SIGNAL BOOST: 15 Tracks from February 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.
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.
Ada Lea, “woman, here”
The way we talk about gender in the music business hasn’t seemed to progress at all over time. “Female-fronted” is still the way bands get pitched to me from publicists, while “all-female” is too frequently cited as something of a gimmick to set a typical rock act apart (scanning my inbox, “Mike, they are really hot brooklyn chicks ;)” is an actual thing a man has sent me about a band). “WOMAN, HERE” is practically what these exploitational press releases promise, though Ada Lea’s new single “woman, here” is the quiet inverse to this declaration, a modest, mildly wonky guitar-driven number in which the songwriter recognizes in the chorus that “[she] can’t be a woman here” (nor “over there”)—whether she’s referring to her industry or anywhere else seems irrelevant.
Bambara have been around long enough that you should know by now what to expect from one of their séance-punk records, but “Miracle” is still a “Smells Like Teen Spirit”–caliber opener. If vaguely familiar VH1 talking heads ever heard this song, they’d be like, “I remember exactly where I was when I heard Bambara’s ‘Miracle,’ and I remember I just froze. I was like, ‘umm, what is this!?,’” or something to that effect. With Stray being particularly infused with themes of death, the album’s opener introduces the impending macabre with chilling gothic blues that strip Pop. 1280 of their title as best Nick Cave homage.
Busdriver, “Cascading Green Digits”
The period between Perfect Hair and Thumbs wrought some of Busdriver’s headiest raps, from the downtempo surrealism of the former’s “Motion Lines” to the latter’s trunk-rumbling “Hyperbolic 2.” “Cascading Green Digits” was written sometime between these two releases, and even if it doesn’t quite sound like it fits the aesthetic of either, it ranks among ’Driver’s greatest hits. “I bump so hard I disturb tenants,” he confidently rattles off between a chorus that either connotes an environmental anthem or a precursor to Lorde. Since “Digits,” as well as its A-side “BlondeCurd,” have been swimming around YouTube for years now, I guess its inclusion here is meant to commemorate the sick album art newly attached to them.
Caleb Landry Jones, “Flag Day / The Mother Stone”
I…don’t really know what to tell you. The character actor who plays skeezy motherfuckers in Get Out, Twin Peaks: The Return, Three Billboards, and every other movie that came out in or around 2017 has a new two-part single out via the film director–friendly Sacred Bones, and the video looks like an experimental short David Lynch could have cooked up as a cover letter to direct Marie Antoinette. The song itself remarkably matches this very specific energy, working with a seedy-underbelly aesthetic while weaving in and out of influences ranging from Deerhunter to King Crimson to The Kinks. Happy Flag Day, I guess?!
Free Throw, “Motorcycle, No Motor”
I, for one, am looking forward to a new decade of songs named after quotes from I Think You Should Leave, though I wouldn’t have guessed the first song about “MOTOWCYCOWLS” would come from the angst-fueled Triple Crown camp. Free Throw have written a rager that’s too unhinged to be fun, contemplating Sisyphian self-maintenance over “Lauren (Track 2)”–caliber party punk. Consider this an open invitation to pitch me an essay on how a heavily existential identity crisis analogues an alien race predicated on appreciating a good bike.
Gladie, “Even at Your Easel”
The very-Philadelphian Safe Sins sounds born of the same brotherly-love pop-punk that fuels groups like Remember Sports and Hop Along, translating years of ex-Cayetana vocalist Augusta Koch’s diaries into something a bit more universal, not to mention streamable. In addition to its early singles, “Even at Your Easel” stands out as one of the best examples of Koch’s ability to balance lyrics about the blue hues against upbeat instrumentation, peaking early with the warm guitar fill following the line “I listened to ‘Sleepwalker’ by The Kinks.” It’s certainly more overcast than “Sleepwalker,” but seems to harness the same literal restless energy.
I Break Horses, “I’ll Be the Death of You”
There’s a certain thrill in putting a playlist of your favorite songs on shuffle and eagerly anticipating what comes up next. But as I grow older and less exciting, I’m finding that there’s also a certain thrill in listening to the same song repeatedly—a practice made particularly easy when the song is approximately five minutes long, generally hypnotic, and never really progresses at any point. “I’ll Be the Death of You” is this idyllic type of song in its purest form, comprised of lullaby vocals and flatlined synth beats upbeat enough to never get stale. The softcore homicidal lyrics are pretty cool, too.
Injury Reserve, “Hoodwinked”
Injury Reserve keep getting weirder. I guess that’s what happens when people respond well to a single that features conventional rap–dismantler JPEGMAFIA and genre-annihilating metal group Code Orange, but “Hoodwinked” is the first track the rap group has shared since “HPNGC” and it feels like a step in the direction of the indescribable indietronic hip-hop Young Fathers have been making socially acceptable over the past decade. Devoid of any corruption from featured artists, the track sees Ritchie with a T and Stepa J Groggs reciting lines over a heavy-bass beat and a wailing saxophone and…not a lot else.
Miserable, “Damned to Love You”
Every year I’m reminded that the folks at Adult Swim have the exact same taste in music as me, which is extremely convenient when they start rolling out their annual single series. Following up Sig Boost–worthy tracks by Moaning, Lightning Bolt, and Uniform in 2020, Miserable’s “Damned to Love You” is a welcome gothic cool-off from King Woman’s Kristina Esfandiari: queen of gothy catharsis. In her less-metallic form, Esfandiari has perfected a unique configuration of densely layered anxiety-dream pop that’s familiar to the cult Flenser crowd, and is slowly infiltrating prominent indie labels like Sargent House. With distinctly somber atmospherics and a slow build-up spanning the track’s three-and-a-half minutes, “Damned” is about as Miserable as it gets.
Rozwell Kid, “Only Time”
Look, Enya’s great. But how often are you really in an Enya mood? Rozwell Kid are doing us all the favor of transforming the neoclassical new age scorcher “Only Time” into something not unreasonable for a party setting, sharing a cover which the group tracked during their Dreamboats 2 sessions. Dumping a heaping pile of existentialism onto the sesh that wrought songs called “Chiller Instinct” and “Back to the Future IV,” “Only Time” miraculously fits the mold the West Virginian punks have been honing for the better part of a decade, only swapping the cyclops-holding-a-pizza imagery for something a little more gothic adult contemporary.
Dave Cohn quietly had one of the most impressive decades in music through the ’10s, forgoing publicists, press cycles, a steady label, and a coherent social media presence in lieu of doubling his musical output under the polarized aliases Serengeti and Kenny Dennis. With the critical scales tipped in favor of the comic hero KD over the past couple years, Serengeti dropped one of his rawest confessional tracks to date this month in collaboration with German avant-classicist Sicker Man. Over the producer’s black-tie instrumentation, Geti makes yet another unconvincing attempt at telling us he’s fine, distractedly stumbling over several lines in between the music’s swelling to a blistering screech.
Shell of a Shell, “Forgetting Symptom”
Exploding in Sound does “stressed out” very, very well, and the frantic, yelpy Away Team is the latest manifestation of the label’s unofficial partnership with emotional tension. In being spearheaded by Gnarwhal vocalist/guitarist Chappy Hull, Shell of a Shell repurposes the mathy sounds of his previous gig to corrupt the pop-post-hardcore of The Dismemberment Plan, with “Forgetting Symptom” being the furthest derivative from Travis Morrison’s talky vocals the album contains. It’s a bulky grunge jam exhibiting the band at its most unhinged, and it almost feels like a miracle every time they cohere to form a hook on the chorus.
Sightless Pit, “Miles of Chain”
Subjective to the discographies of Lingua Ignota, The Body, and Full of Hell—the three projects that lend members to Sightless Pit—the songs that make up Grave of a Dog sound like radio-friendly pop. With reasonable song lengths and the strong personalities of all three parties watering each other down, their common theme of unmediated dread keeps the project buoyant. “Miles of Chain” is the most anxiety-inspiring song of the lot, quickly cancelling out the briefly terrestrial techno industrialism of “Drunk on Marrow” with hellish incantations and fatigued moaning. This description sounds super dramatic, but if you’ve heard anything off Caligula or Weeping Choir you know just how much drama you can expect.
Space Camp makes more sense as a natural progression from the tantrum-filled legacy of Drunkdriver than Uniform does, though every new Space Camp song seems to venture further into the weirdly fascinating pseudo-metal space Uniform occupies. “Orchiectomy” sees the band in full meltdown mode (though I’m anxiously awaiting their forthcoming LP’s opener “Space Camp iHeartRadio Music Festival Meltdown”), which clashes with the god damn tender lyrics about patiently talking a loved one through their (the narrator’s) transition and promising that they’ll be the same person, only more powerful.
Yves Tumor, “Gospel for a New Century”
2020 has mercifully provided us with an excuse for a blank slate greater than the annual reset-button that is New Year’s Day, ushering us into a whole new decade. Yves Tumor is taking things one step further, kicking off an entirely new century with a video straight from the absolute rancid bowels of hell. The music itself, as always, is pleasant enough, full of pop hooks and brassy horns. It’s those other horns, though, that I’m afraid I won’t be able to fully erase from my memory.