NEW EP: On ‘Cruise Control,’ Ben Kessler Explores Introspective Pop with Energetic Production

Philly native and Nashville lingerer Ben Kessler is making indie pop music that melds two inherent truths of today: as humans, we are looking inwards more than ever before, while in music, our sonic landscape continues to push boundaries with digitized, vibe-y production. Fold one into the other, or vice versa, and that’s the avenue you’ll find Kessler wandering down.


On his debut EP Cruise Control, which the pandemic has forced him to create from his parents’ basement on the heels of graduating from Vanderbilt University, he finds himself growing into this intersection of songwriting and production.

The EP consists of five songs, two of which have already been released as singles.

“I knew I wanted to do the EP at the end of 2019,” says Kessler, “and have it come out in the year after finishing up at Vanderbilt.”

“I was waiting to graduate, and the plan was initially to do that, then stay in Nashville and make the EP. But, obviously, the floor disappeared from under me; all my friends were moving, my lease was up, and it felt like my world was shutting down. Music was changing, too, and it suddenly wasn’t clear what releasing would be like.”

Needless to say, Kessler explains that the EP was born out of a place of uncertainty and anxiety.

“I love writing about inward-looking things, and I want to make music that is self-aware and reflective. ‘Cruise Control’ [the title track] was the first song I wrote for the EP, and it was one that I had written early on, had kind of forgotten about, and then rediscovered it. I thought, ‘Oh, this says everything I want to say with this EP, and it’s all in this one song. That’s perfect.'”

The song ‘Cruise Control,’ is definitely a bop, starting off with an immediate flurry of stressed-out, emotive lyrical contradictions.

One foot on the gas, one foot on the brake
All the things that I love, all the things that I hate
I breathe deep or I suffocate
I feel numb or I feel everything

His voice wafts atop woozy keys to start, but the production builds into so much more, eventually layering his singing with warped, pitched-up vocals that give way to a very electronic bridge. The track ends with the warped, pitched-up vocals once more, this time isolated, and leaves you craving more. (Every PR release says that a track will leave you ‘craving more’ but I am being 100% serious when I say that.)

Kessler was inspired by acts like Coldplay and John Mayer when he was young, then as he got into high school and older, his taste expanded, and he began closely following the careers of indie juggernauts like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. When he was barely a teenager, he was going to live music shows in Philly, and he burned his first EP on a bunch of physical CDs to pass out at a radio show.

“I would go to these free Friday concerts hosted by Philly radio station WXPN, and radio DJ Helen Leicht took my CD and put it on nationally syndicated radio. She’s been so supportive always, and that radio placement helped book shows in Philly and New York. I’d also see these really great acts at these shows, people like Ingrid Michaelson, Ray LaMontagne, even Kevin Bacon.”

Photo credit: Josefine Cardoni

Like many new artists trying to make it in the music industry, Kessler has had that initial struggle: how can he juggle making music for him and making what the industry wants? What does the industry even want?

“Suddenly, whatever type of pop song that is doing well commercially becomes your (and the industry’s) main definition of what makes a good song. So when people hear I’m a singer-songwriter, they either want me to go co-write in that direction or do a very stripped-down, acoustic-only sound when I’m making my own stuff. That doesn’t feel like me.”

When I mention ELIO, an up-and-coming indie pop talent who is being creatively managed by none other than Charli XCX, Kessler lights up. ELIO, though a burgeoning artist herself, has already pinpointed lively pop music with killer songwriting and sharp, futuristic production; she and Kessler both draw inspiration from The 1975, funnily enough.

“Production is so important; it can really transform an artist. I think you can take a lot of demos and put the hyperpop production spin on it, and that’s what a lot of people wanted me to do. But I wasn’t enjoying those sessions. I was like, ‘well this song could be a hyperpop song, but can’t we let it exist in another sound or genre?’ And I think this EP shows that sound I’m trying to accomplish, where I can be inward-looking with my lyrics while experimenting with the production and keeping the energy there.”

Lately, Kessler has been listening to artists like SG Lewis, Verzache, Jim-E Stack and Jimi Somewhere. When I ask about who his dream collaborator would be, I get two answers.

“High school me would say John Mayer. Current me would say James Blake.”

New Music Flavor – Taali “When Did The World Start Ending?”

Taali starts the new year with “When Did The World Start Ending? (Live at Levon Helm Studios“, the first single off her upcoming album of the same name due in March.

This song prompts reflection and inspires a positive outlook in terms of restructuring our lives in a COVID induced world.

“If the world is ending, I’ll build a new one with you”

If you’re looking to be uplifted, doused with beautiful vocals, or to feel inspired by the future – Taali is your gal. She is a multi-talented artist who also runs Rainbow Blonde Records alongside Brian Bender and José James. Plus, she always seems to be baking enough yummy goodness to feed an army in an outfit that will rock your world.

No big deal or anything, Taali was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Arrangement, Instruments + Vocals for “Slow Burn” alongside Nic Hard and Becca Stevens.

Want to know the CRAZIEST part about all of this? Taali actually agreed to an interview with Indie Pong. That’s right, tune in to our IG Live tomorrow at 10am PST, 7pm CET to catch this goddess in all her glory. Bring your questions!

Memo’s Top 50 Albums of The Year

Hello everybody! Happy New Year! So I am going to do something different this month. I usually write an article about my favorite music of the month, but since the shit show we call 2020 just ended I rather rank 50 of my favorite albums from 2020. Starting today on my YouTube channel I will be starting list week. I will be talking about my favorite and least favorite music from 2020. My top 50 albums video is the last video I will be uploading, but I think it would be a good idea to release my list early here on Indie Pong.

Although I think I have a pretty good list I do have a couple disclaimers. First of all, I kind of cheated. This list is called my top 50 albums of the year, but I do have a few EP’s in the list. Also, I know this is an indie music blog, but I do have some mainstream albums in the list. There has been several mainstream albums I enjoyed this year, so I would feel weird not to include them in my list. With that said, I don’t think my list is that bad. I am honestly proud of it. 2020 might be a shitty year, but at least there has been a lot of great albums released in 2020.

Without further ado here is my top 50 albums of the year for 2020!

50) Kota the Friend – EVERYTHING

49) Lady Gaga – Chromatica

48) Joji – Nectar

47) Bad Bunny – YHLQMDLG

46) Rico Nasty – Nightmare Vacation

45) Jme – Grime MC

44) SAULT – Untitled (Black Is)

43) Aminé – Limbo

42) Logic – No Pressure

41) Thundercat – It Is What It Is

40) Nas – King’s Disease

39) 070 Shake – Modus Vivendi

38) 21 Savage & Metro Boomin – Savage Mode II

37) Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind

36) Childish Gambino – 3.15.20

35) Action Bronson – Only For Dolphins

34) Deante’ Hitchcock – BETTER

33) Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

32) Jean Dawson – Pixel Bath

31) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

30) Blu & Exile – Miles

29) Fionna Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters

28) R.A.P. Ferreira – Purple Moonlight Pages

27) Qualle Chris & Chris Keys – Innocent Country 2

26) Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon III: The Chosen

25) Benny The Butcher – Burden of Proof

24) Oliver Tree – Ugly is Beautiful 

23) Kali Uchis – Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) ∞

22) Black Thought – Streams of Thought, Voll:3 Cane & Able


20) The Koreatown Oddity – Little Dominiques Nosebleed

19) Conway The Machine – From King To A GOD

18) Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – UNLOCKED

17) James Blake – Before

16) Slauson Malone – Vergangenheitsbewältigung (Crater Speak)

15) The Weekend – After Hours

14) Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now

13) Poppy – I Disagree

12) 100 gecs – 1000 gecs and the Tree of Clues

11) clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned

10) Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?

9) Tkay Maidza – Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2

8) Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo

7) Rina Sawayama – Sawayama

6) The Strokes – The New Abnormal

5) Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide

4) Boldy James & Sterling Toles – Manger on McNichols

3) Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez

2) Mac Miller – Circles

1) Run The Jewels – RTJ4

Let me know what you think?

p.s. Here is a link to my top 50 songs of the year playlist on Spotify in case you are curious.

New Music Flavor – Uruguay “Whisper”

This last week has been a difficult one – filled with outrage, uprisings, and injustice. Coming in like a slice of relief at the end of this whirlwind week, Uruguay releases “Whisper”. While many artists are pushing their releases back a few weeks, Uruguay stood by their release date knowing that its impact is greater now than initially anticipated.

The song’s impact is not only great because one half of the duo is a woman of color and it’s important to celebrate black artists now more than ever, but also because it’s a beautiful and heart soothing song that makes you feel hope at a time when it’s so desperately needed. The song itself is dynamic, upbeat and sensual. While the lyrics embrace the journey of another time, they’re relevant to the current state of the world, amplifying the song’s power.

“This song started out as an outlet for us and a way to cope with the culture shock of being in LA. But, as time has passed and the world has changed (especially in this past week) the meaning of this song, and releasing this song have taken on a completely new light. Now, “Whisper” is a literal voice in a time of change. We are releasing music that makes us feel good! We are showing up as a proud interracial duo who have been through IT (with a capital ‘I’ ‘T’) and saying that now is the time to not be silenced, but instead we are going to bring the world music. We will never stop trying to spread awareness, self worth, relatability, and authenticity with our music. So we hope you will join us, cause we’re pretty badass :P”

– Uruguay

Uruguay, comprised of Stepha Murphy and Benjamin Dawson-Sivalia, is named for a bakery owner from Uruguay who helped feed them while they were living on the streets in New York. They’re known for their fresh take on indie music, Stepha’s absolutely-haunting-and-I-mean-chilled-to-the-bone vocals, brilliant BRILLIANT production, Ben’s insane stage skills and as fashion icons. One of my favorite Stepha quotes is “People think we’re really hot until they get to know us”. Did I mention that they are models?

See what I mean? Hot. What’s even hotter is their live performance of their recent track “Best Friend’s Place” – watch below. And yes, it’s okay to think they’re singing about you while you watch this. You ARE their best friend. As sexy as they may be, they’re also approachable, engaging and absolute loons. The more you get to know Ben, the more you realize he might actually be a squirrel.

It’s hard to explain the various layers of this duo, it’s best to just witness it for yourself. Tomorrow, the pair will join Indie Pong in an Instagram Live interview to discuss their new release, the state of the world, and probably PEZ.

Big Mood Music

Mercury’s no longer in retrograde, but I’m still feeling that VIBE. The universe keeps spewing off big dick energy, keyword: dick, and we deserve a curated playlist to help us trudge through its mess. I’ve done the dirty work for you and dug up some f*ck off favorites and feel yourself flavors to entice your eardrums. Let’s kick it off! “Alexa, play PS GFY by Griz!”

Yas live sax! Yas sock-it-to-ya lyrics! We stan an honest electro-funk king! Grant Kwiecinski, better known as Griz, is a 28 year old Michigander, who has far more success than me at this age. It’s true, we can’t all mix live instruments with electronic beats and still turn it into political commentary… But Griz can, and you should see him live at your next music festival.

Fun fact: Dan Luke is the younger brother of Cage The Elephant frontman, Matt Shultz. With the gift of genetics on his side, Dan launched his own band aptly titled “Dan Luke and The Raid,” characterized by easy breezy beachy beats that’ll catch on the tip of your tongue.

Brokenhearted? Damn, sucks for you!

Jusstttt kiddinnngg, we’ve all been there. It’s a bummer. And lovelytheband is here to help. With a vibe reminiscent of Two Door Cinema Club and Foster The People, lovelytheband thrives in the love lost-and-found department.

Don’t judge a song by the film it appears in and take a moment to embrace the beauty that is AN ANDERSON PAAK X JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE collaboration! “Don’t Slack” dropped TODAY and so did I! #Deceased

Grouplove is back and better than ever! If your anger manifests as an indie pop banger, this is that banger.

Rock out with your empowerment out! – I made that phrase up, let’s goooo! Doja Cat is a triple threat: singer, rapper, producer. An Angeleno through and through, Doja Cat brings justice to my hometown: the valley.

And speaking of rap, Rhapsody is climbing the hierarchy. I mean hellllooo, she’s already collaborated with Kendrick Lamar. “Oprah” will have you throwing money out your car window… so contain yourself! And dance along to the good beats instead.

“Fvck Somebody” is a MOOD. Ever felt trapped by a partner? GUILTY! The Wrecks relate, and they have a beautifully quirky music video to match.

I don’t know about you, but I could never get enough Dylan Minet. *He’s soooo cute!* The star of “Thirteen Reasons Why” is a breakout musician in his band Wallows, and I’m DEFINITELY NOT BIASED OR ANYTHING. “These Days” nails our lack-of-commitment-culture. “I need to know if you’re feelin it or I’m wasting my time.” — THIS. But just to be clear Dylan, I’m totally feeling it please slide into my DMs…

Bad date? I CAN RELATE. “It’s Not All About You” touches me so deeply it sees my soul. Clyde and Gracie Lawrence are dynamic soulful siblings on the verge of a Finneas x Billie moment.

There you go, a solid hour of music to kick your day into high gear. New fave song? Tell me in that comment section!


It’s officially #WCW, when we honor some badass boss ladies in today’s music scene. Your Spotify playlist needs nurturing, and yes, I’M LOOKING AT YOU COACHELLA HEADLINERS! “No female headliners are you f*cking serious?!” *Chugs wine.* Here are the bangers you didn’t know you needed. Don’t worry, you can thank me later. Cue Olivia O’Brien:

I first discovered Olivia on a little song “i hate u, i love u.” You heard?

Her pop-funk fusion and catchy lyrics will have you converting your comb into a microphone, belting sweet nothings to your reflection. Or maybe that’s just me… Moving right along!

In just a few years, and at only twenty years old, Olivia has risen from aspiring Soundcloud cover-artist to Coachella performer. Let’s hope she snags one of those headlining slots someday soon. And speaking of powerhouse women…

Bishop Briggs alt-rock, stage-stealing vocals first caught our ears and stole our hearts on “River”.

Briggs is a powerhouse vocalist, who fearlessly experiments with genres and unabashedly expresses vulnerability in her lyrics. Her second album, Champion, is the lion’s roar we craved from this songstress.

Give us a tour soon Bishop, we need you!

Now SUE ME, Noah Cyrus doesn’t get enough credit. OKAY, I said it. And I meant it!

My appreciation for Cyrus was a journey. Admittedly, I couldn’t help but compare Noah’s label- appeasing hits to Miley’s Bangerz. *See what I did there?!* But on “Lonely,” Noah comes in swinging. There’s an authenticity, a palpable pain that makes us feel guilty for judging her in the first place. Moving forward, I’ll withhold judgment and let the sounds speak for themselves.

Happy Birthday to me, Sasha Sloan released this poppy mood-booster on, you guessed it, my birthday! *December 4th, I love cupcakes.*

Sasha is a reddit success story, who dropped her Soudcloud link onto a viral photo of herself. We stan an entrepreneurial creative! Sasha has since written for Camila Cabello, released several EPs, and is gearing up for her debut album. Her career just started, and I promise I’m not jealous that she’s had more success in the last year than I’ve had since college…

In today’s addition of “brooding badasses,” Charlotte Lawrence combines the catchiness of Robyn with the edginess of Billie Eilish for a sound that’s reminiscent of a modern Britney Spears. I knowwww, I’m all over the place here! But hear me out: She’s got the “It” factor. I mean COME ON, just look at this song title:

I love the dichotomy here between Charlotte’s angelic voice and the jarring lyrics coming out of her mouth. It takes a moment to process, but the orchestral flourishes guide you along.

Step aside Mac Demarco, we’ve got some rising Divas on our hands. Shoutout your #WCW in the comments below.