Signal Boost: 15 Tracks from December 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.
Cindy Lee, “Heavy Metal”
All of the Cindy Lee songs I’ve ever heard make my skin crawl, so it’s interesting to see Patrick Flegel’s project wander in the direction of doo-wop and Orbisonian pop-rock. With the ironically titled “Heavy Metal,” the former Women vocalist introduced their fifth LP with a track that feels to me the way “In Dreams” has since I first saw Blue Velvet, masking a hideous underworld of gas-huffing evil behind a candy-colored sheen—to the untrained ear it’s breezy, bubblegum-infused dream pop unblemished by the tragedy and mental illness that’s guided Flegel’s work for years. (Purchase)
Criteria, “Agitate Resuscitate”
It’s an absolute blessing to have Cursive back in full swing as of late, and it feels like an added bonus to hear news of Criteria’s first LP in fifteen years, scheduled for release in January via Cursive’s label 15 Passenger. Tangled amidst the dense web of Saddle Creek’s turn-of-the-century roster of infidelitous collaborators, the band’s post-hardcore anthems always sounded most akin to the stormy guitar-rock of Tim Kasher’s band (frontman Steve Pedersen played with Cursive in the ’90s), “Agitate Resuscitate” somehow sounding even more like Americana-era punk than anything else in their back catalog. Here’s a weird video! (Purchase)
I don’t know if it’s rude to say that my favorite song by DIIV is their cover of a Low song which sounds way more like the original than anything the Brooklyn group’s ever written, but my favorite song by DIIV is definitely Low’s “Words.” Enlisting Tomberlin to fill the role of Mimi Parker’s dissociative alto harmonizing, the somber electric guitar and dusting of snare sound like polished versions of the 1994 original, with an additional even-somberer acoustic guitar thrown in to reinforce the extent to which the minimalism of slowcore can feel like a weighted blanket.
Elucid, “Oblivion Reflex”
With JPEGMAFIA receiving plenty of praise this year for his DI-almost-completely-Y approach to rap, his production work on records from some of the underground’s finest has gone as underappreciated as the rappers he works with. As one half of Armand Hammer, Elucid has put out some of the best solo rap records of the late ’10s, his latest receiving a December reissue that featured a JPEG-produced bonus track marked by (no surprise) warped beats, a familiar “Damn Peggy!,” and, most notably, Elucid’s tough-as-nails verses. (Purchase)
Quick reminder that songs usually sound better when s l o w e d d o w n, whether they’re reduced from 45 to 33 RPMs or decelerated 800 percent. The latest George Clanton and Nick Hexum joint single sounds good enough at the intended speed, but a thumping, sludged-out revisitation of the track is already the certified Vibe of 2020. Hexum’s relaxed-beyond-recognition vocals recounting a near weed bust from the ’90s ooze through Clanton’s trip-hop production for a more lean-replicating experience than the breezy stonerism of the original. (Purchase—regular speed)
Justus Proffit, “Spirit”
Justus Proffit released, IMO, one of the best albums of 2019, and while the rough-demo recordings of his Q4 EP Return 2 Zero fall short of the polished Elliott Smith Hologram Signs to Flying Nun tracklist of LA’s Got Me Down, the homemade quality of “Spirit” returns to the zero-quality recordings of 2015’s Magic (that’s hyperbole—dude’s recordings are all full of quality). At under two minutes, though, the song feels more tied to an early-’10s Sean Henry bedroom project than a futurized Elliott Smith. (Purchase)
While a certain Kacey/Amazon collaboration dominates the zeitgeist this Christmas, December 25 also happened to be the release date of Hand Habits’ Wildfire Covers EP—a collection of recordings by Angel Olsen, Lomelda, and others of the songwriter’s track “Wildfire” with proceeds benefiting the Amazon Conservation Association—which includes a Kacey Johansing version. The second sample to be shared from the EP is a little more true to the original than Lomelda’s endearingly ambient version, sounding like Meg Duffy’s acoustic original with the full band they played with on Placeholder’s title track. (Purchase)
Just when we thought we’d reached our fill of spooky “In the Air Tonight” covers for late 2019, very-haunted songwriter Marissa Nadler announced some B-side covers from her collaborative LP Droneflower with Cave In and Mutoid Man’s Stephen Brodsky earlier this year. Imitating the eerie-bop vocals of Lucy Dacus’ take on the track, this duo takes it a step further with Brodsky’s sludge-metal riffs and kinda Phil-Collins-y backing vox halfway through the track. Perfect for anyone who’s pining for more Clanton + Hexum on 33 RPM, or Chipmunks on 16. (Purchase)
As we venture deeper into a season inviting of atmospheric black metal and deep-Appalachian folk playlists and absolutely nothing else, there’s hardly a better time to embrace a new EP from the artist who most cohesively blurs the line between these two disparate genres. Panopticon’s forthcoming split with Aerial Ruin even promises a Blaze Foley cover—but for now, we just have “The Pit” to warm our ears, a five-minute ballad of heavy acoustic guitar, banjo, and Austin Lunn’s gothic folk vocals largely devoid of any ABM signposts. I imagine it wouldn’t be hard to repurpose this as an Autumn Eternal–era post metal opus, though, as the heavy brooding and anxious picking could hardly be called anything but atmospheric. (Purchase)
Pop. 1280, “Home Sweet Hole”
Remember that time Insane Clown Posse strung us along for ten years for their big reveal, which was that they were actually Evangelical Christians? After playing together for a decade, Pop. 1280 have also shared a shocking bit of suppressed information at the end of their fourth LP: the horror-punk group worships Nick Cave before any other gods. Though the rest of Way Station plays like the same marriage of Suicide and The Jesus Lizard we’ve always known (perhaps leaning more into the Suicide influence), “Home Sweet Hole” imposes the Brooklynites’ aggressive vocals and unsettling lyrics against the gothic, no-wave dissonance of The Bad Seeds’ ’80s output, thanks in part to the addition of Running’s Matthew Hord on synths. (Purchase)
Power Trip, “When Things Go Wrong”
I know someday I’m gonna hear the song “When Things Go Wrong” by Outburst—a song I’ve never heard before in my life—and I’m gonna embarrass myself by asking if it’s a Power Trip cover. But until I find myself cancelled at the hands of the hardcore community, I’m gonna stream the piss out of PT’s thrashed-out version.
Raspberry Bulbs, “Ultra Vires”
“Ultra Vires” somehow has the same energy as Devil Master, The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and the more aggressive end of the late-aughts West Coast garage rock scene at the same time. Huge energy. Very, very big energy. (Purchase)
Strange Ranger, “Lauren”
I think this is the first time in Sig Boost’s storied history that a track’s been guaranteed a spot in this column before I even heard it—obviously Strange Ranger covering Cosmic Thrill Seekers’ best track is worthy of boostage. But holy shit is this unexpectedly bizarre in the best possible way: rather than anything like a straight cover, “Lauren” gets a highly experimental makeover that sounds like a reverent cover of the rowdy single chopped, screwed, and tossed into a folder of classic Windows start-up sounds shared among vaprowave’s elite. Before the end of 2020 I want a P. Daddy cover of “Leona.”
As a reprise to Panopticon’s baroquish metal-folk, Windhand dumped a handful of demos on their Bandcamp in December, including a twenty-four-minute version of Grief’s Infernal Flower single “Kingfisher” and an even more stripped down acoustic take on the same record’s closer, “Aition.” Sounding a little more realistic than “The Pit” as the product of a snowed-in-cabin recording sesh, this demo out-unsettles the final cut from their 2015 LP by echoing the solo-acoustic nature of the original for a more intimate and lonely setting. (Purchase)
In a year that gave us two more-than-tolerable Your Old Droog records, plenty of Mach-Hommy verses, and Uncut Gems, a third YOD record, very Chanukah-themed and heavily Hommy-featuring, seemed entirely undeserved. The record’s biggest D energy emanates from an early cut featuring Mach and MF DOOM trading verses over a Spaghetti Western–inspired Preservation beat, Droog opening with a “Shabbat Shalom” before boasting a dreidel of solid gold and an iced-out mezuzah. (Purchase)