Twenty One Pilots and Alec Benjamin Release Music for Instant Comfort

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There really isn't such a thing as quarantine pop. There is, however, new music that is emerging that is directly inspired by the experience of being stuck at home, often away from loved ones, while coping with the new reality of our restricted everyday life. 

When the pandemic first hit, the songwriter community was directly impacted. Many writers love to be together in one room, collaborate, bounce ideas back and forth, and create special pop moments. That creative process was put to an immediate halt.

In an open letter published in the Los Angeles Times, hit producer Ricky Reed called upon the writer community to stay put and not ignore the stay-at-home guidelines in Los Angeles. Reed encouraged creatives to find new ways to work together by using FaceTime, Instagram Live, and Twitch.

The pandemic also inspires new music about feeling isolated and keeping your distance. Twenty One Pilots released the song "Level Of Concern" this week that's directly inspired by the quarantine many of us are living through.

Panic on the brain, world has gone insane.
Things are starting to get heavy.
You could bring down my level of concern.
Just need you to tell me we're alright.

It's a comforting message set to a dreamy production that's perfect for the moment. A portion of the song's proceeds benefits an organization called Crew Nation that provides funding for people in the live music industry. So stream it often and share it around.

Alec Benjamin (pictured above) also released new music this week, the aptly-titled "Six Feet Apart." Benjamin explained to fans that the song came together quickly with the help of his iPhone. "The song was inspired by Covid19 (. . .) I recorded the guitars and vocals on my phone. I sent them to Nathan, and he brought to life over FaceTime." He adds, "I hope you find some comfort in knowing that you're not alone."

"Six Feet Apart" is signature Benjamin with his wordy prose and clever storytelling that gets right to the point. I'm in awe.

They say distance is relative.
And relative to relatives I have.
I say I'm relatively close to breaking down.

The chorus is pristine and so incredibly moving. It's instant comfort. One of Benjamin's best.

Another song that wasn't written during the pandemic but is taking on a whole new meaning is "If The World Was Ending" by JP Saxe and Julia Michaels. The song was directly inspired by a small earthquake that struck Southern California last summer, but it takes on an eerie new meaning now. The way JP and Julia duet is so sweet and reassuring that it holds its own months later as well.

I applaud artists who find inspiration in this time of uncertainty and gloom. Now more than ever, music and art can help us to feel connected and understood. It really puts the power of music on display. Thank you to them!

Listen Up: Shawn Wasabi "Animal Crossing" (featuring Sophia Black)

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Shawn Wasabi makes music that's pure fun.  Take for example his new single "Animal Crossing" featuring Sophia Black. It's a happy-go-lucky slice of froth pop that shows off Shawn's knack for melody and love for production. You can just tell Shawn's having fun with it. If you have seen interviews with Shawn or follow him on social media, you know how he's able to turn every object into a musical instrument by wiring it to a midi controller. The Verge explains in an article how Wasabi helped conceive a 64-button midi controller inspired by Japanese arcade games to help him do that. Every button triggers a note or sample, which has opened up a whole new world of composition and production for Wasabi. His brand of pop is deeply influenced by his controller art. "Animal Crossing" but also his previous releases perfectly demonstrate that. The music is bouncy, fast and fun, much like a classic arcade game, with lots of sonic twists and turns that result in hyper pop stylings. Combine that with great songwriting and what you end up with is a futuristic pop sound that is completely refreshing. I'm a fan!

Hot New Talent Alert: Joshua Bassett "Common Sense"


Joshua Bassett delivers all the feels with his impressive debut single, "Common Sense." It's a beautifully-crafted, earnest confessional about when love plays tricks with your emotions and throws all practicalities to the side. Bassett sings, "Common sense tells me 'leave it all behind,' but common sense ain’t common when you come to mind." It's a wonderful pop sentiment that introduces an exciting new artist. Bassett is known to most for playing Troy Bolton in the new version of High School Musical, after previously appearing on Grey's Anatomy. Music and writing songs has always been a huge passion for Bassett, and hopefully "Common Sense" is a good indication of what's to come. It shines in simplicity and gets right to the point, making it universally relatable and understood. Well done, Joshua.

Listen Up: BTS "Euphoria" (The Timeless Power Bop That Keeps On Giving)


While on the topic of songs that I've been loving, I must also mention BTS' should-have-been-a-way-bigger-hit "Euphoria." It's a major bop that I love to go back to once in a while when I'm in need of a timeless, sugar-sweet, goosebump-inducing power bop. Honestly, I cannot get enough of "Euphoria." The song was first released in the summer of 2018 as part of the Love Yourself: Answer compilation. It's an important song for multiple reasons. It proved that K-Pop could seamlessly adopt Western pop stylings, it set the tone for the hopeful and triumphant thematic arch of Love Yourself: Answer, and it shows off Jungkook's pristine pop vocals. The way Jungkook brings the bridge back to the chorus, two thirds into the song, gets me every time. The production is courtesy of Candian producer DJ Swivel who expertly added just the right dose of spark and sizzle to make "Euphoria" a shining beacon of memorable K-Pop. Love you, BTS.

Listen Up: Maxine "Help Myself"


There's very little I know about Maxine except that she's Dutch and able to serve up a great pop melody. Case in point is her new single "Help Myself" that's a pristine little pop banger. Written by Maxine, Julian, and Adriaan Philipse, "Help Myself" is "about being so in love with someone that you do stupid things to keep them close to you," explains Maxine.

She writes, "It's about being jealous and all the crazy things you do if you're jealous. Like checking someone's phone without them knowing, obsessively scrolling through their Instagram stories just to find out that the girl he's standing next to is his sister. I mean, even the brightest persons can be jealous. It's a human emotion."

So who is this bright young new star on the pop scene? The bio on her web site provides some clues. Maxine is 21 years-old and hailing from The Hague. Before starting her career as a writer, she attended Sweden's famed pop academy Musikmakarna where she learned how to apply her innate talent for pop following the advice of mentors like Max Martin. 

"Help Myself" is a very, very promising introduction to what Maxine has to offer. It's current, universally appealing, and prominently displays her songwriting savvy and powerful pop vocals. You can easily file her music next to Lauv, Julia Michaels, Julian and LANY. Maxine is one to watch.

Listen Up: Carlie Hanson "Daze Inn"


Every song Carlie Hanson has put out since her debut in 2018 has been excellent. Today, she released her new single "Daze Inn" and I love every single second of it. It's moody and introspective but has a bright pop glow that perfectly defines Hanson's sonic aesthetic. She has a knack for sharing what's on her mind, the good and the sad, and making it universally appealing with great hooks and melodies. I'm such a fan of what Hanson is doing. This lady has spunk and pure star power. If you're only just discovering Carlie Hanson make sure to also listen to "Back In My Arms," "Only One," and "Side Effects." Every generation needs their Avril Lavigne, and Carlie Hanson is that for 2020 (and more).

Listen Up: Niall Horan "Black And White"


"Black & White" is the best Niall Horan song you may not have heard yet. The song is taken from his new album, Heartbreak Weather, that is filled with fine little bops about love and heartbreak. Horan took a few sonic risks on this new LP to continue to evolve and aim higher as an artist. I applaud him. Songs like "Put A Little Love On Me" and "Dear Patience" are finely tuned, heartfelt ballads that we never have enough of. The title track is a breezy jam straight from the 80s, and let's not forget about the island vibes of "No Judgement." There's a lot of great music to dig in here, but to me, there's one that firmly sticks out. That's "Black And White." Expertly produced by Julian Bunetta and Teddy Geiger, Horan serves up a straight-up anthem of the goosebump kind. It's full of life and full of fervor. In other words, it's great pop music. "Black And White" has a racing pulse that will have you tapping along the moment the needle drops. Enjoy.

Road Notes: H&H Car Wash & Coffee Shop (El Paso, TX)


(Note: I like sharing things that I love on this blog. Those can be songs, books, art, films, and also places that I think are worth recommending. It may seem insensitive to refer to travel during a time of a pandemic, but please note that I write from a place of hope, looking towards the future. These places are going to need our support three-fold as soon as they open back up.)

Every town has a place that serves the best local and genuinely authentic food with the greatest care. It's the closest thing to a homecooked meal. Usually, it's not a white table cloth establishment. Most often, it's just a simple hole in the wall diner, cafe, or truck where the cook cares about preparing a great meal for customers from all walks of life.

In El Paso, TX, that place is H&H Car Wash & Coffee Shop. Since the 1950s, the Haddad family has been running this car wash and adjacent cafe that has been become a city staple. The concept is simple.  Get your car cleaned while enjoying some delicious food. The cooks at H&H serve up timeless American breakfast favorites along with some tasty Tex-Mex dishes with a regional twist.

It feels like time has stood still at H&H, which adds to its friendly and familiar appeal. The walls are filled with old movie posters, family photographs, football jerseys, and other sports memorabilia. Take a seat on the counter to watch the cooks do their work, or sit on one of the few tables if you're in a larger group.

Local favorites on the menu include Chile Relleno, Chile Colorado, and, of course, classic tacos that come with a side of Spanish rice and black beans. Top it all off with home-made green tomatillo sauce, and you know what El Paso tastes like. Yum.

Listen Up: somegirlnamedanna "hello i am"


Some girl named Anna knows how to make a first impression.

The newcomer, who goes by the artist name somegirlnamedanna, delivers a concise yet compelling introduction to her music with her debut single, "hello i am." Just under 2 minutes in length, the track is a multi-layered choir of her vocals without any instrumentation that's pop of the purest kind.

I loved it the moment I heard it. "hello i am" has a quirky and self-assured essence that reminds me of Imogen Heap. It's fresh, and it's different - it's somegirlnamedanna. 

Hailing from rural Minnesota, Anna grew up without television or social media. Instead, she spent time listening to music by artists like Tracey Chapman and Joni Mitchell who helped shape her musical point of view. Anna also found comfort in writing, both poetry and short stories.

Anna was signed to LAVA Records by Jason Flom who also first signed artists like Lorde, Katy Perry, and Jessie J. 

Her forthcoming debut EP blends both her songwriting savvy and her love for telling stories. Titled "twenty-one, twenty-two," it represents a chapter from Anna's life that she hopes many listeners can connect with.

"The one thing I want people to take away at the end of the day, it's to remind them we are all human," Anna explains in a press release. "We all experience pain, happiness, angst, hurt, shame, and anxiety. I want anyone listening to know that I really want to connect with them and bring all of us together to start a conversation. "

Anna's one to watch.

Listen Up: Ben Platt "Older"


Today's reality forces you to put life in perspective and have an appreciation for the little things in life that are easily taken for granted. Music has always been a way for me to hear observations articulated in a way that helps me reexamine life through a different lens. Ben Platt's "Older" is one of those songs that has stuck with me as an important reminder. Set to a timeless melody with an anthemic quality, Platt beautifully delivers the song applying his powerhouse vocals. He makes a poignant observation about our tendency to make plans for the future or to dwell on regrets from the past.

"When you are younger. You'll wish you're older."
"Then when you get older. You'll wish for time to turn around."
Lyrics from Ben Platt "Older"

Platt argues that there's no point in looking back with disappointment or looking forward with too much intent to avoid regret. All it does is making you forget to live in the moment and make the very best of the here and now. He spoke candidly with Apple Music about what inspired the song.

“I’ve had a bit of regret—maybe I should’ve been more reckless and taken more time to explore things—and then I was struck by thinking about all the different times in life where I’m either looking forward or looking backward and missing what’s happening. So I wanted to write a song that was a bit of a reminder for us to be present in the moment and not pine too much for other parts of life, because then the ones that you’re in pass too quickly.”

It's a powerful message to remember, especially in times like these. It encourages us to make the best of now with all the stress and discomfort that comes along with it. "Older" was co-written by Ben Platt, Jennifer Decilveo, Michael Pollack, and Nate Cyphert. It's taken from Platt's excellent debut album, titled Sing to Me Instead, that is filled with wonderful gems. It's one of my favorite songs of 2019 that I go back to periodically to be encouraged.