In KEXP's new weekly series Living Singles, the KEXP staff contributors highlight three brand new singles that are resonating with them right now. Listen to Janice Headley talk about her picks alongside Sound & Vision's Rachel Stevens or read about the songs below.
The first track I wanted to feature is from former Seattle-ite Briana Marela, who is currently residing in Oakland, California. Last week, she announced her fifth full-length album, You Are a Wave, will be released September 9th, and this was the first single she shared from it, the beautiful track “Uncertainty and the Unknown.”
Marela wrote the lyrics to this song a week after her father unexpectedly passed away in his home country of Peru during the height of the COVID pandemic, and she was unable to visit for over a year. So, this upcoming release is dedicated to him, and the songs on it were written in the years following as she was processing her grief. It's so beautifully vulnerable, and something I think a lot of listeners will be able to relate to.
While in Oakland, she attended Mills College, which houses the Center for Contemporary Music, formerly known as the San Francisco Tape Music Center, where pioneering electronic music composer Pauline Oliveros was once a director. Many of the songs on You Are A Wave were composed using an original Buchla 100 Series, which is a vintage synthesizer that a lot of new wave heroes like Vince Clarke (of Erasure, Depeche Mode) utilized.
It's not all vintage synths: Marela construced this song in particular by using samples of instruments built by her and fellow Mills classmates, using things like rubber bands and egg cartons, something you'd never even realize listening to it.
I love this more experimental direction she’s going towards, kinda reminiscent of Laurie Anderson or Norwegian artist Jenny Hval. Marela says her last two albums for Jagjaguwar were deemed “commercially unsuccessful,” adding, it was “ultimately the biggest blessing ever... I learned to not be so afraid to fail, and to take risks creatively.” If “Uncertainty and the Unknown" is indicitive of where she's going, I'd hardly say it's failing.
Another song I wanted to talk about comes from KEXP fave Ty Segall, BUT it’s not a Ty Segall song… this is him covering the defunct Oakland-based band The Mantles.
I love The Mantles – they’re melodic with a retro jangle pop feel, yet still have that Bay Area garage rock vibe. This song in particular has always reminded me a bit of The Byrds. I didn't even realize they toured with Ty until I received the press release for this cover, which continues "Ty descends compassionately into the layers of morality inside their affirmation anthem, uncovering a haunted sense of time handed whereas remolding the surging rock across the unique melody into solo acoustic efficiency. Intimate and disarming, Ty talks to himself with guitars and voices, an beautiful filigree for the romance cleft ruthlessly open within the lyrics; heartbreak vibes for a brand new age."
Sadly, The Mantles broke up in 2018 (watch their final show here), but frontman Michael Olivares continues to record as Michael O via Fruits & Flowers (a label ran by Glenn Donaldson, who you've heard on KEXP as The Reds, Pinks & Purples).
Ty’s version will be included on his forthcoming album Hello, Hi, which drops July 22nd on Drag City Records.
The final track I wanted to feature is a return from the ‘90s band Sleepyhead, whose name I was so delighted to see pop up in my inbox.
The band formed in Boston, back in 1989, releasing three fantastic albums on Slumberland and Homestead before taking a 15-year hiatus. They returned with their fourth LP, Wild Sometimes, in 2014 before quietly slipping back into hiatus, but eight years later, they're returning with New Alchemy, which will be released on August 19th.
For me, they haven't missed a step during all that time away. Musically, they still smack of the '90s for me — which is great! It's still my favorite era of music, and movies, and TV, and, um, yes, I was wearing a choker-style necklace the day I recorded my segment for Sound & Vision.
And I’ve always loved the vocal interplay between drummer Rachael McNally and guitarist Chris O’Rourke, who are also married. I’ve strangely always been partial to bands with married couples, like Yo La Tengo, Low, Damon & Naomi. KEXP's Rachel and I think maybe it's living in harmony that allows their vocals to blend so perfectly? I'll listen to New Alchemy some more and ponder that one.
No Bandcamp embed yet, but you can follow them there as we get closer to August.
For more of Janice Headley's conversation with Sound & Vision's Rachel Stevens about these songs, listen to the audio embedded above. And hear next week's segment of "Living Singles" on Sound & Vision, airing every Saturday morning from 7:30-9 AM PT.
In KEXP's new weekly series Living Singles, the KEXP staff contributors highlight three brand new singles that are resonating with them right now.