12 Best Songs of the Week: Janelle Monáe, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Parquet Courts, and More | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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12 Best Songs of the Week: Janelle Monáe, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Parquet Courts, and More

Plus Mount Eerie, Father John Misty, Twin Shadow, Mark Kozelek, Alexis Taylor, Wye Oak, and a Wrap-up of the Week's Other Notable New Tracks

Feb 23, 2018 Alexis Taylor Bookmark and Share

It was a crazy good week for new songs. So much so that we could only narrow down this week’s Songs of the Week to 12 tracks, as opposed to our normal 10. Speedy Ortiz almost made the list with “Lucky 88,” the first single off their newly announced new album Twerp Verse, but then it would’ve been 13 songs and we gave into superstition. And really we’re cheating even further, as Janelle Monáe and Twin Shadow each released two worthy songs this week but we grouped each set of songs together under one artist entry. So really there are 14 Songs of the Week in 12 entries. Oh well, we make the rules ourselves over at Under the Radar, there’s no bigger corporation pulling our strings, and so we can also break them.

To help you sort through the multitude of fresh songs released in the last seven days, we have picked the 12 best (okay, 14 best) this week had to offer, along with highlighting other notable new tracks shared this week. Check out the full list below.

1. Janelle Monáe: “Make Me Feel” and “Django Jane”

Janelle Monáe previously announced a new album, Dirty Computer, and shared a science fiction-themed teaser trailer for it featuring both Monáe and actress Tessa Thompson (who starred as Valkyrie in last year’s superhero hit Thor: Ragnarok and was also in Westworld). This week she confirmed the album’s release date and shared its cover art. She also shared two new songs from the album, “Make Me Feel” and “Django Jane,” both via videos. “Make Me Feel” bears the strong influence of Prince and is a sexy and funky love song, whereas “Django Jane” is more of a defiant hip-hop statement about race and feminism. We had trouble choosing between the two, but would lean towards “Make Me Feel” for its pure pop delights. We’re cheating by including them both at #1, but so be it.

Dirty Computer is due out April 27 via Atlantic. The trailer described the album as “an emotion picture” and its YouTube description described that as “a narrative film and accompanying musical album.” A press release says that details of the release of the “emotion picture” are forthcoming and that the two videos are part of the film.

Alan Ferguson directed the “Make Me Feel” video. A press release says the video “captures the spirited, celebratory voice of Monáe as she affectionately nods to the ripe sounds surrounding the 1980’s music and dance revolution. Delivering electric vocals, pop hooks and confident, female-driven lyrics, Monáe brings the song to life in a vibrantly colored video highlighted by provocative silhouettes moving across the screen.”

Andrew Donoho and Chuck Lightning directed the “Django Jane” video (with additional direction by Lacey Duke). A press release says “the song is a powerful black girl magic womanifesto that celebrates the strength of black women and black culture while addressing the trials and tribulations of identity in the 21st Century.”

It’s been five years since Monáe’s last album, 2013’s The Electric Lady. In that time she has launched her acting career, with notable roles in the movies Hidden Figures and Moonlight, as well as guest starring in the Amazon Prime sci-fi anthology series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.

2. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat: “Seagull”

Baltimore-based post-punk duo Ed Schrader’s Music Beat (vocalist Ed Schrader and bassist Devlin Rice) are releasing their third album, Riddles, on March 2 via Carpark (their first for the label). It was produced by fellow Baltimore resident Dan Deacon. Previously the album’s title track, “Riddles,” was one of our Songs of the Week (and they have also previously shared a video for the album’s opening track, “Dunce”). This week they shared another song from the album, “Seagull.” The slow burner starts off kind of jazzy, with finger snaps and bass. Then it gets caught in a loop before adding in beats and building to an explosion of noise around the 3:20 mark. At the end it settles back down again.

According to an interview with Consequence of Sound, who premiered the song, “Seagull” is inspired by Han Solo, Radiohead’s Kid A, David Bowie’s “Little Wonder,” Sonic Youth’s Sister, and the time Schrader accidentally ate a seagull.

Schrader also had this to say about the album in a press release: “For me, the album parallels feelings of confronting the past, resolving it, facing the music, and blasting out of it. It’s the album our hearts wanted us to make.”

3. Parquet Courts: “Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience”

This week Parquet Courts announced a new album, Wide Awake!, and shared its first single, “Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience.” Wide Awake! was produced by Danger Mouse and is due out May 18 via Rough Trade. The band have also announced some tour dates. Despite a slick and innovative pop producer manning the control room, the band has lost none of their punk vigor on “Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience.”

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,” says 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 bandmate Austin Brown. “I needed an outlet for the side of me that feels emotions like joy, rage, silliness and anger,” he says in a 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 a 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.

4. Mount Eerie: “Tintin in Tibet”

Mount Eerie, the project of Phil Elverum (who used to record as The Microphones), is releasing a new album, Now Only, on March 16 via P.W. Elverum & Sun. He previously shared its first single, the 11-minute long “Distortion” (which was our #1 Song of the Week). This week he shared another song from the album, “Tintin in Tibet,” which opens the album. It is sung to his late wife, about when they first met and when their romance was new.

Mount Eerie released an acclaimed album, A Crow Looked At Me, last March via Elverum’s own label, P.W. Elverum & Sun. The album was written after his wife, Geneviève Elverum (née Gosselin and also known as Geneviève Castrée), passed away in July 2016 after losing her fight with pancreatic cancer. It was one of our Top 100 Albums of 2017 and showed up on a lot of other albums of the year lists as well. Now Only is due out only a year after A Crow Looked At Me.

Geneviève was a musician and comic book artist who had recorded as both Woelv and Ô Paon. Geneviève was diagnosed with inoperable, stage four pancreatic cancer just four months after giving birth to their daughter and died a year later, leaving Elverum to raise their infant daughter on his own.

A previous press release described Now Only as such: “Now Only is a continuation and deepening of the themes presented on that album. Elverum further explores that style of direct, unadorned lyrical writing, with further ruminations on Castrée’s death and their life together, the effects of the sudden success of these intimate songs, and the concept of remembrance.”

The press release also added: “Elverum’s life during the period he wrote Now Only was defined by the duality of existing with the praise and attention garnered by A Crow Looked At Me and the difficult reality of maintaining a house with a small child by himself, as well as working to preserve Geneviève’s artistic legacy. Consumed with the day to day of raising his daughter, Elverum felt his musical self was so distant that it seemed fictional. Stepping into the role of Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie held the promise of positive empathy and praise, but also the difficulty of inhabiting the intense grief that produced the music. These moments, both public and domestic, are chronicled in these songs. They are songs of remembrance, and songs about the idea of remembrance, about living on the cusp of the past and present and reluctantly witnessing a beloved person’s history take shape. Time continues.”

Read our 2017 interview with Mount Eerie about A Crow Looked At Me.

5. Father John Misty: “Mr. Tillman”

Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman) released his latest album, Pure Comedy, in April 2017 via Sub Pop (it was Under the Radar‘s #1 Album of 2017 So Far in our midyear wrap up and #9 in our final Top 100 Albums of 2017 list). This week he shared a brand new song, “Mr. Tillman.” He has played the song live before and in the past it was sometimes referred to on setlists as “Mr. Tillman, Please Exit the Lobby.” As that original extended title suggests, the song features Tillman in a hotel lobby and is sung from the perspective of a hotel employee. In the amusing song, Tillman slowly seems to be losing his mind, becoming paranoid and thinking that the hotel clientele are extras in a movie. “Perhaps you shouldn’t drink alone?” the hotel employee advises. Jason Isbell is name dropped at one point. The song was shared via a YouTube post that at first appears to be a basic “Official Audio” video with the song’s title against a red background, but about two minutes in Tillman shows up and starts dancing in front of still images of hotel lobbies and bars.

Tillman said in July 2017 he was almost done with his next album and that it would be due out in 2018. Also in a November 2017 with the British music magazine Uncut Tillman shed some more light on his next album and also revealed some of its potential song titles. In the interview Tillman described the new album as “the real I Love You, Honeybear but without the cynicism,” referencing his 2015 album.

Read our 2017 cover story interview with Father John Misty.

Read our 2017 cover story bonus Q&A with Father John Misty.

6. Twin Shadow: “Little Woman” and “Saturdays (Feat. HAIM)”

This week Twin Shadow (aka George Lewis Jr.) announced a new album, Caer, and shared two songs from it, “Saturdays” (which features HAIM) and “Little Woman” (the latter shared via a video). Caer is due out April 27 via Warner Bros./Reprise. As with Janelle Monáe we’re cheating again by including two songs in one entry, but we had difficulty deciding which was best. We’d probably lean towards “Little Woman,” even though it features Auto-Tune, as it’s the more surprising and interesting of the two songs. But then again “Saturdays” is a solid pop song featuring a winning guest turn by HAIM. So they are both included.

The album is Twin Shadow’s fourth full-length album and the follow-up to 2015’s Eclipse (and the free Night Rally mixtape from the same year). It’s the first album since the 2015 tour bus accident that resulted in Lewis having hand surgery. Caer is pronounced ka-air and is the Spanish word for “to fall.” Lewis considers this a sister album to his acclaimed 2010 debut album, Forget, as a press release adds, “in that it’s a record with hidden doorways and secret passages; more is revealed the more time you spend inside of it.”

Lewis had this to say about the album in the press release: “Sometimes I feel like I have to take a fall to essentially get to the next phase of my life. It’s happened over and over. I’ve been through so many musical phases and through so many relationships with friends and lovers. I always feel like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff, looking down and thinking, ‘This is the only way forward: onto the next thing.’ It’s sort of destructive, but I guess I thrive on rebirth.”

The press release further describes Caer and its themes: “The album serves as a powerful lens through which Lewis explores his own personal sense of falling, as well as what he has observed about a world that feels as if it’s declining. On a larger scale, Caer feels extraordinarily current, given what’s going on culturally and politically right now.”

As Lewis puts it: “The patriarchy is falling apart. Our perceptions of who we are as human beings, because of technology and machines, are falling apart. We’re living at a breaking point, and a lot of the themes on the album are talking about these fault lines.”

Lewis calls “Saturdays” a love song, adding: “‘Saturdays’ is the heaven place you go to when you’re in love or even with friends, feeling your youth. But it’s also about my feeling that the world is starting to tear itself apart and maybe we’re falling through the cracks. But when you’re laying in bed next to someone you care about, none of that seems real.”

7. Mark Kozelek: “Day in America”

Last weekend Mark Kozelek shared a 15-minute new song, “Day in America,” that addresses the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day in which a former student gunned down 17 students and teachers. The song was made in collaboration with Jim White (The Dirty Three) and Donny McCaslin (a saxophonist who performed on David Bowie’s final album, Blackstarr). Character actor Kevin Corrigan (The Departed) provides a spoken word part at the end. You can download it for free here

Kozelek, White, and McCaslin are working on a new album together, due for release in 2019. In the meantime, the ever-prolific Kozelek is releasing a new self-titled solo album (instead of under his other moniker Sun Kil Moon) on May 11 via his own label Caldo Verde. He previously shared two songs from it, “This Is My Town” and “My Love For You Is Undying.”

Just to be clear, there’s no embed below because the only way to hear it is to download it for free here.

8. Alexis Taylor: “Beautiful Thing”

This week Hot Chip founding member/lead vocalist Alexis Taylor announced a new solo album, Beautiful Thing, and shared a video for its title track. Beautiful Thing is due out April 20 via Domino.

Unlike 2016’s Piano, which was a solo piano affair (and was accompanied by 2017’s Life With(out) Piano), Beautiful Thing is more in line with his electronic work with Hot Chip. Tim Goldsworthy (of the labels Mo Wax and DFA, as well as the band UNKLE) produced the album, marking the first time Taylor has worked with an outside producer on a solo album (this is his fourth solo full-length). Edwin Burdis directed the mysterious “Beautiful Thing” video, which intercuts between Taylor walking around with a briefcase and a woman walking and dancing around country roads.

A press release describes the song as such: “With ‘Beautiful Thing,’ Alexis combines experimental, clattering noises with crazed, disco lavishness and bug-eyed acid house momentum to create something giddy and glorious.”

The press release also describes the album as such: “The upcoming record is a bold and confident step forward for Alexis both sonically and in terms of his songwriting abilities. It has electronic thrills, dark spaces, memories of dancefloors, heartfelt writing; it’s composed, it’s improvised, it’s accidental, it’s strange, but it’s also very immediate. It is a beautiful thing itself: a moving, modern and unique sounding long-player, to get lost in on repeated deep listens.”

9. Wye Oak: “It Was Not Natural”

Wye Oak (Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack) are releasing a new album, The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs, on April 6 via Merge. Previously they shared its title track (which was our #2 Song of the Week), as well as a video for “The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs.” This week they shared a second song from the album, the atmospheric “It Was Not Natural.” Listen below, followed by the band’s upcoming tour dates.

Wasner had this to say about the song in a press release: “This is a story about finding an object of uncertain origin whilst walking through the woods. Or, if you’d rather: it’s about exploring the space between the things that we are socialized to believe about ourselves, and the actual truth of our nature-learning how to push the limits of the systems we’ve put in place to help ourselves make sense of chaos.”

To record the album Wasner and Stack took turns visiting each other’s cities (Durham, North Carolina for Wasner and Marfa, Texas for Stack) for a week at a time.

A previous press release described the album as such: “The result is the biggest, broadest, boldest music Wye Oak has ever made. Louder pursues a litany of modern malaises, each of its dozen tracks diligently addressing a new conflict and pinning it against walls of sound, with the song’s subject and shape inextricably and ingeniously linked. It arrives at a time of immense doubt, when our personal problems are infinitely compounded by a world that seems in existential peril. But these songs answer the challenge by radiating self-reflection and resolve, wielding hooks and musical intricacy as a shield against the madness of the moment.”

In 2016 Wye Oak surprise-released the excellent Tween, a mini-album on Merge. Wasner released her debut full-length album under her Flock of Dimes solo project, If You See Me, Say Yes, the same year via Partisan.

10. Superorganism: “Reflections on the Screen”

Superorganism are a promising new multi-national band based in London. They feature members from Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.K. and their self-titled debut album is due out March 2 via Domino. This week they shared another song from the album, “Reflections on the Screen,” via its video. Befitting the theme of the song, the video features frontwoman Orono Noguchi singing in a laptop, wearing 3D glasses. Later, various cell phones scroll up the screen. Robert Strange directed the video.

11. Simian Mobile Disco: “Caught In a Wave”

This week British electronic duo Simian Mobile Disco (James Ford and Jas Shaw) announced a new album, Murmurations, and shared a video for its first single, “Caught In a Wave.” Murmurations is due out May 11 via Wichita. The album features London’s The Deep Throat Choir. Kiani Del Valle directed the “Caught In a Wave” video, which is the first of three interconnected videos for the album.

A 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 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 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!”

12. Sunflower Bean: “Twentytwo”

New York trio Sunflower Bean are releasing a new album, Twentytwo in Blue, on March 2 via Mom + Pop. Previously the band shared videos for “I Was a Fool” and “Crisis Fest.” This week they shared another song from the album, almost title track “Twentytwo.”

A press release describes “Twentytwo” as such: “Showcasing a gentler side of Sunflower Bean that’s on display on Twentytwo in Blue, ‘Twentytwo’ is a sweet and breezy mid-tempo track about fighting back against society’s expectations and generations of abuse by men in power. ‘Busted and used/ That’s how you view your girl/ Now that she’s 22,’ sings bassist and vocalist Julia Cumming. While it’s timely with the recent cultural reckoning, ‘Twentytwo’ shares a powerful and enduring message about resilience and fighting through the expectations put on you as a young adult, especially as a young woman. As Cumming puts it, ‘You prevail.’”

Sunflower Bean released their debut album, Human Ceremony, on Fat Possum in 2016.

Read our 2016 interview with Sunflower Bean, as well as our review of Human Ceremony.

Other notable new tracks this week include:

Julien Baker and Manchester Orchestra: “Bad Things to Such Good People” (Pedro the Lion Cover)

Belly: “Shiny Moon”

Black Moth Super Rainbow: “Mr. No One”

The Breeders: “Nervous Mary”

Caroline Says: “I Tried”

Car Seat Headrest: “Something Soon” (Smash Mouth Cover)

Editors: “Hallelujah (So Low)”

Alice Glass: “Stillbirth (Zola Jesus Remix)”

Hop Along: “Not Abel”

Hot Snakes: “Camp Death Fantasy”

Little Dragon: “Sway Daisy”

Lizzie Loveless: “You Don’t Know”

Melvins: “Stop Moving to Florida”

The Men: “Killed Someone”

Mind Over Mirrors: “Zeitgebers”

Nina Persson: “Var ligger Sverige?” (Feat. Thomas Öberg, Moto Boy, and !Regeringen)

Remember Sports: “Up From Below”

Speedy Ortiz: “Lucky 88”

Wavves & Culture Abuse: “Big Cloud”

Zola Jesus: “Bound”

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February 25th 2018

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