifting through the dust accumulated in the rut and realizing the well runs much deeper than she initially thought. She’s redefining complacency as a new canvas to color in, focusing on simply her breathing as a counterbalance to the incessant march of self-care. “Waking up is everything,” she affirms, which is probably why O’Neil made her mantra to carrying forth sound exactly like the break of day. –Pranav
Yesterday, the Ringer ran a great piece about how Tinashe’s management is doing her a vast disservice by forcing her into a robo-sexbot image that does not remotely fit her. That piece was entirely correct. Tinashe is a lifetime show-business professional, and she’s always happy to accept the responsibilities that the role entails. (She did, after all, star in a great many episodes of Two And A Half Men.) But she’s also a true master of pop-music craftsmanship, one capable of conveying emotions that go way, way beyond a desire to hump. “Flame” is a great example. It’s a total pop song, and its huge chorus absolutely dominates it. But it does something more subtle than Tinashe’s handlers might want to admit. It captures the feeling of being in a dying relationship, feeling yourself grow more and more remote from somebody else and thrashing hopefully against it. It’s a great song. Let Tinashe be great. –Tom
As an underground musician who used to call the Bay Area home, Erika Anderson felt especially gutted at the news of a deadly fire at Oakland DIY venue Ghost Ship last December. She knew people who were there and people who didn’t make it out. When she finished reeling, she headed to her basement with some friends to record this quiet paean to hope and solidarity and persistence. Whereas some of the best EMA tracks have tended toward lavish, confrontational noise, this one stays sober throughout, as if whispered during an embrace. “In my eyes you shouldn’t have to decide between being safe and being free,” she intones, subtle organ work elevating her words to something like gospel truth even as her weary tone reveals how far-off such a future still remains. –Chris
2017 needs Downtown Boys — that was apparent when I watched the band perform in Austin yesterday. The crowd was pretty sizable for a noon set time, and the band closed with the debut single off their forthcoming album. Victoria Ruiz introduced “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)” as a big fuck you to white supremacy, and began to sing in Spanish. This new track doesn’t diverge much from what people already know and love about Downtown Boys — the guitar licks and sax are still there — but the gang vocals on this chorus pop in a way that suggests a lot of thought went into this new album’s production. I can’t wait to hear the rest. –Gabriela
Frank Ocean has spent his whole career resisting binaries — singer vs. rapper, pop music professional vs. indie world auteur, straight vs. gay, blond vs. blonde. He always has two versions, and on “Chanel,” his most explicitly queer work to date, Ocean flips Chanel’s double-C logo into a symbol of that fluidity: “My guy pretty like a girl/ And he got fight stories to tell/ I see both sides like Chanel/ See on both sides like Chanel.” But despite what Migos might have you believe, Frank has never had any interest in being a representative for the queer community — he’s too singular and complex a figure for that, and “Chanel” is too singular and complex a song to be a bi-and-proud anthem. Instead, it’s another snapshot of Ocean’s young, restless mind, folding everything from sexuality to celebrity to online fan communities into its shuffling beat and swirling piano. The only throughline is Ocean himself — and that voice, a magical instrument that can turn a simple turn of phrase into an unforgettable mantra. –Peter