Music News: The Specials collaborate with activist Saffiyah Khan


The reunited Specials.
The reunited Specials. (courtesy the artists)
The Specials collaborate with activist Saffiyah Khan
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Jay and Jade spotlight new music from Billie Eilish, Cherry Glazerr, Mandolin Orange, Girlpool, Emily King, and the reunited Specials.

The Specials: Encore

In 2017, the Hard Times published a satirical article with the headline, "Doomsday Preppers Ready for Fourth Wave of Ska." Well, there was a time when ska was not something to fear. Back before the Third Wave (with bands like Fishbone and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones) but after the First Wave (with artists like the Skatalites and the early Wailers), there was a Second Wave in the late '70s and early '80s, centered on the U.K.'s 2 Tone Records with bands like Madness, the Selecter, and the Specials.

The Specials had some of the best-loved ska hits, like "A Message to You, Rudy," "Ghost Town," and "Free Nelson Mandela." Now they have a new release, 18 years since their last studio album and 39 years since they last worked with singer Terry Hall. Hall's vocals aren't even the biggest news on the album, though: that would be the band's collaboration with Saffiyah Khan, a young activist who went viral in 2017 when she was photographed wearing a Specials shirt while peacefully confronting members of a far-right group in Birmingham.

She tells Billboard, "The Specials, for me, reignited the idea of honor and unity being intrinsic to all anti-racist struggles. They are living proof that such politics will stand the test of time and transcend religions and colors." Here's their joint track, "10 Commandments," a response to a sexist 1967 track by ska legend Prince Buster. (Jay)

Mandolin Orange: Tides of a Teardrop

The North Carolina duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz have been making their delicate blend of folk, Americana, and bluegrass as Mandolin Orange for 10 years. This is the first time in those years that that band has lyrically sounded this dark and introspective, with Marlin reflecting on the grief held over from his mother's death when he was a teenager. The overwhelming images are conveyed with the album's title, Tides of a Teardrop and songs like "The Wolves." (Jade)

Cherry Glazerr: Stuffed and Ready

We talk a lot about the young women who are leading a new generation of rock artists with powerful and perceptive music, and here's another to add to the honor roll. Clementine Creevy has been a buzzworthy artist since she was discovered on SoundCloud at age 16. She's now 22, and her band Cherry Glazerr are already on their third album. Stuffed and Ready is poised to be a mainstream breakout for Creevy, getting pre-release raves from publications like the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Turn your earpods all the way up for this fresh slice of Cherry Glazerr's pop-grunge power, with a theme at leasta couple of my grade-school teachers could relate to: "Wasted Nun." (Jay)

Girlpool: What Chaos is Imaginary

"Advertise what makes you crazy," in the Girlpool song "Hire," seems to strike the thesis of the new album from the duo. What Chaos Is Imaginary sees Harmony and Cleo surviving huge life changes: Cleo having come out as transgender and Harmony struggling with mental health issues. They are a band that have always strove for authenticity and honesty in their lives and in their music. That tread weaves through the album full of soft melodies that would make Elliott Smith tear up. (Jade)

Emily King: Scenery

If you don't know Emily King, you've got to check out her music. But don't take my word for it: listen to Prince, who used to share King's tracks on Twitter. He even booked her to play at Paisley Park, but tragically, he died just a few months before the scheduled performance.

King's played her smooth pop soul as an opener for John Legend, Nas, Chaka Khan, and Alicia Keys, but it wasn't until her last album that she'd built enough of a following to tour as a headliner. On the strength of that album, she signed with ATO, the label that's home to artists like Alabama Shakes and Brandi Carlile. Her first ATO release, called Scenery, is out this week. Her single "Remind Me" sounds like an update of '80s-era Tina Turner, and I don't give praise much higher than that. (Jay)

Billie Eilish: "Bury a Friend"

I've got a real soft spot for weirdos. Billie Eilish is into making music that sounds creepy, she adds noises from her dad sharpening knives in the kitchen, the evil Sherlock Holmes nemesis Moriarty inspired her lyrics, she loves spiders. She's my kind of weirdo and I'm looking forward to however much weirdness she gives us in her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, which is set to come out March 29th. To tide us over is the spooky "Bury a Friend." (Jade)

Audio sampled in podcast
Jahzzar: "Comedie" (CC BY SA 4.0)
The Specials: "A Message to You, Rudy"
The Specials feat. Saffiyah Khan: "10 Commandments"
Mandolin Orange: "The Wolves"
Cherry Glazerr: "Wasted Nun"
Girlpool: "Hire"
Emily King: "Remind Me"
Billie Eilish: "bury a friend"

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