Jul 09, 2021
By Mark Redfern
Welcome to the 26th Songs of the Week of 2021. The American music industry pretty took Monday off due to Sunday’s July 4th holiday, so we expected slimmer pickings this week. It was not to be, thanks for some exciting album announcements. We settled on a Top 11 this week.
In the last week we also reviewed a bunch of albums.
Don’t forget that in April we announced our new print issue. The issue features Japanese Breakfast and HAIM on the two covers and is another edition of The Protest Issue, which examines the intersection of music and politics and features musicians photographed with protest signs of their own making. It follows Protest Issues we also published in 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016.
To help you sort through the multitude of fresh songs released in the last week, we have picked the 11 best the last week had to offer, along with highlighting other notable new tracks shared in the last seven days. Check out the full list below.
1. Courtney Barnett: “Rae Street”
On Wednesday Courtney Barnett announced a new album, Things Take Time, Take Time, and shared its first single, “Rae Street,” via an amusing video where Barnett plays multiple characters. Things Take Time, Take Time is due out November 12 via Mom + Pop Music/Marathon Artists. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art, as well as her upcoming North American tour dates, here.
At first “Rae Street” is a fairly unassuming song, but closer attention to the lyrics reveal that Barnett’s trademark wit and keen sense of human observation both remain in full force, as she paints a portrait of life on a street.
She also works in some pointed statements: “Light a candle for the suffering/Send my best wishes with the wind/All our candles, hopes n prayers, though well-meaning they don’t mean a thing/Unless we see some change/I might change my sheets today.”
Things Take Time, Take Time was written over a two-year period and was recorded in Sydney, Northern NSW, and Melbourne in late 2020/early 2021 with the aid of Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa (who is also Australian and also worked with Kurt Vile, John Grant, Cate Le Bon, The xx, and others). W.A.M. Bleakley directed the “Rae Street” video.
A press release hypes up the album this way: “Things Take Time, Take Time is yet another assured leap forward for Barnett; a breakthrough really, but not in the ways you might expect. This is Barnett at her most creative and adventurous—an exquisite look at Courtney’s private world, and consequently her most beautiful and intimate record to date, with songs dealing unabashedly with love, renewal, healing and self-discovery.”
2. The Goon Sax: “Desire”
Australian trio The Goon Sax released a new album, Mirror II, today via Matador, their first for the label. On Thursday they shared its third and final pre-release single, “Desire,” via a video for the new song. The song features lead vocals from the band’s Riley Jones. Eddie Whelan directed the video, which features Jones in a teenaged bedroom and with a dog, as well as the other band members flying. The crisp production really sells “Desire,” along with the interplay between the lead and backing vocals.
The trio also features Louis Forster and James Harrison. Previously they shared the album’s first single, “In the Stone,” via a video for it. “In the Stone” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then they shared its second single, “Psychic,” via a video for the song, which was also one of our Songs of the Week.
Jones had this to say about the new single in a press release: “When I wrote ‘Desire,’ I lived with James and Louis in a share house in Paddington, Brisbane called Fantasy Planet. Technically, it was written out like “$ ◇ a Planet.” It was my friend Tim Green’s reference to the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. In my basic understanding of the way Lacan theorized fantasy, desire is founded upon a lack. The diamond (◇) represents all the ways we relate to a lost object: everything above, below, around, more than, less than, with, without, in spite of, and because of it. The cause of our desire is a gap that we are always trying to fill, even while it constantly evades us.
“‘Desire’ is complex. Unconscious attachments hang on invisible threads. Fantasies and daydreams emerge, dangerous hallucinations cause reckless actions, misremembrance causes total distortion. I think that’s why we have to resort to symbols to express it. This song is my symbol (◇). I wanted it to feel as expansive as a Les Rallizes Dénudés song— to reverberate beneath waters that flood all the crevices of the earth, to leave no gap unfilled and I wanted it to be as universal as one of those crushing Elvis songs—so poignant that its sentiment seems to ring out forever, just like ‘Desire.’”
Mirror II is the band’s third album and the follow-up to 2018’s We’re Not Talking, which was released by Wichita.
John Parish (Aldous Harding, PJ Harvey) produced the album, which was recorded in Bristol, England at Invada Studios (which is owned by Geoff Barrow of Portishead and Beak>). Since their last album, Forster moved to Berlin and worked in a cinema, while Jones and Harrison formed a post-punk side-project, Soot.
“The first two albums are inherently linked,” said Forster in a previous press release. “They had three-word titles; they went together. This one definitely felt like going back to square one and starting again, and that was really freeing.”
“We lived in a shared house together, this tiny little Queenslander we called ‘Fantasy Planet,’ where we wrote the album,” Jones explained of the album’s genesis. “We were able to go to each other’s rooms and say anything that came to mind and go to the practice room three times a week. It was pretty intense.”
Of the album title, Jones added: “I was reading The Philosophy of Andy Warhol the other day. He said something so perfect… ‘I’m sure I’m going to look in the mirror and see nothing. People are always calling me a mirror, and if a mirror looks into a mirror, what is there to see?’ The name [Mirror II] was totally arbitrary to begin with, but it became about reflecting on reflection: we all get so influenced by each other. You find other people who show you yourself, who you are.”
Influences on the album cited in the press release run the gamut and include HTRK, Young Marble Giants, Stereolab, The Motels, Justin Beiber, Les Rallizes Dénudés, Keiji Haino, Kylie Minogue, The Walker Brothers, Jandek, Felt, and Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett.
“I got into Syd Barrett’s lyrics because they were hazy, relatable and honest but up in the air. That’s how I felt,” said Harrison. “I was experiencing romantic love for the first time, it felt out of my control, and there’s something about Syd Barrett’s lyrics… it doesn’t just come from inside us; it is the moments that are happening to us as well.”
3. Strand of Oaks: “Galacticana”
First thing this morning, Strand of Oaks (the project of Timothy Showalter) announced a new album, In Heaven, and shared its first single, “Galacticana.” He also announced some tour dates. In Heaven is due out on October 1 on Showalter’s own Galacticana Records via Thirty Tigers. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art, as well as the tour dates, here.
In Heaven is the follow-up to 2019’s acclaimed Eraserland, which came out via Dead Oceans and was one of our Top 100 Albums of 2019. The majority of My Morning Jacket (Carl Broemel, Bo Koster, Patrick Hallahan, and Tom Blankenship) backed up Showalter on Eraserland.
In Heaven was recorded with Kevin Ratterman (who also played drums on it) at Invisible Creature in Los Angeles, in October 2020. My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel and Bo Koster returned on guitars and keyboards respectively. Cedric LeMoyne (Alanis Morrissette, Remy Zero) played bass, with Scott Moore on violin. James Iha of The Smashing Pumpkins guests on one song, contributing vocals and guitar to “Easter.”
It is the first Strand of Oaks album since Showalter moved to Austin and since he got sober.
Showalter had this to say in a press release: “In Heaven was created with so much love and my greatest hope is that it connects with people and provides a momentary space for reflection, joy, catharsis and whatever else someone might be looking for in their life. Music is magic and I feel like the luckiest person in the world that I’m allowed to share it.”
4. Damon Albarn: “Polaris”
Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz is releasing a new solo album, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, on November 12 via Transgressive. On Tuesday he shared its second single, the horn-backed “Polaris.” He also shared a separate video where he performs the song live with his backing band. Check out both below.
Previously Albarn shared the album’s first single, title track “The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows.”
Albarn’s last solo album was 2014’s Everyday Robots, but since then he’s been busy with a variety of projects. The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows was initially intended to be an orchestral piece inspired by the landscape of Iceland but was reworked into a solo album during the pandemic lockdown. A previous press release said the album explores “themes of fragility, loss, emergence, and rebirth” and that its title is taken from a John Clare poem Love and Memory.
Albarn also said: “I have been on my own dark journey while making this record and it led me to believe that a pure source might still exist.”
5. Nation of Language: “Wounds of Love”
Nation of Language consists of Ian Devaney (vocals, guitar, and percussion), Aidan Noell (synth and vocals), and Michael Sue-Poi (bass).
Devaney had this to say about the new song in a press release: “‘Wounds of Love’ is a song about getting caught in a mental feedback loop when a relationship ends. It’s an endless inner argument—wanting to move on defiantly, but feeling utterly lost about how to do it when the other person has informed so much about how you see yourself. For every bit of progress there’s just as much retreating, and eventually it seems like this back-and-forth becomes the new root of your identity—still tied to the same person, just without them actually being there.
“During its creation, the song was really born out of the main riff—I was experimenting with synth sounds and delay pedals, trying to find something that felt kind of like ‘Man Machine’-era Kraftwerk, and this simple melody just flowed out. At first the urge was to go very robotic with it, but a laid-back groove fell into place and gave everything a really warm, spacey, stoned feeling, which felt like it amplified the emotional haze that the song deals with.
“Later, when it came time to make a visual to accompany the song, the aim was to capture some of the ways people attempt to navigate moving past those major heartbreaks. Throwing oneself into tactile tasks seemed like a fitting arena to explore. To watch someone quietly working a craft with their hands, taking their time and allowing themselves to focus in a way that hopefully quiets the mind and blocks everything else out can be incredibly calming and hypnotic. Whether at a professional level or just channeling energy into a personal hobby, there’s a lot of power in having a pursuit that requires attention and finesse. Tying that profound, resilient kind of calm to the song in a way that is not so present within the lyrics feels like a great companion to the track itself—adding a glimpse of a way out of the feedback.”
A Way Forward is the band’s sophomore album and the follow-up to 2020’s debut album, Introduction, Presence. That album came out in May 2020, as the pandemic was really taking off. “We’ve always been real believers in our live show as the best way to reach new people,” Devaney said in a previous press release. “When it became clear there wouldn’t be any touring, we were sure it was a death knell for the album.” Instead, the album received much acclaim (including landing on our Top 100 Albums of the 2020 list).
Abe Seiferth (who worked on Introduction, Presence) and Nick Milhiser of Holy Ghost! both produced A Way Forward.
6. Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine: “Reach Out”
Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine have teamed up and on Wednesday they announced a new collaborative album together, A Beginner’s Mind, and shared two songs from it, “Reach Out” and “Olympus.” The former was shared via a VHS-shot video featuring their dogs Joku and Charlie and that’s the song that makes the main list. We truly could’ve gone either way on which song we liked best, but “Olympus” makes our honorable mention list below.
A Beginner’s Mind is due out September 24 via Asthmatic Kitty. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.
Stevens is based in New York, De Augustine lives in Thousand Oaks, CA. Both artists are already on Asthmatic Kitty and the album came together during a month long songwriting retreat between the two of them in a friend’s Upstate New York cabin. At the end of each day they’d watch a movie to unwind and the movies started to inform their songwriting, so much so that the songs on A Beginner’s Mind are each loosely based on a film.
“Reach Out” was reportedly inspired by Wim Wenders’ 1987 classic of German cinema, Wings of Desire.
A press release describes the album in more detail: “The resulting album is 14 songs (loosely) based on (mostly) popular films—highbrow, lowbrow and everything in between. They wrote in tandem—one person writing a verse, the other a chorus, churning out chord progressions and lyrics willy-nilly, often finishing each other’s sentences in the process. Rigorous editing and rewriting ensued. The results are less a ‘cinematic exegesis’ and more a “rambling philosophical inquiry” that allows the songs to free-associate at will. Plot-points, scene summaries, and leading characters are often displaced by esoteric interpolations that ask the bigger question: what does it mean to be human in a broken world?
“Stevens and De Augustine wrote everything with a deliberate sense of shoshin—the Zen Buddhist concept for which the record is named and an idea that empowered the pair to look for and write about unlikely inspiration without preconceived notions of what a film had to say (The I-Ching and Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies also served as incentives along the way). The movies became rhetorical prompts, with the songwriters letting their distinct reactions and creative instincts govern their process. The underlying objective was empathy and openness, absent of judgment: to observe with the eyes of a child.”
For the project’s artwork they commissioned Ghanaian artist Daniel Anum Jasper. In his home country in the late ’80s films were often viewed via mobile cinema screenings out of the back of pickup trucks and were advertised via newly illustrated movie posters, with the artists often given not much information about each film. Jasper was one such artist and was asked to work in this style again. His artwork appears on the cover of both the album and three 7-inches singles from the album.
7. Teleman: “Right As Rain”
On Wednesday England’s Teleman announced Sweet Morning, a new EP produced by Al Doyle and Joe Goddard of Hot Chip, and shared its first single, “Right As Rain,” via a video for it. Sweet Morning is due out November 5 via Moshi Moshi. Check out the EP’s tracklist and the band’s upcoming tour dates, here.
“It was important just to get some new music out sooner rather than later,” says Teleman singer/guitarist Thomas Sanders in a press release. “Making an EP felt like we could be more spontaneous and try things out without the pressure and expectation surrounding an album release. So it was a more fun experience I’d say.”
Of working with Doyle and Goddard, Sanders says: “They created a super relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere to work in, it was all about experimentation and fun. We’ve been mutual admirer’s of each others’ bands for quite some time so it seemed to us like a really good pairing.”
Sweet Morning is the follow-up to 2018’s third album, Family of Aliens, and 2016’s sophomore effort, Brilliant Sanity. Since then keyboardist Jonny Sanders has left the band to focus on his film and design work, but they are still on good terms (he directed the “Right As Rain” video). That leaves them as a trio, with Peter Cattermoul and Hiro Amamiya. “The fact we’ve lost a member forced us to be a bit more flexible and open about how we approach playing the songs,” says Sanders. “You have to try and turn events like this around and make them work for not against you.”
Of “Right As Rain,” Sanders says: “I felt especially over lockdown like life was becoming an endless series of little vignettes of short lived moments of pleasure punctuating a weird void. I think quite a few other people felt the same way and I hope people can relate to it.”
Read our 2013 interview with Teleman.
8. Hayden Thorpe: “The Universe Is Always Right”
On Tuesday Hayden Thorpe, formerly the singer for British art-rockers Wild Beasts, announced a new solo album, Moondust For My Diamond, and shared its first single, “The Universe Is Always Right,” via a Tom Haines-directed video for it. Moondust For My Diamond is due out October 15 via Domino. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.
Moondust For My Diamond is Thorpe’s second solo album. He worked on the album with producer Nathan Jenkins (aka Bullion) as we as long-time collaborator Richard Formby. Heba Kadry mastered it.
In a press release, Thorpe says with Moondust For My Diamond he was interested in “the meeting point between science and religion, the grand struggle for reality that shapes so much of our time.”
He adds: “What about nature? What about the cosmos? What about all these things that break through the tyranny of the self? Our sense organs bring the world inside of us after all, I just had to sing it back out. I was enchanted again with the mystery of science and how I might speak from the heart in an age where metric is gospel.”
Thorpe released his debut solo album, Diviner, in May 2019 via Domino (stream it here). In September 2019, Thorpe shared a brand new song, “Full Beam,” that was recorded during the sessions for Diviner but didn’t make the final tracklist (it was one of our Songs of the Week). In May 2020, Thorpe and Hot Chip founding member Joe Goddard teamed up for a new single, “Unknown Song,” which was also one of our Songs of the Week. Then in October 2020 he released the Aerial Songs EP, which featured the single “Blue Crow” (again on our Songs of the Week list).
In 2017 Wild Beasts announced their breakup in a typed up statement, signed by the band and posted to Instagram. That was followed by a final EP, Punk Drunk and Trembling, three farewell concerts in February 2018, and a final album, February 2018’s live in the studio release Last Night All My Dreams Came True (which featured new interpretations of songs from across their catalogue).
9. Ducks Ltd.: “18 Cigarettes”
This week Toronto-based duo Ducks Ltd. announced their debut full-length album, Modern Fiction, and shared its first single, “18 Cigarettes,” via a video for it. Modern Fiction is due out October 1 via Carpark. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.
The band features Evan Lewis on lead guitar and Tom Mcgreevy on vocals and rhythm guitar.
Producer James Cecil (The Goon Sax, Architecture in Helsinki) put finishing touches on the album and Carpark labelmates The Beths did backing harmonies on three of the album’s songs. “18 Cigarettes” features Eliza Neimi on cello.
A press release says “18 Cigarettes” was loosely inspired by a 1997 Oasis performance of “Don’t Go Away.”
“The thing I came to love about the song after watching that performance over and over again is that it’s a song that kind of tells on itself,” says McGreevy in a press release. “It’s a really raw emotional expression from someone whose capacity to talk about their feelings is stunted and they’re cut up about it. ‘18 Cigarettes’ is kind of an attempt to do a different version of what that song does.”
Ali Vanderkruyk directed the “18 Cigarettes” video.
10. Amen Dunes: “Feel Nothing” (Feat. Sleaford Mods)
This week Amen Dunes (aka Damon McMahon) teamed up with British duo Sleaford Mods (Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn) for a new song, “Feel Nothing.” It is his first single for Sub Pop, which have just announced they’ve signed Amen Dunes.
The song was recorded in Los Angeles with co-producer Ariel Rechtshaid and mixed by Craig Silvey. It follows his acclaimed 2018 album, Freedom, which was released on Scared Bones.
Sleaford Mods released a new album, Spare Ribs, back in January via Rough Trade. Previously Sleadord Mods shared Spare Ribs’ first single, “Mork N Mindy,” via a video for it. The song and video featured Billy Nomates and was one of our Songs of the Week. Then they shared another song from the album, “Shortcummings,” via a video for it. Finally they shared one last pre-release single from it, “Nudge It,” via a video for the track. Both the song and video feature Amy Taylor of Australian punks Amyl and the Sniffers and it was one of our Songs of the Week.
11. The Boo Radleys: “A Full Syringe and Memories of You”
Britpop band The Boo Radleys, who in 1995 hit #1 on the UK album charts with their fourth album, Wake Up!, returned on Thursday with “A Full Syringe and Memories of You,” their first new song in 23 years. The current lineup doesn’t feature founding guitarist/songwriter Martin Carr, but original members Sice (aka Simon Rowbottom, guitar/vocals), Tim Brown (bass/guitar/keyboards), and Rob Cieka (drums) all return.
The Boo Radleys, named after a character in To Kill a Mockingbird, last released music with their underrated final album, 1998’s Kingsize. The band had formed a decade earlier, in 1988, releasing their first album, Ichabod and I, in 1990. The band released the rest of their albums on Creation and found critical success with their third album, 1993’s Giant Steps. Initially they were associated with the shoegaze movement, but fans of Britpop embraced them, in part due to their upbeat single “Wake Up! Boo,” which made it to #9 on the UK singles chart in 1995. Such mainstream success was a bit short-lived—1996’s C’mon Kids made it to #20 on the UK album charts, but Kingsize only got as high as 62. The band split up in early 1999. Carr went on to release several albums as Bravecaptain.
“A Full Syringe and Memories of You” is promised to be included on an upcoming new EP, with a new album and a tour also in the works. So this is a full-on reunion, not a one-off single.
Sice had this to say in a press release: “‘A Full Syringe and Memories of You’ tackles the religious hypocrisy that privileges the longevity of life above all other measures of worth and seeks to redress the distorted view that life is always worth living whatever the cost.”
These songs almost made the Top 11. We were tempted to put Angel Olsen’s cover of Laura Branigan’s 1982 disco classic “Gloria,” from her freshly announced Aisles 1980s covers EP, in the main list, but we almost never include covers there, so we’ve put it as an honorable mention.
Deafheaven: “The Gnashing”
Angel Olsen: “Gloria” (Laura Branigan Cover)
Sufjan Stevens: “Olympus”
Wednesday: “One More Last One”
Other notable new tracks in the last week include:
Amyl and the Sniffers: “Guided by Angels”
Natalie Bergman & Beck: “You’ve Got a Woman” (Lion Cover)
Dave: “Clash” (Feat. Stormzy)
Billie Eilish: “NDA”
Peggy Gou: “I Go”
David Grubbs & Ryley Walker: “The Madman From Massachusetts In An Empty Bar”
Jim James: “Seasons” (Steve Miller Band Cover)
Maral: “On Your Way” (Feat. Panda Bear)
Moor Mother: “Obsidian” (Feat. Pink Siifu)
Jack Name & Aoife Nessa Frances: “Watching the Willows Burn”
Sneaker Pimps: “Squaring the Circle” and “Fighter”
Laura Stevenson: “Don’t Think About Me”
John Vanderslice: “Taverns of the Neo Subcortex”