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Sounds of Summer: Artists with breakthrough star potential

F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail
Max Garland celebrates new discovery with his “Sounds of Summer” playlist.

This week’s “Sounds of Summer” comes from the Gazette-Mail’s business reporter Max Garland.

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Life has changed so much for me over the past few years.

I’ve experienced the craziness of college life, completed internship and fellowship programs, gone on memorable trips and now I am approaching a year reporting with the Gazette-Mail.

Great music is always something I’ve relied on during times of transition. And there certainly hasn’t been a shortage of great, up-and-coming artists for that.

That’s why this Sounds of Summer playlist is for those artists with breakthrough star potential — even if they’ve been putting out records for years.

There’s always something satisfying about uncovering a gem of a song, and I hope you’ll find a few in this playlist.

Mitsiki, ‘Your Best American Girl’

A song off Mitski’s 2016 album, “Puberty 2,” switches to and from the quiet strumming of an acoustic guitar to an epic wall of sound. The dynamic chorus is memorable, and the lyrics give Mitski a universal, underdog appeal.

For me, “Your Best American Girl” means gaining a belief in yourself, even in foreign situations. A perfect example is the chorus, which starts as “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / But I do, I think I do” but “think” switches to “finally” near the song’s end.

It’s a statement that I think should put Mitski on the map.

Joyce Manor, ‘Beach Community’

A song about the beach is very appropriate for the summer, but the lyrics make it clear this song is more about a failed relationship and the difficulty of moving on from it.

Still, “Beach Community” has an aggressive, youthful energy that’s easy to sing along to.

Like most Joyce Manor tracks, it clocks in at under two minutes and gets straight to the point. That’s refreshing in an era when major artists try to juggle several different genres at once — Joyce Manor is just punk.

Merchandise, ‘I Will Not Sleep Here’

I discovered this song driving from my home in Knoxville to the Gazette-Mail newsroom for a job interview.

It was, unsurprisingly, a very nervous drive for me. But finding this song on a random playlist calmed me down. “I Will Not Sleep Here” has a grand feel to it, with sweeping guitar strums and an emotional punch in the lyrics. I feel like this song would be appealing in any decade.

It’s really a perfect driving song. The hook, “Blood is thicker than water / But both can go down the same drain,” is fantastic.

Robert Ellis, ‘California’

The first Robert Ellis song I heard off his 2016 self-titled album has lyrics that tell a story describing the cloudy path that follows heartbreak.

Appropriately, the singer mulls moving to California as an escape and a remedy. It has the feeling of a song you’d here on an impulsive late-night drive leading to nowhere.

I can’t say for sure where or when I heard this song, but it’s still the only Robert Ellis track I have in my library.

That needs to change soon.

Valerie June, ‘The Hour’

Valerie June’s music could fit into any era, and I’m pretty sure her voice would work well in nearly every genre.

That’s certainly the case for “The Hour,” a soulful, melodic tune off her 2013 album, “Pushin’ Against a Stone.” The song describes the ending, or at least an extended hiatus, of a relationship. But time keeps marching on: “The hour tells you no lies,” June sings.

I remember hearing this not long before I graduated from Elon University. I was already missing the college experience, but the song reminded me that time marches on, and I needed to keep pace with it.

Reach Max Garland at, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.

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