Saturday, March 6, 2021

Monthly Mix: February 2021

(1) Wolf Alice - "The Last Man On Earth"

The best song I've heard this year by a significant margin. 

The Singles Jukebox is covering it next week, and I've been so preoccupied with getting my thoughts exactly right that I actually wrote two different reviews. This is the one I'm not using:
“The Last Man on Earth” premiered on February 24 at 7 PM. It was a Wednesday. It had been a hard day. I don’t remember why. There have been a lot of hard days. Covid. Winter. Darkness. Isolation. I hadn’t moved from my desk in hours, and I hadn’t been outside since before sunrise. I listened to “The Last Man on Earth” for the first time, thinking about how badly I wanted that light to shine on me, seething about just how far away that light felt. Before I fully realized what had happened, I was out the door, and I wandered the dark, empty streets of Amsterdam listening to this song on repeat for almost an hour, slowly realizing that it was not meant to provide any easy comforts. Lyrically, Ellie Rowsell pulls no punches, and there’s no obscuring the song’s message: Get. Over. Yourself. Musically, though, the song’s intimate-then-anthemic structure recasts Rowsell as a concerned friend and softens the message to something more like “you need to get over yourself because that would be better for you.” Somewhere in those repeated listens it dawned on me that my ambient anger about the state of the world and my conviction that I somehow deserved better was actually pushing me further away from that light. The unspoken optimism at the heart of this song is that we can choose to let go of that feeling of unearned entitlement at any time. Whether any of us will, though, remains to be seen. [10]
(2) Katy Kirby - "Traffic!"

Just a delightful shape-shifting song where I constantly find myself thinking "This is my favorite part! ... No, wait, this is my favorite part!" "Traffic!" was a late 2020 single, but I missed it until hearing it as part of Kirby's consistently magical 2021 full-length Cool Dry Place. A significant amount of the best music of 2021 is being made by people trying to overcome the trauma of growing up deeply religious, homeschooled, or both.

(3) Gordi & Alex Lahey - "Dino's"

Alex Lahey is a long-time Burn Your Hits favorite, but I hadn't really followed the career of her girlfriend Gordi until they co-wrote Maggie Lindemann's fantastic "Crash and Burn," which you'll remember from last month's list. Their collaboration on "Dino's" is even better, as more of their own personalities shine through. If you're in a serious relationship, I think a fun lockdown game is to try to figure out whose fault it is that the two of you still haven't written a great song together yet.

(4) Cassandra Jenkins - "Hard Drive"

I can't describe this song in a way that doesn't make it sound absolutely horrible: it's got, like, a smooth jazz vibe, and a heavy reliance on spoken word sections, and the title is a painful play on words, and ... look, you'll just have to trust me that, despite everything I just said, this is a great song.

(5) Julien Baker - "Relative Fiction"

Let's hit my three most-anticipated February releases, all three of which managed to exceed my already high expectations. Baker's Little Oblivions is the biggest leap of the three, trading sparse solo meditations for a bigger, full-band sound. "Relative Fiction" is my early pick for the best of the non-singles, but "Ringside" is also excellent, and I don't think there's a bad song here.

(6) The Hold Steady - "Me & Magdalena"

Next up, The Hold Steady! Craig and Co. remain impossible for me to review in any objective sense. They're my favorite band of all time, and it's just such a gift to see them back at full strength and still making great music after almost twenty years. Open Door Policy finds the band aging gracefully, even if the characters in their songs are doing anything but. It seems like the critics have settled on "Spices" as the album's standout track, but I'm going with "Me & Magdalena" for a few reasons. 

One, I can see very clearly how this song will be performed live: Craig will do this kind of exaggerated sputtering, confused look during the "first they're into KISS, then they're into Crust" section, which will transition into a halting, bad-on-purpose dance break for the "the record that the DJ played, they didn't move us like thе way the used to make us movе" section. 

Two, the way all of the angular rhythmic elements smooth out when they get to the "told her she should probably prepare to be let down" section is one of those "black and white film turns color" moments that always feel like magic to me.

Three, like so many of the best Hold Steady songs, it's told in the first person but about someone else. There's a Me, for sure, but this song is about Magdalena, and that kind of present-but-removed narration always adds a fascinating element to the storytelling.

(7) Wild Pink - "Family Friends"

Rounding out the trio, it's Wild Pink's A Billion Little Lights. As a record it blurs a little bit since it's all so warm and woozy and comforting, but every song is still strong enough to stand by itself. As Ian Cohen pointed out, "Family Friends" shares some of it's DNA with the greatest song ever written, Broken Social Scene's "Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl," so that's my pick.

(8) Tigers Jaw - "New Detroit"

Ryan put these guys on my radar last year around the release of "Cat's Cradle," the lead single from their upcoming album. I had heard the name but wasn't familiar with their music. Since then, they've been popping up everywhere I look, as it turns out they are a foundational band for a very specific subset of late-millennial, early-gen-z music obsessives - basically the people who got really into Tumblr in the early 2010s. And I get it. "New Detroit" is the fourth single from the new record, and they have all been great.

(9) Noods - "Donkey Kong"

Further evidence for my theory that great new bands are giving themselves the dumbest possible names in order to keep me from listening to their music. This seems counterproductive and I wish they would stop doing that.

(10) Cherym - "Kisses On My Cards"

Basically if "Future Me Hates Me" by The Beths had a punk little sister, which is really the highest praise I can give a song. From Derry, Northern Ireland, which reminds me that I need to go back and watch Derry Girls for a third time.

(11) Baxtr - "Grace On Fire"

Trying to describe your band in one sentence for the "About" section of your social media pages must be a weirdly stressful exercise. So, credit where credit is due: "Just 3 nerds making joy noise on a morphing crystal ship in Dreamspace" is pretty solid.

(12) Pale Waves - "Easy"

In the same way that you'll always view your younger siblings as kids long after they've become adults, I will alway think of Pale Waves as a band you see at a tiny club, or an insultingly early festival slot. Meanwhile, in the real world, their new album debuted at #3 on the UK charts. Like, I still want Heather and the gang to take over the world, but it's going to feel really weird when they do.

(13) Nervous Dater - "The Dirt"

Stereogum recently named Call In The Mess its Album of the Week, and the accompanying review didn't even mention this song, which demonstrates just how strong that record is.

(14) Hannah Jadagu - "Think Too Much"

As a Black girl growing up in Mesquite, Texas, it's only natural that you'd be drawn to ... dream pop? I don't get it, either, I'm just thankful this song exists.

(15) Semler - "Bethlehem"

Starting with her crowdsourced Relient Gay project, Grace Semler Baldridge has been a consistent force for chaotic good. Her Preacher's Kid EP hit the top of the iTunes Christian Music charts, leading off with "Bethlehem," which, if you're still not sure what we're doing here, includes the lyric "I passed blunts the day I married my wife." 

(16) Craig Finn - "Eventually I Made It To Sioux City"

Quite a month for our buddy Craig. In addition to the new Hold Steady record, he also released All These Perfect Crosses, a collection of b-sides from his solo projects. "Sioux City" is mostly a Bob Dylan homage (in Minnesota rock circles, it must have been getting pretty awkward that Finn was devoting so much of his attention to the Replacements, and even Soul Asylum, but not Dylan, so hopefully this clears the air), but it's also kind of a woozy version of "Harlem Roulette" by The Mountain Goats. Either way, it's good.

(17) The Natvral - "Why Don't You Come Out Anymore?"

The Natvral is a new project from Kip Berman, formerly of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. He probably doesn't read this blog, but if he did I imagine he would be pretty surprised to hear that this was not the most Bob Dylan sounding song of the month.

(18) Manchester Orchestra - "Bed Head"

Not from Manchester, not an orchestra. Still good.

(19) Bad Boy Chiller Crew - "Don't You Worry About Me"

Like many of you, I'm never sure if we're supposed to take white British hip hop acts seriously or not, and this is the toughest test case yet. Regardless, this one is a lot of fun and I'm sure most of you will hate it.

(20) For Those I Love - "Birthday / The Pain"

Trying to describe this song makes me feel insane. It's ... an Irish dude telling incredibly dark stories from his childhood over breezy club beats better suited for the beach in Ibiza. Or something? I have no idea how it works, but it does.

(21) Kitten - "American Football"

I firmly believe that, if you replayed the last twenty years a hundred times, Chloe Chaidez would become the biggest pop star in the world in at least one of those simulations.

(22) Citizen - "Blue Sunday"

Similar to Tigers Jaw, above, Citizen built a cult Tumblr following that normies like me will probably never truly understand. I can still enjoy the tunes, though.

(23) PONY - "Chokecherry"

A great example of the kind of band that you just know is Canadian, but can't explain why.

(24) Gender Roles - "So Useless"

In the same way that every good American band is from Philadelphia, every good British band seems to be from Brighton. (Once we get near the end of these posts, it's pretty much just unsupported generalizations all the way down.)

(25) Remember Sports - "Pinky Ring"

First, if we're talking about songs called "Pinky Ring," Remember Sports is always going to be looking up at the Wu-Tang Clan, but no one should be held to that standard. This one is still solid.

Second, I remain kind of morbidly fascinated by Spotify's "Fans Also Like" section. I hate any effort to turn music discovery into an algorithmic process built on selling the things I love back to me, but I can't ignore the fact that, of the twenty artists listed for Remember Sports, thirteen have appeared in a prior 100 Songs list (Charly Bliss, Kississippi, Bully, Camp Cope, Dude York, The Beths, Slaughter Beach, Dog, Martha, Crying, LVL UP, Sidney Gish, Thin Lips, and Swearin'). Like I said last month for Cheekface, I apparently love this band already, it's just up to me to realize it.

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