Summer Singles – July 2021

The following songs have been trapped in my head for weeks.

Hachiku‘s “I’ll Probably Be Asleep” is perfect in its lengthy unfurling melodies and ambient-waves-of-guitar production. Vocalist Anika Ostendorf’s breathy flitterings invoke prior pixie muses, conjuring Bjork and Blonde Redhead vibes, with an incessant blown-out drum machine keeping things trancey and hard. This has been a difficult song to shake: I hear it in my head in the shower, when walking to the cafe, when doing dishes, when setting up pivot tables… it’s stupid. My sucker-for-it tastes in music are all wrapped up in this one track. Kudos, Hachiku.


In their now decade plus, Montreal’s Suuns never really blew up in the way that they should have. Their more avant-garde art-punk leanings may have kept them from a larger audience, but it’s also what has cemented them as such a compelling and unpredictable act. It makes the straightforwardness of their new single, “Witness Protection,” all the more refreshing: an eerie glitchy verse refrain crescendos into a beast of a drum break, washing out the final minute with a cathedral guitar loop.


The new single Separate from last year’s favorite UK alt-rock band, Sorry, moves well beyond guitars and into something else entirely. As with their prior single, they are pushing their chopped-up production tactics even further, making for a unique sound that falls somewhere between hip-hop and cult chants.


I’m ashamedly hooked on the detached hipster swagger of In the Stone,” from The Goon Sax. It’s surprisingly produced by the impeccable John Parish.


SAULT – NINE

Available online for only 99 days, SAULT’s latest album release NINE is once again compelling and timely. It’s yet another excellent brick in the mythic wall being constructed around the mysterious collective.

Still largely anonymous and wildly prolific (five albums across 2.5 years), this crew yet again delivers a tight 34 minutes that are wide in their canvas of inspirations – R&B, funk, hip-hop, 60’s rock, Afrobeat – but laser-focused in their signature lens of stark and stripped-down production styles and urgent vocals.

I will be disappointed if there is not yet another SAULT album in five months. They have quickly become a life soundtrack staple. Their efforts to avoid identities or much in the way of traditional marketing has worked very well to ensure that a firm focus is kept on the music and its message. There are no videos, band members, or fashion for me to think about: just full albums dropped every six months that are consistently killer and that eerily capture the current state of the world.

Sparks – I Predict

Between the new Edgar Wright documentary, The Spark Brothers, and the upcoming film Annette, for which they provided the story and music, we’re in some weird parallel timeline whereby the Mael brothers are actually getting their due recognition while still alive. It’s wild to see the uptick of interest in Sparks this year.

Los Angeles radio station KROQ’s trailblazing embrace of all things novel, synth, and strange in the early 1980s informs a large part of my musical tastes to this day, but even by their wide open standards of the time, Sparks’ 1982 classic album Angst In My Pants was a really bizarre record. At the time I had zero knowledge of their quirky hit from almost ten years prior* – to me they were a new oddball carnival duo who were one part Weird Al and one part strange electro jams.

It was the ridiculous Dada tabloid lyrics of the track “I Predict” that captured my imagination and made Sparks feel so simultaneously stupid and rebellious. Refrains like:

They’re gonna find the Queen is a man
But that Philip don’t care

Lassie will prove that Elvis and her
Had a fleeting affair

Cold beer and pretzels takes care of cancer

They’re gonna stop having the sun
So you better get tan now
….

And this song will fade out
And this song will fade out
And this song will fade out
(I predict)

The final minute of the song is indeed the song fading out (while Ron sings about the song fading out).

This was my summer of 1982 dork anthem and it’s pretty much the only Sparks I need.

*Alas, I didn’t learn about “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us” until Siouxsie and the Banshees covered it in ’87.

N0V3L – Falling In Line

I’m going to continuously post about these guys. The recent album NON-FICTION from N0V3L is a thoughtful, angular, and pointed critique. In hearing the full set, there is something wonderfully clinical in its approach. Bryce Cloghesy‘s production is clean and crisp, but with a detached ghostly edge that thoroughly aligns with vocalist/guitarist Jon Varley’s deadpan post-capitalist observations.

The new single “Falling In Line” continues their incisive dissection of the right now via a 40 year old post punk lens.

N0V3L – Group Disease

Sprung forth from Vancouver’s exhilarating Crack Cloud media collective, N0V3L‘s 2019 self-titled full-length debut established them as a savvy and stoic counterpoint to Crack Cloud’s more bombastic tendencies. Both pull from the same fabric of post punk sounds, but N0V3L lean more heavily into the domain of clean guitars, stark production, interlocking patterns, and introspective detached philosophical sketches that give nod to both Eno/Byrne and early Cure. This new single, Group Disease, seems to double down on the Seventeen Seconds-era Cure vibes. It’s totally welcome.

Their new album Non-Fiction will be available May 28 (Meat Machine) and is produced by Crack Cloud’s Bryce Cloghesy, A.K.A. Military Genius.

2020 Favorites – Songs

33 of my favorite songs from 2020, hand-mixed in an unranked fashion.

Are these the best songs from 2020? Likely not, but personally these are the tracks that most captured a mood, a time, a production tactic, or a hook that I couldn’t shake for days. In what was an undoubtedly miserable year, there was an abundance of quality music.