Signal Boost: 15 Tracks from February 2021 You Should Know
The month’s most discourse-worthy singles, according to our Senior Editor.
There’s enough highly publicized new music released every day 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 rounds 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’s the year 2021—Elton John has worked with 6lack, Pink Siifu is on a song with Rivers Cuomo, and I really shouldn’t be surprised by anything anymore, but Angel Du$t’s induction into the Animal Collective extended universe made me do a double take. The extremely Panda Bear reworking of the band’s 2020 single further diffuses the tension from an already-laid-back, genre-mashing rock track, with Noah Lennox’s distinct vocals and woozy production turning the sunny single into a placid, golden-hour composition. It’s a cool companion piece to last year’s Turnstile/Mall Grab EP.
Listening back over Automatic’s “Strange Conversations,” that opening bassline that remains constant through the whole track is just the type of loop that Sudan Archives built each of Athena’s upbeat, violin-guided instrumentals upon. The song’s monotonous nature—lacking the enthusiasm for Tuesday nights found in Makonnen’s anthem—is easily lifted to a state of ecstasy by Brittney Parks, first by her fed-up vocals, then by her calling-card strings. Simultaneously makes you miss the club and feel gratitude for no longer having to put up with your friends’ shit during ill-fated social outings.
Black Sheep Wall, “Human Shaped Hole”
I feel like “You can’t even hear what they’re saying!” is a pretty common critique of genres like hardcore and doom metal, and what’s so cool about Black Sheep Wall is that you can hear what they’re saying, and it’s always something cool like “Fucking with no shame,” or “Fucking my way to the top,” or “Lies, lust, shit, fucks.” The latter two lyrics come from “Human Shaped Hole,” a track where the band’s innovative drumming within sludge metal takes on near-mathy complication as the track escalates over its brief two minutes. Certainly not the most divisive guitar smash of 2021, but the video’s still very cool.
Debby Friday, “RUNNIN”
There aren’t a lot of artists doing something so unique that each release sees little variation in their sound, yet still immediately grabs you in the way Debby Friday’s music does. Outside of her two not at all dissimilar EPs, singles like “SEARCHING,” “SINE METU,” and now “RUNNIN” feel equally canonical to the Vancouver artist’s discography while sounding like they could easily be embedded in either release. I honestly wouldn’t even know how to classify that ambient vocal intro without using the extremely unhelpful phrase “Debby Friday sounds.”
Editrix, “The History of Dance”
With the debut of Wendy Eisenberg’s collection of “avant butt-rock” recordings with Editrix comes a record disappointingly far removed from “Lips of an Angel”—but, I suppose, an appreciated and long-overdue broadening of the genre. The whole thing’s pretty jagged and weird, though late-album “The History of Dance” is a surprisingly fun, dancy track which before long devolves into all kinds of shredding more familiar to the surrounding eleven tracks. Plenty of riffs, cowbell, and other invitations to get freaky.
Guy Blakeslee, “What Love Can Do”
I watched No Direction Home for the first time this month, and I realized it’s become hard to take the musician-searching-for-meaning-through-overly-elaborate-studio-recordings trope seriously (I blame John C. Reilly). There are few cases, though, where it works so well you can look past the cheesiness of the concept—most recently, this was the case with composer Guy Blakeslee, who loaded his car up with all of his gear and no solidified ideas before recording Postcards From the Edge, on which he’s credited for over half a dozen instruments on each track (including “laughter” on the closer). The LP’s only seven tracks, but each one’s wholly distinct, and the penultimate “What Love Can Do” feels like the purest distillation of the project’s being fuelled by genuine affection in the midst of artistic vagrancy.
So far there are some Big Sounds on this new Lushlife LP dropping in March, though I don’t imagine anything could top Raj Haldar’s collaboration with noise rap legends Dälek, which merges the bubbly indie pop of a group like Cults, who Lushlife shared blog space with in the early ’10s, with the gruff, underground appeal of the experimental rapper before the single transitions into a full-on jazz odyssey for a five-minute tailspin (that sounds like a lot—and it is, which is exactly why the album closer clocks in at a whopping nine minutes.) If ever there was an artist who could bring a Profound Lore signee onboard the same project as a member of Dirty Projectors, it’s gotta be Haldar.
Nicole Marxen, “Bones / Dust”
Nicole Marxen’s Tether is enough justification to start production on a gothy sequel to Drive, and “Bones / Dust”—even outside the context of its potentially graphic title—would go perfectly behind the movie’s violent climax (I’m imagining Ryan Gosling going full Spider-man 3 Peter Parker, maybe rocking a skull or something on the back of his jacket. Will continue workshopping this.) Midway through, the track explodes from electro-ambient into full-blown covertly-driving-a-stylish-car-around-at-night-while-full-of-secrets, sonically landing somewhere between Kavinsky and Cold Cave.
Paris Texas, “Heavy Metal”
I really only like, like, three things, and they happen to be the movie Paris, Texas, heavy metal, and aggressively experimental hip-hop. Naturally, Paris Texas’ “Heavy Metal” was a song written specifically for me, incorporating all of these diverse interests (minus dissociative fugues set in the Southwest—that didn’t really come through for me on this track) into one anxiety-inducing headbanger. By extension of “heavy metal,” I also liked the movie Sound of Metal, which is the first movie I’ve seen where the diegetic “Eeee!” ear-ringing sound trope felt necessary—of course that effect was replicated for this track’s vid.
Saintseneca, “All You’ve Got Is Everyone”
As someone who falls on the “never” end of the age-old, entirely polarizing “When is Christmas music acceptable?” debate, I’m ashamed to admit that my go-to winter playlist is only, like, four albums I’ve been listening to on repeat for years now. Though I never get tired of this comfort music, it’s good to try to splash in something new every year, and Saintseneca always manages to fit the bill—their toasty, fireplace-set, layered folk leaves little room for experimentation, but it consistently hits. “All You’ve Got Is Everyone” is no better or worse than expected, a new comfort-listening single from a comfort-listening band.
Must have something to do with this new Lushlife album coming out, but I’ve been nostalgic lately for the short-lived late-’00s chillwave/hip-hop crossover scene, where artists like Cities Aviv opened new doors to non-hip-hop listeners. This collab between Dublin producer Sal Dulu and Koncept Jack$on (who cropped up on this column a few months back with his Small Bills feature) reminds me of this era, with Dulu’s spacious, breezy beat providing a wide lane for Koncept to coast for nearly six minutes. I guess more contemporarily it’s like James Blake’s recent work with slowthai and Flatbush Zombies, only with both parties’ intensity level cranked way down from an aggressive ten.
I guess at this point it’s inevitable I update this project after new releases from Snacking, Sinking, and Sloping dropped in February alone. Of these three gerund-loving musicians, Sloping’s the one I’ve spent the most time with, particularly the late-album homage to Elliott Smith “Trail” in which calm acoustic and raging electric guitar converge with whirling blips that sound like a curiously out-of-place banjo at the disorienting tail end of the track’s brief two minutes. Almost entirely at odds with the record’s surrounding warmly acoustic and sepia-toned tunes, the track is a pretty chaotic whirlwind of sound even outside of its placid context.
Thee More Shallows—a rock group weird enough to momentarily join the Anticon roster in the late ’00s—quietly returned after a decade on Christmas, when a cabin-fevered David Kesler recorded a largely unpredictable cover of Miley’s “Wrecking Ball,” followed shortly after by a similarly wonky “Black Hole Sun” in January. The third track from what they’re maybe officially calling their Phone Versions EP is a take on Stone Roses’ “Waterfall,” which lands much more in echoey AnCo territory, while Kesler’s vocals more recall those of Stuart McLamb from The Love Language. Though the lyrics were what stuck with me most from Book of Bad Breaks, the creative directions this track takes feels very much in line with past releases.
Timelost, “Deep End of the Cut”
While they share a hometown and an interest in the intersection of shoegaze and punk with Nothing, Timelost’s new record requires considerably less emotional investment in its six heavy-though-still-gauzy tracks. “Deep End of the Cut” sounds like a sped up version of the same late-’90s grunge/shoegaze crossover bands Nothing pulls from, injecting elements of the pop-punk and emo scenes Philly’s quickly becoming recognized globally for.
White Suns, “Dawn Raid”
There have been plenty of releases over the past year that have recreated the anxiety and dread of that specific instant where the severity of the pandemic finally hit you—the first time a family member or friend caught COVID, the first time you went to the grocery store only to find that it was looted of pasta and toilet paper. These types of moments helped me place the specific feeling White Suns’ previous output (both as a noise rock ensemble and as a power electronics project) evokes, with their new album following suit by perfectly blending the unpredictable rock of Totem and the defibrillator electronics of Psychic Drift. “Dawn Raid” is the most uneasy cut, opening with unnerving drones that build up over an inconstant electronic drum beat over six minutes of petrifying uncertainty.