New Music: February and March 2020

Here’s a link to the playlist. The play buttons embedded here will play 30-second clips if you’re not logged into Spotify in your browser, which is probably the best way to listen to the tracks while reading this article.

Okay. You’ll notice that this article covers two months worth of music. I’m sorry! We’re all doing our best right now, myself included. But here’s some cool music that just came out that I’ve been listening to while working from home.

Georgia — Never Let You Go

Dang, it was hard to just pick one song from this record. Never Let You Go is probably one of the poppier pieces from the rest of the lofi hip hop-inspired, danceable tracks. I want to take a road trip to this song — this is a track for doing things to. Maybe mostly dancing. I mean this as a complement: any one of the tracks on this album would be in Skins if it were made today.

The record’s title, Seeking Thrills, is a bit of a misnomer, because you don’t have to look very hard to find thrills in this record. Please listen to it cover-to-cover. Or at least listen to “Mellow,” on the more hip hop side of the spectrum of this record, where Shygirl’s feature pushes the track to be a hit.

Automatic — Signal

Dang this is a jam. This is, like, my exact taste in music. Lofi; drum, bass, and a little synth; with post-new-wave vocals provided by Izzy Glaudini et. co. It’s sort of horror rock. Okay, no, here’s the best explanation for anything I’m ever going to give, so buckle up: Brian David Gilbert, in a now-deleted tweet, described a genre: “MUSIC FOR BEING CHASED WITHIN A CASTLE.” That is this. This is it.

I don’t want to compare Automatic to La Femme, because I feel like that’s not quite fair. They’re similar in instrumentation, but maybe the goals are slightly different. Maybe the closest relative to what Signal (the record, not the track) accomplishes is Gymnastics by Sneaks. It pushes the limits of how bass and drums can create a groove and not be New Wave. Somehow, this is exactly what I always want to hear.

Corridor — Domino

Domino, like the rest of its record Junior, has an energetic surfer-rock vibe where the guitar line is louder than the French-language, rolling paroles. The backbeat doesn’t really change over the course of the song, even when everything drops out to just bass and drums to build back up. Every part involved in this track contributes to the voltage that’s generated by the tight instrumentation that comes together without forcing the issue. It’s almost like the vocal line combines with the rhythm section to croon, but it still, to me, feels as energetic as, say, the shouting dance style of Death From Above 1979.

The whole record’s like this — listen to “Pow” next.

Car Seat Headrest — Can’t Cool Me Down

You know how Bob Dylan plays a synth now?

Car Seat Headrest rules. Will Toledo is probably incapable of not writing a hit every time he sits down at the keys now, just like how he wrote a hit every time he took a guitar into his car. If you had told me that the first thing that would come to mind from Toledo’s next hit would have been “groovy,” I’m not sure I would have believed you, but here we are: it’s a really groovy, smooth, surprisingly electronic Car Seat Headrest song, and it rules.

“Can’t Cool Me Down” is clearly the next step in the CSH evolution. It’s soulful and cool and an indicator of even more greatness to come soon.

Ásgeir — Turn Gold To Sand

“Turn Gold To Sand” is one of songs on Sátt that departs more from folk and ends up closer to an electronic in the style of James Blake. It’s good, and it provides a texture to the rest of the record that keeps it engaging as you listen to it cover to cover.

But an obviously huge part of the project is the environmentalist message, which I wholeheartedly welcome. Can you divorce art from the political? No. Is global warming a hoax? Also no. So please forgive me as I briefly touch on this:

You could go ahead and say that other people are doing things to destroy the future of the natural world around us that are much worse than the things that you do in the everyday decisions that you make, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all do a little bit better. Please do that one thing that you’re thinking about that would shrink the scar that you’ll leave behind on this planet.

Anyway. Great song! Great record. There’s also an Icelandic-language version of the album, Sátt. Speaking of Iceland…

Daði Freyr — Think About Things

Yes, this is a song from Eurovision 2020. It’s so good. Just watch the music video:

Freyr’s family and friends got together to make a funky pop hit that will be stuck in my head for the rest of time. It’s almost impossible not to dance along to this song — unless you’re otherwise captivated by the music video or the live performance that won Daði & Gagnamagnið the right to represent Iceland in the now-cancelled Eurovision 2020.

“Think About Things” is undeniably in the vein of traditional pop music, but it also somehow manages to sound like the kind of thing that should come out of the instruments that Gagnamagnið’s backing dancers play. The amazing vocal harmonies come together so well in the chorus. The song is cinematic and catchy, and it’s going to borrow time inside your head to play itself over and over, if it hasn’t already.

La Roux — Automatic Driver

Though few tracks could ever be as catchy as “Bulletproof,” “Automatic Driver” comes awfully close. Like the rest of her discography, the track is not simple, but it is straight-forward: which, honestly, is refreshing and often what a hit needs. The refrain “I wanted to manage information / Find the automatic driver” is just as unfamiliar but ear-worming as “This time maybe I’ll be / Bulletproof.”

But even if this song wasn’t in conversation with the weight of La Roux’s breakout hit, it still would end up finding a place in my heart.

The Wants — Fear My Society and The Motor

No idea what’s going on here.

I really couldn’t pick just one. Container is almost certainly going to be my favorite record of this year, and it would take a lot of work for it to not end up in the top three of this decade for me.

So… you know how Muse started off as this band that made Hyper Music (as a style, not the song) and then made a bunch of other albums? If you like Muse’s relatively early records and you want to know what it would have been like if they’d come from New York from roughly right now, Container is probably as close as it gets.

“Fear My Society” is such a powerful question of a song. Madison Velding-VanDam is so good: there’s so much powerful acting in the way that he sings each. Heather Elle’s vocals just punch the whole track into motion. The mathematical precision of the three-piece work of a complicated but not overbearing layered guitar and bass are the epitome of rock.

Next on the tracklist is “The Motor,” an energetic, slightly cacophonous jam with a radical bassline and a guitar riff that just absolutely rips. It’s sparsely lyric’d, which is perfect. Based on an earlier live recording, the vocal line was a relatively recent addition to the song, and I’m really glad they took the time to get it right. It’s not a particularly fast song (130-ish beats per minute) but boy is it fast and intense. This would make an amazing song to run to, just like the rest of the record.

Shopping — Initiative

Queer indie-punk Shopping are not the B-52s. They are, to me, what would happen if you listened to the B-52s and thought, “hey, what if this, but even better?”

Each track is simultaneously minimal but still somehow atmospheric. It’s hard to believe that this sound comes from a three-piece; the way that the bass and leads play off each other to make groovy anthems is seriously impressive.

In the delightful music video, Andrew Milk wears a post-it note which admonishes “DO BETTER” — I don’t think that should even be in the cards. Nothing about this album could be better because it is the best.

Cable Ties — Lani

Lani is seven and a half minutes of crunchy bass with Jenny McKenchie’s open but soft, almost operatic lyrics on top. The song is filled with noise, but gives itself space to really jam and iterate on itself. Cable Ties are often described as punk, but that doesn’t really fit for this track, for me; it’s a garage symphony.

Have A Nice Life — Dracula Bells

I heard this song in a combination record store / board game shop. It sounds exactly like what music playing in a very cool record store slash board game shop should sound like.

“Dracula Bells” comes out kicking and then sustains a frisson-inspiring energy over the next seven-and-three-quarters minutes. The tone of the base which drives the narrative coming out of the first chorus. The intense, spooky reverb on the vocals culminate in a dark shift which you’ll know when you hear it. “Dracula Bells” is a rockin’ centerpiece for Sea of Worry‘s well-rounded mission, which also rocks. Don’t forget to check out “Trespassers W,” which is more of a conventional punk-ish indie cut that reminds me of Japandroids. The album is well rounded, but necessarily goth — “Destinos” seems like a necessary addition to make sure you know what type of music you’re listening to, though I’m not quite sure if it’s for me. The rest of the album, though? So good.

Sorry — Right Round The Clock

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I’ve been a bit obsessed with this record. It’s honestly a little obscene and makes me a little uncomfortable, but I can’t stop listening to it. For this track, in particular, the way the horns in the chorus punctuate the very cool indie vibes that are very clearly trying to draw you in in a certain way. It’s almost a little… Moulin Rouge? That’s a bad comparison. You’ll get it when you hear it.

925 is impossible to pick one song off of, for good reason. Sorry has done the right thing in that they’ve been releasing the singles that ended up comprising this record since 2018 (!!) and just picked the best ones to put on here. “Starstruck”… such a good song. “Snakes” is weird and uncomfortable and it’s just so great. Some of their songs take up the great English tradition of the Arctic Monkeys songs that tell stories (“Heather”, “Rosie”).

The electronic influences their symphony of guitars come together so well. Sorry is The XX if Karen O was the frontwoman. I don’t even know who you are if that doesn’t sound amazing to you.

Soccer Mommy — bloodstream

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This track really stood out to me from the rest of the record. Something about it is frisson-worthy from the very outset; the four chords take their own time to deliver something sort of sombre and contemplative. Allison’s shoegaze-style vocals drive home a point over a more clear instrumentation that works to build upon itself.

I honestly don’t understand this track. It’s sad and it’s good.

Porridge Radio — Sweet

This is such a weird, creepy song, and I love it.

plink … plonk … plink … plonk

Like, what even are these lyrics? How does this wall of noise work? Why do I love this song so much?

plink … plonk … plink … plonk

“You will like me when you meet me / you might even fall in love” Bluuuuuuggghhhhhuhhh. So creepy. Buuh.

plink … plonk … plink … plonk

The Innocence Mission — Stars That Fall Away From Us

This track is like Nick Drake meets Beirut. The ethereal vocals do not convey vowel shapes that you would expect to come out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. But this song in particular is a gorgeous soundscape that doesn’t try too hard to drive a point home; the chorus is punctuated by a delightful rhythm section that still lets the rest of the song do the talking.

I get the same feeling from this track that I do from Beirut’s The Flying Club Cup, in that it feels like it’s truly about something, even if you’re not trying to hard to understand the vocals. It feels like a soundtrack to an interesting life, albeit maybe a sort of sad one.

Activity — Earth Angel

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“Earth Angel” starts off smooth and sulky, Travis Johnson’s gently eeked out stylings quietly croon with the rest of the instrumentation, vocal artifacts perfectly matching the digital glitch in the drum section.

And then the rush comes in. I don’t even want to spoil it by describing it.

Grouplove — Youth

Grouplove’s Healer is another set of energetic tracks, continuing the now almost decade-long tradition of Grouplove releasing a collection of danceable tunes that sort of shout at you a little bit. “Youth” is a bit of a departure from the rest of Grouplove’s tracklist. It’s groovy, cyclical, cool — not to say that the rest of Grouplove’s tracks aren’t, but it seems like the project here is slightly different. But there’s still that same vibe here; if you like the relentless positivity of Grouplove and want to hear it in a more rolling, less staccato style — which you should — check this song and the rest of the record out.

Radiator Hospital — My New Chord

Radiator Hospital has done it again — “My New Chord” is probably one of the more gripping songs that I’ve ever heard. It packs so much in its sub-two-minute punch; the catchy vocal line which lays overtop of its bass guitar twin is genuinely emotive. In the same vein of the original “Mad World,” the driving backbeat and major key groupings delightfully disguise poetry:

Days drag on until they’re done
Hours blur into each other
Just one look and then I’m gone
I can’t bear to take another

Listen: Sings ‘For Music Daydreaming’ has gotten a bad rap online. I’m honestly astonished folks don’t seem to be as taken in by it as I am. Every song tells a story, and though the stories are mostly dark, it comes together as a whole that should be considered one of the greatest.