New Music: July 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.

The water rolls down the drain /
Oh, what a lonely thing in a lonely drain /
July, July, July never seemed so strange

It’s been mostly the same for us here. Just work, life, and good new music. Here’s some descriptions of some of the tracks which I stumbled across this month that stood out to me.

Ultraísta — Harmony

Sister, Ultraísta’s sophomore record, rules. I had such a hard time picking just one song off of it. The Atoms For Peace-like instrumentation blends with Laura Bettinson’s vocals so well. The album is just one fantastic cohesive piece; no one song is clearly the single.

Right from the start, you know what you’re getting into with “Harmony” — it starts off with a straight-forward clipping drum beat, then a melody in a mode I can’t recognize transitions us into Laura Bettinson’s perfect vocals. Speaking of which: the tone that she is able to invoke with her vocal chords is stunning.

“Harmony” is a beautiful symphony which builds upon itself. I don’t know if the tempo increases as the song proceeds, but it almost sounds like it due to the way that the layering increases over time, punching the rhythm further and further.

Little Dragon — Hold On

You don’t need me to tell you that Little Dragon has perfected the art of making a groove. The bass line in this song is phenomenal, at some times sounding like a precision bass guitar, other times clearly a synthesizer. The way that all of the other instruments make space for each other by being perfectly spaced apart is exceptional, particularly the bass, which doesn’t ring out for maybe most of the song.

Ritual Union will always be one of my favorite albums, and I don’t think it has been usurped as my favorite Little Dragon record, but doesn’t mean that New Me, Same Us isn’t an exceptional album.

Angel Olsen — All Mirrors (Johnny Jewel remix)

Dang, that kick drum tone.

All Mirrors is a great record, and a collection of remixes supporting it was just released.

Johnny Jewel’s effort here is amazing. The song is completely transformed into a real electropop hit, with belting vocals and a traditional synth line. Some remixes merely paste over existing tracks; this one reworks it into something completely different.

This song is now something approaching an anthem. I know I keep comparing songs to Robyn, but this track is definitely on the same tier.

Deerhoof — O Ye Saddle Babes

Deerhoof are such an amazing band. I am a huge fan of the energy that their 2014 record La Isla Bonita brings with every track — especially “Paradise Girls,” which is one of the greatest songs ever written. I’m definitely more of a fan of their more up-tempo tracks, and that record is chock-full of them.

“O Ye Saddle Babes” is definitely up-tempo — it’s quintessential Deerhoof, bringing the prototypical beautiful and shifting instrumentation into a groovy, cerebral, rocking package.

And, of course, the lyrics are brilliant, as always:

Can’t we all just get along / little doggies? x4

How will you last / weather forecast cowboy?
A new location with vegetation / yeah

Cowboys were just a corporate invention x3

Jay Som — Can’t Sleep

“Can’t Sleep” is high-flying masterpiece. The individual instrumentation has a veneer of analog to each part, creating a tape-like effect. It’s hard to understand Melina Duterte’s vocals here because they’re underneath a fair bit of distortion, but there’s something emotionally moving in this song. It’s triumphant, but also sweet and sad.

There’s no individual part from “Can’t Sleep” that sticks out as the hook, but the first two-thirds of the song have a pop structure buried beneath a very cool lo-fi tradition. Then, of course, there’s the horn outro, which only serves to add to the cool factor.

The Orielles — Space Samba (Disco Valador Theme)

Edgar Wright — you know, the guy from the movies — also picked this song for his appropriately titled playlist, “EDGAR WRIGHT’S TOP 50 SONGS OF 2020 (PART 1),” which should make a lot of sense.

For a disco song, “Space Samba (Disco Valador Theme)” feels kind of slow to me; not quite danceable, but still groovy and a good listen. It’s spacey and shiny, and I often put the record on in the background and it’s over before I know it, giving my brain a gentle “you can do it!” with its grooves.

Silverbacks — Muted Gold

There’s so much going on in this song. There are a bunch of disparate voices — a pastiche of extremely cool effects that come together so well. The completely unexpected “hoo, hah!” which shows up about a minute and a half into the song is slightly unexpected, but not in a distracting way. It works so well, and builds a tower of concepts that reach for the sky.

You can follow the motifs through each section, like the constant backbeat, astonishing guitar lines, and evocative vocals to bind the song together. I’m glad that we revisit each part of the song in its structure, but there’s no one point that clearly defines itself as the hook.

All of the things that make up this song, if slightly tweaked, could be jarring, but instead they’re beautiful components which make up a beautiful song.

No Age – Turned To String

This song is the garage-rock version of someone sitting at the control panel of an impressive spaceship, flipping switches and turning the wheel at all the right times in order to accelerate to our mutual destination. The layered guitars which toggle on and off are very powerful, especially the melodic tremolo that kicks in at the resolution of each section of the song.

The vocals, too, have a lot of force behind them — not quite punk-like, but clearly in a tradition that concerns itself with a punk timbre.

All of No Age’s “Goons Be Gone” is this great — it’s jam-packed with often-energetic, delightful jams.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever — Cars In Space

This song makes me nod my head back and forth; it’s energetic, with its clean guitar tones evoking clear movement. It’s passionate, leading up to a very fantastic guitar and horn lead-in to the not-quite chorus. The structure isn’t typical, but it’s incredibly catchy and moving.

There’s so much going on in the vocal intonations, the guitars combining in the background, down to the curiously-shifting backbeat.

Please do not put cars in space.

Caleb Landry Jones — All I Am in You / The Big Worm

“All I Am in You / The Big Worm” is a bit of a departure from the other tracks off of Jones’ debut The Mother Stone in its more energetic nature. But here, like the rest of the record, he puts on a handful of different voices, phasing into each other with a great driving sound. This album is perpetually circus-like, but “All I Am in You / The Big Worm” is the “Good Morning Good Morning” track, if you will.

I’ll probably put this track in the same camp as “Pa Pa Power” by Dead Man’s Bones — a surprisingly good, not-exactly-pop song from a famous actor.

White Denim — I Don’t Understand Rock and Roll

Me neither, man.

This track is so catchy. The hook was stuck in my head, playing over and over while I was trying to sleep just last night:

“I don’t understand rock and roll, no no no, I don’t understand, I don’t understand, oh no no no…”

This song definitely sounds the best when you crank up the volume and let the crunchy guitars surround you while James Patralli’s surprisingly soft vocals sit right in the middle.

Retirement Party — Fire Blanket

Gosh, what a heart-wrenching song. “Fire Blanket” is a traditional emo song, and it puts the pieces together so well, with the guitar licks playing the perfect counter-harmony to Avery Springer’s devastating vocals.

I wish someone would make a new skateboarding game that grips the nation the same way that the Tony Hawk’s (insert game here) series did — this song worthy of being firmly wedged in an entire generation’s head in the same way as Jimmy Eat World’s “Pain.”

I love the structure of this song; again, it’s traditional and not necessarily surprising, but it invokes just the right amount of repetition to be immediately catchy without being redundant.