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 Senior 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.
AJ Suede has quietly put out five albums this year, adding underground icons like Tha God Fahim and R.A.P. Ferriera to his arsenal of featured guests that already included Goth Boi Clique’s Lil Tracy and Nedarb. His latest project with Japanese producer Wazasnics adds Adam Sandler and Kevin Garnett to the mix on “Shine in the Dark,” opening with audio from Uncut Gems before sliding into another smooth verse from Suede and a tense spot from NJ emcee Iceberg Theory. Another great crossover in a year of great collaborations—he’s well on his way to scoring verses from Chet Hanks and Damian Lillard next year.
Blood from the Soul, “Fang Tooth Claw”
I’ve spent the bulk of quarantine deep-diving the Deathwish Inc. catalog after I bought a tote bag from the label and realized I needed to be well enough versed in all things DW to field any questions or comments it might attract in the future when we actually go places again. In doing so it was interesting to hear how basically everyone signed to the label just sounded like Converge up until the mid-’10s when groups like Deafheaven and Touché Amoré inked deals. The new record from Blood from the Soul felt slightly regressive in that respect until I realized the vocalist sounded so much like Jacob Bannon because, well, he is Jacob Bannon—opener “Fang Tooth Claw” pretty explicitly confirmed the inkling I’d had when “Debris of Dreams” dropped last month. With the Umbra Vitae LP out in May, 2020 has been a great year for coping with the fact that we haven’t heard from Converge since 2018.
Booji Boys, “Sex Genius”
This might at first seem like a totally inappropriate place to honor the genius collaboration that was Marnie Stern’s self-titled album, which (very prominently) featured Zack Hill on drums. But the spirit of that duo’s collaboration bubbles beneath this loose and extremely dirty single from Nova Scotia’s Booji Boys, whose lo-fi garage rock echoes the unique wailing guitar/unrestrained drum patter of that iconic moment in math rock history. This, however, is drawing attention away from the track’s intended purpose, which is to highlight the larger community of punk emerging on Canada’s East Coast—hear more from the scene with the vinyl comp the track appears on.
While the drudgery heard on jesu’s return LP this past month seems part and parcel of the moniker, it felt like Justin Broaderick still had some itches that needed scratching, as suggested on the record’s trancey finale. Earlier in the year he felt truly in his element with a rework of a sludgy Oathbreaker track, and his further industrial sludgification of C Trip A’s already pretty industrial-sludgy “Thought Streams” feels like another perfect match. Sounding like a slowly deflating dälek or a less doomy Moodie Black, the single traverses the same ambient electronic palette as the original, while establishing itself within the vast, snowy climes as Terminus.
I don’t know where exactly Zegema Beach is located (a quick Google search places it firmly within the Starship Troopers universe) but man must that place be overcast. I don’t know what I bought off Zegema Beach Records’ Bandcamp or when I bought it, but I seem to get an update from the label every other day announcing a new release, each one being more dire and violent than the last. The first ninety seconds of the new Crowning record proves the Chicago screamo group’s debut to be the label’s (ugh) crowning achievement of 2020, kicking the project off with the same wave of anxiety heard on recent records from labelmates Nuvolascura and Infant Island (not to mention Glassing and Mouthing, who along with Crowning make a pretty good case for the reopening of a closed case), even echoing the warped ambient sounds of the latter.
Emily Edrosa, “She Agreed”
People keep telling me to watch that new Netflix doc about how caustic social media is, and I can only assume the filmmakers’ central point revolves around the fact that we’re now all eternally damned to make ourselves feel like shit by regularly seeing updates from people we dated over a decade ago, and who we convinced ourselves we’d gotten over shortly after. I guess it’s because the teens and early twenties are such formative times that that never really happens, and there’s some residual angst when the TL’s populated by images of these people seemingly happy in new relationships. That’s the uneasy energy Emily Edrosa harnesses on “She Agreed,” before the ambient guitars and seething vocals open up into a wonked-out finale. I wonder what that doc has to say about your HS crush’s parents.
FLOHIO, “Sweet Flaws”
It’s still a mystery to me why grime has yet to be one of the U.K.’s primary artistic exports to the U.S.—beyond Dizzee Rascal and perhaps some peripheral knowledge of a more contemporary figure like Stormzy, artists within the subgenre never produce the same buzz as a figure like a crossover figure like slowthai whose personality tends to eclipse his very-British take on rap. I was specifically surprised that FLOHIO’s debut mixtape didn’t shake up the national media after the rapper unleashed “Unveiled” back in September. “Sweet Flaws,” the second single from the project, reiterates the sense of urgency of its predecessor, swapping its familiar Take a Daytrip beat for something a bit more minimalist for the emcee to layer her vocals over. If this doesn’t win you over to London’s hip-hop scene, I dunno what will.
At the end of a year where Denzel Curry’s buoyed a slew of otherwise hardly notable singles, his verse almost feels like an afterthought on the chillingly paranoid “Scared.” Following in a long lineage of breakout teen rappers from the Chicagoland area, with this song Kembe X unleashes something as intense as what Chief Keef was churning out a decade ago, though completely oppositional in that rapper’s braggadocious verses—X taps into the various anxieties defining the year before Denzel swoops in to pin his particular set of stressors to the current pandemic and police-incited violence. We could use a new wave of trap before the apocalypse.
Lande Hekt, “Undone”
You ever just feel sorry for yourself when you break up with someone that you weren’t even going out with? That’s the exact energy Lande Hekt of Muncie Girls (don’t Google it, they’re not from Indiana, I always Google it and they are never from Indiana—not even close) went for—and achieved—on the melancholy “Undone” from her forthcoming solo debut, one of those tracks that dispels every notion you’ve been inundated with about the raw, masculine power of punk. Instead the track is yet another floral pop song from the Bristol songwriter that feels emo only in its self-pitying lyricism, fusing punk’s angst and pop’s production value into something vibrant and pretty unique.
Over the past year or so, Brad Oberhofer’s Instagram stories have been the last thing I look at before bed, as up until recently they’ve mostly consisted of Brad playing through some improvised piano melodies that did wonders for my nerves. I’d be mad that he stopped posting those if it weren’t for the fact that those videos have largely been replaced with clips of the songwriter in the studio with producer Jonathan Rado (with evidence of everyone from Shamir to Jonsí also contributing to his first new music in five years), “Makeup” being the first public product of these sessions. With the familiar tentpoles of overwhelming melancholy and unbridled glee—not to mention that pacifying piano—the track is undiluted Oberhofer.
If you’re trying to ease a friend into the admittedly intimidating realm of metal, I’d suggest a full LP of depressive black metal that sounds like there’s at least one load-bearing wall—or interdimensional portal—between the band and the listener. The latest release from Chad Davis’ solo Obscurae project kicks off with the nine-minute, heart-pounding “Upon the Shadowthrone of Night,” a traditionally frantic and uniquely obscure epic that sets the tone for the rest of the hellish, though notably distant, recording. It’s an oddly familiar sound if you’ve ever tried to take a date to a metal show and spent the evening outside the venue listening to them say, “Oh, no, don’t worry about me, it’s fine if you wanna go back in, I’ll just wait out here.”
I’ve spent the past few months inundating myself with the eternally weird feature-length-release-and-then-some that is cLOUDDEAD’s self-titled, and I’m afraid I’m on the cusp of diving hard back into the Anticon extended universe. Nosdam’s evidently kept busy remixing Tobacco and aiding and abetting the real hero of Chicago rap, as well as consistently dropping ambient releases on Bandcamp—the latest of which harkens back to the proggy plunderphonics of Your American Bonus, melding hardcore hip-hop with weirdo samples. A-side “Wasted” seems like a better bet for maintaining control of the aux cord while delivering some excellent (albeit complicated) vibes.
This past month marked the annual Trans Day of Remembrance, a perfectly good opportunity to support organizations that protect trans people against violence and discrimination—and to educate yourself on the ways in which trans people are subjected to violence and discrimination—instead of just telling people to “google stonewall riots” in the replies on Twitter after a weirdly tonedeaf take. Portland group Shaylee marked the occasion with a whole-ass epic single commemorating the life of an acquaintance of songwriter Elle Archer (by way of a B-side slightly less epic in length celebrating the life of another passionate trans artist we lost too soon), attributing six minutes of entrancing guitar, synth, and even glock to just one of many individuals whose stories need to be told.
Soft Blue Shimmer, “Adore the Distance”
Seasonal reminder that your average nine-track shoegaze album is cheaper than a new sweater! The debut from LA’s Soft Blue Shimmer arrived just in time for the temperatures to drop freakishly late in the year, with Heaven Inches Away providing the audio equivalent to throwing on the biggest top in your closet and spending an unreasonable amount of time just sitting next to your radiator, thinking about getting up to do something productive. Upon early inspection, the album’s climax appears to be the hazy sendoff, recalling the same cosmological space warbled about by Cocteau Twins with the cool, laid-back demeanor of someone who could only be unstuck in time in the frantic year 2020.
In a year of social distancing, the appeal of a posse cut seems exponentially higher, adding to the enjoyment of a great collaboration a sense of normalcy in a period of global history when we’re separated from friends, family, and potential featured vocalists. The A-side to an innovative Oneohtrix Point Never cover, “Plead Insanity” sees Kjell Hansen enlist Sadie Dupuis and Bartees Cox on a track that mirrors both artists’ recent disinterest in conventional genre. “Post-emo” and “they/themcore” feel like apt self-imposed classifiers for the track which infuses queer derivations of pop-punk as heard in recent projects like Floral Tattoo and Weatherday with a pair of barely discernible yet instantly recognizable voices.