It’s July: the month of heat waves, mosquitoes, and sitting in an office so powerfully air conditioned that you feel cryogenically frozen.
To help you get through it, here are some recent albums and a few songs that we, as professionals, recommend.
Sigur Rós, Ágætis Byrjun 20th Anniversary Edition (Krunk)
After the singularly dark display of their debut disc, Von, with its minor keys and moldy My Bloody Valentine imitations, Sigur Rós’ leader Jónsi Birgisson sought to move beyond intimacy and duskiness to find something larger, but somehow lighter, on Ágætis byrjun—something with density yet without weight, an airiness at one with his clarion falsetto. On his breakthrough album, he crafted a cold, flighty, tactile answer to Pet Sounds with its horns and strings set to something equally melancholic, but not quite so innocent and smooth. You can all but feel the nails quietly scraping the blackboards of “Svefn-g-englar,” and the hard rhythmic thud of piano that strikes “Starálfur” like the hammer of a radium clock. The two-decades-old album remains indefinable, refined, and weirdly universal. — A.D. Amorosi
Frightened Rabbit, Tiny Changes: A Celebration of Frightened Rabbit’s “The Midnight Organ Fight” (Atlantic Records UK)
No longer just a remembrance of an album, but now an unintended remembrance of Scott Hutchison, Tiny Changes provides a living history of the band Frightened Rabbit through the perspective of their musical contemporaries. Featuring faithful homages as well as reworked interpretations, the record (which takes its name from FR’s “Head Rolls Off” and its poignant, optimistic line “while I’m alive I’ll make tiny changes to the earth”), includes contributions from The National’s Aaron Dessner and CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry, The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, Josh Ritter, Daughter, and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. — Mike Hilleary
Read our Frightened Rabbit feature here.
Strange Ranger, Remembering the Rockets (Tiny Engines)
In 2017, Strange Ranger introduced themselves as a midwest emo act to watch, cramming an evident reverence for Built to Spill into an already-busy fifteen tracks on Daymoon. Most of that got tossed out the window on the following year’s highly experimental How it All Went By EP, the jumping-off point for their latest full-length, the shimmering, gamut-spanning pop rock opus Remembering the Rockets. With a tracklist that’s nearly as lengthy as that of their debut, Rockets ventures in plenty more directions, all of which exhibit a mastery of pop songwriting. From the pristine guitar-led opener “Leona” to the digital-piano ballad closer “Cold Hands Warm Heart,” the record makes a conscious effort to broaden the band’s scope with tracks characterized by ambient synths or breakbeats, somehow with nothing quite sounding out of place. — Mike LeSuer
Glitterer, Looking Through the Shades (ANTI-)
On Glitterer’s ANTI- debut, Ned Russin experiments with the philosophical point of “the self” versus “the other.” There is no concrete definition for either phrase, allowing his audience to fill in the blanks—whether that applies to the music or the world at large. Tracks like “The News,” “1001,” and “Destiny” reflect the fact that our world continues moving, even if it’s in a direction you might not want it to go. With production help from Alex Giannascoli ((Sandy) Alex G) and Arthur Rizk (for those familiar with Code Orange), Shades tries to answer metaphysical questions with clever interludes and that special kind of reverb that makes everything sound like a dream. — Maria Lewczyk
Read our Glitterer feature here.
Ada Lea, what we say in private (Saddle Creek)
It’s hard to classify the sounds of Ada Lea’s what we say in private, as it mimics the playful intensity of Angel Olsen’s “Shut Up Kiss Me” on opener “mercury” before unraveling into Big Thief–like existential folk on the ensuing “wild heart.” The reason for this, perhaps, is Alexandra Levy’s scrapped plan to split the record down the middle between tracks she identified as “sun songs” and those she classified as “moon songs.” The result is a blending of the two on songs like “the party,” which begins with an inherently lunar acoustic tranquility before the chorus’s glowing ambiance sets in around the two minute mark. More experimental elements shine through across the album via spoken-word postscripts, distorted vocal samples, ambient blips, and—her evident strong suit—lo-fi crescendos, for a truly unique feel. — Mike LeSuer
Check out the playlist Ada Lea made for us here.
Thom Yorke, Anima (XL)
Thom Yorke has struggled mightily to create a voice that stands apart from Radiohead; a body of work which holds up on its own rather than smelling like warmed-over leftovers from his day job. His new solo effort, Anima, takes major strides toward bridging that gap. The album is inspired by the theories of Carl Jung as they relate to sleep and unconsciousness—as is the trippy, visually enthralling companion short film of the same name, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. There are moments veering close to self-parody (“Goddamn machinery, why don’t you speak to me?” he spits on “The Axe,” “One day I am gonna take an axe to you”), extending his trademark wariness of technology until it’s nearly indistinguishable from the frothing Get off my lawn-isms of Jack White disavowing cell phones. Mostly, though, Yorke keeps the dread a little less specific, which makes the whole thing significantly more ominous. — Alex Swhear
Khruangbin, Hasta El Cielo (Dead Oceans)
Hasta El Cielo, the latest offering from this Texan trio of international funk devotees, is a dub reworking of their 2018 album, Con Todo El Mundo. Their music, which favors beats and atmosphere over songwriting, make them an ideal fit for the dub treatment. On this record, track levels are pumped up, bits are removed and tweaked, and sonics echo as if in some subterranean grotto. What the band most resemble is less international psych-funk innovators and more post-rave ’90s comedown music. — Jon Pruett
David Kilgour, “Smoke You Right Out of Here”
To kick things off with his forthcoming album Bobbie’s a girl (out in September via Merge), David Kilgour shared lead single “Smoke You Right Out of Here,” which is pretty heavy on the guitar, though it’s an acoustic twang that integrates itself into the Heavy Eights’ psych-lite Americana (does New Zealand have their own term for roots folk?). It’s the ideal soundtrack to a cross-country voyage. — Mike LeSuer
On Llilith’s fourth single and the opening track from their forthcoming album Safer Off (out in August via Take This to Heart and Disposable America), the band channel the upbeat early recordings of their Bay Stater forebears Speedy Ortiz, laced with the same band’s recent flirtation with synths. “Vacation” directly addresses the ever-present struggle of one-sided friendships, boldly delineating an exit strategy in the event of a self-centered peer. — Mike LeSuer
Bad Heaven Ltd., “bed”
Over the past two months, emo supergroup Bad Heaven Ltd. have shared two lo-fi tracks off their upcoming debut, strength—and this month they’ve got another. It’s incredible to think about members of Snowing, The World Is a Beautiful Place, and Amanda X making music together in the first place, and the combination of their musical influences shines through in new single “bed.” Though it starts off with a very simple mantra, the weight is carried between the lines. Lead singer John Galm is no stranger to puzzle-piece lyrics, and once you put them together with the somewhat-calm, somewhat-haunting accompanying music video of someone stuck in bed, you get a very real depiction of mental illness. BHL’s new brand of slowcore explores those feelings through muffled noise, a sense of hopelessness, and glittering walls of sound. — Maria Lewczyk
Read our interview with Galm about the music and his personal experiences with depression here.
DIIV, “Skin Game”
Of the two most newsworthy DIIV stories from the past year, it seems their opening slot on tour with Deafheaven has had considerably more influence on the band’s long-awaited third album than Anthony Kiedis’ wearing an enormous sweater with the band’s logo emblazoned on it. While it’s far from the atmospheric black metal spouted by their recent tourmates, “Skin Game,” the lead single off DIIV’s forthcoming album Deceiver—out in October via Captured Tracks—implies the band have gone the way of Nothing and their hardcore-infused shoegaze peers, balancing heavily reverbed guitar with Zachary Cole Smith’s near-whispered vocals. — Mike LeSuer