10 Best Songs of the Week: Parquet Courts, Neko Case, Beach House, and More | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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10 Best Songs of the Week: Parquet Courts, Neko Case, Beach House, and More

Plus The Beat Escape, The Decemberists, Simian Mobile Disco, JB Dunckel, and a Wrap-up of the Week's Other Notable New Tracks

Mar 09, 2018 Jess Williamson Bookmark and Share

After a couple of strong weeks for Songs of the Week, it was more much more of a challenge this week to come up with 10 songs we were truly excited about. But we’re really fully passionate about this week’s Top 5 and stand behind the rest of the Top 10. We almost included The Lonely Island’s jokey rejected Oscars song in the Top 10!

To help you sort through the multitude of fresh songs released in the last seven days, we have picked the 10 best this week had to offer, along with highlighting other notable new tracks shared this week. Check out the full list below.

1. Parquet Courts: “Wide Awake”

Parquet Courts are releasing a new Danger Mouse-produced album, Wide Awake!, on May 18 via Rough Trade. Previously they shared its first single, “Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience” (which was one of our Songs of the Week). This week they shared a video for another song from the album, almost title track “Wide Awake” (unlike the album title, it doesn’t feature an explanation point). The song is short and funky, 2:44 of the band mainly announcing that they are “wide awake.” Brother Willis directed the spirited video, which features the band partying in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

Willis had this to say about the video in a press release: “I was very intrigued by the band’s idea to spend a few days filming all around New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Probably should’ve thought twice about it, but we all came out the other side changed people and with a video (or more?) in our collective pocket.”

“You’ll never guess what happens next….” adds Parquet Courts’ Austin Brown about the “To Be Continued…” ending.

Wide Awake! is the band’s fifth album and the follow-up to 2016’s excellent Human Performance. Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) is a fan of Parquet Courts and approached the band about working with them.

“The ethos behind every Parquet Courts record is that there needs to be change for the better, and the best way to tackle that is to step out of one’s comfort zone,” said frontman A. Savage in a press release in regards to working with Danger Mouse. “I personally liked the fact that I was writing a record that indebted to punk and funk, and Brian’s a pop producer who’s made some very polished records. I liked that it didn’t make sense.”

Savage says he was purposefully reacting against the ballads of Human Performance when co-writing the songs on Wide Awake! with Brown. “I needed an outlet for the side of me that feels emotions like joy, rage, silliness and anger,” he said in the press release, citing such influences as Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, and Black Flag. “All those bands make me want to dance and that’s what I want people to do when they hear our record.”

Brown had this to say in the press release: “In such a hateful era of culture, we stand in opposition to that - and to the nihilism used to cope with that - with ideas of passion and love.”

Read our 2016 interview with Parquet Courts.

2. Neko Case: “Hell-On”

This week Neko Case announced a new album, Hell-On, and shared its title track. The album is due out June 1 via ANTI-. Also below is a trailer for the album that features her singing “Hell-On” while snakes slither around her head. Plus she has announced some tour dates, which are here.

It’s been five years since Case’s last solo album, 2013’s lengthily titled The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. Although she has also taken part in two New Pornographers albums since then and in 2016 she teamed up with k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs for the collaborative album case/lang/veirs.

Case self-produced Hell-On, although six tracks were co-produced with Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John in Stockholm, Sweden. Case mixed the album in Stockholm with Lasse Martin. The album features a slew of special guests, including Beth Ditto, Mark Lanegan, k.d. Lang, AC Newman, Eric Bachmann, Kelly Hogan, Doug Gillard, Laura Veirs, and Joey Burns.

A press release says Hell-On “is simultaneously her most accessible and most challenging album, in a rich and varied career that’s offered plenty of both. Hell-On is rife with withering self-critique, muted reflection, anthemic affirmation, and Neko’s unique poetic sensibility.”

Case had this to say about the album in the press release: “My name is Neko Case. I am a music producer, songwriter, and musician. I just finished a record called Hell-On with a cast of talented musicians, techs, label folks and friends.

“What I want you to know about me isn’t too much, nor do I want to over talk it. What you take away on your own, as a listener is most important. I worked really hard and I was present for every second of this project. Producing a record is a huge task and there were times I was deep in the weeds, but that is normal for a record that takes a year plus. The weeds aren’t so bad. There were a lot of break-through moments, belly-laughs, sleepless nights and grubby, shiny jeans. In the end it was all worth it and I am so proud of how it turned out, and I am so grateful to have worked with such dedicated, giving artists to make it happen.

“There were a few challenges during the making of this record from small (scheduling difficulties, and occasional miscommunication) to large (my house burning down while I was overseas.) But none of them are the story of this recording, the songs are the story. They are my best self. They are everything I’ve worked for since I was a kid, whether I knew it or not.

“I write songs from a feeling of solidarity with folks who feel alone or isolated, I think I’m trying to comfort people in this way. It’s not a forceful way rather ‘No commitment necessary;’ take it if you want it, take it as you can.

“My style is odd, I don’t know what genre this is. I don’t have a pretty voice or a trained voice, and I am constantly disappointed that I don’t have a ‘tough’ voice, no matter how hard I practice, but it’s mine, and for all its loud, heavy-handed, nasal, vibrato-less qualities I accept it. The closest sound I have found to compare it to is Bulgarian Folk singing. My Eastern ancestors could have been proud of me a century ago? I could have been a droning ‘caller of wasps’ perhaps? I just invented that job, I like the sound of it.

“The songs are who I believe myself to be and that will change, but for now that’s how it is and I’m very satisfied with that.”

3. Beach House: “Dive”

On Tuesday, Baltimore duo Beach House (Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally) shared a new song, “Dive,” which followed another new song, “Lemon Glow,” which was shared a few weeks ago with the promise of a new album later this spring. This week Beach House officially announced that new album. It’s entitled 7 and is due out May 11 via Sub Pop. The band has also shared a psychedelic black & white visual for “Dive” directed by San Charoenchai. In addition, Beach House have announced some tour dates. Below are the album’s tracklist and cover art, as well as their tour dates, followed by the “Dive” visual.

Beach House posted the following lengthy statement about 7:

7 is our 7th full-length record. At its release, we will have been a band for over 13 years. We have now written and released a total of 77 songs together.

Last year, we released an album of B-sides and rarities. It felt like a good step for us. It helped us clean the creative closet, put the past to bed, and start anew.

Throughout the process of recording 7, our goal was rebirth and rejuvenation. We wanted to rethink old methods and shed some self-imposed limitations. In the past, we often limited our writing to parts that we could perform live. On 7, we decided to follow whatever came naturally. As a result, there are some songs with no guitar, and some without keyboard. There are songs with layers and production that we could never recreate live, and that is exciting to us. Basically, we let our creative moods, instead of instrumentation, dictate the album’s feel.

In the past, the economics of recording have dictated that we write for a year, go to the studio, and record the entire record as quickly as possible. We have always hated this because by the time the recording happens, a certain excitement about older songs has often been lost. This time, we built a ‘home’ studio, and began all of the songs there. Whenever we had a group of 3-4 songs that we were excited about, we would go to a “proper” recording studio and finish recording them there. This way, the amount of time between the original idea and the finished song was pretty short. (8 songs were finished at Carriage House in Stamford, CT. and 2 were done at Palmetto Studio in LA.)

7 didn’t have a producer in the traditional sense. We much preferred this, as it felt like the ideas drove the creativity, not any one person’s process. James Barone, who became our live drummer in 2016, played on the entire record. His tastes and the trust we have in him really helped us keep rhythm at the center of a lot of these songs. We also worked with Sonic Boom (Peter Kember). Peter became a great force on this record, in the shedding of conventions and in helping to keep the songs alive, fresh and protected from the destructive forces of recording studio over-production/over-perfection.

The societal insanity of 2016-17 was also deeply influential, as it must be for most artists these days. Looking back, there is quite a bit of chaos happening in these songs, and a pervasive dark field that we had little control over. The discussions surrounding women’s issues were a constant source of inspiration and questioning. The energy, lyrics and moods of much of this record grew from ruminations on the roles, pressures and conditions that our society places on women, past and present. The twisted double edge of glamour, with its perils and perfect moments, was an endless source (see “L’Inconnue,” “Drunk in LA,” “Woo,” “Girl of the Year,” “Last Ride”).

In a more general sense, we are interested by the human mind’s (and nature’s) tendency to create forces equal and opposite to those present. Thematically, this record often deals with the beauty that arises in dealing with darkness; the empathy and love that grows from collective trauma; the place one reaches when they accept rather than deny (see “Dark Spring,” “Pay No Mind,” “Lemon Glow,” “Dive,” “Black Car,” “Lose Your Smile”).

The title, 7, itself is simply a number that represents our seventh record. We hoped its simplicity would encourage people to look inside. No title using words that we could find felt like an appropriate summation of the album.

The number 7 does represent some interesting connections in numerology. 1 and 7 have always shared a common look, so 7 feels like the perfect step in the sequence to act as a restart or “semi-first.” Most early religions also had a fascination with 7 as being the highest level of spirituality, as in “Seventh Heaven.” At our best creative moments, we felt we were channeling some kind of heavy truth, and we sincerely hope the listeners will feel that.

Much Love,
Beach House”

Beach House put out two albums in 2015: Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars, both via Sub Pop. In 2017 they released a B-sides and rarities compilation, fittingly titled B-Sides and Rarities, also via Sub Pop.

Read our 2017 interview with Beach House on B-Sides and Rarities.

Also read our 2015 interview with Beach House’s Victoria Legrand about Depression Cherry.

4. The Beat Escape: “Moon In Aquarius”

The Beat Escape are a promising new duo from Montreal, Canada who specialize in dreamy electronic music. Their debut album, Life Is Short the Answer’s Long, is due out April 27 via Bella Union. Previously they shared the album’s opening track, “Sign of Age,” which sounded like John Maus covering the Twin Peaks theme. This week they shared another song from the album, “Moon In Aquarius.”

5. The Decemberists: “Once In My Life”

The Decemberists are releasing a new album, I’ll Be Your Girl, on March 16 via Capitol. Previously they shared its first single, “Severed” (it was one of our Songs of the Week). This week they shared another song from the album, album opener “Once In My Life.” John Congleton produced the album, which is being touted as a change of direction for the band as they embrace synth-pop. At first “Once In My Life” seems like a stripped down regular Decemberists song, before the synths do come in (and eventually the female backing vocals as well) and it does indeed have a synth-pop vibe.

Vocalist/guitarist Colin Meloy had this to say about the album in a previous press release: “We were talking about music and our references. It kept coming back to Roxy Music and early glam, and we dove in with that in mind. The Decemberists are a record-collectors’ band, we’re all fans and scholars of music, so there a lot of touch points that we all get, but they don’t always come through. So we were trying to embrace that Bryan Ferry aspect, that kind of set the tone.”

“When you’ve been a band for 17 years, inevitably there are habits you fall into,” Meloy further explained. “So our ambition this time was really just to get out of our comfort zone. That’s what prompted working with a different producer and using a different studio. We wanted to free ourselves from old patterns and give ourselves permission to try something different.”

The album is the follow-up to 2015’s What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World. “On the last record,” Meloy said in the press release, “there were moments when I thought I was making familiar choices. I tried to be mindful in the songwriting process of challenging myself and being a little more critical. The idea was, how can we make unfamiliar choices, turn off the light a little and grope around in the dark a bit?”

In addition to Meloy, the band’s lineup remains guitarist Chris Funk, keyboardist Jenny Conlee, bassist Nate Query, and drummer John Moen. According to Meloy, “Severed” was meant to be more of a punk song, but they decided they needed to rethink. “Jenny set this arpeggio throughout it, and it became like an early New Order song,” Meloy continued. “And I had forgotten that when we made the demo, I also started a file to turn it into more of a Depeche Mode song - I actually wanted it to be a synth song all along.”

Meloy summed up I’ll Be Your Girl as such: “Making music is an infinite choose-your-own-adventure, and when you go down one path, the other paths get sealed off. So every time we could, we said, ‘If this is what our impulses would tell us to do, let’s try to imagine it in a different way.’”

6. Simian Mobile Disco: “Hey Sister”

British electronic duo Simian Mobile Disco (James Ford and Jas Shaw) are releasing a new album, Murmurations, on May 11 via Wichita. Previously they shared a video for its first single, “Caught In a Wave” (which was one of our Songs of the Week). This week the band shared a video for another song from the album, “Hey Sister.” It’s a creepy clip that features a woman in a dark passageway who comes across a strange topless man in a mask and two naked women who seem to be vampires. As with the “Caught In a Wave” video, Kiani Del Valle directed the “Hey Sister” clip, which is the second of three interconnected videos for the album.

Del Valle had this to say about the “Hey Sister” video in a press release: “I wanted to create an abstract allegory for personal battles of longing/searching. The choreographic sequences explore perseverance, failure and external magnetic forces and thereby display the emotional journey of our main female character…. I envisioned the lyrics of the song as voices that call our main character to ‘get closer’ or go further down this unknown path.”

Murmurations features London’s The Deep Throat Choir. A previous press release describes the album as such: “Murmurations is as perfectly pitched for headphones as it is for clubs, named after giant cloud formations of starlings and themed around the stunning emergent behaviors that appear within them.”

Del Valle had this to say about the three videos in a previous press release: “After [creative directors] Kazim [Rashid] and Carri [Munden] shared their concept of emergent behavior and communal techno-experience with me, I dreamt of a female character that moves through different emotional stages while she travels across environments between real life and the subconscious. This female character becomes the umbilical cord of the three chapters, spiraling in and out of first-person narratives. Each chapter explores three different forms of movement so as to reflect the various states of the psyche. Playing with the idea of murmurations, and communal frequencies leading us to psychological discoveries of oneself, these cycles ultimately remind us that endings are hidden beginnings taking us elsewhere. For ‘Caught In a Wave’ I wanted to explore the idea of chaos. I’ve been fascinated by mosh pits and have always been deeply moved by all the codes in its’ culture and the science of adrenaline and endorphin release. From pogo to slam dance and hardcore dancing, what mainly excites my eye is the physical impact and the sense of trust and commitment between strangers. Juxtaposing a mosh pit with a choreographed contemporary dance routine, I wanted to create an atmosphere for these two things to not only meet but also to elevate each other. The glue between the two also being the underlying friendship/love story where both characters are continually in the midst of a turning point.”

The Deep Throat Choir’s director Luisa Gerstein had this to say in a previous press release: “Working with James and Jas has been a total pleasure. It’s been exciting to combine our use of raw female voices with the electronic sensibilities of SMD - the conversation between the two, how they have informed and responded to one another. The result feels like something warm, rippling and kaleidoscopic!”

7. JB Dunckel: “Space Age”

Jean-Benoît Dunckel, one half of French duo Air, is releasing his sophomore solo album H+ under the name JB Dunckel. It’s due out March 16 via Sony Music France/Jive Epic. Previously he shared the album’s “Hold On,” as well as a video for “Transhumanity,” and the audio for “Love Machine.” Late last week he shared a trippy animated video for “Love Machine” directed by Eva Papamargariti. This week he shared the audio for another song from the album, “Space Age.” Dunckel’s last solo album was 2006’s Darkel.

8. La Luz: “California Finally”

Los Angeles quartet La Luz are releasing a new album, Floating Features, May 11 via Hardly Art. This week they shared another song from it, a nice slice of psych rock, “California Finally.”

9. Jess Williamson: “I See White”

This week Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Jess Williamson announced her new album, Cosmic Wink, which is due out May 11 via Mexican Summer. It’s her first for the label and finds her expanding her sound a bit (in fact the album’s opening single, “I See White,” sounds a bit like former Mexican Summer artist Weyes Blood).

10. serpentwithfeet: “bless ur heart”

This week experimental R&B/gospel vocalist serpentwithfeet announced his debut album, soil, and shared a video for its first single, the emotive “bless ur heart.” Soil is due out June 8 via Secretly Canadian and Tri Angle.

Other notable new tracks this week include:

Lily Allen: “Higher” and “Three”

Anderson .Paak: “‘Til It’s Over”

Courtney Marie Andrews: “I’ve Hurt Worse”

Tim Burgess: “Inspired Again”

Lana Del Rey and Andrew Lloyd Webber: “You Must Love Me” (Madonna Cover)

FAN: “Bob1”

Forth Wanderers: “Nevermine”

Ben Frost: “Self Portrait In Ultramarine”

Grouper: “Grid of Points”

Half Waif: “Torches”

Hinds: “The Club”

The Hold Steady: “Eureka” and “Esther”

Jon Hopkins: “Emerald Rush”

Damien Jurado: “Over Rainbows and Rainier”

Ladytron: “The Animals (Vince Clarke Remix)”

The Lonely Island: “Why Not Me”

Many Rooms: “Hollow Body”

Mind Over Mirrors: “Vermillion Pink”

The Nels Cline 4: “Imperfect 10”

No Joy / Sonic Boom: “Slorb”

Perfume Genius: “Jory,” “Lulla,” and “Onscreen”

Pussy Riot & Dave Sitek: “Bad Apples”

Quiet Slang: “Dirty Cigarettes”

Sade: “Flower of the Universe”

Sting and Shaggy: “Morning is Coming”

St. Vincent: “Los Ageless (DJDS Remix)”

Vince Staples: “Get the Fuck Off of My Dick”

TT: “Love Leaks”

Wax Idols: “Scream”

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan: “Yandre”

ZHU and Tame Impala: “My Life”

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