Signal Boost: 15 Tracks from April 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.
Bad History Month, “Childlike Sense of Hatred”
I don’t know if this analogy makes sense, but Bad History Month sounds like American primitivism incarnated as a land yacht struggling for control on a patch of ice. The instrumental swells on tracks like “Childlike Sense of Wonder” conjure up memories of trying to drive my friend’s Lincoln Town Car out of a snow bank as a teenager of barely legal driving age, and consequently attempting to regain control of the vehicle once it was set loose. Only, like, imagine that Town Car was somehow fuelled by feelings of self-loathing.
My word count here is limited, so to best sum up BLACKHANDPATH, their last record was a loosely conceptual noise-rap album about O.J. Simpson called Did It and Got Away With It. Their new record is loosely Easter-themed, and it features what is essentially a guest verse from Mike Tyson, a sample of the Tim the Tool Man Taylor grunt, and plenty more notable soundbytes—though nothing bangs quite as hard as “Keys to the Kingdom.” It’s a prime cut of chaotic energy, notably toned down from the glitchy horrorcore of 2016’s Egregore, though every bit as jarring.
Dominic Angelella, “A Picture of a Butt on a Computer”
When he’s not playing bass in Lucy Dacus’ live band (e.g. right now), Dominic Angelella is writing songs about pictures of butts on a computer. Well, at least one—“APoaBoaC” can be found on his latest LP for Lame-O, which drops at the end of May. It’s a hazy rager, sounding like a dream pop track written by someone unfamiliar with any of the genre’s benchmarks. Like, not out of ignorance, but rather a lethargic inability to tear himself away from those freakin’ butt pics.
We’ve been especially inundated with covers this past month, though most have been recorded live from the artists’ living rooms. Hazel English’s contribution to the covers-heavy Polyvinyl Stay Home comp, though, is considerably less of a novelty item, taking the impossibly dreamy Mamas/Papas joint and cranking up the dreamy factor. It’s stripped to the essentials—vocals, guitar, tambourine, and a Mellotron cameo, making for less emphasis on the plot and more on its unique stylizations (cc: Wong Kar-wai).
Melkbelly, “Sickeningly Teeth”
Right before they unleashed PITH upon the world, Melkbelly shared a video for their single “Sickeningly Teeth” which featured a dude waving at the camera with a handful of dog shit in his other hand, and another dude dislodging an entire salad from being stuck between his friend’s teeth. It honestly kinda set the mood for the off-kilter grunge record, with “Teeth” perfectly exemplifying the band’s strength as a group proficient in gentle pop choruses jilted off course by their fixation with off-putting time signatures and screeching guitars—essentially the audio equivalent of sticking spinach between their teeth and smiling.
It doesn’t get much more punk-rock than the Afrofuturist hip-hop of Moor Mother—though Mental Jewelry took that assertion as a challenge on his second collab with the emcee, channelling the spirit of Crass into the duo’s raw-as-can-be end product. “Look Alive” sets MM’s impassioned vocals up with Steve Montenegro’s demo-as-final-product production for a rousing, endearingly sloppy companion piece to Camae Ayewa’s recent output with the free-jazz liberationists Irreversible Entanglements.
Oranssi Pazuzu, “Ilmestys”
No matter how familiar you are with Oranssi Pazuzu, an album intro like “Ilmestys” is gonna have you anxiously contemplating what kind of weird shit the record has in store. Shapeshifting between atmospheric black metal, space rock, and psych rock, the band still manages to surprise listeners with what, exactly, they pull from these distinct genres, and the prolonged, pulsing intro to Mestarin kynsi only heightens this sense of anticipation.
Body-horror punks PUP returned in April for their first new music of 2020, offering up a graphic description of a severe allergic reaction to bees. This time around they were kind enough to spare us the gore of previous music videos by claymating the sweating, puking, and ultimately shriveling victim. Yet “Anaphylaxis” is born of the same rousing energy as tracks like “Reservoir,” skirting the edge of what could conceivably be considered pop music. Stefan Babcock screams like the character whose thoughts he’s narrating while guitars wail like sirens—but, as always, PUP make the crisis fun.
Pure X, “Middle America”
I was initially sold on Pure X as being a cross between shoegaze (hell yeah) and slowcore (hell yeah), though in reality I’m not really convinced they fit either description. Rather, “Middle America” sounds like a cut from American Pleasure Club’s A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This ideologically inspired by New Hollywood’s dissociation with America—I can basically see the Austin band straddling choppers to this track, with no real destination in mind.
Quelle Chris has always seemed to be one of those favorite-artist’s-favorite-artists type rappers, with folks like Earl Sweatshirt tweeting their praises as they go slept on outside the underground. Well, a few such folks are doing their part in getting Chris’ name out there by hopping on his and producer Chris Keys’ latest LP, Innocent Country 2, with their seven-minute single “Mirage” slotting guest spots for Sweatshirt and tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus, among others. For fans of Odd Future, freak-folk, spoken word—and, of course, these wonderful Chrises.
Shabazz Palaces, “Ad Ventures”
Don of Diamond Dreams is full of strange and memorable moments, but nothing tops the one-two punch of the opener and its succeeding “Fast Learner,” introducing the latest Shabazz odyssey as yet another album of smoked-up minimalist electronic experimentalism. Over droning and hissing snare, Ish talk-raps the record’s themes into existence with that bizarre, Altman-esque way of layering his own vocals over each other.
Stay Inside, “Ivy”
In between collecting royalties every time someone utters a command to remain indoors during this moment of casual dystopia, Stay Inside dropped a bone-clattering post-hardcore debut, a slightly darker take on the pop-punk No Sleep sound. “Ivy”—not to be confused with Ivy’s “Let’s Stay Inside”—was one of the precursors, indicating Viewing as the noisy, post-rock-infused, East-Coast Midwest emo it wound up being. It sounds a lot like Slow Mass fueled by pastrami rather than Chicago dawgs.
Sugar High, “Flowers and Pollution”
The Bandcamp page for DALMATIAN’s lone single “Pain Threshold” is currently the seventh most visited website on my personal laptop’s Chrome browser. And while Sugar High doesn’t quite scratch that same hardcore-trap itch, its focus on beats carries over to Kris Esfandiari’s latest project: a cloud rap collaboration with Gerogia Maq and (more tellingly) Wicca Phase Springs Eternal producer Darcy Baylis. “Flowers and Pollution” is the record’s second track, deviating from the Miserable-esque ambient dream pop opener and blossoming into a full-on Gothboi anthem.
Yoni Wolf, “The Threat (Alone in Two Boats)”
Yoni appears to be entering a new chapter in his career, as first heard on last year’s impeccably produced WHY? LP AOKOHIO. “The Threat” feels like an instrumental bonus track, though it’s actually part of a short EP Wolf put together for The Outlaw Ocean Music Project, which pairs musicians with soundbites from field recordings used for investigative reporter Ian Urbina’s book about maritime lawlessness of the same name (minus the “music project” part). I mean, “maritime lawlessness” has always sort of metaphorically been a staple of the WHY? brand, right?
Youth Code, “Puzzle”
Whenever I wanna take my mind off the industrialist hellscape we’re living in I accidentally turn to the most industrial, hellish sounds I can. I think I first heard Youth Code when I caught them opening for HEALTH last year—and though they seem to inhabit the same cyberpunk dystopia as their witchy peers, “Puzzle” sounds more like the glitchy terror of Street Sects, with pounding, electrified drum pads backing Sara Taylor’s raspy growls.