Welcome to October 2019 – 15 songs. Our 15 favourite tracks from October. 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.
Basement Revolver – Have I Been Deceived
Canada’s Basement Revolver released new EP ‘Wax and Digital’ on Friday (25 October), following up their debut full-length ‘Heavy Eyes’. Its standout moment is ‘Have I Been Deceived’, a shimmering, lush track with a deceptively dark subject matter. ‘Have I Been Deceived’s bright glimmer makes it easy to miss Chrisy Hurn’s (singer/guitarist) bleak words.
Under the band’s luxuriant shoegaze, Hurn sings of the anger and betrayal with which she regards her Christian upbringing. “Love, I feel like a prisoner / to a faith I hardly half believe / there’s so much shit that I’ve held onto / Could I know? / Lord, have I been deceived”.
‘Have I Been Deceived’ is the best of both worlds. On first listen, it immediately strikes you as a gorgeous pop song. However, on the second, third and fourth play, its buried, murky layers start to unearth themselves one after the other. Gripping stuff.
Benjamin Spike Saunders – For The Benefit of Someone Else
Like much of Benjamin Spike Saunders’ stunning EP ‘Tonsil Wife’, ‘For The Benefit of Someone Else’ is incredibly sparse and intimate – he’s practically in the same room as you. A wannabee stand-up comedian, Saunders’ penchant for humour is obvious throughout, “Leave out the glasses / because we all know they dry themselves” he sings. The first half of the track is pure lo-fi, you can hear the sound of his hand bashing the taut strings of his acoustic guitar as his classy falsetto sounds above. The second half fuses a victorious violin solo with triumphant, forthright strums of the guitar.
Big Thief – Replaced
‘Replaced’ recalls the days when Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek were a duo; Meek’s voice chiming in to create a delightful contrast to Lenker’s vocals during the chorus. Though the words are sometimes difficult to understand, the feeling is there all the same. “Because in your room, we gathered to be replaced by the mystery,” they sing, gently bringing the song down from the sky, and placing it in soft grass.
Emily Yacina – Gleaming
Emily Yacina’s backing vocals were a stand-out feature of Yohuna’s magnificent record, ‘Mirroring’. Yacina is a fast friend of Johanne Swanson (Yohuna) and the two seemingly share a friend in Eric Littmann – he produced ‘Mirroring’ and Yacina’s forthcoming record, ‘Remember The Silver’ (December 06).
Lead single ‘Gleaming’ is more a feeling than a song. Just 93 seconds in length, its plush texture floods your brain with dopamine. The vocal line is so infectious, you feel like you’ve heard it a million times before. “Meet me here / I’ll show you / The same light / I’m feeling” she sings, Stranger Things-like synths and poppy snares propping her up into the stratosphere. Originally an instrumental track, the latter half of ‘Gleaming’ is a blissful wig-out; the synths are blindingly bright, jousting against one another as Yacina’s voice contorts and floats above. Transportive isn’t the word.
Frances Quinlan – Rare Thing
Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan needs no introduction. Quinlan’s distinct, vociferous voice is responsible for some of the decade’s greatest songs. Though Hop Along was originally Quinlan’s solo project, today she releases music under her own name for the very first time.
‘Rare Thing’, taken from forthcoming solo record ‘Likeness’, is as good of sign as any that Quinlan does not care for your expectations. Dropping the post-punk sound Hop Along are famed for, Quinlan fuses jazz and electronica on this genre-defying track. Written about a tumultuous dream about her then-infant niece, ‘Rare Thing’ imitates the non-sensical, confusing nature of dreams in its formless improv. Just as you think you understand its direction, ‘Rare Thing’ shifts dramatically into another form. What is recognisable though is Quinlan’s penchant for empathy, “I know there is love that / Doesn’t have to do with / taking something from somebody” she sings, putting forward a new definition of love. If ‘Rare Thing’ is a hint of what’s to come on ‘Likeness’, then it’s sure to be inimitable and distinct. Just like Quinlan herself.
Gold Baby – Philadelphia
The last time we heard from North London’s Gold Baby, songwriter Sian Alex was visualising a conversation between her adult and child self on the wonderfully infectious ‘500/1’ (read our review here). Three months on and we find Alex showing her narrative chops again, this time inter-splicing a story of when she got lost in Philadelphia with that of a Mexican fisherman lost at sea.
‘Philadelphia’ is more straightforward than the narrative would have you believe. It’s blissful indie pop is ironically more suited to a carefree drive down an empty motorway, rather than the situation Alex finds herself in, lost on the side of a road in an unfamiliar country. The gleam of the indie pop takes on an even brighter sheen for the chorus, lighthearted keys and wistful guitars combining to make something that’s synonymously anthemic and polished.
All this makes the ending come as a huge surprise. Out of nowhere, the track collapses in on itself leaving Alex alone with just the intimate scrape of her acoustic guitar for company. “Of course you only put enough fuel in the tank for a one way trip”, she sings, chiding herself. The reality of Alex’s situation, stood alone by a Philadelphian highway, hits home. The once glimmering indie pop is now gone without a trace, swallowed up by the remorseless, unforgiving night.
Grizzly Coast – High Functioning
When our friends and family think we’re at our happiest and most achieving, we’re often screaming internally. As humans we’ve evolved to hide our deepest insecurities in the often irrational fear that they’d derail the high-esteem that friends and family hold us in. Toronto’s Alannah Kavanagh aka Grizzly Coast explores this strange paradox on ‘High Functioning’.
The subject matter is clear from the off, Kavanagh sarcastically singing “I’m killing it or so they say” over a jaunty-bass line. On the truly anthemic chorus, Kavanagh sings the track’s most relatable line, “I’m high functioning / But the night reveals to me my weakest link”.
The fatal combination of hiding her internal stresses and trying to look like she has everything under control, soon overwhelms Kavanagh, “with shaking knees / I drop down in the street” she recalls. The ending is forthright, the chorus repeating over and over again to create a cyclone-like power that sends the listener into a relentless whirlwind. Amidst the noise Kavanagh locates her epiphany, “You hold the key / That I’m worth something”. The realisation that the esteem her friends and family hold her in is often truer than the negative thoughts of her inner voice.
The Innocence Mission – See You Tomorrow
The Innocence Mission’s ‘Green Bus’ was arguably 2018’s best song; the resulting album ‘Sun On The Square’ was pretty flawless too. The Pennsylvania trio have just announced a prompt follow-up, ‘See You Tomorrow’ which comes out January 17. And if lead single ‘On Your Side’ is anything to go by, it’s set to be as affecting and heart-breaking as ever.
Written about how those who have passed still live on beside us, chief songwriter Karen Peris’ describes this phenomenon with typically economic words. “I’m always on your side / I’m always on your side” she sings, impersonating a loved one speaking to her from the beyond. At first, her brittle voice is accompanied just by the plucks of her guitar until resplendent strings and wood percussion add power to the song’s main declaration. Other than a swelling conclusion, ‘On Your Side’ just flips between those two states, always doing enough but never too much. “In my dream, I would be in Paris with my mom,” Peris sings. “In cafes she would sip coffee, she would be smiling on/ She’d say, ‘I have never let you out of my sight. I have not gone.’” Music doesn’t get much better than this.
JFDR – Taking A Part of Me
A huge Balloon Machine favourite, JFDR (Jófríður Ákadóttir) is the only artist I’ve made two separate five hour round-trips to London to see. Having only released one album under her JFDR moniker, Ákadóttir is perhaps more known for her work as Pascal Piñon, her folk-infused project with twin sister Ásthildur, and Samaris, an electronic project with two fellow Icelanders. In all Jófríður Ákadóttir has made eight albums in the eight years since she was 15.
‘Taking A Part of Me’ is the first single from her as yet unnamed second JFDR album, due next year. Her songs rarely follow traditional paths, and ‘Taking A Part of Me’ is no different, entering the arena with a throbbing, heartbeat-like drum beat. Ákadóttir’s hoarse, haunting vocal soon takes centre stage, singing “Thank you for taking me higher”. Employing vocal effects, her voice transforms from deep to shallow, before the drums take on a Burial, garage-like tilt as Ákadóttir’s voice soars in a foundation-shaking crescendo. With ‘Taking A Part of Me’ JFDR shows that she’s still breaking new ground, still the first to take steps on new, as yet undiscovered, land.
Julien Baker – Tokyo
There are few artists able to command your attention so entirely as Julien Baker. Whatever household task your involved in, her voice sounding from your speakers instantly stops you in your tracks, the washing you’re carrying instantly becoming weightless.
Her new single ‘Tokyo’ – part of the Sub Pop singles series – is no different. Her voice is as hair-rising as ever; instantly you feel as if you’re in the same room as her. The subject matter is typically sad too, mental torpor setting in as she reaches the Tokyo leg of her tour. “Don’t look / God it’s a mess” she sings of her mental state, as a theatrical snare joins her bristling guitar. A piano then swallows up the other instruments, her voice singing alone to it, before a shattering uplift of foundation-shaking drums and squalling vocals ensues. Then suddenly it’s gone. The room around you comes back into focus as you remember that the laundry in your hands needs loading into the washing machine.
Lazy Day – Real Feel
The brainchild of Tilly Scantlebury, London’s Lazy Day have followed up their ‘Letters’ EP with new single ‘Real Feel’.
Their most angsty, most visceral track yet, ‘Real Feel’ sees Scantlebury take on her inner voice with brute force. With her voice right out front on the mix, Scantlebury howls “but you always blame me / for the way you feel”, her vocals ducking and diving as she lands punch after punch on her self-conscience. In a way not too dissimilar from Porridge Radio’s Dana Margolin, Scantlebury is bawling in one moment then sounding as cool as ice in the next. Vocally it’s her best performance so far, and her band match her every move, the guitar reverberating fiercely and the drums punching relentlessly. “Forwards, forwards, forwards for me” she sings in the song’s climax. And if ‘Real Feel’ is anything to go by, they’re moving in that direction extremely swiftly. Don’t blink.
Mayfly – Selfish Girl
‘Selfish Girl’ sees London’s Mayfly take aim at narcissists who refuse to acknowledge their privilege. Written and produced by London’s Elena Garcia (Mayfly), ‘Selfish Girl’ is anchored by synths that carry the same ice as the song’s sentiment. Garcia’s vocal is cool and assured above, snarling “For the fifth time today you’ve addressed your wealth”. A pulsating snare drives us into the chorus, the synths lightening as Garcia sings, “The princess talks like she’s one of us”. Garcia isn’t coy about her vengefulness, conversely, she gives zero shits, singing “Sounds harsh but I don’t care”. On ‘Selfish Girl’, Mayfly proves she’s capable of making infectious alt-pop that bares sharp teeth. Whatever you do, just don’t get on the wrong side of her.
No Swoon – Forward
‘Forward’ is formed primarily around two opposing synths. The first is acid tinged, slinking around corners with its snake-like groove, the second is discordant, a sledgehammer taken to a brittle window. Together they sound almost seedy, granting listeners access to a Great Gatsby-like bash. Hosting these proceedings is Tasha Abbott, though her lyrics about apathetic responses to the climate crisis suggest she didn’t get the memo, “Is the ice really splitting? / Are the ceilings getting smaller? Couldn’t notice through these headlines”. The rich and famous attendees suffer a mood kill, but ironically it’s them she’s targeting with her icy, effortless vocal; those who through bluffer and bluster state we’re making progress, drawing instant parallels to Anohni who sang “it’s only four degrees”, taking aim at those trying to dismiss the temperature rise.
In the chorus she sings “moving forward”, her hollow words suggesting the opposite. The soundscape dramatically shifts here, from nightclub sheen to Beach House-ian shimmer, the reverb heavy guitars mirroring that other duo’s (Beach House) ability to summon rainstorms with their instruments. The song capitulates into dust after one final ‘ah’, the uncomfortable silence we’re served, perhaps reflective of the minimal affect we’re having on reversing climate change, a drop in the ocean, a band-aid applied to an ever growing wound.
Soot Sprite – Vs Self
On ‘Vs. Self’, Soot Sprite’s Elise Cook keeps her own voice at a distance from the reverb as if truly coming from a higher place. Her singing is hazy and dreamy as she begs her past self to just slow down for a minute. With a retrospective grief she softly speaks “there’s years of my life I’ll never get back”. Cook is hovering just above the track, ascent.
Wished Bone – Sap Season
Following last year’s infectiously light ‘Cellar Belly’, Wished Bone, the folk project of Ashley Rhodus, returned this autumn with the announcement of forthcoming album ‘Sap Season’. Following up ‘Hold Me’, ‘Trees We Couldn’t Tell The Size Of’ is the second single from the record.
The naive curiosity inherent in the song’s title permeates the entire track, its gentle lilt reminiscent of aimless walks through country lanes, snatching white dandelions out of the ground and blowing their petals away. Rhodus’ thoughts lean towards the existential, from questioning the size of things to questioning the kind of person she is, “Am I the kind of girl you marry?”, she sings over a toned-down trumpet and bouncing toms. While its instrumentation may be rooted in the light, the words belong in the grey – the precarious in-between that exists between black and white.