Atmos Bloom’s music is all shy smiles across crowded rooms and half-remembered strolls through city parks. The power of these seemingly inconsequential scenes is foregrounded in the Manchester duo’s pastel-hued pop songs, collected in their debut mini-LP Flora. A pandemic project that “bloomed into something a little bit more special”—as their Bandcamp bio winks—Flora may exude the nervous energy of a meet-cute in a florist, but the ease with which Tilda Gratton and Curtis Paterson converse could lull even the most concrete skeptic into believing they’ve been at this for years.
Bouncy pop-punk tracks such as “Daisy” are disguised beneath sheets of reverb. “Picnic in the Rain” (was there ever a more poignant name for a song?) evokes The Cure at their bubbliest. And “Morning Sun”’s languid groove archives the ache that comes when we lose part of ourselves. In a subway carriage already oversubscribed with Cocteau Twins advocates, the self-christened dreamgazers are pushing their way to the front. — Hayden Merrick
Booter‘s first record is a kind of spiritual sequel to the Weakerthans’ first record. The guitars have a similarly warm and woody tone, lightly sparked with overdrive. That likable, rough-around-the-edges production style makes it easy to imagine you’re there in the practice room as snow blankets a sleepy Winnipeg, their mutual hometown. The songs are short and fast and indicate how both bands would expand their sound on following releases. Lastly, both bands take their time, with 10/10 produced sporadically over two years by none other than Weakerthans collaborator Cam Loeppky.
Connections to the retired indie rockers aside, though, Booter’s is an accomplished record in its own right—and a deeply thoughtful and open one at that. Vocalist and chief songwriter Alannah Walker, who is queer, sings of crushing on straight girls. She laments how dissolved relationships continue to affect us, and contends with modern capitalist struggles while exploring who she is outside of a relationship. Music such as Booter’s doesn’t have the inclination to change the world—but ask any Weakerthans fan if the band changed their life, and the answer will always be yes. Given time, Booter may do the same. — Hayden Merrick
For his first record in over a decade, behind-the-boards maven Rusty Santos sought to expel repression brought on by his involuntary detainment in a mental health facility. With coltish acoustic strums, percolating samples, and effect-laden vocals all shifting in and out of sync over High Reality’s nine tracks, it’s as though the album not only vows to make up for lost time but also matches its creator’s diversified, intercontinental career. Santos has produced many artists in many countries—the extolled Animal Collective, the Chinese psychedelic rock band Chui Wan, and the late DJ Rashad. Between its infectious grooves and whimsical exploration of one man’s disassociation from the day-to-day, High Reality makes a solid case for Santos donning his writing cap more often. — Hayden Merrick
(Hit the North)
Nisa Lumaj interrogates metropolitan anxieties and splintering relationships with a palate that straddles two worlds—detached alt-pop and indie rock noisemaking. It’s a formula echoic of contemporaries such as Nilüfer Yanya and Julia Jacklin, but the experiences that feed it are all Nisa’s. Born to Albanian parents in Morningside Heights, Nisa didn’t hear American pop music until her teen years in Manhattan, after which she drifted between London, Los Angeles, and New York before settling in Brooklyn. Her new EP Exaggerate seeks to unpack this period of nomadism and its concurrent questions while attempting to live in the present.
This oxymoronic goal is mirrored in the EP’s unsettled dynamics, with intense feelings obscured by Nisa’s detached vocal delivery, like the facades we adopt in the interest of self-preservation. Songs such as “Sever” sift through the detritus of a relationship before Nisa runs out of words and is left with just the feeling, impeccably translated with a flurry of guitar feedback contorted over a heaving drum beat. “Affection” channels similar concerns into synth-slathered euphoria, the fleeting intensity of “finding reassurance in all of the affection”. Sometimes, as these four songs attest, that can be enough. — Hayden Merrick
In the library of indie music, Thanya Iyer would be shelved in the self-help aisle. It’s a cheesy metaphor, but it’s about the only categorization one could meaningfully tack to the Montreal composer, whose liberal genre borrowing renders labels futile, curating a sound that is timeless and familiar, like the voice of a trusted friend. Indeed, it’s Iyer’s pillowy lilt that anchors the arrangements on her new EP Rest, with a wind trio, string quartet, and choir in tow. Like Cassandra Jenkins’ meditations on mental health, nature, and their intersection, the songs on Rest are as kind to their creator as they are to listeners. “Try to do your best, take a little rest,” Iyer motions from the get-go, a slow burn overture aptly titled “Slow Burn”. Her calming coos and healing orchestration take care of the rest. — Hayden Merrick
You Have Got to Be Kidding Me
The songs on Fanclubwallet’s You Have Got to Be Kidding Me hum with life and animation, but Judge’s equable tenor purrs clearly through the production (thanks to producer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Watson). If she wanted, Judge could sound like emo-imbued indie acts such as Rilo Kiley and Death Cab for Cutie, but she doesn’t. The scratchy, staccato guitar patterns, clunky clavinets, and siren synths could sound like the Talking Heads (whom she covered), but they don’t. The esoteric, keyboard-led lo-fi of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, the ruminative car journeys of Modest Mouse, and that one Atlas Sound song that sounds like a ringtone (“Walkabout”)—these touchstones make themselves known but never overstay their welcome.
The album’s mood balances on a precipice between tongue-in-cheek shrugs and tearful despair, with the aforementioned kitsch knocking against plaintive major 7th intervals and affecting personal lyrics. Even the album title is pure exasperation packaged as wry stoicism. For the distilled, emblematic example of the fanclubwallet sound, see album apex “Toast”, the sonic successor to popular single “Car Crash in G Major”, which appeared on last year’s Hurt Is Boring EP and hit one million streams while Judge lay in a hospital bed. (It has since surpassed six times that.) — Hayden Merrick
(LL Entertainment / BMG)
Unlike LÉON’s previous releases, Circles also touches on themes outside of love, such as comfort in her own skin on “Soaked” and acceptance of growing older while still feeling the same on “Wishful Thinking”. But the record also explores fantasies and dreams, making Circles feel like one long, compelling diary entry that does what this kind of personal music does best. It makes the listener feel less alone in their feelings, even if they are worlds apart. Where Apart was a way of processing her emotions, Circles is composed of the ugly truths, the ones we often must gather the courage to express to ourselves lest they envelop us whole. — Jeffrey Davies
MUNA – MUNA
“Used to wear my sadness like a choker, yeah, it had me by the throat / Tonight I feel I’m draped in it, like a loose garment,” proclaims synthpop trio MUNA on their self-titled third LP. “I just let it flow.” Although these lyrics may feel tainted by depression and lost love, the group is entirely in their element with their latest work. Combining intensely emotional and often melodramatic lyrics over pulsating beats that bring the experiences of queer women to the forefront, MUNA know how to take the harsh facts of life—in this case, the oppression and marginalization of queer people—and turn them into pop anthems to dance the tears away.
On MUNA, the group has crafted a collection boldly exploring how being queer is composed of joys and traumas, and there’s no shame in messily embracing both. As they put it on their first album, we are loudspeakers. — Jeffrey Davies