10 Best Songs of the Week: Alex Lahey, boygenius, Jess Williamson, Hand Habits, and More | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 28th, 2024  

10 Best Songs of the Week: Alex Lahey, boygenius, Jess Williamson, Hand Habits, and More

Plus The Beths, Jenny Lewis, Lightning Dust, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

Mar 31, 2023 Bookmark and Share

Welcome to the twelfth Songs of the Week of 2023. The pickings were a little slimmer this week, but we found enough singles (and one album track) to come up with a solid Top 10.

In the past week or so we posted interviews with new British musician Heartworms, a The End Q&A with Dutch Uncles, Radiohead’s Philip Selway, First Aid Kit, and Death Cab for Cutie.

In the last week we reviewed some albums.

Remember that our current print issue, the My Favorite Movie Issue, is out now.

To help you sort through the multitude of fresh songs released in the last week, we have picked the 10 best the last week had to offer, followed by some honorable mentions. Check out the full list below.

1. Alex Lahey: “They Wouldn’t Let Me In”

Australian singer/songwriter Alex Lahey is releasing a new album, The Answer Is Always Yes, on May 19 via Liberation. Yesterday she shared another song from it, “They Wouldn’t Let Me In,” via an amusing music video featuring Lahey working in a furniture store. Lahey co-directed the video with Claire Giuffre.

In “They Wouldn’t Let Me In,” over a propulsive bass-heavy beat Lahey details all the places she felt unwelcome as a queer teenager. “I couldn’t get into the bar or the church or the backseat of your mother’s car/The club or the bus or the band where no one plays guitar/The dance at your school or the change rooms at the swimming pool/The haunted house down the street that all those people died in,” she sings, before the chorus of, “They wouldn’t let me in/Why don’t you let me in.”

You could argue that Lahey wouldn’t be an effective vampire if no one will welcome her in. But the song is more serious than all that, as she explains in a press release.

“After watching the brilliant TV series Heartstopper, I spent a lot of time thinking about my own experiences growing up as a queer teenager,” Lahey says. “Although I was extremely lucky that the majority of my experience was filled with joy, acceptance and love, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. This song is inspired by those tougher moments—not being allowed to attend my high school girlfriend’s school formal, being excluded from conventional romantic rites of passage, moments of isolation and feeling like I couldn’t relate to anyone around me. ‘They Wouldn’t Let Me In’ is by far the most direct song I’ve ever written about this time.”

When The Answer Is Always Yes was announced, Lahey shared its lead single, “Good Time,” via a music video. “Good Time” was one of our Songs of the Week. The album also includes two 2022 singles. In August 2022 Lahey shared the new song, “Congratulations,” via a video where she married herself. “Congratulations” was one of our Songs of the Week. In November 2022 she shared “Shit Talkin’,” which was also one of our Songs of the Week.

Lahey had this to say about the album in a previous press release: “Living in a world that wasn’t made for you makes you pretty strong and adaptive, and you find the fun in it. It also makes you realize how absurd everything is. With this record, I wanted to get weird because the world is weird, and it’s even weirder when you realize you don’t fit into it all the time.”

The Answer Is Always Yes is the first time Lahey has worked with outside producers and songwriters. Jacknife Lee (U2, Taylor Swift) co-wrote and co-produced “Good Time,” for example.

“I’ve made two records doing it all by myself and now I’ve proved to myself that I can do it,” Lahey said. “But it was also at a point where I was like, ‘If I do that again, I kind of know what it’s gonna sound like’ and I don’t think I’m interested in that right now.”

Of the album’s title, Lahey added: “I feel like if you’re saying yes and you’re exploring, you’re always moving. That’s the part of life that I’m in right now. I just don’t wanna stop.”

The Answer Is Always Yes is Lahey’s third album and the follow-up to 2019’s The Best of Luck Club.

In 2021, Lahey shared the song “On My Way” from the animated Netflix film The Mitchells vs. the Machines, and it nabbed a spot on our Songs of the Week list. That was followed by another new song, “Spike the Punch,” shared in October 2021 and also one of our Songs of the Week. Neither song is on The Answer Is Always Yes.

Lahey was also one of the artists on our 20th anniversary Covers of Covers album, where she covered St. Vincent’s “New York.”

Read our 2017 interview with Alex Lahey.

2. boygenius: “Cool About It”

Boygenius, the supergroup featuring Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers, released their debut full-length album, the record, today via Interscope and also shared an accompanying short film directed by actor/director Kristen Stewart simply titled the film. Both stream the album and watch the film here.

There were several the record album tracks not released as pre-release singles that we considered for this week’s Songs of the Week, but settled on “Cool About It.” It features such devastating lyrics as “I can walk you home and practice method acting/I’ll pretend being with you doesn’t feel like drowning/Telling you it’s nice to see how good you’re doing even though we know it isn’t true.” The song was debuted live in March at the Tibet House Benefit.

We also really liked album closer “Letter to An Old Poet” (which makes the honorable mentions list) and “Revolution 0.”

This week the band also announced some upcoming tour dates. Check those out here2.

When the record was announced in January, boygenius shared three new songs from it: “$20,” “Emily I’m Sorry,” and “True Blue.” “$20” made our Songs of the Week list. Then they shared the album’s fourth single, “Not Strong Enough,” via a music video. “Not Strong Enough” was also one of our Songs of the Week.

Then they announced some North American tour dates for this summer. A slew of openers are spread across the tour, depending on the date, including Carly Rae Jepsen, Broken Social Scene, Bartees Strange, Claud, and Illuminati Hotties.

Boygenius formed in 2018 and released their self-titled debut EP the same year via Matador. The trio self-produced the record, which was recorded at Shangri-la Studios in Malibu, California. In June 2020, a week after she released her acclaimed sophomore album Punisher, Bridgers sent the demo for “Emily I’m Sorry” to Baker and Dacus and asked if boygenius could record music again. Baker then created a Google Drive folder called “dare I say it?” and the three songwriters began adding potential songs to it. Then after all three were vaccinated, the trio got together in person in April 2021 to truly begin writing the album. The band then recorded the record at Shangri-la in January 2022 over the course of a month, working for 10 hours every day.

Punisher landed Bridges on the cover of our print magazine and topped our Top 100 Albums of 2020 list.

Dacus’ latest album, Home Video, came out in 2021 via Matador (stream it here). It was high up on our Top 100 Albums of 2021 list. In 2021, we posted our in-depth Under the Radar Podcast interview with Dacus on the album (listen to it here). Also read our 2021 Protest Issue interview with Dacus.

Baker’s last album, Little Oblivions, also came out in 2021 via Matador and was also one of our Top 100 Albums of 2021. Read our Protest Issue interview with Baker, where she discusses the album, here. Also listen to our Under the Radar podcast interview with Baker here.

Read our 2019 cover story interview with boygenius.

Read our 2017 cover story interview with Julien Baker.

3. Jess Williamson: “Hunter”

On Tuesday, Texas-born/Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Jess Williamson announced a new album, Time Ain’t Accidental, and shared its first single, “Hunter,” via a music video. She’s also announced some spring tour dates. Time Ain’t Accidental is due out June 9 via Mexican Summer. Rocco Rivetti directed the “Hunter” video. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover artwork, as well as her upcoming tour dates, here.

“If you’ve been ghosted, if you’ve chased after an unavailable person, if you’ve been given crumbs when you need a full meal, ‘Hunter’ is a song for you,” Williamson says of the new single, in a press release. “I wrote it during a time when I was heartbroken over a breakup and experimenting with dating in Los Angeles. That era felt like being thrown to the wolves, but it helped me to see myself and what I really wanted more clearly. This song is an anthem for the true lovers out there, anyone who is hunting for the real thing.”

Time Ain’t Accidental is the follow-up to 2020’s Sorceress, although last year Williamson teamed up with Waxahatchee (aka Katie Crutchfield) to form Plains and the duo released their debut album under that name, I Walked With You A Ways, via ANTI-.

The new album was partially inspired by a breakup at the start of the pandemic and her attempts at dating again after a long relationship. Williamson worked with Brad Cook (who’d produced the Plains album), recording in Durham, North Carolina. “I kept thinking, ‘My voice feels different now—it’s been liberated,” Williamson says of the recording sessions.

Read our 2021 interview with Williamson on Sorceress.

4. Hand Habits: “Something Wrong”

On Monday, Hand Habits (aka Meg Duffy, who uses they/them pronouns) announced a new EP (or mini-album), Sugar the Bruise, and shared its first single, “Something Wrong.” They have also announced some new summer tour dates. Sugar the Bruise is due out June 16 via Fat Possum. Check out the EP’s tracklist and cover artwork, as well as the tour dates, here.

Duffy taught a month-long songwriting class in the summer of 2021 and that helped inspire the new collection of songs. Duffy worked with Luke Temple (Here We Go Magic, Art Feynman) and Philip Weinrobe (Adrienne Lenker, Cass McCombs) on Sugar the Bruise.

Duffy had this to say about Sugar the Bruise in a press release:

“Music, for me, has always been a spoonful of honey easing the intermittent and inescapable bitterness of the human experience. It’s been a thick sweetness in my loneliest moments. In my earliest memories of playing music, whether alone or in a group, the feeling of being connected to a greater force beyond explanation is the one that shines through. I’ve been deeply committed to the path of conjuring this elusive yet poignant feeling through playing guitar, through making songs and sounds and sharing them with others. Before I started writing songs with verses and choruses, improvising was primarily how I found myself in musical settings. It is still a bright beacon of my approach to songwriting and composition. Sonny Rollins said that improvisation is about forgetting, not remembering. That when one’s mind goes blank, the ideas that come are from an untraceable source. I find that the songs I feel the most connected to come from this source-from the voidal space of the unknown. There is something euphoric to me about entering this void with intention, with other people, in a studio setting. The desire to disappear within a song or a melody or a groove or unexpected dissonance is what keeps me always listening, always searching. I believe this desire is inextricable from the risk of ‘failure’ or making ‘mistakes.’

“In August of 2021 I was asked to teach a month-long class on songwriting at School of Song. It was both inspiring and terrifying. I hesitated to consider myself a Songwriter, despite having released three records, let alone enough to teach others how to do it my way. In preparing for this course I examined my own approach with a close eye (at times too close for comfort). I realized how vital improvisation and collaboration are to me; in life and in songwriting. I was asked to design writing prompts, and although this was not typically how I would write left to my own devices, I found it to be a wonderful way to get the wheels of inspiration turning. I also cherished how special it was to see all of these other musicians, some new, some contemporaries, rising to the occasion and following themselves into the unknown.

“For Sugar the Bruise, I had no plan other than to let my mind go blank, and lean into the playful side of things. To laugh a little, to lighten up, to shift the focus off of my own experience a bit. What if making a song didn’t mean dredging up the abyss? Of course, at baseline I am pulled towards nourishing the unfolding of memory into something beautiful, something archetypal/universal, and sharing it with you. And like all good muses, it’s easy to project whatever narrative you are carrying onto them.

“The record was co-produced by my dear friend Luke Temple (Here We Go Magic, Art Feynman). We had worked together before on two of my songs and I felt inspired by the open plan, present moment, open approach to production Luke has. As a chronic over-planner, this got me out of my comfort zone of feigned control. I loved what we made and how I felt during those sessions, the doubt and fear being equal characters to the euphoria and pride. I think trust was the herald to transcendence. I was curious about exploring this further- making something out of nothing, with even less of an idea what might be birthed from the void. Alongside engineer/producer Jeremy Harris and brought over the finish line with additional production, arranging, and mixing by beloved collaborator Phillip Weinrobe, this record turned out nothing like I’d imagined it would.

“So I hope you enjoy this collection of songs. I like to think of them akin to a novella or short film. My wish is that these songs provide a mirror to those who can’t find their own ways to explain the knots of twisted emotions we all deal with.

“I offer you a little sugar to the bruise of being born. A little sugar to the bruise of existence.”

Last September Hand Habits shared two new singles: “Greatest Weapon,” which featured Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso on backing vocals, and “Under the Water,” which had Meath on lead vocals. Both singles were released as part of Psychic Hotline’s Singles Series.

Duffy’s most recent album, Fun House, came out in 2021 via Saddle Creek.

5. The Beths: “Watching the Credits”

This week, New Zealand four-piece The Beths shared a new song, “Watching the Credits,” announced some new tour dates, and performed a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR Music. Check out the Tiny Desk Concert and tour dates here.

The setlist for their Tiny Desk Concert is: “Expert in a Dying Field,” “Jump Rope Gazers,” “Out of Sight,” and “When You Know You Know.”

“Watching the Credits” follows The Beths’ last album, Expert in a Dying Field, which came out in September via Carpark and was one of our Top 100 Albums of 2022.

When Expert in a Dying Field was announced late June, the band shared the song “Silence is Golden,” which was one of our Songs of the Week. They later shared the title track, “Expert in a Dying Field,” also one of our Songs of the Week. Then they shared another single, “Knees Deep,” via a music video (it was again one of our Songs of the Week).

The Beths’ previous album, Jump Rope Gazers, came out in 2020 via Carpark. Read our My Firsts interview with the band.

Pick up our current print issue (My Favorite Movie) to read our The End interview with The Beths’ lead singer Elizabeth Stokes.

6. Jenny Lewis: “Psychos”

On Wednesday, Jenny Lewis announced a new album, Joy’All, and shared a new song from it, “Psychos,” via a lyric video. Joy’All is due out June 9 via Blue Note/Capitol. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover artwork, as well as Lewis’ upcoming tour dates, here.

Joy’All features her 2021 single “Puppy and a Truck,” which she recently shared a video for and was one of our Songs of the Week. It is her fifth solo album, her first for Blue Note and Capitol, and first since moving to Nashville (previously she was based in Los Angeles).

“I started writing some of these songs on the road, pre-pandemic,” Lewis explains in a press release, “and then put them aside as the world shut down, and then from my home in Nashville in early 2021, I joined a week-long virtual songwriting workshop with a handful of amazing artists, hosted by Beck. The challenge was to write one song every day for seven days, with guidelines from Beck. The guidelines would be prompts like ‘write a song with 1-4-5 chord progression,’ ‘write a song with only cliches,’ or ‘write in free form style.’ The first song I submitted to the group was ‘Puppy and a Truck.’”

Lewis worked on the new album with producer Dave Cobb (John Prine, Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell) and it was recorded at RCA’s Studio A in Nashville.

“Dave works fast and we cut the bulk of the record with his incredible house band (Nate Smith, Brian Allen and Cobb on guitar, and myself on acoustic guitar and vocals) live on the floor in a couple of weeks,” Lewis explains. “Jess Wolfe came back to the studio to provide background vocals on the record and then Greg Leisz and Jon Brion added pedal steel, B-Bender guitar and Chamberlin, respectively, back in L.A..”

Nashville singer/songwriter Skeeter Davis influenced Joy’All and on the album cover Lewis wears one of Davis’ former outfits, discovered at Black Shag Vintage in Nashville by regular Lewis collaborator Bobbi Rich.

“I wanted to riff on the classic Nashville album cover, with the song titles on the front,” says Lewis. “The cover photo is a reference to a Skeeter Davis record and I’m wearing her costume!”

Lewis’ last solo album, On the Line, came out in 2019 via Warner. She collaborated with rapper Serengeti several times in 2020 on the songs “Unblu,” “Vroom Vroom,” “Idiot,” and “GLTR.”

7. Lightning Dust: “Run”

This week, Lightning Dust (Amber Webber and Joshua Wells) announced a new album, Nostalgic Killer, and shared its first single, “Run,” via a music video. Nostalgic Killer is due out June 9 via Western Vinyl. Tyler McLeod co-directed the video. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover artwork here.

Webber had this to say about the new single in a press release: “‘Run’ is about the determination to keep moving forward and loving hard. To convey this, I highlighted my favorite aspects of the city of Vancouver, with some of my favorite humans as characters (Juliana Moore, Joshua Anderson, Adrian Mciness, Chris Haslam). I chose to use rats because Vancouver’s got a special kinda grit to it that I think a city rat embodies perfectly. With the chugging movement of the song, rats on skateboards were a no brainer—plus it’s so fun! Much like the feelings I felt at the time of writing the song, I was lost, with little faith left. Like the rat, estranged from her pack and forced to adventure on her own. Similar to my own story, with the help of a new friendship, the lost rat is reunited and reconciled with her old world.”

Nostalgic Killer is the follow-up to 2019’s Spectre. That same year, Webber and Wells the real life romantic couple, broke up, but vowed to keep the band going. The album was recorded in home studios in Vancouver (Webber) and Chicago (Wells). The duo performed almost everything themselves, “save for a few guitar parts performed by touring band member Rob Butterfield, backing vocals by Himalayan Bear’s Ryan Beattie, and string arrangements performed by viola/violinist Meredith Bates.”

Lightning Dust was previously a side-project for Webber and Wells, back when they were in Black Mountain. But in 2017 they both left the mother ship to focus solely on Lightning Dust.

8. Jessy Lanza: “Don’t Leave Me Now”

This week, Canadian electronic musician Jessy Lanza shared a new song, “Don’t Leave Me Now.” Winston H. Case directed the video, which was filmed in Los Angeles. Check out Lanza’s upcoming tour dates here.

It’s the first single Lanza has written and produced since moving to Los Angeles and was inspired by her almost getting hit by a car. A press release explains in more detail: “As is often the case with Jessy’s lyrics, they disassociate from the confident energy of the music, as she wrote them in response to almost being hit by a car when first arriving in LA. This triggered an event of the agoraphobia she’s felt since she was young, and so she wrote ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’ as an act of catharsis.”

Lanza’s last album was 2020’s All the Time, also released via Hyperdub.

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

9. Clark: “Dismissive”

British electronic musician and producer Clark (full name Chris Clark) is releasing a new album, Sus Dog, that’s been produced by Thom Yorke, on May 26 via Throttle. This week he shared its third single, “Dismissive.”

Clark had this to say about “Dismissive” in a press release: “It’s a pep talk in mumble voice to kind of soften its stridency. It’s the perils of saying ‘fuck the world I’m going at it alone.’ Radiant. Bitter. All these mixed emotions playing out on someone’s face.”

Previously Clark shared the album’s first single, “Town Crank,” which was one of our Songs of the Week. Then he shared its second single, “Clutch Pearlers,” via a music video (it was also one of our Songs of the Week).

Yorke had this to say about the collaboration in a previous press release: “Chris wrote me to say he’d started singing, looking for feedback/advice or whatever, cuz it was kind of new shark-infested waters for him. I’ve been into what he does for years, and I ended up being a kind of backseat driver as he pieced all the oddness of it together, which was fascinating…. I wasn’t surprised to discover he came at singing and words through another door completely, which to me was the most interesting and exciting part. The first thing he sent me was him singing about being stuck between two floors and I was already sold. To me the way he approached it all wasn’t the usual singer/songwriter guff thank god; it mirrored the way he approached all his composition and recording, but this time it had a human face. His face.”

Clark said that his thought process when making Sus Dog was: “What would it sound like if The Beach Boys took MDMA and made a rave record?”

He also added: “It’s a lifetime’s worth of listening to songs and working out how to make them, tuning into how to customise all the other elements to my tastes. It feels like my debut, in a way.”

In 2022, Clark remixed Mitski’s “Love Me More” (from her latest album, Laurel Hell).

10. JFDR: “Life Man”

JFDR (aka Icelandic artist Jófríður Ákadóttir) is releasing a new album, Museum, on April 28 via Houndstooth. This week she shared a new song from it, “Life Man,” via a music video. CLUMP Collective directed the video.

Ákadóttir had this to say about “Life Man” in a press release: “Most of us live fairly hectic lives and it can be a shock when things slow down. The song is about one of those moments; when you get a second to breathe and an overwhelming wave of existentialism hits you in the face. It’s a good time to ask questions, as it is all very strange indeed.”

Museum includes “The Orchid,” a new song shared in 2022. When the album was announced JFDR shared the single “Spectator.”

JFDR’s last album, New Dreams, came out in 2020 via Krunk.

Honorable Mentions:

These songs almost made the Top 10.

Annie Blackman: “Bug”

Body Type: “Holding On”

boygenius: “Letter to An Old Poet”

Murray A. Lightburn: “No New Deaths Today”

Here’s a handy Spotify playlist featuring the Top 10 in order, followed by all the honorable mentions:

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