The juggernaut of new music releases continues without letup, so I’m compelled to post yet another installment of Fresh New Tracks less than a week after my last one! Today I’m featuring songs by two acts with rather unusual but terrific names that are new to me – Toronto-based electronic/indie pop band Cherry Blaster and Los Angeles-based sad-punk band Cuffed Up – as well as Nashville-based noir pop artist Notelle, who I previously featured on this blog in September 2019.
“New Age” by Cherry Blaster
Toronto, Canada-based artist Cherry Blaster is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Iulia Ciobanu, who creates an eccentric yet accessible brand of bedroom pop, with vocal stylings that call to mind such artists as Mitski and early St. Vincent. From what I can tell, she recorded music as a solo act for the first four years or so, beginning with the release of her debut single “Rosary, Mon Cherie” in January 2017. She followed with her debut album Sleep Depraved that September, and in the years since, has released several more singles. This year, Cherry Blaster expanded to a three-piece with the addition of musicians Scott Given and Tasker Hull, and on October 20th, they dropped their new single “New Age“. Recorded by Tasker Hull, and artfully mixed and mastered by Turner Wiggington, the song features quirky, sci-fi electronic sounds layered over skittering beats and subtle synth bass. Iulia’s soft vocals have a dreamy and otherworldly sing-song feel that perfectly complements the music.
“New Age” is about navigating the transition from your 20s to 30s, a milestone that causes great emotional angst for some (for me, turning 50 was a rough milestone). Iulia elaborates “Whether the bigger source of this fear was external or internal, as I approached my thirties, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my ‘time was up’ as an aspiring musician. One morning in my late twenties I woke up from a dream in which my silver hairs were turning pink and I was struck by the image. I turned this into a song that extended the dream into an alternate reality where I could transform myself into a forever young cyborg. Over the next few years, the song’s deeper meaning about self-acceptance through aging coalesced with the original idea to result in an all-pink, soft-sci-fi music video that ended up being shot the day before my 30th birthday.”
The imaginative video, created by Isaac Roberts, Mick Robertson, and Alex Filtsos, and filmed in mostly pink and white hues, brings the song to a surreal life.
“Terminal” by Cuffed Up
Cuffed Up is a four-piece band from Los Angeles who play an exciting and emotive style of music they describe as “sad punk”. Formed in 2019 by guitarists/vocalists Ralph Torrefranca and Sapphire Jewell out of their shared love of the British post punk scene, they were soon joined by bassist Vic Ordonez and drummer Joe Liptock to complete the lineup. Their bold, edgy sound has been favorably compared with the likes of 90’s bands Sonic Youth and The Pixies, as well as modern day acts Wolf Alice and IDLES. They released their debut double-A single “Mother/Father + Small Town Kid” in July 2019, then had the good fortune of opening for Los Angeles alt-rock band Silversun Pickups in a series of shows in 2020. They subsequently followed up with a single “French Exit” and a self-titled EP. Their songs have garnered support and airplay on renowned Seattle station KEXP and Los Angeles NPR station KCRW, as well as BBC radio in the UK, and they’ve also been featured in NME, DIY Magazine and The Line Of Best Fit.
On October 22, they dropped their latest EP Asymmetry, via Royal Mountain Records, along with a dark but entertaining video for one of the EP’s tracks “Terminal“. Featuring four tracks, the EP was produced and mixed by Brad Wood, and mastered by Hans DeKline. “Terminal” was inspired by Ralph’s experience with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), as he explains: “I suffer from serious OCD that is borderline crippling at times. I wanted to write a song that projects the anxiety and irrational thoughts that my body and mind go through during my worst ‘episodes’. The first chorus is a cry for help. It’s the dark place where my mind goes when the health OCD is at its worst; I’m convinced I’m going to die today and the universe has already decided this for me, and I have no control over this. The final chorus is when the irrational thoughts are pulled back down to earth and I manage to ground myself through meditation.” Musically, the song is highlighted by a rousing mix of jangly and gnarly guitars layered over driving rhythms, accompanied by Ralph and Sapphire’s soaring vocal harmonies.
The video, directed by Ben Mehlman and filmed by Colin Oh, shows the band performing the song wearing hospital gowns, with a guest appearance by Brian Aubert of Silversun Pickups as a doctor who treats each band member/patient, but ends up leaving them all in worse shape than he found them. About the making of the video, Torrefranca notes: “”Brian had such a great vibe to be around! He turned our long shooting day into a really fun hang and played the doctor perfectly.”
“Turnover Rate” by Notelle
Notelle (the music moniker of singer-songwriter Stephanie Middleton) is an immensely talented and hard-working artist based in the music city of Nashville. Since she began working in 2014 with DJs and music producers around the globe as both a songwriter and featured vocalist, her collaborations have accumulated more than 23 million streams on Spotify alone, have appeared on numerous Spotify and Apple playlists, and garnered millions of plays on YouTube, as well as coverage on Sirius XM Radio and EDM.com.
Beginning in 2018, Notelle started focusing more on her solo career, blending her love of dirty, chest-compressing low end and rhythmic, percussive synths with her beautiful otherworldly-sounding vocals to create her own sound she calls “nightmare pop”. In less than four years, she’s released an astonishing 14 singles, one of which, “Beyond the Grave”, I reviewed in 2019. Her latest single is “Turnover Rate” a dark song she describes as “the alternative love child of Nine Inch Nails and Mutemath”. She combines eerie industrial synths with jagged riffs of gritty guitars and chugging bass to create an ominous soundscape for her enchanting vocal drones that sound a bit like Alice Merton singing a Billie Eilish song.
The lyrics are sung from the perspective of a former victim witnessing someone’s self-destructive and self-protective patterns. Notelle elaborated to the music blog Lefuturewave on her inspiration for writing the song: “I’ve known people throughout my life that refuse to grow. They’re self-centered, self-serving, and self-destructive. Everyone knows someone like this, so I’m not unique in that – but I’ve known my fair share. Some of them I’ve dated, some of them I’ve stayed away from, but this song is really about watching those people continue their broken cycles of living, you know? Like wash, rinse, repeat their toxicity. First, they find a community, convince everyone that they’re kind, or compassionate, or a genuine person, but eventually, that facade cracks. Then instead of sticking around to mend the relationships they’ve so casually broken, they burn the bridge to the whole lot of them and start over with a new group of people—every couple of months, every couple of years, every couple of seasons. It’s astonishing really.” And so, I must add, is this song!