Category Archives: 30Hz Music

The 30Hz music-related ramblings

The Best Songs of 2017

Every year since 2005, my friend Mike at bsidesnarrative.com and I have been compiling our “Best of” lists. It’s a competition without a winner or a loser. It’s a way for us to communicate about music and share our thoughts without being able to chat as much as we’d like anymore. The above link will take you to his list.

The 100 Best Songs of 2017

 

The year 2017 was a bunch of whatever. Broken. The Upside-Down became our reality. While all that nonsense raged on and fueled our fears and whipped our disillusionment into a lather, the year found time to beget a veritable trough of earhole-worthy jams. It was a year of transition, a coming-to-terms with the dumpster-fire status quo. We may not like the world in which we live, but the torrent of inspired and reactionary art may be the silver lining to the coming apocalypse. #SmallVictories

I tweaked the “Best of” rules this year. For 2017, I’m only allowing myself one song from each artist. This benefits you in two ways. 1) You won’t be forced to read a list of nothing but Valerie June, The War on Drugs, and Alvvays, and 2) I get to pick more artists and more songs. If you’re reading any of these 2017 lists, you’re likely looking to find new records and artists to make these days more meaningful/beautiful/soulful/tolerable. Or you’re hate reading and shaking your fist angrily at your computer screen. Either way, thanks for the click.

And I reserve the right to completely change my mind about all of these songs next week.

Disclaimer in perpetuity: I’m still just one guy and while I listen to a lot of music, there are people who listen to a lot more. Like the folks at Aquarium Drunkard, My Old Kentucky Blog and Said the Gramophone — my three go-to music blogs. In many ways their input came together to form these year-end lists like Voltron. 

best songs of 2017

Past years of the Best of: 2016 / 2015 / 2014 / 2013 / 2012 

Bonus picks: “What’s That Perfume That You Wear” – Jens Lekman; “No Coffee” – Amber Coffman; “Runaway” – Julietta; “Do You Still Love Me?” – Ryan Adams; “No One Like You” – Blue Hawaii; “Still Waking Up” – Tim Darcy; “I Know A Place” – MUNA; “I Promise” – Radiohead; “Keep Walking” – Kelly Lee Owens; “Soothing” – Laura Marling; “Wild Indifference” – Joan Shelley; “Westermarck” – Charly Bliss; “Stellular” – Rose Elinor Dougall; “Sweet Saturn Mine” – The Moonlandingz; “call the police” – LCD Soundsystem; “The Fear” – The Shins; “Old Time” – Willie Nelson; “Ran” – Future Islands; “You Never Come Closer” – Doris; “1234” – Kevin Morby; “There’s a Honey” – Pale Waves; “Baby Luv” – Nilufer Yanya; “Thinning” – Snail Mail

inifinity

Covers: 

“Sorrow” – Paul Shaffer And The World’s Most Dangerous Band (with Jenny Lewis) / “Valerie” – Ra Ra Riot / “Can’t Help Falling in Love” – Beck / “Fragments” – Blondie

For whatever reason, covers dominated my earholes in 2017 and while I have a hard time ranking cover songs in the main countdown, I reserve this slot for trends/miracles that deserve a little bit of time and attention. Back on January 6th, Sorrow” was actually the very first track added to my “2017 Hits” list, which is the year-long collection of tracks from which I draw this countdown. To wrap up the covers portion of this countdown, Blondie checks in with a defiant, goddammit I’m still relevant wave goodbye on her cover of Adam Johnston’s piano ballad.

“Valley Boy” – Wolf Parade

So I cheated and added #101. I couldn’t neglect my boy Spencer Krug, who more than any other indie vocalist sings at the frequency of 30Hz.

 

100

“French Press” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Melbourne 80’s indie-rock nostalgists sound like Real Estate and the Strokes at the same time. My birthday wish from 2009 just came true.

 

99

“Heartstruck – Wild Hunger” – Hamilton Leithauser, Angel Olsen

Angel Olsen shares Leithauser’s delicious appreciation for expressive 60’s-leaning vocal styles. The two bounce verses off each other like cunning Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em linguists.

 

98“T.V. M.A.C.” – Mega Bog

Neo-jam-glam on *ahem* wry toast.

 

97
tie: “If We Were Vampires” – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit / “Alleyway” – Anna Tivel

This is me. Weeping. Like a baby.

 

96“Let ‘Em Talk” – Kesha (feat. Eagles of Death Metal)

Kesha’s Freedom Party 2017. A killer kiss off track backed by grumbly guitar rockers Eagles of Death Metal. The pop diva never sounded as comfortable in her own shoes as she does here, doubling as a riot grrrl.

 

95“Running Second” – Ainslie Wills

The terms “fierce” and “symphonic” come to mind when considering Melbourne’s Ainslie Wills. This teaser track from a pending 2018 LP promises more great things from this underrated songstress from down under.

 

94“The Blackout” – U2

Most will balk when I suggest the best track on U2’s latest album sounds like a lost gem from the Pop era. “The Blackout” forces Adam Clayton to the foreground and the result is the freshest U2 track since “Discoteque.” #ILikePopGoddammit

 

93“Ouija” – Graveyard Club

Dueling vocals and baroque synth. Stop teasing me with greatness and release the new record already you morose Minneapolis bastards.

 

92

“Deadly Valentine” – Charlotte Gainstbourg

Dramatic, grief-laden 6-minute vocal opus backed by strings and loss. Inspired in part by the apparent suicide of her half-sister, the Parisian actress and singer produced her greatest record to date. This song is one that will linger and grow and transform the more you listen.

 

91

“Ugly Human Heart Pt. 1 & 2” – Daniel Romano

An eccentric two-part romper stomper from the Canadian singer-songwriter.

 

90

“Call on God” – Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

I challenge you to give yourself to this song. Listen to the hope and the majesty in Sharon Jones’ vocals. Knowing the battles she fought and the live she lived. You will be moved. The late, great soul singer released the best record of her career after she was already gone. Her spirit endures.

 

89

“Rules” – Hoops

Two minutes and thirteen seconds of Hoops jangle-pop perfection. Why bother with more when you jangle that hard?

 

88

“Follow My Voice” – Julie Byrne

Julie Byrne’s voice reacts and recoils, occasionally suffocated. It’s a fragile human spirit — that voice. Gazing upon its mortality with wonder and fear and the depth of human emotion.

 

87

“Grandma Hips” – Your Old Droog, Danny Brown

I don’t know Coney Island’s Your Old Droog from a ceramic mixing bowl, but he had the wisdom to share the microphone with Danny Brown.

86

“Heavy Hearts” – Hater

Swedish quarter dropped their first full-length featuring this standout showcase of melodrama rock. Soaring vocals with a side of clouldberry jangle and jam-pop.

 

85

“Elegy” – Leif Vollebekk

Liquid melancholy backed by simple piano chords, metronomic drumbeats. Think Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” recorded on a bedroom eight-track.

 

84

“39 by Design” – Drab Majesty

Andrew Clinco channels Clan of Xymox. Some have called it “neo-goth,” but let’s all agree never to speak that term again. Pitch-perfect deep, dark thoughts with guitar, reverb and deep, mumbly vocals.

 

83

“Pink Up” – Spoon

While “Hot Thoughts” got all the airplay, the understated “Pink Up” rose up from the B-side depths to rule Spoon’s excellent 2017 LP — their best since 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

*also eligible for the countdown: “Hot Thoughts”

 

82

“When the Heart Attacks” – Gabrielle Papillon

Paste Magazine liked Gabrielle Papillon to Ben Folds, Joanna Newsom and Tori Amos as one of our most important singer-songwriters. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m new here. I “discovered” this tremendous talent on her fifth LP.

 

81

“Show You the Way” – Thundercat (feat. Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins)

Soul/funk/jazz impresario Thundercat (Stephen Bruner) impressed and beguiled in equal measure on 2017’s Drunk. Any artist that recreates a lounge-style atmosphere and introduces the likes of Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins as special guests in the middle of a song (without *much* irony) has my eternal affection.

 

80

“Cold Apartment” – Vagabon

When Lætitia Tamko’s vocals interrupt the opening silence on “Cold Apartment” you stand up and take notice. Without tremendous range, she cuts with unique precision and gives Vagabon a singular identity.

 

79

“Dog Years” – Maggie Rogers

Fun fact: I stayed a couple nights in Easton, Maryland — Maggie Rogers’ hometown. I had some amazing oysters in a crab shack in February. I loaded them up with paralyzing amounts of horseradish and hot sauce. But anyway. This NYC-educated singer-songwriter’s the real deal and if you’re not listening to Maggie Rogers right now you’re going to miss out on the time period during which you can say you listened to Maggie Rogers way back when.

 

78

“Judy French” – White Reaper

It seems that someone, perhaps Louisville’s White Reaper, is having some fun on their Wikipedia page: “White Reaper is the worst band in the history of bands. Known for making the crowd want to punch a baby, their garbage sound should not be tolerated.” While I’m loathe to cite a Pitchfork review, I love that they summed up the White Reaper sound as cheeky, classic rock for the Camaro-set.

 

77

“Talisa” – Daniele Luppi / Parquet Courts

Italian producer Daniele Luppi unites superheroes of indie rock — Karen O and Parquet Courts — on this balls-forward guitar and bass driven driven ode to former model Talisa Soto.

 

76

“J-Boy” – Phoenix

Total snoozefest. Recommending a Phoenix track. What is this 2003? What’s old is new again. Phoenix and frontman Thomas Mars keep evolving. 17 years young, yet they’ve never sounded stale.

 

101 – 76   /   75 – 51   /  50 – 26  /   25 – 1

 

Album Rumble: U2 – The Joshua Tree

u2 the joshua treeI last wrote about U2 after attending the 2011 concert at Heinz Field. I decided it was time to check back in with The Joshua Tree during this, the 30th Anniversary of its release. A version of this review first appeared on The Spill Magazine.

Music feeds nostalgia, it places moments in time, and for a certain generation, few records documented a time and place more precisely than U2’s fifth record, The Joshua Tree, in March of 1987. Impossible details remain vivid, imprinted forever.

Where were you when you first heard the opening of “Where the Streets Have No Name”? Can you remember how you felt when the Edge’s guitar first broke through that wall of synthesizer? Maybe you don’t quite remember the feeling, but you know where you were the first time you heard U2’s The Joshua Tree. Something as mundane as a placing a cassette in a car radio becomes epic poetry. The color of the car. The passengers. Maybe there were none. The smell of the Spring air, the type of flowers blooming… and you don’t even like flowers.

For someone born into an era of digital music, a sonic grab bag of unlimited potential, it’s perhaps difficult to comprehend the way a specific record release could freeze time, if only for a short while. Movies retain the power to unite a movement around an individual work of art, but by and large, those days in music have passed. Unlimited availability, fractured attentions, and the ways in which we consume and download music have eroded the event record.

It’s no longer my favorite U2 record, but the imprint of that moment of discovery remains; The Joshua Tree has positioned itself outside traditional criticism. The band has existed long enough to survive multiple shifts in tone and ideology. They’ve turned fans into naysayers (and vice versa), but the one constant remains that one record in the middle of their discography.

The Joshua Tree Track Listing:

Tinged with gospel, blues, and folk influences, The Joshua Tree would become U2’s greatest success, selling more than 25 million copies, but also the record they desperately longed to escape. Bono famously described Achtung Baby as “the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree.” Bestowing further accolades upon the record seems futile. Instead I’d like to track back and take a slightly different perspective on the record.

The trio of songs that open the record reek of perfection – their omnipresence might diminish their luster to the point that they’ve become background music, easily tuned out. 30 years of constant airplay tends to turn even the greatest songs into Roger Williams.

Check back in with these songs one more time. Listen to “With or Without You” with your eyes closed. Tune into Larry Mullen’s subtle changes in cadence and Adam Clayton’s heartbeat bassline. The synth fills in the blank spaces followed by Bono’s lovesick vocals. “See the stone set in your eyes / see the thorn twist in your side.”  The swell before the damn breaks at the three-minute mark. Try to recapture that virgin listen, embrace the way that all the pieces of U2 fit together. Embrace the bothersome, overplayed perfection.

Too Much Respect?

Focus on the so-called B-sides of this record. “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “With or Without You” don’t make this record a paradigm on their own, but it’s often difficult to see the lesser successes beyond those 800 pound gorillas.

The Edge’s “Bullet the Blue Sky” guitar solos over the years:

As The Edge channels Jimi Hendrix on “Bullet The Blue Sky,” it might seem as if the album takes a left turn, but in the context of the band’s discography, “Bullet” points toward the future, toward Rattle and Hum and eventually Achtung Baby, where guitar-forward became the rallying cry. After the slow-burn symbiosis of the album’s opening volley, “Bullet The Blue Sky” pulls the rug out, shifting and undermining expectations, just when the listener slips into complacency.

In my opinion, the album’s most important song doesn’t even reside on the overworked first side. “Red Hill Mining Town” was meant to be the album’s second single after “With or Without You,” but the band was unhappy with Neil Jordan’s video, and Bono had trouble performing the song during rehearsals. Recently he said about the song “I used to write songs that I couldn’t sing. And sometimes that was okay because the strains of the notes I couldn’t reach was part of the drama, but occasionally they would really just wreck the next show.”

U2’s first performance EVER of Red Hill Mining Town in 2017:

“Red Hill Mining Town” proved to be such a problem that U2 never played it live until May of 2017 in Vancouver for the 30th Anniversary Tour of The Joshua Tree. The politically potent track introduces the B-side with a jolt of melancholic energy that rises to a hopeful crescendo. Bono’s strained vocals included, “Red Hill” stands as a fascinating blemish on the record that shows Bono’s struggles as a songwriter reaching beyond his comfort zone – a comfort zone that had already made U2 one of the biggest acts on the planet.

Place in the U2 Discography?

Say what you will about the latter half of the band’s career, but no one could ever say that U2 became satisfied or complacent. Constant re-invention has been the only consistency. The band may never again reach the resplendent creative heights of this period in their career, but U2 remains relevant and perhaps undervalued – now thirty years removed from the album that made time stand still.

The 30th Anniversary Edition of The Joshua Tree is available in a number of different formats including a 4-CD Super Deluxe Edition, 2-CD Deluxe, and 7 LP Super Deluxe. All Deluxe Editions include the band’s live performance at Madison Square Garden on September 28th, 1987.

The Joshua Tree Verdict in 2017

You’d be hard pressed to find a U2 fan who claims The Joshua Tree to be their favorite record or even favorite U2 record. And I don’t believe this is a case of merely proving fandom through deep cuts, which is a legitimate nuclear hazard in music writing and appreciation. Denying value as a result of popularity turns discographies on their heads. In this case, maybe, because the band has released three career’s worth of records. That said, a U2 fan who denies the value of The Joshua Tree has just become embittered, jaded, perhaps senile. The Joshua Tree remains a vital classic that may have lost some of its luster over 30 years due to omnipresence. Time, however, has eroded none of its visceral ability to invoke some piece of you in 1987… or whenever it was that you first heard the slow build of that opening track.

 

Album Review: Jen Gloeckner – Vine

I don’t often post contemporary album reviews on the Rumble, but when I get offers of review copies of Jen Gloeckner records on vinyl I must reconsider. If you’re confident enough to splurge for the vinyl shipping costs, this is something that deserves a listen. Now that I’m spinning vinyl, it fits my page’s modus. So let’s continue.

jen gloeckner vine

Iowa’s Jen Gloeckner understands something that most artists can’t quite grasp. Pace and patience. Beware the record that opens with its best offering and follows with a steadily declining parade of grandstanders. For whatever reason, album construction hasn’t fully freed the shackles of the listening post. Ahh, yes. Recall the days when a music stores stuck towers or walls of headphones at the front of the store, ensnaring passersby with the allure of fantastic new music? Before the days of Spotify and streaming and unlimited access, listening posts were just about the only way to indiscriminately sample a new album. I also had a love affair with Blockbuster Music, who allowed you to sample any record in the store, but that is a reminiscence for another bl-g post.

Vine opens without fireworks, the album’s titular track lays downtempo groundwork with an electronic landscape. Digital seagulls, a sea breeze, Gloeckner’s sultry vocal bandwidth. It’s a perfect tease, something more than an intro but less than those listening post thumpers that hoped you didn’t listen beyond three songs. Gloeckner brought me back to the late 1990’s when trip-hop, breakbeat, and acid jazz ruled my 25-disc CD changer. We could also discuss the patently absurd “post-trip hop” categorization, but I’ll refrain from that micro-genre nonsense.

Sample Morcheeba’s “Big Calm” for a reminder of what 1998 sounded like:

The music of Massive Attack, Morcheeba, Lamb, and Tricky didn’t disappear; like most other sneakily-influential genre movements it become assimilated into pop music as prominent artists like Madonna, Janet Jackson and U2 claimed it in the name of progress. Radiohead perfected the merger. With the exception of perhaps Massive Attack, original artists slipped further into the underground. Albums like Doprah’s otherworldly Wasting from 2016 prove a receptive audience remains for downtempo music featuring scattered bpms, sampling, electronic layers and ethereal vocals.

On Vine, Gloeckner’s third full-length LP, she severs her already tenuous ties to the traditional singer-songwriter genre. 2010’s Mouth of Mars experimented with jazz and layered production. A standout track on that album, “Trip,” takes on all the elements of trip-hop without the otherworldly sheen that comes part and parcel with the inorganic roots of the electronics and sampling.

But back to pace and patience. Vine fully asserts its on “Firefly (War Dance)” — the trance instrumental second track on the album — by barging through the door with a tribal soundscape that would have slipped nicely into the backdrop Massive Attack’s Blue Lines. It’s not until the following cut, “Breathe,” that Gloeckner drops Vine‘s thesis statement. Muffled female orgasm, uneven drum machine cadence, synth, and droning guitar that tests the shoegaze temperature before scaling back to white noise.

Gloeckner seems less confident in the dream-pop entries “Ginger Ale” and “The Last Thought” that anchor the middle of the record. Amiable confections that fail to rise to the weight or evoke the same emotional resonance. This segment requires some pace and patience from the listenerVine‘s pendulum begins its return on “Blowing Through,” a loopy woodwind and string-laden waltz that foregrounds some “Enchantment Under the Sea” romanticism.

Vine finishes as strong as it opens. Starting with “Counting Sheep” the second half of the record ebbs and flows, successfully weaving what the press release calls a “Twin Peaks vibe” with ambience, progressive guitar work, electronics, and even the strains of Americana that dominated Gloeckner’s early work. The wonderfully trippy “Prayers” and the AM radio “Sold” stand out as B-side highlights.

Either this is an artist that finally tapped into her wavelength or she’s placed her trust in muse-like producers with clarity of vision. Perhaps both. Producer Brian McTear has worked with Sharon Van Etten, Marissa Nadler and War on Drugs, and a certain relative retrospective throughline can be heard in all of these acts. Contemporary fans will hear Lana Del Rey (with a slightly less bombastic, more controlled vocal range) while others, like me, will be transported back to a time when trip-hop soundtracked our lives.

jen gloeckner

Perfecting the atmosphere of a record is a tricky thing. Jen Gloeckner may not have quite defibrillated the genre of Mazzy Star, Morcheeba or Lamb on Vine, but she did the next thing. She reminded us that the threads of their music remain vibrant and relevant. She also reminded us that proper pace and patience require attention and that that investment amply rewards.

30Hz New Music Radar 3/3/17: Methyl Ethel – Everything Is Forgotten

30hz new music radar

 

Woke up today. To everything gray. And all that I saw just kept going on and on.

-Guster

 

What a weird day. Thwarted attempt to be productive followed by another thwarted attempt. Had a tremendous banter going with the guy at Goodwill that almost fell over when I handed him my old boat anchor receiver. Road closed. Road closed. Errands finally done, I journeyed to the coffee shop and in order to embrace the chaos I ordered a latte. The barista wanted to check my temperature. In all the years I’ve known this guy I’ve never ordered a drink with milk other than a cortado.

Stranger things.

Here’s some music.

 

30Hz Playlist on Spotify: Every New Music Radar Recommendation.


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30Hz New Music Radar: Methyl Ethel – Everything is Forgotten

methyl ethel everything is forgottenA thing I regret from 2016: not fully embracing Methyl Ethel.

This dream-pop substrate filters all manner of music through the smooth as a river pebbles delivery. A glimpse of grunge here. A trickle of shoegaze there. Psych-rock hidden behind salmon. What’s with the river analogy anyway?

At times reminiscent of the MGMT transition record that should have happened between Oracular Spectacular and Congratulations. Sneaky Tame Impala. Less trippy than Floyd. And especially Laser Floyd, which by the way should be viewed sober and maybe not at all. Just a public service announcement.

Dream-pop is not a dirty word. Great dream-pop transcends. It elevates and upflits, shepherds us through the days that we can’t go straight to 2:00am with whiskey and Tom Waits. Methyl Ethel has released two damn fine albums in two years, and it’s time to jump on the bandwagon before your Grouplove-liking work acquaintance starts asking if you’ve heard “Ethel Methyl” cuz they’re “pretty solid.”

 

 

Sample tracks: Ubu, Femme Maison/One Man House, Weeds Through the Rind

Buy Everything Is Forgotten on Amazon

Buy the Limited Edition Purple Vinyl from 4AD

 

 

Also highly recommended this week:

 

Meursault – I Will Kill Again

Strings-loving Scottish indie-folkers with a 16-bit past.


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Chicano Batman – Freedom is Free

Latin psych-funkers prepare to do battle against the forces of single-minded focus.

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30Hz New Music Radar 2/17/17: Maggie Rogers – Now That the Light is Fading EP

30hz new music radar

Welcome to February 17th. It’s pretty much President’s Day Eve already. If hearing President’s Day Eve doesn’t feel sobering, I congratulate you on being a stone-cold rock in a hail-storm. But about the music. 

 

I’m scrapped for time, but seeing as how I’m trying to be consistent in recommending top-notch tunes week after week after week I can’t take Week 4 off. Maybe Week 12 but not Week 4. Especially considering that I’ve spent most of the day with headphones in my ears and half-listening to everyone around me. It would be a disservice to everyone I’ve ignored today if I didn’t post my new release findings.

As always, music fans, share good music. It’s one of our few pure joys, a renewable resource of life blood and energy. Music, you guys. #NotSoDeepThoughts

 

30Hz Playlist on Spotify: Every New Music Radar Recommendation.


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30Hz New Music Radar: Maggie Rogers – Now That the Light is Fading EP

Maggie Rogers teased us last year with the song “Alaska.” Just the one song. Something to whet our whistles. And just like that first sip of whiskey, we shuddered. Not the bad kind of shudder. The good kind. The kind that just gets us acquainted with this new, bold flavor. But that’s all we had — that first sip.

Today, Maggie Rogers released an LP. So it’s not a full glass; it’s a larger sample. A fingerfull, perhaps. And it’s as good as we hoped. Her bio suggests a merging of folk, dance, pop, whatever. These bios don’t do anyone justice. Maggie Rogers has soul. No. She has SOUL. Singer/songwriters more often than not could be lumped into categories like “pleasant” or “cloying” or “annoying.” It’s all too easy to dismiss their output as ephemeral twee. Not so with Maggie Rogers. Unless I’m unfairly falling over myself about five tracks, Maggie Rogers is one of the most exciting young artists in music.

Legend has it that Maggie Rogers wrote her breakout hit “Alaska” about a hiking trip in college with Pharrell Williams… in under 15 minutes. Legend also has it that Pharrell was moved to tears after first hearing the track. Those legends are tricky things.

Let’s boil Maggie Rogers down. She’s a banjo-laced electro-soulstress and you should listen to everything she’s ever released, which will take you all of 17 minutes.

Sample tracks: All of them.

Buy Now That The Light Is Fading on Amazon

 

 

 

Also highly recommended this week:

 

Middle Kids – s/t LP

Orchestral Aussie indie-pop

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Ryan Adams – Prisoner

Prolific singer-songwriter’s best collection since Heartbreaker.

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Molly Burch – Please Be Mine

Jazz-fueled smoky-voiced indie-pop vocalist.