Welcome to April 2019 – 15 songs. Our 15 favourite tracks from this month. Enjoy listening and reading the accompanying descriptions. If you’re in a real rush, skip to the Spotify playlist at the bottom. I promise I won’t cry.
Aldous Harding – Pilot
In a show were the compare presented her as Aldous Huxley, Harding closed her set with a new song, ‘Pilot.’ If you’ve seen Harding live before you’ll know that the woman with many voices has just as many faces, yet for ‘Pilot’ she sat stationary in the beautiful surroundings of Green Man’s Brecon Beacons simply singing from her stool. A few minutes later the horrified compare returned to the stage, apologising for her mistake yet the song still lingered amongst all the rain-sodden cringes.
Indeed it lingered so long that when I read the tracklist for her new album ‘Designer’, released almost two years after that show, I was delighted to see ‘Pilot’ amongst it. Opening with a Beach Boys-like piano sequence, Harding lays down her deepest vocal on the record – if somebody told you there were ten singers on the album rather than one you’d struggle to argue them down. Nothing else gets added to the piano other than Harding’s rash thoughts and actions, ‘I don’t know how to behave, reacting, fist dangling’. The simple piano playing remains the same throughout while Harding’s thoughts get more irrational ‘I get so anxious I need a tattoo, something binding.’ The line she follows that up with ‘when the time comes to design it opens up like height under a pilot’ is frankly anthemic, particularly when Harding goes on to repeat ‘opens up like height under a pilot’ over and over again. In true Harding style it’s a thoughtful yet absurd ending to one of the year’s best records. Now I can return to that field whenever I like.
Ancient Pools – Coffee
A high point from our recent ‘album of the week’, ‘Coffee’ exemplifies Ancient Pools’ ability to make soundscapes that defy gravity as they float unassumingly on the listeners’ subconcious. Anna Jetta’s voice sounds like it’s just awoke from a glorious slumber as it soars above the flighty, featherweight synth fluttering underneath. An ode to recovery, Jetta addresses a friend – it may well be herself – in need of conversation, ‘coffee and moving on.’ Who knew something so light could lift such a heavy weight?
Black Belt Eagle Scout – Loss & Relax
After blowing us away with one of the most human and resonant albums of 2017, Black Belt Eagle Scout returned this month with a two song 7”. Continuing in the spirit of ‘Mother of My Children’, the first song ‘Loss & Relax’ is pensive, broody and indebted to the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community that gave rise to Katharine Paul, the IRL name of Black Belt Eagle Scout.
Mourning the loss of canoes that used to roam the rivers back home, now replaced by ferries, Paul finds this both sad and beautiful: “the loss of you brings me to the place that was my home” she sings. The tenseness so essential to Black Belt Eagle Scout’s craft erupts in the final punches as the guitars rise and the drums roar. It’s a furious gale and like the canoes, you can’t do anything but submit to the winds of change.
Big Thief – Cattails
What sight or smell do you most closely associate with home? Unluckily for me it’s manure. When I step out the car and smell that a neighbouring farmer has been ‘muck spreading’ – driving their tractor around whilst unloading saved-up shit from a trailer to encourage the grass to grow – I know I’m home. For Big Thief it’s the sight of cattails – a plant with a cotton-like exterior – swaying in the wind.
For Big Thief the sight of cattails reminds them of a time when they simply did things for the sake of it. You know that time you ran in the field just for the thrill of it, without apps measuring the distance you’ve run and a stopwatch telling you whether you beat your personal best. It’s a feeling of pure, unbridled joy and if “Cattails” doesn’t leave you feeling like that, you’re doing this wrong.
Body Type – Free to Air
Sydney-based band Body Type’s latest single “Free To Air” is the first taste from their upcoming release ‘EP2’. “It’s about an old neighbor whose life seemed to play out entirely in his lounge room in front of the TV, which he blasted day and night. My bedroom faced looking into his lounge room, so it was almost like we were waking up and watching the morning news together or having a TV dinner after work…it was definitely not that romantic in reality though” Blackman explains.
It’s a perfect slice of indie pop, with a chorus that’s as headline grabbing as the breaking news that used to sound from her neighbour’s TV. While the subject is serious it’s counterbalanced with playful moments, Blackman ends each chorus by singing “ad break/heartbreak”. Soon the guitars soften and Blackman’s voice trails off into nothingness. All that’s left is the black screen staring right back at you.
Dehd – On My Side
Chicago trio Dehd couldn’t sound more classic if they tried. Their scuzzy, infectious riffs could be pulled straight from an MC5 record, yet whether it’s the jousting voices of lead singers Emily Kempf and Jason Balla or their stood-up sticksman Eric McGrady, there’s something wonderfully idiosyncratic about Dehd. All these factors are in play in the energy-packed ‘On My Side’, the defining moment though is Kempf’s guttural, primitive howl when she sings ‘time is on my side.’ Let its’ fervour drench you.
FKA Twigs – Cellophane
Yep it’s been a while. Weirdly I haven’t minded though, watching FKA Twigs immerse herself in other activities, pole dancing and martial arts, from afar has been fascinating. Within seconds of any Instagram upload, the question would be there instantly ‘when’s new music coming?’, yet seeing Twigs shrug that off to try new things and grow her talents even further has been liberating.
Now a more skilful and powerful Twigs has returned. On minimalist ballad ‘Cellophane’, Twigs is at her most vulnerable, questioning in a pointed voice ‘Why don’t I do it for you?’ The glitchy arca-inspired electronics do make a brief appearance in their chorus, but they’re gone in an instant. Muted drums follow, they’re restrained but devastating. Like in her pole dancing, Twigs makes an incredible ascent on ‘ Cellophane’, I don’t see her coming down any time soon.
Field Medic – The bottle’s my lover, she’s just my friend
This song is about Kevin Patrick’s, the IRL name of Field Medic, ongoing battle with drinking, during the album’s recording he quit drinking before his resistance was broken after a particularly gruelling set of shows. More specifically the song recounts when he was seeing somebody and would often decline to see them under the pretence of being busy yet really he was just drinking a bottle of wine in his room. Ultimately his alcohol addiction causes the relationship to end: “I’m looking past her so she’s cutting me loose” he sings regretfully.
Joanna Sternberg – This Is Not Who I Want To Be
If ‘This Is Not Who I Want To Be‘ is anything to go by – and we’re certain it is – New York’s Joanna Sternberg is on course to be our favourite discovery of 2019. From the moment you hear the opening notes of the piano you just know you’re in ‘classic’ territory. This becomes even more concrete when Sternberg’s voice arrives, an intoxicating mix of Randy Newman and Fiona Apple.
Lyrically she has no equal, ‘This Is Not Who I Want To Be’ is a searingly honest reflection on Sternberg’s battle with addiction: “I wish I was scared of poison, pills and pain, I wish I was scared of damage to my brain” Joanna bemoans.
‘This Is Not Who I Want To Be’ is a life-saver. I’m lucky that addiction plays no role in my life right now, yet this song has had a profound effect on me. Just imagining the effect it’s having on people with addictions right now, gives me goosebumps. Joanna Sternberg, we need you.
Mannequin Pussy – Drunk II
Frenzied rock quartet Mannequin Pussy returned with the bitingly honest Drunk II this month. Yeah the guitars are fervent, the drums punishing but this song is all about vocalist Marisa Dabise. Downright angry about an unwanted break up, Marisa’s voice squalls and bites, “I was so fucked up, I forget we were broken up, I still love you, you stupid fuck” she sings churlishly. Dabise submits to the heartbreak, refusing to put on a strong face “And everyone says to me, missy you’re so strong! But what if I don’t want to be?” Sometimes letting the pain take hold is the only way to heal.
Miyha – Palm Trees
I fall in love with new songs every day but some songs ascend to an echelon above even that. Miyha’s ‘Palm Trees’ is comfortably in that upper echelon, the kind of song where you get a minute into it and an internal or even external ‘oh my god, this is good’ comes flying out of your mouth. It may start simply enough with just guitar and an arresting vocal, but the amount of stages the song’s instrumentation takes you through leaves the listener drunk.
Nailing down the song’s subject isn’t easy though as Alejandra admits herself that “each of the songs…has an under layer of meaning not necessarily obvious to the listener.” The narrative shifts just as quickly as the Wisconsin’s band instruments, in one moment we hear about a girl questioning the intentions of her boyfriend, in the next we meet Christine who’s doing her laundry and finally, the story of a 17-year-old leaving her partner.
The best songwriters arm the listeners with the weapons to interpret their lyrics for themselves, Alejandro Perez is adept at that and on this evidence, she has all the tools to become one of our great songwriters.
Outer Spaces – I See Her Face
Propelled by a wraithlike guitar riff, ‘I See Her Face’ coasts, rattling along at a nice enough pace without ever breaking the speed limit. There are instrumental flourishes here and there – fluttering keyboards and plugging bass – but Beth Satalino, the woman behind Outer Spaces, never goes overboard, trusting the song’s gentle thrum to propel the listener through.
Satalino’s voice has rich tones drawing comparisons with Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten, while her lyrics are likely to provoke a light titter: “The jug of wine seemed infinite / well baby I fell into it.” Most of the songs on Gazing Globe are written from the perspective of another version of herself; ‘I see her face is’ an optimistic version of herself waiting in the shadows. We’re excited to meet Satalino’s various selfs though she alone is more than enough.
Palehound – Aaron
Palehound has been mastering her unique brand of understated yet emotionally powerful music for years now. Based on her Trans partner, ‘Aaron’ is a paragon of compassion, “My friend if you want me to call Aaron I can, I can, I can, I can” she sings acceptingly. Kempner is clearly able to embrace drastic change, and communicate its beauty with clarity and strength.
Porridge Radio – Give / Take
‘Give / Take’ is largely about indecision. Dana, guitarist and vocalist, starts coolly presenting different points of view before her mind is at war with itself by the end. The instrumentation mirrors that dissatisfaction as the guitars go from a strum to a squall and the drums go from a thud to a crash. It’s a fantastic first taste of Porridge Radio have been able to produce now they’ve got the financial backing they deserve
Tacocat – The Joke of Life
‘The Joke of Life’ is a 21st century ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’ though even Morrissey probably wouldn’t have predicted things would get so bad – 80s Morrissey I’m on about! Rather than drown in the misery Seattle quartet Tacocat choose to dance regardless. Underpinned by playful backing vocals, Emily Nowkes is pretty spot on singing ‘the joke is that the joke is already a joke.’ The chorus is bold and raucous rather in contrast with Nowkes description of our current state: “a twilight zone of perpetual horror.” It might feel like we’re living in a terrible movie right now but at least the soundtrack’s going to be a classic.