Press Play is an eclectic column by Austin Nguyen that compiles music across boundaries of time, genre, and language in the hopes that you will find a song that speaks to you.
Since the last Press Play column, the coronavirus has infected 20,330 Californians, the worldwide death toll has passed 100,000, according to the L.A. Times. Classrooms are digitized nationwide, and the virus has led to a new generation of “quaran-teens” (a portmanteau for the books memes, to say the least). April seems to present even more opportunities for escalating danger, so while we await the worst, hostages in our own homes, why not travel through the music and do as Cristina Yang and Meridith Grey do on “Grey’s Anatomy” — dance. it. out.
Today’s release is dream-pop artist Love You Later’s new EP “Heaven is Without You.”
When love is lost, rose-colored glasses wilt into black and white, rom-coms become nauseating, mass-pandering impossibilities, and the only memories worth living for are in the past. At least, that’s what Adele wants you to think, but for singer-songwriter Lexi Aviles — who goes by the stage name Love You Later — heartbreak is a new beginning, a chapter that is just as paradoxical and beautiful as the last.
Her voice floats on a rainbow of glittering synths as two lovers grow apart on “That’s The Way It Goes,” the lyrics “We held hands / But then I lost my grip” seemingly written in cotton candy clouds across the sky.
She comes back down to earth when the piano flourishes in with “a sense of relief,” and fate’s inevitability (“There’s no way around it”) almost makes the parting seem easy.
But the EP’s opening track finds an antithesis in “Making Plans” — the first pang of heartache and devastation. Questions are left where there used to be lips to kiss and hands to hold (“Love is patience, so why do I fight it?”), and as they echo into the vortex of a midnight highway during the bridge, each one feels just as consuming as a love-at-first-sight fantasy, the present just as bleak as the past was hopeful.
Aviles only enters ballad territory on “Emily” though, a goodbye under the string lights of a slow dance. “I felt something real this time,” she admits, clinging onto what was before letting go (“And I’m giving in to Emily”). Her voice quivers trying to find strength (“You go, I’ll be fine”) to accept the bitter truth — that this love wasn’t meant to be, that maybe (just maybe) she wasn’t enough — but “Blindfolded” brings the EP back into technicolor.
Lines like “finally, the grass is green, I’m on the other side” might seem trite at times, but the confidence within the four-on-the-floor drum pattern and sunshine synths makes Aviles’ last words even sweeter: “Back to what I know and all I see is golden.”
Listen to “Heaven Is Without You” on Spotify
Recently released singles and EPs:
“Animal Crossing” by Sophia Black, Shawn Wasabi
Despite her sparse discography, LA-based singer-songwriter Sophia Black has been in the music industry longer than you think. Six years have passed since the release of her first single “Vibration,” and the only album to her name is her self-titled EP from 2015, but Black has remained an icon throughout the years. Not because of her trilingual talent (albeit a feat in itself), rapping in Japanese on KYLE’s “Ikuyo” and intermingling French and English on “Vibration,” but because of her bubbly personality and hilarious meme-ery.
She celebrates Shrek Day (yes, it’s a real holiday) annually and was about to name her second EP “Hi, Sweetie,” so the only natural next step? To bring the party to the quarantine with the biggest meme of the season: “Animal Crossing,” glittering with bird chirps and sound effects from the song’s namesake before exploding into an exuberant kaleidoscope of laughter, synths, and harmonies for pure, unadulterated joy and fun.
Listen to “Animal Crossing” on Spotify
“Violeta” by Vetta Borne
The formula is mathematically simple: minimalist verses that build up and pay off with maximalist choruses and lyrics of a burgeoning romance with the same catharsis all on top of a palpitating bass line that traces the technicolor floor of a roller rink.
But Vetta Borne is far from a one-trick pony. The songs on “Violeta” are more than a calculation in pop music theory turned R&B. “Hey” gazes from across the room and sets sparks to the tension in between with lyrics “It’s so nice to meet you / Hey, I’ll be a stranger for once.”
Borne gushes to her best friend over text like a high schooler falling in love for the first time in “R.I.P” “Oh my gosh….R.I.P. to me, I’m gone.”
Heartbreak is made easy and electric-slide-ready on “Girls” without wallowing self-pity (“Stepping on my soul…I don’t blame you for letting me go”), and “Home” is a 10-blade-sharp incision into the heart of queer rejection (“Been feeling too safe in the closet”).
The story comes full circle here — the first look that intoxicates, the fantasies that ensue, and the insecurities that are left in its wake — and it might just be the closest thing we have to real love across these screens.
Listen to “Violeta” on Spotify
Recently released albums:
“Sparkle” by iri
Outside of Japan, the most common interaction with Japanese pop, commonly known as J-pop, is mostly through anime series and their soundtracks, or OSTs.
Well, that and — I digress — holographic Coachella performer Hatsune Miku and city pop, but either way, the genre is more than background music for a title sequence on-screen and 2017 memes.
In that sense, Japanese singer and rapper iri and her newest album “Sparkle” are a triple threat. With 1) a smooth introduction to Japanese music in general, 2) a showcase of the J-pop’s amalgamated sound (from the rock-inflected rap of “Freaking” to the bassline-heavy synthpop of “Coaster”), and 3) the sound of an artist at the genre’s forefront. Multiple iri songs have been featured on “Tokyo Rising,” a Spotify playlist with over 200,000 followers.
Music from across the Pacific has just as much merit as music created in the states despite much-too-ostracized “weeb” culture and language barriers.
“Clear color” deconstructs stuttering pop electronica into a swaggering rap breakdown while the handclap hype of “24-25” is the perfect launchpad for explosive horn-section fanfare and iri’s rapid-fire line delivery. The closest iri gets to duplication is “COME BACK TO MY CITY,” teetering on a carbon copy of the opening from Surfaces’ “24 / 7 / 365” without the lo-fi filters, but it never slackens into a stagnant blur of Chill Vibes as its Sinatra-covering counterpart. No need for false equivalents to attract a listen; the music speaks for itself and — pun very much intended — sparkles.
Listen to “Sparkle” on Spotify
Peer into the past:
“It’s Raining” by Vincent Blue
At the heart of Korean indie music is the cliché of a boy and his guitar, but Vincent Blue isn’t trying to mimic “The A Team”-era Ed Sheeran. Even a year after its release on March 22, 2019, “It’s Raining” remains indelible through Blue’s jazz-pop fusion, scatting before verses in his pristine falsetto and letting sunshine shimmer between his guitar strings to make heartbreak (“Oh, it seems like loneliness”) seem effortless and unhurried.
Listen to “It’s Raining” on Spotify