Last updated on January 5, 2022
There’s a lot of emotions going on in this post, whether from the songs themselves or the emotions they bring out in me. Here’s to the feels.
1. “Knocking” – Basement Revolver. This ballad is utterly astonishing. It is a vulnerable, honest, cathartic track that combines the cavernous spaces of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ quiet work with subtle folk touches and Chrisy Hurn’s knock-out vocals. Hurn sings her heart out on this track, conveying hurt and pain and ultimately redemption. If you’re a Christian, this song will bowl you over–it is the gospel for the broken and hurting. Even if you’re not Christian, even if you’re not religious, the way Hurn and Basement Revolver end this song seems like it would be deeply moving. Highly recommended.
2. “All Affirming” – Lay Low Moon. This lovely full-band folk song touches off a complex set of emotions for me. It’s got a touch of punk-goes-folk in the vocal tone and the sort of arrangement that those early ’00s bands used. That tips off serious nostalgia. The banjo inclusion makes me think of the early ’10s, when folk-pop was having its major moment (more nostalgia). The melancholy piano and vocal lines make me feel sadness, but the sort of sadness that makes me happy. It’s a strong tune that is made even more convincing to me due to my personal musical experiences.
3. “Baby” – Hotel Mira. While we’re on the subject to nostalgia, this Hotel Mira track is everything that I loved about the Strokes. It manages to combine the jangle and vocal enthusiasm of their early work with the guitar snarl of First Impressions of Earth. The chorus is all Darkness-style falsetto and joy. There’s a half-time breakdown. It’s just a great rock song. I don’t cover a lot of rock songs anymore but this one hits all the nostalgia buttons without being a copycat.
4. “Home” – Esther & Fatou. This duo manages to make the biggest “thum thum”s this side of Law and Order fit seamlessly into a rollicking, harmony-heavy folk tune. There’s also some wandering, wavering, synthy slices of sound adding depth to the tune. It’s one of those tunes where it feels like they’ve listened to a lot of different folk, indie-pop and electro stuff, then came back with the best of all of it.
5. “If Not For You” – Umbra and the Volcan Siege. I’m tough on covers, but sometimes a really good cover gets a pass if I’ve never heard or am not very familiar with the original work. This is the case here, as Umbra & Co. give a George Harrison song that I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a sprightly, lightly psych treatment. This is of the major-key, fuzzed-out psych variety, not the dark-and-strung-out kind. It’s just a lot of fun.
6. “Every Day and Night Now (Feat. Peter Morén)” – Kris Gruen. It’s not surprising that Peter of Peter, Bjorn and John is featured in this tune, as it purveys the sort of dignified enthusiasm that PB&J were so great at. This is striking, memorable songwriting, from the strong acoustic guitar work to the excellent vocal melodies to the strings to the tromping percussion. It’s the sort of song that makes you think “oh man, what else is there by Kris Gruen?”
7. “The Shell Lottery” – Ben Fisher. There are a lot of things you can write an album about, but a concept album about Israel and Palestine in a Sufjan Stevens’ state-album milieu is a pretty distinctive, unusual, and exciting one. Fisher’s lead track is a serious, contemplative, piano-driven tune that lays out the founding of Tel Aviv. There’s some arrangement, but the piano and Fisher’s calm, clear-eyed vocals are the big things here. Get ready for this one–this is going to be quite an album. Does the Land Remember Me? comes out September 7.
8. “Becoming My Own Home” – The Collection. David Wimbish has made a career out of humongous folk-orchestra arrangements, howling vocals, and uninterrupted yearning/questioning. This song throws over a bunch of those things without losing what makes the Collection distinctive: Wimbish reins in the arrangement (just strings, it seems like, although there’s always more hiding in a Collection arrangement), goes for a calm vocal performance by Wimbish standards, and sings about coming to peace with things (!!). But there’s a big swoop and sway that hearken back to highlights of Ars Moriendi, and Wimbish’s voice is just as excellent when he’s calm as it is when he’s calamitous. Side note: This song mentions “burning trees,” the name of The Collection’s first EP–I don’t know what that means, but it’s worth mentioning.
9. “rosalee” – humble thumb. Got some Spaghetti Western/Western Gothic/murder ballad songwriting for you right here. If you love lazily floating horns, traditional country bass playing, a touch of Tom Waits in your vocals, and high dramatic tension, this track will rocket up your list of new music.
10. “Bones” – Koltbach. I’ve been enjoying Koltbach’s streamlined electro for a while, and this track is no exception. Taking the drive of trance, the artistic filter of post-dub, and dusky atmosphere of trip-hop, Koltbach creates a smooth, engaging piece of electronic music. You can dance to this, but it would be slinky dancing, not big, jump-up-and-down trance movement. Very smooth.