Get Refreshed: One Year Of “How I’m Feeling Now,” The Nature of aldn, and Nigo Being Nigo

“Get Refreshed” is a weekly column by Billy Bugara covering all things digital in the music world. Refresh yourself here

Cover by Parent Company

Fresh Reflection: A Year Later, and How I’m Feeling Now Is Better Than Ever

I never thought I’d say this, but let’s ignore “hyperpop discourse” for a moment. You know, the discourse that began in the summer of 2020 and still fervently lingers to this very day. It has made up the majority of this column’s content, the content of my closest working contemporaries, and has cast a cloud of influence over all music discourse and its respective content. It has dominated my life, and it has probably dominated yours, too.

And I’d like to forget about it… at least for like 5 minutes or so. Because I want to take us all back to the album that arrived just before all of this discourse truly started to kick off and become as inescapable as it did and still is. Just before all eyes were placed on Charli XCX’s role in making the hyperpop playlist as forcefully influential as it is today, she put out an album that, in the context of everything discussed here, acted as the final prelude for pop music’s entrance into its next new era — an album that I believe should not be forgotten in the grand scheme of things, considering the high chance that this scenario could very well occur. 

That album was, of course, How I’m Feeling Now — Charli’s ode to the trials and tribulations of early pandemic life in 2020, all presented via music and visuals alike. It came to us at a time of uncertainty and unknowingness in regards to the context at hand, and one can argue today’s time is just as linked with those two terms, but in a far different sense. Does this sentiment affect the quality of such an admittedly niche release like this? 

In celebrating the album’s recent first birthday, I can definitively say that no, it does not. In fact, no other full-length pop release better symbolizes this “niche” period as it were. Since it dropped, not only does its production benefit from its stylistic cues heightening in relevance – becoming much easier to admire its tightly-packed and resounding tones and structure alike – but so too does Charli’s songwriting, which I truly consider to be at its all-time-peak here given the album’s conceptual makeup. 

Charli did the absolute most with the little resources she had in constructing this experience; she took us on a maximal experience with minimal tools during a minimal time. My greatest hope is that instead of being forgotten due to the aforementioned discourse that took off almost immediately after its release come summertime, this release is cemented in history for what it truly is: the quintessential “pandemic album.”

Nigo Chanel: “Aint Fw Luv”

Nigo Chanel has mastered the art of doing whatever the hell he wants. And just as true for any other act in this regard, that’s nothing but a good (and entirely necessary) thing. The online music environment practically begs for this level of artistic freedom from its inhabitants. By extension, it’s a given for any single figure operating within it to fulfill these expectations in order to find success. 

But Nigo goes above and beyond just meeting these demands; he easily exceeds them, he overflows them, even. Because with him, having limitless creative freedom is not about simply exploring a multitude of sounds and/or approaches, it’s more so about taking an existing approach and, for lack of a better description, making it a “Nigo Chanel Type Song.”

That’s exactly what he’s done time and time again with each successive release in his catalog, the most recent of which coming with the 3ds-produced “Aint Fw Love.” The rousing MC takes the addictive pop-oriented instrumental from the Co-op and Silly Team mainstay and gives a performance only replicable by he himself. Fitting countless amounts of memorable refrains into such a brief package, all of them interlaced with some of the most entertaining wordplay heard in any single track this year, Nigo does what only Nigo can do by simply… well… 

…being Nigo Chanel. I wish there was a better explanation than that, and if you don’t believe me, listen to the track and let me know then.

aldn Being aldn, Naturally

If any rising act in the greater online music world were to best define the term “natural,” aldn fits the bill better than anyone else. His career was nothing more than a small speckle within the wide-open world of digicore as it rose to prominence during the summer of 2020; since then, he’s completely transcended the scene in practically all imaginable manners, developing a sense of artistry about himself that he can entirely call his own. 

What’s most fascinating about this progression in its own right is just how logically-sound it has come off as. He’s gone through an artistic evolution just as any other upcoming act has since that period, but he’s done so with a sincere sense of nature about him — not just within his visual cues and general aesthetic approach, but additionally through his elevated musicianship and the progressions that correspond with it. From summer to summer, these aspects have seemed to be unaltered by anything else other than his very own personal intuitions and aspirations alike. Put simply, he’s a natural talent dictated by his own nature.

His latest single “i’m alright” illustrates these notions better than any previous release, and it’s all due to how exemplary this track is in furthering his intended career path as it is shaping up. Whereas 2020 saw aldn embellishing some of the more “traditionally developed” cues of digicore, this track sees him taking a full dive into contemporary alternative pop with elements of his “scene” past mixed in for good measure. 

Or should I say “great” measure, because just has been the same with all of their recent work, this track is remarkable in all regards. Pop music deserves a superstar who, entirely under their own pretense, finds solace in putting out content that adequately reflects their artistry in a single given moment. It’s all naturally presented, and the music itself results from being a product of his own mind and own aspirations. We can’t ask for more than that, to be honest; aldn is a beacon of genuine creativity, and his creative evolution cements this belief as fact, plain and simple… and natural.

One Year and the Conversation About “Vent Music”

If you’ve ever heard a track from Minnesota’s digicore representative One Year, you basically went through a full-length conversation with him. The 7serene standout has made a career out of meeting intimate thought with effective musicality; in other words, he’s successfully blurred whatever lines existed between spoken-word journaling and traditionally structured r&b and pop. He’s like a young and spry version of what Mark Kozelek represents with his own recent work in this sense, except One Year doesn’t talk about our shared adjacent hometown of Canton, Ohio on every song and isn’t problematic as all hell.

It’s here where I’d like to coin his output with the title of “vent music.” His approach comes off as though he’s sitting in a room with you just spilling out whatever is on his mind at that given time, just in an effectively rhythmic and soothing manner. He’s making music that registers just as much as an audiobook as it does a pop and/or r&b track. No one does this better than him — few have even made an attempt, even.

The recent Roxas-assisted single “Kid” is without question the most adequate reflection of these descriptions yet from the rising talent. The instrumental – given to us by the outstanding duo of kurai and wifi – sits in the background in as uninvolved of a manner as it possibly can — a purposefully effective approach, given how much room it leaves for One Year to sit us all down and talk about what’s on his mind.

And when I say talk, I really mean it, because even though his soothing vocals do stand out in their subtle demeanor, this truly feels like a vent session placed over pure ambiance. If there were to be a definitive answer as to what the “One Year Sound” really is, this is it — and it’s remarkable. 

luvlxckdown: “never the same”

Silly Team’s luvlxckdown is just one of many names within the digicore scene that has seen their stock rise to unfounded heights in 2021 alone. Each of these acts – as is per usual with this scene – have their own distinct artistic sensibilities and traits about them, and despite not quite settling into a consistent sound/style yet (nor should they at this point in their career) they’ve come to earn their status as it stands today through impressing in a variety of manners. 

The latest of these exemplary moments comes in the form of “never the same” — a drowning, emotionally biting track that is quite the contrast from its blissfully energetic preceding release “kick the bucket.” Although this is the case, the former release benefits from its solo makeup by letting luvlxckdown display the fullest extent of their talents thus far. With a structure and corresponding traits that are reminiscent of mid-late 2000s alternative rock, they string together a sublime vocal performance that sways in and out of the rhythm in an all-too-fitting fashion, all the while showcasing a keen sense of harmony and dramaticism with their voice alone. 

Even though luvlxckdown may not continue down this specific path with their work moving forward, one would be remiss in discounting how these elements will absolutely factor into whatever signature presence they end up fully developing in due time. For now, we can enjoy this familiar and soothing experience for the outstanding track that it is. 

The Future of Music Writing Is For The Youth, By The Youth

Words by H.D. Angel

Does anyone actually read articles anymore? As a writer, sometimes it doesn’t seem like it — at least in lots of online music spaces. A lot of articles clearly get written, including by people who are deeply passionate about their craft and skilled at thinking their way around the art they cover, unpacking the histories and creative processes that underpin the work. But unless fans are congratulating their favorite artist for getting a placement on a blog, there’s not really a sustained audience in writing for its own sake. And since there’s not much of an audience engaging, fewer people are motivated to really think things through and put ideas out there that actually add to musical discussion instead of just recapping it. Most blogging surrounding music seems like it exists solely to get artists a bag, with the writing itself being less relevant.

I hate to devolve into “old man yells at cloud” discourse or to suggest that nobody under a certain age wants to think critically about the art they consume – the rise of hour-long video essays, lengthy Twitter threads and TikTok explainers over the past few years would refute that – because as long as people like music, they’ll find their own ways to dig deeper into it. Social media algorithms have been prioritizing the “pivot to video” away from written content for years. But writing and blogging is more idea-dense than those mediums in a shorter amount of time, easier to get into creating, and can foster a community and exchange of ideas that individual “content creators” aren’t as well-equipped to put together. There’s also nothing wrong with writing in order to give musicians you like a bigger platform. After all, without the music, there’d be nothing to talk about! But I think what’s being lost is the collective sense that there are ideas external to the art that are also worth discussing.

As of this week, at the age of 18, I’m editor-in-chief over at UVC — the biggest outlet in the “internet music” sphere that mostly centers in on SoundCloud. As I’ve gotten into the position, I’m struck by how many people around my age are getting in contact with me, seeming passionate about having somewhere they can start a dialogue about the music they love. Since music journalism isn’t really a profitable career option these days, maybe we can return to something like the old “blog era” for a modern, niche audience, with people writing (or branching out into other efforts) simply for the passion of documenting the boundless ocean of music that exists online. 

There will be some difficulties, of course. It’s hard to get people to read past a headline, and even harder – in the age of quote tweeting – to get anyone to say anything that might challenge how others think about art. I’ve noticed a lot of artists themselves get in on writing through this column — maybe that’s the future that’ll engage people, along with more conversational media like podcasts. In any case, if young people from a wide variety of backgrounds really devote themselves to writing, talking, interviewing, and thinking things through, I think music media can be more than just inessential window dressing.