1. “Jefferson Davis Highway” – The Pinkerton Raid. Jesse DeConto and co.’s latest video is from the band’s 2018 record Where the Wildest Spirits Fly. The song itself is an unusual folk anthem of protest backed by a lovely brass arrangement. The content of the lyrics and the video are best explained by the band:
“Jefferson Davis Highway” is a song to honor Southern activists like “Superwoman” Bree Newsome, the anti-racist defenders of Charlottesville, Va., and the people of Durham, NC, who kindled a movement, helping to take down a Confederate monument in an act of civil disobedience in our hometown back in 2017. We also honor the victims of police brutality, too many to name. We especially remember Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and Keith Lamont Scott, in our own state of North Carolina. They opened our eyes. George Floyd’s brutal murder reminded us never to look away.
2. “Magic in the Moment” – The Gray Havens. The Gray Havens are hitting a new stride: this impressive song includes the vibe of a hip-hop song (via the subtle beat and harp–at least, it sounds like a harp–hook), a clear indie-pop melody, and a cleverly dreamy arrangement. The song itself is about the beautiful world we live in, the beautiful lives we live, and how we could all do to put down our phones more frequently and attend to the beauty around us. (It manages to do this without being saccharine.) It also calls out anxiety directly. Would you stop subtweeting me, TGH? thanks. Jokes aside, it’s an musically on-point, lyrically on-message, brilliantly developed tune that has me extremely excited for whatever TGH is cooking up next. Highly recommended.
3. “Dog Days” – Blue Water Highway. Taking in Blue Water Highway’s “Dog Days” is an invitation to rejoice. The new song soars as the follow up to the lead single “All Will Be Well” ahead of the band’s album Paper Airplanes due March 12, 2021. The band creates an Americana rock vibe, its steadiness generating that rolling-down-the-highway-with-the-ocean-breeze-in-the-air feel. I grew up along Pacific Coast Highway: years spent with the tunes cranked up, breathing in the sunshine and salt air. My memories of cruising in convertibles at summer’s end could have Blue Water Highway’s “Dog Days” pulsing out of the radio.–Lisa Whealy
4. “Don’t You Worry About Me” – Jacob Faurholt. Denmark’s Faurholt shines with stark imagery and minimalist lyrics, dancing through an array of carefully chosen musical ideas. “Don’t You Worry About Me,” the first single of the artist’s upcoming album Wake Me Up, serves up a delightful tease of the full album via Raw Onion Records on October 2. —Lisa Whealy
5. “Reflection” – Joshua Crumbly. Crumbly’s album earlier this year was a triumph, and this follow-up single is more of his unique vibe: bass-driven melancholy with light jazz overtones and subtle touches around the prominent bass. It’s a poignant instrumental musing on the chaos, trouble, and hope of this year.
6. “Truth 1” – Red Snapper. A groove-heavy tune that pairs grumbling bari sax with punchy percussion, wailing saxophone, and a neat keyboard line to create a strong afrofunk / jazz tune. The largely-wordless vocals accentuate the complex mood perfectly, creating a strong, interesting tension.
7. “Adriane in Wonderland” – Dan Deacon. If I had to pick someone to score a documentary about competitive artistic dog grooming, Dan Deacon is 100% the person I would pick to do it. This maximum-Dan-Deacon cut is basically the sonic version of a neatly trimmed, multi-colored poodle.
8. “Valley Spiral” – Gunn-Truscinski Duo. I’m not into huge guitar theatrics in rock songs, but I absolutely love a post-rock tune where a guitar player just thinks out loud for a while. This dense, gnarly, fascinating guitar/drums jam is an impressive work, as the drums keep the song locked in to a rhythm as the guitars just go everywhere. But it’s not loud or ferocious; it’s thoughtful, careful, exploratory. It’s great. Highly recommended.
9. “Astronomica” – of1000Faces. Big synth swirls, twinkly melodies, and deep-space pictures are a perfect match that hasn’t gotten old for me yet, so have another big slice of all of that! This is on the subtler end of the “big space synth reverie” spectrum, guiding the listener gently through the cosmos.
10. “Hyper-real” – Holy ’57. Holy ’57 has been diving into ’90s sounds for their latest release, and this track is no exception. This one pulls on a mash-up of brit-rock flare with trip-hop/hip-hop beats, overlaid with some old-school synth sounds. Rhythmic ideas from ever-present inspiration Vampire Weekend fit in there too, making this a song that is neither retro nor contemporary, but a fusion of old and new that looks to the future. Hyper-real, indeed.