New Music Rundown: Earl Sweatshirt/Big Thief/Stella Donnelly

Earl Sweatshirt

Earl Sweatshirt is a permanently tragic figure. Every song, story, and image after the separation from the brightly-colored Odd Future was of a lone man with eyes sinking farther and farther into his skull. Earl is a somber-faced centrifuge of a life that seems to pass by slower than our own. Smarter than his peers but less outspoken, more talented but less understood, more help around him left him more alone. Earl’s discography from the 2010s rolled on and he continued producing niche but impressive music that barely shied away from the spotlight it deserved.

On his newest album, SICK!, Earl finds a comfort and a confidence in this patina he seemed to be born with. The album checks all the boxes of a normal Earl release — clever lyrics, off-the-wall beats, and the creativity to tie it all together. But, it’s less about Earl himself than it’s ever been. It feels like he’s released himself from his own cage and now focuses more on younger artists who see him as a role model as well as his identity beyond his own struggles. There’s this almost jarring zoom out from all the normal musings you expect. It feels like the same man, simply more realized.

Favorite Tracks: Lobby (int), Fire in the Hole, Titanic

Big Thief
Simulation Swarm

Simulation Swarm is the first half of the newest Big Thief album reportedly named Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You out February 11th. Seemingly taking a page from Beach House’s book, another album that was teased in November and the full version releasing only a couple weeks back, the indie-folk outfit have hinted strongly in this EP that they are moving more folk than indie. Songs like “Spud Infinity” display banjo, flute and other unorthodox instrument solos that create playful interludes to balance out their indie lyrics and roots. Another of the newest developments this collection of songs bring is the seeming improvisation aspect from both these genres. What I mean is that every song feels like it could be sung from around a campfire. Maybe not totally improvised, but nonetheless holds that (for a lack of a better term) just plain fun quality that comes with folk music.

The improvisation and momentum is something that comes with a band that has worked with each other for half a decade. While I say that, the second half of this EP falls more into the Big Thief that fans will know and love. Adrienne Lenker’s voice takes top spot as it should in slow ballads like “Change” and “Certainty”. Ramps up a bit with “Little Things” and slows back down to end with “Sparrow”. If this is any indication of the heights in creativity and talent we will see in February, the group’s iron-tight grip on wine moms and cool, modern southerners (and me) will only grow tighter. That’s dangerous stuff.

Stella Donnelly
Beware of the Dogs

Stella Donnelly’s Beware of the Dogs is one of the best indie voices these days by far. Too bad this album came out 3 years ago. Since then I’ve admittedly forgot about it, but rediscovering it again has been just as thrilling as the day I first found her high-pitched but lo-fi Aussie voice. Dreadfully catchy, progressive, and funny, Donnelly’s debut has everything a modern indie artist needs in her toolbox to succeed. Listening to it back again and again, you see through the obvious stuff like replay value and perfectly paced instrumentation. I realized what kept me coming back is the small stuff: the little quivers in her voice in “Lunch” or details in a heart-wrenching story or the way she hums for you on “Mosquito”, even just the unnerving transparency in a general sense, it’s all a bit too clear to see in your head. It’s the way her metaphors are just perfect for every situation, she won’t tell you outright, but the picture she paints tells you everything you need to know. It’s the way she tells you outright when the real truth will hit like a suckerpunch you knew was coming. This album covers all the bases.