“Sugar World” by Whip Cream’s Fruit Quartet
One of my biggest problems is turning to genre when trying to describe music. It feels like a futile effort, especially with a song like “Sugar World.” What would someone categorize “Sugar World” as? Space jazz? Futuristic lounge music? It isn’t as if “Sugar World” tries to hide its influences; in fact, it proudly wears them on its sleeve. The presence of genres like bossa nova, jazz, and progressive electronic music create an approachability within “Sugar World,” but obscures them enough to defy categorization. Flutes and electronic organ work in conjunction with the ethereal, pitched-up vocal stylings of Ruby Mars, to create a sweet world that the listener is granted the privilege of occupying. — Justin Ford
“Xxnoslo” by Stemlines
Among the disordered beats of “Xxnoslo,” a yogi-like voice instructs us to “calm down, rest, breathe, stretch.” What a strange refrain, given it’s sandwiched between a pandemonium of deconstructed club sounds. Stemlines’ music is, at times, reminiscent of both Amnesia Scanner and Kelsey Lu, chameleonic in its pop sensibilities and coquettish charm. But Stemlines is also a singular artist. Her voice shrilly coos over what reads as sped-up, summertime R&B (almost as if she’s gearing up for her own dance craze) or conversely clicks under loungey trip-hop. It’s the rare sort of music that implies decades of musical trends and movements in an effortless sort of way, but also signals a vanguard of new, innovative thinkers. But more immediately, it tastes like the sourest candy, ecstatic and fractious. — Austin Jones
“Master Plan” by Sword II
As a supergroup consisting of members of Kibi James, Yukons, Playytime, and Sea Ghost, Sword II is firmly planted in the local music landscape. “Master Plan” vividly illustrates what’s most compelling about Sword II: it feels fresh, exciting, and effortless, while harkening back to Atlanta’s alt-rock acts of yore.
The dense soundscapes of distorted guitar loops, simple-yet-driving bass, fuzzy samples, and buried stream-of-consciousness lyrics are straight from the playbook of Cryptograms-era Deerhunter. I don’t draw this comparison to point out trite similarities, but rather to say Sword II is expertly contextualizing their work within recent local music history. There’s not a strong sense that Bradford Cox and Co. are necessarily a direct influence on Sword II, but the band does blend the same 80s indie pop and 90s alternative influences Deerhunter used to define the sound many have associated with Atlanta alternative music for the last 15 years. “Master Plan” not only sonically places Sword II within Atlanta’s musical lineage, but builds on a musical tradition by elaborating on familiar regional sounds in an innovative way.
“4 Me” by Ethereal feat. Abra
“4 Me” is a much deserved flex from Ethereal’s recent album E2. He knows he’s great. He tells us in his lyrics that he can drop when he wants, how he wants, because Ethereal knows it will always outshine those around him. He even shows off a slew of features from heavy-hitting Atlanta musicians on E2 including Lord Narf, Faye Webster, Father, and beloved singer/producer Abra. (Side note: Abra, I’m begging you, please release another album)
Ethereal’s trademark synth-heavy production shines on “4 Me.” Syncopated synth patterns drive the beat forward, as Abra’s auto-tuned vocals almost become a part of the instrumental itself. This all reinforces Ethereal’s innate ability to envelope the listener in the beat. “4 Me” is a reminder from Ethereal to the world that he is still one of the best producers around. — Justin Ford
“Decant” by Taves
If any Atlanta artist defined this year, it would be Taves. Their EP, Akátá, was on everyone’s minds back in March — just a few days after the city began taking quarantine seriously — and it’s been swirling around ever since. That’s partially thanks to the mnemonic way the EP flows, as if piecing together memories while minding the delicate parts of yourself. Akátá is an honest insurrection on trauma, challenging yet fleeting, stitched together with an eclectic array of traditionally Black electronic music conventions, from Miami Bass to even the formative drumwork of Detroit techno group Drexciya. “Decant” is perhaps the EP’s most clarion vocal performance, leading with understated, clear-eyed synth that melds with Taves’s voice like birdsong. Occasionally, the brief strum of guitar tingles like paresthesias. Taves is one to watch; if anyone’s on the verge of breakout stardom in the Atlanta scene, it’s certainly them. — Austin Jones