Before the world came to a standstill last year, the artist Chelsea Jade found herself in the middle of a particularly mobile time. A tour with Allie X was due to follow on the heels of a run of sold-out shows in her native New Zealand in February, a U.S. tour with Neon Gold’s Your Smith in January, and her first-ever U.S. tour with Muna in the fall of 2019.
Muna’s Naomi McPherson and Josette Maskin play guitar on Soft Spot, Jade’s forthcoming second album, as does Elizabeth Stokes (The Beths). These collaborators and others that recur throughout the credits Jade’s work –– like Leroy Clampitt, Justyn Pilbrow (The Neighbourhood), Brad Hale, Tyler Spry –– are friends foremost, people she knows and enjoys outside of music. “Everybody who I’ve worked with is very high-achieving in their own right, but that’s not why we work together,” Jade says; community is the starting point. “That’s the nucleus of how these things get made.”
Jade grew up in New Zealand, where early forays into music held conspicuous promise; a band she formed in high school went on to open for José González and Cat Power; her first solo project drew national awards. In 2015, after being declared the nation’s “Accidental Dream Pop Hero” by Vice, Jade moved from Auckland to Los Angeles, settling in a city that continues to offer “infinite mystery” that lends itself to her inquiry and her writing. “I prefer,” she says, “not knowing too much.”
Jade’s debut album Personal Best was self-released to international acclaim in 2018. “Life of the Party,” one of its masterpieces of droll, truculent pop, was shortlisted for a Silver Scroll Award for songwriting in 2017, in the company of Lorde and Aldous Harding, in 2017. “Laugh It Off” earned Jade her second such nomination the following year, alongside Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Marlon Williams. A dynamic pre-Personal Best single, “Afterglow,” has made several TV appearances, most recently on the hit Netflix series “Emily in Paris.”
On the strength of this work and more, Jade was presented with an APRA Professional Development Award in 2018; wrote a Chainsmokers single (“You Owe Me”); signed a publishing deal; and co-founded a fxmale songwriting/producer camp in New Zealand with tutors like Susan Rogers (Prince) and Wendy Wang (Greg Kurstin).
2021 began with some of the mobility that tapered off at the start of the pandemic; Jade toured in New Zealand in February and March. She returns to the U.S. this spring for the release of her characteristically luxuriant and sophisticated second album, Soft Spot, via Carpark Records.
“I think my music provides space for me to say the things I can’t always say in real life.” says Virginia native songwriter and multi-media artist Corrinne James. While studying New Media and Cinematography at the University of Virginia, James created a secret Bandcamp under the alias Naomi Alligator, and began uploading her intimate home recordings online. Although her primary creative practice has been experimental animation—producing several shorts and music videos for artists like Slow Pulp and Emily Yacina—James found a way to broaden her storytelling through music. “I grew up playing piano, but I was actually learning how to play guitar on the first few Naomi Alligator songs.” James admits. “At the end of high school my friend Ruby sent me a Google Drive zip of all the Girly Sounds recordings and told me ‘You need to listen to this!’” Inspired by the sparse and confessional qualities of Liz Phair’s early portastudio recordings, James decided to create her own musical journal to share and process personal anecdotes. “I was nervous to show it to other people because I was just scared about what they might think, but eventually I started sharing it with friends in college and they would share it with more people.”
This fall, five years since her first upload and over a dozen releases later, James will share her new four-track EP, Concession Stand Girl, while making her debut on Carpark. Self-recorded at home, Concession Stand Girl features Corrinne James playing guitar, synth, and banjo. “That banjo was actually a gift from my old professor and mentor, Lydia Moyer.” James recalls. Her modern folk production and poetic songwriting links the sounds of artists like Joan Baez and Steeleye Span to a 21st century context. James wrestles with guilt, purpose, and jealousy through vivid narratives in the songs on her new EP, as well as much of her self-released music and films. James says “I kind of feel like a kid when I’m writing music—it’s just about sharing whatever you’re feeling and getting that out, you know?” Following the release of Concession Stand Girl, James hopes to expand the sound of Naomi Alligator, experimenting with new recording techniques and layered instrumentation, while maintaining her warm songwriting.
Ducks Ltd. is a band formed in Toronto, Ontario, and currently based between Toronto and Geelong, Australia, that crafts bright and modern jangle-pop. The duo consists of Tom Mcgreevy, on vocals, rhythm guitar and bass, and Evan Lewis, on lead guitar. Both members were playing in other groups within the Toronto music scene and met while on the same tour. They then decided to collaborate upon discovering their mutual love for 80s pop bands like Felt, Orange Juice, and The Go-Betweens. Together, Ducks Ltd. stitches together layers of intricate melody to make moving, nostalgic music — an irresistible combination that radiates energy and provokes introspection.
After building a reputation in their hometown playing with artists like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Weyes Blood, The Goon Sax, Juan Wauters, and Yowler, Ducks Ltd. self-released their debut EP, Get Bleak, on November 29th, 2019. Despite being their very first release, the EP received high praise from the international press, including from Pitchfork, who said of the band “Ducks Ltd. understand that dancing through misery is healthier than dancing around it. Their brand of lilting, throwback jangle-pop makes that seem like the easiest thing in the world to do.”
In 2020, Ducks Ltd. signed to Carpark Records & Royal Mountain Records, with promise of a new music in 2021 to mark a new era for the duo. As an opportunity to reintroduce their debut EP, they will release an expanded re-issue of Get Bleak, along with three additional bonus tracks, “Oblivion,” “As Big As All Outside,” and “It’s Easy.” The songs on Get Bleak are full of the unbridled brilliance of pop, but the tracks are split open with the restlessness and critique of living during a more or less chaotic epoch. The re-issue of Get Bleak allows listeners to revisit the tracks from their EP and gives an exciting glimpse of what’s to come from the band.
Ducks Ltd. are brimming with potential, bringing the same warmth to listeners as when unearthing an old fantasy; wistful and existential, but full of new gusts of inspiration and radiance.
The release of Blessed Repair is a grand experiment for the Baldi/Gerycz Duo. The duo consists of Dylan Baldi and Jayson Gerycz, both of whom are members of the acclaimed rock band Cloud Nothings. With Baldi on saxophone and Gerycz on drums, they deliver an album that steers away from the process of slowly crafting lyrics and instrumental components. This time, their project is grounded in the gravitational pull of both of their instruments; two people creating and releasing tension in real time. Blessed Repair is an album that romps with the spontaneous energy of free-form jazz.
Baldi and Gerycz are quite familiar with each other as musicians, proving to be an advantage as they navigate the strange yet exciting new waters of Blessed Repair. Primarily, they work as bandmates in Cloud Nothings, but nothing resembles their improvisational work as a duo. In Cloud Nothings, songs are written beforehand and rehearsed, but as the Baldi/Gerycz Duo, they just play. Which is how the project first came to fruition — they are two friends who organically wanted to see how far they can take their music together.
The project uses two iconically jazz instruments, nudging Blessed Repair into the free-jazz realm. The saxophone soars and tumbles and the drums build and scatter, but both instruments are more linked by their playful experimentation and synchronicity than anything else. While they are fans of improvisational jazz music, neither Baldi nor Gerycz had formal jazz training past high school, making this album authentically experimental for them both. That being said, Baldi does recount that his first official gig as a musician was playing jazz music in the background of a wealthy Clevelander’s dinner party in 2008.
The Baldi/Gerycz Duo have taken the opportunity to harness the liberating energy of improvisation in Blessed Repair. And ultimately, they’re two friends exploring and pushing the boundaries of their music.
When Sonic Boom debuted with 1990’s Spectrum, it was a fresh chance for Peter Kember to go it alone. Poppy psychedelia with lo-fi edges, gridless guitars, and Velvets-obliged scowls marked Kember’s departure from the soon-to-disband Spacemen 3, the influential English psych soul outfit he co-founded in 1982 with Jason Pierce (Spiritualised). Kember’s new solo work hinted at the self-taught experimentation, circuit bending and interest in modular synthesis that would hallmark his career as a producer and performer.
But Kember, a co-conspirator by nature, got lonely alone. Soon enough, Spectrum gave rise to a band of the same name, who toured extensively and recorded several records, including a joint effort with Silver Apples. Next, Kember got busy with E.A.R., an even more experimental and prolific project with a fluctuating lineup that counted among its many members Kevin Shields and electronic music trailblazer Delia Derbyshire, who mentored Kember in audio physics and harmonic series.
The name Sonic Boom did stay in rotation, for solo sets (during which Kember singlehandedly manipulates a tabletop of keyboards, noisemakers and modules), split releases (like 2018’s EP with No Joy), and production work for artists including MGMT, Beach House and Panda Bear. But the list of Sonic Boom solo LPs stalled out after 1990, a rare single entry for an artist whose other projects’ output skews plentiful.
Finally, 2020’s All Things Being Equal updates the Sonic Boom discography with a second notch, and a first for Carpark Records–home to several artists Kember has produced. Recorded and mixed over a half decade, the songs began as instrumental studio sketches in Rugby, UK. “But I wanted to get out of the urban commercialised environment,” Kember explains of his move to a national park in Sintra, Portugal, which he calls “an enchanting area famous for being inspiring.”
His new surroundings inspired the album’s lyrics, which stress humanity’s role in our planet’s “critical collapse,” redress the power of our symbiotic relationship with nature and plants, and riddle over Animist spirituality. Wonderfully layered, drone-based voyages coalesce into hooky showcases for the intrinsic characters of the synths he worked with. “I wanted to mix bright digital with chunky analogue,” says Kember. “Certain instruments have something about their sound that touches me deep, and I’m always trying to focus as much vibe as I can into the songs.”
Although the album shares a project name with his first solo album, Kember’s decades as a forward-thinking producer make this new work more in step with his cutting-edge collaborations than a nostalgic glance at his past. “I learn from everyone I work with, and I wanted to bring what I learnt into this record,” Kember explains. “Everybody thinks about and listens to music in different ways.” With All Things Being Equal, Sonic Boom once again offers us a new way to listen, with music that is textural, full of dimension, and conscious of its place in the galaxy.
Johanna Warren is a multi-instrumentalist and producer who began her career as a singer/songwriter in the Brooklyn-based psych folk band Sticklips. The group released two albums before disbanding in 2012, and after a stint performing backup vocals for Iron & Wine, Warren self-released her debut solo album, Fates, in 2013. The album prompted her to tour nationally under her own name, and since then, she’s led a nomadic existence, calling cities across the United States home for short periods of time.
Over the past few years, Warren has toured alongside Mitski, Julie Byrne, and Marissa Nadler, but a life on the road hasn’t slowed her output. In 2015, she released her sophomore album nūmūn to acclaim, propelling her to the forefront of artists to watch in the second half of the decade. Warren dedicated the spellbinding collection of acoustically-driven songs to the phases of the moon and to the divine feminine–forces of great power and consequence that are all-too often overlooked.
The following year, Warren announced a twin set of albums released on her own label Spirit House, which promoted a radically inclusive, artist-friendly ethos. Each of the songs on Gemini I corresponds with a song on Gemini II, which debuted later, in 2018. The two albums are in conversation with one another, offering up a character sketch of dueling personalities vying for acceptance. To contrast nūmūn, which was rendered using a simple palate of acoustic instruments, the arrangements on Gemini I and II integrated a wide array of instrumentation and more palpable percussion, furnished with help from a small cohort of Warren’s longtime collaborators.
Following the release ofGemini II, Warren embarked on her extensive Plant Medicine Tour, during which she invited local herbalists, farmers, and activists to come and share resources with attendees about alternative remedies. In the spare moments between tour stops, Warren recorded her latest album in studios across the United States. Entirely self-produced,Chaotic Good is Warren’s first album for Wax Nine/Carpark and it is her boldest to date, finding her in a state of transition as she introduces listeners to a new phase of her artistry
Since 2013, Melkbelly have cloaked forward-thinking pop-songs with a shroud of disjointed rhythms, feedback, and noise. It’s a pretty great trick. Peel back the layers of the group’s richand colorful sound and you’ll grip the simple and true melodies that lie within the discord. It’s as you move in closer that Melkbelly comes into focus: thoughtful artists who’ve dedicated themselves not only to their community, but to surprising hooks that explode in cathartic cacophony.
Born out of a Chicago DIY circuit that champions collaboration and experimentation across genres, the modest family affair began in earnest when the guitar team of Bart and MirandaWinters joined forces with drummer James Wetzel. The combo of a minimal-pop duo and a drummer who lashes at his kit like it’s being swarmed by wasps was steadied by the propulsive contributions of Bart’s brother Liam on bass. From a freak noise-rock project, Melkbelly morphed into a rising Chicago rock band, releasing a series of dazzling EPs before dropping an inventive and original debut full-length.
On that first album, 2017’s Nothing Valley, Miranda’s sometimes delicate, sometimes sneering vocals floated above the palpably synergistic shredding, with her and Bart’s dual guitar gnarling as complementary forces. Thrashing rhythms, idiosyncratic riffs, and eerie anthems: Melkbelly’s distinctive aesthetic held together practically in defiance of itself.
As the members of Melkbelly have grown together, they’ve played internationally-recognized fests like Pitchfork Music Festival, opened for the Foo Fighters at hometown stadium WrigleyField, and gigged alongside their most formative influences: Built to Spill, Lightning Bolt and theBreeders. Spending time with bands whose music shaped them expanded their musical vocabulary and sharpened their collective songwriting abilities. On brand new albumPITH, the group puts its expanded capacity to use, emphasizing the depth of its arrangements by giving tracks space. “Louder louds, softer softs—somehow this emphasizes the in-between,” explainsJames. As their stages have grown in stature, their recordings have developed in complexity.This dynamic evolution is a show of gratitude to the scene they call home and the heroes they now call friends, and also establishes Melkbelly as a forward-thinking group perfect at sounding just like themselves
The debut album from Erin Anne, Tough Love is an unruly yet elegant collage of all the elements that make up her musical vocabulary: wildly shredded riffs and lo-fi acoustic ramblings, punk-rock energy and folky austerity, new-wave whimsy and high-flown pop theatrics. With a narrative voice at turns thoughtful and rebellious, confrontational and shy, the L.A.-based singer/songwriter spins her lyrics from such divergent sources as formative queer texts and her own moon-phase-specific dream journal, ultimately presenting a body of work that bravely documents the slow and strange process of becoming yourself.
Co-produced with Alex Rogers (an engineer/multi-instrumentalist known for his work with bands like Family Hahas and Tambourines), Tough Love offers a potent introduction to Erin’s kaleidoscopic musicality and infinitely unpredictable guitar work. In bringing the album to life, the two collaborators drew from an earlier version of Tough Love self-released by Erin in early 2019, re-recording each song with live drums and Rogers’s lavish collection of analog synths. With Erin playing every instrument except drums, Tough Love bears an expansive sonic palette wholly suited to its emotional thrust—a state of mind she encapsulates as “standing in the doorway between presents you’ve grown out of and futures you’re afraid you’re too small for, and using music as the catalyst to take those steps into the unknown.”
On songs like “Bedroom Track (Carrie),” Erin captures that tension with both tender introspection and unbridled drama, building the song around an intricate arrangement showing the depths of her expressive imagination (“I wanted the acoustic guitar to be the drizzle and the synth to be the storm, and the electric guitar to be the thunder and lightning,” she explains). Delivering what she dubs a “personal manifesto about wanting things—a very specifically female/queer kind of wanting,” “Bedroom Track (Carrie)” also illuminates her melodic ingenuity, with Erin transforming a string of sentences lifted from Carrie Brownstein’s 2015 memoir Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl into the track’s delicately rendered opening lines.
An album charged with restless intensity, Tough Love reaches a glorious peak on its title track, a song initially informed by Erin’s experience in earning her Ph.D. in musicology at UCLA. “Being a woman in academia can be exhausting,” says Erin. “‘Tough Love’ started when I came from a day at seminar when I was trying to make a very simple point and couldn’t get a word out—I was incredibly frustrated, and tried to write a vaguely ’80s, “9 to 5”-style song that would feel good to Jazzercise to.” But as the track took shape, “Tough Love” eventually morphed into a massive anthem, a thrillingly cathartic refusal to let her voice go unheard.
Elsewhere on Tough Love, Erin explores the more fragile corners of her psyche, imbuing a particularly painful vulnerability into “Gaslighter,” the album’s hypnotic centerpiece. “I have this recurring new-moon dream, where my ex-girlfriend breaks into my house and starts berating me,” says Erin. “A lot of ‘Gaslighter’ came straight from my dream journal, and it turned into a dialogue between past trauma and my present, more emotionally evolved self.” With its endlessly clashing textures and lyrics telegraphing the confusion of abuse (“I still don’t know what I did wrong/Can I kill you with a song?”), “Gaslighter” channels the many voices circulating in Erin’s head—an effect that’s simultaneously jarring, mesmerizing, and oddly transcendent.
Throughout Tough Love, Erin reveals the vastness of her interior world, a joyful complexity that finds her referencing Erving Goffman’s 1956 sociological tome The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and Belinda Carlisle’s classic pop epic “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” with equal admiration. Growing up in New Jersey, Erin got her start in music by taking up violin in third grade, then quickly moved on to guitar, a neon-blue Yahama she broke in by covering blink-182’s “Dammit” in her school’s talent show. By the time she’d reached high school, however, she’d begun playing an acoustic guitar and shifted into quintessential singer/songwriter mode. “I started writing less brash things around that time, partly because I had some idea like ‘Women are quiet; we write quiet songs,’” she recalls.
During her undergrad studies at Bowdoin College, Erin experienced a life-changing revelation upon viewing the Kathleen Hanna documentary The Punk Singer for a course on gender, sexuality, and popular music. “I grew up in New Jersey where everybody played lacrosse and I had very limited access to anything remotely queer, which meant I’d never heard of riot grrrl before,” she says. Not long afterward, Erin formed a riot grrrl band named the Navel Gazers (“a jab at a professor who said I should stop talking about myself so much in my work”), and began performing her own material for the first time. “It was all so new to me, and it was a nice bridge into being able to take more risks,” she notes. After graduating from Bowdoin, Erin moved to Portland, Maine, where she started a solo project called REGI RKT (a nod to a zine-making, feminist, street-hockey-playing character from the Nickelodeon cartoon “Rocket Power”), then put out an EP titled Vulnrubble in 2017. Her first release under her own name, the original version of Tough Love arrived in June 2019, and soon landed her a deal with Carpark Records.
In releasing her newly reimagined take on Tough Love, in all its frenetic grandeur, Erin hopes that the album might leave her audience with a sense of wholeness similar to what she found in its creation—an adventure she describes as “a journey to becoming a more comfortable self.” “I think in a way this record is about coming to terms with the less-than-good things about yourself, and with the parts of your identity that maybe aren’t accepted by everyone else,” says Erin. “I wanted to use all that to create something that encourages reflection but hopefully also makes people feel good—even if it’s the kind of good that hurts at points.”