Signal Boost: 15 Tracks from May 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.
Cold Hart, “Tammy and the T-Rex”
It’s been cool watching emo rap infiltrate well-established labels, garnering these artists attention outside of the insular community they’ve been slowly building over the past five years or so. Following in the footsteps of Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, who dropped an LP on Run for Cover last year, fellow Goth Boi Cliquer Cold Hart announced a deal with Epitaph at the beginning of May, marking the occasion with a guitar-led monotone rap single blending emotional body horror and ’90s nostalgia in the same way his peers do. “Tammy and the T-Rex” is more Post Malone than it is Bad Religion, demonstrating one of many exciting developments Epitaph has in store for the future of punk rock.
Couch Slut, “I’m 14”
As far as I can tell, “I’m 14” is a song about watching the 1987 horror film The Gate at the age of fourteen and immediately being swept into an extreme version of mature adulthood involving excessive hard drug use and sexual bartering. It’s heavy as hell (musically and thematically), making it worthy of its spot on Gilead Media’s heavy-metal library, before opening up into a more contemplative instrumental stretch prominently featuring trumpet. Listening to this song—and Couch Slut’s graphic discography—as someone who almost entirely identifies as a fourteen-year-old, I feel like I’ve discovered an evil parallel dimension.
Dreamcrusher released their new mixtape Panopticon! as one forty-minute track, so it’s hard to single out any particular song from the project to highlight. “Two” not only acts as an early peak (and one of only two factions individually available to stream on YouTube), but, as said YouTube video demonstrates, also pairs shockingly well with the paint-dry pacing of Tarkovsky’s most radical moments. Somewhere buried in Luwayne Glass’ ear-splitting composition is Genesis’ proggy dreamscape “Firth of Fifth,” which gets mutilated nearly beyond recognition. Kinda like a self-immolated Erland Josephson.
I hope people recognize the greatness of Gleemer outside of this reductionist observation, but with Down Through the Fort Collins group successfully made an entire concept album based on the Turnover song “Dizzy on the Comedown.” While “Casino” doesn’t particularly carry the spellbinding quality of that track—or that of Down Through’s title track, for that matter—it still mimics that hyper-realistic projection of the perfect summer night, albeit in a shoegazier language. Like “Dizzy,” I hear crickets in the background of this song, even though they’re not there.
I guess the one plus side to all these tours getting cancelled is that now we have a ton of artists being like, “Oh yeah, here’s some song we made a while ago, whatever, enjoy” and releasing some of their strongest music to date. “Sift” was recorded when Hater dropped You Tried in 2017, but was only officially released last week (here!) with a music video cobbled together with some public domain footage. It’s as dreamy as anything you’d expect from fellow Swedes hand-picked to open for The Radio Dept. on their kiboshed 2020 tour, evolving into a storming post-rock stadium-filler in the final minute. Almost makes you miss stadium shows.
Houses of Heaven, “Dissolve the Floor”
While putting together a playlist for an earnest game of The Floor Is Lava while in an ever-deepening haze of quarantine-induced boredom, I thought it only natural to include this Houses of Heaven cut called “Dissolve the Floor.” It’s probably way too dark for a light-hearted playground game, building up from doomy industrial instrumentation into a more anxious darkwave sound over the course of the track—but it seemed apt for soundtracking a grown man alone in his studio apartment whiling away his time during a global pandemic. (Editor’s note: Guys, I’m not really playing The Floor Is Lava in my apartment. Not yet, at least.)
Jade Hairpins, “Mother Man”
I was introduced to Jade Hairpins with their early homonymous Harmony Avenue single “J Terrapin,” which posited the group as the second offshoot of Fucked Up to experiment with lighter-than-air power pop. But diving into the record I was just as aware of James Murphy’s influence as I was Young Guv’s (Ben Cook did co-write some of the songs), with seven-minute closer “Mother Man” transforming the project into a full-on homage to the sprawling electro-rock of LCD.
Joyce Manor, “Danke Shoen”
I’ve got some bad news about those Joyce Manor song brackets you filled out in March and it is their newly released Songs From Northern Torrance. Complementing the early energetic recordings from their Constant Headache EP with even rougher demos from the band’s late-aughts days as a duo, “Danke Shoen” stands out as the Joyciest cut, previewing Barry Johnson’s unhinged vocals over a barely audible guitar and a drum beat captured with the bare minimum of recording technology. I think this is also the song Ferris Bueller sings at the parade.
Mrs. Piss, “Downer Surrounded by Uppers”
2020 has already been a year full of side-projects, spin-offs, and supergroups conjoining over a mutual interest in doom, with projects like Sugar High, Sightless Pit, and Pay for Pain all somehow going a little bit darker and more experimental than their members’ day gigs tend to allow. The latest addition to this list is Mrs. Pain, the new project of Chelsea Wolfe and collaborator Jess Gowrie, providing the latter a bigger spotlight behind the drums than she tends to see on Wolfe’s solo records. “Downer” is the highlight from their eighteen-minute debut, claiming two of those minutes with gothy punk escalating into heavy-metal guitar and Chelsea’s pained shrieking, which still do little to remove the attention from Jess’ drumming.
Bandcamp Day came to us at the point in 2020 when we needed it most—and managed to deliver again a month later on a much, much larger scale. Where the first iteration of the newly minted monthly holiday brought the music community together to raise literal millions of dollars for musicians abruptly out of work, part two of the event saw a Record Store Day’s worth of new exclusives, which even involved the resurrection of Oxford Collapse eleven years after their dissolution. Although we only got three minutes of new material (well, uncovered old material), their cover of “Dance Dance Dance” (that’s three “Dances”—it’s Neil, not Fall Out Boy) was enough to make me put “Please Visit Your National Parks” on repeat again.
Three years ago one of our contributors wrote up a guide to low-key standout shoegaze bands, citing second-tier ’90s acts and up-and-coming groups from the twenty-first century alike. They were correct in citing Russia’s Pinkshinyultrablast as a notable voice in the genre’s progression, though it’s a shame the band hasn’t seen much international attention since then. If the record they’ve put out since the piece was written wasn’t accessible enough for the average ear, the Saint Petersburgers only doubled down on that sentiment with their latest single simply called “Songs” (plural), which tracks at nearly sixteen minutes.
Retirement Party, “Fire Blanket”
There are a lot of great and deceptively heavy songs on Runaway Dog, but none that replicate the sound of Godzilla quite so well as “Fire Blanket.” The first two minutes sound like emo Midwesterners taking on Room on Fire with overwhelmingly positive results—but once that Mascis-ian guitar takes off around 2:30, man, I can’t help but picture Jet Jaguar swooping in to let ’Zilla out of a bind.
Single Mothers, “I’m Wrong”
Single Mothers have a special place in my heart for being the band that swept in shortly after I found out the lead singer of one of my all-time favorite groups was a terrible human being, not only channeling the same frantic energy as that band’s early recordings but also duplicating their singer’s distinct vocals nearly to a tee. Taking a step back in 2019 for Drew Thomson’s solo project, the Mothers returned this month with a new single they tacked onto a deluxe edition of their 2018 LP Through a Wall, and it contains the exact right amount of fury (lots) in just the right amount of time (one minute).
Umbra Vitae, “Mantra of Madness”
If you’ve made it this far into 2020 without finding your Mantra of Madness, Umbra Vitae were seemingly assembled to make it extremely easy for you. The Converge offshoot—which sounds a lot more like Converge than Jacob Bannon’s other offshoot—dropped their first LP at the beginning of the month, injecting a bit more death metal influence into what we’re used to hearing Bannon growling over. “Madness” is a particularly appealing cut, dunking on the “thoughts and prayers” mentality that’s plagued liberal America since the term became a widespread meaningless balm in harsh times. And god bless that China cymbal.
As Run the Jewels continues to dominate the world of hip-hop and music more broadly and American culture even more broadly, early-aughts El-P collaborator Mr. Lif has been doing an incredible job of keeping the Def Jux dream alive with consistently memorable collaborations with underground producers, as well as with The Perceptionists. The latest iteration he’s taken is VANGARDE, a new project that sees the rapper—who doesn’t sound like he’s aged a bit over the past two decades—team up with producer Stu Bangas, providing the exact type of boom-bap instrumentation Lif thrives with.