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Xtevie – Vanilla Tequila

Xtevie is the life of the party and brings some real swag to her music that’s impossible to ignore. “Vanilla Tequila” is her latest trap cocktail that comes with a banging beat and hype vocals that feel like if 2009-era Ke$ha decided to rap (as someone who seriously appreciates that period of pop, I mean that as the highest compliment possible). It’s pure turn-up energy synthesized into two minutes that makes it perfect to quickly get in the zone, and if you want to stay there, flip it on repeat again and again without it ever losing its luster. Now with three singles under her belt, Xtevie has really shown herself to be a versatile artist whose music is like one giant, irresistible celebration of life that’s impossible to not feel uplifted by and urges you to grab onto a friend and jump til you can’t anymore.

I can’t help but think about all the turn-up music of the past that inspires the same sentiments as “Vanilla Tequila”. Seeing the models at Kanye West’s Life of Pablo premiere rage to “Hard In The Paint” in the middle of MSG made me ascend to new levels, I’ve Spotify DJed many parties with “Freek-A-Leek” by Petey Pablo as the raunchy anthem for everyone to get down to, and seen how artists like Playboi Carti cause some sort of communal switch to flip where an entire audience of young people emerge into the most hypnotic state of disarray. We need to release everything pent up within us and music is the perfect avenue to do just that. Turn on “Vanilla Tequila” and turn it all the way up for those results.

Roland Tings – Always Rushing (ft. Mild Minds)

“Always Rushing” is a visceral heater of a track that starts off deceptively methodical, a calculated groove thriving on repetition while slowly divulging little hints of organic pleasure, before transitioning into organic indie-laced goodness. It’s a natural flow, almost psychedelic in nature as Mild Minds’ vocals echo across the soundscape, melodic yet detached and floating away into the ether. They don’t exist in a vacuum, though, as a synth-driven tension builds to a crescendo before suddenly dropping off a cliff into a subtle new groove at the track’s halfway point. There’s moving parts all throughout that seem to contradict one another on the surface, but their gravitational pull to one another makes this a magnetic release absolutely worth your time and then some.

For my personal anecdote today, “Always Rushing” lines up a pretty easy topic for me to tackle. I always need to bullrush into everything I do and overwhelm myself with as much practice or information as possible to a fault. It can be a sudden need to own every vintage nu-metal shirt on Depop, it can be the urge to buy every spiritual book I can to enrich my knowledge while jumping from author to author, all things that make me happy but totally overdone and require some moderation. Through meditation and daily practice, I’ve learned to slow down against my natural tendencies and exist in the present moment, appreciating what I have and slowly taking all facets of life in through a calm lens. It may take practice, but it works.

Delacey – Emily

Delacey is a pop star in the making, but she’s also an extremely personal writer whose new single is a touching tribute to her best friend. The lyrics are so pure, transitioning from dealing with broken relationships to taking shrooms and watching MTV. You can feel the honesty through the story Delacey weaves and that’s also owed to her next-level vocals which feel tailor made for wide audiences, radio airwaves, and beyond. It’s all topped off by production that serves to subtly complement Delacey’s powerful performance rather than take centerstage, a surge of bass at select moments functioning as its only real push to the forefront. From top to bottom, this is a touching piece within a sea of music that will rise to the top.

Friendships are a strange beast. I’ve learned that even our best friends have flaws and we have to learn how to deal with them (or whether we CAN deal with them which brings to question to the longevity of the friendship). Just last night, a good friend struck a nerve by saying my spiritual practices are strange and worthy of an “intervention.” It might have been said in a joking manner, but it struck deep to have something so essential to my life perceived as strange by the person who’s supposed to understand me the best. They apologized, but it’s now a matter of whether or not I should communicate how genuinely hurt I am over the comment – it’s a small thing to most people, but when you’re so in tune with yourself and your needs, these things become worthy of reflection and contemplation. Fortunately, I have the tools to write about it and talk to friends with years of experience on me and work through a small speed bump like this!

Elio – Empty Persuasions

Elio’s sophomore single feels like indie-pop perfection to me. Everything about this is so masterfully written and hits every pleasure center in my brain with every note. The vocals are simultaneously distant yet enticing and introspective, the instrumentals are subtly beautiful with little touches draped across its structure with twinkling bits of grace, all wrapped up into a wonderful package. I’m having trouble coming up with words to really nail down how this song is ringing so true to me, but maybe that’s a good thing, experiencing a song with all the senses and feeling it rather than sitting down and intellectualizing it. There’s a beauty in that, so I’ll look to appreciate this experience rather than judging it.

I feel like we’re tempted by an endless array of empty persuasions throughout our 21st century existence. Tempted by the newest product at the big box store, tempted by that unhealthy food blasting through your TV at midnight, tempted by the pursuit of material things to fill a void, tempted by idealized relationships that check all the boxes but are lacking in true fulfillment or meaning. I’m not sure if this is unique to our time period because people have been chasing throughout human history, but it sure feels magnified in this era. All that being said, being conscious of this and actively working against it will provide a lifetime of fulfillment if you allow it.

chloe mk – Fantasy

This might be chloe mk’s first EP but she’s immediately made herself known as one of the most promising voices in pop music right now. The EP feels like a turn of the century fever dream where Nokia flip phones and frosted tips swirl into a hazy amalgamation. The music has a modern punch, but you can hear the influence of 2000s pop starlets channeled through the lens of a conscious, utterly cool 2019 mind. My personal favorites are “I Can’t Stop” (can we talk about how that opening sounds like a slowed down “Still D.R.E.”) and “David Bowie” (a ridiculously beautiful ballad that’s dynamic, ever-shifting, and laced with endless layers to slowly fade into while listening along). This is a record that warrants repeated listens and stands head and shoulders above the 2019 pop crowd.

There was something about the early 2000s that felt like an untouchable zeitgeist. Technology was rising but we had nothing more than flip phones, pop music was slowly inching toward being critically appraised but not quite, it was an era of in-betweens, a transition period if you will. There’s so many lucid memories like looking at Dell computers in the local Circuit City and the just-built mall while “Toxic” echoed through the speakers. I feel like those were the last vestiges of innocence before social media drug us toward the unflinching realities of a toxic, chaotic society. It’s nice to close your eyes, listen to someone like chloe mk, and being totally grounded in the present moment while feeling the sensation of simpler times. That’s the Fantasy.

Grabbitz – King / Ghost In A Song

Grabbitz has totally transcended his roots in electronic music which I knew him for originally years ago. It’s an exciting time for the artist as he jumps to the highest of indie-pop heights on this song which jumps across various angles of the genre with ease. The first half is a super poppy track that you could imagine soundtracking a massive event while the latter half is a super swaggy, rapping infused joint with so much effortless cool to it that makes it feel like you’re kicked back listening to him spit while everyone nods along. Throw this one on in the background and vibe along for the perfect Friday sounds!

According to Grabbitz this track is about your art living on forever which I think is so true. Some art right now is certainly fleeting (see: Spotify targeting pop) but then you have work of auteurs that has lived for hundreds to thousands of years. Hell, we have ancient cave art that we admire so far in the future. Can you imagine in hundreds of years when humans plug into the database and dive into the music crafted today? Their minds will be blown, viewing our times through the lens of the art that defined the times. Here’s to living forever, now on Earth and far beyond to eternity.

SMLE – Chasing Channels

If you’re looking for ridiculously pretty electronic music, look no further than SMLE’s new EP. This one is a beautiful little four song package that traverses styles across electronic music. The first song is borderline post-rock before the punchy percussion swings in and makes it impossible to not nod along with a smile on your face. The second track “Counting Down” is one I told you all about when it dropped and is still an absurdly adorable anthem. “Haunted” brings a more dramatic, edgy flavor with a gritty drop while “A Way With You” is the darker instrumental complement to the album’s opener, making it a perfect bookend. From top to bottom, this EP is pure ear candy and I can’t recommend it enough.

It’s so easy to constantly chase, searching for what makes us complete. It’s natural and productive but sometimes you’ll realize you’ve been on the hunt aimlessly for so long when the solution was sitting in front of you the entire time. I have a long-standing approach to caring for myself but continued looking for the last piece that would make me whole, then just realized I needed to take one of my current practices further to get the result I’ve craved. It takes a lot of thought and introspection but you’ll always end up exactly where you’re supposed to be if you continue to be an active seeker.

Ashe – Cold In California

It’s been a while EMPT readers! I’ve been chomping at the bit to tell you about this Ashe single that blew me away and made one of my favorite artists feel not just like a musician but a magnetic personality who’s really caught me in her gravitational pull. This one is a purely acoustic piece that finds Ashe in her lonesome, contemplating the array of emotions she has about herself and about her home. It’s a fitting topic to muse over an acoustic guitar, timeless while being so uniquely Ashe all throughout. I was talking with a friend who’s also an Ashe fan and we both remarked how every single song she releases gets stuck in our heads after just one listen. She’s such a pure songwriting talent who’s truly positioned for indie stardom.

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for two decades and I’m still not sure if I love this city or not. It’s a constant push and pull – some days I’m in love with the ocean, other days I’m baffled by the traffic; some days I’m in love with the arts scene, other days I’m dismayed by how awful the public transportation is; some days I’m in love with the grit and authenticity of groups that make the culture here tick, other days I feel at a loss when it comes to the vapidity of the powers that be, especially what I’ve seen grow since I first arrived. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a perfect city, especially when 4 million people of all different walks of life and strewn across vast swathes of land, so maybe all of those issues can be seen as the tragic beauty that make this metropolis tick? I don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud, but I agree with Ashe that it indeed sometimes feels emotionally cold in California. Here’s to heating things up.

Else – Night Thoughts

This is the first time I’ve come across Else but this French duo makes some seriously next level electronic music. “Night Thoughts” isn’t just an audible experience, this is a cinematic journey through a wealth of emotions and feelings that you can feel with each and every pulse of those synths. It comes equipped with a wild music video which I recommend hopping over to whenever you have a chance because it totally elevates to a piece of pure art, far beyond what you’d just consider another addition to a playlist. The sound also reminds me of Cliff Martinez’s gripping soundtracks for the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn which serve as an immersive form of expression rather than simply existing as an outside piece only meant to be background noise, a ancillary piece rather than the main course.

The concept of night thoughts along with the mental connection to Nicolas Winding Refn is perfect timing because his new show, Too Old To Die Young, is fresh on my mind. It’s an absolutely mind-boggling array of carnal interactions draped under his signature neon lights and Martinez’s moving score. It really nails the dread that occurs in the shadows, those forms of shunned expression that occur once the sun sets. I think the ying and yang of existence makes harsh, abrasive moments beautiful when you come to an understanding that it’s simply one part on a grey scale of human existence. I know I’m rambling a bit here, but I’m just so overwhelmed with inspiration by “Night Thoughts” and I’m so thrilled to pass this onto as many people as I can.

Ashe – In Disguise

I’ve written about Ashe so much over the past few years and for good reason: she’s one of the most talented musicians out right now. Her voice is poetic, a naturally gifted story telling approach that makes you hang on to each and every word she utters to paint a colorful picture. “In Disguise” takes her into an almost western tinged direction that feels like a campfire song before transitioning into a pure pop chorus that’s going to convert so many listeners into dedicated fans. It’s hard to explain but some musicians have that *it* factor and Ashe’s voice absolutely has it – she feels like a totally natural star. Her ascent from indie darling into the pop realm is inevitable and I feel fortunate to have followed along with her career since the beginning.

I recently fell out of a friendship that I felt was built upon false premises and disrespect. They were someone who I considered the closest in my life for years, but our differences started to feel a lot more glaring than our similarities and I couldn’t bring myself to rectifying our latest conflict. I have people in my life that love me for who I am without any tinges of conflict or menace, so why would I keep putting energy into someone who doesn’t reciprocate the love that I put forth? Maybe they weren’t a fake friend, but it had become a falling apart friendship disguised as a strong one for far too long, and I feel better for it now that I’ve left. Will we ever reconcile our differences? Maybe, but I won’t be holding my breath.