11 Best Songs of the Week: Bartees Strange, Sufjan Stevens, Jónsi, Oceanator, and More | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020  

11 Best Songs of the Week: Bartees Strange, Sufjan Stevens, Jónsi, Oceanator, and More

Plus Marie Davidson, The Flaming Lips, TRAAMS, Future Islands, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

Aug 14, 2020
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Welcome to the 32nd Songs of the Week of 2020. This week’s big political news was Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announcing his highly capable running mate, Senator Kamala Harris. Harris pulled no punches in her take down of President Trump during her first public appearance with Biden after being announced as his running mate.

In music news, three women accused Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon of sexual misconduct via a Pitchfork article. Alas, it seems like there has been a steady parade of such allegations in the music industry of late.

Onto this week’s songs—it was a great week for new songs, so much so that we have a Top 11 rather than our usual Top 10.

This week on our website we also posted a My Favorite Album interview with Friendly Fires, as well as an interview with hip-hop legend Big Daddy Kane. We also posted two new interviews in our election series, with Adam Christensen (who’s running for Congress in Florida) and Eliza Orlins (who’s running for District Attorney in Manhattan).

In the last week we also reviewed a bunch of albums, including the latest by Moses Sumney, Jaga Jazzist, ToBy, Emma Swift, Baseball Game, James Dean Bradfield, Bruce Hornsby, Young Jesus, JOBS, and Whitny. Plus every week we post reviews of various other things (some weeks including DVDs, Blu-rays, films, concerts, and TV shows).

To help you sort through the multitude of fresh songs released in the last week, we have picked the 11 best the last seven days had to offer, along with highlighting other notable new tracks shared in the last week. Check out the full list below.

1. Bartees Strange: “Boomer”

On Wednesday Washington, D.C.-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Bartees Strange (real name Bartees Cox Jr.) officially announced his debut album, Live Forever, and shared a new song from it, “Boomer,” via a video for it. “Boomer” has an early TV on the Radio vibe. Live Forever is due out October 2 via Memory Music. In July Strange announced that the album was coming this fall, but shared no other details beyond releasing its first single, “Mustang” (which was one of our Songs of the Week). Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.

Live Forever was recorded in a barn studio in Wassaic, NY. It was later mastered by Grammy-nominated producer Will Yip. A press release digs into the album’s genre-blurring sound: “It spans gentle, Moses Sumney-meets-Yves Jarvis minimalism, Kings of Leon-ish indie rock vigor with post-punk cracks in its danceable veneer, the throbbing industrial alt-soul of Algiers, Justin Vernon’s acoustic tenderness, and the volatile, unforgiving production and delivery of Death Grips.” 

Strange first garnered attention for covering a string of The National tracks, including on Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy, his EP of National covers released earlier this year on Brassland, a label run by members of the band. He was born in Ipswich, England, but grew up in Mustang, a largely the white and conservative rural town outside Oklahoma City. “Boomer” is partly about getting stoned with his dad for the first time and how his dad is proud of the growth Strange has experienced since leaving Mustang. “Things are changing,” Strange says in a press release. “I can change too, and this is who I want to be.” 

Live Forever finds Strange taking full creative control. “I’m often the only Black guy in the room when I’m playing in a band or working in a studio and I’ll be honest, I don’t think the engineer always knew what I wanted to capture, what I was trying to do or what I was referencing,” Strange says. “I wanted a space where I could be in control of how it was gonna sound, and have people there to check me that I trust.” 

2. Sufjan Stevens: “Video Game”

Sufjan Stevens is releasing a new album, The Ascension, on September 25 via Asthmatic Kitty. On Wednesday he shared another song from it, “Video Game,” via a video for the song. Nicole Ginelli directed the video, which stars and was choreographed by Jalaiah Harmon (who is described as “the teenage creator of the massively viral ‘Renegade’ dance”). Stevens says the song comments on social media and how we all look for approval from our followers.

“I don’t wanna be your personal Jesus,” sings Stevens, later also stating “I don’t wanna be your Julius Caesar” and “I don’t wanna put the devil on a pedestal/I don’t wanna put the saints in chains,” before concluding “I don’t wanna play your video game.”

“It’s unfortunate that we live in a society where the value of people is quantified by likes, followers, listeners, and views,” says Stevens in a press release. “So many people are seeking attention for the wrong reasons. I think we should all be doing our best work without looking for accolades or seeking reward. 

“The main takeaway of ‘Video Game’ for me is: your worth (invaluable) should never be based on other people’s approval (ephemeral). Just be yourself. Keep it real. Keep it moving. Do all things with absolute purity, love and joy. And always do your best. 

“Jalaiah epitomizes all of this and I’m truly inspired by her. So I thought, ‘what if we could get Jalaiah to star in a “dance video” about not wanting to star in a “dance video?’ I’m so honored she agreed. She clearly owns it, and her work here is beautiful, poignant and true. 

“Her dance shows incredible energy, work-ethic and spirit. She is dancing for herself, not anyone else. Her choreography is sophisticated, nuanced, and fun. She is a star. She keeps it real. She keeps it moving. She keeps it true. What a blessing!”

Harmon had this to say in the press release: “This was my first time being asked to create choreo for a whole song. So I was a little nervous in the beginning, but once I really broke the song into parts and listened to the lyrics over and over, I just put moves together that connected to the words and felt natural for me to do. I think I’m still really trying to get used to this kind of success, so I can’t really define it just yet. I just know that when you work hard and you treat others with kindness and fairness, good things come back to you.”

Previously Stevens shared The Ascension’s first single, 12-minute long closing track “America.” “America” was #1 on our Songs of the Week list. Then he shared the B-side for the “America” single, non-album track “My Rajneesh,” which also made our Songs of the Week list.

Stevens recorded most of The Ascension himself, on his computer, and basing it around a drum machine and synthesizers. Stevens calls it a “lush, editorial pop album,” one that finds us all at a “terrifying crossroad.”

3. Jónsi: “Cannibal” (Feat. Elizabeth Fraser)

Jónsi of Iceland’s Sigur Rós is releasing his first solo album in 10 years, Shiver, on October 2 via Krunk. Early this morning he shared another song from it, “Cannibal,” which features the unmistakable guest vocals of Elizabeth Fraser (formerly of Cocteau Twins). Jónsi co-directed the video with actor/director Giovanni Ribisi.

Jónsi had this to say about the song in a press release: “When Sigur Rós was starting, we were always compared to Cocteau Twins and I really didn’t like that. I hated being compared to anybody. Then I got really into Cocteau Twins like two or three years ago. They’re so good. I understood the comparison then.” 

Shiver includes “Exhale,” a new song Jónsi shared in April via a video for the track he co-directed with Ribisi. When the album was announced, he shared another new song from it, “Swill,” via a Barnaby Roper-directed video for the track. Shiver also features guest vocals from Robyn and was co-produced by A. G. Cook (of PC Music).

It’s been 10 years since Jónsi’s last solo album, 2010’s debut solo album Go. Since then he’s kept busy, including contributing songs to the How to Train Your Dragon films and teaming up with Stockholm-based visual artist/electro-acoustic composer Carl Michael von Hausswolff as Dark Morph (the ambient project released a second album in May). Sigur Rós has also released two albums in that period, 2012’s Valtari and 2013’s Kveikur.

4. Oceanator: “Heartbeat”

Oceanator, aka Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Elise Okusami, is releasing her debut album, Things I Never Said, on August 28 via her own Plastic Miracles label. On Thursday she shared a new song from it, “Heartbeat,” which is about the anxiety that comes from having a crush on someone.

Okusami had this to say about “Heartbeat” in a press release: “This song is loosely about having a crush, and both the grounding feeling and the anxiety that feeling brings. We recorded it all together like a live performance, and then I went back and added the lead guitars and the vocals. Guitar and vocals by me, bass Eva Lawitts (they), drums Aaron Silberstein (he).”

Things I Never Said includes “A Crack in the World,” which was one of our Songs of the Week. Then we premiered the album’s next single, the more synth-poppy “I Would Find You,” which was also one of our Songs of the Week.

Things I Never Said was originally due to come out on Tiny Engines, but then that label pretty much imploded after it was revealed that it was having difficulty making royalty payments to its artists, so Okusami is putting out the album on her own label instead. Although the British label Big Scary Monsters has just announced that they have signed Oceanator and will be releasing the album in the UK.

 

5. Marie Davidson and L’Œil Nu: “Renegade Breakdown”

This week Montreal art-pop musician Marie Davidson announced a new album with her new band Marie Davidson and L’Œil Nu, a trio also featuring her husband Pierre Guerineau as well as Asaël R. Robitaille. The album is entitled Renegade Breakdown and they have shared its title track, via a video for the song (which has a cheeky early ’80s vibe and mixes French and English lyrics). Renegade Breakdown is due out September 25 via Ninja Tune. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.

A press release announcing the album cites a wide range of influences: Fleetwood Mac, Kraftwerk, Genesis, Billie Holiday, and Chet Baker. “We wanted to make songs, like the music we’ve been enjoying altogether for more than a decade,” Davidson simply says in a press release.

Renegade Breakdown follows Davidson’s 2018 album, Working Class Woman, and its standout single “Work It.” Davidson and Guerineau are also in Essaie pas together.

6. The Flaming Lips: “Will You Return / When You Come Down”

The Flaming Lips are releasing a new album, American Head, on September 11 via Warner Records. Today they shared another song from the album, “Will You Return / When You Come Down,” via a video for the track that features the band performing the song in the studio in a socially distant manner. Frontman Wayne Coyne co-directed the video with regular collaborator George Salisbury.

Longtime collaborator Dave Fridmann co-produced American Head with the band. The album includes “Flowers of Neptune 6,” a new song the band shared in May via a video for the track. The song featured Kacey Musgraves on additional vocals and was #1 on our Songs of the Week list. Musgraves also features on another American Head song, “God and the Policeman.”

When the album was announced in June, the band shared its second single, “My Religion Is You,” via a video for the song. Then they shared another song from the album, “Dinosaurs on the Mountain,” also via a video for the track. Then they shared a fourth song from the album, “You n Me Sellin’ Weed,” also via a video for the track.

In June, The Flaming Lips performed for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, with the entire band in separate plastic bubbles and also their audience, including some kids, in bubbles. And to make it even more timely, they did “Race for the Prize,” a classic from 1999’s The Soft Bulletin about two scientists racing to find a cure.

7. TRAAMS: “The Greyhound”  

On Tuesday British post-rock band TRAAMS shared their first single in almost five years today with the over nine-minute long new track “The Greyhound.” After recording a standalone single in 2016 called “A House on Fire,” the band went on a brief hiatus, but are now back. 

The track was recorded with Theo Verney and features Lewis Evans (of Black Country, New Road) on saxophone. At the end of the video for the single, the band links to the Greyhound and Lercher Rescue fund in the UK (more info is here). The band’s last album was 2015’s Modern Dancing and the trio features Stuart Hopkins (vocals, guitar), Leigh Padley (bass), and Adam Stock (drums). By Jennifer Irving

8. Future Islands: “Thrill”

On Wednesday Future Islands announced a new album, As Long As You Are, and shared a new song from it, “Thrill,” via a video for it. As Long As You Are is due out October 9 via 4AD. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.

As Long As You Are includes “For Sure,” a new song the band shared in July via a video. “For Sure” features backing vocals from Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak and Flock of Dimes and was one of our Songs of the Week.

As Long As You Are is the follow-up to 2017’s The Far Field. The band’s core lineup of Samuel T. Herring (vocals), John Gerrit Welmers (keyboards), and William Cashion (bass), has now been officially joined by longtime touring drummer Michael Lowry (who also contributes to the songwriter). The four-piece co-produced the album with engineer Steve Wright, recording it at his Wrightway Studios in Baltimore.

Herring self-directed and stars in the “Thrill” video, which is simply a static head shot of him passionately singing the song. Future Islands are known for being a formidable live act, but with touring off the table during a pandemic, the band have announced a special ticketed livestreamed concert on release day (October 9), to be broadcast from their hometown of Baltimore. Details on the concert are still forthcoming.

Read our 2014 cover story article on Future Islands.

 

9. Bully: “Prism”

“‘Prism’ is about the process of letting go and realizing which aspects continue to resonate as time passes,” says Bully (aka Alicia Bognanno) about her new song, shared on Wednesday. “Prism” is the latest single from her upcoming third album, SUGAREGG, due out August 21 via Sub Pop.

Previously Bully shared the album’s lead single, “Where to Start,” via a video for it. “Where to Start” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then she shared another song from the album, “Every Tradition,” via a video for the track. Then she shared another song from it, “Hours and Hours,” which was about Bognanno’s relationship with her mother and also made our Songs of the Week list.

SUGAREGG was produced and mixed by John Congleton and Bognanno, with additional production and mixing by Graham Walsh. It was also recorded at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, and Palace Sound in Toronto, Ontario, and mastered by Heba Kadry.

Overall, the album itself is decidedly the most explosive collection of songs from Bognanno’s discography. “This is me longing to see the bigger picture, motivated and eager for contentment in the best way,” she said in a previous press release. “I hope the happy go lucky/fuck-it-all attitude shines through some of these songs because I really did feel like I was reentering a place I hadn’t been to in a while and was excited to be back there.”

Bully’s last album was 2017’s Losing. Read our interview with Bully on Losing.

10. Andy Bell: “Love Comes In Waves”

On Tuesday, Andy Bell, founding member of ’90s British shoegaze band Ride, announced his debut solo album, The View From Halfway Down, and shared its first single, “Love Comes in Waves,” via a video for it. The album will be released October 9 on Sonic Cathedral. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.

Bell began writing the album in 2016, but shortly after, Ride’s live reunion tour became a full time return, and the band released two albums and embarked on two world tours. When the pandemic hit, Bell decided it was finally time to work on and release his debut solo album, sharing the first single today on his 50th birthday.

The View from Halfway Down was engineered by Gem Archer and mastered by Heba Kadry. “Love Comes in Waves” is a heavily psychedelic song, with an accompanying video just as trippy.

Bell had this to say about the album in a press release: “I’ve always wanted to make a solo album, I’ve always said I would do it, although I never imagined it happening like, or sounding like, this one does. I’d been sitting on this pile of almost finished tracks, along with all the other hundreds of ideas that had fallen by the wayside since I’ve been making music. Lockdown gave me the opportunity to find a way to present it to the world.

“The album is not about songwriting. There aren’t many verses or choruses, because this album is about sounds, a listening experience.”

Ride reformed in 2014 to do some touring and finally released their first new album in 21 years, Weather Diaries, in 2017 via Wichita. That was followed by the 2018 EP, Tomorrow's Shore and then 2019's This Is Not a Safe Place.

After the initial run in Ride, Bell formed the band Hurricane #1 in 1997 and then was in Oasis for 10 years (from 1999 to 2009), as well as in Beady Eye (a band that featured many of the later members of Oasis, including Liam Gallagher, but not Noel Gallagher, from 2009 to 2014). By Jennifer Irving

11. The Mountain Goats: “As Many Candles As Possible”

On Tuesday The Mountain Goats announced a new album, Getting Into Knives, and shared its first single, “As Many Candles As Possible,” via a Lalitree Darnielle-directed lyric video for it. Getting Into Knives is due out October 23 via Merge. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here

Getting Into Knives is the follow-up to 2019’s In League With Dragons and was recorded with that album’s engineer, Matt Ross-Spang, now acting as producer, at Sam Phillips Recording in Nashville in the same studio where The Cramps recorded their debut album.

“We would work until midnight and then return to the house where all four of us were staying, directly across the street from the studio, and hang out for hours on the patio,” frontman John Darnielle explains in the album’s bio.

In League With Dragons followed 2017’s Goths and 2015’s wrestling-themed Beat the Champ. The band features frontman John Darnielle, drummer Jon Wurster, bassist Peter Hughes, and multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas.

Honorable Mentions:

These six songs almost made the Top 10.

Blue Hawaii: “I Felt Love”

Bill Callahan: “Breakfast” 

Elvis Costello: “We Are All Cowards Now”

The Killers: “Dying Breed” 

Lia Ices: “Hymn”

No Joy: “Dream Rats”

Other notable new tracks in the last week include: 

Anjimile: “Baby No More” 

Benee: “Snail” 

Alex Cameron: “Gaslight (Demo)”  

Ciara: “Rooted” 

Drew Citron: “Summertime”

The Cribs: “Running Into You” 

Miley Cyrus: “Midnight Sky”

Helena Deland: “Someone New”

EELS: “Baby Let’s Make It Real” 

 

Erasure: “Nerves of Steel”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Aid Kit: “On the Road Again” (Willie Nelson Cover)

 

Girl Friday: “Earthquake” 

Girls In Synthesis: “They’re Not Listening” 

Alice Glass: “Nightmares”

Holy Motors: “Endless Night”

 

Bruce Hornsby: “Anything Can Happen” (Feat. Leon Russell) 

 

Hovvdy: “I’m Sorry” 

 

IDLES: “Model Village”

The Japanese House: “Dionne” (Feat. Justin Vernon)

 

King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard: “Some of Us”

Knot: “Horse Trotting, The Feet Not Touching the Ground” 

 

Lo Tom: “Start Payin’” 

Dent May: “Easier Said Than Done”

Osees: “If I Had My Way” 

Pallbear: “Rite of Passage”

Partner: “Hello and Welcome”

 

Orville Peck and Shania Twain: “Legends Never Die” 

Elvis Perkins: “See Through”

 

Prince: “Witness 4 The Prosecution (Version 2)” 

Quasi – “Last Days of the Thin Blue Line”

Gruff Rhys: “Negative Vibes (Babelsberg Basement Files Version)” 

The Rolling Stones: “Scarlet (The War on Drugs Remix)”

Slow Pulp: “Falling Apart” 

Svalbard: “Listen To Someone” 

Sylvan Esso: “Rooftop Dancing”

Throwing Muses: “Frosting”

Weezer: “Beginning of the End (Wyld Stallyns Edit)”

(Special thanks to Jennifer Irving for also helping to put this week’s list together.)

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