Each month with In Our Headphones, members of KEXP's Digital Content team share the music that's resonating with them right now.
We’re half of a 12-pack of Tecate down. The wastebasket which sat dutifully beside my desk nearly runneth over with cans. That type of receptacle is made for discarded Post-It notes, not two near-alcoholics plowing through beers on a rare Friday night off no more readily than they would on a Tuesday afternoon. Que Linda and I were listening to the debut album from Costa Rican garage-pop trio Las Robertas from the tinny speakers of my desktop. With all the music she has put me onto, I finally caught up to her in terms of cool, obscure bands and beamed with pride when telling her about the band on the phone before we hung out. Another solid recommendation from Gorilla vs. Bear.
I listened to the pleasing drone of the harmonies on “The Curse” as I caught myself staring at the Dominican flag tattooed on her thigh. She was tattooed from neck to ankles; one of the only ways we weren’t nearly aesthetically identical. We wore our hair short; hers often in a pixie cut but sometimes shaven like mine. We dressed nearly the same; skinny pants, plaid shirts, tight hoodies. Sometimes she would cut out the middleman and just wear my clothes. We liked the same types of music, occasionally to the point where we’d discover the same band simultaneously. But there’s no need in lying on someone not here to defend themselves; she was cooler than me.
Que Linda was halfway through her fourth can when she dropped the bomb. “I’m thinking about moving back to New York.” The guitars on “Ghost Lover” growled like hot rod engines.
For over three years, we were pretty much inseparable. All in each other’s business, barely hanging out with anybody else, to the point where we joked we were each other’s imaginary friend. We never met each other’s friends or significant others. I shared an apartment with my step-sister then and I can’t remember them ever meeting.
We had deep talks over adult beverages. We spoke of the first time we were ever called a racial slur. Me as a child of North Carolina, strapped with a backpack, headed to my second grade class at Montlieu Elementary School when three teenagers in a Chevrolet hatchback rolled down their windows and hurled the n-word at me from 30 feet away. Her in middle school when some white girls in her class insinuated where she learned how to swim so well. Racism made me retract deeper into my crab shell; it just made her angrier and, in her words, “more willing to fight bitches.” We spoke about being abused as kids, the kind of trauma that made me afraid of everything and her not afraid of anything.
Now she was considering leaving. The solemn guitar line of “V for You” rang out through the open patio door and out into the parking lot, looking like a fighter’s row of missing teeth from the missing spots where residents were out for the night.
She told me Washington was isolating as a Latina, that she buckled under the crushing whiteness everywhere she went. Her white friends made her feel too aggressive, and she barely had any friends of color. She felt like her behavior was always being policed. I had exactly one friend in the space we call IRL — they were all avatars on Tumblr or arguments on rap message boards — but I knew how difficult it was to find non-white friends in this state. A decade-plus into the future, pushing 40 like a freight train, and I finally have almost as many friends of color as I do white buddies.
Ultimately, I knew she would find more opportunities in her artistic field, more success, hopefully more happiness back east.
A year and a half later she would take her own life, the tragic ending to Que Linda’s story I can’t help but continue telling. As much as any of the other bad feelings swirling inside of me when I think about this (the sadness I felt along with her, the artistic success that never came while taking stock of all that has found me), it causes me great dismay that she never found the community she was looking for. I’d like to think if she were here, we’d be enjoying this sense of belonging together, but who’s to say really?
I can only hope and wish the best we’d get in a hypothetical future — alive, together, as friends — would have been good enough. —Martin Douglas
I'm about to board a flight and travel outside the United States for the first time in a long time, which has me feeling a little nervous. While I get ready, I’m listening, for the thousandth time, to the new album by Argentine Nicki Nicole, Parte De Mí, available worldwide as of today. I have been anticipating listening to this album for weeks because personally, I have been preparing for this moment of Nicki’s as an artist for a long time. We will speak in-depth with the author very soon on KEXP so stay tuned. Today, I will stick to playing one song in particular on loop: her collaboration with Chilean Mon Laferte.
There are countless reasons as to why I have the artist whose hits include “Wapo Trakatero," “No Toque Mi Naik," “ Mala Vida,” and “Colocao” in my personal headphones. The Argentine singer-songwriter is entering one of the most important moments of her career so far. Her music has been gaining traction internationally, making her a benchmark of the South American urban movement, to which she adds her own soul and R&B ingredients that suit her so well. At just 21 years old, Nicki Nicole is the leader of her meteoric rise to fame and career that has led her to be the first Argentine artist to appear on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. In addition, the remix of "Ella No Es Tuya" by Rochy RD was included in the summer playlist curated by Obama, and she just received a double Latin Grammy nomination for her collaboration with the Uruguayans of No te Va a Gustar and in the category "Best New Artist".
Going back to “Pensamos”, the song that merges the Argentine singer with the Chilean superstar Mon Laferte, we can say it certainly confirms the versatility of both composers. The foundation of the song fuses R&B, trap or rap with Nicki as queen, entering new territories of melancholic pop-rock. A perfect place to sing about heartbreak and the frustration of losing someone you love. This is without a doubt a collaboration that surprises and builds bridges between the musical worlds of the two.
Parte de mí has 16 tracks that are quickly transformed into 16 reasons that explain why Nicki Nicole is a musical beacon that projects light from South America to the world. — Albina Cabrera
I remember the first time I heard Helado Negro. At my desk at KEXP, I was listening to an episode of our now-retired Weekly Mix podcast when the muted drones of “Fantasma Vaga” hit my headphones. I was taken — into a world of spacious, atmospheric production that I could only describe as patient and otherworldly. It was as if the soul who created it came from elsewhere, knew secrets of the universe I didn’t, and was beckoning to me in Spanish that flowed atop precious, celestial arrangements I’d never heard anywhere else. And I haven’t since. Years later, Roberto Carlos Lange is still offering up remarkably arresting music as Helado Negro, most recently in the form of Far In.
Like my first listen to “Fantasma Vaga,” I’ll never forget my introduction to Helado Negro’s stunning sixth album. On Oct. 20, 2021, a small throng gathered at Public Records for a conversation and performance with the former Brooklynite in celebration of his impending album release. OFFAIR stickers covered every phone camera that entered the building, but even without them it would’ve been difficult to resist the intimacy of the space, impossible to choose to be anywhere but there.
Lange set the scene for this first listen through a conversation with writer and DJ Jace Clayton. Onstage, the longtime friends teased apart Lange’s journey of writing an epic of a record in Marfa, TX. Surrounded by desert, he tapped into a prolific flow of creativity and wrote dozens of songs that he eventually pared down into Far In. The collaborations he mentioned with Kacy Hill (“Wake Up Tomorrow”) and Buscabulla (“Agosto”) suggested that we were about to hear an album expanding his acousto-electric production to new heights. When the band set up, I was reminded of my first listen to “Fantasma Vaga,” of the stillness of mind and spirit that strikes when you hear a song that you anticipate will change you, and that always takes hold in the quiet moments before a live performance begins.
Accompanied by strings, saxophone, drums, guitar, keys, and more, Lange presented an iteration of the Helado Negro sound that was fuller, brighter, and more lively than ever before. “There Must Be A Song Like You,” released that day, eased us in. Scenes of nights and oceans, shadows and hands danced atop sparse instrumentation as the warmth of Lange’s musical voice, shimmering steel drum, and bass lines, likely written by collaborator Taja Cheek (a.k.a. L’Rain), blossomed over the crowd. “Gemini and Leo” came next, inspiring Lange’s signature dance moves. Hips and shoulders swayed as he sang of “dancing on the floor all night,” and the crowd wasted no time following suit. Soaring with layers of bright synths, playful guitar, and coquettish drums, the love song was followed by a perfect contrast, “Aguas Frías.” After requesting the lights turn green, Lange invited us to imagine we were underwater. Ever a master of atmosphere, he wields his voice most like an instrument in the album’s subdued fifth track, matching undulating xylophone and sax with languid, tempered vocals sung in Spanish. With phones holstered in pockets, the audience was fully immersed in “Aguas Frías.” True to Helado Negro’s hallmark ability to suspend us in time and space, the track became both the meditative sound bath that we drifted in as well as the sunlight that illuminated us in our submersion.
Whether you’re letting slower tracks like “Aguas Frías” and “Thank You For Ever” wash over you or indulging a groove to more upbeat offerings like “Gemini and Leo” or “Outside the Outside,” Far In feels open, vulnerable, and present — much like Lange himself. Standing above the crowd onstage, he meets eyes and holds every gaze he finds, anchoring himself and you in the immediacy of the moment. But you don’t have to be in the presence of Helado Negro to feel the sincerity of his music. Far In is yet another stunning demonstration of his ability to create a fully sensory experience, perhaps the artist’s most soulful and exuberant. Like Lange, the record commands attention and caresses you with a gaze that you can’t help but feel lucky to have been held by, even if only for the record’s hour-and-change run time.
Watch Helado Negro’s Live on KEXP at Home performance for a taste and set time aside for a cover-to-cover, phone-less listen of Far In. You won’t regret it. — Tia Ho
While I only just met the four members of the Mexican noise rock band a little over a month ago, it feels nearly nepotistic to choose to write about El Shirota. The friendships forged at my first music festival in 21 months came quicker and felt deeper than they ever had at an event that typically includes an emphasis on beer-guzzling and industry posturing. While the former was still prevalent (alongside a healthy portion of “shotitos”), the latter felt absent or at least more under the radar as we focused on what really matters — having a damn good time.
All credit goes to Albina Cabrera, KEXP’s Queen of Latin content, for insisting that it was of utmost importance for us to check out at least one of El Shirota’s sets over the course of the five days at Treefort. I mistakenly chose not to heed this advice the first night they played, regretfully attempting to grab dinner with a guy I’d been talking to on Tinder for less than four hours instead. After bailing as quickly as was reasonably possible from the painfully awkward experience to rejoin my band of merry fest friends, I was met with gushing praise about the quartet’s searing set alongside none other than the members of El Shirota themselves.
From then on, we became inextricably linked with the Mexico City rockers. At any point, at least one member was likely with us, on his way to meet up with us, or playing yet another killer set in front of us. What felt like a million inside jokes were created while taking shots in dive bars, waiting in long lines for late-night pizza, and perched on curbs outside venues. Probably none of them all that particularly clever or funny to an outsider, but they’re ours.
I also never missed an El Shirota set after my initial misstep. While the recordings on their debut album Tiempos Raros, released in June of 2020, span a wide sonic palette of ‘90s-inspired alt rock, their live performances lean into their aggressive side with nonstop scuzzy scorchers. Somehow the idea of bringing earplugs to my first festival after(?) the long stretch of the pandemic had escaped me so the fuzzy riffs feel implanted in my brain like a memory of a particularly strange dream.
It feels weird and kind of dorky to write about an experience that’s so common — going to a music festival, drinking with friends, and making inside jokes — with such earnestness and sentimentality but I’m telling you, something different happened here. It’s easy to blame it on the pandemic and I have no doubt that the many months of social isolation played a massive role in recognizing the beauty in the little things that were previously taken for granted. But it also could’ve just been the shotitos. — Jasmine Albertson
The Dead Milkmen, without the abrasive punk rock vibe.
The guy from Cake fronting the Minutemen.
They Might Be Giants, without the educational lessons.
Pavement, without the snark and lo-fi thing.
I’ve been trying for weeks to come up with an accurate description for the band Cheekface, and nothing is quite landing. Which is, of course, just a testament to how truly unique this band is. KEXP’s DJ Sharlese introduced them to me (via Afternoon Show airplay by Larry Mizell, Jr.), and no one at KEXP knows me better than Sharlese. (Best Work BFF Ever.) She was right, I adore them.
As we’ve mentioned in previous Song of the Day posts, this Los Angeles-based trio “specialize in quirky, upbeat songs with sharp-as-a-whip, sardonic lyrics delivered in talk-sing by frontman Greg Katz.” (I can quote myself in an article, right?) It feels like everyday, I have a new favorite Cheekface lyric. (I even follow a Twitter account that tweets random lines.) Right now, it’s this hilarious verse from “Friend Mountain,” off their recent b-sides compilation EP Emphatically Mo', a companion to their 2021 full-length Emphatically No. (get it??).
you were invited to my birthday / then you called out sick with dandruff
(man we knew you were unreliable / but now we know you are a flake too)
These sly one liners are delivered with the dry delivery of a really witty pal. I've been listening to everything I can find of theirs on recent long road trips, and it's like having a funny friend sitting in the passenger seat keeping you amused throughout the miles and miles of farmland in Southwest Michigan (where I currently reside).
And all their album artwork is hand-drawn by bassist/vocalist Amanda Tannen, and it's so good, it makes me wanna bust out my colored pencils and start sketching again, but why bother when I can just look at the gallery of Cheekface cover art?
They're goofy and dorky, just like me, so it's no surprise that they've been on constant repeat since Sharlese introduced them to me. (Thank you, Work BFF.)
My only complaints: I need more music from them. And, their hilarious band tees keep selling out. (Anyone have a Slapshot Tee in a size small? Hit me up.) — Janice Headley
In this month's edition of In Our Headphones, KEXP's Digital Content team share the music that's resonating with them right now.
In this month's edition of In Our Headphones, KEXP's Digital Content team celebrates Pride with picks from artists in the LGBTQIA+ community.
In this month's edition of In Our Headphones, KEXP's Digital Content team shares music by Asian and Pasifika artists that have been in their personal rotation lately.