Signal Boost: 15 Tracks from October 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.

Beauty Pill, “You Need a Better Mind”

Don’t get me wrong, the recent reveal of Beauty Pill’s forthcoming EP Instant Night was a pleasant surprise—but at the same time it was hard to hear the news without getting jerked back to October 2020, a lifetime ago, and all the extreme tension that had accumulated over the course of nearly half a year of fatal uncertainty Predator–handshaking with the equally anxiety-inducing American presidential election. And while this new EP’s second single wrestles with “the scourge of American loneliness,” I feel like we all have slightly better minds at this point in time. More so than “Instant Night”—which feels a bit like a predecessor to the new Low album—“Better Mind” makes light of a heavy situation using cool not-quite-rap-rock instrumentals with a playful synth that recalls Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips. Getting a lot of a very specific type of targeted ad after searching these words on YouTube.

Blushing feat. Miki Berenyi, “Blame”

One of the coolest flexes in music is when an up-and-coming band drops a track with an artist who’s, like, the figurehead of the genre they’re tapping, like that time Crystal Castles re-released their gothy cover of the new wave-y Platinum Blond track “Not in Love” with the new wave/goth king himself, Robert Smith. Not quite as dramatic, but it still feels huge that shoegazers Blushing revealed their plans for a new album in 2022 with a lead single featuring Lush’s Miki Berenyi contributing vocals to the dreamy track. It’s a solid song without the guest vox, though the addition of Berenyi adds another welcome layer to the densely packed track—one that sure doesn’t sound dissimilar to Lush in their ’gazy prime.

Bummer Camp, “Gone Rotten”

The pop-punk-to-lo-fi-bedroom-pop pipeline is alive and well, as Teenage Halloween guitarist Eli Frank assures with their new single. It may not be as out-there as your typical Spirit of the Beehive or Wicca Phase Springs Eternal (not that you could consider either of those things “typical”), though the scrappy tune sets Frank apart from their angstier, more maximalist, and more meticulously produced main gig. If you cleaned the excess piles of scuzz off Wavves’ output prior to purchasing his first property I imagine you’d find something like this.

Drayco McCoy, “God Blocked My Phone”

I first heard Drayco buried in the back half of J.K. the Reaper’s “Z.I.P.,” but his distinct vocals—and his assertion that he was birthed out of mud like an orc—made an impression. This unique energy is in full force on his latest cloud-rap LP Half Dead Pariah, peaking with the darkly vibey “God Blocked My Phone.” The rapper’s range is on full display here, pivoting from growled flexes to the soft vulnerability of broaching the subject of unanswered prayers. The beat remains hard to read throughout, ringing equally introspective and bass-heavy.

Field of Fear, “Broken Trunk”

Between Sacred Bones dropping that fetus album and Field of Fear converting devastating evidence of the climate apocalypse into harsh sounds through a process which, to be honest, sounds way too abstract for me to comprehend, it’s either been a very weird year for experimental music or, more likely, it’s merely been a year where I’ve suddenly become aware of how weird the world of experimental music is. “Broken Trunk,” from Drew Zercoe’s new album Ashes, particularly reminds me not only of the sounds but the haunting images of Peter Tscherkassky’s film Outer Space, converting images of horror into something achieving a whole new level of unease—in this case fortifying still images of California wildfires with an artistic rendering of the sounds of a dying planet.

ginla, “Bloodstream”

On top of its video getting me hyped for the new season of John Wilson, there was something cathartic to me about the new ginla track—I may be way off base here, but this song feels like a particularly calm whirlwind of every artist I’ve ever been unable to get into despite what friends, blogs, and algorithms tell me: the nonchalant vocals of Porches, for example, or the psych-lite lounge of a saxless Alex Cameron. “Bloodstream” feels like it was made by a kindred heart who wishes they could appreciate these artists, too, but whose freak flag flies against the wind current.

Good Sport, “Big Push”

I was never an LCD Soundsystem fan back when that was a big thing (is that still a big thing?), but at this point in my life I think I could get down with the groovy weirdness of James Murphy and his band. At this point in my life, though, I’ve also read Meet Me in the Bathroom and don’t have much desire to learn more about that dude, so fortunately we have artists like Teenage Sequence and Good Sport cropping up, taking that nu-disco foundation and using it against the systems that have consistently placed such music made by rude cis white dudes at the forefront of our culture. Or, in the latter case, simply made it way weirder. “Big Push” does a good job of duplicating the synth-and-deadpan-vocals while covering equally cool subject matter as Daft Punk playing at your house: not being a big baby who’s bad at taking care of themselves. That Robert Beatty by way of Lisa Frank vid is certainly a plus, too.

How Says, “Straya”

If you know anything about my taste in music, the two things that usually do it for me are China cymbals and music videos where the band accidentally mutilates themselves in a way that slowly transitions from extremely unsettling body horror to over-the-top sight gags over the course of three minutes or so. I wasn’t really expecting that from How Says—a newly launched New York group that, despite meeting both criteria, fits neither within the realm of metal or whatever category of anxiety-attack punk PUP falls into—but “Straya” truly feels like a song that has access to my browsing history. 

KOAD feat. Asha Imuno, ICECOLDBISHOP, and JAHMED, “enuff”

It’s rare that you can get enough rappers on a single track that starts off this unhinged and have them all be able to keep up. Kicking off the posse cut with all kinds of weird mouth sounds and cadences, rapper/producer/magician (still fact-checking that third one) KOAD paves the way for Asha Imuno, JAHMED, and ICECOLDBISHOP to nail their verses—in the song’s bizarro house party video doing so in front of posters of themselves—in a tight four-and-a-half minutes. The opening minute or so may feel like a little too much, but by the track’s end it feels like just enuff.

Kowloon Walled City, “Piecework”

Kowloon Walled City holds a special place in my heart, though I’m not sure it’s something the band would be proud of if they knew it. I went through a huge Container Ships phase a few years ago, and now every time I feel at all stressed I can hear Scott Evans’ voice in my brain belting out the word “Strehhhhss” (I can’t even pinpoint which songs it’s from, as there are multiple tracks on that LP where he dramatically lets that word rip), a term that somehow feels like an apt description for the energy the record channels. I was thrilled to learn of the new LP, and though I haven’t had a sec to dive in and find all the songs where he sings about stress in this severely more stressed-out period of history nearly a decade later, I’ve been enjoying the opening title track which, even if the word doesn’t get uttered, provides a fresh soundtrack to me suddenly realizing I’m long overdue for a trip to the DMV.

Soot Sprite, “Alone Not Lonely”

One of the very few cool byproducts of the pandemic has been watching friends realize that being alone isn’t nearly as bad as they’d feared it would be. There’s always been a certain dread that comes with realizing you’ve got nothing lined up for the weekend on a Friday night, which, I think thanks to having nothing lined up for over a year, many of us have learned to make the most of this time alone, ultimately realizing the vast difference between being alone and being lonely. I really love the energy of this Soot Sprite song which covers this exact lyrical territory—albeit seemingly within the context of a relationship—while the band’s grungy dream pop does little to elicit any unnecessary pity for the narrator, instead bolstering her appeal for independence. 

Steel Tipped Dove feat. The Koreatown Oddity & billy woods, “NFT”

I love when rappers deliver an obvious pick for AOTY in the first half of the year and follow that up with, like, half a dozen victory laps in the form of incredible guest verses on their peers’ albums. Between Tyler and billy, there’s been no shortage of these in 2021, with woods most recently hopping on tracks with Open Mike Eagle, Bartees Strange, and Steel Tipped Dove, the last of whom just dropped a guest-heavy LP of grimy beats via woods’ BackwoodzStudioz. It’s Koreatown Oddity, though, who delivers one of the bleakest lines I’ve ever heard in a rap song on this track, recalling a time he caught the perpetual ball of energy that is Narduwar looking wiped in an airport.

Televangelist feat. Kool Keith & Wolfie Warship, “Leland Palmer”

Continuing in the tradition of El-P, OME, and other underground rappers invoking Twin Peaks, Kool Keith’s bars connecting depression to cosmic forces over fairly bonkers industrial glitch-hop courtesy of Televangelist and Wolfie Warship on the collaborators’ new single earns the title they’ve given it, “Leland Palmer.” While there’s no explicit reference to the series, the name provides a shorthand for the song’s uneasy feel and unpredictable soundscape, which could very conceivably make your hair go white.

Thoom, “Tony”

I’m going through a very difficult time in my life right now, which specifically has to do with the fact that I’m trying to watch The Sopranos for the first time, in the year 2021, without stumbling upon major spoilers everywhere I go, from local bar trivia to the algorithm-driven YouTube homepage. I guess another side effect of this is that the name “Tony” only means one thing to me, and when Thoom lets that name fly during the climactic choruses on her new track I only have one face in mind (am I crazy or does she even sound like Peltsin when she’s belting it out?). Hard to believe the video ends with a scene that’s too NSFW even for HBO’s standards.

Young Prisms, “Yourside”

If you’re like me and you’re over a hundred years old, you probably remember getting home from school and going online to download an absolute external hard drive’s worth of MP3s you never even got arond to listening to every single day, with most artists sharing a general sonic palette and/or words within their band names. I honestly couldn’t tell you if I’d ever jammed Young Prisms during that period, but their first single in nearly a decade feels like a waft of chillwave-scented air—not to be dramatic, but it’s probably like someone who came of age in the ’80s discovering a band on par with Cocteau Twins 20 years later. It’s an impressive feat to make dream pop that feels rooted in a specific time period that isn’t just the time period the genre was conceived in, but “Yourside” takes me back to my mom being like, “Go outside, man.”

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