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.
It's Halloween when I'm wrapping this article up, and let me tell you, you're going to be spooked by how great these new tracks are! 🎃
In all seriousness, I can't believe how fast time is flying by. I'm sure I'll hear these songs in the future and they'll remind me of this particular time in the world: the weather getting colder, the world on a precipice, but still new songs to enjoy.
I LIKE TRAINS — Desire is a Mess
I LIKE TRAINS's KOMPROMAT came out just in time for Halloween. "Desire is a Mess" is just one incredible track from a series of many — you should definitely give this one a try cover-to-cover, not just for how fantastic each track is, but the way the band have obviously worked hard to make sure each track flows so well into the next.
"Desire is a Mess" is such an amazing track. Turn it up loud. It is clearly not a dance song, and it's not a head-banger, but somehow it's both at the same time. It is and is not a fight song. It rules. Especially the parts where the track lets itself pull the energy down by getting a little more quiet — what an incredible move to make that final refrain that much more exciting and amplified.
I could go on for days about the smart decisions made by this song: the haunting distortion which blends in and out of this song. That dirty bassline that did not have to be so cool. The unsettling double-track effect on the already well-acted vocals. The blend of digital and analog that blurs the lines between tape and live action. That incredible bassline.
It's spooky and cool and you do not want to miss this record.
FEWS — Heaven
Take the best parts of shoegaze and that sort of not-quite-punk punk indie that came out of a few years ago and you get "Heaven," a spectacular, ripping wall of sound. Take one of the more energetic Slowdive songs and imagine that FIDLAR decided to do a respectful job with it.
If you don't think that sounds amazing, then I have only one piece of advice: please allow yourself to have fun. No, two: check this track out.
The parts that make up the whole of this track are interesting, but the thing that stands out the most is this sort of spooky melodic line that plays over the refrain; it has so much reverb and sustain that you can barely make it out over the top of the crunchy, driving guitar underneath it, but it's incredibly gripping.
SPICE — FIRST FEELING
SPICE SEEM TO EXCLUSIVELY USE CAPITAL LETTERS EVERYWHERE YOU TURN, BUT THIS DOESN'T REALLY FEEL LIKE A "CAPS LOCK" TRACK OR ALBUM. THEIR MOTTO SEEMS TO BE "SPICE IS PAIN," WHICH I THINK POINTS TO THE OFTEN HEARTFELT AND WRENCHING THEMES APPARENT IN ALL OF THEIR SONGS. BUT THIS DOES NOT SOUND EXACTLY THE WAY YOU MIGHT THINK IT WOULD SOUND.
"FIRST FEELING" IS A BEAUTIFUL, DEEP SONG, PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF EMO AND ROCK. THE WHOLE ALBUM SHARES THIS TRACK'S FANTASTIC MANAGEMENT OF THE EMOTIVE MOVEMENTS OF DRUMS, GUITAR, KEYS, AND ROSS FARRAR'S GRITTY VOCALS. BUT "FIRST FEELING" IS A HIT — IT'S LIKE POST-POST-POST-EMO'S LOGICAL NEXT STEP.
Suburban Living — No Roses
Suburban Living has, apparently, roughly followed the same track in life that I have, hailing from (roughly) Virginia Beach and currently calling Philadelphia home. But I ended up mostly setting down the guitar, while Suburban Living has recently released a phenomenal record.
This sprawling, cinematic track takes fully two minutes and eight seconds for the vocals to kick in, which is a decision in service of the atmosphere this track builds up. I often find myself getting sucked in, completely engrossed by the paths that the melody lead you down.
Once the vocals kick in, the song becomes immensely catchy. "No Roses" is almost an anthem — in a better world, it would be played on the radio, a song to listen to when you need a triumphant moment.
2nd Grade — Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider
Philadelphians 2nd Grade apparently all came together to write a collection of not-quite-jingles called Hit to Hit, and I curse them for it, because many of them are permanently wedged inside my brain and I will sing them until I die.
"Dennis Hopper" is perpetually stuck in my head. It's clever and fun, in a They Might Be Giants kind of way. Exercise caution, because once you commit to recording this track upon your soul, there is no going back.
Another smash hit from this album is "Baby's First Word" — just as clever as the rest, and infinitely fun. Oh, and "Shooting From the Hip," another one that goes round and round in my head all the time.
Okay Kaya — Psych Ward
With one of the coolest bass lines to come out of 2020, "Psych Ward" is intentionally approachable while also completely unsettling. I'd only known of Okay Kaya from her track on the Death Stranding soundtrack, but this is completely different; a four-piece style romp that already seems to have garnered a bit of attention in the short time it's been since the track was released.
The subject of the song is exactly what the title implies; it's slightly comical, but not disrespectful. The song ends up feeling much shorter than it actually is due to its abbreviated structure, and I think that's great. "Psych Ward" is a lovely, fun romp, and well worth your attention.
Lomelda — Hannah Sun
"Hannah Sun" is such a lovely, heart-wrenching song. The more folk-like instrumentation, Hannah Read's unique vocals, and the spectacular layering synth sound combine so well. There's a semi-subtle bit of layering that kicks in as the volume drives up, a haunting, resonating quarter note that hangs out on the tonic of the melody and just makes the whole song feel spectacular.
This is perfect songwriting; there's peaks and valleys, and it's as if the common tradition that's being conveyed here is pointing to a more basic song that exists within all of us. I know that sounds a bit trite, but I have no other way of justifying the way this song makes me feel both triumphant and sad at the same time!
Westerman — The Line
Your Hero Is Not Dead is such a spectacular album, but "The Line" really stands out to me as a breakout hit.
I want to add this quote from Westerman's current bio on Spotify:
Like a young Peter Gabriel in a late-capitalist world, Westerman's music falls somewhere between artful soft rock and confessional electronic pop.
I mean, I'm not going to do a better job of describing his work than that quote does! But here I go, attempting to try anyway.
When you listen to Your Hero Is Not Dead all the way through, it will become clear why I chose "The Line," one of the more energetic, less esoteric tracks. That doesn't diminish the work of the other tracks, though; I just found this one standing out as both better suited to be jumbled in with a bunch of other more uptempo songs, and also more of an ear worm for me than the other ones.
"The Line" is delightful, a sailing series of lines puzzled together in often surprising ways. There is a distinctly 80s-meets-2020s vibe to this track, but not necessarily in the way that you're used to hearing. I haven't put this track on my "Not Tears For Fears" playlist, for example, because it doesn't sound like it's that influenced by Tears For Fears (though, arguably, every song is).
I'm saying a lot of what this song isn't, and once you listen to this song, you'll understand why. It's ethereal while still grounded by the parts of a song that you're used to hearing.
Katie Dey — Dancing
Melbournian Katie Day's latest record is a brooding but bright collection of electropop. "Dancing" is really a standout track for me, a song which poses questions with its every movement. The rolling not-quite strings which evolve into more string-sounding pads are exceptionally crafted; the advancing distortion on the lead pad is a powerful touch that reflects powerful vocals.
And, of course, it would be a crime to not mention that the chorus has something indescribably powerful inside.
I will ruin everything I love but I need you
To be my choreographer
Dance until everything hurts
I can take it, I am stronger than you think
Becca Mancari — Hunter
This is an incredibly catchy track, which has already deservedly become immensely popular. All of the guitar effects are so amazing here — that crunchy, fuzzy guitar perfectly separated from the rest of the instrumentation by an incredibly amount of space plays so well with… well, honestly, I can barely tell if it's a guitar in the background creating that wah-wah percussive effect, but it's good.
There's so much happening in this track, and I think that's a lot of what contributes to it being so catchy. The vocals are straight-forward, but not simple, and they play the perfect counterpoint to other parts of the track which do a lot of heavy lifting. This song is basically built like a metal song, but as indie pop from 2020.
Working Men's Club — John Cooper Clarke
Shout-out to Devin for hearing this record and knowing that it's my exact taste in music. This whole record is phenomenal, with so many tracks that I could have picked to write about.
It's immensely danceable, but also serious and sounds like, well, music to get work done to. The pads and guitars combine so well in this track, as does Sydney Minsky-Sargeant's "I'm mostly talking, but sort of singing, and then mostly singing sometimes" vocal stylings.
A fitting tribute to the punk poet for sure. Also, check out "Valleys" and "Teeth" next.