Welcome back to Essential Listening, a place where we compile all the best new music of the week into the definitive tome of modern music: The Far Out Playlist.
This week, we gave our top album honours to Maggie Rogers, whose sophomore effort Surrender is an impressive and engrossing tour through multiple genres and styles. Rogers might be at her best when she focuses on the smaller moments, but the maximalism of Surrender is intoxicating, to say the least.
The week in singles was solid as well. Last week, he had to fill in some of our spots with covers and demos in order to complete the playlist. That’s not hard to do when new versions of Lou Reed’s ‘Heroin’ and Lucy Dacus’ cover of Cher’s ‘Believe’, but it is nice to get back to exclusively new original music this week.
Still, only eight songs can find their way onto this list. Here are the best new songs from the week, compiled into The Far Out Playlist.
This week’s best new music: July 24th – 30th:
Luke Cave and Doublecream – ‘I Want to Be In It!’
To kick off their recording career, South London’s Luke Cave and Doublecream have dropped their debut single, ‘I Want To Be In It!’. An introspective rock number composed of expressive horns, soul-inspired guitar lines, and a catchy honky-tonk piano that drives the whole thing along, there are flecks of Faces’ Ooh La La, as well as the more stirring Divine Comedy moments that make for one hell of a ride.
The track is an exploration of egotism, identity, and the desire for success, and Cave’s characterised alter-ego leads the band on a journey throughout the track, as aspiration, toxicity, and self-denial all rear their heads and wrestle for superiority. The collection of themes effectively parodies the shallow motivations of anyone desperate to be a star, whether that be X Factor competitors or the most latest hot topic that advocates aesthetics over substance.
Dry Cleaning – ‘Anna Calls from the Arctic’
British indie rockers Dry Cleaning have wasted no time in announcing their upcoming sophomore studio album, Stumpwork. After dropping the first preview of the new LP with the single ‘Don’t Press Me’, the London quartet are sharing another track from the album with ‘Anna Calls From The Arctic’.
Kicking off with a bass-heavy groove, ‘Anna Calls From The Arctic’ quickly brings in a new sonic texture to the Dry Cleaning sound – synthesisers. Before you can wrap your head around those tones, and even more bizarre instrument filters in through the arrangement – a clarinet. One of the best guitar bands in the world has completely dropped the guitar… at least for one song.
Sylvan Esso – ‘Didn’t Care’
Fresh off a surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival this past weekend, American electronic pop duo Sylvan Esso have announced the details for their upcoming fourth studio album, No Rules Sandy. Today we’re seeing the release of the first new preview of the upcoming LP in the form of the single ‘Didn’t Care’.
Bright, blippy, and infectiously sugar-coated, the new track is perfectly within the band’s synth-pop sweet spot. Pulsating with insatiable rhythm, ‘Didn’t Care’ even fits in a brief bass breakdown, which will always score top mark from me. All in all, the track feels very summery and wonderfully breezy, making Sylvan Esso the perfect provider of some serious sunshine pop for the hottest months of the year.
U.S. Girls – ‘So Typically Now’
With ‘So Typically Now’, U.S. Girls have delivered a perfect pastiche of every late 1980s musical element in one song, which almost confusingly is otherwise very modern, in an irreverent mishmash absolutely guaranteed to have your toes a-tapping. It has a drum machine that harks back to ‘Thriller’, the wailing backing vocals by Kyle Kidd are a perfect send-up to disco’s second generation.
The synths are so slinky that if you were to trace the musical contours, you could probably slip on them. All the while, this smorgasbord of ‘80s delights also has a fresh production feel, and the lyrical content is so current that is almost post-postmodernism as it weaves technology into spoken language: “I sent you an image / You sent me a thumbs down.” Most importantly, however, is that all of that adds up to a solid dose of fun.
Bret McKenzie – ‘If You Wanna Go’
Bret McKenzie has so far beguiled fans with two beauteous tracks from his forthcoming album Songs Without Jokes. However, the jazzy cutesy showtune ‘A Little Song’ and the near-secretly profound 1980s-inflected ‘Dave’s Place’ have been so different that it was hard to see which direction the album was headed.
Now, with ‘If You Wanna Go’, McKenzie has confirmed it will be a delicious smorgasbord akin to a box of chocolates. ‘If You Wanna Go’ happily sits somewhere between the first two singles, with jazzy piano flourishes adding textures to an ‘80s pastiche. Accompanied by his pal Mickey Petralia behind the production desk and long-term collaborator Chris Caswell helping out with the arrangements, the song is polished with just enough carefree air of creative celebration among chums to give them a dramatic reverie.
Rina Sawayama – ‘Hold the Girl’
British pop star Rina Sawayama is closing in on the release of her second studio album, Hold the Girl, at the end of this summer. Now, Sawayama released her third single from the upcoming album with the LP’s title track.
An outsized pop song that bears more than a passing resemblance to Lady Gaga’s signature style, ‘Hold the Girl’ actually goes to some strange places over four minutes. That includes pitch-shifted vocals, acoustic guitars, brief stabs of strings, some light piano runs, and even a key change for the final chorus. That would usually make for a fairly dense arrangement, but ‘Hold the Girl’ skips along unencumbered by the weight of its disparate musical elements.
The Murder Capital – ‘Only Good Things’
The Murder Capital have shared their vibrant new single, ‘Only Good Things’. In a press statement, the band described ‘Only Good Things’ as a “bright and luminous love song” and the “first taste of the band’s forthcoming new music”. The band added that it’s representative of an exciting “evolution” of their sound.
The track is indeed a notable change in artistic direction for the group, but where they bring a highly accessible vibrancy to proceedings, they have managed to retain the vital artistic integrity of the lyrics. Musically, the song breaks very little new ground but presents itself as a worthy addition to the rich tapestry of modern UK indie music.
Whitney – ‘Blue’
Chicago indie rock duo Whitney have returned with a brand new single.‘Blue’ features the signature high-pitched coo of singer-drummer Julien Ehrlich paired with the band’s blend of soulful R&B and relaxed indie pop. Sprightly and filled with sublime joy, ‘Blue’ is a gentle love song that never gets too schmaltzy or sappy. When Ehrlich intones, “Lately you’re the only reason my heart beats / All I want is to be your only one,” it feels genuine instead of corny.
Along with the band’s previous single, ‘Real Love’, it seems that Spark will let the machines do the heavy lifting this time around. Still, Whitney hasn’t lost that natural charm by bowing down to our electronic overlords. ‘Blue’ is filled with that same light airiness that seems to radiate out of the band’s two members whenever they work together, and no amount of looped drums or wavvy synth-pop is going to change that.