Signal Boost: 15 Tracks from May 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.
Alien Boy, “Stuck (Radio Mix)”
It’s been an interesting couple of years learning to recontextualize a number of my favorite artists outside the context of a certain label they once released most if not all of their music through, which effectively—and dramatically—shuttered at the end of 2019 with—apparently—a ton of incredible music still in the pipeline. Alien Boy is the latest of these artists to reveal their new label home, popping out their first new single since 2018’s Sleeping Lessons via Philly’s most inclusive punk label Get Better Records with “Stuck” elevating their characteristic fusion of shoegaze and emo to less discernible levels with the help of Jack Shirley. I don’t think any of us was truly ready to hear the lyric “Another new year stuck inside / But I’ve been stuck here all my life.”
BirdsFlyStoned, “All Chrome”
I feel like ever since Tyler, the Creator started dressing like white peoples’ most racist relative, rap culture has been successfully mining new territory previously off limits. Logically, after RMR reclaimed country from the Morgan Wallen–ification of the genre, BirdsFlyStoned’s new single and accompanying video taps into redneck tropes like camo pants, Natty Ice, and ATVs (basically all the white people virtues Das Racist missed in “hahahaha jk?”). The result is about as catchy as “Old Town Road” with the visual doing much more than the lyrics to hammer in the aesthetic (the song is mostly just about getting really, really, really stoned). Between this and JPEGMAFIA’s recent Instagram photoshoots, it’s long past time we drop the word “urban” from any association to rap.
Engine Kid, “Angel Dust”
As someone who’s yet to dive into the slim Engine Kid discography (or the considerably thicker discography of all things Greg Anderson), I can certainly get excited about the release of an archival recording of a 1994 single from a band that, based on this recording, seemingly served as the primary source of inspiration for Jason Reece’s vocals and drumming on the early Trail of Dead records. I guess finding out who your favs are ripping off is all a part of growing up.
The Glow, “Heavy Glow”
More bands should tell you exactly what you’re getting into with their song titles when it goes against the norm—like when Phoebe Bridgers goes synthpop I think it would be helpful if her first single was called, like, “Upbeat Phoebe” to let her fans know what’s up. That said, I guess I don’t need to tell you that one of the two new singles from LVL UP offshoot The Glow takes a fairly heavy turn, though instead of stoner rock or metalcore it’s a fairly Glow-like “heavy”: seven minutes of noodling, distortive guitar that almost feels collaboratively improv-y at points even outside of the wailing guitar’s feral wandering. Hoping for a full Heavy Glow EP, if not a Feral Glow LP.
Hellish Form, “Shadows with Teeth”
I’ve done an incredibly bad job of keeping up with metal this year, and I feel like this column has suffered for it—right now I’m getting really into the Body Void album, though since it’s too late to Boost it I’m gonna recommend the forthcoming LP from their offshoot band Hellish Form, which duplicate the 10-plus-minute, vast-open-spaces doom metal and sluggish vocal meltdowns of Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth, if the example of lead single “Shadows with Teeth” is to be followed. If you can’t get into speed metal, and you really love those YouTube videos that are like “Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ slowed down 800%,” this may just be for you.
Been thinking a lot this past month about the long overdue convergence of hip-hop and rock music that went down at the beginning of the 2010s and how that’s fueled some of the best contemporary rap, and I feel like that discussion isn’t complete without Ivy Sole. I don’t know that it could quite be considered the urtext of guitar-based hip-hop, but Ivy’s 2016 single “All Mine” felt like a watershed moment for the genre, and everything that followed—not to mention her more traditionally beat-based intermissions, like last year’s lojii collab—has built on that foundation. Her latest single “Dangerous” is a much more languorous track, with a minimal (if not slightly jarring) accompaniment to her opening verse and Kingsley Ibeneche’s bars soundtracked by R&B electric guitar strums. Probably not what Lil Wayne had in mind when he wrote Rebirth, but maybe that’s for the best.
Izzy True, “New Fruit”
I always think about that episode of It’s Always Sunny where Charlie reveals that he’s never had a pear before. It’s a plot point that reinforces the ferality of his character, but I feel like the way the gang (as well as the audience) reacts to this information also illustrates the way people react when you tell them, say, you’ve never listened to OK Computer all the way through before—viewing it as some sort of sociopathic trait rather than an opportunity to encourage someone to enjoy something new relatively late in their lives. It’s this sense of ecstasy that’s captured in Izzy True’s “New Fruit,” whether the subject matter of the song is actually fruit or any other life experience (you know, like wielding a cool new sword for the first time, possibly to dice up some of those new fruits). I’m fully onboard for the wholesome grunge revival.
Jorge Elbrecht, “Fading Memory”
I’ve only known the name “Jorge Elbrecht” from the liner notes of some of my favorite releases by No Joy and SRSQ, but I guess that name recognition, combined with the very relatable immediate-post-pandemic album title Presentable Corpse 002 was enough to get me hooked on the Captured-Tracks-circa-2011-by-way-of-whatever-The-Fresh-&-Onlys-were-up-to-at-that-time jangle pop of “Fading Memory.” This specifically sounds like the type of song I’d hear on one of those Urban Outfitters LSTN comps, like, a month after I found it myself and would get extremely defensive about it. Which, to be clear, is a high compliment.
Lucid Express, “Hollowers”
I guess if you squint you could say the latest Lucid Express single has a direct connection to My Bloody Valentine, though if you look at the small print that credit comes through the guest spot on “Hollowers” from Bilinda Butchers’ Adam Honingford, who, confusingly, plays guitar in a dream pop band named after the core member of MBV. But to fast track that connection a bit, the single feels wholly worthy of existing in the same speaker-rattling venue as the godparents of the genre, with the track’s spaced-out intro continually giving way to more and more layers of guitar sounds in turns soothing and intense. Maybe someday someone will pay it forward and name their dream pop band after one of the members of the Hong Kong five piece.
Pet Fox, “Imagine Why”
Hearing “Imagine Why” checked all the boxes for that incredibly rare phenomenon of A) finding out about a release by an artist I’ve never heard of immediately before it drops which B) I’m instantly excited about due to certain band members being involved and yet which C) has the hype level set exponentially higher when I actually hear the track. If you recognize the word “Volvo” in a rearview mirror you’re probably already on this train—but for those of you typing the word out backwards letter by letter on a Google Doc, just know that punky grunge hasn’t sounded this good since 2018.
Poise, “Walked Through Fire”
I dunno if there’s a better way of getting folks hyped for your new music than to dump an energetic, immediately catchy, 90-second single that repeatedly promises to show the audience what you’re capable of. That, specifically, is what “Walked Through Fire” is all about—the first single from Poise’s debut album, which gives off a this-person-has-almost-certainly-walked-through-fire vibe I haven’t heard since Angel’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we’re listening.
Provoker, “Spell Strike”
By all accounts, 2020 was the year of Bartees Strange. With Live Forever in the rearview, the artist has popped up on a number of remixes and guest spots since then, though his genre-diffusing influence already seems to be bleeding into various pockets of the underground. Whether LA new-wavers Provoker are riding that wave or cruising alongside it, “Spell Strike” is a fascinating sci-fi adaptation of that rock-leaning cluster of genre characterized by a cool, near-falsetto vocal. Damn, I’d love to play a PlayStation game based on the video.
Sonny & the Sunsets, “Ring My Bell”
There was definitely a period in my life when Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees were my favorite artists (approximately the same time these artists could be trusted to release albums as “Ty Segall” and “Thee Oh Sees” respectively)—but as with a childhood friendship, the years that followed saw us drifting apart as I think I can safely say their musical palates and palettes became more refined, while mine, uh, went in a direction that didn’t include jazz improv, Krautrock, and glam. On the other hand, there was always something consistent—while not repetitive—about the music coming out of the less-overpowering amp of their Bay Area peer Sonny Smith, who with or without his Sunsets has remained a fixture of the scene for two decades. “Ring My Bell” fits firmly within this tradition—although lyrically heartbroken, the first taste of the new Sunsets album is a short and sweet invitation to the new day and, therefore, new possibilities that lie ahead told through booming piano keys, steel pedal, and Smith’s ever welcoming vocals.
Wednesday, “Handsome Man”
One of the weirdest parts about coming out of The Year of Being Inside is remembering all the dumb little things that you haven’t thought about in 15 months or so: convening outside of the Big K for some reason, sharing a Ring Pop, sneakily trying to get a glimpse of the back of someone’s dated NBA jersey to see whose name is on it, catching an opening band that’s just as good, if not better, than the artist you came to see. All of those, sure, yeah, mostly pretty specific memories came flooding back to me upon watching the video for Wednesday’s first single from their new album, with the last one really making me wish I’d stuck around for a Speedy Ortiz set at some free Chicago street festival circa 2014, as well as making me eager to hear what else the band has in store. Oh, it’s a Ron Artest jersey, by the way.
Yoo Doo Right, “The Moral Compass of a Self-Driving Car”
With all due respect to Explosions in the Sky, I love a post-rock album which, 15 minutes in, you’re still not really sure what’s in store. For those who missed the single when it dropped a little while back, it comes as a bit of a shock on the fourth track of the new Yoo Doo Right album when vocals enter the mix for the first time, adding yet another disorienting dimension to the already-dizzying mix of heavy psych, Krautrock, space rock, and shoegaze swirling around a familiar post-rock base. What feels like a lengthy comedown after the album’s first act of course launches into hectic climax five minutes or so into the tune, keeping with Don’t Think You Can Escape Your Purpose’s roller coaster structure. If anyone remembers Ten Kens, I get huge self-titled energy from this album.