Signal Boost: 15 Tracks from March 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.
Took me a minute, but by the end of 2020 I finally realized Side B to Corpus’ Mutual Aid EP was the superior release despite, at the time, being totally unfamiliar with each of the nine artists who contributed tracks to it (all of them stacked up against such NYC underground heavyweights as Show Me the Body, HOOK, and Girl Pusher). Among the contributors of these extremely diverse recordings is AceMo, who’s just released their second album alongside MoMA as—naturally—AceMoMA, blending electronic genres like drum and bass, house, jungle, glitch, and techno, the closing title track providing a satisfying distillation of everything that came before while incorporating the exhalation of somber, deflated horn samples.
Ade, “Havin’ Fun with Pharaoh”
“Having fun” is a concept we’re slowly working back into our mental calendars—like, actual fun, not overcrowded Zoom calls and virtual attempts at playing Settlers of Catan—as the seasons change and the vaccine situation finally almost seems reasonable. I suppose that means I should also shift my listening habits from black metal and whatever “death industrial” is into the type of music that eschews genre not necessarily because it blends so many disparate sounds, but because it embodies upbeat emotions instead. “Havin’ Fun with Pharaoh,” one such song, fuses country twang, late-’00s bedroom pop a la DOM, and a mild waft of hyperpop into something wholly unique—but more importantly it’s a song that sounds like fun. May we all find our own personal Pharaohs in the coming summer months.
Beachy Head, “All Gone”
While the deities of SEO have blessed this band with members picked from The Flaming Lips and Slowdive, it’s the contribution from Ryan Graveface that caught my eye. The influence of the wild card in this alt-supergroup—the Michael Cera to Christian Savill’s Nick Diamonds and Steve Clarke’s Honus Honus, if you will—can certainly be heard in the track’s eerie textures otherwise familiar to Slowdive’s shoegaze and the Lips’ psychedelia. The percussion and production seems to rear its head across the Graveface (both artist and his label of the same name) discography, settling the forthcoming debut this track arrives on alongside the label’s other spaced-out cult classics.
Deadpan Darling, “Present”
I feel like for years now I’ve been hearing (and making) jokes about how all musicians, filmmaker, and authors need to take, like, a year off from creating things just so we can all catch our breath—but now I regret inadvertently wishing the pandemic into existence. Assuming this global disaster was going to hit anyway, I guess you could look at it as a silver lining that some artists did take some time off from releasing new music, instead delivering some long-hyped releases that have been left for dead years ago into existence. One such project is the band formed by production duo Blue Sky Black Death and rapper Ceschi Ramos, a characteristically atmospheric electronic hip-hop record that peaks with a thumping closer about haunting presences. You know, like the presence of nine perfectly good studio recordings that you thought had been lost to time.
DOLLHOUSE, “The Shadow Baby”
Hard to believe we’re so far removed from the prospect of live music that an EP from a band featuring born-performers Hank Wood and Pharmakon would slip under the radar. Not to discredit the studio recordings from the Hammerheads or Margaret Chardiet—in fact, I imagine the quiet rollout of DOLLHOUSE’s first release not just called “Demo” has more to do with the band’s collective disinterest in social media. Yet The First Day of Spring is anything but quiet, with opener “The Shadow Baby” sounding like a more hardcore-leaning variation of Wood’s signature garage-rock sound, paving the way for three more tracks that could only be improved upon in a live setting.
Enumclaw, “Free Drop Billy”
Thinking back on high school, my decision to go to college in a big city eight hours away from where I’d lived all my life was, simply put, the result of not wanting to be a loser. I did feel pretty cool returning home for winter break my freshman year for an hour or so after reconnecting with friends, though it quickly became clear to me that I sounded more than a little obnoxious every time I referenced life in the big city. “Free Drop Billy” straddles this line pretty carefully—the “survival guilt,” as the band’s Aramis Johnson refers to it, and lyrics about not wanting to be a loser clash with the song’s slacker attitude, dirty grunge sound, and, most prominently, its playful sense of carelessness. It’s the burnout sounds of your friends who never left home recreated by a band with the experience of musicians constantly on the move.
Joell Ortiz, Namir Blade, Stalley, and Solemn Brigham, “Black Rock”
For most labels, a free-to-download Bandcamp sampler suffices as a marketing tool to interest listeners in sampling their full recent discography. Then there are labels like Mello that take that concept and run with it—rather than even just enlisting each of their artists to contribute a new single, Bushido sees them all weaving in and out of each other’s verses and beats, katanas swinging wildly and expertly, with the new comp listing 20 original collaborative songs. The team-rap “Black Rock” provided the first sample of what the record has to offer, serving as a promising indication that the record won’t just be one of the best rap compilations of the year, but more broadly one of the best records.
King Azaz, “Honey for Mud”
2021 seems to be the year we’ve decided to conquer capitalism with drum-heavy noise duos—just a few months after Divide and Dissolve dropped one of the biggest albums within and outside of metal, King Azaz are gearing up to channel that same crushing energy into their garage rock opus Forever Green. The second single from that album presents a fuller sound wherein Sarah Schardt’s crashing percussion pairs perfectly with the song’s grungy riffs and vocals to put to shame whoever our modern White Stripes are. I’d take this over Mudhoney any day.
Probably goes without saying that I didn’t anticipate crying while listening to the heavy-industrial collaborative album between two artists who sound like future-dystopian versions of something you might hear at Hot Topic in the mid-’00s, but here we are. According to Youth Code’s Sara Taylor, the final track on their album with King Yosef is the first love song she’s written for her musical and romantic partner Ryan George (or anyone else), blending perfectly well with the seven other angsty electro-metal compositions despite it’s unexpectedly tender lyrics. Though they’ve vowed never to play it at future live shows, that ambient-metal guitar solo would be sick to see them walk off stage to.
Lume, “False Calm”
Along with Greet Death and meth., Lume was the last band I saw before we found out about the soft apocalypse early last year, and I guess I can’t think of a better slate of artists to usher in this doomy period. Contrasting with the overstimulation of the other opening band—something of a screamo Broken Social Scene crowding onto a tiny stage—fellow Chicagoans Lume shared seemingly endless and patiently unsettling blackened post-rock tracks that nearly always erupted into the same type of madness. “False Calm,” the title track from their latest output, holds that tension for over six minutes to close out the album—a slow, uneasy denouement arriving alongside that of the pandemic.
Manslaughter 777, “What Is Joke to You Is Dead to Me”
The debut LP from Manslaughter 777—the fairly non-Bodily side-project of The Body’s Lee Buford along with MSC’s Zac Jones—covers a ton of ground. It feels like the type of moonlighting gig that permits an artist to pursue all the disparate ideas that, say, aren’t terrifying enough for your main artistic output, with World Vision Perfect Harmony mostly eschewing genre (or, when fitting neatly into one, it’s something peripheral like jungle). The meditative “Joke” is the track that stood out most to me besides the pre-album singles, likely because it retraces the steps trod by early Anticon producers like Jel and Alias—uniquely atmospheric and aggressively percussive at the same time.
MATTIE, “Human Thing”
What little info there is available about MATTIE on the page for this Leaving Records release doesn’t provide much useful context—the Dallas-based artist grew up singing gospel music in her church choir before making a hard pivot to her current role as “watchperson over the keys to liberation” through her music and visual art. “Human Thing” lends a further layer of sci-fi to this Afro-futuristic aesthetic she’s cultivated, providing snail’s-pace production (courtesy of Black Taffy) and otherworldly vocals to her colorful visuals suggesting the perspective of an extraterrestrial visitor imbibing our culture for the first time. Feels like you should dance to it, but I wouldn’t know how to start.
Before their new album was announced, I was convinced Proud Parents was a novelty band taking dad-rock to a new level—their self-titled debut record had not one but two title tracks wherein both mother and father figures vaguely extoll their childrens’ (?) virtues. Three years later, though, the Parents are back with an equally upbeat and duet-y jangle-pop jam keeping the spirit of Goodnight Loving alive without missing a beat. The only place I’d rather be than at home with proud parents is nestled in their audience.
When I’m listening to dream pop, I don’t want any of that half-assed shit—give me complete and utter transcendence of the corporeal form or give me, I dunno, aspirin. Sure there’s a case to be made for the type of dream pop that Cocteau Twins champion which modifies pop music into incomprehensible bliss, but I think I prefer the near-ambient minimalism heard on a track like “nine.” This song sounds like the “Twin Peaks Theme” guitar part, only significantly more hushed and less maudlin. I wanna say it’s like being hugged by the ghost of Vangelis, but I’d have to Google real quick to see if he’s still alive.
Thirdface, “No Relief”
After sitting around for literal months late last year waiting for some sort of economic relief in the midst of All This (when this is all over I swear this will be the official title of the pandemic), the phrase “No Relief” has certainly garnered triggering connotations for many of us. Yet Thirdface’s hardcore interpretation of these words—saving us from repeated cathartic streams of Trapped Under Ice’s now-prophetic reading—are a necessarily chaotic release to kick off 2021, with Kathryn Edwards’ gruff snarl coalescing with rampant guitar and unhinged drumming. Though perhaps not as specifically prescient a title as “Villains!” and “Legendary Suffering,” this track will likely resurface on the inevitable playlists we’ll make ten years from now to commemorate the stupid, stupid COVID era.