Tracking New Music Releases with Zac Wittman: JPEGMAFIA, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Hayley Williams, Slowthai, The Weather Station

Written By Zachary Wittman, Music Columnist

A new week of releases brings some more twists and turns from artists both old and new. Some stumbles, some tender moments and an unexpected late-career great from a seemingly forgotten band. 2021 continues to surprise in so many ways in the music industry. Let’s take a look!


1. Hayley Williams – Flowers For Vases / Descansos

Released Feb. 5, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

If I am going to talk about Hayley Williams, I should get a few things out of the way. I don’t really like Paramore all that much. I greatly respect the band, but most of their work outside of 2017’s “After Laughter” falls flat for me. Hayley Williams is one of the most talented vocalists in pop-punk, but I find it hard for me to enjoy her vocals in that context. That being said, I love her solo work. I thought that her debut solo album “Petals For Armor” was the best thing she had done, along with the aforementioned Paramore album.

While keeping in theme with the floral naming of her albums, “Flowers for Vases / Descansos” is much different from its sister album. Playing as a prequel of sorts to her last album, this one strays away drastically in musical content. Gone is almost all of the rock instrumentation from her debut, and ushered in its place is an array of pianos and acoustic guitars. Hayley continues to keep her voice more understated but doesn’t trade emotion for subtlety. She sounds incredibly tired and worn down on this album, and I hope that she is in an okay place, considering her past history of mental health.

The lyrics are all tales of melancholia, introspection, self-hatred, heartbreak and longing. It is a bummer of an album, and the songs carry a somber tone all the way throughout. Many of the tracks are under three minutes in length and end just as soon as they begin. I can understand how the sketch-like song structures might turn some off, but I love the somewhat off-the-cuff approach some of the material here has. “Find Me Here” has some absolutely gorgeous vocal harmonies, while tracks like “KYRH” or the instrumental “Descansos” have such a chilling atmosphere that gives off the uncomfortable nostalgic feeling that looking at old family photographs that you aren’t in gives you.

Despite how good this album is, I don’t see myself returning to it all too often. It can be mentally taxing to hear Williams be so emotionally blunt. This feels like an album that she needed to make to clear her thoughts, and I admire her greatly for airing her feelings to the world. If she continues to let her songwriting flourish like this, then I think that the next Paramore album will be their best yet.


2. slowthai – TYRON

Released Feb. 12, 2021

3.5 Globes out of 5

The United Kingdom is largely ignored in the States when it comes to pop hip hop. The more underground circles understand how influential the UK is, but it seems that individual artists rarely bleed out into the masses. Many of the rappers from overseas who breakthrough over here seem to suppress their European roots. See 21 Savage and MF Doom as prime examples. However, slowthai is unabashedly British.

The rapper’s 2019 debut “Nothing Great About Britain” received positive reviews and made waves in pop culture that I wasn’t expecting. That album was bristling with anger and political strife while having a fresh energy courtesy of slowthai’s eagerness to make a big splash. His follow-up “TYRON” feels a lot more relaxed and not for the better. The aggression is gone and replaced with a more introspective and playful vibe. The first half of this album takes a lot of cues from Memphis rap, while the second half ushers in more R&B influence. There certainly isn’t a bad track on here, per se, but the short track lengths make many of the songs go by a little too quickly and keep them from sticking the landing sometimes.

The first half is the weaker half, with slowthai relying on features a little too much for an album under his own name. The track “CANCELLED” is as awkward as you think a song about cancel culture in 2021 would be. I don’t exactly understand why he felt the need to make this track. The story is that slowthai made some suggestive comments towards comic Katherine Ryan at the NME awards in 2020, and the internet told him that it wasn’t appropriate for the occasion. While what he said was wrong, nobody tried to end his career for it or take his awards away. The track feels incredibly uncomfortable considering the concept of cancel culture is not to blindly ruin people’s careers for being stupid in public places. Real people have real stories about abuse in the industry, and this track feels so tonally inappropriate.

Thankfully, that is the only time slowthai opens his mouth on the issue. Unfortunately, that also is one of the only times he talks about much of anything on this album. The majority of the tracks don’t do much other than vaguely speak on overcoming mental illness and playing into the braggadocious attitude that is carried throughout much of trap music. This doesn’t harm the tracks in most cases, but it makes the listener yearn for his debut. I would like to point out “feel away,” which is a gorgeous track dedicated to slowthai’s deceased brother. The James Blake feature really elevates that song to a whole new level. Also, the beats throughout this album are absolutely aces. An incredible array of producers helped with this project, and it is stellar on the instrumental side of things.

Overall, this isn’t a bad album, but boy, if it isn’t a sophomore slump. I hope that slowthai recaptures that spark that his first album had.


3. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – New Fragility

Released Feb. 12, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

Pitchfork used to have a massive hold on the indie music scene, but I am a little too young to have felt their influence. Artists like Wolf Parade and TV On The Radio seem like flashes in the pan now, but in days of yore, they were heralded as the future of music. Seeing as many of these bands fell off the map in a matter of years, it seems that this was not the case, and Pitchfork has become nothing more than something people speak about when they are complaining.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were one of those blink-and-you-miss-them bands, but they still release music like the rest of their contemporaries, even if no one is talking about it. I was never a fan of the band, but I enjoyed a few songs from their self-titled debut. The post-punk influenced indie rock they delivered sounded the same as pretty much any other rock artist at the time, but I admired Alec Ounsworth’s nasally off-kilter voice. I stumbled upon their new album by accident and figured I’d give it a shot.

Over the course of the last few years, the band was whittled down to just Ounsworth. I am not sure how much the rest of the members have contributed to writing past material, but Ounsworth delivers ten tracks of music that sounds absolutely nothing like what I remember them doing. Gone is that quirky lo-fi rock band and ushered in is a weary, worn down Springsteen inspired heartland rock album. Strings and pianos take center stage, but Ounsworth’s voice is still there, wailing away. I personally love his vocals here and think they are incredibly passionate and inspired. They are definitely a turn-off for most, but I recommend giving the guy a fair chance.

“Innocent Weight” and “Went Looking For Trouble” build into crescendos of swirling strings and crashing drums, while tracks like “Mirror Song” take a more tender approach. “Thousand Oaks” is a soaring anthem that takes cues from CYHSY’s contemporaries, The War On Drugs. “Where They Perform Miracles” is the most stripped back song, with Ounsworth accompanying himself on guitar and organ for most of the track before ripping a heart-wrenching harmonica solo that sends me back to the darkest and most depressing work of Neil Young. Very, very impressed that a forgotten band would craft something as enticing in this. I guess you can’t write off bands that easily, huh?



Released Feb. 12, 2021

3 Globes out of 5

The internet has stripped a lot of the illusion of artists being some mystical person that we will never know much about. When it comes to internet personalities, fewer seem like more of an enjoyable person than Barrington Hendricks, known professionally as JPEGMAFIA, or Peggy for short. I became aware of Peggy’s work when his second album under the JPEGMAFIA moniker exploded online. 2018’s “Veteran” was inescapable in all corners of the music side of the internet, and I listened to it with open ears. Unfortunately, it fell flat for me. I tried to give his follow-up album “All My Heroes Are Cornballs” a fair shot as well, and while I enjoyed it more, it still didn’t click with me like it seemingly had for everyone else who had heard it.

I never got around to checking out “EP1!” due to my lukewarm reception of his most acclaimed work, but when I heard “EP2!” was a departure from his usual shtick, I decided to give it a go. There was a running joke with Peggy and his fans about the release of “Cornballs,” in which he tried to expect everyone to be as disappointed with the project as possible. While it was a joke at the time, I have to say I am disappointed. “EP2!” is a very hazy and straightforward dose of cloud rap that is Peggy’s most accessible work to date. I can’t deny that the instrumentation is incredibly well done and that Peggy delivers another batch of carefully constructed bars, but it doesn’t really do a lot for me. His past work had been a little too zany and quirky for me, but now it’s just too streamlined for me to really get into it.

The EP as a whole is too short to really sink my teeth into, but it also doesn’t overstay its welcome. I know that a lot of people will adore this release, but it just doesn’t do it for me. The dilemma I face is recognizing this is a well-made piece of art that just isn’t for me. I don’t even mean it in regards to me being in the intended audience or demographic. I just don’t exactly click well with the introverted but boastful atmosphere this album rolls with. Give this a shot, maybe someone who reads this will get on the Peggy train, but I’m going to get off for a little while. Maybe I’ll come around to it one day. As of now, there’s just not a lot I have to say.


5. The Weather Station – Ignorance

Released Feb. 5, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

While bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are birthed into the limelight and never quite get back to the recognition of their early work, some groups take a while to break through. The Weather Station is one of those groups. Having been around for a little over a decade now, the group never went mainstream, to my knowledge. However, with their fifth full-length album, “Ignorance,” they seemed to have finally found the attention they deserve.

“Ignorance” is a sublime art-pop album with influences of sophisti-pop, indietronica, and jazz. Vocalist Tamara Lindeman has an incredibly warm and soothing voice that entwines itself with the instruments in each song. Many of the songs are piano-led and include strings to beef up the sonic palette. This album has some great dynamic range, as you can feel each string swell and each build in the drums. I also want to commend Lindeman’s lyrics, as this album touches a lot on climate change. The title plays into the idea of human ignorance towards our environment while also having a more intimate application to love and relationships as covered in songs like “Heart” and “Separated.”

There is a simplicity to this album on the surface, but if you dig deeper it slowly starts to reveal itself. I very much enjoy nocturnal albums, and this one has nighttime written all over it. It is not quite sleepy, but this album has a weariness to it that makes it feel a lot more mature than you’d expect. However, it never enters adult contemporary background music territory. I’d like to single out how insanely beautiful the opening track “Robber” is. I really enjoyed the whole album, but I wish it was more like the slightly tense jazz that that track delivers.

Go check out this album if you like really pretty music. I will be sure to keep up with what Tamara and the gang do next. I don’t know if this album will end up on my end of the year best of, but as of now, it’s a pretty strong contender.