10 Best Songs of the Week: Sparks, Girl Ray, Wesley Gonzalez and Rose Elinor Dougall, and More | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 28th, 2024  

10 Best Songs of the Week: Sparks, Girl Ray, Wesley Gonzalez and Rose Elinor Dougall, and More

Plus Chelsea Wolfe, Modest Mouse, Gone to Color, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

May 28, 2021 Bookmark and Share

Welcome to the 20th Songs of the Week of 2021. This week, Republicans successfully blocked a commission that would have probed the January 6 storming of the Capitol. There was yet another massing shooting, this time in San Jose, CA, in which nine were gunned down at the Valley Transportation Authority light rail yard by a disgruntled employee. As usual, it won’t likely lead to any meaningful gun control reforms. In fact, Texas is poised to enact a new law that allows adults to carry a firearm without background checks, training, or licenses.

Now onto Songs of the Week and this week’s other content on our website. We had quite a bit of trouble picking our #1 song this week and at one point seriously considered each of the Top 5.

In the last week we posted interviews with Violent Femmes, Bachelor (which is Palehound + Jay Som), Moby, and Ashley Nicole Black and Gabrielle Dennis of HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show.

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. Sparks: “So May We Start” (Feat. Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and Simon Helberg)

This week, Sparks (brothers Ron and Russell Mael) shared a new song, “So May We Start,” that also features actors Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and Simon Helberg. The song is taken from the musical film, Annette, directed by Leos Carax (Holy Motors) and starring Driver, Cotillard, and Helberg. The Mael brothers co-wrote the film with Carax and wrote all the music for it (and also appear in the film). Annette premieres at the Cannes Film Festival and will be released in the U.S. theaters on Friday, August 6 before streaming on Amazon Prime Video starting on August 20. Check out the film’s trailer here.

Sparks collectively had this to say in a press release: “Initially, we conceived Annette as another Sparks album. Yet this time it would be a narrative story that would consist of three main characters, a small enough ensemble that would allow us to also present the ‘opera’ live on tour… The music, story, and album were finished and ready to go, which is where the story takes a huge detour. After meeting Leos at Cannes, we felt a real kinship, so we thought we would send him Annette, not expecting anything other than to show him what Sparks was currently up to. And lo and behold, he said he really liked the album and would like to consider it as his next project. We were happily surprised and elated at his reaction. As fans of Leos’ films, to now realize that he would be directing a film of ours was beyond our dreams.”

Carax adds: “I discovered Sparks when I was about 14—I stole a copy of Propaganda from an underground shop at La Défense because I liked the cover. Not long after that I saw them live at the Olympia in Paris. Propaganda and their next album, Indiscreet, have been part of my life ever since. Their tracks are among the most joyous songs I know (although they’re poignant too, in places). For me, Sparks’ music is like a childhood home, but one free of ghosts. Without them, I don’t think I’d ever have done something I’d dreamt of doing ever since I first started out in cinema: making a ‘film in music.’”

Annette is not the only Sparks film to be released this year. On June 18 The Sparks Brothers will be released via Focus Features. It is Edgar Wright’s upcoming documentary on the band. A new trailer for the film was recently shared. It showcased many of the notable musicians, actors, and writers interviewed in the documentary, but also displayed some of the Mael brothers’ signature wit. The premise for the documentary is that Sparks are an incredibly influential band, and yet many, outside of diehard music fans, haven’t heard of them. The tagline for the film is “your favorite band’s favorite band.” British director Wright is known for his fiction films Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and Baby Driver.

Sparks’ last album, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, came out last year via BMG. It followed 2017’s Hippopotamus. In 2015 Sparks teamed up with Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand as FFS and released their self-titled debut album.

Read our 2017 interview with Sparks on Hippopotamus.

Read our 2015 interview with Sparks and Franz Ferdinand as FFS.

Read our 2010 interview with Simon Helberg.

Read our 2007 interview with Marion Cotillard.

2. Girl Ray: “Give Me Your Love”

On Thursday, North London trio Girl Ray shared a brand new song, the near eight-minute long “Give Me Your Love,” via a video for it. Joe Goddard and Al Doyle from Hot Chip produced the song and it definitely sports a more dance club-ready vibe and a Hot Chip influence. The Alex Cantouris-directed video is inspired by the film Midsommar (or specifically, it’s described as “a queer Midsommar Night’s Dream”).

Girl Ray features Poppy Hankin (guitar/vocals), Iris McConnell (drums), and Sophie Moss (bass). Their last album, Girl, was their sophomore album and came out in 2019 via Moshi Moshi.

Hankin had this to say about the song in a press release: “We worked on this song with Al Doyle and Joe Goddard from Hot Chip in their studio off Brick Lane in London. We had one day left with them, so thought we’d unearth an old demo of a slightly house-leaning song I’d been working on a few months before. It had a really loose structure but the feel of the chords was good so we decided to try fleshing it out. It was a really long day filled with a lot of playing around with the mountains of synths that fill their studio. Sections became longer… steel drums were added (along with some wonky backing vocals) and eventually it started taking shape. With all the awfulness of 2020 in our heads—it was important to us that it sounded optimistic and hopeful; a song for future summers where people can dance and enjoy music together once again.”

About the video, McConnell and Moss added: “We teamed up with our good friend and amazing director Alex Cantouris for another intricate and somewhat ambiguous love spectacle. Though this time we thought that eight minutes of us acting would probably be unwatchable, so decided to get some professionals involved to deal with the main plot. What started off as a story about a woman having fun at a party, somehow soon turned into a romantic take on Midsommar, without the death and magic mushrooms. A queer Midsommar Night’s Dream if you will. We had the best time making it, and discovered a new found love for the Kent countryside (even though one of the shoot days was literally the windiest day of the year).”

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 cleverly titled 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.

3. Wesley Gonzalez and Rose Elinor Dougall: “Greater Expectations”

On Monday, Rose Elinor Dougall teamed up with Wesley Gonzalez for a new song, “Greater Expectations,” that they wrote together. It was shared via a Tim Stevens-directed video that was made with the aid of a photocopier. The single is out now via Moshi Moshi.

Gonzalez had this to say about the song in a press release: “‘Greater Expectations’ was co-written with the brilliant Rose Elinor Dougall in the summer of 2019, I believe it came from discussing the hypocrisy of flawed people on Instagram being public-facing self-help charlatans. We wanted to write something that expresses something positive whilst also managing to be somewhat sneering towards social media’s vacuous status-seeking which can feel like looking into the window of a yuppy showroom.”

Dougall adds: “We were thinking about ideas surrounding the future or what a certain group of people feel that their futures were entitled to be, that perhaps there’s a need to face up to those potentialities not existing anymore.”

Gonzalez also had this to say about the recording of the song and its video: “The track was recorded just a couple of weeks before the full national lockdown started in late February 2020 by Euan Hinshelwood to tape at his Vacant TV studios in Greenwich and then mixed remotely by Jamie Neville at Teeth Studios. The accompanying stop-motion animated video is the first of its kind to be solely animated by a photocopier. Directed by Tim Stevens, the video takes every frame of a traditionally shot full band performance and manipulates these images, employing various techniques, through a xerox machine and then pieced back together frame by frame and reanimated into the finished product.”

Gonzalez’s last album, Appalling Human, came out last year via Moshi Moshi. The press release says he’s working on a new album, hinting that this might be its first single.

Dougall released her last album, A New Illusion, in April 2019 via Vermillion (it was our Album of the Week and one of our Top 100 Albums of 2019). In November 2019 she has shared a new song, “How Long,” a non-album track Dougall said was the last song to be shared from the A New Illusion sessions. “How Long” was one of our Songs of the Week.

Read our interview with Dougall on A New Illusion.

Also read our interview with Dougall on her all-time favorite album.

Plus read our review of A New Illusion.

A New Illusion was Dougall’s third album and the follow-up to 2017’s acclaimed Stelluar (which was one of our Top 100 Albums of 2017). Read our 2017 interview with Rose Elinor Dougall on Stelluar.

4. Chelsea Wolfe: “Diana”

On Wednesday, Chelsea Wolfe shared a new song inspired by Wonder Woman, the fittingly titled “Diana” (which is the superhero’s birthname). It is the latest single to be taken from Dark Nights: Death Metal Soundtrack, which is a soundtrack to the DC Comics series Dark Nights: Death Metal, and is due out digitally on June 18 via Loma Vista. Wolfe has also voiced Wonder Woman in some online animated shorts connected to the soundtrack. She says the song is in particular inspired by a moment in the comic book between Wonder Woman and Wally West (who is one of the heroes to be The Flash, as well as Barry Allen and Jay Garrick). The song was shared via a visualizer for the song featuring images of Wonder Woman.

Wolfe had this to say in a press release: “It has been such an honor and delight to be involved in this whole project, from contributing a song to the soundtrack, to voicing Wonder Woman for the DC Comics Sonic Metalverse episodes. I really love the story and artwork of this Dark Nights: Death Metal series, and felt really drawn to Diana’s part in the story—her strength and perspective. There’s this moment in the first comic book issue where she meets with Wally West and he’s so drained from his travels and all he’s had to do. I picked up on this intimate energy between them that felt almost romantic, but more just like two old friends who have an understanding between them—a moment of comfort and respite amongst all the fighting and chaos. I ended up writing this song about that encounter. Working with Tyler Bates on ‘Diana’ was a great experience. He’s obviously so killer at creating music that feels like the soundtrack to your own movie, so between him and my co-producer Ben Chisholm there was this elevated sonic landscape surrounding the song that just brought it to a different level.”

Tyler Bates (Guardians of the Galaxy, Watchmen, John Wick) executive produced the soundtrack, which also features HEALTH, Soccer Mommy, IDLES, and more. Previously shared singles from the album are Maria Brink and Tyler Bates’ “Meet Me In The Fire (feat. Andy Biersack)” and Mastodon’s “Forged by Neron.” Check out the full tracklist here.

Dark Nights: Death Metal Soundtrack is due out digitally June 18, but gets a physical release on LP and CD on July 16. It’ll be available on “2xLP with exclusive Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman vinyl variant covers, 11 limited edition character trading cards, and more.”

Greg Capullo and Scott Snyder created the comic book series, which “depicts a hellish Earth twisted beyond recognition, wherein the Justice League is at the mercy of the Dark Multiverse and a diabolical Batman Who Laughs.”

Wolfe’s most recent solo studio album, Birth of Violence, was released in 2019.

5. Modest Mouse: “Leave a Light On”

Modest Mouse are releasing a new album, The Golden Casket, on June 25 via Epic. On Monday, they shared the album’s second single, “Leave a Light On,” and announced some U.S. tour dates for the summer and fall (check the dates out here).

A press release describes the new single as such “The song finds [Isaac] Brock navigating the existential threat of losing our humanity—and the interconnectedness that come with it—amidst a constant societal barrage of physical and digital materialism.”

The Golden Casket is Modest Mouse’s first full-length in six years. Previously the band shared the album’s first single, “We Are Between,” which was one of our Songs of the Week.

The band’s last album was 2015’s Strangers to Ourselves. Although in 2019 Modest Mouse released a great new song, “Ice Cream Party,” which was one of our Songs of the Week and sadly isn’t on the new album.

Dave Sardy and Jacknife Lee produced The Golden Casket, which was recorded in Los Angeles and in Modest Mouse’s studio in Portland.

A press previous release describes The Golden Casket like so: “The album hovers in the liminal space between raw punk power and experimental studio science, frontman Isaac Brock explores themes ranging from the degradation of our psychic landscapes and invisible technology, to fatherhood. The twelve tracks behave like amorphous organisms, undergoing dramatic mutations and mood swings that speak to the chronic tug-of-war between hope and despair that plays out in Brock’s head.”

6. Gone to Color: “The 606” (Feat. Jessie Stein of The Luyas)

Gone to Color are a new electronic rock band led by Tyler Bradley Walker and Matt Heim. This week they announced their self-titled debut album and shared their debut single, “The 606,” which features guest vocals from Jessie Stein of The Luyas and has a bit of a shoegaze meets Stereolab vibe. The album also features a slew of notable guest vocalists: Angus Andrew (Liars), Martina Topley-Bird, Kurt Wagner (Lambchop), Ade Blackburn (Clinic), and Carson Cox (Merchandise). Gone to Color is due out October 15 and will be self-released. “The 606” was shared via a Louis Dazy-directed video. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.

Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Grandaddy) produced and engineered the album and also plays on it. Additional engineering comes from Pietro Amato, Shane Hendrickson, and John McEntire (of Tortoise). Wilco’s Pat Sansone also plays guitar, piano, and keyboards on the album. All-in-all, that’s quite an impressive list of collaborators for a self-released debut album.

7. Lightning Bug: “Song of the Bell”

Brooklyn-based shoegaze band Lightning Bug are releasing a new album, A Color of the Sky, on June 25 via Fat Possum (their first for the label). On Wednesday they shared the album’s third single, “Song of the Bell,” via a lyric video for the song.

Lightning Bug frontwoman Audrey Kang had this to say about the song in a press release: “‘Song of the Bell’ is a song about hope, but it’s also about understanding that uncertainty is an inextricable part of being alive. This was the last song to be written—we’d already recorded the bulk of the record. We were in the first leg of quarantine and I felt like our days had been abruptly hollowed out. I was thinking about emptiness and reading the Tao Te Ching, this very enlightened text, ‘to be empty is to be full, twist to be straight,’ etc. So I was thinking about that concept, how one can ‘empty’ oneself to be full, and where is that line, between emptying yourself and losing yourself? I thought about how when something is empty, you sort of have two choices: you can see it for what it used to hold and no longer does (i.e. a ‘shell’), or you can look for its potential to hold new things and possibilities (i.e. a ‘vessel’).”

Previously Lightning Bug shared a video for the album’s lead single, “The Right Thing Is Hard To Do,” which was one of our Songs of the Week. Then they shared “September Song, pt. ii,” via a video for the song (which also landed on our Songs of the Week).

The band’s most recent album, October Song, came out in 2019. The band’s core lineup also features Kevin Copeland (guitar, vocals) and Logan Miley (engineer, synths, textures). Touring members Dane Hagen (drums) and Vincent Puleo (bass) also joined the band in the studio for the first time with this album. A Color of the Sky was recorded in the in the Catskills in a rundown old house turned into a makeshift studio.

Summing up the album in a previous press release, Kang said: “I want listeners to explore their own interior worlds. It’s about learning to trust yourself, about being deeply honest with yourself, and about how self-acceptance yields a selfless form of love.”

Check out our COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In interview with the band.

8. Mega Bog: “Station to Station”

This week, Mega Bog (aka Erin Birgy) announced a new album, Life, and Another, and shared its first single, “Station to Station” (not a David Bowie cover) via a video for it. Life, and Another is due out July 23 via Paradise of Bachelors. Birgy co-directed the “Station to Station” video with Laura Conway. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.

In a press release, Birgy had this to say about the “Station to Station” video, which was filmed in rural Colorado: “With this video we tried to play with narratives of attachments and roles played by important people in our lives, how they morph, begin, and end in mysterious points of space, time, feeling. Attachments are inevitable, on some level, but was that person any of the things we’ve projected, why and how did we build the narrative for what is necessary for survival, and within the video, was that figure ever even there, or did they appear because of something extraordinary we found in the dust, and ate?”

Co-director Conway had this to add about the video: “The video was made during a season of death and tectonic shifts in my life and the world. Before vision calcifies as it does during times of stability, it is my hope that here things can be seen as they really are: porous. The sandy bubblegum rocks erode, and skin is as permeable as the disappearing clouds. This is the place where things will not keep being as they always were, and it is not possible to know who is you and who I. You may begin again while I may meet end after end. Or not.”

Life, and Another is the follow-up to 2019’s Dolphine. The album features instrumental collaborations with Aaron Otheim, Zach Burba of iji, Will Segerstrom, Matt Bachmann, Andrew Dorset of Lake, James Krivchenia of Big Thief, Meg Duffy of Hand Habits, Jade Tcimpidis, Alex Liebman, and co-engineers Geoff Treager and Phil Hartunian. It was recorded in various studios: the Unknown in Anacortes, Washington, Way Out in Woodinville, Washington, and Tropico Beauty in Glendale, California.

A press release describes the album like so: “Life, and Another stages a semi-fictionalized drama in the interior self, with scenes of collective longing at the bowling alley, disputes over a distended memory outside the bar, and solitary circling on the patio, looking out over the yard in stubborn awe. These memories, from both past and future, bubble up throughout the album and present their characters as new entries into the Mega Bog Book of Symbols. In ‘Station to Station,’ an artichoke, the decadent indulgence young Erin learned to steam for herself, is gutted around the spine.”

9. Wye Oak: “TNT”

On Tuesday, Wye Oak (Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack) shared a new song, “TNT,” via a video for the track. It appears to be a standalone single for now, although the band have announced that another new song, “Its Way With Me,” will be out on June 22. Both songs are being released via Merge. Spencer Kelly directed the “TNT” video.

Wasner had this to say about the song in a press release: “‘TNT’ is about the changing of the seasons, and using the passing of time as a means of reflecting on your own growth. It’s about joyfully acknowledging all of the ways in which you’ve grown while trying to accept the parts of yourself that are still stuck in patterns of repetition. And it’s about learning to see outside of the more superficial parts of your personality in order to attempt to understand the other, and reach some kind of equilibrium in spite of how different we all can be.”

Stack had this to say about the song’s video: “We wanted the visuals to capture the cyclical and disorienting qualities of time that come up in the song. We played with some spatial and time effects, and left the camera running on the mirrors which were fabricated by our friend Jason at Night Owl Creations.”

While Wye Oak released their last album, The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs, back in April 2018 via Merge, they have still been quite busy in last three years. Wye Oak released a new EP, No Horizon, last July via Merge. Stream it here and read our review of it here. The entire EP featured the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. Previously the band has shared three songs from the EP: “AEIO” was our #1 Song of the Week, “No Place” (which also made our Songs of the Week list), and “Spitting Image.” When it was released, the EP’s “Sky Witness” also made our Songs of the Week list.

In June 2020 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. Then Flock of Dimes released a new album, Head of Roses, in April via Sub Pop. Stream it here, read our review of it here, and read our recent The End interview with Wasner about endings and death here.

Previously shared songs from Head of Roses are “Two” (which was one of our Songs of the Week), “Price of Blue” (which was also one of our Songs of the Week), “Hard Way” (which was also featured as one of our Songs of the Week), and “One More Hour.”

In other words, Wye Oak and Flock of Dimes have both put out a whole lot of fantastic music in the last three years and “TNT” continues that trend.

10. Half Waif: “Sodium & Cigarettes”

Half Waif (aka Nandi Rose) is releasing a new album, Mythopoetics, on July 9 via ANTI-. This week she shared another song from the album, “Sodium & Cigarettes.”

“‘Sodium & Cigarettes’ follows the theme of many of the tracks on Mythopoetics and deals with the recognition that no one is going to magically save us or pull us out of our misery,” says Rose in a press release. “The chorus ‘okay, give it another day’ is something I say to myself when I’ve had a really awful day and everything feels like a wash. It’s a deep breath and a stab at courage—I can face tomorrow, and who knows what possibilities for joy and growth that will bring. While working on the album during the Democratic Primary in early 2020, the song took on new meaning for me in light of political conversations. ‘I believe in something more than what’s in front of me’ became a commentary on people saying, ‘well, this system is what we’ve got and you can’t ask for more.’ I firmly believe that we have to fight for the world we imagine, that everything is possible. So this song is really a quiet encouragement for me, a way to tell myself to stop running, to face what’s coming with clarity and vision and courage, to know there’s another tomorrow.”

Mythopoetics features “Take Away the Ache” (a new song shared in April), as well as “Orange Blossoms” and “Party’s Over,” two songs released as a 7-inch in February. When the album was announced Half Waif shared another song from it, “Swimmer,” via a video.

Rose is based in the Hudson Valley area of New York. For Mythopoetics she once again collaborated with multi-instrumentalist, film composer, and producer Zubin Hensler. The original intention was to take part in a recording residency at Pulp Arts in Gainesville, Florida to record stripped-back recordings of old songs, with just Rose on piano, but then it evolved into the new album.

“This is the record I’ve been trying to make for 10 years,” Rose said in a previous press release. “My voice is changing, and my confidence has reached a point where I feel that I can sing however I want; I’ve finally come to a place where I don’t have to conform to what I think other people want it to sound like.”

Her last album as Half Waif was The Caretaker, which came out in March of 2020 on ANTI-.

We interviewed Rose as a part of our Why Not Both podcast.

Honorable Mentions:

These five songs almost made the Top 10.

Audiobooks: “The Doll”

Bachelor: “Back of My Hand”

Kings of Convenience: “Fever”

Sigrid: “Mirror”

Yola: “Stand For Myself”

Other notable new tracks in the last week include:

Cola Boyy: “Don’t Forget Your Neighborhood” (Feat. The Avalanches)

Cold Cave: “Psalm 23”

DMX: “Hood Blues” (Feat. Westside Gunn, Benny The Butcher, and Conway The Machine)

Easy Life: “ocean view”

Danny Elfman: “Insects”

Ellis: “what if love isn’t enough”

Foxing: “Where The Lightning Strikes Twice”

Julia Jacklin and RVG: “Army of Me” (Björk Cover)

Koreless: “Joy Squad”

Molly Drag: “Flying Object”

T. Hardy Morris: “Shopping Center Sunsets”

Shabazz Palaces: “20 Gear Silence”

Six Organs of Admittance: “All That They Left You”

Sleater-Kinney: “High In The Grass”

Squirrel Flower: “Flames and Flat Tires”

Turnstile: “MYSTERY”

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

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