• By: Owen Maxwell

Self Esteem’s songs feels as addictive as they are unhinged


Self Esteem  – Prioritise Pleasure (Sheffield, U.K.)

It’s so rare to get an artist who so perfectly encapsulates great pop but who also likes to experiment a lot with their sound. With songs that feel as addictive as they are unhinged, Self Esteem is music that will sink under your skin and reward every repeat listen. “F***ing Wizardry” hits an amazing middle ground between Tune-Yards-like quirky production and full-blown radio pop melodies, and leaves you lost in its euphoric party pop highs. The driving beat of “Prioritise Pleasure” makes the choir-driven breakdowns really feel earned, and the soaring vocal really feel empowering in its celebration of satisfaction. The moody tones of “I Do This All The Time” leave the storytelling as a melancholic lament of trying to do your best but feeling like it’s never enough. The dark punk energy of “How Can I Help You” showcases Self Esteem’s ability to unabashedly twist sounds, and overblown acoustics of it recall tracks from Yeezus as well.

ES:MO (Elizabeth Shepherd & Michael Occhipinti) – The Weight of Hope  (Montreal/Toronto)

With a collaborative spirit that makes for silky recordings and effortless fun, ES:MO truly sound like they’ve been playing together for years. “Any Other Way” slides and burns bright in its great guitar lines and vocals, but it’s the finesse of the drums that somehow comes through the best on this amazing track. The harmonies that open “Visions” are truly mystifying, but the instant funk they get once the whole band is in really makes for a song that will get you snaking your own body along to the sound. There’s a more overpowering instrumental approach to “The Weight of Hope” that feels otherworldly, truly spacing out the record and showing the more experimental and narrative qualities both artists possess as well. The layered instrumentation of “Lord of the Starfields” really compliment each other in the echo, as guitars and piano become one in its galactic wonder.

Little Simz  – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert  (London, U.K.)

Apart from an already glowing selection of features on other people’s work, Little Simz truly shines amazingly when she’s in control of the music. Mixing jazz, soul, R&B and an utterly unique delivery in her vocals, Simz’s latest record bridges everything from M.I.A. to Kadhja Bonet. “Woman” is a dreamy example of this sound, with its Isaac Hayes’ sound, glowing backing vocals from Cleo Sol and the great punch Simz brings into her great flow. There’s an immediate hook to “Two Worlds Apart” that gives it an memorable edge to many of Simz’s contemporaries, and her loose yet sassy approach on the track is grin-inducing. “Little Q, Pt. 2” is a production delight, mixing its already groovy verses with the zigzagging glory of that high-pitched chorus line that will bury itself into your brain and have you singing it all day. The drums of “Fear No Man” are heaven, and the chants let Simz get this amazing base to fly off the handle with and just freely play with the beat.  

Sarah Hiltz – Love & Retreat (Single) (Toronto)

 There’s a classic indie feeling to Sarah Hiltz latest single, that feels oh so familiar but never too derivative. Hiltz’s crisp vocals let the whole song brim with hope and wonder, even in its most anxious moments. While much of the song retains a subdued feel, the pianos really start to take off as it goes on, at times feeling like an instrumental yell and others like twinkling stars. Hiltz matches this later in the song, as she finds more confidence narratively in the story itself. Serene and soothing, this slow-burning track lets you really ease into it.

Arooj Aftab – Vulture Prince (Brooklyn/Lahore, Pakistan)

It’s been wonderful to see the kind of attention Arooj Aftab has been getting to their unique music this year. Harps and strings fly like birds on these tracks, for a listening experience that feels truly magical. The changing leads on “Baghon Main” make for a fun back and forth between the strings and the harp, as each lead you through a tender journey. The soulful churn of “Last Night” makes for an amazingly swinging song, and its harmonies are so velvety that you’ll be intoxicated in seconds. There’s a huge warmth to “Mohabbat” that feels all too welcoming, with all the light production twists that shift the running notes into something less placeable just enhancing the experience. The heavy and more setting-based “Suroor” feels instantly more emotionally dark, and sees Aftab’s playing and vocals feeling all the more pointed and immediate in their bounce between groove and melody.