Today, Cali/Aussie singer-songwriter Lauren Tarver— professionally known as El Tee— released her debut album, Everything Is Fine. With her chocolatey vocals, lovelorn lyrics, and twinkly guitar, El Tee is certainly cut from the same cloth as Julia Jacklin, Lucy Dacus, Adrianne Lenker, et al. Name a buzzworthy, quiet-yet powerful, beautifully-blurred-guitar-backed, female singer-songwriter, El Tee is a bird of a feather.
One standout track on the new record is “I Don’t Care,” an unflinching yet nonchalant takedown of a guy everyone on this Earth has definitely met. She begins the track with a clever reversal, singing, “You’re so well-read / So hard to read / You’re an artist, a good one, someone with a dream / I don’t care.” Tarver continues, “You say you have baggage / But hey so do we / So does everyone else, including me / I don’t care.” The chorus is the real kicker, with El Tee twisting the proverbial knife as she explains, “And I want to feel the way that I felt / When I’m loved by my friends and those I care about / I’m not chasing a feeling that I don’t know well / Without hesitation, I’m really too old for this.” El Tee truly turned her gaze on everyone who has ever confused being emotionally unavailable with being complicated and shuts them the fuck down.
The rest of Everything Is Fine can be intense– on track “Inside,” I got a veritable shiver down my spine when El Tee sang, “Have you ever spoke to God / Or told him those things / You wanted / Well they may or may not / Come true if all goes right / If all goes wrong / He won’t be there to help you along.” A few songs can be incredibly specific, requiring listeners’ full attention– on the eponymous “Everything Is Fine,” the artist brings us on a car trip home from Christchurch South, where confusing details and emotions are woven together. In the end, this debut is (perhaps paradoxically) optimistically fatalistic– on closing “Good,” she muses, “Maybe I am who I wanted to be / Maybe I’m just not that good / Well I feel like the ending is near / And I know everything will be alright.” Everything Is Fine is difficult, touching, and beautifully done (hats off to the production by engineer Andrew McEwan and mastering by Adam Dempsey). Still, it’s nice that between these moments of morbidity and malaise, El Tee can still find a moment to remind us all that even artsy fartsy men ain’t shit. Take a listen to the new record now– the perfect record to spin as the seasonal depression kicks in. Like, in a good way. Just listen to it. It’s great.
In 2012, Atta Boy accomplished the industry equivalent of an Irish Goodbye– they released one of the best albums of the decade and then seemingly dropped off the face of the planet. Debut album Out of Sorts gained the Los Angeles-based group a sizable following, with millions of streams accumulating on Spotify. Posts on their dormant Facebook page piled up, from requests for performances in fans’ hometowns, to long accounts of how Out Of Sorts changed the lives of listeners, to ceaseless demands for new music– all of which went unanswered. More recently, one fan asked what many have wondered, “What happened to you guys?” Finally, Atta Boy has answered the calls: They’re back.
“Devoted,” the group’s newest single off their imminent sophomore album Big Heart Manners, should be put on the syllabus for a masterclass in how to make a successful comeback. Returning from an extended break can be daunting for anyone, but reintroducing yourself after almost a decade of silence can feel insurmountable. Some artists may feel boxed in by the need to recall a stale sound, while others may crack under pressure to reinvent. Atta Boy doesn’t fall into either trap. “Devoted” contains just enough old to satiate eager fans while introducing new aspects to their sound that represent a maturation and growth for the band.
Hits like “Saccharine,” “Diamonds,” and “Walden Pond” off their first record made a splash with lead singer Eden Brolin’s standout vocals, thoughtful piano from Dashel Thompson, and lo-fi guitar riffs by Freddy Reish. However, “Devoted” finds Atta Boy trying on some country trappings. The group switches out their trademark keys for an oscillating pedal steel, courtesy of Marty Rifkin. This shift may seem strange to some, but the explanation for the change in sound sits within the track, with Brolin explaining, “Write him a country song / Cause I won’t be ‘round for long / Just sing him back up / They all know your heart is crowded with salt and Big Sur sand.” This new song incorporates a twangy attitude, giving off a country-adjacent vibe similar to groups like First Aid Kit or The Wild Reeds. When paired with Brolin’s powerful vocals– which gain easy comparison to the likes to Land Of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell or even Karen O for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs– the track melds together several different sounds, resulting in a creative and distinctive single.
Beyond creative musicianship, emotional intensity stands out in Atta Boy’s oeuvre, with songs that astutely capture the joy, sadness, longing, and celebration that are commonplace workplace hazards of being a human being. “Devoted” is similarly emotionally resonant, with the song capturing the metaphorical push and pull that occurs in a one-sided relationship. The opening line sets the tone for the frustrated attitude of the track, as Brolin explains, “Well he ain’t got not time for me / But he likes my company / And ain’t that enough?” She continues, voicing the anxieties of those surrounding this toxic friendship, “Girl, no need to hurt yourself / It’s not worth your mental health / And he’ll never show up.” Finally, Brolin sings the things that keep the narrator sticking around in this relationship, “But I know how soft your voice is / When you look into my eyes.” “Devoted” is a keen look into the conflicting emotions that occur when being a devoted friend to a person who is simultaneously easy and difficult to love.
With Big Heart Manners slated to come out on June 26th, “Devoted” is a beautiful preface to the next chapter for Atta Boy. Show them some devotion and listen below.