Exclaim!'s Staff Picks for November 21, 2022: Dry Cleaning, U.S. Girls, Joji
Published Nov 21, 2022Somehow, against all odds, it's November 21. We're just as shocked as you are, and we're trying to ease the troubling rate of time's passing with another edition of Exclaim!'s Staff Picks. This collection of tracks sees artists holding community above all — dreaming of a better future while feeling fiercely protective of the people they love, taking mental health walks and comforting the child within, and imagining intergalactic music festivals on fictional planets.
Ground yourself further with more present-tense new music to discover in our reviews section.
Joe Baughman + the Righteous Few
"Vacant Spaces," the lead single of Joe Baughman's Antichrist Complex, is as much an audio treat as it is a visual one. The working man's anthem arrives alongside a stop-motion animation three years in the making, with the multidisciplinary artist's diligence reflected in populistic banjos and mandolins, while its lyrics contrast the "joyless the toil for riches and spoils" with a love of community, family and hope for the future.
Starting with a Stereolab-esque groove, the second track off Dry Cleaning's latest effort Stumpwork offers more warmth than usual from the UK post-punks. Describing a jaunt through Easton in Bristol, singer Florence Shaw opens with, "Things are shit / But they're gonna be okay." It's reminiscent of the inflated optimism of a mental health walk, right as you admit to yourself that maybe a little stroll does help a bit.
Jeen O'Brien's career dates back a couple decades — both as a solo artist and a core member of Cookie Duster along with Brendon Canning — and she spans styles both cutting-edge and classic on the addictive loud-quiet-loud bursts of "On and On" the synth-y sigh of "Chemical Emotion."
On his third full-length(-ish) project, Japanese polymath Joji compresses heartbreak into under 20 minutes of aurora borealis-hued R&B. Split into two parts, Side A conjures some of James Blake's finest with its pristinely glassy atmosphere and sweeping, melodic ballads, while Side B verges into more glitched-out trip-hop territory as Joji picks up the pieces of the failed reconciliation.
The concept: the 10th album from the English electronic vets recreates their out-of-this-world performance — also chronicled in an original, AI-developed companion graphic novel — at fictional, intergalactic festival Feorm on the planet Falorx, for which they were transformed into light for fast travel and survival of the locale's atmosphere. The result? The Warp Records fixtures shake off the shadows of predecessor Polymer to embrace luminous melodies and a galaxy of alluring textures in channeling funk, rock, and jazz across the unworldly set.
Abby Sage just wants to make something pretty of it. The Los Angeles/London-based, Toronto-raised singer-songwriter weaves threads from the lives of the people around her into character sketches in a hazy alt-pop dreamscape on her jewel-toned sophomore EP. A potpourri of vignettes take shape from squelchy distorted guitars, pulsating rhythms and Sage's gently perfumed lilt — a perfectly balanced throaty whisper as she repeats "Cut, step / Trip, crack" as an incantation to protect her friends from harm's way on the title track.
"Bless This Mess"
The flipside to this summer's muscular, sweat-soaked "So Typically Now," "Bless This Mess" is all gentle caresses and early morning light — the stumpwork wall-hanging to its companion's neon club sign. Over starry keys and romantic sweeps of strings, Meg Remy liaises with God and returns with some sage comfort: "Bless this Mess / I see you're doing your best." A message to Remy's troubled younger self and a piece of protective armour for anyone who might need it, it's a song that only U.S. Girls could pull off — weepy sentimentality made somehow true again, the tender conviction of her words burning away all doubt and fear.