10 Best Songs of the Week: Jamila Woods, Tim Heidecker, Bully, Kelly Lee Owens, and More | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, September 24th, 2020  

10 Best Songs of the Week: Jamila Woods, Tim Heidecker, Bully, Kelly Lee Owens, and More

Plus Cults, Cut Copy, Young Jesus, snny, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

Aug 07, 2020
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Welcome to the 31st Songs of the Week of 2020. This week Democrats, Republicans, and the Trump Administration couldn’t all agree on a new stimulus package a week after expanded unemployment benefits expired (something Democrats wanted to extend and Republicans didn’t). Former (or perhaps current) Trump supporter Kanye West got on the presidential election ballot in several states with the help of some Republican operatives, even though he has no chance of winning, and implied his main intentions were to take votes away from Democratic nominee Joe Biden. There was a devastating explosion in Beirut, one that was quite preventable it seems, and a plane crash in India.

In lighter news, the people behind the Eurovision Song Contest have announced an American version, the American Song Contest, in which singers from various states will compete. It seems unlikely it’ll be as quirky as the European version (as witnessed in Netflix’s recent amusing film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as contestants from Iceland). As it’s still tricky to go to a movie theater in a pandemic, Disney decided to cancel the theatrical release of their live action adaptation of Mulan, which was originally due out in March, and will put it on Disney+ for an additional $30 fee. For those with ’80s nostalgia, Aquaman director James Wan is developing/producing a movie version of Knight Rider (the show with David Hasselhoff and a cool talking car) and Who’s the Boss? might be coming back with Tony Danza and Alyssa Milano reprising their roles. 

In Under the Radar news, we finally turned into our printer the files for our next print issue. Details will be announced in the coming weeks.

Onto this week’s songs—it wasn’t the strongest of weeks for new songs, but there were definitely 10 we liked and some good honorable mentions too. 

This week on our website we also posted a COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In interview with Plants and Animals, as well as a new interview with CeeLo Green

In the last week we also reviewed a bunch of albums, including the latest by Fontaines D.C., Silverbacks, Jon Hassell, Luke Jenner, Jenny O., and Washed Out. 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 10 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. Jamila Woods: “Sula (paperback)”

Jamila Woods hasn’t made any music since LEGACY! LEGACY!, her acclaimed 2019 sophomore album that honors artists of color with titles such as “BALDWIN,” “BASQUIAT,” and “ZORA.” On Thursday, Woods continued on with this theme but with a slight deviation. Her new track “SULA (paperback),” is also the name of the title and lead character from Toni Morrison’s 1973 novel.

Sula, to give you the brief overview, depicts two young girls, Nel Wright and Sula Peace growing up in Medallion, Ohio. This (semi) innocence is probably why Woods decided to go with a slow and sweet track with the glossy reverb guitar and Woods’ clean vocals and harmonies. And of course, some killer lines: “Freedom and triumph, they weren’t meant for me/Girls of my color, find somethin’ else to be.” 

Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of the revolutionary writer’s death. In a press release, Woods explains why she wrote the song. 

“It’s the first Toni Morisson novel I ever read and it inspired the first chapbook of poems I ever wrote,” says Woods. “The novel shows the evolution of a friendship between two Black women and how they choose to navigate society's strict gender roles and rules of respectability. On Sula, Toni Morrison wrote, ‘living totally by the law and surrendering totally to it without questioning anything sometimes makes it impossible to know anything about yourself.’ Returning to the story several years later, it gave me permission to reject confining ideas about my identity designed to shrink my spirit. It reminded me to embrace my tenderness, my sensitivities, my ways of being in my body. This song is a mantra to allow myself space to experience my gender, love, intimacy, and sexuality on my own terms.” By Samantha Small

 

2. Tim Heidecker: “Fear of Death” (Feat. Weyes Blood) 

Tim Heidecker (of Tim & Eric and Heidecker & Wood) is a man of many skills: an actor, comedian, podcast host, musician, and producer. This week he announced his new album, Fear of Death, is coming out September 25 via Spacebomb Records. He also shared the title track with features from none other than Natalie Mering, aka Weyes Blood, via a video. 

Heidecker’s band, to say the least, is star-studded. First we have Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering, then Drew Erickson (Jonathan Wilson, Dawes), The Lemon Twigs’ Brian and Michael D’Addario, Jonathan Rado (Foxygen), and string arrangements by Spacebomb’s Trey Pollard (Foxygen, Bedouine). The song itself is a ’70s inspired track—casual vocals, folk-rock backing, and a continuous pondering of mortality. “Fear of death is keeping me alive,” sing Heidecker and Mering. 

“I didn’t know that this record was going to be so focused on death when I was writing it,” Heidecker said in a press release. “It took a minute for me to stand back and look at what I was talking about to realize that, yes, I am now a middle-aged man and my subconscious is screaming at me: ‘You are getting old, dude! You are not going to live forever! Put down that cheeseburger!’” 

Heindecker previously released the fake break-up album What The Brokenhearted Do... back in June of last year. It was created after alt-right trolls spread a rumor that Heidecker's wife had left him. But, according to a press release, Heindecker is leaving satire in the wind and shooting straight for the scarily morbid: the inevitability of death. 

“This record is a dream come true for me,” says Heidecker. “I got to work with some of the best, and nicest, musicians in town who helped me take some shabby, simple tunes and turn them into something I’m really proud of.” By Samantha Small

3. Bully: “Hours and Hours”

“I’m not angry anymore,” sings Bully (aka Alicia Bognanno) on “Hours and Hours,” the latest single from her upcoming third album, SUGAREGG, due out August 21 via Sub Pop. Bognanno says the song is about rebuilding her relationship with her mother. 

“‘Hours and Hours’ is about my mother and I finally figuring out our relationship,” Bognanno explains in a press release. “She and I had a really hard time connecting growing up and at times felt like it would never happen. Over the past five years we have become best friends, she is now the very first person I call when I am at my absolute lowest and has saved my life. I realize now how similar we are and how that probably had everything to do with why we had a difficult time with each other growing up. I wish I knew sooner how much we could relate but am eternally grateful that we have figured it out now and I’m just so thankful to be on good terms, I love her dearly.” 

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. 

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.

4. Kelly Lee Owens: “Corner of My Sky” (Feat. John Cale) 

Welsh electronic music artist/producer Kelly Lee Owens is releasing a new album, Inner Song, on August 28 via Smalltown Supersound. On Tuesday she shared another song from it, “Corner of My Sky,” which features fellow Welsh artist John Cale, who sings in both Welsh and English on the song. The two met when Owens was working on a song for Cale. 

Cale had this to say about the song in a press release: “It’s not usually this immediate that a productive afternoon brings a satisfying conclusion to a task. Kelly sent me a track she'd written—an instrumental that was a gentle drift—something comfortably familiar to what I'd been working on myself. On the first listen, the lyrics came with ease and a chorus and melody grew out of it. Even the Welsh phrases seemed to develop from a place of reflective memory which was a surprise since I hadn't written in Welsh for decades. Once finished, I realized there existed a built-in thread we'd created together and apart—and her kind spirit pulled it all together and in quick order.”
 
Owens also had this to say: “I knew with this album I needed to connect with my roots and therefore having the Welsh language featured on the record felt very important to me. Once the music for the track was written and the sounds were formed, I sent the track straight to John and asked if he could perhaps delve into his Welsh heritage and tell the story of the land via spoken-word, poetry and song. What he sent back was nothing short of phenomenal. The arrangement was done during the mixing process and once I’d finished the track, I cried—firstly feeling incredibly lucky to have collaborated with John and his eternal talent and secondly for both of us to have been able to connect to our homeland in this way.”

Inner Song was due out May 1, but has since been pushed back due to COVID-19. Previously Owens shared its first single, “Melt!,” via a video for the new song. Then she shared its second single, the hypnotic “Night,” which was on of our Songs of the Week. Then Owens shared the album’s third single, “On,” via a video for the track (which also made our Songs of the Week list).

Inner Song is the follow-up to Owens’ self-titled debut album, released in 2017 via Smalltown Supersound (it was one of our Top 100 Albums of 2017). In May 2019 Owens shared two new songs, “Let It Go” and “Omen,” with “Let It Go” making our Songs of the Week list. Neither song is on the new album. In December 2019 Owens teamed up with Jon Hopkins for the seven-minute long new song, “Luminous Spaces.” It was originally intended to be an Owens remix of Hopkins’ “Luminous Beings” but morphed into its own thing once the pair got into the studio together. “Luminous Spaces” was #1 on our Songs of the Week list and is also not featured on Inner Song.

Inner Song opens with a cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” from 2007’s In Rainbows, but Owens’ version is just titled “Arpeggi.” 

In a previous press release, Owens said creating Inner Song was “the hardest three years of my life…my creative life and everything I'd worked for up to that point was deeply impacted. I wasn't sure if I could make anything anymore, and it took quite a lot of courage to get to a point where I could create again.”

Read our 2017 interview with Kelly Lee Owens.

5. Cults: “No Risk”

Cults (the duo of Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion) are releasing a new album, Host, on September 18 via Sinderlyn. On Tuesday they shared another song from it, “No Risk,” which is actually a song about the benefits of taking risks. Also, last Friday Cults did a session for Lollapalooza as part of their virtual festival, during which they debuted the new song “Like I Do” (check that out here). 

Cults collectively had this to say about “No Risk” in a press release: “Antithetical to the title, the song is all about the benefits of taking risks, and how difficult that can be as a woman when being constantly told in both transparent and subliminal ways that you’re ‘second best’ or not worthy of the same voice. The song transforms the title from a place of complacency to a challenge to empower yourself.”

Host features “Spit You Out,” a new song Cults shared in June, via a video (it was one of our Songs of the Week). Then when the album was announced they shared another new song from it, “Trials,” also via s video. “Trials” also made our Songs of the Week list. 

Cults co-produced the Host with Shane Stoneback and it was mixed by John Congleton and mastered by Heba Kadry. Loren Shane Humphrey (The Last Shadow Puppets, Florence and the Machine, Guards) plays drums on the album.

The album finds Follin exerting a bit more creative control than before and taking a larger role in the songwriting.

“In the past, I’d never brought my own music to the table because I was just too shy,” Follin says in a press release. 

“When Shane and I heard what Madeline had written, we couldn’t believe it,” says Oblivion. “The music just floored us.”

The band’s last regular studio album was 2017’s Offering. Although in 2018 Cults also released another album where they covered The Motels’ classic 1979 debut album Motels in its entirety as part of Turntable Kitchen’s Sounds Delicious Series.

Read our 2017 interview with Cults on Offering.

6. Cut Copy: “Like Breaking Glass”

Cut Copy are releasing a new album, Freeze, Melt, on August 21 via Cutters Records/The Orchard. On Wednesday they shared another song from it, “Like Breaking Glass.” The band have also recently announced some new 2021 tour dates, which are here (hopefully they can actually happen).

Frontman Dan Whitford had this to say about the song in a press release: “In the beginning ‘Like Breaking Glass’ started out as a completely different track. Before one weekend I was mucking around in the studio with just a drum beat and an acid bassline. I never managed to finish it, but when I came back to it the next week there was something about that beat that felt compelling, so I started writing a song over the top of it. It is about the conflicted feelings of a relationship that has begun to unravel. Where sometimes against all logic, you discover that affections run deep just as a break up becomes inevitable. It was also one of my favorite songs working in the studio with the band when we crafted the middle section of the song comprising of weird delay effects, off-beat drum hits and metallic clangs where Mitchell was throwing a box of metal objects around the room, and we stood there recording him.”

Freeze, Melt includes “Love Is All We Share,” a new song the band shared in May via a video for the track. “Love Is All We Share” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then when the album was announced they shared another new song from it, “Cold Water,” via a video for the track. 

The Australian electronic band’s last album was 2017’s Haiku From Zero. Whitford wrote the album during a cold winter in Copenhagen and then joined the rest of the band at Melbourne’s Park Orchard Studios to record the album. Swedish’s Christoffer Berg (Robyn, The Knife) mixed the album, which was finished at Gothenburg’s Svenska Grammofonstudion. The band also features guitarist Tim Hoey, drummer Mitchell Scott, and bass player Ben Browning. 

Read our 2013 interview with Cut Copy on Free Your Mind.

7. Young Jesus: “Magicians”

Coming in at over 10 minutes, “Magicians” is the latest single off of Welcome to Conceptual Beach, the newest Young Jesus album, out next week via Saddle Creek. “Magicians” acts as the larger than life closer for Welcome to Conceptual Beach, an album based on, well, the conceptual beach that is the mental escape of frontman John Rossiter.

Young Jesus previously released two other singles from the album: “Root And Crown” and “(un)knowing.” Welcome to Conceptual Beach follows their 2018 release The Whole Thing Is Just There. The band also features bassist Marcel Borbon, keyboardist Eric Shevrin, and drummer Kern Haug. By Jennifer Irving

8. snny: “Postmodern Black”

Hailing from the Ivory Coast, raised in Boston, and based in Iceland, snny takes on a wealth of artistic influences to create a genre-bending fusion of pop, hip hop, and R&B. His latest single comes on the heels of his May sophomore EP, Otitio, which spanned influences crossing international boundaries. He touches on moods ranging from the Ivory Coast grooves of “Abidjan” to sunny Los Angeles pop on “Pink Lemonade” and underlying melancholy on “Somewhere in Brooklyn.” His newest track, “Postmodern Black” provides the first taste of snny’s upcoming full-length record, the first to be released under his new record label/artist co-op, Radio Silence.

“Postmodern Black” pairs a thumping bass synth with funk-tinged, syncopated guitar licks and addictive melodies. It is characteristically bright and shows off snny’s charming charisma. The airtight groove and swaggering instrumental is sure to make the track a fixture on late summer playlists. The lyrics match the marching beat as snny describes his long path toward triumph, sounding both self-assured and joyous. 

He describes the track as “a sonic manifestation of my own self-reliance. It’s almost a superpower to be able to trust your instincts, and I wanted to render that notion with melody and instruments. As a young African man creating in this era I have a responsibility to my kinfolk to champion independence and fortitude during these divisive times.” The track is a confident declaration of intent and an exciting taste of what to look forward to on snny’s debut LP. By Caleb Campbell

snny · snny - Postmodern Black

9. Widowspeak: “Even True Love”

Folk-rock band Widowspeak have a new album, Plum, coming out August 28 via Captured Tracks. This week they shared the sunshine-y single “Even True Love” via a head in the clouds (literally) lyric video.

“Even True Love” has all the ingredients for a pensive drive down an open road: breezy riffs, a swaying rhythm and lead singer Molly Hamilton’s calming voice recognizing that life can be unpredictable: “Even true love,” she sings, “you can’t take it with you”

“Prior to writing ‘Even True Love,’ I’d been sitting with some existential dread for the last year or so; honestly, sort of overwhelmed by the recognition that life is absurd and finite,” says Hamilton in a press release. “The song itself is upbeat, kind of cruising. I was thinking about those youth-glorifying ‘yolo’ type songs and that big mood, but also feeling like there’s so much more to it than that. Maybe because they only live once, humans tend to want to possess things: objects, success, money, experiences, people. True Love. Amassing the most and best of whatever while you can. But that never really landed with me; I think this one is more about being present with the unknown, letting things go a little more, trying not to hold on too tight.”

Widowspeak have previously shared the title track “Plum” (which was one of our Songs of the Week), along with “Money” and “Breadwinner” (which was also one of our Songs of the Week). Plum is Widowspeak’s first release in three years since 2017’s Expect the Best. By Samantha Small

 

10. Jenny O.: “Old Habits”

Jenny O. (full name Jennifer Anne Ognibene) released a new album, New Truth, today via Mama Bird Recording Co. This week she shared one last pre-release song from it, “Old Habits,” via a self-directed video she made with the aid of construction paper. It’s the sixth single from her third album.

Ognibene had this to say about the video in a press release: “I made this video using construction paper. I was able to finish it because tour [with Vanessa Carlton] got canceled. It’s about the human experience, the never-ending struggle, learning to accept and enjoy the slow and flawed journey toward growth.”

We have posted the previous New Truth singles “What About That Day” (which was one of our Songs of the Week), “Even If I Tried,” and “Psychedelic Love.” She also shared “God Knows Why” and “I Don’t Want to Live Alone Anymore.”

Honorable Mentions: 

These five songs almost made the Top 10.

beabadoobee: “Sorry”

Big Joanie: “Cranes In The Sky” (Solange Cover)

Deradoorian: “Mask of Yesterday”

Midnight Oil: “Gadigal Land”

Sad13: “Oops…!

Other notable new tracks in the last week include:

645AR: “Sum Bout You” (Feat. FKA twigs) 

A Certain Ratio: “Yo Yo Gi”

 

All We Are: “Heart of Mine” 

Anderson. Paak: “Lockdown (Remix)” (Feat. J.I.D, Noname, & Jay Rock) 

ANOHNI: “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (Bob Dylan Cover) and “Be My Husband” (Nina Simone Cover) 

The Avett Brothers: “I Go to My Heart” 

 

Courtney Barnett: “Just For You” (Kev Carmody Cover)

Black Sabbath Cover Band Rehearsal: “Sweet Leaf” (Black Sabbath Cover)

Blink-182: “Quarantine” 

Kate Bollinger: “Feel Like Doing Nothing” 

 

Bon Iver: “AUATC” (Feat. Bruce Springsteen, Jenny Lewis, Jenn Wasner, and Elsa Jensen)

 

Bonny Light Horseman: “Greenland Fishery” 

Bill Callahan: “Let’s Move to the Country” (Smog Cover)

Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion: “WAP”

Conway the Machine: “Lemon” (Feat. Method Man) 

Dear Nora: “Time Is Now (Autumn Version)” 

Orindal · Dear Nora- Time Is Now (Autumn Version)

Eartheater: “How To Fight” 

Flatbush Zombies: “Afterlife” 

Hello Forever: “Everything is So Hard” 

Inara George: “Sex In Cars” (Feat. Dave Grohl) 

Gojira: “Another World” 

Ryan Hemsworth: “Keep Touch” (Feat. Leland Whitty) 

SG Lewis: “Impact” (Feat. Robyn & Channel Tres)

Magik Markers: “CDROM” 

 Narrow Head: “Hard To Swallow”

Palberta: “Something in the Way”

Wharf Cat Records · Palberta - Something in the Way

Palehound: “Southern Belle” (Elliott Smith Cover) 

Prince: “Cosmic Day”

PUP: “A.M. 180” (Grandaddy Cover)

Troye Sivan: “Rager teenager!” 

The Staves: “Nazareth”

Tobacco and Trent Reznor: “Babysitter”

Total Revenge: “The Fair”

 

Washed Out: “Paralyzed” 

The Weeknd and Juice WRLD: “Smile”

Whitney: “Strange Overtones” (David Byrne & Brian Eno Cover) 

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

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