New Music: September 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.

It’s been an exceptional month for music. I don’t know if it’s just that I’ve gotten lucky with all of the tracks I’ve stumbled across, or if there’s really just been a surge of new records and singles that will be my favorites for years to come, but I’m not going to think about it too hard — I’m just going to enjoy them and take the opportunity to share some of them with you right now!

Pedro The Lion, American Football, Nick Wilkerson, Dragon Inn 3 — Yer Brothers

I typically write these articles while listening to the playlist, touching on each track as it comes up. But my first pass through this playlist, it took almost the entire length of this track to figure out how to accurately represent its byline.

This entire record is just astonishing. It was really hard for me to just pick one track off of it, but ultimately “Yer Brothers” stuck out for me the most.

I really love the mission here, that Polyvinyl’s artists basically came together and made something great out of the Great Reshuffling to All of Our Lives that is still underway. It’s a star-studded record, and it shows: other standouts feature vocals from Yumi Zuma and Matt Pond PA.

“Yer Brothers” is delightful, a poppy, melodic, slightly sad anthem. I can imagine it being the soundtrack to some part of my life, but I just don’t know which one. That haunting pad sound which was chosen for the melodic motif is just so good and catchy; it’s a song full of hooks, making it sound slightly poppy, but in a great way. It’s complex, but approachable. Just like the rest of the record — there’s a lot going on, but it’s a cohesive, excellent whole.

Psymon Spine feat. Barrie — Milk

Right away, when the vocals kick in, you’ll know exactly how “Milk” is going to go. It’s an electronic funk with, as far as I can tell, the only “electronic” instrument in the first verse being the drum pad.

I’m particularly a fan of the evocative nature of the verses; there’s just something about Barrie Lindsay’s vocals that play the role of the song’s presenter so well.

It’s fun and evocative, and I’m excited to see what else Psymon Spine do soon!

Jacknife Lee feat. Open Mike Eagle — Make It Weird

This hip-hop jam is so driven by its precise, ear-catching percussion, and, of course, Open Mike Eagle’s cool, clever lines.

Setting aside the perfect instrumentation and the tone which could never be even remotely approached by another pair of artists, it’s really rare that I relate so hard to the lyrics of a song:

Caught in between the realms of what’s real /
Peoples’ perceptions vs. what I feel /
Most of the time it’s just in my head /
But I still obsess on the words that I said

Then, later:

I can get embarrassed in thousands of ways /
And I hold that feeling for two or three days /
Everybody else is up and moved on /
And I’m still here thinkin’ about why I’m wrong

Kate NV — Plans

Room For The Moon is such a great record. It’s very slightly lo-fi, but still fantastically produced. “Plans” is in Russian, but I’ve counted four different languages on this record, and I’m sure I’ve missed at least one.

It’s hard to describe what it is exactly that I love about “Plans” — maybe it’s the ever-shifting nature, with three or four repeating motifs that blend so well into each other. Maybe it’s the sweet and powerful vocals, or the ever-churning, popping bass. Like the rest of the album, this track is playful, but with a purpose, and it comes together so well into something artful.

Nation of Language — Gouge Away

This is the third month this year that Nation of Language have featured in this article. But I don’t feel bad that fully one-third of all of these articles this month have sung Nation of Language’s praises. I now fully believe that they’re going to be the next breakout indie stars. And they certainly will, if they keep releasing such great singles, EPs, and records at this rate — at least I’ll keep talking about them as they come out!

This Pixies cover is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Nation of Language, with their incredibly new-but-clearly-new-wave take on one from Doolittle.

Devaney’s Black Francis impression is a little more Issac Brock as he kicks us kick us into the chorus. The structure of this song is so spectacular, and this effort at it is as catchy as it could possibly be.

Woods — Can’t Get Out

I think this track’s going to be immensely popular, and for good reason. It’s incredibly catchy, and its carnivalesque, rolling tones bring something joyful to lyrics that point to something much more tragic. It’s ear-catching in a great way, possibly because of the well-designed layering — seriously, take a good hard listen for the single pinging piano note plunging its way through the verse. Somehow, they’ve found the perfect tones to shape around Jeremy Earl’s unique vocal timbre.

Sweeping Promises — Hunger for a Way Out

“Hunger for a Way Out” is such a jam that I made a playlist of songs that I felt went along well with it, which I’ve titled “🎸👩🏼‍🎤🥁⚡”. The catchy chorus is inspiring; it’s the perfect track to have on in the background in just about any circumstance where you want to feel its energy.

This album is so good. Every track brings a new kind of voltage, a new twist on an incredible, distorted tone that I clearly have an affinity for. Check out “An Appetitie” next, with an astonishing bassline rounding out the floor as the guitar and vocals play on top of it. Honestly, just listen to the whole album!

Lithics — Tower Of Age

“Tower Of Age” is short and punchy, with discordant parts which come together in a very cool, somehow still melodic whole. It’s like the very high-up bassline, guitar, other guitar, and vocals touch on the same note far less often than most songs, but create these chords at the exact right moment to sound like pure energy.

Wares — Tall Girl

Few tracks are so heart-wrenching while also creating such a driving wall of sound. Something about this song fills me with what can only be pretentiously described as “weltschmerz,” an actual heavy feeling in my chest. The chorus — especially the chorus — wails on every side of my thoughts and feelings.

I’m saying a lot about the evocative nature of the song and not a lot about its instrumentation — it’s a slower Scott Pilgrim jam; it’s conventional indie, but with its own take on the many parts that make up this big tent of a genre.

“Last I heard / last I saw / you had a job at the mall” is the perfect snippet from this song; it’s such a weird lyric, but it still makes me feel something like a nostalgia for a life that I never had.

Oceanator — I Would Find You

Oceanator’s “I Would Find You” is a straight-forward, conventional, poppy rock track, with combinations of extremely catchy hooks and cool tones. The message is sweet, and the track itself has a very high chance of getting firmly wedged in your head.

This one’s almost like The Cars, but with something immensely fresh and new.

Death Bells — Heavenly Bodies

Death Bells have found a hit in “Heavenly Bodies,” a driven, slightly brooding track with one of the catchiest choruses I’ve ever heard. It’s a shame that this track won’t be played in an arena until we can go back into arenas again, because I want to be inside any arena that’s cool enough to let this song blare.

The overdrive on the guitar churning out the chord structure through single, percussive beats, transitioning to an extremely compelling syncopation with the rest of the track is so smart, and yet it’s only one thing that could stand out from this track when you give it a listen.

Ghum — Saturn

“Ghum” is a spectral, cinematic soundscape. You can get hints of eras of goth rock in this track, combined with newer traditions from groups like Savages.

I absolutely love that guitar tone, where the overdrive and reverb are so great that it’s hard to even recognize the instrument as a guitar anymore. The vocal hooks are perfect in “Saturn” — each individual part creates such a cool, spooky atmosphere.

Doves — Broken Eyes

There’s just something about this song that conveys a lot of emotion and has completely hooked me. The chorus, especially, is beautiful and sad, but above all else, immensely catchy. And those precise drums laying down a steady, predictable line with a very cool 16th-note flourish certainly round out the rest of the track, making room for the vocals to really lay the foundation for the argument that the track makes.

Young Jesus — Faith

“Faith” is a track that comes in at just over seven minutes, and it’s worth every second. The heavily-modulated vocals fit the more traditional five-piece-sounding instrumentation which slowly kicks up into something slightly more electronic or experimental. The guitar tones fly and rock, and then suddenly the song transitions into something a little slower and more tragic, then, of course, build back up again in a powerful way. The sections of this song create a spectacular narrative.

BUMPER — Black Light

We all know that Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner is extremely good at what she does. This is exactly more of that, but with a much more electronic feel; it’s almost City Pop. The percussive synths fit so well with Zauner’s voice. There’s a lot going on in this track, but the project is very clear and it works very well. The chorus is incredibly catchy, with a cascade of tones crashing together.

Tunng — A Million Colours

Well, Tunng have certainly done it again with this one. This track, like most of Tunng’s others, is definitely well-described by calling it “future folk.” There’s something so immediately re-representable in this song — if sung a capella, without the gorgeous backing symphony, it would be simultaneously exactly the same but completely different.

It’s so powerful; the production quality is so amazing, pointing to the parts which make up the track by fading or dropping in or out at just the right moment. Especially during the chorus, allowing the vocal choir to really take off makes the whole track so gripping.

If this single is any indication, DEAD CLUB will be perfect.

Inner Wave — Estrella

It takes a minute for “Estrella” to kick in from the intro, but as soon as the heavily side-chained rhythm kicks in, you feel the funk. The adorable, also incredibly side-chained layered “children shouting” effect works so well, and there is no other way to describe it. (You’ll hear it.)

The vocals sit in a really great part of this mix, but I can’t imagine anyone trying to listen to this track in any way but loud.

Normally, I don’t really like very popular over-reliance on side chaining that will undoubtedly be the defining feature of the music of this era. It’s not as though I feel like it’s in any way low-brow or unworthy of my time, it’s just that I find it incredibly distracting. Seriously, it’s hard to have a conversation with other people when the speakers are toggling on and off so rapidly and loudly. I mostly listen to music while doing other things, mostly writing code — heavily side-chained tracks take me out of the flow so much that I have to skip them.

This is all to say that “Estrella” is perfectly balanced. It uses so many pop motifs in a new, beautiful way; it’s novel, but still so catchy.

Kelly Lee Owens — Wake-Up

Inner Song, Owens’ most recent record, is a collection of electronica masterpieces. “Wake-Up” is one of the more conventional, indie-like tracks, which means that it’s no surprise that it ended up standing out the most from the record for me.

It’s downtempo and slightly sad, with the layered pads highlighting Owens’ voice in such a smart, devastating way. The motifs that are repeated; like the cascading echo of the hook from the chorus, make all of the combined parts sound clean and new. It’s just such a smart, touching song, and it’s a lovely way to round out the album as the last track.

“Corner Of My Sky” also shouldn’t be missed. It’s a fantastic, meandering collaboration with avant-garde rocksmith John Cale; it’s a surprising trip.