10 Best Songs of the Week: Wye Oak, Doves, Sufjan Stevens, Future Islands, and More | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, August 15th, 2020  

10 Best Songs of the Week: Wye Oak, Doves, Sufjan Stevens, Future Islands, and More

Plus My Morning Jacket, Liv.e, Travis, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

Jul 10, 2020
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Welcome to the 27th Songs of the Week of 2020. There was a brief time when maybe one could have felt cautiously optimistic about the coronavirus, when it felt like it was okay to at least leave the house and interact with people outdoors in a socially distant way, but now it’s all feeling dire again, with COVID-19 cases soaring across the land. And we know who to blame. If we’d had a president who would even do the bare minimum of setting a good example by wearing a mask in public, let alone actually lead this country through this unprecedented crisis, then maybe we’d be closer to South Korea, New Zealand, or other (admittedly smaller) countries who have handled things better, rather than the mess we’re currently in. 

But it’s not just Trump, it’s also his enablers in the Republican Party and the right wing media. For example, last night I perused CNN’s homepage and it was a lot of dire warnings about coronavirus case spikes and why you should where a mask, but a comparison with Fox News’ homepage and it was all about a new interview with President Trump that Sean Hannity did and why Joe Biden would be such a disastrous president. You had to scroll way down the page to see any mention of the pandemic. If the president and his favorite news channel continue to downplay things, then his supporters will continue not to take it seriously enough. 

It’s not rocket science. We opened the economy too soon. If we all continued to stay home as much as possible. If we all wore masks in public when around other people, especially indoors. If we stopped going to the beach, restaurants, and bars, even if they are allowed to be open. If we continued to up the testing and contact tracing. If we did all that, then maybe we could truly flatten the curve. But too many people say it’s their God given constitutional right not to wear masks and this week the president threatened to cut federal funding to schools that didn’t reopen. When will it end? 

Anyway, onto this week’s songs. And what a week for new tracks. Jenn Wasner is the MVP this week, showing up in two songs in the Top 4. Although another band also appears twice.

This week we posted our new mini-documentary on the London trio Girl Ray.

This week we also posted My Favorite Album interviews with Topher Grace, Hayden Thorpe, and Whitney. We also posted interviews with Anna Burch and Rutledge Wood on hosting Netflix’s hit game show Floor Is Lava.

The latest episode of Why Not Both, the podcast we present, featured an interview with Soko.

In the last week we also reviewed a bunch of albums, including the latest by M. Ward, The Grip Weeds, Ocean Alley, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Melkbelly, Neil Young, Dream Wife, Hum, Dinner Party, and The Beths. 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. Wye Oak: “AEIO” (Feat. Brooklyn Youth Chorus)

On Tuesday Wye Oak (Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack) announced a new EP in collaboration with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, No Horizon, and shared its opening track, “AEIO,” via a lyric video. The collection drops July 31 via Merge. Check out the EP’s tracklist and cover art here.

“AEIO” is the perfect opening song. A bright and invigorating track with dreamy vocals and harmonies, towering drums, and resonant guitar—imagine something you might find in The Lion King or Tarzan, and I mean that in the most praising way possible.

In a press release Wasner had this to say about the new tune: “This song is about the inadequacy of language. It was written around the time that those currently in power took it upon themselves to think that they could minimize the existence of certain people by removing the words that we currently use to define them—like transgender—from use. Language is bigger than the powers that try to control it, but we are so much bigger than language. We are so much more than anything that can be suggested with words.”

According to a press release, No Horizon is a project “plumbing the depths of an ‘evolve or die’ ethos. But, the real through line is technology and the paradox of feeling both included and excluded; disconnected and connected. And while the tracks are distinctly Wye Oak, they find the pair at a stage unlike anything we’ve ever seen before with more unpredictable, but exciting, arrangements. This might have something to do with the expansion of their band to now include five touring members.”

“There’s this sense of communion of making music with other people in real time and space, and that’s something that had eluded us on multiple levels,” Stack explains in the press release. “One was purely geographical, where we were living so far from each other, but also, through this style of performance that we leaned into in the last five years, we really got into this sort of electronic apparatus running different synths and drum machines and electronics. All of that was a way for us to maximize our fire power, maximize the output with a limited palette.”

Aside from “AEIO,” the duo recently shared the standalone singles “Walk Soft” (which made our Songs of the Week list) and “Fortune” (which was #1 on that week’s Songs of the Week list). Back in January, they also shared  “Fear of Heights,” another #1 on that week’s Songs of the Week list. None of those songs feature on No Horizon. They also recently shared, JOIN, a new mini documentary highlighting the history of the band.

Wye Oak released their last album, The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs, back in April 2018 via Merge. (It was our Album of the Week and one of our Top 100 Albums of 2018.) In February 2019 they shared a brand new song, “Evergreen,” via the Adult Swim Singles series (it was one of our Songs of the Week).

In June Wasner surprise-released Like So Much Desire, a new EP with her Flock of Dimes solo project. It was her first release for Sub Pop and the title track made our Songs of the Week list. By Samantha Small

2. Doves: “Prisoners”

On Thursday British trio Doves announced a new album, The Universal Want, which is their first in 11 years, and shared another song from it, “Prisoners.” The Universal Want is due out September 11 via IMPERIAL. Jack Lightfoot directed the “Prisoners” video. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.

The lineup for Doves is Jimi Goodwin (vocals/bass), and brothers Andy Williams (drums/vocals) and Jez Williams (guitars/programming/vocals). The band co-produced the album with Dan Austin and it was recorded in their own Frank Bough Sound III studios in North West England.

In June the band shared the album’s first single, “Carousels,” which was their first new song in 11 years. “Carousels” made it to #1 on our Songs of the Week list.

Doves’ last album was 2009’s Kingdom of Rust, which was their fourth. The band went on an “indefinite pause” in 2010, but announced their reunion in 2018 and played their first reunion show in March 2019, to benefit Teenage Cancer Trust. Other live shows followed, along with promises of new music.

Andy Williams had this to say about “Prisoners” in a press release: “It’s about continually chasing something and not being satisfied when you eventually get it. You’ve got ‘that thing’ and you find you’re not any happier. Be careful what you wish for.” 

Of the album as a whole, Jez Williams had this to say: “It’s definitely got the stamp of ‘the time’ all over it. Everything on the album is an echo. It’s an echo of what we were going through at the time. Getting back together, the Royal Albert Hall and everything else.” 

The album’s artwork is by London-based, Finnish photographer, Maria Lax. Goodwin was taken by her 2020 photobook, Some Kind of Heavenly Fire, and gifted a copy to each of his bandmates. The press release says the book “set evocative images alongside memorabilia relating to a moment in time when hardship, industrialization and UFO sightings disturbed the peace of her isolated hometown in Northern Finland.” 

Doves have released four albums: 2000’s Lost Souls, 2002’s The Last Broadcast, 2005’s Some Cities, and 2009’s Kingdom of Rust. Since their hiatus, frontman Jimi Goodwin released a solo album, Odludek, in 2014. That same year, Doves’ other two members, brothers Jez and Andy Williams, formed the new band Black Rivers (they released their debut album in 2015). Doves were interviewed in our very first print issue, back in 2001, and we have interviewed them for each of their four albums, so the band has a special place in our hearts.

3. Sufjan Stevens: “My Rajneesh” 

Sufjan Stevens is releasing a new album, The Ascension, on September 25 via Asthmatic Kitty. Previously he shared the album’s first single, 12-minute long closing track “America.” Today he shared the previously announced B-side for the “America” single, non-album track “My Rajneesh.” It’s a lush 10-minute long track that starts in an orchestral pop vein, but turns more electronic midway through, references his previous Age of Adz track “Vesuvius,” and ends with an ambient outro. The song is actually a leftover from the Carrie and Lowell sessions. “America” and “My Rajneesh” will be released as 12-inch single on July 31. 

With a title like “America,” the first single’s timed release the day before July 4th was no accident and in a press release Stevens said it was “a protest song against the sickness of American culture in particular.” A previous press release further said the song “is an indictment of a world crumbling around us—and a roadmap out of here.” 

“America” was #1 on our Songs of the Week list.

Stevens says The Ascension is “a call for personal transformation and a refusal to play along with the systems around us.” 

And while “America” may seem written for these times, it was actually written six years ago, prior to the election of Donald Trump, when he was working on his last fully fledged studio solo album, 2015’s Carrie & Lowell.

“I was dumbfounded by the song when I first wrote it,” Stevens said in the previous press release. “Because it felt vaguely mean-spirited and miles away from everything else on Carrie & Lowell. So I shelved it.

“But when I dug up the demo a few years later I was shocked by its prescience. I could no longer dismiss it as angry and glib. The song was clearly articulating something prophetic and true, even if I hadn’t been able to identify it at the time. That’s when I saw a clear path toward what I had to do next.”

Stevens then re-recorded “America” and used it as a jumping off point for The Ascension.

Musically, “America” is much closer to the experimental and disorientating sounds of his 2010 album The Age of Adz, rather than the more delicate folk of Carrie & Lowell.

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.”

“My objective for this album was simple: Interrogate the world around you,” Stevens adds. “Question anything that doesn’t hold water. Exterminate all bullshit. Be part of the solution or get out of the way. Keep it real. Keep it true. Keep it simple. Keep it moving.”

 

4. Future Islands: “For Sure” (Feat. Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak)

On Wednesday Future Islands returned with a new song, “For Sure,” shared via a video. The song features backing vocals from Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak and Flock of Dimes, marking her promised second appearance on this list. Over driving synths frontman Samuel T. Herring promises “I will never keep you from an open door” and “I will never keep you from just who you are.” There’s no word on a new album, but it’s been three years since their last one, 2017’s The Far Field, so perhaps they are due. Sam Mason directed the “For Sure” video, which features two cars racing around a burned out, post-apocalyptic landscape.

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. Last month Cashion self-released an ambient solo album under his own name entitled Postcard Music.

Read our 2014 cover story article on Future Islands.

5. My Morning Jacket: “Wasted”

On Tuesday My Morning Jacket announced a new album, The Waterfall II, saying it was due for release digitally today via ATO. Stream it here. No pre-release singles were shared, so this was our chance to hear the entire album for the first time in one sitting. When a whole album is released at once it’s often hard to pick a favorite track for Songs of the Week. We’ve been listening to the album for the last few days, thanks to our slightly early press copy, to try and determine the gem with the most sparkle and have settled on six-minute monster jam “Wasted.” It’s around the 2:20 mark that the song truly comes alive, so stick it out until then. And those horns!

The album is the long-awaited follow-up to 2015’s The Waterfall. When that album was released it was said to be part one of a two-part album and five years later they have delivered on that promise. The album will be released on CD and vinyl on August 28.

The two albums were recorded at the same time, at a mountaintop studio known as Panoramic House in Stinson Beach, CA. The band considered releasing The Waterfall all at once, in what would be considered a triple album, but decided to split it up. Frontman Jim James came upon one of the album’s songs, opening track “Spinning My Wheels,” at the start of the COVID-19 quarantine and decided to revisit the remaining songs from the Panoramic House sessions.

A press release says that the band “hopes that the album might lead others to look beyond what’s human-made in the search for solace and renewal.”

James elaborates: “As so many of us feel out of tune and long for the world to be a better place, we have to look to nature and the animals and learn from them: learn to love, accept, move on, and respect each other. We gotta work for it and change our ways before it’s too late, and get in harmony with love and equality for all of humanity and for nature too.”

Read our interview with My Morning Jacket on The Waterfall. 

6. My Morning Jacket: “Feel You”

But we couldn’t leave it at just one new My Morning Jacket song. The more delicate “Feel You” was a close second (the two songs flip-flopped on this list for a while). Next Wednesday, July 15, the band will be performing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. I wonder which song they’ll play?

7. Liv.e: “I Been Livin”

On Tuesday Dallas-born/Los Angeles-based R&B singer/producer Liv.e announced the details of her debut album, Couldn’t Wait to Tell You, and shared its final single, “I Been Livin,” via an accompanying video. Couldn’t Wait to Tell You is due out July 31 via In Real Life. She also shared Couldn’t Wait to Tell You’s tracklist and album art, check those out here.

“I Been Livin” is the fifth and most mellow single off Couldn’t Wait to Tell You following “SirLadyMakemFall,” LazyEaterBetsOnHerLikeness,” “Bout These Pipedreams,” and “Lessons From My Mistakes...but I Lost Your Number.” Liv.e’s series of releases earned her notable cosigns from artists like Tyler the Creator, Janelle Monáe, and Earl Sweatshirt. Last year she featured on Sweatshirt’s Feet of Clay and opened for him on his Fire It Up tour. By Julian Roberts-Grmela 

8. Travis: “Valentine”

Scottish rockers Travis are releasing a new album, 10 Songs, on October 9 via BMG. On Wednesday they shared another song from it, “Valentine.” Frontman Fran Healy had this to say about it in a press release: “‘Valentine’ was recorded as a predominately live performance in December 2019 at Rak studios in London. It’s the closest Travis have gotten sonically to our debut album, Good Feeling. Alex Harvey-esque.”

Previously Travis shared the album’s first single, “A Ghost,” via a video for the track created while under quarantine by Healy and his 14-year-old son Clay. “A Ghost” was one of our Songs of the Week.

Travis made a splash in the late 1990s with a pair of well-received albums—1997’s Good Feeling and 1999’s Nigel Godrich-produced sophomore album, The Man Who—but they never really went away, releasing six more albums this century.

10 Songs is the band’s first album in four years, the follow-up to 2016’s Everything At Once, and is also the band’s ninth studio album. Healy co-produced the album with Robin Baynton (Coldplay, Florence & The Machine) and it was recorded at RAK Studios in late 2019 and early 2020. The album features synth work from Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, lap steel from Greg Leisz (Beck, Bruce Springsteen), and guest vocals from Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles on “The Only Thing.” The band’s full lineup is Fran Healy (guitar/vox), Andy Dunlop (guitar), Dougie Payne (bass), and Neil Primrose (drums).

9. Jessy Lanza: “Anyone Around”

On Thursday, Jessy Lanza released her new track “Anyone Around,” via a music video. Previously, she has shared “Face” and “Lick In Heaven,” from her forthcoming album All the Time, due July 24 via Hyperdub. Unlike the other singles, however, “Anyone Around” includes musical accompaniment from members of Junior Boys, Savages, Caribou, and Boy Harsher among many others.

So we begin with a Zoom call, of course. There are studio producers, fellow musicians, and even Lanza’s own family members filmed at each and every angle. Over a delightful midi beat, pitch adjusted harmonies, and rapid fire drums Lanza sings of the melancholy of moving to New York. “It’s hard for me to let go of anyone around,” she sings. Thankfully, she had the online community to help her get through it—and to join her in the music video.

“I’m very grateful to be connected with everyone in this video, even if we've never met in person. Thank you to all of the amazing contributors who made this video possible!” Lanza says in a press release. “I became absorbed in the world of online music production tutorials and message boards. Of course the feeling of isolation has taken on new meaning recently, as it’s become a new normal for people around the world.”

According to Lanza, All the Time finds her vocals at her “rawest,” and with much more direct lyrics than ever before. With this in mind, All the Time is sure to serve up a fantastic indie pop record. By Samantha Small

Check out our COVID-19 Quarantine Check In with Jessy Lanza.  

10. Alex Izenberg: “Lady” 

It’s almost time for the world to hear Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Alex Izenberg’s new album, Caravan Château, coming July 31 via Domino imprint Weird World. Izenberg has previously shared the singles “Disraeli Woman” and “Sister Jade,” both via videos. And to tease you (and please you) just a little bit more, on Tuesday Izenberg shared an animated video (directed by Braulio Amado) for another new song from the album, titled “Lady.”

Over some dreary synth, delicate hi-hats, and Izenberg’s breathy, but forceful tone, the video is simply a four-minute art exhibition. Watercolors jutt across the screen, a tree grows then decays, and a cigarette lights up the scene. The track soon picks up speed with the tapping of a tambourine and the gentle puttering of a snare. It’s breezy; it’s seductive; and it leaves you wanting to hear what else Izenberg has up his sleeve.

Izenberg had this to say about the new song in a press release: “‘Lady’ was an instrumental song Ari Balouzian made for an upcoming film produced by Darren Aronofsky. He FaceTimed me and showed it to me and I was really into it and he let me sing on it and have my own version called ‘Lady.’”

Prior to the announcement of Caravan Château, in March Izenberg shared “Disraeli Woman,” via a video. “Disraeli Woman” was one of our Songs of the Week. It was the first release for the chamber pop musician (think Harry Nilson) since his 2016 debut album, Harlequin. Caravan Château is also jam packed with notable collaborators: Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor , Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, and Tobias Jesso Jr. collaborator Ari Balouzian. 

Honorable Mentions: 

These seven songs almost made the Top 10.

Tunde Adebimpe: “ReelFeel” 

Anjimile: “Maker”

Steve Arrington: “Keep Dreamin’” 

The Beths: “Jump Rope Gazers”

Bill Callahan: “Another Song”

Illuminati Hotties: “will i get cancelled if i write a song called, ‘if you were a man you’d be so cancelled’”

My Morning Jacket: “Still Thinkin”

Other notable new tracks in the last week include:

!!!: “Do the Dial Tone” 

The Avett Brothers: “Victory” 

Beck: “No Distraction” (Khruangbin Remix) 

Black Thought: “Thought Vs Everybody” 

James Blake: “Are You Even Real?”

Kate Bollinger: “Grey Skies”

 

Brothertiger: “Livin’” 

Bully: “Every Tradition”

Elvis Costello: “Hetty O’Hara Confidential”

Dehd: “Month” 

Katie Dey: “happiness”

Ellis: “Lover” (Taylor Swift Cover), “I Got Lost” (Dinosaur Jr. Cover), and “Buried Myself Alive” (The Used Cover) 

Emmy The Great: “Dandelions/Liminal”

Erasure: “Shot a Satellite”

The Flaming Lips: “Dinosaurs on the Mountain”

Jeremy Gara: “wraith”

Guided By Voices: “Haircut Sphinx”

Half Waif: “Murphy Bed” (Mirah Cover)

Jon Hassell: “Unknown Wish”

H.E.R.: “Do to Me” 

Terrell Hines: “Get Up” (Feat. Vince Staples)

Idle Hands: “It Doesn’t Really Matter” and “Puppy Love” 

Into It. Over It.: “Livng Up To Let You Down”

Kid Cudi: “The Adventures of Moon Man & Slim Shady” (Feat. Eminem) 

Knot: “Foam”

Bettye LaVette: “One More Song”

The Lemon Twigs: “Live in Favor of Tomorrow”

Lomelda: “Wonder”

Massive Attack: “Massive Attack x Algiers,” “Massive Attack x Saul Williams,” and “Massive Attack x Young Fathers”

Matmos: “No Concept” (Feat. clipping. and David Grubbs)

Mint Field: “Contingencia”

Thurston Moore: “Cantaloupe”

Pallbearer: “Forgotten Days” 

The Rolling Stones: “Criss Cross”

Silversun Pickups: “Toy Soldiers” (Martika Cover)

Slow Pulp: “Idaho”

Standing On The Corner: “G-E-T-O-U-T!! The Ghetto (Pt.I),” “G-E-T-O-U-T!! The Ghetto (Pt.II),” and “Zolo Go”

Superchunk: “Can’t Stop the World” (The Go-Go’s Cover)

Surfer Blood: “Summer Trope” 

Throwing Muses: “Bo Diddley Bridge” 

FIRE RECORDS · Throwing Muses - Bo Diddley Bridge

Gerard Way: “Here Comes the End” (Feat. Judith Hill) 

Young Jesus: “Root and Crown”

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

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