9 Best Songs of the Week: Madeline Kenney, METZ, Bartees Strange, Taylor Swift, and More | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020  

9 Best Songs of the Week: Madeline Kenney, METZ, Bartees Strange, Taylor Swift, and More

Plus Wye Oak, Hoops, Death Valley Girls, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

Jul 24, 2020
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Welcome to the 29th Songs of the Week of 2020, the most exhausting year in recent memory. President Trump finally wore a mask and kind of admitted that things weren’t going so great in the fight against COVID-19 here in America. It seems inevitable that they are going to need to shut the economy down again if we are to get this thing under control—close the bars, restaurants, and beaches again for starters. Will it happen?

Anyway, onto this week’s songs. We struggled a bit to come up with a full Top 10, so like last week it’s a Top 9 again.

This week on our website we also posted My Favorite Album interviews with Rose Elinor Dougall, Blonde Redhead, and Chelsea Wolfe. We also posted a COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check-In interview with Nap Eyes. Plus we interviewed breaking pioneer Crazy Legs and we talked to Mark Duplass and Julian Wass about the final season of HBO’s Room 104.

In the last week we also reviewed a bunch of albums, including the latest by Courtney Marie Andrews, Monte Warden, Johnny Cash, PINS, Phantom Planet, Check Masses, and Mark Lanegan. 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 9 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. Madeline Kenney: “Picture of You”

Pictures tend to bring back memories. But if you’re looking at a picture of your lover, they often just lead you to wonder: who were you? And how did you end up this way? In “Picture of You,” Oakland, CA-based singer/songwriter Madeline Kenney asks these questions on the track off her forthcoming album Sucker’s Lunch, out July 31 via Carpark. It was shared on Tuesday via a self-directed video. 

In the video, Kenney and her friends trapeze across a lush, elevated landscape, hugging each other tenderly and contemplatively sitting. She sings how her lover’s mom showed her a picture of them and it “made [her] cry,” because she realized she’ll never truly know who they used to be and what they experienced.  

Of the song, Kenney says in a press release: “I had this brief moment where I was looking at someone I love and I realized that I could never truly know everything they had been through, or understand their whole life and experiences from their perspective, even if by loving them I felt like I was getting so close to that kind of understanding. It broke my heart in a way. I wish I could know and hold everything for a person but I can't, and at the same time I wish I could do that for the past versions of myself. Maybe that's more attainable.”

Previously Kenney shared “Double Hearted” along with a lyric video as well as the album’s first single, “Sucker,” via a self-directed video for the track. “Sucker” featured guest vocals from Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner and was #1 on our Songs of the Week list. “Double Hearted” was also one of our Songs of the Week. 

Sucker’s Lunch is Kenney’s third album, the follow-up to 2018’s Perfect Shapes and her 2017-released debut album, Night Night at the First Landing (which was produced by Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bear). Perfect Shapes was produced by Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak and Flock of Dimes. Wasner returns as producer for Sucker’s Lunch, but this time she’s joined by her Wye Oak bandmate Andy Stack (aka Joyero). The album was recorded in Durham, Oakland, and San Francisco. 

A previous press release explained that “thematically, Sucker’s Lunch sees Kenney soberly contrasting the risks and rewards of falling in love, eventually deciding to dive headfirst into her own foolishness and relish in the unknowing.”

Kenney elaborated in the press release: “I’m not interested in something easy or immediately apparent. My experience writing these songs wasn’t easy, it was painful and difficult. I was terrified of falling in love, and as much as I’d like to write a sticky sweet song for someone, it doesn’t come naturally to me. Instead I wanted to explore the tiny moments; sitting alone in my room guessing what the other person was thinking, spiraling into a maze of logical reasons to bail and finding my way out again. When I spoke with friends about the theme of the ‘idiot,’ it became apparent that everyone understood that feeling and was relieved to hear it echoed in someone else.”

In 2019 Kenney shared the new song “Helpless” as part of a split 7-inch with Flock of Dimes. By Samantha Small 

Read our recent COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In interview with Kenney.

2. METZ: “A Boat to Drown In” 

On Tuesday Toronto’s METZ announced a new album, Atlas Vending, and shared a new single, the unrelenting “A Boat to Drown In,” and an accompanying video. Atlas Vending is their fourth full-length and is due out October 9 via Sub Pop. The accompanying video for “A Boat to Drown In” is directed by Tony Wolski. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here. 

In a press release, guitarist and vocalist Alex Edkins says the new single is “about leaving a bad situation behind. About overcoming obstacles that once held you back, rising above, and looking to a better future. The title refers to immersing yourself fully into what you love and using it as a sanctuary from negativity and a catalyst for change.”

Wolsk has this to say about the accompanying video in a press release: “The song has a beautiful, crushing numbness to it that we wanted to mirror in the visual. So we chose to romanticize our main character's descent into her delusions of love and togetherness. At a time when everyone’s simultaneously coping with some sort of isolation, a story about loneliness—and the mania that comes with it—seems appropriate to tell.”

On Atlas Vending, METZ covers themes like “paternity, crushing social anxiety, addiction, isolation, media-induced paranoia, and the restless urge to leave everything behind,” according to the press release which also claimed the band’s goal was to create its most “patient and honest record.” The album was co-produced by Ben Greenberg and engineered and mixed by Seth Manchester. 

Edkins also has this to say about Atlas Vending in a press release: “Change is inevitable if you’re lucky. Our goal is to remain in flux, to grow in a natural and gradual way. We’ve always been wary to not overthink or intellectualize the music we love but also not satisfied until we’ve accomplished something that pushes us forward.” By Julian Roberts-Grmela

3. Bartees Strange: “Mustang”

Bartees Strange first came (onto) our radar after covering a string of The National tracks—for the nth time. On Thursday, he announced a not-yet-specified forthcoming debut album. And with it comes a video for the new song “Mustang,” a powerful, dynamic, dancing in the dark type track. Details of the album are scant (no tracklist, release date, or cover art), only that it will be out this fall via Memory Music.

The video was shot entirely by Bartees Strange (real name Bartees Cox Jr.) in his Washington, DC apartment with the digital direction of Drew Horen of Good Company. The video begins with a fuzzy shot, presumably, of his home. A looping melody and synth fizz underneath Strange’s musings: “Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had problems?” But then, a TV turns on, the words “MUSTANG” flash on the screen, and the song kicks into overdrive.

Mustang is the white, conservative, rural Oklahoma city that Strange grew up in. As one of the only black families in the area, Strange did what he needed to survive.

“I didn’t let myself be seen,” he says in a press release. “I held myself down so I could make people feel more comfortable around me.”

But “Mustang” is a song of freedom—while also a list of grievances. Guitars roar, drums propel you forward, synths tighten the edges and Strange’s foracity is unprecedented:Just tie me up. I’d rather die than not be myself again.”

While “Mustang” is an outstanding first single, the forthcoming LP will be a sprinkle of all different flavors and sounds. The video teases another track “Stone Meadows” to be released to Strange’s new label Memory Music. The label imprint run by Grammy-nominated producer and engineer Will Yip.

“I knew the moment I heard Bartees that he was a fucking star,” Yip says in a press release. “The dynamics in his sound instantly touched my soul. The traces of hi- hop all the way to hardcore in his influences shine through and blend perfectly. You can't pigeonhole Bartees into a specific sound or genre. He's above that. His sound is truly unique to his own, truly fresh and immediately inspiring to anyone that listens. I'm truly grateful for fearlessly creative artists like Bartees. He’s going to undoubtedly touch every person that listens to his songs.” By Samantha Small

4. Taylor Swift: “exile” (Feat. Bon Iver)

Yesterday Taylor Swift announced that her new album folklore would be coming out at midnight last night/this morning (stream it here). Folklore is Swift’s attempt at an indie folk album and 11 of its 16 tracks were co-written and produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner. One song, “exile,” is even a duet with Bon Iver (aka Justin Vernon) and that’s the song we’ve picked for Songs of the Week. Swift and Vernon’s voices mesh together well, with Vernon sounding like Peter Gabriel at one point. The song seems to be about moving on from a relationship, with this chorus: “You're not my homeland anymore/So what am I defending now?/You were my town, now I'm in exile, seein' you out

We also considered “this is me trying” and “august” for the list.

Early this morning she also shared a self-directed video for the album’s “cardigan,” which is probably the most pop-friendly song on the album. But most of folklore is more stripped back.

Will fans of The National and Bon Iver now embrace Taylor Swift? Will Swifties warm to her new sound? Or do genres even matter much in 2020?

The “cardigan” video finds Swift playing a grown over piano out in the forest somewhere, one connected to a waterfall, until a storm comes and washes her away.

“I was excited and honored when Taylor approached me in late April about maybe writing some songs remotely together,” Dessner said about the album in a Twitter statement. “I had been isolating with my family but writing a ton of music in the first months of quarantine which I shared. I thought it would take a while for song ideas to come and I had no expectations as far as what we could accomplish remotely. But a few hours after sharing music, my phone lit up with a voice memo from Taylor of a fully written version of a song—the momentum never really stopped. Over the next few months, we remotely finished 11 songs (She also recorded several others with the amazing Jack Antonoff) of her magical new album folklore. I’ve rarely been so inspired by someone and it’s still hard to believe this even happened—these songs came together in such a challenging time.” 

The album also features Dessner’s twin brother and National bandmate Bryce playing strings, as well as their bandmates, drummer Bryan Devendorf, horn players Ben Lanz and Kyle Resnick and Josh Kaufman, their longtime sideman, also of Bonny Light Horseman and Muzz fame. Plus William Bowery and Jack Antonoff are involved. 

Here is Swift’s full Instagram/Twitter statement: 

“Most of the things I had planned this summer didn’t end up happening, but there is something I hadn’t planned on that DID happen. And that thing is my 8th studio album, folklore. Surprise Tonight at midnight I’ll be releasing my entire brand new album of songs I’ve poured all of my whims, dreams, fears, and musings into. I wrote and recorded this music in isolation but got to collaborate with some musical heroes of mine; @aarondessner (who has co-written or produced 11 of the 16 songs), @boniver (who co-wrote and was kind enough to sing on one with me), William Bowery (who co-wrote two with me) and @jackantonoff (who is basically musical family at this point). Engineered by Laura Sisk and Jon Low, mixed by Serban Ghenea & Jon Low. The album photos were shot by the amazing @bethgarrabrant. Before this year I probably would’ve overthought when to release this music at the ‘perfect’ time, but the times we’re living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed. My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world. That’s the side of uncertainty I can get on board with. Love you guys so much  

Taylor Swift’s last album was 2019’s Lover.

5. Wye Oak: “No Place”

Wye Oak (Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack) are asking the tough questions. On Monday, the indie project released the new track “No Place,” an eerie song about the (extra) distance placed between strangers right now. The new song is off their new EP, No Horizon, set to come out July 31 via Merge.

The entire EP features the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, but in this particular track they carry the melody, which is semi-ironic, as the song emphasizes isolation. “Who are you? Who Am I? What’s happened to us?” they ask over electronic drums and crushing synth as they observe we can’t kiss each other, shake hands, because we’re afraid of being sick.

In a press release, Jenn Wasner explains the meaning behind the song:

“This song is about the separation between our consciousness and our physical bodies, and how it feels to forget that you even have a body in the first place. Of course, it gets easier and easier to use your body less and less; as we innovate more efficient ways of achieving our temporal goals, we are making them somewhat obsolete. Personally, I’m very pro-body, even as I spent the first half of my life hating and fighting against mine and all of its perceived imperfections. But it’s hard to look around and not at least imagine that we might be some of the last humans on earth to ever enjoy what having a body actually feels like, on a planet that isn’t yet completely inhospitable to us. And that seems like something worth noticing.”

Recently, the band has released quite a few singles. The EP’s lead track “AEIO,” was our #1 Song of the Week. Meanwhile the standalone single “Walk Soft” also made our Songs of the Week list and another standalone single “Fortune” was our #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 these songs, besides “AEIO,” feature on No Horizon. They also recently shared, JOIN, a new mini documentary highlighting the history of the band.

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

6. Hoops: “Glad You Stayed”

Indiana trio Hoops are releasing a new album, Halo, on October 2 via Fat Possum. On Wednesday they shared a new from it, “Glad You Stayed.” The band’s Keagan Beresford wrote the song and says it was inspired by the attempted suicide of a friend of the band. “It was the first time I had experienced something like that,” Beresford says in a press release. “It brought a whirlwind of conflicting emotions, but more than anything I was just happy they survived.”

Halo is the band’s sophomore album, the follow-up to their 2017 debut, Routines. Later in 2017 the band announced they were going on an indefinite hiatus to focus on other projects outside of the band. But then last November they returned with the new song “They Say,” which is featured on Halo. “They Say” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then when the album was announced Hoops shared another single from it, “The Fall” (which was also one of our Songs of the Week). They also later shared a video for “The Fall,” which we never posted but is also below.

Hoops is Drew Auscherman (vox, guitar), Kevin Krauter (vox, bass), and Keagan Beresford (vox, keys, guitar).

“I think we had lost a lot of steam,” says Krauter of their hiatus in a press release. “Hoops wasn’t moving forward organically. It was being dragged along.”

“I had to rediscover why I wanted to be in a band and make songs and perform,” says Beresford. “I had been having a lot of anxiety when I was onstage. I wasn’t even thinking about playing. I was just thinking about getting through the set without falling on my face. It’s crazy to think about all the shows we did where I wasn’t really present.” 

After taking a break to focus on other projects, Hoops’ members felt drawn back together as they individually wrote songs that felt well suited to the band’s sound. So after sending songs back and forth to each other they reconvened at Bloomington’s Russian Studio to record Halo.

“This record is a more honest representation of our influences and interests as musicians,” says Auscherman. “We’ve grown a lot in four years, as people and as listeners. We’re starting to sound more like ourselves.”

7. Secret Machines: “Everything Starts”

Secret Machines (Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza) are releasing their first new album in 12 years, Awake in the Brain Chamber, on August 21 via TSM Recordings. Today they shared another song from it, “Everything Starts,” which features guitar work by the late Benjamin Curtis (a former founding member of the band).

Brandon Curtis had this to say about “Everything Starts” in a press release: “Some place in the back of my mind I guess I was hoping I could write a Fleetwood Mac song. But It kept coming out all weird. I read a quote from Wayne Coyne, something like ‘If you are writing a song and you immediately like it, it’s probably no good. But when it sounds weird or if you just don’t know about it, that ’s the good stuff.’ Well, for some insane reason that has stuck with me. So I called my brother to see if he could play something that Lindsey Buckingham would play and he came back with what we have here. Sort of saved it from my own worst inclinations, or at least that’s my opinion.”

Josh Garza had this to say: “Awake in the Brain Chamber is as much about new beginnings as it is about honoring and appreciating the past. When I close my eyes and listen to ‘Everything Starts’ I see three guys in a room playing music. I see Ben, Brandon and me... we're all playing our instruments, we're all smiling and it's probably a bit too loud. For a brief and infinite five minutes, I'm taken to a sonic landscape that is special and unique, with a sound that only Benjamin can deliver. I'm glad we've been given this chance to honor his legacy in this way, and to fold this final collaboration into a new chapter for Secret Machines.”

Previously Secret Machines shared the album’s first single, “Talos’ Corpse.”

The band’s last album was Secret Machines, which was their third and released in 2008. That was the first album without Benjamin Curtis, who left the band to focus on his other project School of Seven Bells, leaving his brother Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza to continue on with the project. Alas Benjamin Curtis passed away in 2013 because of T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma cancer, at the young age of 35. Brandon Curtis says his late brother’s sonic fingerprints are all over Awake in the Brain Chamber.

“I began writing these songs at a time I remember feeling alone and lost, and I think the songs have that in their DNA,” said Brandon in a previous press release. “I started sharing early versions with Benjamin who gave me notes as well as encouragement. I am sure that without his influence this album would never have seen the light of day.” 

Brandon continued: “While reworking the tracks, Josh and I were careful to retain whatever influence Benjamin had as a sort of living tribute to him. I know that Josh and I both feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity to work with him again, albeit posthumously. I know we are both very proud to present this as the first Secret Machines music in over a decade.”

8. Death Valley Girls: “The Universe”

This week LA goth-rock outfit Death Valley Girls announced they are releasing a “space-gospel” record, Under the Spell of Joy, on October 2 via Suicide Squeeze. This week the band also shared the album’s first single, fittingly titled, “The Universe,” along with a trippy music video.

The track is an eclectic and electric piece. Full of terrestrial-like synths, whopping sax solos, slow, but gated drums, and echoed, airy vocals (even a kids choir!), “The Universe” is a terrifyingly sleek track. And the music video packs on the punch even further, featuring newspaper clippings about everything from UFOS to witchcraft. Oh, and it’s accompanied by kaleidoscopic visuals, of course.

“‘The Universe’ is a song to sing, a space to be, a time to think, remember, and truly feel that not only are we all connected, but we are also being guided,” says lead vocalist Bonnie Bloomgarden in a press release.

According to the same press release, the album title is named after a T-shirt Bloomgarden received from San Diego psych-rock group Joy. Legend has it, she wore it for five years straight.

“I read it as being about manifesting your biggest dreams and responding thoughtfully and mindfully to everything that comes in your path with joy and compassion first,” she says.

With inspiration from Ethiopian funk records, the band tapped into their “magical cosmic energy” to produce a fresh, but refined psych-rock sound. They hope to bring people together during this crazy time, and encourage them to sing along and come together through the age-old-tradition of listening to music.

“The world is crazy right now and it feels like we should be doing more than just trying to perpetuate joy,” Bloomgarden says. “I think music becomes a part of you. Like Black Sabbath’s first record is as much a part of me as my own music. I think you can listen to music or song to get lost in it, or you can listen to music to find something in your self or the world that either you never had or just went missing. I want people to sing to this record, make it their own, and focus on manifesting their dreams as much as they can!”

Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here. By Samantha Small

9. Dent May: “Sea Salt & Caramel”

Dent May is releasing a new album, Late Checkout, on August 21 via Carpark. On Thursday he shared another song from the album, “Sea Salt & Caramel,” via a video for the song that features him roller skating by the beach, joined by two friends. Nathan Castiel directed the video. Sure, the whole thing is a bit cheesy and too retro for its own good, but the song is catchy as hell too and the video is a whole lot of fun.

May had this to say in a press release: “‘Sea Salt & Caramel’ was the last song I wrote for Late Checkout. There are a lot of melancholy ballads on the album, and I wanted to write something that's simply full of joy and love. When it came to making a video that matches that joy, the answer was clear—roller skates.” 

Previously May shared the album’s lead single, “I Could Use a Miracle,” via a music video. Late Checkout, his fifth album, was recorded at Honeymoon Suite Recording Studio in Los Angeles, which May co-owns with friends Pat Jones and Michael Rosen.

Though he’s an LA man, he was once a Mississippi boy, and both influences are apparent in his Americana bedroom-pop fusion that’s linked together by psychedelic synths. On Late Checkout, May toils with the spectrum of emotions experienced during this time of crisis around the world, drawing inspiration from Motown ballads and the slow-and-steady work ethic with which they were written.

Honorable Mentions:

These six songs almost made the Top 10.

Bruce Hornsby: “Bright Star Cast” (Feat. Jamila Woods & Vernon Reid) 

Fenne Lily: “Berlin” 

Sinead O’Brien: “Strangers In Danger”

Samia: “Big Wheel”

John K. Sampson: “Fantasy Baseball at the End of the World”

Young Jesus: “(un)knowing”

Other notable new tracks in the last week include:

070 Shake: “Guilty Conscience (Tame Impala Remix)”

The Avalanches: “Wherever You Go” (Feat. Jamie xx, Neneh Cherry and CLYPSO) and “Reflecting Light” (Feat. Sananda Maitreya and Vashti Bunyan)

J Balvin, Dua Lipa, Bad Bunny, and Tainy: “Un Día (One Day)”

Bill Callahan: “Protest Song” 

Shirley Collins: “Barbara Allen”

Earl Sweatshirt: “Ghost” (Feat. Navy Blue)

The Flaming Lips: “You N’ Me Sellin’ Weed”

 

Fog Lake: “Slipping”

 

Fruit Bats: “Today” (Smashing Pumpkins Cover)

Fuzz: “Returning”

Hannah Georgas: “Just a Phase”

Gorillaz: “PAC-MAN” (Feat. Schoolboy Q)

 Helvetia: “How Does It Feel?” 

Jaga Jazzist: “Tomita” 

 

Kero Kero Bonito: “It’s Bugsnax!”

Lala Lala & Baths: “€ € € €^^%%!!!!!heaven!!!!!!”

Lydia Loveless: “Love Is Not Enough”

H.C. McEntire: “Final Bow”

Kylie Minogue: “Say Something”

Ricky Reed, Jim James, and Duendita: “Us (How Sweet It Was)” 

The Rolling Stones: “Scarlet” (Feat. Jimmy Page) 

 

Samia: “Stellate”

Andy Shauf: “Judy” and “Jeremy’s Wedding”

Sylvan Esso: “Ferris Wheel” 

Trayer Tryon: “new forever” (Feat. Julie Byrne) & “rua dos pioneiros” 

Spencer Zahn: “Key Biscayne”

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

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