It’s the feel-good heat of the summer and the laureate poet of Willow Lane has a new site, so it only felt right to come on here and blabber about a string of singles that recently saw the light of day and that fiercely stand to represent lead promo anticipation for hyped up full length projects from a couple of acts on the rise (both the record label and figuratively, as in starting to climb their career ladder showing promising signs of imminent explosion and audience adoption). We thought we’d collate and scrutiny a gauntlet of songs that caught and left our attention over the past month or so, and that are worthy of critical appraisal by way of short, straightforward, passionate, biased opinions. Sonically it’s everything but the kitchen sink, illustrating works of art ranging from the anthemic arena rock of California alternative band Angels & Airwaves (aka AVA) all the way to the indie R&B synth-pop sensibilities of singer/songwriter Dominic Fike as well as the quintessential electronic retro nostalgic vaporwave orchestrations of the stylistic meetings of the minds between Virginia-native George Clanton and 311’s Nick Hexum.
When Tom DeLonge is not busy figuring out astrobiology and breaking life in space via his para-governmental scientific think tank venture To The Stars… Academy, his principal day job for the last fifteen years or so—notwithstanding his erratic and dysfunctional blink-182 reunions in-between—has consisted in masterminding, fronting, and furthering the realm for multi-media douchy artistic project AVA, whose meaningful musical output in the 2010s had to be significantly kneecapped by Tom’s extracurricular commitments both inside and outside the music sphere. So much so that aside from a couple lukewarmly received EPs dating sometime during the decade’s back-end, their sole, true, proper front-to-back album and relative promotional cycle was 2014’s The Dream Walker—one no less exclusively written by Tom with only the help of multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Ilan Rubin and sans founding member and fellow guitarist David Kennedy (who, fair enough, was probably very preoccupied running and nurturing his entrepreneurial stick via his artisan and handcrafted coffee brand in San Diego).
2019 brought along rosey eventualities for AVA fans though, as the band not only saw fit to officially reunite with Mr Kennedy, but also enlisted prominent and reputable bass virtuoso Matthew Rubano (of Taking Back Sunday and All-American Rejects fame) for a host of live shows in the USA spanning the fall of that year. On the heels of a new partnership with BMG Rights-owned underground indie imprint Rise Records, and in conjunction with the mini tour announcement which came in April 2019, Tom and co. unveiled two new crisp and synth-laden songs, poised to tease and preview an upcoming album slated presumably for some time in the near future. First was the carefree, sticky, and electro-poppy “Rebel Girl“, followed up shortly during the summer by the washed out and tongue-in-cheek “Kiss & Tell“, two unequivocal indications of a band’s heightened flirt with catchier melodies and emotive radio-friendliness, perhaps stemming from residual occupational hazards from many of the members’ past budding experiences in the upper echelons of the American pop-punk canon.
So now 2020 rolls along, and with it various irreversible ecological cataclysms, an unprecedented public health crisis, and existential insurrectionary racial protests plaguing the Western hemisphere—with these not only completely jeopardising the music industry’s lifeblood and sustainability, but also obviously putting gargantuan brakes on any creative process’ progression due to take place during this year’s first cursed half. Nonetheless, in April and amidst peak pandemic mode, AVA chose to reveal a third single in anticipation to its yet-to-be-announced sixth studio LP, coming in the shape of the four minute atmospheric stadium rock number “All That’s Left Is Love“. This cut strips back the abundant tapestries of electronic layering that so pronouncedly ornamented the first two singles in the series, in favour of a rawer and more organic six-string sonic funnelling coupled with outstanding drumming from Rubin, throwing listeners back to some of the collective’s earlier efforts (as heard particularly on their debut LP We Don’t Need to Whisper). However, what causes the tune to not stick its landing, leaving much to be desired, is Tom and Rubin’s uninspired songwriting—falling flat on a strident lack of structure and spotty vocal lines. Bottom line, the tune at the core of this song needs fixing and more TLC.
Queued up next in this track roundup review bonanza is the inaugural offering from American singer and ex-rapper Dominic Fike‘s highly-anticipated upcoming debut album, which shall to this day remain untitled (although not un-tracklisted). After singlehandedly spurring a multi-million record contract bidding war amongst major industry players off the back of his SoundCloud hype and the clout surrounding his later re-released indie rock project Don’t Forget About Me, Demos, then lending his creative and vocal inspiration to the BROCKHAMPTON collective, and dropping a handful standalone singles during last year, the 24-year-old Floridian finally seems ready to unearth his long awaited first outing on major label Columbia Records. An initial robust hint in this direction was the release of the dead-beat and hypnotic R&B bedroom jam “Chicken Tenders” on 26th June—a teasing slice of what the full blown out project might hold attached to a hazy, hallucinating, and playful music video. Granted, this thing is far from a stunner or even a significant step up from the pre-existing sublime songwriting skills and instrumental proficiency he showcased in previous outputs, but it does hold inherent replay value and rocks an irresistibly exhilarating refrain, mildly quenching our thirst while we await for the full album to drop: “Chicken tenders in my hotel, yeah / Christina’s in my bed watchin’ TV shows / When she hit the remote with her legs shakin’, that’s good love makin’ / Watchin’ wherever my head facin’, it’s for bugs, baby“.
Moving on from there—it’s time for vaporwave’s own David Bowie George Clanton, who turned the electronic music world on its head in 2018 as he gave birth to his synthwave retro-nostalgia-soaked magnum opus Slide and legit started to turn heads in the industry, flirting with influential tastemakers, more mainstream circles, and even going as far as launching the first vaporwave music festival in the world, 100% ElectroniCON. Ever the indie Internet underdog kid and the founder of influential Bandcamp-generation full-service record label 100% Electronica, Clanton is also known by the monikers Mirror Kisses and ESPRIT 空想, under which he has been dishing out slightly different yet extremely adjacent stripes of electronic musings since the late Noughties. Meanwhile, late last year he surprise-announced an exclusive creative and fruitful collaboration with USA reggae rock band 311’s singer and guitarist Nick Hexum—incidentally and by his own admission one of Clanton’s biggest musical influences. Initially, this resulted in the carelessly euphoric and cloud-y double single “Crash Pad / King for A Day“, featuring songwriting and production from Clanton hugging gnarly staccato vocals by Hexum. This winning authored formula got preserved for a following streak of brand new singles in relatively fast succession, including the sublimely divine dream-state extravaganza of “Under Your Window“, the colder, insipid and lacklustre “Out of the Blue“, as well as the five-track EP Aurora Summer, unveiled at the end of May and bundling all previously debuted tracks plus the inclusion of the crunchy and gratifying synthetic moods of the self-titled opening piece.
Next thing we know, “Aurora Summer” the song gets downgraded to B-side on yet another two-track single by the top dawgs duo titled “Topanga State of Mind“, released at the end of June as what appears to be the last sonic teaser before a full length 100% Electronica-earmarked project drops on 24th July. This last preview offering might be the most unapologetically ‘vaporwave-y’ of them all, soaked and drenched as it is in gelid reverbed synth menageries, slickly working in joyous guitar riffs whilst comfortably nestling some of the most reductive and simplistic sets of lyrics heard on a Clanton tape to date: “Sunburn in a place I’ve never been before / When I get out here I feel like I know the score / Why’s it gotta be people can’t unwind? / You can’t move along until you’re righting the wrong / Even if you just put it in a song / Topanga state of mind“. Admittedly, once the self-titled debut comes out later this month there won’t be much left to the listeners’ imagination, considering that a beefy six out of nine projected songs on the LP already have been unchained in some form or another during the last ten months. Yet, it is always a joy and never a chore to re-delve into Clanton’s otherworldly and ontological auditory journeys—and while Hexum’s overproduced and mid-range-adoring singing is an acquired taste arguably best left to this one-off collaborative effort, at this point the genius can’t be put back in the bottle.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
ANGELS & AIRWAVES
ALL THAT’S LEFT IS LOVE
2020, Rise Records
2020, Columbia Records
GEORGE CLANTON & NICK HEXUM
TOPANGA STATE OF MIND
2020, 100% Electronica