Jun 04, 2021
By Mark Redfern (with Emma Goad)
Welcome to the 21st Songs of the Week of 2021. We figured it would be a quiet week for new songs, with Monday being a holiday here in America, but we were wrong. Helping matters was that two of the best albums of the year thus far—Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee and Wolf Alice’s Blue Weekend—were released today, giving us a multitude of songs to choose from. Add in a cool collaboration and an interesting debut single and you’ve got a fantastic Songs of the Week list. So good, that we’re back in expanded Top 12 territory this week (as opposed to our usual Top 10, and we really don’t know how some other sites narrow it down each week to a Top 5).
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 12 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. Japanese Breakfast: “Posing For Cars”
Japanese Breakfast (aka Michelle Zauner) released a new album, Jubilee, today via Dead Oceans (stream it here). Now that it’s out, we can include on this week’s Songs of the Week one of our favorite songs from it, epic album closer “Possing For Cars.” This is how every album should end, with a steady build to a cathartic conclusion. And when that guitar solo starts at around the 3:48 mark we challenge you not to get goosebumps. And then it just keeps going for almost another three minutes. Well played Zauner, well played.
Japanese Breakfast is on the cover of our latest print issue (buy a copy directly from us here to read the in-depth cover story). Also, on Wednesday we posted our rave review of the album (read that here).
When Jubilee was announced Zauner shared its first single, “Be Sweet” (which was #1 on our Songs of the Week), and would later go on to perform it on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Then she shared a self-directed video for the album’s second single “Posing in Bondage,” which was also #1 on our Songs of the Week list. Then she shared its third single, “Savage Good Boy,” via a self-directed video in which she co-starred with actor Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos. “Savage Good Boy” was #2 on our Songs of the Week list.
In a previous press release, Zauner had this to say about her new album: “I’ve never wanted to rest on any laurels. I wanted to push it as far as it could go, inviting more people in and pushing myself as a composer, a producer, an arranger.”
In April Zauner also released her debut memoir, Crying In H Mart, on Knopf. The book debuted at #2 on The New York Times’ Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers List. Crying in H Mart is partly about the death of Zauner’s mother to cancer and how the two bonded over Korean food.
2. CHVRCHES: “How Not to Drown” (Feat. Robert Smith)
On Tuesday, Scottish electro-pop trio CHVRCHES announced a new album, Screen Violence, which is due out on August 27 via Glassnote. On Tuesday they also shared a new song from it, “How Not to Drown,” which features Robert Smith of The Cure. The band later shared a striking video for the song that features both the band and Smith. The goth legend’s vocals mix well with those of CHVRCHES’ frontwoman Lauren Mayberry and the song features an instrumental outro reminiscent of The Cure’s more atmospheric moments.
Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art, as well as the band’s upcoming tour dates, here.
Mayberry simply had this to say about the video in a press release: “We’ve been working with Scott on all the visual aspects of Screen Violence and this video is the second installment in a connected trilogy.”
Screen Violence includes “He Said She Said,” a new song CHVRCHES shared in April that was one of our Songs of the Week. Then they shared a video for the song that featured a metaphorical revolving door.
Screen Violence is the band’s fourth album and the follow-up to 2018’s Love Is Dead. Screen Violence was actually an early name for the band.
The album was recorded remotely during the pandemic, with Mayberry and Martin Doherty in Los Angeles and Iain Cook in Glasgow. The band self-produced the album.
“I think for me it was helpful to go into the process with the idea that I could write something escapist almost,” Mayberry says of the album in a press release. “That felt freeing initially, to have concepts and stories to weave your own feelings and experiences through but in the end, all the lyrics were definitely still personal.”
Doherty adds: “To me, the screen aspect was a bit more literal. When we were making the record, it was like half of our lives were lived through screens. What began as a concept was now a lifeline.”
A press release also describes the album as such: “Narrating the theme of screen violence in three main forms—on screen, by screens and through screens—the album touches on feelings of loneliness, disillusionment, fear, heartbreak and regret.”
CHVRCHES were on the cover of one of our print issues in 2015 and you can read the in-depth 8-page 5,600-word cover story feature on the band here. You can also read our bonus digital magazine Q&A with them here.
3. Wolf Alice: “How Can I Make It Ok?”
Britain’s Wolf Alice released a new album, Blue Weekend, today via Dirty Hit/RCA (stream it here). On Thursday they shared one last pre-release single from the album, “How Can I Make It Ok?,” via a Jordan Hemingway-directed video for it. We had some trouble deciding which Wolf Alice song to put on this week’s list, as the whole album is amazing (it’s currently the best reviewed album of the year, according to Metacritic, with a staggering 97/100 rating). We also seriously considered two album tracks: the expansive “Feeling Myself” and the punky “Play the Greatest Hits” (both are honorable mentions below). But “How Can I Make It Ok?” won out and we can see why they chose it as a single over the other two.
This week the band also announced some new U.S. tour dates (check those out here).
Wolf Alice previously shared a video for Blue Weekend’s first single, “The Last Man on Earth.” “The Last Man on Earth” was #1 on our Songs of the Week list. Then they shared the album’s second single, the bass-heavy “Smile,” via a video for the song. “Smile” was #2 on our Songs of the Week list. Then they performed “Smile” on The Late Late Show with James Corden, where they were also interviewed. The album’s third single was the dreamy and understated “No Hard Feelings,” also shared via a video for the song (and also one of our Songs of the Week).
Blue Weekend is the band’s third album and the follow-up to 2017’s Visions of a Life, which won them the coveted Mercury Prize.
The band’s full line-up is Ellie Rowsell (vocals, guitar), Joff Oddie (guitar, vocals), Theo Ellis (bass), and Joel Amey (drums, vocals). The band stayed in an Airbnb in Somerset, England and worked on some demos in a converted church. Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Björk, Brian Eno, Florence + The Machine) then produced the final album.
Wolf Alice released their debut album, My Love Is Cool, back in 2015. It made it to #3 on Under the Radar’s Top 100 Albums of 2015 list and landed Rowsell on the cover of our Best of 2015 print issue, in a joint cover with Father John Misty.
Read our Best of 2015 article on Wolf Alice. Also read our earlier 2015 print article on Wolf Alice, as well as our 2015 Pleased to Meet You Spotlight article on Wolf Alice. And read our review of My Love Is Cool here.
4. Teenage Sequence: “All This Art”
This week, Teenage Sequence, aka London-born South Asian multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Dewan-Dean Soomary, shared a brand new single titled “All This Art.” It seems to be his debut single as Teenage Sequence and is out now via independent queer/trans label Get Better Records.
A press release recommends Teenage Sequence for fans of LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, and The Juan Maclean and those references aren’t far off the mark, except that over danceable beats Soomary has quite a lot to say about racism in the music industry, among other topics.
Soomary talks about the meaning of the song in a press release: “‘All This Art’ is as much about the systemic racism of the UK music industry as it is my own neurosis, as serious about these subjects as it (an attempt at being) humorous—in a sort of ‘if you don’t laugh, you’d stare blankly into the void wondering what’s the point‘-way. I never intended for the first Teenage Sequence single to be 6.23 seconds of the same beat (pop career suicide), but here we are!”
At 22 years old, Soomary was originally a member of the genre-defying left-headed punk band the King Blues. However, he decided that he wanted his own voice to be heard and split from the band—returning now with Teenage Sequence. His mission is to be inclusive to anyone and everyone and to make music that people want to dance to. His music combines the jump beats of pop tracks with the strong sounds of indie-disco and post-punk social commentary within the lyrics. “All This Art” has a sound that is both nostalgic and futuristic, giving it an edge and creating a solo name for Soomary in the music industry.
Teenage Sequence is set to release even more music in 2021. By Emma Goad
5. Nation of Language: “Across That Fine Line”
On Thursday, Brooklyn-based synth-pop trio Nation of Language announced a new album, A Way Forward, and shared its first single, “Across That Fine Line,” via a lyric video for it. They also announced some tour dates. A Way Forward is due out November 5. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art, as well as the tour dates, here.
Nation of Language consists of Ian Devaney (vocals, guitar, and percussion), Aidan Noell (synth and vocals), and Michael Sue-Poi (bass). 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 says in a 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).
In a press release, Devaney had this to say about the new single: “‘Across That Fine Line’ is a reflection on that moment when a non-romantic relationship flips into something different. When the air in the room suddenly feels like it changes in an undefinable way. It’s a kind of celebration of that certain joyous panic, and the uncertainty that surfaces right after it. Sonically, it’s meant to feel like running down a hill, just out of control. I had been listening to a lot of Thee Oh Sees at the time of writing it and admiring the way they supercharge Krautrock rhythms and imbue them with a kind of mania, which felt like an appropriate vibe to work with and make our own.”
Abe Seiferth (who worked on Introduction, Presence) and Nick Milhiser of Holy Ghost! both produced A Way Forward.
Devaney describes the album’s intent and sound in more detail: “A Way Forward is an exploration of the band’s relationship to the music of the ’70s, through the lenses of Krautrock and early electronic music. We aimed to more deeply trace the roots of our sound, hoping to learn something from the early influences of our early influences. Experimenting with how they might be reinterpreted in our modern context—looking further backward to find a way forward.
“We drew a lot from the steady locomotive rhythms of bands like Kraftwerk and Neu!, while also looking to less-propulsive electronic artists like Laurie Spiegel and Cluster. The goal was to have a record that felt like a journey, like being on a train that gets lost in a colorful fog, and then suddenly bursts through into different landscapes.
“Thematically, some of those landscapes are familiar in their melancholy, but we also wanted to introduce celebration and joy in a way that hadn’t really been present in our previous album. Having these bursts of positivity felt like it gave the emotional low points more resonance, giving a stronger sense of emotional reality to the album overall.”
6. LUMP: “Climb Every Wall”
LUMP (aka Laura Marling and Tunng’s Mike Lindsay) are releasing a new album, Animal, on July 30 via Partisan/Chrysalis. On Tuesday they shared the album’s second single, “Climb Every Wall,” via a playful video for it. Tamsin Topolski and Mora Laming shot and edited the video.
In a press release Marling explains the genesis of the song’s lyrics: “I’d watched a film called The Perverts Guide to Ideology about how ideology is woven into Hollywood cinema, and there was a bit about how in Communist countries they cut out the song ‘Climb Every Mountain’ from the Sound of Music because it’s too much of a personal, individualistic ideology, so that’s where I got the title.”
Lindsay adds about the music: “I spent hours trying to find a bassline that would work. It was a real headache. Then when I got it, I just loved it and I made my girlfriend come downstairs and dance in the room for about an hour.”
Animal follows the band’s self-titled debut album, LUMP, which came out in 2018 via Dead Oceans.
“LUMP is so the repository for so many things that I’ve had in my mind and just don’t fit anywhere in that way,” said Marling in a previous press release. “They don’t have to totally make narrative sense, but weirdly they end up making narrative sense in some way.”
Marling’s last album, the acclaimed Song For Our Daughter, came out last year via Partisan/Chrysalis. Tunng also released a new album, DEAD CLUB, last year via Full Time Hobby. Marling was working on both Song For Our Daughter and the LUMP album at the same time.
“It became a very different thing about escaping a persona that has become a burden to me in some way. It was like putting on a superhero costume,” she said, adding that sometimes it feels as if she might be “edging Laura Marling off a cliff as much as I can and putting LUMP in the center.”
Animal was recorded at Lindsay’s home studio in Margate, Kent. A big feature of the sessions was his Eventide H949 Harmonizer, which is the same pitch-shifter David Bowie used on Low. In order to make sure her lyrics were more spontaneous, Marling would show up at the studio without hearing Lindsay’s music ahead of time.
“There’s a little bit of a theme of hedonism on the album, of desires running wild,” said Lindsay. “We created LUMP as a sort of persona and an idea and a creature. Through LUMP we find our inner animal, and through that animal we travel into a parallel universe.”
Marling and Lindsay met when Marling supported Neil Young at a London show in June 2016 and they discovered that they were mutual fans of each other’s work. The collaboration grew from there.
7. Darkside: “Lawmaker”
Darkside (the duo of electronic artist Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington) are releasing their second studio album, Spiral, on July 23 via Matador. This week they shared the album’s third single, “Lawmaker.”
“From the beginning, Darkside has been our jam band. Something we did on days off. When we reconvened, it was because we really couldn’t wait to jam together again,” says Jaar in a press release.
Harrington adds: “It felt like it was time again. We do things in this band that we would never do on our own. Darkside is the third being in the room that just kind of occurs when we make music together.”
Their debut album, Psychic, came out in 2013 via Other People.
8. Prince: “Born 2 Die”
A previously unreleased Prince album from 2010, Welcome 2 America, is set for release on July 30 via Legacy. On Thursday another song from it, “Born 2 Die,” was shared. It’s crazy he didn’t think this was good enough to release in his own lifetime. I guess Prince just had impossibly high standards.
The song has a bit of a Curtis Mayfield vibe, which was purposeful on Prince’s part. A press release goes into a bit more detail as to the track’s genesis: “The song was recorded during a flurry of studio activity in the spring of 2010, when President Obama was just a year into his first term and Prince was reflecting deeply on the issues affecting the Black community and the role he hoped to play in the social justice movement. The slow-burning song was first recorded by Prince, the bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, and the drummer Chris Coleman, and then accentuated by the vocal harmonies of Shelby J., Liv Warfield, and Elisa Fiorillo, and topped off by a melody sung by Prince himself. He then tapped Morris Hayes to add final production to the track.”
Hayes had this to add in the press release: “We got to ‘Born 2 Die,’ and Prince said, ‘I’ll tell you how that came about. He had been watching videos of his friend Dr. Cornel West on YouTube, and during one speech Dr. West said, ‘I love my brother Prince, but he’s no Curtis Mayfield.’ So Prince said, ‘Oh really? We will see.’”
A previous press release described Welcome 2 America as “a powerful creative statement that documents Prince’s concerns, hopes, and visions for a shifting society, presciently foreshadowing an era of political division, disinformation, and a renewed fight for racial justice.”
The deluxe version of Welcome 2 America will come with a full-length live concert video from one of Prince’s string of 2011 shows at The Forum in Los Angeles during his “Welcome 2 America” tour.
Last year, the Prince Estate put out an expanded reissue of Prince’s 1987 album Sign O’ The Times. Prince passed away in 2016.
9. SPELLLING: “Turning Wheel”
SPELLLING (aka Chrystia Cabral) is releasing her third studio album, The Turning Wheel, on June 25 via Sacred Bones. On Wednesday she shared the album’s almost title track, “Turning Wheel,” via a self-directed video for it.
“‘Turning Wheel’ is a bittersweet anthem about the desire for the pure and simple moments in time to last forever,” says Cabral in a press release. “I fantasize about a realm of peace, gentleness and ecstasy, like a pristine wilderness that evades the conditions, demands and decay of the human world and its pursuits. I’m the type of personality and artist that yearns for deep reclusion and repose, and oftentimes I struggle to make choices. I frequently feel immobilized by the structures and regiments of being a modern world citizen. I sing about these personal tensions through ‘Turning Wheel’ and also speak to the larger theme of the album: the cosmic wheel of life. The song, like the album as a whole, ponders: when does reality stop circling around itself? When, if ever, will we reach a divine, angelic state that transcends the turning wheel?”
Cabral previously shared the album’s first track and lead single “Little Deer” (which was inspired by the Frida Kahlo painting Wounded Deer). “Little Dear” made it to #1 on our Songs of the Week list. Then she shared its second single, “Boys At School,” which was also one of our Songs of the Week.
The Turning Wheel is described in a press release as revolving around “themes of human unity, the future, divine love, and the enigmatic ups and downs of being a part of this carnival called life.” The album, orchestrated and self-produced by Cabral, features an ensemble of 31 collaborating musicians.
Cabral’s most recent album, Mazy Fly, came out in 2019 on Sacred Bones.
Check out our My Favorite Album interview with Cabral.
10. Clinic: “Fine Dining”
On Wednesday, Liverpool post-punks Clinic shared a new song, “Fine Dining,” via a video for the song. The band have also announced some new UK tour dates, which are their first dates in nine years (check them out here).
Clinic seem like a band well suited for the pandemic, only in that they have long worn hospital facemasks in their press photos and live performances. But it seems as though things have changed a bit over the course of COVID-19 and the quartet is now a duo, with Ade Blackburn and Jonathan Hartley listed as members in the press release, but no mention of Brian Campbell or Carl Turney. The lineup had remained the same since the band’s 1997 formation, until now. And in the new press photo, only one member is wearing a facemask, with the other in a gasmask.
The single is out now via Domino. Emily Evans directed the “Fine Dining” video.
In a press release, Clinic collectively had this to say about the new song: “Fine Dining is a slice of dancefloor fun, combining the band’s love of the exotic and having a good time.”
Clinic’s last album was 2019’s Wheeltappers and Shunters, which was their first new album in seven years.
11. Jessie Ware: “Hot N Heavy”
Jessie Ware is releasing What’s Your Pleasure? The Platinum Pleasure on June 11 via PMR/Friends Keep Secrets/Interscope. It’s a deluxe edition of her acclaimed 2020-released album, What’s Your Pleasure?, and features eight bonus tracks, including six new songs. Today she shared another of those bonus tracks, a dancefloor-ready anthem to desire, “Hot N Heavy.”
What’s Your Pleasure? was #5 on our Top 100 Albums of 2020 list. The deluxe edition includes eight extra tracks (including six new songs, the previously released “Overtime,” and a remix of “Adore You”). It will be available on all formats, including double vinyl and double cassette.
Ware had this to say in a previous press release: “I had such an amazing response to the What’s Your Pleasure? record that I didn’t want the lights to go up and the party to be over just yet! ‘Please’ is full of optimism and ready to be played in a place where we can all be together and flirt, dance, touch, and kiss. A wonderful excuse not to stop the party from ending.”
Pick up our current print issue (Issue 68) to read our exclusive interview with Jessie Ware on What’s Your Pleasure?
What’s Your Pleasure? was Ware’s fourth album and the follow-up to 2017’s Glasshouse. The album featured an array of collaborators, including Kindness, Danny Parker, Shungudzo Kuyimba, Clarence Coffee Jr., Benji B, Midland, Morgan Geist (Storm Queen), Matthew Tavares, Metronomy’s Joseph Mount, and James Ford (who was the primary collaborator on the album). The album’s “Remember Where You Are” was our #1 Song of the Week and also made it on former President Barack Obama’s playlist of his favorite songs of 2020. In February she shared a video for the song that starred British actress Gemma Arterton and also performed the song on The Graham Norton Show.
Read our 2014 interview with Jessie Ware.
12. Matthew E. White: “Genuine Hesitation”
On Tuesday, Richmond, VA-based singer/songwriter/producer Matthew E. White announced his first new solo album in six years, K Bay, and shared its first single, “Genuine Hesitation,” via a video for it. K Bay is due out September 10 via Domino. Shawn Brackbill directed the “Genuine Hesitation” video, which was shot on Super-8 and intercuts recording studio footage with ocean waves. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.
White self-produced K Bay, which was recorded at his Kensington Avenue home studio (and album namesake) K Bay, Richmond’s Montrose Recording, and White’s own Spacebomb Studio. The album features Spacebomb’s house band (bassist Cameron Ralston, drummer Pinson Chanselle, and orchestral arranger Trey Pollard), along with multi-instrumentalist Alan Parker, keyboardists Devonne Harris and Daniel Clarke, and engineer/mixer Adrian Olsen.
“For me, one of the most exciting production techniques from this record was this idea where I’d record the song twice,” explains White in a press release. “First, in a more traditional, band-in-the-room, work out the parts and sounds, nail it, kind of way. Secondly, I would distill the concept of the song one way or another into an instrumental composition. I had a much larger band (based off of Miles Davis’ On the Corner bands) play this kind of new-music/improvisational piece at the same tempo as I had recorded the first, more ‘normal’ take. The goal was to be able to cut across between the two pieces, and/or layer them and have them fit together in wild ways. To a large degree it worked, which was pretty exciting for me. The intro to ‘Genuine Hesitation’ is an excerpt from the much longer improvisation based instrumental.”
White’s last solo album was 2015’s Fresh Blood. But since then he’s kept busy producing the likes of Natalie Prass and Bedouine and taking part in collaborative albums. In April, for example, he partnered with Lonnie Holley to release Broken Mirror: A Selfie Reflection via Spacebomb/Jagjaguwar. In 2017, White teamed up with British singer Flo Morrissey for Gentlewoman, Ruby Man, a collaborative album of covers that came out via Glassnote.
Read our 2015 interview with Matthew E. White.
These six songs almost made the Top 12.
Japanese Breakfast: “Paprika”
The Mountain Goats: “Dark in Here”
quickly, quickly: “Everything Is Different (To Me)”
Wolf Alice: “Feeling Myself” and “Play the Greatest Hits”
Other notable new tracks in the last week include:
A Place to Bury Strangers: “I Might Have”
Gaspard Augé: “Vox”
Billie Eilish: “Lost Cause”
Frances Forever: “Paranoia Party”
Gnawing: “So Glad”
Nicolas Godin: “Another Side” (Feat. We Are KING)
Hiss Golden Messenger: “Glory Strums (Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Runner)”
Loraine James: “Running Like That” (Feat. Eden Samara)
King Princess: “House Burn Down”
King Woman: “Morning Star”
Dua Lipa: “Can They Hear Us”
Alexis Marshall: “Hounds In The Abyss”
Monograms: “For Safety”
Moor Mother: “Zami”
Martha Skye Murphy: “Found Out”
Porridge Radio: “Happy in a Crowd” (Love of Everything Cover)
Samia: “Show Up”
Social Haul: “This Is All I Need”
Sonny and the Sunsets: “The Lonely Men”
They Might Be Giants: “I Broke My Own Rule”
Martina Topley-Bird: “Hunt” and “Rain”
Woods: “Waiting Around For A New Me”
(Special thanks to Emma Goad for helping out this week’s list together.)