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Music Culture cheat sheet: Dua Lipa, Cavetown, and more

Mar. 30, 2020
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Listen: Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa

Maybe it was pure coincidence that Dua Lipa sang about not showing up and not coming out in the earlier released “Don’t Start Now,” the first single off her sophomore album, or maybe she was just destined to be the queen of the quarantine. “Is it wrong, right now, to be as happy as Dua Lipa’s second album makes you?” Chris Willman of Variety writes, deeming the album a much-needed celebration of pop music. This retro-electric dream makes you crave disco nights regardless of whether they were part of your life pre-social distancing, something no pop album has achieved since Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion. (A tweet did circulate calling Emotion the Old Testament and Future Nostalgia the New Testament.)

Each song is apt to stand on its own, but there’s an even greater strength revealed when it’s listened to as a whole: a satisfying cohesion wrapped neatly by this era’s masterfully executed visuals. While ‘80s and ‘90s influences are abundant, it’s clear that Future Nostalgia isn’t an imitation but a tribute, rooted in a funky bassline but still informed by the freshness of contemporary pop. 

More vocally expansive, it’s a portfolio that makes no sacrifices, each track equally vital. This offering from Britain’s current most successful female pop star is well aware of the tried-and-tested tricks of its industry, but instead prioritizes artistry—exuding a confidence, a sureness that essentially attracted its sonic success. 

Stream Future Nostalgia on Spotify.Listen: Sleepyhead by Cavetown

Cavetown, with hits like “Boys Will Be Bugs,” always reminds me of childhood summers. Understandable, since 21-year-old Robin “Robbie” Skinner is all emotion and empathy, one of the rare gems in bedroom pop who actually produces everything—including album art—themselves, in their actual bedroom. “Homemade” is not an aesthetic but an actual definition, his music grounded in expertise and a skill set he garnered himself. 

Skinner had his humble beginnings on YouTube, quietly earning a following of steady and dedicated fans who revered his first three albums, which he self-produced and self-released. Sleepyhead is his first album to be released under a label, which is why he was extra careful in maintaining the ragged, DIY feel of his work. 

This also translates lyrically, his songs colored with nostalgic imagery and brimming with verses as if extracted from diaries. In the album’s first track “Sweet Tooth,” he sings, “I like you / Say it back / Say it back,” tinted not with malice but a pure earnestness, a naivete we don’t allow ourselves anymore. Perhaps this is why his music feels so young, childlike but not childish—it wears its heart on its sleeve, radiating a comfort with emotionality that we tend to forget, or become averse to, come adulthood. “I’ve grown not to view vulnerability as a bad thing anymore,” he writes in a Reddit AMA. “You could argue that that’s the best part about music.”

Each song evokes an explosive smallness; Skinner paints a picture of falling in love in all its silence, in crevices. “We can make this hole a home / We can fill it up with grass and all the things that make it warm,” he sings in “Things That Make It Warm.” He sings of love in the early mornings, in the softer gestures, all awash in this sense of relief in contentment; like the song at the end credits of a really good movie. “Feb 14” and “Pyjama Pants” are especially endearing; similar to Rex Orange County before his music got co-opted by the soft boys. 

Art keeps the soul afloat, especially in this time of anxiety and uncertainty. Sleepyhead reminds me of the quieter moments tucked hidden in the hustle and bustle of what used to be everyday life, and right now those seem like luxuries. But I’m grateful for the reminders, still—I’m glad to be coming home to Cavetown. 

Stream Sleepyhead on Spotify.

Watch: Emma. (2020, dir. Autumn de Wilde)

There’s a familiar heartache in period dramas, where love in all its wild grandiosity is caged by the tight customs (and corsets) of the time. Emma.—stylized with a period, to signify it being a period piece—tells the same tale of loving and longing, but it’s luscious; never stiff. It’s organic and quirky, rooted in aesthetic but never bounded by it. This directorial debut by fashion and music photographer Autumn de Wilde is, satisfyingly, style with substance. 

Despite being a more straightforward adaptation of the Jane Austen novel (as compared to Clueless, for example), the dialogue never feels bogged down or inaccessible. Producer Graham Broadbent, in a conversation with LA Weekly, said de Wilde understood the high school prism in which Emma viewed relationships. “That makes these relationships feel quite contemporary and fun.”

The central romance is exquisitely crafted—themes of pining just hit closer to home during self-isolation—bolstered by Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn’s impenetrable chemistry. In a way I was reminded of Fleabag’s hot priest and the notion that male characters become much more attractive when they’re written by women—this was also the case in Flynn’s George Knightley. Him exasperatingly confessing, “If I loved you less then I might be able to talk about it more” might just haunt me for the rest of the quarantine. 

Emma. is now available on digital.