10 Best Songs of the Week: ANOHNI and the Johnsons, Mega Bog, Girl Ray, Blur, Spoon, and More | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, December 7th, 2023  

10 Best Songs of the Week: ANOHNI and the Johnsons, Mega Bog, Girl Ray, Blur, Spoon, and More

Plus Kieran Hebden and William Tyler, Nation of Language, Julie Byrne, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

May 19, 2023
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Welcome to the 18th Songs of the Week of 2023. We have a strong Top 4 this week, even though it wasn’t the most active seven days for new tracks.

Remember that we recently announced our new print issue, Issue 71 with Weyes Blood and Black Belt Eagle Scout on the covers.

In the past week or so we posted interviews with K.Flay and others.

In the last week we reviewed some albums.

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. ANOHNI and the Johnsons: “It Must Change”

On Tuesday, ANOHNI announced a new album with ANOHNI and the Johnsons, My Back Was a Bridge For You to Cross, and shared its first single, “It Must Change,” via a music video. My Back Was a Bridge For You to Cross is due out July 7 via Secretly Canadian and Rough Trade. Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard directed the “It Must Change” video, which stars Munroe Bergdorf. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover artwork, as well as the artwork for the single, here.

My Back Was a Bridge For You to Cross is ANOHNI’s first album since 2016’s HOPELESSNESS and the first album to bear the Johnsons name since 2010’s Swanlights (released under the Antony and the Johnsons moniker). ANOHNI, who was born in the UK but is based in New York City, teamed with soul producer Jimmy Hogarth (Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Tina Turner) for My Back Was a Bridge For You to Cross. They then assembled a backing band consisting of Leo Abrahams, Chris Vatalaro, Sam Dixon, and string arranger Rob Moose.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. That was a really important touchstone in my mind,” says ANOHNI in a press release. “Some of these songs respond to global and environmental concerns first voiced in popular music over 50 years ago.”

A lot of the songs on the album are first vocal takes. ANOHNI explains: “Many of the recordings on this record—like ‘It Must Change’ and ‘Can’t’—capture the first and only time I have sung those songs through. There’s a magic when you suddenly place words you have been thinking about for a long time into melody. A neural system awakens. It isn’t personal and yet is so personal. Things connect and come alive.”

The “It Must Change” video features British social justice activist Munroe Bergdorf. “Munroe Bergdorf has done so much service for British society,” ANOHNI says. “She always impresses me with her articulate grace. Munroe’s dignity and ethical courage are a guiding light.”

Summing up the album, ANOHNI says: “I want the record to be useful. I learned with HOPELESSNESS that I can provide a soundtrack that might fortify people in their work, in their activism, in their dreaming and decision-making. I can sing of an awareness that makes others feel less alone, people for whom the frank articulation of these frightening times is not a source of discomfort but a cause for identification and relief. I want the work to be useful, to help others move with dignity and resilience through these conversations we are now facing.”

The album’s cover artwork features a 1970s portrait of human rights activist Marsha P. Johnson, taken by Alvin Baltrop.

2. Mega Bog: “All and Everything”

Mega Bog (aka Erin Birgy) has released a new album, End of Everything, today via Mexican Summer, her first for the label. On Tuesday she shared its fourth single, “All and Everything,” via a self-directed music video.

Birgy had this to say about the new song in a press release: “‘All and Everything’ was written immediately after my friend and I stole away to the cemetery to experience our first break in a very long sadness, marching around the dusk and climbing cement burial boxes while basting Franco Battiato and Vangelis at the beginning of our own epic poem together.”

Of directing the song’s video, which was filmed by Birgy, James Krivchenia, and Daniel McIntyre, she adds: “The video is loosely based on my visual emotional connection to the book Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin, a story of a woman growing up in the ancient, pagan Mediterranean.”

Previously Mega Bog shared the album’s first single, “The Clown,” via a self-directed music video. “The Clown” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then she shared the album’s second single, “Love Is,” via a music video. “Love Is” featured backing vocals from Westerman and was also one of our Songs of the Week. Then she shared its third single, “Cactus People,” via a self-directed music video. You guessed it, “Cactus People” again made our Songs of the Week list.

End of Everything is the follow-up to 2021’s Life, and Another, released via Paradise of Bachelors.

Birgy co-produced the album with James Krivchenia of Big Thief, who also mixed the record and co-engineered it with Phil Hartunian. Krivchenia also plays drums on the album, which also features regular Mega Bog bassist Zach Burba, alongside Will Segerstrom, Meg Duffy (Hand Habits), Jackson Macintosh (Drugdealer, TOPS), and Westerman.

As Birgy got sober and started to work through her personal traumas, she decided to make a more direct record, writing on piano and synthesizer instead of guitar.

In a previous press release Birgy said she had the need “to feel… instantly. I didn’t want to dig into secret codes. I no longer wanted to hide behind difficult music. I was curious to give others the same with the music I create; to make music someone could use to explore drama, playfulness, and dancing, to shake the trauma loose.”

3. Kieran Hebden and William Tyler: “Darkness, Darkness”

This week, Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) teamed up with guitarist William Tyler for the 10-minute new song “Darkness Darkness.” It is the latest installment in the single series by Psychic Hotline (the record label founded by Sylvan Esso). “Darkness Darkness” will be released on 12-inch vinyl on June 30, with a song called “No Service” as the B-side. .

Hebden is a prolific British electronic musician. As Four Tet he recently teamed up with Skrillex and Fred Again. The trio filled in for Frank Ocean as one of the headliners during the second weekend of Coachella. Tyler is a Nashville-based guitarist and composer. In March he released the live album Secret Stratosphere, credited to William Tyler & The Impossible Truth and put out on Merge.

Previous installments in the Psychic Hotline singles series have included Hand Habits’ “Greatest Weapon” b/w “Under the Water,” Ethan Gruska and Bon Iver’s “So Unimportant,” Flock of Dimes’ “Pure Love” b/w “Time,” Anjimile’s “Ever New,” and “Province” (a cover of the TV on the Radio song by Bartees Strange, Ohmme, and Eric Slick).

4. Girl Ray: “Up”

London trio Girl Ray are releasing a new album, Prestige, on August 4 via Moshi Moshi. On Tuesday they shared another new song from it, “Up,” and announced some new UK and European tour dates.

Girl Ray’s singer/guitarist Poppy Hankin had this to say about “Up” in a press release: “This song was written at the beginning of my current relationship, and it deals with all the emotions of a fledgling romance: adoration, self-doubt, and everything in between! Musically we wanted to pay homage to the sparseness of Queen’s ‘Cool Cat,’ and the groove of Bowie’s ‘Fame.’”

Ben H Allen (Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective, MIA, Belle & Sebastian) produced Prestige. Girl Ray also features Iris McConnell and Sophie Moss.

The album includes “Everybody’s Saying That,” a new song Girl Ray shared in February via a music video (it was one of our Songs of the Week). In 2021, the trio shared the album’s closing track, “Give Me Your Love,” which was produced by Joe Goddard and Al Doyle from Hot Chip and was also one of our Songs of the Week. When Prestige was announced in April they shared another new song from it, “Hold Tight,” via an amusing music video. “Hold Tight” was again one of our Songs of the Week.

Also in 2021, they shared a cover of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s 2001 song “Murder on the Dancefloor,” via a music video.

The trio also took part in our 20th Anniversary Covers of Covers album last year, covering HAIM’s “Another Try.”

Their most recent album, Girl, came out in 2019 via Moshi Moshi.

In 2020 we posted a mini-documentary on Girl Ray, where we visited their home studio. Watch the James Loveday-directed film here.

Also read our My Firsts interview with the band from 2019.

Girl was the follow-up to their 2017-released debut album, Earl Grey (it was our Album of the Week and #3 on our Top 15 Debut Albums of 2017 list).

Read our Pleased to Meet You interview with Girl Ray and check out our exclusive photo shoot with the band.

5. Spoon: “Sugar Babies”

On Tuesday, Spoon announced a new EP, Memory Dust, and shared its first single, “Sugar Babies.” Memory Dust is due out digitally on June 13 via Matador. Check out the EP’s tracklist and cover artwork, as well as the band’s upcoming tour dates, here.

Memory Dust features two new songs and a cover of Bo Diddley’s “She’s Fine, She’s Mine.” The EP follows their last album, Lucifer on the Sofa, which came out in February 2022 via Matador and was one of our Top 100 Albums of 2022. The tracks were recorded during the sessions for that album, but were left unfinished until now.

6. Nation of Language: “Stumbling Still”

Brooklyn-based synth-pop trio Nation of Language are releasing a new album, Strange Disciple, on September 15 via [PIAS]. On Wednesday they shared another song from it, “Stumbling Still.”

In March, Nation of Language shared the album’s first single, “Sole Obsession,” via a music video, and also announced the album’s title and some new tour dates. “Sole Obsession” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then when Strange Disciple was officially announced they shared its slow burning album opener “Weak In Your Light,” which was also one of our Songs of the Week.

The band features Ian Devaney, Aidan Noell, and Alex MacKay. Nick Millhiser (Holy Ghost!, LCD Soundsystem) produced the new album, which was recorded in Brooklyn.

Strange Disciple is the band’s third album and the follow-up to 2021’s A Way Forward and 2020’s Introduction, Presence.

A previous press release said that each song on Strange Disciple “finds Ian Devaney telling transient stories about temptation, guilt, and the inexplicable joy of being so pained by one’s passionate fixations.”

Devaney further explained: “Sometimes when I feel the most is when I feel hopelessly devoted to something or someone.”

Read our interview with Nation of Language on A Way Forward.

Nation of Language also took part in our 20th anniversary Covers of Covers album, where they covered Broken Social Scene’s “Stars and Sons.”

7. Blur: “The Narcissist”

On Thursday, Britpop icons Blur announced a new album, The Ballad of Darren, and shared its first single, “The Narcissist.” The Ballad of Darren is due out July 21 via Parlophone. Check out a teaser video for the album, as well as the album’s tracklist and cover artwork, here.

The Ballad of Darren is the band’s first new album in eight years, since 2015’s The Magic Whip, although the members of Blur have kept plenty busy since then. In the intervening years frontman Damon Albarn has released several albums with Gorillaz (including Cracker Island this past February), as well as the 2021 solo album, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, and the 2019 album with The Good, The Bad, & The Queen, Merrie Land. In January, drummer Dave Rowntree released his debut solo album, Radio Songs, on Cooking Vinyl. In February, guitarist Graham Coxon and Rose Elinor Dougall released their self-titled debut album as The WAEVE (pick up our current print issue to read our interview with Coxon and Dougall about the album). Coxon also recently released a memoir, Verse, Chorus, Monster!. Bassist Alex James, meanwhile, has been running a cheese farm.

James Ford produced The Ballad of Darren, which was recorded in London and Devon. The album’s cover artwork is an image by British photographer Martin Parr. Blur had previously announced some 2023 concerts, including two shows at London’s Wemberly Stadium.

Albarn had this to say about the album in a press release: “This is an aftershock record, reflection and comment on where we find ourselves now.”

Coxon says: “The older and madder we get, it becomes more essential that what we play is loaded with the right emotion and intention. Sometimes just a riff doesn’t do the job.”

James says: “For any long term relationship to last with any meaning you have to be able to surprise each other somehow and somehow we all continue to do that.”

Rowntree says: “It always feels very natural to make music together. With every record we do, the process reveals something new and we develop as a band. We don’t take that for granted.”

8. MAN ON MAN: “Take It From Me”

MAN ON MAN are releasing their sophomore album, Provincetown, on June 16 via Polyvinyl. On Thursday they shared two new songs from it, “Take It From Me” and “Hush” (which features J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.). The former was shared via a music video directed by Brendan McGowan and makes our Songs of the Week list.

MAN ON MAN is the project of Faith No More co-founder Roddy Bottum and his partner, guitarist/vocalist Joey Holman.

The band collectively had this to say about “Take It From Me” and its video in a press release: “In our new video we’re exploring the ways in which the culture and fervor of our Queer community is ‘taken from us’ and how we stand up to the affront in a sort of Lynchian/Kenneth Anger short film directed by us and our collaborator, Brendan McGowan. We’ve enlisted family and friends once again to share the message of rebellion and queer liberation.”

Of “Hush,” the band had this to say: “Provincetown, the town where we recorded our new record, has a way of providing a landscape that spurns friendship and growth and creative fertility. We’d been friends with J Mascis for a while but it wasn’t until the summer of 2022 that we were able to lean into our relationship with him and his family and take things to a new creative plateau. This epic rock bomb was begging for the wizardry that only J could provide and we feel so fortunate to have him onboard.”

Provincetown follows MAN ON MAN’s self-titled debut, released in 2021. Provincetown’s first single was “Showgirls.”

9. bar italia: “changer”

London post-punk trio bar italia released a new album, Tracey Denim, today via Matador, the band’s first for the iconic label. On Monday they shared another song from it, “changer,” and announced some new tour dates for North America, the UK, and the EU.

The band features Nina Cristante, Jezmi Tarik Fehmi, and Sam Fenton. The North American tour dates happen this December, following some new UK and EU shows in October and November.

Tracey Denim includes “Nurse!,” a new song the band shared in March. When the album was announced, the band shared “punkt” via a music video. “Punkt” was one of our Songs of the Week. The band previously released two albums, an EP, and several singles over the last two years on Dean Blunt’s World Music label.

10. Julie Byrne: “The Greater Wings”

Julie Byrne is releasing a new album, The Greater Wings, on July 7 via Ghostly International. On Wednesday she shared the album’s title track, “The Greater Wings.”

Previously she shared the album’s first single, “Summer Glass,” via a music video. “Summer Glass” was one of our Songs of the Week.

Byrne’s last album was 2017’s acclaimed Not Even Happiness.

“My hope for The Greater Wings is that it lives as a love letter to my chosen family and as an expression of the depth of my commitment to our shared future,” Byrne said in a previous press release. “Being reshaped by grief also has me more aware of what death does not take from me. I commit that to heart, to words, to sound. Music is not bound to any kind of linear time, so in the capacity to record and speak to the future: this is what it felt like to me, when we were simultaneous, alive, occurring all at once. What it has felt like to go up against my edge and push, the love that has made it worth all this fight. These memories are my values, they belong with me.”

Byrne started recording the album with her longtime creative partner, the late Eric Littmann (who produced Not Even Happiness). She finished the album with producer Alex Somers (Sigur Rós, Julianna Barwick), recording in the Catskills of New York.

Honorable Mentions:

These songs almost made the Top 10.

Bully: “Change Your Mind”

Ben Folds: “Back to Anonymous”

Hannah Jadagu: “Lose”

The Japanese House: “Sunshine Baby”

King Krule: “If Only It Was Warmth”

Lost Under Heaven: “I Surrender”

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

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