10 Best Songs of the Week: Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen, Japanese Breakfast, and More | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, July 29th, 2021  

10 Best Songs of the Week: Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen, Japanese Breakfast, and More

Plus Lucy Dacus, POND, Gruff Rhys, CHAI, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

May 21, 2021
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Welcome to the 19th Songs of the Week of 2021. This week there was finally a ceasefire in the latest Israeli Palestinian conflict. Some Republicans tried to block a commission that would be tasked to look into the January 6 storming of the Capitol. President Biden offered a counter proposal to Republicans on the price tag of his big infrastructure bill. And beloved comedy actor Charles Grodin died (as did fellow comedy legend Paul Mooney).

Now onto Songs of the Week and this week’s other content on our website. We almost had a Top 12 this week, but decided to reign it back down to a Top 10, since we already had a supersized edition the previous week.

In the last week we posted interviews with Mdou Moctar, CHAI, and Georgia Anne Muldrow.

In the last week we also reviewed a bunch of albums.

Don’t forget that last month we announced our new print issue. The issue features Japanese Breakfast and HAIM on the two covers and is another edition of The Protest Issue, which examines the intersection of music and politics and features musicians photographed with protest signs of their own making. It follows Protest Issues we also published in 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016.

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, along with highlighting other notable new tracks shared in the last seven days. Check out the full list below.

1. Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen: “Like I Used To”

Two of the best contemporary singer/songwriter/guitarists, Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten, have teamed up for a brand new collaborative song, “Like I Used To.” It was shared on Thursday via a video for the duet. John Congleton, who has worked with both artists before, produced the rousing anthem, which starts with vocals from Van Etten, before Olsen takes over and then they join forces, trading lines. To hear and see both of them singing together is quite chill-inducing. When I first heard this song a day before its public premiere, I knew it would likely get the #1 spot on this week’s Songs of the Week and nothing else released since came close to challenging it.

Kimberly Stuckwisch directed the accompanying video, which was shot in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree. Check out the single’s cover art and tour dates for each artists here.

Olsen and Van Etten have long been mutual admirers, but have never collaborated together.

“Even though we weren’t super close, I always felt supported by Angel and considered her a peer in this weird world of touring,” says Van Etten in a press release. “We highway high-fived many times along the way…I finally got the courage in June of 2020 to reach out to see if she would want to sing together. I got greedy and quickly sent her a track I had been working on.”

“I’ve met with Sharon here and there throughout the years and have always felt too shy to ask her what she’s been up to or working on,” adds Olsen. “The song reminded me immediately of getting back to where I started, before music was expected of me, or much was expected of me, a time that remains pure and real in my heart.”

There’s no word yet as to whether or not this is a one-off single or part of a larger project. Please let there be more songs from this super-duo.

Earlier this month, Olsen released a new box set, Song of the Lark and Other Far Memories, via Jagjaguwar. The set features Olsen’s albums All Mirrors and Whole New Mess, along with a bonus LP titled Far Memory and a 40-page book. All Mirrors came out in 2019 and made it to the top spot on our Top 100 Albums of 2019 list. Whole New Mess came out the following year and was #39 for our Top 100 Albums of 2020.

Last month, Van Etten released epic Ten, an anniversary reissue of her 2010 Epic album, via Ba Da Bing. It featured covers of the some of the album’s songs by notable artists, including Fiona Apple, Courtney Barnett and Vagabon, IDLES, and more. Van Etten’s most recent new album, Remind Me Tomorrow, came out in 2019 via Jagjaguwar. Read our in-depth interview with Sharon Van Etten on Remind Me Tomorrow and check out our exclusive photo shoot with her.

2. Japanese Breakfast: “Savage Good Boy”

Japanese Breakfast (aka Michelle Zauner) is releasing a new album, Jubilee, on June 4 via Dead Oceans. On Wednesday, she shared its third single, “Savage Good Boy,” via a self-directed video in which she co-stars with actor Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos.

“‘Savage Good Boy’ came from a headline I read about billionaires buying bunkers,” Zauner explains in a press release. “I was interested in examining that specific type of villainy, and I found myself adopting the perspective of a rich man coaxing a young woman to come live with him underground, attempting to rationalize his almost impossible share of greed and miserliness. I knew I wanted the music video to be a pretty literal interpretation of that idea. I wanted to juxtapose images of this post-apocalyptic, industrial bunker with the lightness and extravagance of rococo fashion and set design. Aiming for that balance, my cinematographer, Adam Kolodny, and I were really inspired by Chan Wook Park’s The Handmaiden, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, and Sally Potter’s Orlando.”

When Jubilee was announced Zauner shared its first single, “Be Sweet” (which was #1 on our Songs of the Week), and would later go on to perform it on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Then she shared a self-directed video for the album’s second single “Posing in Bondage,” which was also #1 on our Songs of the Week list.

In a previous press release, Zauner had this to say about her new album: “I’ve never wanted to rest on any laurels. I wanted to push it as far as it could go, inviting more people in and pushing myself as a composer, a producer, an arranger.”

Zauner’s most recent album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet, came out in July 2017 on Dead Oceans and was one of our Top 100 Albums of 2017.

In April Zauner also released her debut memoir, Crying In H Mart, on Knopf. The book debuted at #2 on The New York Times’ Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers List. Crying in H Mart is partly about the death of Zauner’s mother to cancer and how the two bonded over Korean food.

Japanese Breakfast is on the cover of our latest print issue (buy a copy directly from us here).

Read our 2017 interview with Japanese Breakfast on Soft Sounds From Another Planet.

3. Lucy Dacus: “VBS”

Lucy Dacus is releasing a new album, Home Video, on June 25 via Matador. On Wednesday she shared another song from it, “VBS,” via a Marin Leong-directed animated video for the single. She has also added a handful more tour dates. Check out all her tour dates here.

“VBS means vacation bible school, and I went to tons of them,” explains Dacus in a press release. “It’s where Christian parents send their kids over the winter, spring, or summer breaks from school to get closer to God, maybe learn some outdoor skills, and bring home useless crafts and totems like fruit of the spirit sand art and purity rings. I wrote the song in the van on the way to Nashville to record Home Video after seeing one of those readerboards outside a church advertising a wholesome church camp for kids. I thought about my first boyfriend, who I met at VBS, the resident bad boy who loved Slayer and weed more than Jesus. I took it upon myself to save him, and make him stop doing drugs (with an exception for snorting nutmeg). God, I was so lame.”

Leong also commented on the video for the song: “A lot of the album examines navigation of self and how it evolves, and Lucy and I have often talked about bodies, the part they play in our ideation of self, and both connection and disconnection to them. We arrived at this world where her physical self is being distorted by the landscape that she’s present in, both in a beautiful and slightly uncanny way. One of the reasons I find animation and music compelling is the freedom in world building, the ability to translate story and tone, and synthesize it into a visual landscape using imagery that isn’t necessarily rooted in reality. And although I was treating this video like a diptych or braided essay with the song, rather than an overt visual depiction, I was able to make some subtle but direct references to the lyrics as well, so I’m excited for people to find those.”

Home Video includes “Thumbs,” a new song she shared in March that was #1 on our Songs of the Week list. When the album was announced Dacus shared its second single, “Hot & Heavy,” which also made our Songs of the Week list. Then she performed “Hot & Heavy” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, performing it with her backing band from the stage of the Virginia Repertory Theatre, in her native Richmond. Dacus’ mother used to play piano for musicals at the theater, musicals Dacus would sometimes appear in as a child.

Dacus’ last album, Historian, came out in 2018. The following year, she released the EP 2019.

Home Video was recorded at Trace Horse Studio in Nashville with the aid of Jacob Blizard, Collin Pastore, and Jake Finch. Shawn Everett mixed the album and Bob Ludwig mastered it. Two songs feature her boygenius bandmates Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. Dacus’ regular touring band is Jacob Blizard (guitar), Dominic Angelella (bass), Ricardo Lagomasino (drums), and Sarah Goldstone (keys, background vocals).

Read our interview with Dacus and boygenius.

Read our 2018 interview with Dacus on Historian.

Read our 2016 Artist Survey interview with Lucy Dacus.

4. POND: “America’s Cup”

This week, Australian psych-rock band POND announced their ninth studio album, fittingly titled 9, and shared a new song from it, “America’s Cup.” 9 is due out October 1 via Spinning Top/Secretly Distribution. “America’s Cup” was shared via a Sam Kristofski-directed video. Check out the album’s cover art here.

“The beat makes me think of a New York street strut, Sesame Street style,” says POND frontman Nick Allbrook of the new single. “But it’s about Fremantle before Alan Bond gave the big ball of gentrification it’s final shove, when it was cheap and harsh and the broken relics of the pre-87 port city were young, groovy cats in a secret idyll wedged between the river and the sea. It’s also about blokes being different versions of whatever the hell we’ve been taught we’re supposed to be.”

“I’m from NZ and the big Sail race was here, the whole country was glued to their TV’s and I don’t even wanna know how much they spent on that thing,” says Kristofski of the single’s video. “So I thought it would be funny if the captain of the racing team won the cup and auctioned it off to a bunch of people who love that kinda thing. Then he celebrates by dancing. Pretty twisted idea but I think it works.”

The album’s tracklist is yet to be announced, but the album is confirmed to feature “Pink Lunettes,” a new song the band shared in April via a video. “Pink Lunettes” was one of our Songs of the Week.

POND’s last album was 2019’s Tasmania. POND produced the album, which was mixed by the band’s Jay Watson and James Ireland.

Allbrook also had this to say about the album: “We sort of gave ourselves permission to make something stuffed this time. We’d settled into a pretty tight routine with the last few albums and wanted to shake a boat with this so we started off with filling a few tape reels with some absolutely heinous improvised sonic babble which, after much sifting, became the first few songs of the album. We also wanted to up the tempo. The last few albums have a neat little mantra or repetitive theme. If I was forced to find something like that in 9, I guess it would be ‘biography’ or ‘observation’—a lot of the lyrics seem to focus on single people’s lives, or the lives of small moments or small things when you zoom real close up and they reveal something deeper. Stuff like my cheap Chinese slippers, or a soiled teddy bear, or Agnes Martin (not to put them in the same category, although maybe Agnes would’ve appreciated it). In the Rorschach test of re-reading lyrics, one thing that sticks out is a fixation on leaving behind a time of golden optimism and uncynical abandon. We can’t look at ourselves the same anymore, and the world we’ve built provides a scary lense for viewing our past.”

5. Gruff Rhys: “Mausoleum of My Former Self”

Gruff Rhys, Welsh frontman of Super Furry Animals, has releasing a new solo album, Seeking New Gods, today via Rough Trade. On Tuesday he shared the album’s third single, “Mausoleum of My Former Self,” via a video for the horn-backed song.

In a press release Rhys says “Mausoleum of My Former Self” is about “human aging—people become different people but they’re still an avatar for who they used to be.”

Rhys has also announced a special immersive version of the album, in partnership with BBC Research & Development and their Audio Orchestrator tool. Starting today, fans can go to the BBC Taster site to listen to the album via surround sound by connecting multiple devices at once (it sounds best with four or more, but at least two are needed).

Previously Rhys shared Seeking New Gods’ first single, “Loan Your Loneliness,” also via a video. “Loan Your Loneliness” was one of our Songs of the Week (coming in at #1). Then he shared the album’s second single, “Can’t Carry On,” via a video for the song. “Can’t Carry On” was also one of our Songs of the Week.

Long-time Rhys collaborator Mark James art directed the album and directed all the videos for the album.

Seeking New Gods is Rhys’ seventh solo album. It was recorded following a U.S. tour with his band. Mario C (Beastie Boys) mixed the album in Los Angeles.

Apparently, Seeking New Gods started off as a biography of an active volcano, Mount Paektu, on the Chinese-North Korean border. A previous press release explained that the more Rhys wrote, the more “he began to reflect on the inhuman timescale of the peak’s existence and the intimate features that have allowed mythologies to be built around it over centuries. Both the mountain and the songs became more and more personal to him as time went on.”

Rhys further explained: “The album is about people and the civilizations, and the spaces people inhabit over periods of time. How people come and go but the geology sticks around and changes more slowly. I think it’s about memory and time. It’s still a biography of a mountain, but now it’s a Mount Paektu of the mind. You won’t learn much about the real mountain from listening to this record but you will feel something, hopefully.”

In February Rhys released a new book, the amusingly titled Resist Phony Encores!, which a press release described as a “selective memoir.” For the book Rhys worked with designer Mark James, who provided Xeroxed graphics and doctored photos. The book included anecdotes from his life and also featured Rhys’ cue cards that he has used in live performances for 15 years now. Rhys did a performance version of Resist Phony Encores! as a “one-man slide show” at the Edinburgh Festival in 2018.

6. CHAI: “In Pink” (Feat. Mndsgn)

Japan’s CHAI released a new album, WINK, today via Sub Pop (stream it here). Today, they shared a new video for the album’s “In Pink,” a pleasing song that features Mndsgn and wasn’t previously a single from the album, so it makes our list this week. Hideto Hotta directed the video, which features lots of beautiful cherry blossoms.

The band features Mana (lead vocals and keys), Kana (guitar), Yuna (drums), and Yuuki (bassist-lyricist).

CHAI had this to say about the “In Pink” video in a press release: “Each and everyone of us has our own color, and each of those colors possess their own kind of power! PINK is a strong yet gentle color, one that has the ability to make any and everyone shine! No matter who or how old you are! CHAI will continue to move forward, alongside the limitless color PINK! It’s that type of song! Enjoy it.”

Also, on Thursday we posted our new interview with CHAI (read that here) and today we posted our review of the album (read that here).

CHAI previously shared the songs “ACTION,” “Donuts Mind If I Do,” and “Maybe Chocolate Chips” (featuring Ric Wilson) from WINK. “Maybe Chocolate Chips” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then they shared another song from it, “Nobody Knows We Are Fun,” via a video for the single (which also made our Songs of the Week). Then they shared another song from it, “Ping Pong!,” via a music video inspired by retro 8-bit video games. The song featured YMCK and was also one of our Songs of the Week.

CHAI’s sophomore album, PUNK, was released in 2019 on Burger. Back in August of last year, CHAI teamed up with Spanish rock band Hinds for the joint single “United Girls Rock‘n’Roll Club.”

7. black midi: “Chondromalacia Patella”

black midi are releasing a new album, Cavalcade, on May 28 via Rough Trade. On Wednesday they shared another song from it, the somewhat jazzy “Chondromalacia Patella,” via a Vilhjálmur Yngvi Hjálmarsson-directed video for it. The band have also announced some new U.S. tour dates that happen next March and April and a crazy Cavalcade Golden Ticket contest, with some astounding prizes if you’re a fan of the band. Check out the tour dates here.

According to a press release, “Chondromalacia Patella” is “about convalescence, aptly named after a band member’s knee injury from running.”

The Cavalcade Golden Ticket contest runs until October 28. One golden ticket will be put in an LP in America and one will be put in an LP in the UK. There’s a chance of winning one of three prizes.

Firstly, “black midi will be the function band for an event of your choice,” meaning, we suppose, that they will perform at your wedding, your kid’s bar mitzvah, your birthday party, a gender reveal party, a prom, your retirement party, the opening of a new dry cleaners, etc.

Secondly, a lucky fan will get “one day in the studio with black midi for a creative collaboration.” Ever wanted to badly rap over a black midi song? Now’s your chance.

Finally, the band are giving away “guest list spots for two people for all future worldwide black midi headline live shows for 10 years.” So if you want to see every black midi headline show for the next decade and have the means to travel the world to get to them all (and have nothing else to do with your life whenever the band is on tour), this is the way to do it.

The two golden ticket winners get to pick which of the three prizes they’d like. You can find all the rules here.

The band previously shared the song “John L” (which was #1 on our Songs of the Week) upon Cavalcade’s announcement, which was shared via an amazing video. Then they shared the album’s second, “Slow,” also via a video (and also on our Songs of the Week list). Their debut album, Schlagenheim, came out in 2019 on Rough Trade, and made it to #30 on our Top 100 Albums of 2019 list.

8. John Grant: “Billy”

John Grant is releasing a new album, Boy from Michigan, on June 25 via Partisan in the U.S. (and Bella Union in the U.K.). On Monday, he shared the album’s third single, “Billy,” via a video for it. The song is the album’s closing track. The video version is a single edit of the song. Check that out below, followed by the slightly longer album version from Spotify. Casey and Ewan directed the “Billy” video.

“‘Billy’ is a song about how many men destroy themselves trying to live up to stereotypes of masculinity and how this manifests in countless ways,” says Grant in a press release.

Boy from Michigan was produced by Welsh musician Cate Le Bon. Previously Grant shared a video for the album’s title track, “Boy from Michigan,” which was one of our Songs of the Week. The album’s second single was the amusing and quite ’80s sounding “Rhetorical Figure,” a song about the sexiness of good grammar. “Rhetorical Figure” was shared via a lyric video and was also one of our Songs of the Week.

Boy from Michigan is the follow-up to 2018’s Love Is Magic and 2015’s Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. A press release says the album is Grant’s “most autobiographical and melodic work to date.”

Last year Grant also sang guest vocals on the Lost Horizons song “Cordelia.”

Also be sure to read our in-depth 2013 article on Grant, one of the most honest and personal interviews we’ve ever done.

Also read our 2015 interview with John Grant on Grey Tickles, Black Pressure.

Plus read our The End interview with John Grant.

9. Mdou Moctar: “Taliat”

Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar has released a new album Afrique Victime, today via Matador. On Wednesday he shared another song from the album, “Taliat,” and announced some new fall U.S. tour dates. Check out the tour dates here.

“Oh poor girl/She gave him her heart and he broke it/I pray to God to never experience unrequited love and the pain of a broken heart,” Moctar sings in Tamasheq.

“Taliat means woman,” Moctar explains in a press release. “In our community, women are queens, they have a lot of power, that why I use the term taliat to talk about them. A woman in the Tuareg community has to be protected, but she also has to be treated as equal.”

When the album was announced, Moctar shared the song “Tala Tannam,” which was one of our Songs of the Week. He also shared a live performance video for “Tala Tannam.” Then he shared the album’s title track, “Afrique Victime,” which was also one of our Songs of the Week.

Also, on Thursday we posted our new interview with Moctar (read that here) and on Wednesday we posted our review of the album (read that here).

Afrique Victime features contributions from Moctar’s band, which features Mikey Coltun on bass, Ahmoudou Madassane on guitar, and Souleymane Ibrahim on drums.

His most recent album, Ilana (The Creator), was released in 2019.

10. Sons of Raphael: “Yeah Yeah Yeah”

Sons of Raphael (the duo of brothers Loral and Ronnel Raphael) released their debut album, Full-Throated Messianic Homage, today via Because Music. This week they shared one last pre-release single from it, “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” via a video for the song. The song contains the repeated lines “I’m a jerk that makes you cry/But there’s just no other guy like me” and so the video features various shots of pretty girls crying. French/American husband-wife duo Wiissa and Loral Raphael directed the video.

Wiissa had this to say about the video in a press release: “This is such a special video to us, and we shot it about every other day for two months straight. Loral told us his idea of a simple video with a bunch of teen girls crying. We shot this in late 2019, in a very dark period of our life, when crying was almost a daily occurrence. We lugged around our 16mm camera and handheld light to different parts of Paris and London each night for a new sunset, and a new crying teenager. I still tear up every time I watch the video, I loved all of the girls we worked with and I imagine all of their individual stories when they cry.”

The band had this to say: “‘Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.’ This quote from the book of Psalms is the nerve centre of our new music video for ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah.’ The tears symbolise the seven years of famine my brother and I have undergone, making our debut album. From this suffering, we will return with songs of joy, fulfilling this biblical prophecy—those who have wept shall rejoice and be happy!”

We previously posted Sons of Raphael’s “Revolution,” which was shared via a video and was one of our Songs of the Week.

Full-Throated Messianic Homage was mixed by the late French DJ/producer Philippe Zdar of Cassius. Other previously released songs from the album are “Siren Music” and “He Who Makes the Morning Darkness.”

A press release describes the album as such: “The album is an endless futuristic wall of sound built on classical orchestral arrangements contrasted with fuzz machines and modular synthesizers. Beneath this inviting exterior is a debut which is a four-part hymn to life, death, sin, love and resurrection.”

Honorable Mentions:

These six songs almost made the Top 10.

Bleachers: “Stop Making This Hurt”

Lambchop: “The Last Benedict”

Twin Shadow: “Get Closer”

Vundabar: “Aphasia” and “Ringing Bell”

Faye Webster: “I Know I’m Funny haha”

Other notable new tracks in the last week include:

Azure Ray: “Bad Dream”

Black Country, New Road: “Track X (The Guest)”

Bono: “Eden (To Find Love)”

Noah Britton: “Wings” (Feat. Phil Elverum)

Noah Britton · Wings (with Phil Elverum)

Burial: “Dolphinz”

David Crosby: “River Rise” (Feat. Michael McDonald)

Lana Del Rey: “Blue Banisters,” “Text Book,” and “Wildflower Wildfire”

Duran Duran: “Invisible” (Feat. Graham Coxon)

Florence + the Machine: “Call me Cruella”

Garbage: “Wolves”

Hannah Georgas: “Dreams (Bartees Strange Remix)”

Hurry: “A Fake Idea”

Lil Nas X: “Sun Goes Down”

Lucid Express: “Hollowers”

Marina: “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land”

Bille Marten: “Human Replacement”

Oneohtrix Point Never and Rosalía: “Nothing’s Special”

Pet Shop Boys: “Cricket Wife”

Rose City Band: “Ramblin’ With the Day”

Lawrence Rothman: “Breathe” (Feat. Caroline Rose)

2nd Grade: “Favorite Song”

Split Single: “95 Percent”

St. Lenox: “The Great Blue Heron (Song of Solomon)”

Tirzah: “Sink In”

U-Roy: “Man Next Door” (Feat. Santigold) (The Paragons Cover)

ViVii: “Smackdown”

ViVii · Smackdown

The Wallflowers: “Maybe Your Heart’s Not In It No More”

Wednesday: “Handsome Man”

(Special thanks to Emma Goad for helping out this week’s list together.)

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