10 Best Songs of the Week: Phoebe Bridgers, The Dears, Laura Marling, Westerman, and More | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, October 19th, 2020  

10 Best Songs of the Week: Phoebe Bridgers, The Dears, Laura Marling, Westerman, and More

Plus (Sandy) Alex G, Gum Country, Gorillaz, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

Apr 10, 2020
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Welcome to the fourteenth Songs of the Week of 2020. Our new normal of being under lockdown during COVID-19 continues. There have been vague hints that things might be getting slightly better in some badly hit countries ahead of the U.S. in terms of when they first got the pandemic and in America some revised predictions as to the number of projected deaths haven’t been as dire as previous ones. And yet we’re still in the thick of it, especially if you live in New York City, with coronavirus deaths continuing to rise. It seems we’ll be doing this social distancing dance at least until early summer.

This week we posted more interviews in our COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In series, including with Murray Lightburn with The Dears, Austra, Ana Perrote of Hinds, Lindsey Mills of Surfer Blood, and Tim Burgess of The Charlatans.

We also posted a My Firsts interview with Half Waif.

In the last week we also reviewed a bunch of albums, including the latest by Ellis, Lanterns on the Lake, The Strokes, Søren Lorensen, Half Waif, Arbouretum, Morrissey, Yael Naim, Yves Tumor, and Roddy Woomble. Plus every week we post reviews of various other things (some weeks including DVDs, Blu-rays, films, concerts, and TV shows).

This week we also posted the latest episode of our Why Not Both podcast, this one featuring actress/writer/director Hannah Marks.

Plus several of our writers put together quarantine playlists.

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. Phoebe Bridgers: “Kyoto”

Phoebe Bridgers is releasing a new album, Punisher, on June 19 via Dead Oceans. It was announced yesterday and at the same time she shared a new song from it, “Kyoto,” via a Nina Ljeti-directed video for the track that featured Bridgers flying around a city and battling Godzilla.

Last night she also performed “Kyoto” for Jimmy Kimmel Live!, but because of COVID-19 social distancing she did so remotely, from her bathtub at home, dressed in her pajamas and accompanied by only a synthesizer on her lap.

Bridgers had this to say about “Kyoto” in a press release: “This song is about impostor syndrome. About being in Japan for the first time, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, and playing my music to people who want to hear it, feeling like I’m living someone else’s life. I dissociate when bad things happen to me, but also when good things happen. It can feel like I’m performing what I think I’m supposed to be like. I wrote this one as a ballad first, but at that point I was so sick of recording slow songs, it turned into this.”

Punisher includes “Garden Song,” a new song she shared in February via a video for it. “Garden Song” was #1 on our Songs of the Week list.

Punisher is her sophomore album, the follow-up to her acclaimed debut album, Stranger in the Alps, released in September 2017 via Dead Oceans. For Punisher she reteamed with Stranger in the Alps’ producers/collaborators Tony Berg and Ethan Gruska, although this time Bridgers co-produced the album with them. Mike Mogis mixed the album, as he did with her debut.

Punisher features Bridgers’ main band: Marshall Vore (drums), Harrison Whitford (guitar), Emily Retsas (bass), and Nick White (piano). But the album also features a slew of notable guests: Conor Oberst (“Halloween,” “I Know The End”), Lucy Dacus (“Graceland Too,” “I Know The End”), Julien Baker (“Graceland Too,” “I Know the End”), Blake Mills (“Halloween,” “Savior Complex,” and “I Know the End”), Jenny Lee Lindberg (“Kyoto,” “ICU”), Christian Lee Hutson (“Garden Song,” “Halloween,” “Savior Complex,” “I Know the End”), Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner (“I Know the End”), legendary drummer Jim Keltner (“Halloween” and “Savior Complex”), and Bright Eyes’ Nathaniel Walcott on horns (“Kyoto” and “I Know the End”). 

Bridgers has been plenty busy since the release of Stranger in the Alps.

Last week she sang guest vocals on a new song by The 1975, “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America,” which is featured on their forthcoming new album, Notes On a Conditional Form, and was one of our Songs of the Week.

In 2018 she teamed up with fellow singer/songwriters Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus to form supergroup boygenius, whose self-titled debut EP was released in October 2018 via Matador.

In 2019 Bridgers teamed up with Conor Oberst for the side-project Better Oblivion Community Center, who released their self-titled debut album last year via Dead Oceans.

Last December Bridgers shared the new Christmas track, “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night,” which featured Fiona Apple and Matt Berninger (of The National). Last October Bridgers and Berninger also teamed up for the new song, “Walking On a String,” which they performed in Netflix’s Between Two Ferns: The Movie. Then they shared a studio version of the song via a black & white video featuring them recording it, making “Walking On a String” one of our Songs of the Week.

Read our 2017 exclusive interview with Phoebe Bridgers and check out our photo-shoot with her.

Read our 2019 cover story interview with boygenius.

2. The Dears: “Heart of An Animal”

Montréal’s The Dears are releasing a new album, Lovers Rock, on May 15 via Dangerbird. On Wednesday shared another song from the album, dramatic album opener “Heart of An Animal,” via a strange Sinbad Richardson-directed lyric video for the song. They have also announced some new tour dates, shows that were rescheduled due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic (the previously purchased tickets remain valid). Check out the tour dates here

Frontman Murray Lightburn had this to say about “Heart of An Animal” in a press release: “I’ve been trying to get ‘Heart of An Animal’ on a Dears album for a very long time, but for whatever reason it just never fit. Now it kicks off and sets the overall tone of Lovers Rock. It was by far the most difficult song to sing for me, as it hits the very top of my range.”

The band’s Natalia Yanchak also had this to say: “It’s a tender, psychedelic runaway train. You should be left wondering where this album is going and let me tell you… it just gets weirder from here.”

Previously The Dears shared the album’s first single, “The Worst of Us,” via a lyric video for the new song. “The Worst of Us” was #1 on our Songs of the Week list.

Read our recent interview with Lightburn about what his COVID-19 quarantine experience has been like so far.

The Dears’ last album was 2017’s Times Infinity Volume Two, which was the follow-up to 2015’s Times Infinity Volume One. Since those two albums frontman Murray A. Lightburn also released a new solo album, Hear Me Out, in 2019 via Dangerbird.

The Dears are as ever led by Lightburn on vocals and guitar and his wife Yanchak on vocals and piano. For Lovers Rock they were joined by longtime drummer Jeff “Looch” Luciani (who's been with them since 2011’s Degeneration Street) and two musicians who performed on Lightburn’s last solo album, Steve Raegele (guitar) and Rémi-Jean LeBlanc (bass). Sam Roberts also has a cameo and there’s saxophone from both Alex Francoeur and The E Street Band’s Jake Clemons (on “Stille Lost”).

In a previous press release Lightburn says that Lovers Rock has much in common with No Cities Left, their 2003-released sophomore album that probably remains their most beloved record.

“There’s a direct line between the sort of doominess of No Cities Left and this album,” said Lightburn. “You could go straight from Lovers Rock to No Cities Left and it’s like they're interlocked. But it's a different kind of doom. Around 2001, it felt like, ‘We have no control. We don't know what's going to happen next.’ Now it’s a doom that's within our grasp. It’s in the air. It’s between us. But we do nothing about it.”

3. Laura Marling: “Held Down”

This Monday Laura Marling announced a new album, Song For Our Daughter, and shared its first single, “Held Down.” Song For Our Daughter was originally scheduled for a late summer release, but Marling announced that it was coming out today instead due to COVID-19 whereas most release date changes due to the pandemic are going the other way, with albums being pushed back. The album is out now via Partisan/Chrysalis. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.

Marling issued this press statement about the album and release date change: “My new album Song For Our Daughter is coming out this week, ahead of our planned schedule. In light of the change to all our circumstances, I saw no reason to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain, and at its best, provide some sense of union. 

“It’s strange to watch the facade of our daily lives dissolve away, leaving only the essentials; those we love and our worry for them. An album, stripped of everything that modernity and ownership does to it, is essentially a piece of me, and I’d like for you to have it. I’d like for you, perhaps, to hear a strange story about the fragmentary, nonsensical experience of trauma and an enduring quest to understand what it is to be a woman in this society. When I listen back to it now, it makes more sense to me than when I wrote it. My writing, as ever, was months, years, in front of my conscious mind. It was there all along, guiding me gently through the chaos of living. And that, in itself, describes the sentiment of the album—how would I guide my daughter, arm her and prepare her for life and all of its nuance? I’m older now, old enough to have a daughter of my own, and I feel acutely the responsibility to defend The Girl. The Girl that might be lost, torn from innocence prematurely or unwittingly fragmented by forces that dominate society. I want to stand behind her and whisper in her ear all the confidences and affirmations I had found so difficult to provide myself. This album is that strange whisper; a little distorted, a little out of sequence, such is life.

“I want you to have it.”  

Marling’s last solo album was 2017’s Semper Femina. But in 2018 she teamed up with Tunng’s Mike Lindsay to form the duo LUMP and release their acclaimed self-titled debut under that name (a second LUMP album is due out next year). Post Semper Femina, Marling also left her label and manager and enrolled in a master’s degree in psychoanalysis.

Read our 2017 interview with LUMP.

Also read our 2015 interview with Marling about Short Movie.

4. Westerman: “Waiting On Design”

West London’s Will Westerman, who releases music simply under his last name, is releasing his debut full-length album, Your Hero Is Not Dead, on June 5 via Partisan. On Tuesday he shared another song from it, the lush “Waiting On Design.” It sounds a bit like 10cc being covered Field Music (or vice versa).

Westerman had this to say about “Waiting On Design” in a press release: “I was thinking about the absurdity of the self, and how nobody wants to look at themselves from the perspective of the people they hurt. What's interesting to me about storytelling isn't necessarily the stories themselves, but the mutual connection that comes from people's understanding of what's being conjured by that story.” 

Westerman recorded Your Hero Is Not Dead in Southern Portugal and London with his friend and producer Nathan Jenkins (aka Bullion). The album includes “Blue Comanche,” a new song Westerman shared in January. It was one of our Songs of the Week. Then when the album was announced he shared another new song from it, “Think I’ll Stay,” which was also one of our Songs of the Week.

In 2018 Westerman released a 4-song EP, Ark, via Blue Flowers. Before that he garnered attention for a series of singles and his 2017-released Call and Response EP.

5. (Sandy) Alex G: “rosebush”

(Sandy) Alex G (aka Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Alex Giannascoli) released a new album, House of Sugar, back in September via Domino. On Monday he shared a brand new song, “rosebush.” It wasn’t announced via an official press release, instead it was just uploaded to Giannascoli’s YouTube account with little context. The jazzy track features David Allen Scoli on saxophone, John Heywood on bass, and Molly Germer on violin.

Previously Giannascoli shared a video for House of Sugar’s first single, “Gretel.” It was one of our Songs of the Week. Then he shared another song from it, “Hope,” via a minimal video featuring only a string puppet dancing to the song. Then he shared another song from it, “Southern Sky,” via an animated video for the track. That was quickly followed up by another new song from the album, “Near,” a short, more experimental track. Then he shared a video for the album’s “In My Arms.”

House of Sugar was Giannascoli’s ninth album overall and his third for Domino. It was the follow-up to 2017’s Rocket. Jacob Portrait, who mixed both Rocket and 2015’s Beach Music, also worked on House of Sugar.

Read our review of House of Sugar.

6. Gum Country: “Somewhere”

This week Los Angeles-based duo Gum Country announced their debut album, Somewhere, and shared its title track, “Somewhere,” via a video for the new song. Somewhere is due out June 14 via Burger and Kingfisher Bluez. The band features vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Courtney Garvin (The Courtneys) and multi-instrumentalist Connor Mayer. They describe their sound as “harsh twee.” Stumble on Tapes directed the “Somewhere” video. 

The duo began in Vancouver, where they quietly made lo-fi four-track recordings in an apartment. Then they relocated to their current home of Los Angeles. There they recorded the album with Joo-Joo Ashworth at Studio 22. A press release cites the following as influences and reference points: Stereolab, The Replacements, The Breeders, Beat Happening, Yo La Tengo, Meat Puppets, and The Magnetic Fields.

Mayer had this to say about “Somewhere” in the press release: “I wrote ‘Somewhere’ a couple years after moving to LA. It's about leaving a place that you are comfortable in and landing in a strange new one, and discovering what parts of your identity remain and which were left behind. The first line I wrote was ‘haven't felt this way in a while, I can't think straight can't hide my smile, I guess this is gonna be my life for a while,’ and then it was just a process of unravelling that thought. I think the song could be about the range of emotions that come with any big change, and ultimately settling on a mellow excitement for vulnerability.”  

7. Gorillaz: “Aries” (Feat. Peter Hook and Georgia)

This week Damon Albarn’s virtual band Gorillaz shared a new song, “Aries,” that features Peter Hook (Peter Hook and the Light, Joy Division, New Order) and Georgia, via a video for the track. It’s the third episode of their Song Machine video series. Gorillaz’s Jamie Hewlett directed the video, which features the virtual band driving around a city. Stick around for a COVID-19 PSA at the end.

The band’s virtual guitarist Noodle had this to say about the song in a press release: “Highly impatient and competitive, many Aries have the fighting spirit of your mythological ruler.” 

Previously Gorillaz shared episode one of Song Machine, which showcased a video for the new song “Momentary Bliss” that featurds slowthai and Slaves. “Momentary Bliss” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then they shared episode two of Song Machine, which was the new song “Désolé,” that featured Malian musician Fatoumata Diawara, via a video for the track. “Désolé” was also one of our Songs of the Week.

Gorillaz’s last two albums were 2017’s Humanz and 2018’s The Now Now.

8. Washed Out: “Too Late”

On Thursday Washed Out (aka Ernest Greene) shared a new song, “Too Late,” via a video for the track. Greene had plans to shoot a proper video for the song in Italy, but COVID-19 social distancing rules and travel restrictions derailed the original video, so Greene reached out to his fans around the world to share their own footage, which has been edited to form the video. Right now the song is a standalone single on Sub Pop. 

Greene had this to say about the video in a press release:

“I’d spent months planning a music video for a new song called ‘Too Late.’ My inspiration was a Mediterranean sunset I saw late last year, and the plan was to shoot on the coast of Italy with a team of UK and European collaborators. As we got closer to the shoot date, word about the severity and the speed of the virus started becoming daily news, and it became clear it wasn’t going to happen the way we’d planned. We tried to move the shoot several times (to Malta, Croatia, Spain, and eventually the UK), and one after another, countries shut their borders. Seeing Italy hit so hard was especially difficult to see.
 
“I put up an IG post asking for fans to help me come up with the raw footage I had in mind—those first few days, as I was going through photos of my trips and tours, the memories of traveling and experiences I’d had took on a new significance. I wanted the video to capture those same moments for other people in their lives, and give us all an excuse to remember what it’ll look like again when it passes.
 
“I went in thinking if I got 100 clips, I’d have enough to make the video I wanted to make. 30 minutes in, I had the 100 clips, and a few days in, I had over 1,200 clips—from London, Bali, Okinawa, Ann Arbor, Dubrovnik, and a few hundred other places around the world. It was pretty amazing for me to see the vids and pics flood in like they did.
 
“I was blown away by the response, and I’m excited to share the project with everyone now. For me, it’s turned out to be a much needed reminder of how connected we can all be when we’ve never been more physically distanced from each other. I hope everyone that contributed and everyone that watches the video gets the joy from it I do.
 
“I don’t know what the immediate future holds for Washed Out... I have a lot of new music in various states, and other projects I was looking forward to working on this summer. I don’t know when I’ll be able to tour again, or when any of the other new music will come out, but I’m staying optimistic about both….”  

Greene produced the song, which was mixed by Ben H. Allen in Atlanta, Georgia.

Washed Out’s last album, Mister Mellow, came out in 2017 via Stone’s Throw. It was released as a visual album.

9. The Beths: “Dying to Believe”

On Wednesday New Zealand four-piece The Beths announced a new album, Jump Rope Gazers, and shared its first single, “Dying to Believe,” via a Callum Devlin-directed video for the new song. Jump Rope Gazers is due out July 10 via Carpark. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art, as well as the band’s upcoming tour dates, here

Jump Rope Gazers is the band’s second album, the follow-up to 2018’s amusingly titled debut, Future Me Hates Me. The Beths feature Elizabeth Stokes (vocals/guitar), Jonathan Pearce (guitar), Benjamin Sinclair (bass), and Tristan Deck (drums). The album was recorded at Pearce’s Auckland studio, where he also produced the album.

A press release gives some hints as to the themes on the album: “Stokes’ writing on Jump Rope Gazers grapples with the uneasy proposition of leaving everything and everyone you know behind on another continent, chasing your dreams while struggling to stay close with loved ones back home.” 

Read our My Firsts interview with The Beths.

10. Ohmme: “Ghost”

Chicago-based duo Ohmme (Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart) are releasing a new album, Fantasize Your Ghost, on June 5 via Joyful Noise. On Tuesday they shared another song from the album, “Ghost,” via a video for the track that features them dancing and performing with some colorful ghosts. The band have also announced some rescheduled tour dates, after the original dates were postponed due to COVID-19 (check them out here). Austin Vesely directed the video.

Ohmme collectively had this to say about the video in a press release: “We’d been kicking around the idea of doing something like the ‘Pop Musik’ video by M but darker. There’s a lot of darkness these days but it’s important to keep dancing. Austin said, ‘fancy ghosts’ and ‘can I press order on these California King satin bedsheets’ and we said ‘Yes, and YES!’”

Fantasize Your Ghost was demoed at Sam Evian's Flying Cloud Studios in Upstate New York and eventually recorded over six days in August 2019 at the Post Farm in southern Wisconsin with producer Chris Cohen. Previously they shared the album’s first single, “3 2 4 3,” via a video for the song.

Honorable Mentions: 

These five songs almost made the Top 10. 

Angel Olsen: “All Mirrors (Johnny Jewel Remix)”

Momma: “Biohazard”

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: “The Steady Heart”

Johanna Warren: “Only the Truth”

Woods: “Strange to Explain”

Other notable new tracks in the last week include:

2nd Grade: “Velodrome” and “My Bike” 

Avey Tare: “Wake My Door”

awakebutstillinbed: “Me” (The 1975 Cover)

Bad Moves: “Party With the Kids Who Wanna Party With You”

Meg Baird: “Cross Bay”

Baths: “Mikaela Corridor”

Black Dresses: “CREEP U”

Caribou: “Never Come Back (Morgan Geist Remix)”

Cecile Believe: “Pick Up The Phone”

Leon Bridges: “Inside Friend” (Feat. John Mayer)

Charli XCX: “Forever”

Sheryl Crow: “Lonely Town, Lonely Street” (Bill Withers Cover)

Danzig: “One Night” (Elvis Presley Cover)

Desire: “Escape”

Hazel English: “Five and Dime”

EOB: “Cloak of the Night” (Feat. Laura Marling)

Eleanor Friedberger: “Hell” and “The River” (Destroyer Covers) 

Jade Hairpins: “(Don’t Break My) Devotion” 

Liza Anne: “Bad Vacation”

Majetic: “Desert Wings”

Masterpiece Machine: “Rotting Fruit”

mxmtoon: “lessons”

Alison Mosshart: “Rise” 

Mykki Blanco: “Patriarchy Aint the End of Me”

Randy Newman: “Stay Away” 

Polo G: “DND”

Rico Nasty: “Popstar” 

Rita Wilson and Naughty By Nature: “Hip Hop Hooray” (Remix) 

Rogue Wave: “Aesop Rock”

Luke Schneider: “Lex Universum”

Shiner: “Paul P. Pogh”

The Strokes: “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus”

 

Usher, Lil Jon, and Ludacris: “SexBeat”

Vistas: “15 Years”

Hayley Williams: “My Friend”

Neil Young: “Shut It Down 2020”

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