SIGNAL BOOST: 15 Tracks from October 2019 You Should Know
Our Associate Editor’s favorite pre-released singles, album deep cuts, and tracks by unfairly obscure artists from the past few weeks.
There’s enough highly publicized new music released every month now to keep you busy for at least a year. Chances are you haven’t heard all of it—and if by some miracle of temporal tampering or unemployment you have, chances are you haven’t retained too much of it.
That’s why every month, our Associate Editor Mike LeSuer is going to be rounding up fifteen tracks to reiterate their importance in an unending stream of musical content. Comprised of pre-released singles, album deep cuts, and tracks by unfairly obscure artists, he thinks these guys could all use a little Signal Boost.
Even though billy woods finally seems to have garnered the sizable following he deserves, the press cycles surrounding his albums haven’t really gathered any steam. You could chalk it up to his reclusive nature, or the super-short-notice release of last month’s Terror Management, but I can’t believe we let an entire album cycle slip by without anyone addressing the fact that woods teamed up with Chicago DIY punk collective The Funs on the hard-hitting “dead birds.” Somehow the perfect balance of frequent collaborator Willie Green’s chopped up production and the droning lo-fi noise of the track’s seemingly left-field featured artist (they recently shared a bill with woods at Brooklyn’s Alphaville, per a quick Google search), “dead birds” is classic, post-apocalyptic woods before the beat gives way to a final minute of unmanipulated Funs material.
Common Holly, “Crazy Ok”
Feels like yesterday that many of us were just meeting Mitski for the first time, that all-American girl sucking face with her hand while a totally unanticipated grunge-guitar chorus roused us from the somnambulistic acoustic ballad she was wooing us with. It’s a very similar energy that recently also introduced many of us to Common Holly, whose “Crazy Ok” follows a very similar trajectory, abruptly escalating from a borderline-twee folk love song to arena-reaching riffs subdued only by an indie-label budget. With little more warning than a blip of harsh electric guitar, the song descends into an utterly chaotic close to Brigitte Naggar’s mostly hushed—though wildly experimental—second album.
Hovvdy, “feel tall”
There’s a lot to get excited about on Heavy Lifter, Hovvdy’s not-very-long-awaited follow-up to Cranberry, in terms of left-turn experimentalism—but after sitting with the record for some time, most of the standouts for me are the downcast Midwest-emo-by-way-of-slowcore numbers scattered among the Auto-Tune and Casiotone beats. Foremost among the late-bloomers is “feel tall,” a particularly somber mid-album track tucked between upbeat singles “Cathedral” and “Ruin (my ride).” With most of the record feeling celebratory, “tall,” in all its burnt-out yearning and lower case letters, is a welcome break from the escapism.
Dead Soft, “Porch”
“Porch” sounds like an unbelievably uncomfortable break-up song—“You fucked up my life / I’m gonna fuck up yours,” vocalist Nathaniel Epp chants during the song’s raging climax—but when the band introduced it back in February, Epp noted that it was instead about the self-destructive thoughts that arise while pacing the same streets night after night, searching for any sort of direction in life. The track has since found a home on the band’s recent LP Big Blue, encasing it in a larger conversation about the relationships we maintain with our long-time hometowns after we’ve moved away. Unsurprisingly still the album’s raging climax, the heavy-grunge guitars and Epp’s Dexter Holland imitations do plenty to guide the record’s angst-laden narrative toward the all-too-relatable conclusion to seek greener pastures.
As if Emily Kempf’s throaty vocals weren’t pronounced enough on Dehd’s sophomore album Water, the Chicago trio dropped “Letter” as conclusive evidence that her voice is equally fit for fronting a metal ensemble or going solo as a theatrical pop singer of the exclusive tier pioneered by Kate Bush. As if to prep for another winter on the frigid coast of Lake Michigan, the band seems to be closeting their surfboards and infiltrating the icy post-punk scene, the track opening with nearly a minute of ambient synths before a familiar surf-rock guitar gets to work thawing things out.
Emily Yacina, “Gleaming”
Most artists in Emily Yacina’s scene spend years churning out a handful of LPs before graduating from the bedroom aesthetic once championed by (Sandy) Alex G and Foxes in Fiction to a considerably more refined derivative of the same sound modified to reach broader pop audiences, oftentimes with the guidance of a major label. Yet Yacina’s first single from her self-released debut full-length is a giant step away from the smattering of singles and EPs she’s released over nearly a decade—the gloss of “Gleaming” even sounding years removed from the blippy introversion of her katie EP released early last year. Maintaining the fun-size length of her prior discography, and a certain Orchid Tapes bored ecstasy (Warren Hildebrand is credited as designing the album layout), the pristine production (and John-Hughesian video) of the single sets Remember the Silver up to be a December highlight.
Empath, “Drunken Angel”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those “What’s in My Bag?” videos Amoeba puts out without having a “Whaaat the fuhhhh?” moment—Steve Malkmus holding up a copy of a Birds in Row record, for example, or the guy from Korn talking about Sálo. Though as odd as Samuel T. Herring looks double fisting Danny Brown LPs at first glance, it always tends to make sense when you revisit the artist they cite as an influence, and I was reminded of this weird phenomenon when relistening to Lucinda Williams’ original version of “Drunken Angel” after noise punks Empath churned out a shockingly reverent cover. Sure, the rapid-pace drumming and unpredictable synth lines—two of the band’s calling cards—set the cover apart, but the empathetic cautionary tale sounds well within Empath’s broad scope of influence when enunciated by Catherine Elicson’s typically Lucinda-esque delivery.
Greet Death, “Strange Days”
I never knew how much I wanted to hear Dan Bejar front a shoegaze band until I heard Greet Death, whose recent signing to Deathwish is good news for metalcore fans who almost certainly wouldn’t have found out about the group otherwise. Pivoting from the somewhat straightforward slowcore of their debut, the Flint, Michigan trio are diving headfirst into the aesthetic attached to their new label for their forthcoming LP New Hell, with the standout single even toting a macabre and undoubtedly Converge-approved refrain of “All we seem to love is the darkness.” With all sorts of post-punk and grunge undertones mixed in (cc: Crag Mask), I guess you could convince me they don’t belong on a label alongside such heavy bands as Code Orange and Hesitation Wounds, as long as you could make a stronger argument for another already-existing scene they’d feel more at home in.
The Hecks, “My Star”
The new Hecks album is way more fun than anything released by a godchild of Women has any business being. Despite mining the same corner of ’80s pop culture at nearly the same time as Ceremony and Omni, neither of those bands were quite as playful with their homage to new wave—even if that recreational period doesn’t extend all the way to My Star’s repetitive eight-minute closer. The slow build-up of vocals, percussion, synths, and an additional guitar over a single, simple riff across the title-track’s extensive runtime is subtle in a way the rest of the record definitely isn’t, recalling the harsh guitar-rock of their debut smoothed over by an earnest crush on Jane Fonda in a neon leotard.
Lightning Bolt, “Van Halen 2049”
The fact that “Van Halen 2049” can still sound so chaotic after forty minutes of Lightning Bolt’s relentless brutal prog is a feat worthy of designating the nine-minute instrumental closer definitive-track status on the duo’s seventh record. The unofficial, Gosling-starring sequel to some boomer Pasadena rock band possesses neither the soporific quality of Roger Deakins’ cinematography nor the traditional hard-rock machismo of a Rock HOF inductee, instead soaring on a spasmodic display of abstract expressionism unique to the Lightning Bolt discography. Considering the level of unrestrained energy poured into “VH ’49,” I’d have believed this was Brian Chippendale’s swan song rather than just some thing he did three years after having a kid.
Pendant, “Rubber Band”
The debut album from Pendant was recorded nearly equally in part by the songwriter who gave us “Superbike” and the producer who brought “Ghost” to life, and I truly couldn’t think of a worse way to introduce Through a Coil. With Jack Shirley behind the boards on lead single “Rubber Band,” things get surprisingly not-tumultuous on the track’s heavy pop-rock hooks, recalling Young Guv’s recent GUV LPs retold through the thoughtfully apocalyptic guitars of Sunbather. It’s all Christopher Adams, though, landing somewhere between the easy-listening rock of his Out of Phase EP and the messy punk of his band Never Young.
Street Sects—a terrifying band—have teamed up with Lingua Ignota—a terrifying songwriter—and Daughters’ Nick Sadler—a terrifying guitarist—for a single that, believe it or not, is terrifying. “Fourteen Frames” is a “Monster”-caliber group project perfectly balancing the respective tech-dystopic punk, operatic brutality, and buzzsaw riffs expected of the three artists for a Frankensteinian havoc that’s probably too upsetting for a Halloween party playlist. The track comes as a part of comp put together by that Fantano guy, also featuring original music from such eccentrics as Xiu Xiu, Mark Kozalek, and Open Mike Eagle, with proceeds going to The Immigrant Legal Resource Center—pre-order a copy here.
2019 has been a big year for aughts darkwave, with Ladytron and The Faint both making triumphant returns with LPs simultaneously of their time and totally compatible with their early material. By extension, 2019 has also been a big year for Dais Records, who specializes in the same nocturnal electronic sounds as the two indie crossover acts (and even offering up one of their own), most recently adding the versatile dream pop duo Tempers to their roster, whose third record features some of the most interesting contributions to the brooding electronica revival. “Guidance” seems to be the standout among Private Life’s ten tracks, with a minimalist intro sounding like HIDE remixing HEALTH before the synth build-up escalates to a pulsing climax like Annihilation’s alien leitmotif at the club.
Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, “Hardcore”
I was gonna give “Hardcore” precedence over the new Tigers Jaw track here because of the whole Halloween thing, but after hearing the single about a dozen more times—imbibing its graveyard aesthetic and big Arthur energy—I’ve decided it’s the better Adam McIlwee song. Unlike witch house and other less-haunted but equally bizarre microgenres that preceded it, emo rap appears to be going strong thanks to the overcast cloud rap of the Goth Boi Clique member, whose latest single is considerably more confrontational than anything on the melancholic Suffer On released earlier this year. And he’s still putting out videos that look like they were made by the quiet kid in the enormous black hoodie sitting in the back of your AP bio class.
Wiki, “Fee Fi Fo Fum”
Wiki has been a constant guest on releases by everyone from Earl Sweatshirt to Princess Nokia—even making an appearance alongside Interpol’s Paul Banks on the new DJ Shadow album—though he’s only put out one album of his own since disbanding his cult-favorite hip-hop group Ratking in 2016. This year alone he’s appeared on two separate Your Old Droog LPs, reunited with Ratking producer Sporting Life, and put out three singles of his own, the latest of which feels like the apex of his busy year despite lacking production from Madlib. “Bein’ a snotty-nose never got me hoes / So I snot-rocket bitch, adios” is the first line from this track and it doesn’t get worse—three minutes of quick-witted verses are what follow, flowing effortlessly over a hard-hitting beat sampling warped sitar. Consider it a flex that “Fum” didn’t make the cut for OOFIE. FL