SIGNAL BOOST: 15 Tracks from March 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.
Activity, “Auto Sad”
The debut album from Activity—featuring members of Grooms, Russian Baths, and Field Mouse—is…stressful. It’s pretty ominous all the way through (it’s about C.S. Lewis’ conception of purgatory), seeming like it’s gonna lead up to some eerie climax. But the finale, “Auto Sad,” is a pretty calm exhalation of electronics-infused ambient rock, pairing downcast guitar, ominous synths, and Travis Johnson’s deflated vocals with irreverently uptempo percussion.
Bartees Strange, “Lemonworld”
Bartees Strange’s new EP Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy is a reconstruction of songs we’ve played on repeat for a dozen years or so through new racial and temporal contexts (or, as one Redditor put it, “Black Dude Covers The National”). Matching the level of emotions pumped into the original songs, Bartees’ versions redistribute these same strong feelings across different moments on different tracks, notably comprising his take on “Lemonworld” with the minimalist verses of “A Reasonable Man” and jarring chorus of “Mr. November.” Each cover on the EP demonstrates Bartees’ reverence for the source material, though none come close to revealing it so blatantly as the song he injects with a passion missing in the original.
Big Black Delta, “Summoner”
Jonathan Bates goes instrumental on his latest single as Big Black Delta, an electronic project that generally sounds like Hans Zimmer getting involved with Phantogram. “Summoner” feels a bit distanced from both of these early influences, though, settling on hardcore synthwave as its focus. “Medieval,” “witchy,” and “something you would play to summon a demon” are all things Bates has said to describe the song, and I think I’ll leave it at that.
If realizing we haven’t heard from BOAT in seven years doesn’t do enough to make you feel old, it probably helps to consider the Seattle collective’s hair turning grey (it isn’t, as far as I know). But for the implicit message of mortality at the forefront of the new single, BOAT have maintained the positive energy (and cartoonish iconography, as seen on their new LP Tread Lightly’s cover) that won college radio over a decade ago. “Grey” is a polished amalgamation of a studio-savvy Half Japanese and an Americanized Proclaimers—a promising look for what they have in store for 2020.
It’s a shame it took a pandemic to hear new tracks from Cavanaugh—the collab between Southern Illinois University alums and very good rappers Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti, whose 2015 debut saw guest verses from P.O.S and Hemlock Ernst, and tracks named after characters from the Space Ghost universe. Although Quarantine Recordings are called, um, that, the EP’s five tracks seem to have been written during that same period, and were uploaded to commemorate the first annual Bandcamp Day. “Cash4Gold” is the most memorable of the lot, matching both rappers’ distinct vocal styles with OME’s unpolished production.
Fange, “À Blanc”
OK, all the other tracks on here are for you, the reader; this one’s probably just for me. Fange is an absolutely disgusting French sludge metal band and they released what was easily my favorite album of 2019. While Pudeur sees them dip their toes into the pool of industrial metal—as Code Orange works at making it a household genre—“À Blanc” highlights the sludged-out djent influence of peers like Frontierer. I hope some of these words mean something to some of you.
Two veterans of those only-slightly-demeaning Best Albums You May Have Missed lists, Field Medic and Great Grandpa vocalist Al Menne teamed up this month for a Run for Cover–released single that feels like a victory lap in the wake of their pair of Generally Best Albums released in 2019. The underproduced track is reduced to Kevin Patrick’s ramshackle guitar and distinct vocals, occasionally harmonizing with those of Menne. Currently on repeat as I try to track down my Tumblr.
Gouge Away, “Wave of Mutilation”
“Gouge Away” is the name of a Pixies song, and, as a crew of Floridians noticed nearly a decade ago, an incredible name for a hardcore punk band. While Christina Michelle’s vocals are a bit more unhinged than Black Francis’ unpredictable snarls, the ominous bass-and-snare intro of GA’s ferocious single “Ghost” mimic the foreboding atmosphere of a Doolittle cut, making their “Wave of Mutilation” cover a perfect fit. There isn’t much in the way of modification in the recording, but instead a clear sense of contemporary hardcore punk’s indebtedness to the Boston noise-rock innovators.
Joensuu 1685, “My Friend (We’re Here Again)”
I’m sorry that not all of the songs in this edition of Signal Boost are as reassuring as this one, but to make up for it I’ve ensured that no songs in this edition of Signal Boost are longer than it. The gentle, seven-and-a-half-minute apocalypse that is “My Friend (We’re Here Again)” paints the end of times as something full of compassion and redemption and maternal leadership rather than any capitalist-hell reality we’re currently experiencing that’s been feeling particularly doomsday-y recently, with piano, horns, and heavy reverb vividly soundtracking the event.
Loose Sutures, “Shoot It Down”
Some Italians called Loose Sutures just dropped an entire concept album loosely based upon Fuzz’s 2013 self-titled homage to Ozzy and other early psych-tinged, bat-munching metal acts. With the exception of its cultishly religious interludes, each track on their own self-titled recalls a moment on Fuzz (the band name and record title being lifted from one of that LP’s tracks), with “Shoot It Down” most accurately recreating the Segallian formula of aggressive fuzzed-out guitar and vocal sass.
You, a normal person, have probably already heard the Ace of Base electro-dub banger “The Sign,” and respect pop-rockers The Memories’ reverent take on the single, which features lead vocals from Colleen Green. I, an apparent sociopath, had never heard an Ace of Base song in my entire life, and questioned—but immediately accepted—the LA artists’ experimentation with electro-dub.
OK, one more apocalypse song. This one’s less comforting and more, like, Melancholia cool. Belgian blackgazers Oathbreaker getting reworked by shoegaze-affiliated drone experimentalist Jesu seems like it should feel like just a whole big pile of weighted blankets, yet in reality Justin Broadrick’s remix of “Ease Me” is impressively light, puncturing a hole in the anxious track originally released last summer and relieving it of all its stress. What remains is an electronically weighted trip-hop track that feels, for lack of a better term, totally at ease.
Painted Zeros, “Commuter Rage”
“Go read a fucking book” was already my quarantine mantra before I heard Katie Lau’s restrained delivery of it moments into “Commuter Rage” (as was “I could transform this toxic culture to be your benevolent overlord,” though it has a little less to do with self-isolation). But Lau’s spiteful reconfiguration of the phrase has given me reason to broaden my application of it to support my own intellectual independence. Though the rest of the song’s endorsement of introversion really does solidify it as a true quarantine jam.
Porridge Radio, “Born Confused”
“Born Confused” has existed in some iteration for at least four years now, both in demo form and as a live staple accessible via YouTube, but the version that appears as the intro to the Brighton ensemble’s Secretly Canadian debut is significantly more three-dimensional. Shaved down a minute, and with its shitgaze production value swapped for pristine strings, accordion, and layered vocals, the intro manages to lean into the same emotive repetition as its demo, setting the listener up for plenty more peaks and valleys over the record’s ten additional tracks.
Tropical Fuck Storm, “Suburbiopia”
There aren’t a whole lot of artists pushing the boundaries of guitar-based rock these days, as it’s predominantly a genre of nostalgia at this point, but every new release from Tropical Fuck Storm is steeped in enough what-the-fuck aestheticism to warrant them the title of prophets in this time of rock agnosticism. Their experimentalism is heavily rooted in their use of reverb (have you seen these guys live?) and, more recently, programmed drums, though there’s definitely also something to be said about their lyrics. “Suburbiopia” is about “the upside of being in a suicide cult,” and the woozy, unclassifiable instrumentation only makes the topic feel relevant.