‘What I’ve Been Listening To’ is a bi-weekly series that highlights 8 projects, 1 song, and 1 video that have been on repeat for me. Be sure to follow the ‘What I’ve Been Listening To’ playlist that is always up to date with the eight standout tracks from all of these posts in 2022.
Another fresh batch of new music I think you will love. Hope you find something you like!
Utopia – Anouchka Gwen
9 tracks, 29 minutes
Released: March 4th, 2022
From: Basel, Switzerland
Genres: R&B, Soul
Recommended For Fans Of: Jamila Woods, Gwen Bunn, duendita
What does the word ‘utopia’ mean to you? The thought that this vision of a perfect world could look completely different to different people is the driving force behind the Utopia project from Basel artist Anouchka Gwen, specifically how black and white ideas of utopia could differ. “The idea of UTOPIA came out of a need to break free from pain, and choose healing,” Gwen said on Instagram, speaking on the inspiration for the title track and project alike. “I hope you feel some kind of happiness and have an insight on what my Utopia would look like, but also what my reality is.” On this follow up to her 2019 debut EP Growth, Gwen uses her voice as an instrument to create synth like layers within the tracks. Building a song around your own voice parallels nicely with the idea of trying to create Utopia for yourself when the world around you often feels increasingly dystopian. Utopia takes us through dream-like soundscapes, head-bopping grooves, powerful motifs, and even some reggae influence on We Are Many. Throughout that, we’re introduced to Gwen’s idea of a perfect world, both through the elements of society that currently prevent us from achieving utopia, and the beautiful aspects of the world that keep us from being a dystopia entirely. The project is accompanied by a brief series of interviews she posted on Youtube discussing the idea of utopia with other black folks to add some additional perspectives.
Standout Track: 1am Thoughts
FUNK TO BLACK – Nu Fvnk
4 tracks, 10 minutes
Released: April 22nd, 2022
From: Nairobi, Kenya
Genres: Hip-Hop/Rap, Alternative
Recommended For Fans Of: Mos Def, Quasimoto, Tyler the Creator
Nu Fvnk (aka Kelvin Hansen) started producing as a young teen, when he thought it was a necessity towards being a rapper as he didn’t know any beat makers at the time. Since picking up the skill though, he’s relished in being the type of virtuoso artist that can do it all. “I definitely want to be that dude who plays keys, then goes to the bass and lays it all down, then afterwards becomes the rapper,” Hansen told Jack Needham for Fact Mag. “That’s the goal. My favorite artists can all do that, so seeing them do all the same things that me and my friends do is just so cool. It makes those people look human.” As he’s grown into his sound, Hansen’s become a driving force for the current Nairobi music scene, with his own work and also as a member of the DJ/producer collective EA Wave. “Nigerian music has a ‘sound’, South African music has a ‘sound’, but Kenyan music doesn’t,” Hansen continued. Through production, rapping, and DJ sets, Hansen and his peers hope to create a sound for Kenya. As for his own sound, that production and DJ background bleeds through into his music. The four beats on this EP are cohesive, and as influenced by dance and electronic music as they are by hip-hop. Hansen toys around with his vocals as well, experimenting with different flows and styles. The opening title track has a pitched up chorus that brings Madlib’s raps as Quasimoto to mind. On socials, Hansen introduced the EP saying, “This is the start of an EP series. There’s so many places it’s gonna go but for now here’s the first installment.” Keep up with Nu Fvnk for more.
Standout Track: Feeling Low
Fosis Met Amor – Foudeqush
6 tracks, 16 minutes
Released: April 22nd, 2022
Genres: Indie Pop, R&B
Recommended For Fans Of: Ambar Lucid, Kali Uchis, Quelle Rox
After releasing her debut single Makin Money in 2020, Mexican indie pop singer Foudeqush has returned with her debut EP, Fosis Met Amor. Hazy, shimmering synths and electronics surround the melody and percussion throughout this project. It creates a dreamy landscape from Foudeqush’s angelic vocals to glide around in. A fitting feeling, as one of the singles off of this is titled un sueño raro or (roughly) ‘a peculiar dream.’ Even so, the project sometimes drifts into other directions like more pop-centric and electronic based beats on the pulsing mercedes blanco or the heavy (yet still washed out) rocking of inmortal. Foudeqush croons somewhat surreally on topics like love, lust, materialism, and both the strength and pain that can go along with being alone. For example, she ends the chorus of the below linked track signos, about a complicated relationship, with “contigo mezclo el ron con el vino, no son compatibles tu signo con el mío” (roughly meaning “with you I mix the rum with the wine, your sign is not compatible with mine”). These vulnerable yet playful lyrics have helped her already amass a notable following in her home country, time will tell if that popularity crosses over to the states, but she certainly has the sound and talent for that to happen.
Standout Track: signos
Harp – PENDANT
13 tracks, 38 minutes
Released: April 8th, 2022
From: Los Angeles, CA
Genres: Electronic, Pop, Indie
Recommended For Fans Of: Porter Robinson, Oneohtrix Point Never
PENDANT is the moniker of Los Angeles based artist Chris Adams. Having occupied himself playing in other DIY groups in the past, this is Adams’ first release really confronting his father’s passing over ten years prior. “My dad’s death was messy and confusing and it’s always been really hard to talk about,” Adams put in a statement accompanying the album. “I wanted to make this record about pain, how ugly it can be, and how grateful I am to it for connecting me with myself and the people around me.” The result is something he told Indie Mixtape he could best describe as, “mentally ill dance music.” He’s ‘sold his guitars and bought turntables’ so to speak, as the guitar based rock of his past is switched out for electronics. This album dabbles with garage backbeats, synth pop, house, shoegaze like dream pop, and more. The ever-changing genres encompasses a wide range of emotions, and the synths and sounds are often turned up to make you drown in those feelings, forcing you to experience them alongside Adams. There’s songs on here you could rave to, and others you might want to cry to. Both at the same time is always an option as well. It comes together to create a beautiful capsule of exploring new sounds and ideas, processing grief, and understanding yourself. This album is PENDANT’s debut under independent record label Saddle Creek.
Standout Track: LED Head Rush
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Whenever Forever – Friko
5 tracks, 19 minutes
Released: March 19th, 2022
From: Chicago, IL
Genres: Indie Rock, Alternative, Indie Pop
Recommended For Fans Of: Alvvays, Hippo Campus
Friko is the Chicago trio fronted by Niko Kapetan, a staple member of the Chicago indie rock scene. Their 2019 debut album Burnout Beautiful was labeled as a collection of demos, making this EP feel like the official debut for the group. It also marks a distinct change in approach for Kapetan, as he was accustomed to writing music then adding lyrics, before having a change of heart. “I did a lot of writing without music behind it [on this project] because I never really did that before. It kind of took me in a direction I’m more fond of,” Kapetan told the Chicago Tribune. “I just started trying to write and spewing out thoughts and that brought me back into it from a different perspective, I think.” The results bring some very lyric driven indie rock, but they won’t short you on the production side either. In_Out kicks things off with a driving anthemic opener before Half As Far pulls things back, and the influence of classic songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Tim Buckley (that Kapetan told the Tribune he was inspired by) becomes more apparent. “In this sea of dying stars you can show them endless heart, but it always hurts the same as doing twice as much, but moving half as far,” he laments in the chorus of Half As Far. The members of Friko have all graduated high school in the time since the Burnout Beautiful demos album was released, and the newfound maturity of their music shines through in the lyrics, songwriting, and overall quality. A sound that yearns for the past but is firmly rooted in the present.
Standout Track: In_Out
VAPORISING – BLKVAPOR
3 tracks, 9 minutes
Released: February 11th, 2022
From: Baltimore, MD
Genres: Emo, Garage, Punk, Alternative, Rock
Recommended For Fans Of: Pinkshift, Mannequin Pussy, Spring Silver
I got put on to the Baltimore rockers in BLKVAPOR after my friend Angelie (who I tapped to write about Mavi at the end of last year) helped throw one of their recent shows in DC. The members of BLKVAPOR met in college where they started making beats together, before moving on to covering songs as a band, and now arriving in 2022 with their debut EP, VAPORISING. While this is just a brief 3-song project, it packs in enough raw energy to match any full length punk debut. And they don’t have to rely on being loud and screaming for that energy to be felt. Sure they can turn it up when they want to, but they slow it down just as well. The real appeal lives in the urgent earnestness of the vocals and the swirling cauldron of every changing licks and drumbeats that back it up. Their music embodies a clusterfuck of influences to come out with a sound entirely their own. When one of their tracks was included in a Below The Radar compilation by Wire, they had this statement to introduce themselves: “We come from an experimental background sharing our stories as being black trans and queer people. We all involve our work as a form of protest against all forms of injustice in the world and as a form of healing as we all go through distinct experiences in this life. We hold space for each other and others that share similar experiences to us.” With a hardcore sound, and live sets that (from all accounts) go even harder, BLKVAPOR have set themselves up as a band to watch for the foreseeable future.
Standout Track: Dragonslayer
Take Your Time – No Swoon
10 tracks, 36 minutes
Released: April 8th, 2022
From: Los Angeles, CA
Genres: Dream Pop, Shoegaze
Recommended For Fans Of: Beach House, The Marías, Teen Blush
No Swoon is the Los Angeles (formerly Brooklyn) duo of Tasha Abbott & Zack Nestel-Patt, following up their 2019 debut album with their latest, Take Your Time. If you’re a fan of bands that would play at the roadhouse in Twin Peaks, this is a project for you. Chugging guitar lines over washed out synths and airy yet commanding vocals from Abbott guide you through this beautiful collection of dream pop and shoegaze inspired songs. Take Your Time is truly a project worth taking your time with, demanding multiple listens. My initial experience had me captivated with Abbott’s vocals, while relistens rewarded me with diving below the surface and becoming immersed in the vast soundscapes the lyrics dwell in. Layers of synth, guitar, and bass are built around the drums and vocals to create a cinematic world within each track. The songs themselves are letters to past selves in a sense, and reckoning with a future they might not have imagined. “We are so hard on ourselves for decisions we made years ago,” Abbott said on the themes of the project. “I have plenty of regrets, but I also see it as a process, and it’s ok that I didn’t realize the hopes and dreams of 20-year-old me. What did she know anyways?” Take Your Time was mostly recorded in Western Massachusetts during periods of isolation amidst the pandemic, and mixed by Chris Coady, whose notable credits include Beach House among many others.
Standout Track: Again
Some Things Take Time – Cisco Swank & Luke Titus
11 tracks, 24 minutes
Released: April 15th, 2022
From: Chicago, IL
Genres: Jazz, Hip-Hop/Rap, Beats
Recommended For Fans Of: Kiefer, Knxwledge
Chicago and New York join forces on this project aimed to please, “the beat junkies and the hip-hop heads, the sample lords, crate diggers and jazz purists alike” (via Sooper Records Bandcamp writeup). Luke Titus is a drummer first, but artist in his own right, with his most recent solo album PLASMA releasing in 2020. He’s also racked up collaborations with Chicago artists like Noname, Phoelix, Ravyn Lenae, and many more. Cisco Swank was raised by a multi-instrumentalist/choir director father and singer-songwriter mother, destined for music from a young age. Together they come together for a project they call, “one-part beat tape, one-part Blue Note jazz session.” Putting their best feet forward, while grabbing assists from Chicago rappers like Saba, Phoelix, and Femdot among other artists, the duo combines hip-hop minded percussion with soulful chords and jazzy progressions. Some songs play that approach straight like the smooth and sophisticated Nothing’s Changed, while others are more free-wheeling, like hearing Titus go spastic on the drums from the start of Joint 5. Some Things Take Time perfectly captures that lighting in a bottle moment when friends fall into something great during a jam session (reenforced by the fact that almost half these tracks are simply titled Joint 5, Joint 3, etc.). They’re just able to create that feeling eleven times in a row.
Standout Track: Nothing’s Changed (Feat. Saba)
CHUNKY – Paris Williams
The Kansas City rapper is starting to rollout new music with his latest single, CHUNKY. Williams’ lyrics command attention over this (self-produced) 2000s Neptunes-esque beat. As he prepares to release his next project, get to know Paris Williams by revisiting my 2020 interview with him.
Dead But Pretty – IC3PEAK
Russian duo ICEP3AK released a new album last week, and their releases are always accompanied by high quality music videos. Even if aggressive Russian protest punk/metal isn’t your thing, hopefully you can appreciate it from a visual standpoint. The video description includes a link of resources to support the people of Ukraine.