Signal Boost: 15 Tracks from August 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.
Big Thief, “Not”
In what seemed like a very yin year for Big Thief, the folk and also rock group yanged pretty hard with the surprise release of “Not,” the first straightforward rock single from their second LP of 2019, Two Hands. With their previous release U.F.O.F. finally answering the question of whether or not the Brooklyn-based group was, in fact, a folk act (…yes?), “Not” sees the band at their most experimental, carrying over Adrianne Lenker’s angsty quivering vocals from “From” and incorporating a dissonant guitar solo into the track’s lengthy six minutes. The result is something entirely different from the melancholy of its predecessor—finally, a messy instrumental arrangement to match the confessional masterpiece that was Capacity.
Although they’ve been palling around lately with Uniform, Lingua Ignota seems equally qualified for a full-album collaboration with The Body, as Chip King’s tortured wailing provides the perfect backdrop for Kristin Hayter’s day-of-reckoning neoclassical piano. In fact there’s nothing more of the original Body track than King’s vocals on Hayter’s new remix, which swaps the pounding percussion and doom-metal guitar for dramatic piano and grating ambience. With extremely fun lyrics about divine judgement, Ignota’s take on “Hallow Hollow” is a gnarly Transylvanian banger.
Dan Friel, “Fanfare”
Dan Friel has made a name for himself by patenting a unique brand of noise rock that’s overtly optimistic, countering the chaotic din of much of Thrill Jockey’s roster (see: The Body, “Hallow Hollow” (Remixed by Lingua Ignota)). But outside of Parts & Labor and Upper Wilds, the instrumental soundscapes Friel records as a solo artist are pure jubilation. With little change to the psych-tinged electronics of 2015’s Life, “Fanfare” adds a layer of horns to the mix to reinforce the life-affirming sounds of his toy Portasound keyboard, making the project sound even less like the bedroom project it is and more like full-blown symphonic bliss.
Eartheater, “High Tide”
Though normies may be hip to her now, Eartheater continues to be on the cutting edge of post-industrial pop music, impressively pushing glitchy alternatives to R&B into more mainstream circles. Bridging the gap between the hard-hitting trap of last year’s “C.L.I.T.” and the spooky ambience of IRISIRI closer “Claustra,” Alexandra Drewchin’s latest single “High Tide” is the new watermark for channeling the dark energy of witch house into conventional pop packaging. It sounds a bit like Charli XCX’s darkwave period further darkened by an awareness of Controlled Bleeding.
Sure, the spirit of OutKast haunts the new EarthGang single, but it also feels a bit like an x-walked-so-y-could-run sitch with Shabazz Palaces’ wonky corner of the extraterrestrial universe populating the formula’s x variable—not to mention Olu’s anxious verse sounding more than a little Chance-y at times. Although the duo launched from Atlanta, “UP” exists in its own universe entirely, with Olu and Doctur Dot lyrically spelling out the rules for their bizarro world over a tribal, bass-heavy beat. This is the future of rap ATLiens promised nearly a quarter of a decade ago.
Empty Country, “Ultrasound”
The Cymbals Eat Guitars guy has a new project and it sounds like Desparacidos. Well, it doesn’t quite evoke the ire of fifty Kum & Gos, but “Ultrasound” paints with the same sonic palette as Conor Oberst’s snarling anti-consumerist ventilation, blending Joseph D’Agostino’s sludgy garage-punk instrumentation with a vocal performance a few quivers shy of a jorts-clad Oberst. At times it sounds like a demo version of a LOSE-era CEG track, though it mostly feels like a totally new direction for the Philly-based songwriter.
IDLES, “I Dream Guillotine”
It’s hard to believe it was only two and a half years ago that we were salivating at the thought of a political punk renaissance in response to the election of an undesirable new leader of our big dumb country—and about two years since that dream fizzled out. Maybe it’s because we Americans are so far removed from it that IDLES’s new contribution to the cause feels like the first constructive use of fury we’ve heard yet, responding instead to their native UK’s own crowning of an unpalatable dunce with an anxiously apocalyptic vision of the future completely devoid of any direct references to the new administration or over-the-top theatrics.
JPEGMAFIA, “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am a Thot”
Despite breaking out in a major way with his album Veteran early last year—and enduring the yee-hawnaissance of hip-hop after promising in interviews that his follow-up would be a country album—2019 has undeniably been the year of JPEGMAFIA. On top of his contributions of some of the hardest hitting verses of the year to the likes of Injury Reserve, HEALTH, Flume, Ho99o9, and Channel Tres, the rapper has terrorized unsuspecting viewers at major music festivals all summer, culminating in a totally surreal opening set at Red Rocks earlier this month. “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am a Thot” is only his second single this year, though the first of which to precede a future release. As intense as ever, the chorus to “Thot” seems to borrow from early-aughts boy bands rather than from country, revealing an unexpected sensitivity glaringly at odds with his harsh production and manic verses.
Miguel Mendez, “Opposite Sex”
“Country music for people who hate country music” seems to be the direction pop music is heading in lately, though Miguel Mendez has been churning out just that since the mid ’00s when he released a pair of sardonic lo-fi recordings—Happy Birthday Asshole and My Girlfriend Is Melting—under his given name to counter the more rock-oriented output of his band Love as Laughter. After a decade of silence, Mendez returned in 2016 with a new LP, the recently released single “Opposite Sex” hinting at another record in the imminent future. Armed with electric and acoustic guitars and a slacker-rock monotone, Mendez once again crafts something both instrumentally uplifting and vocally indifferent, owing more than a bit of gratitude to the late David Berman.
Pile, “My Employer” (Alternate Version)
Perhaps realizing it was a bit too composed for a song entitled “My Employer,” Pile reworked the Green and Gray track to reflect the frustration of not having enough time for a life outside of work. With vocalist Rick Maguire quitting his day job to devote more time to Pile prior to releasing their latest record, there’s a sense of optimism to the track—though the near-sludge-metal guitars of the same-speed-but-much-louder version feels full of anxiety at just the thought of returning to the workplace.
Possible Humans, “Born Stoned”
Prior to the U.S. release of Everybody Split, “Lung of the City” and “The Thumps” introduced Australia’s Possible Humans as worthy heirs to their native Australasia’s jangle pop high court. But one of the surprise stand-outs on the record wound up being the twelve-minute guitar jam nearly closing out the album, more than half of which is populated by a single wailing guitar solo over the album’s foundational jangling strings—a psychedelic wormhole that enraptures the listener until the vocals pick up again right where they left off in the final minutes. “The results are not quite face-melting…more like when they rush your cheese toasty through and you take it home and put it under the griller for a bit,” the band told us earlier this month. I couldn’t explain it better myself.
REASON, “High Hopes”
Among the latest rappers to sign to some tiny hip-hop label called Top Dawg Entertainment is REASON, who you may know from his contribution to the soundtrack for some 2018 indie film called Black Panther. Following in the footsteps of Kendrick, SZA, and Schoolboy Q, REASON’s latest single for TDE is marked by a particularly demented beat and a chorus symptomatic of our present era of jaded rappers drinking and smoking to numb the pain—while still churning out the rap brags. “You in the presence of young king shit,” the SoCal rapper begins the chorus before closing by confessing he’s “lost everything but his soul.”
Save Face, “Bummer”
It’s probably too late to assign a Song of the Summer 2019, but “Bummer” makes for the perfect anthem to a long-anticipated crack-up in the waning days of August. Weezer-y guitars quickly make way for a desperate, shouted chorus, screeching guitars, and a breakdown I have literally considered writing home about if my parents had any idea what in Henry Rollins’ name slam dancing is.
WHY?, “Mr. Fifth’s Plea”
There are plenty of tracks on the new WHY? record that clock in at over one minute, but for some reason the one that left the biggest impression on me was the forty-five second interlude that feels more like a skit than an actual song. Beneath audio of Yoni and Josiah Wolf hopping in a rideshare vehicle and bantering with the driver, Yoni’s voice can diegetically be heard singing an unfamiliar WHY? track on the vehicle’s radio, ironically adding another layer of radio-unfriendliness to a pop song that’s already way too short for XM usage. Acting sort of like a reprise to a non-existent track, the song-within-a-song is the catchiest melody on the record with some of the most clever lyrics—part of me would love to hear a polished and extended version of it someday, while on the other hand the novelty of it certainly adds to the appeal.
It’s always exciting when two of your close friends you’d never even thought to introduce to each other immediately hit it off, and that was pretty much the overwhelming feeling when Moor Mother shared the first single from her new record, which was produced by Jesu’s Justin Broaderick. Earlier in the month, though, the duo had already announced a collaboration on six tracks of the forthcoming Zonal LP—a collab between Broaderick and The Bug’s Kevin Martin—flexing their compatibility via the dirgy industrialism of “Error System.” There are few surprises in the mix here—Moor Mother raps about the system being rotten while the doomy bass and dark electronics of Zonal offer an apt audio accompaniment. I guess the only surprise is that they didn’t connect sooner.