Pop/Indie Pop Reviews Videos

Prioritise Pleasure: Self Esteem’s Story of a New Girl Power

“Girl Power”: The immortal slogan of the Spice Girls and title of the 1996 album by Shampoo. However, its origin supposedly comes from a zine published by the US punk chicks of Bikini Kill in 1991. In The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, it is written that ‘they articulated an agenda for young women in and outside of music.’ 30 years later, and we are presented with Prioritise Pleasure, the highly-anticipated new album from Self Esteem. 

It is a manifesto for the modern girl, a cornucopia of style punctuated by battle cries, all while celebrating strength and vulnerability. Throughout 2021 there has been a steady release of singles and videos, as well as a slam-dunk on this year’s festival scene, all creating anticipation for the album itself. The reviews are in, and they are stratospheric, stars upon stars upon stars as far as the eye can see. 

Self Esteem is the creation of Rebecca Lucy Taylor, formerly of Sheffield duo Slow Club. In interviews, she has described wanting the experience of Self Esteem to be without boundaries. You are one; you are included as you listen to her or watch her perform. This is made easy by the raw authenticity she represents. 

Sometimes a song can strike you like lightning, paralysing you in some half-forgotten moment while the world around you melts into a soft-focused slow motion. Although it’s often that a song can be like a horoscope and pull you in with the generalised feelings about living that we all feel, you are rarely presented with words and emotions that tug at such specific pieces of you; it’s as though someone has ripped pages from your diary and put them to music, or plucked the memories straight out of your skull. 

With Self Esteem, I was presented with that standstill moment as I flicked through my Spotify Discover Weekly on a hot overground train in June. “I Do This All The Time” burst through my headphones, “Look up. Lean back. Be strong. You didn’t think you’d live this long.” The chorus is disjointed, a broken-voiced howl with soft harmonies spread beneath like butter, before you are met with a slow, steady sermon: “Old habits die for a couple of weeks, and then I start doing them again.” 

I was transfixed by her honesty and drawn in by the intentional and rhythmic way she spoke. There’s been a resurgence in the musical spoken word, with artists such as Kae Tempest and Sinead O’Brien heading the charge. With “I Do This All The Time,” Self Esteem capitalises on this fresh yearning for the overlap of poetry and production, the desire for recitation and a narrative, and the narrative she gives to us throughout is a compelling reflection of our own. 

We are launched into the story by “I’m Fine,” an accusatory statement with the fire of female rage – it is the outburst that comes as the product of silencing yourself for someone else. The following album is peppered with recurring motifs; you catch lines that repeat from one song to the next. 

The lyric, “My hunger times my impatience,” appears firstly in “Fucking Wizardry” in an expression of how the feeling opens you up to others taking advantage of your vulnerabilities and being impulsive and reckless in their treatment of you. The lyric then appears again further down the line in “I Do This All The Time”: “Now and again you make complete sense,

but most of the time I’m sat here feeling stupid for trying, my hunger times my impatience equals the problem.” This time the hunger and impatience put us at fault, for allowing our expectation of someone else’s behaviour to exhaust us and get in the way of our happiness. 

The whole album explores mutual accountability and how much we can blame ourselves or others for negative cycles of behaviour. It touches on forgiving, or not forgiving, self-love, and balancing that with the utterly human need for love from others. 

“Hobbies 2” is fuelled by the apathy of hook-up culture and how women train themselves to match the energy of what they are presented with; for many of us, the modern sex-positivity movement didn’t come with the warning label to teach us about demanding and expecting aftercare till it was far too late. 

This is followed by the album’s namesake Prioritise Pleasure, a heavy and pulsating celebration of letting go of the behaviours that are for the sake of those around us and not ourselves. The backing vocals are pure gospel; you can imagine them filling the high and cavernous ceilings of churches. The effect feels like a shared spiritual epiphany. 

Recovery and rehabilitation aren’t linear, and this doesn’t just apply to substances. It applies to behaviours, experiences, trauma, and relationships. Despite the power and conviction of Prioritise Pleasure, the songs that follow subvert the expectation of where you would want a Hollywood version of the story to take you. 

The mood drops as “I Do This All The Time” explores the grief of the self and the parts of ourselves that we willingly sacrifice; it climbs through your mourning till it reaches that optimistic climax where we promise ourselves that we will be okay again. “Moody” then pushes us back down again; we’re sexting our exes “during the mental health talk,” we’re drinking too much, we’re struggling to accept the reality of a foregone conclusion. 

This bargaining stage of sorts continues through “Still Reigning,” where we are once again falling back into the pattern of placing the needs of others (“The love you need is gentle, the love you need is kind”) over ourselves (“I feel everything, and nothing at all”). We relapse into our bad habits, we’re not taking care of ourselves, which brings us to the brilliant anger of “How Can I Help You.” 

With a Yeezus drumbeat loud enough for the gods to hear, the lyrics are spat into the face of those who have wronged us in a sing-song-shout of a chant that mimics schoolyard bullying. Female rage is vilified, sexualised, and used against us – it is refreshing to hear it so rawly expressed, especially at a time when so many women feel unsafe at the hands of men. 

“It’s Been A While” takes us back to mutual accountability, but this time focuses on how it feels to try to heal when you don’t feel like the other side is letting go of you either. Once more, we are secondary, we are an afterthought, but for as long as we know we still linger there, it will be all the more difficult to move on. 

So we need “The 345,” a soft and slow expression of trying once again to rebuild self-love.

It’s a monologue spoken to yourself in the mirror, encouraging the creation of new promoting purpose and motivation in the wake of previous plans falling apart; it’s a gentler spin on Prioritise Pleasure, still encouraging living for the self but whilst trying to figure out how to treat yourself with tenderness. 

Following in its wake is “John Elton,” where we truly start to feel the loss and try to figure out what to do with it: “So, this all that’s left of it, a dull ache in my stomach pit, as I try to make the memories fit a less rejecting narrative for me.” Our longing is still present in “You Forever,” and we have come to accept that it may never leave but acknowledge how well we’re doing on our own. The tune is bright and optimistic, we still hold the love, but we are capable of living. 

Finally, we reach “Just Kids.” We all remember how we met the people we fall in love with, and maybe we remember it just outside of reality. La vie en rose kicks in, the heady drug of romance clouds over any mishaps or words are spoken out of turn, but that doesn’t matter. The human memory is a subjective and everchanging thing, and we were fortunate to once 

be in a place where love could bloom and grow, despite whatever happened next. We’re finally forgiving, both of others and ourselves: “Maybe you didn’t really mean to make me doubt my life, and it really wasn’t okay, but I never did say, and I feel so sorry for you and me.” 

Self Esteem’s girl power isn’t only about anger or what defines femininity. It’s about making space for yourself, as a woman, first. It’s about understanding your emotions, knowing where your relationships, your family, and the patriarchy may have adapted and changed who you are and whether you wish to accept those changes or fight against them. It’s about analysing yourself and your relationships, not accepting things as black or white, and about taking responsibility for yourself where you can. 

It’s self-care, it’s grief, it’s healing, and the best part is that we can all share these experiences together. We can empathise and understand where our experiences aren’t the same as others; we can support one another through our highs and lows and guide one another when we falter. We can know when to step back, when to allow our emotions to run their course, and when we can forgive. 

Prioritise Pleasure is Self Esteem’s moving tapestry about finding your power through the pain, and I hope it inspires us all to accept and love ourselves in a new and exciting way. Changing for the better and learning how to live with yourself is a scary thing, I know. But isn’t it so very exciting?

Creators Monthly Indie/Indie Rock Pop/Indie Pop Punk/Rock Why We Love

Why We Love: The Umbrellas

The Umbrellas, courtesy of their bandcamp page. From Left: Keith Frerichs, Matt Ferrera, Morgan Stanley, Nick Oka

I am an absolute sucker for Sarah Records bands. I first came across the label after seeing a picture of The Field Mice on Instagram. Thinking that they looked cool, and knowing that the band Seapony had covered one of their songs, I gave them a listen and was blown away. The jangly guitars, the punchy drum machines, the melodic bass, and the poetic lyrics quickly endeared me to the late 80’s-early 90’s indie band. Once I had dug through their catalogue, I began checking out the rest of Sarah Records’ roster, finding such amazing bands as Another Sunny Day, Brighter, and 14 Iced Bears. All these bands had vastly different yet oddly similar sounds, and I began searching for any sort of modern-day equivalent.

Despite my keen eye, The Umbrellas still hit me like a brick wall. Again finding them through a random encounter on Instagram, I noted the cool, understated indie-rock aesthetic of the name and decided to give them a listen. On top of this, I saw that they were part of Slumberland Records, another fantastic indie-rock label featuring, at least at some point, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and Crystal Stilts. Seeing that The Umbrellas had a new self-titled debut album out, I dove in headfirst.

Immediately from the first chords of opener “Lonely,” I was transported back to the magical moment that I had stumbled upon Sarah Records back in high school. The nostalgia was visceral and quickly had me hooked. Jangly guitars bounced around a persistent drumbeat, and Matt Ferrera’s notably Field Mice-esque singing style was spot on. The lyrics are beautifully simple, describing the insecurities stemming from a relationship gone wrong. Morgan Stanley also provides vocals on this song, her voice floating ethereally through the flickering guitar notes. Overall, “Lonely” is an incredible opener, and should they ever visit the East Coast, I would love to hear it live.

As the album continues, The Umbrellas show off other facets of their songwriting strengths. The song “It’s True” is a delicate, intimate acoustic ballad, with raw vocals traded by Ferrera and Stanley as melancholy chords chug beneath them. The two singers sing both separately and in harmony throughout the song, like two birds in a late summer sky. “She Buys Herself Flowers,” one of the singles off of the album, features R.E.M. style guitars throughout that occasionally show signs of The Byrds and even early surf music. Stanley’s frank vocals are on full display here, as are a set of remarkably clever and catchy lyrics. Later in the album, “Never Available” features sunny guitar arpeggios and 60’s psychedelic style percussion. Gentle keys also buoy the song and provide an extra layer of atmosphere to the song. The simple refrain of, “You’re never available,” is an instant earworm and ensures that the song sticks in the memory of the listener.

Considering that this is their first album, I am shocked at how masterful The Umbrellas’ songwriting sounds. It is impressive how well they conveyed their influences while also adding a modern touch to a classic sound. If the album was simply a shameless ripoff, I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much. After all, The Field Mice already existed. However, The Umbrellas utilize enough nostalgia to captivate listeners while providing enough nuance to stand apart from the crowd. I tip my hat to this great new band, and I cannot wait to hear what else they have to offer.

The Umbrellas’ self-titled debut album cover, courtesy of bandcamp
Uncategorized Why We Love

Why We Love: Maggie the Cat

And just like that, summer’s over and it’s October, the month when spooks and ghouls roam the earth freely. Prime time for the debut solo release from a founding member of south London’s finest and freakiest gang of voodoo high priestesses, Madonnatron.

If you’ve heard Madonnatron, then you’ve heard Maggie. Her voice is the lynchpin of the band’s signature sound, the gathering force that holds it all together, powerful and hypnotic. She’s recently struck out on her own, embarking on a solo career under her Madonnatron moniker, “Maggie the Cat.”

With her Farrah Fawcett hair, glam rock eye makeup and brooding, melancholy, stare, she explained the evolution of her solo work thusly: “Maggie the Cat emerged over the last few years like the mutant love child of covid and my long running obsession with Elizabeth Taylor, most notably her character of that name from the Tennessee Williams play, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.’

Her debut single, “I Think Last Night I Killed A Man,” is a definite shift from Madonnatron’s harsh, witch-punk sound. The production is more technically intricate: “… centered around a lot of quite dark, melancholic symphonic refrains juxtaposed with 80s synth sounds and disco drum patterns. The vocals are something of an id festival and may have ventured into other realms in places as I’m shamelessly emotional and the voice is a real channel for the soul, I think,” Maggie explains.

“Bianca Jagger rides in on a horse any second…” she teased on Instagram, days before the single’s release. A fitting comparison; the stylization is very Studio 54, albeit with a touch of what Maggie the Cat calls, “general murderous content,” a sinister speciality of supposed sweetness followed by violence, honed in the service of years of lyric writing for Madonnatron. Her blog describes the forthcoming album as “…simultaneously bewitching, erotic, menacing, and occasionally chilling (although never without mischief.)”

Trashmouth Records, the infamous New Malden-based independent record label that nurtured the raw, loose-cannon power of cult favorite rock n’ roll bands such as Warmduscher, the Fat White Family (and of course, Madonnatron) into musical adulthood, are backing Maggie the Cat’s solo efforts.

You can purchase “Last Night I Think I Killed A Man,” via Bandcamp at the link provided below. It is available to stream on all platforms.

Creators Monthly Rap/Grime Why We Love

Why We Love – DATKID

One day I’ll fall in love with you like my ears did for hip-hop” is what my favourite poster on the wall of my childhood den said. I must’ve had it up for ages; I always loved hip-hop and spent countless hours listening and dancing to it in my bedroom, in the studio, and on stage. It was probably its mood and cadence that I really enjoyed at first before I started grasping the essence of it, the meaning behind the slang in verses about battles with poverty and crime. Years later I moved to Bristol and was introduced to Datkid – he’s got a sound I’ve personally not often heard off the East Coast and generally anywhere in the last 10 years or so. I’m still unsure whether it’s his well-thought, raunchy and oddly-satisfying lyrics, the heavy technical know-how, or the stern I don’t give a f*** attitude that fascinates me. What I do know is I re-live that moment my ears fell for hip-hop every time Datkid comes on.

He’s no new addition to the scene; Bristolian emcee and Crud Lord, he formed the rap collective Demorus back in 2008 and dropped his debut Dkay and Gramma 3 years later. He then linked up with the Bristol rap collective Split Prophets and featured on a number of their projects, including Drugs​, ​Booze & Dental Issues. Raw and factual, the album is a ride to the dark underbelly of the city. He released Home By 8, an epode to the art of tag, and that’s when his notoriety started to shoot up into the sky.

With a bunch of exceptional solo projects and gnarly features under his belt, Bristol’s very own Datkid quickly became a lead prospect in the British rap scene as he kept throwing top-notch productions at his fans. 2019 brought about Confessions of a Crud Lord, one of his mightiest projects so far, where alongside Four Owls producer Leaf Dog he serves a grim affair in all its flagrant dirtiness. The album features heavy craftsmen like Conway the Machine, Westside Gunn, and Roc Marciano, and it neatly sums up the tone of What’s the point in living if you’re just surviving?

Datkid’s latest prodigy, Wakmo, is nauseatingly grand. The secret to that is, of course, Illinformed’s finesse in producing sickly ghoulish beats. The bars are gloriously depraved, and they take you right there to that warped, crude-but-candid reality of Datkid’s life and career. It’s so dazing and potent that you don’t just listen to it but can actually feel an ugly aggressiveness breathing down your neck for a second. A tribute to the rapper’s hometown loyalty, the album boasts an impressive number of guest stars. Rappers like Bil Next, Mistafire, Wish Master, or Eric the Red will unapologetically discharge more sick verses with deft flows off onto you, therefore bringing about one of the most hardcore and obstinate rap albums that ever emerged from Bristol.

I urge you to listen to this one ’til the very end. And before you forget, go ahead and buy his music via Bandcamp. You can check out some more music and merch on the Split Prophets Bandcamp too.