This time of year tends to instill a sense of self reflection and, as is always the case, art reflects the society in which it is made. Some artists capture this feeling of anxiety and desire to look inwards, while some offer a much-needed sense of escapism. The colder days and darker evenings make this a difficult time for many, but this week’s selections attempt to capture that anxiety and offer some relief. Enjoy!
Mustafa | ‘Air Forces’
It doesn’t take long listening to realise that this is a special piece of music. With involvement from Jamie xx, James Blake and Frank Dukes on the production side, it shouldn’t be surprising. The haunting sample of a Sudanese tribal chant in the chorus, alongside the reflective lyrics in the verses, make this an accomplished offering from an artist that, at time of writing, only has 2 songs on streaming services. Mustafa describes his sound as “inner city folk music” and this song executes this interpolation of cultures with style.
Gemma Dunleavy | ‘Up De Flats’
You don’t need to be from inner city Dublin to identify with this ode to Sheriff Street. The way Dunleavy reminisces about her home is sincere and relatable. The beat could feel at home in the UK garage scene but Dunleavy uses this structure to craft a mid-tempo R&B song. The mantra of the song title is well known and you can imagine the outro being extended and chanted at live performances in the future. The EP, for which this is the title track, was released back in July but the new video for this song continues her conversation with Sheriff Street in a charming and personal depiction of her home.
Paloma Mami | ‘For Ya’
Paloma Mami is a young artist, but she has a very clear vision of how she wants her art to be received. The production on this track is mesmerising. The impeccable hi-hats mixed with the vocal distortions creates a wave for the Chilean-American singer to transition between Spanish and English effortlessly. Everything about this track appears so natural and uncomplicated. That’s the trick that all great R&B songs play on the listener, it’s so smooth you don’t think about the hours of obsessing over the sound of each hi-hat.
Jade Bird | ‘Houdini’
In many ways, ‘Houdini’ is the perfect metaphor for people disappearing from your life without a reason. Jade Bird delivers this concept, dealing with abandonment, with passion and raw emotion. The delicate vocals and defiant chorus pull the listener into the narrative of her story and the lyrics paint a picture of her heartbreak. This weekend 2 years ago, Jade Bird played a stirring, memorable performance at Other Voices in Dingle. Based on what we’ve heard so far, her songwriting has continued to grow since then, exploring the themes of heartbreak and relationships, and adding to the anticipation for her new album.
King Princess | ‘PAIN’
The catchy isolated vocals at the start of the song build to a memorable instrumental, but the piano line is the star of the show. With Mark Ronson involved on the production side, the piano could have been taken directly from a George Michael song from the ’80s. It’s a more upbeat offering from KP with minimalistic lyrics that reflect on her struggles in one-sided relationships. Production wise it’s a different direction for KP compared to her previous work, but the insightful and melancholic lyrics are still there underneath the glossy veneer.
Mia Nicolai | ‘Mutual Friends’
Unrequited love has always been a popular source of inspiration for songwriters, but it’s rare that an artist manages to capture that emotion while making the listener want to dance. That is what Mia Nicolai has achieved on this track. The pain and longing are all in the lyrics, but it is dressed up in glossy textures and soothing melodies. It’s no surprise that she has already worked with Mark Ronson in the past. The song acts as a love letter to herself after a break up, but if you don’t listen to the lyrics, you could easily miss the darker moments and the honesty.
Busta Rhymes | ‘Look Over Your Shoulder (feat. Kendrick Lamar)’
Busta Rhymes managed to be granted access to the original stem files of the Jackson 5 recording the classic ‘I’ll Be There’, and the results are so satisfying. The chopped-up sample of a young Michael Jackson fits so naturally in this arrangement created by Nottz. After only appearing sparingly since the release of DAMN. in 2017, hearing Kendrick Lamar return with a verse dedicated to not letting external influences distract him feels reassuring and familiar. Busta follows up with lightning-fast bars about his successes. Busta Rhymes is a legacy artist and this is another impressive track for his catalogue.
BENEE | ‘Happen To Me’
BENEE is known for her subversive lyrics and left-of-centre take on pop music. The New Zealand native has enjoyed considerable success using this formula. This offering is more introspective and self-aware than her previous records. The lyrics touch on anxiety and isolation while the acoustic guitar and breakbeat provide a backdrop that could be favourably compared to Radiohead. This track shows progression and a desire from a young artist to explore different themes in her music—it also shows that she’s more than capable of delivering on high expectations.