Signal Boost: 15 Tracks from April 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.
Andrew Hung, “Space”
I admittedly know very little about Fuck Buttons besides the fact that they’re both the #1 “Fuck” band according to a very reliable source, and that Blanck Mass connected with me much more than their droning psych ever did. I also know that the recent singles from Andrew Hung, the duo’s other faction, have little in common with their pop-eschewing formula, with “Space” serving as a, well, similarly epic take on a much different type of music. In lieu of sweet love for planet earth, Hung expresses a clear fascination with the universe beyond, with his bold, synthy, and not entirely un-New Orderly instrumentation take a dramatic, slow liftoff a ways into the dense single.
Much love to the introverts among us who’re dreaming of the day we can bust out of COVID-induced seclusion for a lengthy road trip, only to realize halfway through (probably while trying to configure a sleeping space in the cramped backseat) that we want nothing more in the world than to be back home in bed. Not quite the storyline BERWYN’s narrating in this track, but the vibe feels overly familiar—the Trinidad-born, UK-based artist paints a vivid picture of living out of his car, distant from family and memories of living comfortably. The downcast, minimal beat puts the rapper’s tired vocals at the forefront, sounding like he’s wearily reciting the chorus to himself while traversing whatever the British equivalent of Kansas is overnight.
Big|Brave, “Of This Ilk”
Seems like that monolith that mysteriously appeared last summer—and even more mysteriously stopped appearing when people began assuming it was for some sort of marketing campaign—has been spotted once again, this time between the words “Big” and “Brave” in the name of Montreal drone metal trio Big|Brave. The group’s latest LP, appropriately, contains five enormous slabs of rock, the highlight of which builds up to the release’s best head-banging (maybe more accurately: full-body lurching?) climax and a quiet ambient denouement. No sign of the extremely cool large bell that’s a percussive staple on much of the rest of Vital, unfortunately.
Body Meat, “Twigs”
Remember, like, 10 years ago when Justin Vernon started fucking around with Auto-Tune and it absolutely freaked white people out? Maybe that was just me, a white person whose concept of “good music” barely transcended the highly restricting parameters of five-piece bands whose names were preceded by the article “The.” Anyway, a decade on, vocal manipulation is unquestionably back in after a few dark decades and a mainstream revival fronted by T-Pain, and artists like Body Meat, on songs like “Twigs,” use the effect to turn a track otherwise built upon convoluted electronics into an Olympic event, with vocals pitched way up weaving in and out of vocals pitched way down—all while normal-pitched vocals robotically quaver in the most unexpected ways.
hennen, “root for”
You may recognize hennen’s vocals as those that gingerly peer out between the heavy grunge riffs of the Shady Bug discography—this project, instead, sees Hannah Rainey playing around with GarageBand instead of, you know, regular band, while processing some inevitably heavy pandemic experiences. “root for” is the intro track to Rainey’s side of the split tape it appears on, immediately proving softer than what could be expected from SB while also channeling the gruff guitar sound of Exploding in Sound labelmate Maneka, albeit a more downtempo variety.
The HIRS Collective, “Love”
My introduction to HIRS was from their holier-than-Thou appearance on a split LP buried in a year when their New Orleans sludge-metal peers released six phenomenal albums. As I’ve slowly been working my way back through Thou’s thicc discography, the new offering from HIRS collective should provide me with an equally ambitious sidequest: the track list for the Philly hardcore punks’ new record contains over a hundred songs. The first to be released ahead of The Third 100 Songs—and I’m curious to see how many pre-album singles there will be ahead of its late-June release—is a familiarly quick-and-dirty number punctuated with that phlegmy “Hyu” syllable more broadly familiar to the hardcore genre, which, in a wholesome turn of events here, is the word “love.”
Weirdly, there have been two J. Fishes in my life up to this point—the first, who I don’t know personally, being the graffiti artist Jeremy Fish, with whom Aesop Rock has collaborated on plenty of album art, and the second being Jeremy Fisher: a high school friend of my brother’s who I later found out, coincidentally, was responsible for several of my hometown’s most familiar graffiti tags. This conspiracy only continued to grow when I came across J Fisher, the moniker of another (?) Jeremy Fisher who, also coincidentally, dabbles in out-there hip-hop. While the bars on broken sp-404 x op-1 sound worlds apart from None Shall Pass—specifically, more in line with the electronic/noise of their label Deathbomb Arc than the backpack rap of Def Jux—the tripped-out, abstract sounds of “Beoke” don’t rule out the identity of an artist who knows their way around a spray can.
Material Girl feat. City Light Mosaic, “We Both Know It’s True”
On the opposite end of the newly explored prog-hip-hop spectrum from Travis Scott—who seems to have brought the concept to the rap mainstream in a more structurally reverent manner than just sampling King Crimson—lies Material Girl, whose cryptic discography is full of curious moments, such as this 12-minute track containing a spacious interlude entirely made up of increasingly high-pitched beeps and distant, barely audible droning. On either disparate end of those ambient sounds, though, the track balances upbeat raps over clanging percussion and somber, glitched-out electronics. It’s just three of many left-turns on the producer’s latest tape.
Our Future Is an Absolute Shadow, “The Most Important Lesson That I Learned in School Occurred When My Marketing Professor Broke Down and Wept in the Middle of Class”
In recent years, Zegema Beach has unquestionably become the most reliable source for a variety of shouty post-hardcore and screamo—I get emails from the label’s Bandcamp account at least once a week announcing a new release, which is almost always Boost-able. The April highlight overlays shrieking vocals upon instrumentation that sounds like a more aggressive (and less epic) Cult of Luna, packaged with a track title that feels like an exaggeration of a song name from a Dan Barrett project. As is the case just about anytime a new ZB release drops, I couldn’t tell you much more about the artist.
PACKS, “New TV”
A lot of time spent in quarantine means a lot of time spent in front of a TV screen, which means, for me at least, a lot of time spent thinking about what it would look like to someone watching me stare at what is essentially a piece of furniture for hours on end, and the resulting range of facial expressions it elicits. This idea seems to be one of the themes unpacked in PACKS’s “New TV” video, as we watch an incredibly comfy Madeline Link’s emotional reactions to a fixed but unseen item in front of her while her non-diegetic voice sings with the energy of someone lazing out for the umpteenth day while awaiting the CDC’s go-ahead for her to hit the road with her band again. It feels a bit lazy to label it slacker rock, but I can’t think of a better term for a song about cathodic indolence.
Shad feat. pHoenix Pagliacci, “Out of Touch”
Last we heard from Shad, the Canadian emcee was building elaborate worlds for an intricately woven LP covering all sorts of heavy and increasingly relevant themes. This month—in addition to popping up on the new J. PERIOD record—the rapper dropped a breezy single introducing the next chapter of his career. While spelling out our responsibility to be a functioning member of society in a moment when we’ll soon be returning to something resembling a functioning society, the heavy bass and contrastingly sunny piano blend with pHoenix Pagliacci’s not un-Bitte Orca-like backing vocals. As always, Shad’s breathless flow holds the whole thing together.
Shady Nasty, “Ibiza”
Assuming something like 1998’s Bug’s Life vs. Antz rivalry was the result of competing studios racing to release their take on an idea that was floating around Hollywood, I like to point to the year 1993, where, inexplicably, there were three conceptually similar movies outside of the major studio system about misperception of a character’s gender (The Crying Game (1992, technically), M. Butterfly, and Farewell My Concubine, for those keeping track at home). All this to say, it felt this exact type of peculiar to hear the new Shady Nasty track not only immediately replicate the Black Midi-esque projection of what-the-fuck-am-I-listening-to, but also hearing the track’s thematic ties to bodybuilding (“Bodybuilders with their fat-fuck cars,” Kevin Stathis chants a couple times), with a corresponding figure in the video conceivably stepping off the set of the most recent video from The Armed. Damn, maybe Kanye was right.
Of all the lyrics penned in quarantine, I can’t help but feel like “I watched you gradually get dumber every day” is the one that’s resonated with me most so far—I’ve watched The Mask (1994) twice since last March, while my free month of Criterion Channel has long ago past its expiration date. As the title of Gulfer vocalist Vincent Ford’s new solo record posits, the single “Jenny” is more than a little loser-friendly, cramming the grungy track full of catchy pop hooks made attractive to listeners as apathetic as Ford’s vocals make him sound.
Tape Deck Mountain, “Screen Savior”
Tape Deck Mountain are a heavy dream pop band in the same way Spiritualized is a heavy dream pop band—their sound is so space-y it feels less like a dream and more like a celestial reality. While the album art for their new record True Deceiver looks like it may lean toward Jason Pierce’s unique sphere of creativity, the album’s opener immediately places it in a category more familiar to Hum and the revival of strong-armed shoegaze last year’s Inlet brought with it. Not to mention the malapropist title “Screen Savior” and its repetition of the phrase “screen-filled sanctuary,” which root it firmly in the living rooms of this planet.
In a post six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon world, it only takes one connecting point to tie psych-revivalists-turned-radio-darlings Portugal. The Man to Afrofuturist hip-hop figurehead Ishmael Butler. Alaskan alt-R&B newcomer Ya Tseen enlisted both artists for his debut album, with the latter bringing along co-conspiring emcee Stas THEE Boss for something of a sequel to her verses on a pair of 2020 Shabazz singles. “Synthetic Gods” imitates the uneasy space-rap of Don of Diamond Dreams, with Tseen’s production rerouting it for more of an apocalyptic, tech-noir opus. On the surface it’s something of a far cry from the smooth electronics of India Yard’s PTM cameo, but surely no less than one degree separated.