Signal Boost: 15 Tracks from August 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.
It probably goes against some unwritten rules of this column to include a write-up on Aminé, a rapper with over a million Instagram followers to his name. It still bummed me out to see so little written about his collaboration with Injury Reserve, the rap group whose fanbase he bolstered in 2018—two years after many of us took note with the trio’s boisterous “Oh Shit!!!” Tragically, this would be their last collaboration, at least with IR’s current roster. “Fetus” is the second posthumous feature for emcee Jordan Groggs, who died at the end of June. The collab feels particularly prescient considering the track’s sobering life-cycle themes of personally and professionally coming of age, achieving success, and—with a comic take on Kiarostami—learning to value the taste of grapefruit over a Ferrari. It’s as much of an exhausted conclusion to Limbo as it is a touching sendoff to Groggs.
(If you can, please donate to Groggs’ family’s memorial fundraiser, which is still shy of its goal.)
Blacklisters, “Mambo No. 5”
I feel like even if I wasn’t into Blacklisters’ music, I’d still keep an eye on them for the sake of their cheeky song titles. In fact, I think I first got into them when I saw there was a song called “Clubfoot by Kasabian,” which happens to be their very first song on their very first album. A spiritual sequel of sorts, “Mambo No. 5”—the last song on their most recent album—repurposes a very different moment in my childhood for the Leeds noisemakers’ aggressive purposes. Considerably no-wavier than their punk origin story, the six-minute closer manages to steer even further from its source material, reimagining Lou Bega as a noise-rock icon.
Boyfrndz, “Not Enough”
One of the weirder outcomes of the pandemic for me has been a sudden interest in the Mars Volta catalog—maybe because “coronavirus” absolutely sounds like a thing those guys would say in a song, maybe because their panicked prog hits close to home right now. At one point, I was wondering if we’d ever hear any new music that sounded remotely like them, which fellow Texans Boyfrndz promptly answered affirmatively with the two-track Not Enough single, the A-side replicating their predecessors’ vocal theatrics to repurpose them for a sci-fi post-rock soundscape. I didn’t learn any new words like “phlegmatic” from the track, but I definitely heard some unique sounds.
Cindygod, “Nothing Right”
A memory that will haunt me for the rest of my life: refusing to pre-order tickets to a Chicago Gauntlet Hair show in January 2013 and finding out it sold out at the door due to the Tomorrow Never Know fest’s complicated ticketing protocol. Shortly afterwards, of course, the band broke up with only two LPs to remember them by—but Andy Rauworth and Craig Nice have evidently been putting out music as Cindygod ever since that’s “a little darker & sinister around the edges” as their Bandcamp puts it, as if the duo didn’t record “G.I.D.” Sure enough, EP 2 is pretty grimy, and tracks like “Nothing Right” reach into plenty of the bleak motifs explored on Stills—extremely haunted guitar digs, eerily unobtrusive (though loudly recorded) percussion. It’s weirdly the Turn on the Bright Lights to Deeper’s Is This It.
Coastlands, “Dead Friends”
The new Coastlands album was mixed by Kurt Ballou, who’s also worked with Russian Circles, and mastered by Magnus Lindberg, who lists Cult of Luna on his resume, and I guess that’s all you really need to know going in. The instrumental post-rock-by-way-of-atmospheric-sludge debut single “Lay Waste” is the type of heavy-genre whirlwind that disputes the notion that lyricless music should be demoted to background listening, the song’s relentless seven-minutes making it hard to focus on anything else. “Dead Friends” takes this concept and packs on the shouted-yet-barely-audible vocals of Glassing’s Dustin Coffman to accentuate just how much noise they’re making.
Dikembe, “All Got Sick”
I had to stop listening to Muse in high school when I noticed the singer took a huge gasp before nearly every line he sang. Shortly after, I couldn’t listen to Arctic Monkeys anymore when I noticed how frequently Alex Turner would slurp his spit before singing a line. It’s become a bit of a chore for me to stream Show Me the Body’s radical punk after noting how much their singer sounds like Anthony Kiedis. All of this is to say that the excitement of a surprise-released Dikembe album this month was briefly jeopardized when I finally put my finger on the band’s familiar vocals—yet for some reason an uncanny likeness to Kings of Leon isn’t enough to lessen the impact of the record, particularly the dire, hard-hitting “All Got Sick.” The Gainesville punks really hit their stride on any track as emotive as a Sheryl Crow hit, with the early-album single providing an early album peak.
Drug Couple, “The Ghost”
Drug Couple is the musical union between Miles Benjamin “Longest Name in Indie Rock” Anthony Robinson and his creative and romantic co-conspirator Becca Chodorkoff, and Choose Your Own Apocalypse is both their second EP in under twelve months and an apt subtitle to the year 2020. Despite its doomy title, the record’s songs are extremely laid-back, with “The Ghost” going so far as to exhibit the couple’s weird sense of humor—the first lyric sees Becca recalling an ex who always said Nancy Regan gave the best head while Miles laughs it off. They go on to address climate change and the imminent end of the world in the next line without changing their stoned-out disposition, and as the slow, beat-heavy instrumental track keeps things steady, it doesn’t feel much like either an embarrassing past or bleak future matters much to them.
Emay, “Republic of New Afrika”
About a decade ago, Edmonton emcee Emay had amassed a respectable collection of singles and EPs, including a sleek collaboration with Star Slinger and Blackbird Blackbird and a chill-beats-to-study-to reworking of Karen O’s Wild Things soundtrack. While both of these projects are still up on various Bandcamps, it’s a shame not much else of his work is. Fortunately, it sounds like he’s replacing those old recordings with new ones after remaining mostly quiet over the past few years—“Republic of New Afrika” is his first single since a 2018 loosie, and its dizzying intersection of anti-colonialism and shit-talking doesn’t sound too far removed from anything he’s done before. But the West African music samples, Black liberation reference of the song’s title, and white supremacy-bashing lyrics bring these two poles closer together than they’ve ever been—though in 2020, it sounds like these two are a little more intertwined.
IAN SWEET, “Dumb Driver”
Modern dating feels like endlessly driving around a roundabout, occasionally pulling off with an ill-advised Tinder date before returning to the circular path with still no end in sight—only now you keep making eye contact with other drivers you’ve shared an unsavory experience with. This is a completely irrelevant metaphor to the one Jilian Medford paints in IAN SWEET’s new single (and musical album-signing press statement) “Dumb Driver,” which instead uses a vehicular metaphor to express the infantile way your brain operates once this detour starts to feel like it’s actually heading in some direction. It’s a lovesick break-up song, longing for at least a sense of responsibility in place of the new aimless monotony.
No Joy, “Dream Rats”
It seemed like Jasamine White-Gluz wasn’t quite sure exactly which route to take for Motherhood, No Joy’s first LP in five years, so she took all of them. While her band’s traditionally dream-pop sound is barely discernible throughout the record’s eleven songs, the project’s weirdness peaks early on with a death-metal indebted second track, which features Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz. This isn’t a bizarre coincidence—the White-Gluzes are sisters, collaborating musically for the first time on the track, which feels appropriate considering the post-natal themes of the record. Surprisingly, the totally unpredictable guttural howls that line the driving single manage to work well with the opening track’s trip-hop playfulness. Like a baby’s mood swings, or something.
Oceanator, “Goodbye, Goodnight”
One thing the label Tiny Engines did really well was compile a roster of unique artists who perfectly blended “indie rock” and “emo,” whatever those terms mean, in a way that made one more palpable to listeners of the other. One thing Tiny Engines did not do well, we now know, was compensate these artists. The label met their overdue and unofficial demise in late 2019, forcing some half-dozen bands to rethink release plans for the following year. Rather than fitting neatly alongside buzzy punk-lite records from illuminati hotties, Long Neck, and Personal Space, Things I Never Said blazes new trails in 2020 for the recently launched Plastic Miracles, with sprawling opener “Goodbye, Goodnight” introducing Oceanator’s breezy take on grunge to PM’s legacy. Elise Okusami’s view on the apocalypse that is this year clings tightly to simpler times—discernibly ’90s PNW rock and the ensuing sounds of ’00s indie—ultimately coming off as somewhat hopeful.
Only Sibling, “Corner of the Bed”
“Corner of the Bed,” like nearly every track on Only Sibling’s debut record, was written at the tail end of a relationship when a heaping pile of guilt was beginning to weigh on vocalist Alex Basovskiy. Yet unlike the other nine album cuts, “Corner of the Bed” feels like that accumulation of negativity striking all at once, with its Cosmic Thrill Seekers vocal strain and Guilty of Everything heavy-yet-resigned breakdowns. It’s an emotionally busy song to close out an emotionally busy record, though “Corner” does a good job of letting out the tension that built along the way.
Twenty years ago, Danny Brown was forbidden entry to 50 Cent’s G Unit crew because Danny’s jeans were too tight. Now we get to listen to up-and-coming rappers and go, “Damn, this guy sounds like Danny Brown” while 50’s off producing Nic Cage movies or whatever. I had this thought most recently while listening to the latest Deathbomb Arc release from the rapper SHADI, an EP that closes with an epic minimalist-noise composition in which he teams up with DBA mainstay Signor Benedick the Moor, whose Dannyesque refrain punctuates SHADI’s frantic near-monotone verses. It sounds like early Anticon with its blippy beats, team raps, and explicit rejection of its status as hip-hop as we know it.
VerBs, “My Nephew’s Getting Big”
I think I first heard VerBs from his contribution to Catcher of the Fade, a one-off EP from a supergroup called, uh, _________________, which featured Open Mike Eagle, Busdriver, the artist formerly known as Milo, and Islands’ Nick Diamonds. His latest project is a seemingly quarantine-boredom-inspired EP of loosies (including a The Blow cover—remember The Blow?) which begins and peaks with the holy-shit-my-sibling’s-kid’s-gonna-be-taller-than-me-soon anthem “My Nephew’s Getting Big.” It’s a pretty minimalist track (produced by recent OME collaborator Alph Tha Alien) covering pretty mundane subject matter. Fortunately, as Catcher proved half a decade ago, that’s something VerBs and his peers excel at.