Welcome to August 2019 – 15 songs. Our 15 favourite tracks from July. Enjoy listening and reading the accompanying descriptions. If you’re in a real rush, skip to the bottom for the Spotify playlist. We promise we won’t cry.
The Big Moon – It’s Easy Then
‘It’s Easy Then’ from The Big Moon is gargantuan, a glorious slice of alt-pop that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Lorde’s Melodrama. Like the unstoppable rise of smoke ascending into the air, ‘It’s Easy Then’ just swells and swells from the first chorus, the blending voices urging each other to go one octave higher. After singing ‘Just swallow me up,’ the four-piece join in unison going ‘oh oh oh oh,’ producing a moment truly ecstatic, one to raise your arms aloft to. Vocalist and lyricist Juliette Jackson said, “I wanted to write a song that made me feel better.” And by god have they done that. A song to untie the ropes bounding you, a song to breathe in and breathe out to, a song to make you glow.
Big Thief – Not
Since first hearing it back in 2017, ‘Not’ has become an unhealthy addiction, the YouTube live performances stealing chunk after chunk of my battery power. The repeated shouts of ‘not’ instilling a form of rebellion in me, one that I sung on my bike-rides to work, hurling its insurgency at the behemoth rising out from the ground in front of me.
Where ‘U.F.O.F’ layered spirit-like sounds and effects for levitation, ‘Two Hands’ – it’s “earth twin” – was recorded live with almost no overdubs. ‘Not’ is the heiress of that, it’s live energy causing volcanic-like fissures, dramatic shifts in the landscape. The guitars are more powerful than ever, impregnated with thunder bolts eager to unleash, clouds full with precipitation, ready to unload.
Soon, the earth’s very foundations shake, Adrianne Lenker on the chorus impelling you to throw your head forward at every ‘not.’ Her voice soon imitates the scream on ‘Contact’, the words chafing against her throat as they fall out – “Not food / Not to eat / Not to die / Not dying / Not to laugh / Not lying / Not the vacant wilderness vying.” They wreak havoc in the final two and a half minutes, a piercing guitar reverberating with feedback. That promised storm finally dispersing – throw your arms out in it, let the water blotch your skin, dance in the rain.
Boy Scouts – Hate ya 2
“I don’t know why I love you and I hate you too,” Boy Scouts laments in “Hate Ya 2.” The duality of relationships is a confusing thing, and this song does an excellent job of putting beautiful harmonies and guitar behind a terrible situation. These are the same questions that so many people ask themselves over and over again during the inbetweens and corners of relationships: Why am I doing this? Why are you doing this? And why does this keep happening? “The light has become dark maybe it was never lit,” she sings. The synth and guitar hook in the background against her airy high notes fills the space of the song towards the end with the feeling of innocence and confusion about the self.
Cross Wires – Paradise Club 1953
Instilled with the bawdy angst of a Joy Division live recording, Cross Wires’ ‘Paradise Club 1953’ is a swaggering signal of intent from the East London four-piece. The bass riff jousts with the high wire-like electric guitar in the song’s opening, granting lead singer Johnathon Chapman space to posture and flex his muscles. The riffs drop out soon, just a strum of the guitar and Chapman’s voice standing in their place, before the drums snap into action as the track moves up a gear. Above this now rollicking pace, Chapman bellows “I don’t care for you I promise.” The song continues to switch up and down in tempo, the expectation palpable amongst listeners for the next onslaught. ‘Paradise Club 1953’ sees Cross Wires join fellow Londoners GHUM as yet another band worthy of swelling the ranks in the post-punk genre. It’s been a bright year for post-punk and a bright future awaits both these incredible bands.
Dry Cleaning – Goodnight
Dry Cleaning were a highlight of Greenman 2019. The dead-eyed look of singer, or more accurately speaker, Florence Shaw as she delivered her lyrical tirade – comprised of overhead conversations, YouTube comments and adverts – paired with the band’s wiry, fraught riffs almost chainsawed the stage in half.
‘Goodnight’, the opening song from their debut EP ‘Sweet Princess’, is perhaps the group’s most direct song. The lyrics are not something you’d associate with a singer who is a university lecturer and picture researcher by day – “Now have you ever spat cum on to the carpet of a travel lodge?” she snarls. The lyrics, atop the trampoline-like bass and rolling drums, get no less PG, “You stole my childhood CDs, you fuck”. With instrumentation like this and a singer capable of embodying such detachment whilst delivering some of the hardest hitting lyrics of recent times, Dry Cleaning are set to be something very special indeed.
Field Guides – Guessing at Animals
On ‘Guessing at Animals’, the lead single from forthcoming album ‘This is Just A Place’, we find Field Guides’ king pin, Benedict Kupstas experiencing infatuation for the first time following the dissolution of a long-term relationship. “The night I met her / I was feeling kind of rough”, he sings, her presence lifting him from his post-relationship slump. Framed by a splendorous guitar and a luxuriant trumpet, the filmic drama of Kupstas and his new love interest, played by vocalist Jamie Reeder, unravels. Hollywood scriptwriters would look enviously at the game of tic-tac-toe they play on the station platform, before Kupstas has to get off, singing “This is the first song not about you” triumphantly on his walk home. The track concludes with a glorious back-and-forth between Kupstas and Reeder, “Hey Benny boy are you ready? / I’m not sure, not just yet / Can this go on a little more?” That last question, “Can this go on a little more?”, parroted by the song’s listeners, so reluctant are we for the golden shimmer of Kupstas’ new love to fade.
German Error Message – Fine
After five years of near silence, Paul Kintzing (German Error Message) has had a busy 2019, releasing his fifth album ‘Mend’, an electronic record under the moniker Other Nothing and producing one of the year’s standout singles, ‘Count to Five’ from Bedroom. His purple patch continues with new single ‘Fine’, an expansive song hinting at a new direction for the Nashville songwriter. You’d be reaching to class any of German Error Message’s previous work as upbeat, yet the rhythmic opening strums of ‘Fine’ are exactly that. Beirut-inspired brass soon accompanies it, swelling the song so much that it lands comfortably on a higher echelon. It has sharper teeth too, “I think so much about silence / saying fucking in a tearoom” he sings, presaging the arrival of an infectious, circling synth and anthemic drums. “Tell me that I’m good and fine” Kintzing yearns in a plea for reassurance. You’re much, much better than that, indeed you’re in the form of your life.
Great Grandpa – Mono no Aware
Built around a frankly anthemic chorus, Great Grandpa’s ‘Mono no Aware’ – the first taste from sophomore record ‘Four of Arrows’ – is a contemplation on the fleeting nature of memory. Led by warm, wistful guitars, ‘Mono no Aware’ also has Bon Iver-like electronics in the shadows – their spirit-like presence personifying the fragmented, childhood memories that haunt us in the present day. Alex Menne’s vocal is reminiscent of Frankie Cosmos and a highlight of the track, particularly when they deliver a rousing vocal with just a singular straining synth in tow. “That reminds me of my failing grasp / of the present memory” they lament. These childhood memories play a huge role in our lives, yet our very human inability to recapture them prevents us from working through them. With ‘Mono no Aware’, Great Grandpa capture that universal frustration in song, a permanent art-form to turn to when frustrated with the impermanence of life.
Jay Som – Nighttime Drive
Jay Som’s “Nighttime Drive” feels like a summer night, with Melissa Duertete’s vocals comfortingly holding hands with the instrumentals. “Constructing shallow dreams of / Shoplifting at the Whole Foods / My baby says I’m growing tough (yeah) / Don’t let others define you,” she sings. While it’s difficult to put one’s finger on the exact moment being described, maybe that’s for the best. The crescendo of strings, guitar and drums towards the end makes you feel like maybe it’s more about feeling than understanding the catalyst for this song. The relatability of the exact situation isn’t the focus here, more so the atmosphere. “We’ll be just fine,” she says, and anyone who listens is inclined to agree.
Lana Del Rey – Looking for America
After returning home with her brother, Lana Del Rey asked Jack Antonoff – producer and collaborator on new album ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ – to come into town. A song was forming in her mind. The result is ‘Looking for America’, an almost immediate reaction to the two recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
Anyone who’s heard ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’, will have spotted the … singer’s preference for scarcity and ‘Looking for America, while it doesn’t appear on the album, is no different. Over a kowtowing guitar, Rey longs for a different America, in moments it’s one that existed in the past, while in others it’s simply the object of her dreams. “We used to only worry for them [the children] after dark”, she sings in the verse, “It’s just had a dream I had in mind”, the chorus.
She riffs on Americans evacuating spaces at cars backfiring and fireworks going off in the distance, so constant and real is the fear of a mass shooting. “So many things I think about twice before I do” is perhaps the most heartbreaking line. In ‘Looking for America’, Lana Del Rey has written the best reaction to a national event since Kendrick Lamar put pen to paper following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, writing ‘The Blacker the Berry.’
Lightning Bug – Vision Scraps
When ambient musician Grouper formed shoegaze band Helen, Liz Harris (Grouper) brought her ear for how sound moves and immerses to the genre, embellishing her band with a sound engineer-like edge. It’s a quality apparent on ‘Vision Scraps,‘ the second single to be taken from Lightning Bug’ssophomore album ‘October Song.‘
Led by New York’s Audrey Kang along with friends Kevin Copeland and Logan Miley, in ‘Vision Scraps’ the trio have created a virulent, discordant soundscape that exists in a vacuum entirely of it’s own. Each instrument really brings something to the party, whether its the guttural-like fuzz of the guitar, the propulsion from the drums as we drive into the chorus or the ghostly vocals that exist on the periphery. The end of the chorus sees the guitar fleetingly unfurl into a beautiful riff, until the reverb pulls us back under its spell, the guitar squalling us out in the final flourish. ‘Vision Scraps’ is the sound of an artist fully aware of the power they wreak.
Longriver – Wasting Time
The project of Austin songwriter David Longoria, Longriver’sdebut single ‘Wasting Time’ is a direct, occasionally funny, look at procrastination- something we could all do with a little more of! With meandering guitars and creeping hand percussion, Longoria imbibes the fragmented, dreamlike state present in latter day Cass McCombs. While embellished with an organ later on and the odd witty line – “I even got the look of wasting time” – the single for the most part just idles beautifully. It’s easygoing nature reflective of the juvenile-like joy felt at abandoning all responsibilities, so rare in adulthood that it becomes chaste, sacred even. Waves lay ahead, but for now just rock with the tide’s gentle back-and-forth.
Soot Sprite – Bleed
Soot Sprite’s ‘Bleed’ is a breezy pop song darkened by an encroaching, ominous undercurrent. Originally a solo project for singer/guitarist, Elise Cook, ‘Bleed’ is their first release as a full, collaborative band, and an intriguing taster of ‘Sharp Tongue’ – their forthcoming EP on Specialist Subject Records.
A start of shimmering, shoegaze-like guitars is soon overthrown by contorting, jousting riffs slicing one another in half. The lyrics are no less fierce, Cook’s plainspoken barbs evocative of Courtney Barnett at her most cutting, ‘I don’t trust someone / Who speaks your name all wrong’ she sings. The chorus may be an attempt to save a loved one from a damaging friendship, yet in sound it’s hedonistic, the punching drums and synths baiting you into an ostensible elation.
That bubbling undercurrent soon bursts its banks, the inbuilt tension of sadness protracted throughout exhaling with doom-laden guitars and an onslaught of percussion. It’s a relief more than a disaster though, Cook expounding what she’s wanted to say all along and reveling in the resulting joy.
Suggested Friends – Cygnets
In spite of the fairly recent addition of Mammoth Penguins’ vocalist and songwriter Emma Kupa, Faith Taylor, Suggested Friends’ original singer, keeps a hold of the mike for ‘Cygnets’, her melodically rich, Tracy Chapman-like vocal, acting as a wonderful counterpart to the divergent arrangement, which evokes Joni Mitchell’s ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns.’ With fun backing vocals and arena rock solos, a real freedom emanates from the four-piece; a theory backed up by the expedition-like lyrics ‘I pass the boats…I pass the same spot / just watching the cygnets grow.’
Foremostly though, as Taylor describes herself, the lyrics are about personal development. “This song documents the uneasy process of learning to trust yourself and therefore also trust other people. It refers to ‘digital birds’ because my bird-sound alarm clock mixed in with the sounds of the actual dawn chorus and became a metaphor for discerning which messages and voices to believe.” As well as personal development, ‘Cygnets’ holds a mirror up to their development as a group, this surefire classic indicative perhaps of a truly great second record.
Sumie – Moon
“Moon” by Sumie is the perfect gentle lunar song. The careful and delicate piano contrasts against the direct and certain vocals. “The whispers of a morning tune/A sister’s lullaby,” Sumie sings. The flow of the song has the perfect amount of ups and downs, an early morning porch swing overlooking a hill. The ease of the vocals are truly unique. Sumie does not try to be anything she’s not, and with that goal in mind, her song is flawless, with a simplicity that calls to mind peace and serenity. There is something so impressive about songs that present this kind of ease. Though they may be easy to listen to, they are most certainly the most difficult to create in a cohesive manner.