There’s enough highly publicized new music released every day 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 Senior Editor Mike LeSuer rounds 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.
Chalk Hands, “Les Jours Passent Et Ne Me Ressemblent Pas”
We’re living in a golden age of Things That Could Have Been Released By Deathwish Inc. In The Year 2012, with Chalk Hands’ recently released debut LP sidling up alongside the screamo-by-way-of-post-hardcore likes of Loma Prieta. The UK-based group introduced the record last month with a track that’s only slightly less chaotic (though much more sung-in-French) than most of what was included on IV while maintaining a similarly dire energy expressed in a more level-headed fashion. Can’t say my fifth grade French class helped me much here in terms of assessing the lyrical content.
In the admittedly lengthy period of eight minutes, the Atlanta-based group Chew (not to be confused with C.H.E.W.) run the also-lengthy spectrum of rigid instrumental post-rock to the specific type of weirdo-psych championed by the Graveface community all while borrowing a little more than the sense of humor familiar to a Don Caballero song title (they’re about halfway through two near-consecutive tours, with the U.S. leg being titled “In the Court of the Burger King” and the non-U.S. dates taking the name “Escape from USA”). “Horses” properly introduces the playful yet fairly lawful universe the band inhabits. Like putting on a shirt and tie to down a Whopper.
Cold Gawd, “Moving to California in March”
Can’t quite say this track matches my own personal experience of the time I moved to California (all I remember is helping the nice old lady seated next to me on my flight put her phone on airplane mode before accidentally subjecting her to the prolonged strip club scene at the end of Buffalo ’66), but this stress-release nu-gaze track feels like the perfect pacifier to a tense day of physical travel and/or existential roaming. On their new single, Cold Gawd skirt the line of Nothing’s blunt-edged heavy dream pop and sonos tomam conta’s indecipherable layers of guitar and vocals free floating through space and time. It’s not quite the type of track that makes you visualize a Southern California landscape, but then again it also doesn’t really recall anything remotely terrestrial.
El-P addressing the massive fanbase he’s secured over the past decade alongside OutKast collaborator Killer Mike regarding the vultures—both anonymous and corporate—leeching off the underground success of Company Flow probably would have seemed like a very unlikely legacy for 1997’s Funcrusher Plus back when it was released. Equally unlikely—but certainly much more welcome—is the prospect that the Company’s grimy, graffiti-coated vision of East Coast rap would have quite the resurgence it’s had lately with artists like Armand Hammer and the Griselda crew leading various factions of that particular sound’s revival. The forthcoming album from rapper Defcee and producer BoatHouse fits firmly within this sonic palette, with “Ragnarok” recalling everything from the gruff vocals of Aesop Rock to enormous Gore-Tex jackets and Timbs to the pixelated nostalgia of pre-Underground Tony Hawk games.
Emily Jane White, “Show Me the War”
Kinda weird that we still don’t have a proper term for the witchy folk music artists like Chelsea Wolfe, Marissa Nadler, and Emma Ruth Rundle have been consistently churning out on the regular for decades at this point (“dark folk” is lazy, in my opinion), creating something as entirely un-black-metal-like as they possibly can while still sounding deep-forest-y enough to elicit images of corpse paint. Emily Jane White certainly also lands within this camp of songwriters, although her track “Show Me the War” feels peculiarly present-day within this category of music—between the contemporary urban landscapes of its music video clashing with the timeless wilderness one would expect from her music, lyrics about injustices mostly specific to the modern world, and the unimposing electronic drum beat that drops around the one-minute mark, these anachronisms are certainly welcome. And not nearly egregious enough to get her booted from her coven.
La Neve, “History Solved”
One of my favorite Portlandia gags was the one where the Pitchfork office shuts down operation after a review of the perfect piece of music was published. It’s such a funny idea to think that, on a more consequential level, scientists could someday uncover all of the secrets of the universe and then just be like, “Whelp, let’s pack it up!” There seems to be a parallel to this idea in the new single from Downtown Boys offshoot La Neve titled “History Solved,” soundtracking the thought that maybe one day we’ll finally be able to crack this thing and stop, say, engaging in different iterations of the same global conflicts, all while a harsh electroclash instrumental manages to replicate the socially conscious—to put it mildly—fun—also putting that mildly—of Joey La Neve DeFrancesco’s other band. I mean come on guys, it’s been literal millennia, I think we can figure this history thing out.
Moodie Black, “F L I C K”
Moodie Black hit their stride a decade ago on their self-titled EP, and since then have proved themselves to be the rare project that neither dramatically re-assesses the formula nor lets it go stale. Their recent single “F L I C K” is every bit as hard-hitting and unnerving as the Southwestern-tinged industrial rap of that early record, with the only real change residing in emcee KDeath’s lyrical focus on her experience as a trans person in lieu of songs fantasizing about hipster Armageddon (to be fair, I think we were all pretty over that trend by 2013). With the promise of an EP attached to the track (as well as the unveiling of their most high-profile tour to date opening for Puscifer), it seems like the best is still yet to come.
Night Sins, “Violet Age”
I don’t wanna mention any names here, but there seems to be a trend of solo and side projects experimenting in very distinct genres far outside the realm of what their main band dabbles in, with the results almost always proving to be little more than heavy-handed homage and plasticky pastiche. I will say that the first iteration of Nothing hit it out of the park with their take on aggressively chilly post-punk during their stint as Death of Lovers, which compelled me to give drummer Kyle Kimball’s pre-Nothing project Night Sins a shot—their latest single “Violet Age” perfectly complements that band’s gothic-synth sound with one that vibrantly shimmers, hewing much closer to the New Order end of the post-punk spectrum while maintaining those same dark undertones. Gotta love that hardcore-punk-to-shoegaze-to-gothic-new-wave pipeline.
Pictoria Vark, “Wyoming”
Do we have a word yet for the specific feeling most of us have for our hometowns, which feel like objectively very stupid places full of conservative ideologies and other harmful conditions which led to all sorts of bullying in your youth—yet, at the same time, cause us to feel a strong sense of longing for these places on a daily basis? This is loosely the topic addressed on the new track from Pictoria Vark—a name I did a, like, quadruple take after first reading—which emphasizes the negatives more than anything else while looking back on growing up in the Cowboy State. Perhaps the only thing more dramatic than the song’s framing of Wyoming as the source of all problems—personal and economic—is the shift into its rousing chorus. Wonder if “personal hell” is what Sufjan would’ve said about Wyoming if he’d made it that far in his 50 states project.
Plato III, “Give ’Em Hell”
The other day the song “Las Cruces Jail” by Two Gallants came up on shuffle and I had the thought that this track is infinitely better than anything in Clint Eastwood’s dusty filmography. It also made me think of the Western as a category of music rather than a genre, and how I’d love to expand my familiarity with this type of revisionist ballad without tapping into conventional sources like outlaw country or even the recently blazed trails of Lil Nas X. Not sure I could come up with a better candidate for this list than the posse track “Give ’Em Hell”—part punk-energized hip-hop banger, part tourist-board publicity for the less conservative side to rural Texas. The mic gets passed between Polyvinyl newcomer Plato III and four guest emcees, together forming an infinitely cooler caravan than any of the cavalcades of crusty white dudes John Ford ever assembled. Might get “Life ain’t nothin’ but pistols, bitches, and hindsight” tatted across my chest, damn.
It never occurred to me that that Thirdface record that dropped last March could maybe, possibly be heavier, but hearing the debut single from Pittsburgh’s Pyrithe recalls the intense hardcore-punk that defined Do It with a Smile if it were dragged into hell an mutilated into something more abstract, much sludgier, and considerably more drawn out. Something about the lurching guitars—and frantic percussion inextricably tied to every beefy chord—also links it with the grinding intensity of another Nashville group, yautja, but ultimately Pyrithe accomplish something totally unique from their peers with a sound so dense Bandcamp will implore you to open thy heart/wallet before you’re able to fully understand everything you’re hearing.
I think song-you-could-definitely-imagine-playing-at-a-club-during-a-fight-scene-in-a-contemporary-action-movie is quickly becoming one of my favorite categories of music, and I can practically see Keanu backflipping through laser lights like that French guy in Ocean’s 12 to this Scalping track in whatever forthcoming installment of John Wick we’re currently anticipating. The UK group seem to have mastered the type of vibey instrumental electronic music that sounds like an industrial-clubbier version of Holy Fuck, but with the inclusion of Grove’s vocals here it really feels like you’re in that club. Make sure nobody yeets an empty pistol at your head.
Two of the most interesting things happening in Chicago’s hip-hop scene right now are within the realms of neo-soul/jazz and the much more aggressive sounds rooted in the city’s (26-year-old) great-great-great grandfather of drill, Chief Keef. I’ve never heard those two influences combined so effectively—or at all, really—before jamming Supa Bwe’s collaborative track with Mick Jenkins, featuring a hoarsely shouted chorus about systemic white-supremacist violence, which in the intro clashes with the smooth keys of the former genre before that appropriately heavy instrumental drops and evens things out. It’s interesting, though, how those soothing vibes carry over to the verses which, too, ultimately get swallowed up by the dark subject matter and those Hans Zimmer-y bwahh sounds. I think there might be a metaphor somewhere in this blatantly segregated structure of this song about a historically partitioned country, written within a historically partitioned city, but I’ll leave it to you to connect the dots.
Sweet Pill, “Blood”
Upon first watch, I couldn’t relate more to Sweet Pill’s video for their single “Blood,” which features the band’s vocalist Zayna Youssef getting the shit beat out of her in a boxing ring by a kid in a Def Leppard tee. Yet after reading a statement from Youssef explaining that the kid is a representation of her younger self, my interpretation of the song changed slightly as I considered that alternate reading, which is probably a little more universally relatable (who hasn’t felt like Adam-Driver-in-Marriage-Story-ing drywall while thinking about how a more naïve version of yourself may have had it right all along?). Recommended for fans of blistering grunge riffs, internal turmoil, and folks with preteen cousins who do not respect your authority.
War on Heaven, “Absolvor”
Although we’ve been spared of the demonic sounds of Portrayal of Guilt so far this year (well, mostly) after the dirge-punks dropped twin nightmares-on-wax last year, the group is still operating a record label that channels a very similar brand of evil into the world. With “Absolvor,” War on Heaven (not to be confused with God Is War which, confusingly, is one of the four other bands who’ve released music through PoG) blend some of the themes familiar to their label heads’ discography with a focus on noise soundscapes more in line with Dylan Walker’s various outlets.