Culturedarm’s Songs of the Month (June 2017)

All new music for June’s iteration of ‘Songs of the Month’, featuring standout tracks from SZA, Kedr Livanskiy, DJDS, Zola Jesus, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Bomba Estéreo, Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton, plus many more.

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SZA – ‘The Weekend’

SZA’s debut album has been a long time in the coming. She made headlines back in August 2013 as the first female signee to Top Dawg Entertainment, and her debut EP Z – arriving the following April on the back of a couple of early mixtapes – contained prominent appearances from Chance the Rapper, fellow new signing Isaiah Rashad, and label linchpin Kendrick Lamar.

A second EP, provisionally titled A, was announced in May 2014, but the project has taken just over three years to come to fruition. Upgraded to album status – with SZA highlighting its trap influences alongside more upfront and aggressive lyrics – it was placed on Top Dawg’s release schedule early last year. But while SZA kept busy, lending her considerable songwriting talents to Rihanna’s ‘Consideration’, and featuring on the track as the singer performed it at the 2016 Brit Awards, for whatever reason the process stalled.

Last October, via a couple of tweets SZA expressed her frustration over the delay, but in January her first appearance on Jimmy Kimmel brought the announcement of Ctrl, her impending album’s new title, and a performance of its lead single, ‘Drew Barrymore’. At last released at the beginning of this month, Ctrl finds SZA more open and experimental than on previous records, the husky drawl which sets the atmosphere of her music alternating with a snapping high pitch as she dwells on infidelities and the conflux of deep need and independence which come together in passionate romance but more often than not wind up leaving her despondent and aloof.

It’s fuzzy and scuzzy and tough yet urbane and on a track like ‘Love Galore’, the record’s second single featuring Travis Scott, tropical and wet and loose. Ctrl eschews genre, falling under the hazy catchalls of of alternative and PBR&B, but containing elements of soul, jazz, trap, trip hop, chillwave, indie, and more. The emphasis on squelching and scuttering and boldly-drawn beats allies SZA with Björk, one of her key influences, while her penchant for lingering on the outer edge of the pocket calls to mind Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

On ‘The Weekend’, SZA traces a soon familiar scene, lingering and loitering and lonely as she finds her lover off someplace with somebody else. ‘My man is my man is your man / Heard it’s her man too’ she sings, at once colluding with and accusing but mostly drawing in the listener in this most open and clear-eyed of songs, wearily reconciliatory, because through the loneliness and upset she remains amorous too. ‘The Weekend’ plays like Ciara’s ‘Speechless’ slowed down and subdued, love and comfort written as an elegy in the knowledge that all of it must be compressed into a couple of days, leaving only wide spaces in between.

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Kedr Livanskiy – ‘Ariadna’

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dvsn – ‘Don’t Choose’

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DJDS – ‘Trees On Fire’ (feat. Amber Mark & Marco McKinnis)

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Japanese Breakfast – ‘Boyish’

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Chief Keef – ‘Alone (Intro)’

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Zola Jesus – ‘Exhumed’

Despite two excellent records in Conatus and Taiga – featuring the same darkly operatic vocals but more range and lusher production, the latter pressing forward with some of the most upbeat music in her catalogue, drums sustaining rather than striking through synths which were sprightly and buoyant – the benchmark for Zola Jesus remains Stridulum. Announcing her latest album Okovi – out 8 September on Sacred Bones – Zola Jesus this month shared ‘Exhumed’, its first single. A culmination of her work so far, ‘Exhumed’ is a frontal assault with jarring strings, buzzing beats, and background wailing, her voice piercing as ever in the near distance.

The video accompanying the official audio of ‘Exhumed’ boasts glitch art by Corey Johnson and cover art by Jesse Draxler. In a statement accompanying the announcement of Okovi, Zola Jesus wrote:

‘Last year, I moved back to the woods in Wisconsin where I was raised. I built a little house just steps away from where my dilapidated childhood tree fort is slowly recombining into earth. Okovi was fed by this return to roots and several very personal traumas.

While writing Okovi, I endured people very close to me trying to die, and others trying desperately not to. Meanwhile, I was fighting through a haze so thick I wasn’t sure I’d find my way to the other side. Death, in all of its masks, has been encircling everyone I love, and with it the questions of legacy, worth, and will.

Okovi is a Slavic word for shackles. We’re all shackled to something—to life, to death, to bodies, to minds, to illness, to people, to birthright, to duty. Each of us born with a unique debt, and we have until we die to pay it back.  Without this cost, what gives us the right to live? And moreover, what gives us the right to die? Are we really even free to choose?

This album is a deeply personal snapshot of loss, reconciliation, and a sympathy for the chains that keep us all grounded to the unforgiving laws of nature. To bring it to life, I decided to enlist the help of Alex DeGroot, who has been the only constant in my live band and helped mix the Stridulum EP back in 2010. It will be released on Sacred Bones, the closest group of people I’ll ever have to blood-bound family.’

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Frankie Rose – ‘Trouble’

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Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – ‘Tenderness’

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Bomba Estéreo – ‘Duele’

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Waxahatchee – ‘Never Been Wrong’

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Sheer Mag – ‘Need to Feel Your Love’

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Sudan Archives – ‘Come Meh Way’

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Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton – ‘You Are Not Needed Now’

Still fresh off her searingly brilliant sixth studio album Wine Dark Sea, Jolie Holland began 2017 with a tour of Europe which saw her reunited with The Be Good Tanyas bandmate Samantha Parton. Eighteen years after they founded that group, working together for the first time since Holland’s 2008 record The Living and the Dead, the duo’s new work Wildflower Blues is scheduled for release in September.

The first single from the upcoming album, a cover of ‘You Are Not Needed Now’ by Townes Van Zandt, premiered on NPR’s ‘Songs We Love’ last week. ‘You Are Not Needed Now’ was first released in 1971 on High, Low and In Between, but the elegant harmonies and humming guitar of Holland and Parton’s version owes as much to the couple of pared-down demos which appeared in 2013 on Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions & Demos 1971–1972, covering the most acclaimed and prolific period of Van Zandt’s career.

Speaking on the subject of their latest collaboration, Holland has said, ‘I just called [Parton] out of the blue. We hadn’t been in touch, but the timing was right and she said yes’. Parton for her part was still recovering from two serious car accidents, explaining ‘I was in this wilderness of health problems and I hadn’t been able to do anything musically for three years. When Jolie called me up, I was so sick of lying on my back staring at the ceiling in a doctor’s office, that I was ready to say yes to anything, whether I could do it or not’.

The release of Wildflower Blues will be followed by a tour of the UK and Ireland. In the meantime, Holland and Parton have unveiled the album’s cover art, and are fundraising to meet some of their costs via PledgeMusic, offering everything from signed LPs, posters, and handwritten lyric sheets to test pressings, private concerts, and the violin Jolie played on Blue Horse, The Be Good Tanyas’ debut.

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Trouble – ‘Snake Eyes’

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Oneohtrix Point Never – ‘The Pure and the Damned’ (feat. Iggy Pop)

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Tyler, The Creator – ‘911/Mr. Lonely’ (feat. Steve Lacy, Frank Ocean, Anna Of The North, and Schoolboy Q)

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St. Vincent – ‘New York’

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