Signal Boost: 15 Tracks from January 2020 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.
Signal Boost
Signal Boost: 15 Tracks from January 2020 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.

Words: Mike LeSuer

photo by Jess Myers

February 03, 2020

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.

Alph Tha Alien feat. Open Mike Eagle, “Intellectual Property”

It’s impossible to Google “Alph Tha Alien” without getting anything besides results for that nightmare TV show your parents always talk about. Frankly, I don’t know who this person is, and if it wasn’t for what is presumably the rapper’s selfie with Open Mike Eagle on the “Intellectual Property” single cover I would’ve guessed he was a Quelle Chris alias based on the delivery of the track’s choruses. But Alph manages to hold his own alongside OME, countering Mike’s Big Bad Beetleborgs references with weirdly specific, borderline self-deprecating brags that would’ve felt at home on Dark Comedy. I guess they’re sorta renting the same unit of intellectual property.

…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, “Gravity”

I’m not sure why I’m just now hearing a band employ this device for the first time, but I think a guaranteed way of ensuring your audience immediately falls in love with one of your new songs the first time they hear it is by briefly recycling a bridge from a fourteen-year-old studio album—lyrics and all. As if “Gravity” isn’t gripping enough without it, hearing Trail of Dead dive back into “Eight Days of Hell” out of nowhere felt extremely vindicating as a fan of the band’s controversial late-aughts experimental period—it’s like they’re telling off anyone who views this era as an awkward transitional period rather than a moment of considerable artistic growth. 

Drug Church, “Bliss Out”

If you’re already looking for some quality punch-shit music this early in 2020, Drug Church—as always—is here for you. “Bliss Out” was written for you to smack your steering wheel with the palm of your hand to, to close your flip phone really hard to, to sledge-hammer watermelons to; if you’re financially stable enough, you could smash your entire china set to this song, though the under-two-minutes run time may pose an issue. Let this song be your get-out-of-jail-free card, so long as it’s explaining to your downstairs neighbor what all the noise was about, rather than actually committing a felony.

Gay Meat, “One Word AK”

Finally, there is something called Gay Meat! Following the likes of John Galm, Ned Russin, Adam McIlwee, and the Glocca Morra guy, Karl Kuehn is stepping away from his East Coast pop-punk band to share a did-it-himself bedroom recording, with “One Word AK” and a new Twitter handle presumably implying the existence of a future release by Gay Meat (for the record, he’s still in Museum Mouth, too). “AK” mixes that acoustic-demo charm modeled by Galm with the programmed beats of Russin, leaving out the haunted SoundCloud energy and bizarre ’50s audio samples of those other aforementioned projects completely. Is this where “gay meat” comes from?

Hilary Woods, “Tongues of Wild Boar”

The latest Sacred Bones release to feature uncontextualized snippets of flesh on the cover comes from Irish near-death-industrialist Hilary Woods, whose new LP Birthmarks was just introduced with a lurching, downtempo intro, “Tongues of Wild Boar.” Doomy cello, somber piano, and Woods’ nearly whispered vocals set the single firmly apart from the over-caffeinated hacker-industrialism of Blanck Mass, or the shrieking power electronics of Pharmakon. Yet the video roots “Tongues” in the fleshy tradition of the Brooklyn label, setting Woods’ dirge to ambiguous footage of bare, muddy appendages mid-struggle. I’d make a “long live the new flesh” joke but it seems distasteful considering the fact that David Cronenberg is the only filmmaker not currently signed to Sacred Bones.

Holy Fawn, “Candy”

You know how there’s all these movies that feel like their target audience was never really figured out, that are clearly geared toward kids, but are either way too vulgar or way too horrific for young audiences, like Pan’s Labyrinth, or City of Lost Children, or Clerks? That kind of feels like the situation with Holy Fawn, who construct dense soundscapes for a cozy night listen, but with a near-unbearable sense of overshadowing dread woven in. “Candy” is no exception, with its sluggish metal orchestration draped in shoegaze’s heaviest weighted blankets, and padded with ambient noise. Recommended for a 4 a.m. jaunt to the fridge for some shredded cheese after your demons have kept you awake all night.

Lonker See, “Open and Close”

As we grow older, our tastes inevitably change—most people’s preferences tend to become more sophisticated, venturing into abstract genres like jazz and classical. Me? I’m starting to get into harsh, fucked-up sax music. Surprisingly, Poland’s Lonker See manages to bridge the gap between these two disparate worlds, “Open and Close” sounding much more psychedelic than 2018’s ambiguously unsettling One Eye Sees Red, though its sax appeal is par for the course. There’s also a pretty nasty breakdown somewhere in these murky nine-and-a-half minutes, but I’m not gonna tell you where.

Midwife, “Anyone Can Play Guitar”

I definitely listened to Pablo Honey way too much and way too early in my life, and that’s probably why I have no interest in revisiting it. I think I listened to OK Computer way too early too, but at least my ADHD-addled eighth-grade brain could appreciate the guitar solos and X&Y-inspiring ambiance of that record. Oh, uh, “Anyone Can Play Guitar” isn’t a cover of the PH single, I’m just ruminating on how I think melancholic, fuzzed-out noise—also an accurate description for this new track from Midwife, Madeline Johnston’s dream-ambient Flenser cousin of Drowse—whips ass now that I’m comfortably in my twenties.

NNAMDÏ, “Wasted”

Nnamdi Ogbonnaya has had the career arc of a continually unpredictable hip-hop figure like Kanye West, if Kanye had gradually transitioned from being one of the most prolific math rock drummers in his local Chicago scene to an abstract hip-hop mogul, rather than growing out of whatever “backpack rap” was into a right-wing Dälek who will never acknowledge the existence of any noise rap released prior to Yeezus (in this alternate future I guess he also changes his name to KANYË, which would actually be pretty cool). “Wasted” would be the NNAMDÏ equivalent to the undisputed highlight of Jesus Is King, if there was one. Man, this analogy really sucks.

Sivyj Yar, “Grief”

If you’re like me—an oppressed pagan seeking representation in a theocratically dominated music industry—Sivyj Yar could serve as a beacon of hope among your Spotify Weekly Discoveries, or however people find music these days outside of FLOOD Magazine’s revered Signal Boost column. Sure, this song’s called “Grief,” and it’s very shouty and otherwise musically inaccessible to anyone accustomed to pop, but it’s the solidarity with fellow outcast polytheists that counts. At a barreling nine minutes, the track is a suitable means of hearing what the Russian black metal troupe is all about, encapsulating the rage and alienation common to anyone deeming nature deities their source of divine intervention. 

Slow Mass, “Mal”

Over the past year, Slow Mass has been refocusing their energy on serving up music specifically for ears, a brave initiative that’s now yielded two brief installments both sounding uncannily similar to the music they were writing for the entire human body prior to this endeavor. A-siding a folk-syphoned Pygmy Lush cover, “Mal” is about as uncompromising as Slow Mass recordings come, with Dave Collis’ vocals hitting anxious peaks unheard since his doomy Old Fuck days. There’s some pretty metal guitar in there, and the outro is peppered with China cymbal hits—based on my own experience with ears, they’re very into that kind of thing.

Spinning Coin, “Ghosting”

I wasn’t sure I was supposed to be laughing at this song quite as much as I was until the release of its video, which confirmed that I’d correctly pegged the vibe of it—as well as much of the rest of Hyacinth—as goofy-self-portrait-in-gilded-frame. Sean Armstrong’s tremulous repetition of the song’s title feels haphazardly mounted among the articulate jangle-pop of his band, echoed by his exaggerated facial tics in the surreally colored visual component. I didn’t know the extent to which Spinning Coin could be so Spinning Coin, but my worldview has been very positively impacted with this new knowledge. 

Squirrel Flower, “Honey, Oh Honey!”

Squirrel Flower capital-A Arrived last month with the blissful guitar jam “Red Shoulder,” with plenty more goods stored away on her debut for Polyvinyl, I Was Born Swimming. One such treat is what could only be the theme to an abandoned live-action Winnie the Pooh feature, called “Honey, Oh Honey!” (that’s the name of the track, at least—could be the name of the scrapped film as well ‾\_( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)_/‾) wherein Ella O’Connor Williams packs just as much six-stringed punch into a third of the runtime. Countering the soft, spacious balladry of most of the rest of the record, “Honey” is truly a song written in solidarity with an anthropomorphic teddy bear who just wants his goddamn honey back.

THICK, “5 Years Behind”

THICK’s three vocalists reciting the lyrics “Have a baby / Have a career / You’re always late / Don’t be gay” with their loudest mom impressions on their 2019 self-titled EP pretty much sums up their energy. Having signed to Epitaph, the Brooklyn trio will reattribute this rebellious punk spirit to a proper LP in March, introducing the project with another frustrated anthem about not meeting other people’s disagreeable expectations. “5 Years Behind,” though, smoothly transitions into an earnest comedown on the chorus, where they grapple with the pressures of time before shredding an unreal guitar solo. Probably still not great music to show your mom.

Turnstile & Mall Grab, “The Real Thing”

It woudn’t be Signal Boost without at least one “What the fuck?,” and this month’s installment comes from a collaboration between polarizing hardcore ensemble Turnstile and Australian outsider house DJ Mall Grab. What boils down to a clubified remix of best-experienced-live hardcore, the EP consists of reworkings of three standouts from Turnstile’s 2018 Time & Space LP, the oddest of which being “The Real Thing.” Swapping its anthemic charm for an animalistic Nine Inch Nails beat, the Auto-Tuned vocals dilute the only remnant of the song’s hardcore-punk origins. I mean this with the utmost respect, but if Cobra Starship was still around, this is exactly the sound they’d wish they had.