12 Best Songs of the Week: The War on Drugs, Penelope Isles, Indigo De Souza, Piroshka, and More | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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12 Best Songs of the Week: The War on Drugs, Penelope Isles, Indigo De Souza, Piroshka, and More

Plus Big Red Machine, Ora the Molecule, Low, illuminati hotties, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

Jul 23, 2021 Bookmark and Share

Welcome to the 28th Songs of the Week of 2021. It was a nice week for new music, with some strong new singles (some connected to album announcements) and some wonderful album tracks we’ve long wanted to share with our readers and can now that the albums are out. We had enough tracks for a Top 12 this week, but many of the honorable mentions are worthy too.

In the last week we posted interviews with 22-year-old blues player Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Amanda Burt (the producer of the new Netflix docuseries This Is Pop), and Piroshka.

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

Don’t forget that in April 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 12 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. This week we also put together a Spotify playlist for the Top 12 and all the honorable mentions.

1. The War on Drugs: “Living Proof”

On Monday The War on Drugs announced a new album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, and shared its first single, album opener “Living Proof,” via a video for it. “Living Proof” is a bit more stripped-back and acoustic-sounding than we’re used to from The War on Drugs. But then it builds to a sublime electric guitar solo, reminiscent of one found on Wilco’s “Hell is Chrome,” from 2004’s A Ghost is Born.

The War on Drugs also announced some 2022 tour dates, including a show at the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York City in January. I Don’t Live Here Anymore is due out October 29 via Atlantic. Emmett Malloy directed the “Living Proof” video, which was shot on 16mm at the Panoramic studio in Stinson Beach, California. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art, as well as the tour dates, here.

I Don’t Live Here Anymore is the follow-up to 2017’s A Deeper Understanding (which won the 2018 Grammy for Best Rock Album and was our #1 album of 2017), although in 2020 they released a live album, simply titled LIVE DRUGS, via frontman Adam Granduciel’s own Super High Quality Records.

Sessions for the album began in early 2018, when Granduciel, bassist Dave Hartley, and multi-instrumentalist Anthony LaMarca recorded some demos in Upstate New York, including early versions of some of the songs on I Don’t Live Here Anymore. But the album was recorded during more than 12 sessions, in seven studios (including Electric Lady in New York and Los Angeles’ Sound City), and over three years, with co-producer/engineer Shawn Everett helping to guide the ship. “Living Proof” was recorded in May 2019 at Los Angeles’ Electro-Vox studios with the band’s entire lineup—with the aforementioned members joined by keyboardist Robbie Bennett, drummer Charlie Hall, and saxophonist Jon Natchez. A press release says that Granduciel puts War on Drugs records together “like a kind of rock ‘n’ roll jigsaw puzzle.”

Read our review of A Deeper Understanding here.

Read our interview with the band about making A Deeper Understanding.

Read our interview with Adam Granduciel on recording A Deeper Understanding.

2. Penelope Isles: “Sailing Still”

British sibling duo Penelope Isles (Lily and Jack Wolter) are back with a new song, “Sailing Still,” shared on Wednesday via a video directed by Jack and starring Lily. The video plays like a bad dream, with Lily continually walking and running through different doors, down different stairs, across different fields and beaches, always ending up somewhere different, never getting anywhere. The single is out now via Bella Union and plays like a mini-epic.

Jack had this to say about the video in a press release: “Before the enforced break due to COVID-19, we spent pretty much all of 2019 driving ourselves around Europe and America having some incredible adventures as a band and it seemed that everything since then had been falling apart. Writing and recording new music as a huge part of the recovery process and when making this film for ‘Sailing Still’ I wanted Lily and I to get back on the road somehow, as travelling has been such a massive part of our band ever since we began. So I had this idea of filming Lily in a myriad of places and scenarios, both urban and rural, coastal and inland. Mountains and rivers, council flats and tunnels, cafes and bridges. We drove up and down the country for a week, sleeping in the van, and waking up at the crack of dawn to start filming again. Reconnecting as a band again but also spending time together as brother and sister was special for filming this real heartbreaker of a song.”

“Sailing Still” follows the band’s debut album, Until the Tide Creeps In, released in 2019 also via Bella Union. A press release promises that the band has completed their second album and more news about that will be announced soon.

Earlier this year Lily Wolter (under her alter-ego KookieLou) sang guest vocals on the Lost Horizons song “Heart of a Hummingbird,” which was one of our Songs of the Week.

Read our interview with Penelope Isles on Until the Tide Creeps In.

3. Indigo De Souza: “Hold U”

North Carolina singer/songwriter Indigo De Souza is releasing a new album, Any Shape You Take, on August 27 via Saddle Creek. On Wednesday she shared its second single, the upbeat ode to community and free expression, “Hold U,” via a video for it. Honey Simone and Garnet Fisher directed the clip, which starts with De Souza and friends getting ready and ends with a queer dance party, which befits the progression of the song.

De Souza had this to say in a press release: “I wanted to write about a really simple kind of love that isn’t necessarily romantic, but that is just about holding space for other people to fully express themselves and to feel celebrated. Just simply seeing someone in their humanity and loving them. We are constantly evolving and we only truly have space to process our lives openly if we feel safe and are encouraged to love ourselves and celebrate our bodies. I am really blessed with the sense of community that I have in my life, and I wanted to highlight that in this video. Community is the purest kind of magic and can heal so much trauma and pain. We all just want to feel truly held by the people around us!”

Previously De Souza shared the album’s first single, “Kill Me,” via a video for it. “Kill Me” was one of our Songs of the Week.

Any Shape You Take is the follow-up to her 2018 debut, I Love My Mom, which was self-released and recently reissued by Saddle Creek. De Souza co-produced the new album with Brad Cook (Bon Iver, Waxahatchee).

4. Piroshka: “Familiar” and “We Told You”

Piroshka released their second studio album, Love Drips and Gathers, today via Bella Union (stream it here). The band only shared two advance singles from the album, so now that it’s out we can share two other tracks from it that we’ve been loving. “Familiar” and “We Told You” are the album’s last two tracks, but they really feel like one musical piece, as one song leads into the other, so we’re counting them as one entry. “We Told You” becomes quite otherworldly, almost sounding a bit like the proggier side of Genesis.

Piroshka features members of various iconic British acts. The band is fronted by former Lush singer Miki Berenyi (vocals/guitar) and also includes former Moose guitarist KJ “Moose” McKillop, Modern English bassist Mick Conroy, and former Elastica drummer Justin Welch.

Today we posted our new interview with Berenyi and McKillop (read that here).

Previously Piroshka shared the album’s first single, “Scratching at the Lid,” via a video for it. The song was one of our Songs of the Week. Then they shared the album’s second single, “V.O.,” via an intriguing video for it. The song is a tribute to the late Vaughan Oliver, who was 4AD’s in-house designer and responsible for many iconic album covers for the label, including ones by Lush. “V.O.” was also one of our Songs of the Week. Then today the band also shared a video for the album’s “Loveable.”

The band’s first album, Brickbat, came out in 2019 on Bella Union.

Berenyi had this to say about the album in a previous press release: “If Brickbat was our Britpop album, then Love Drips and Gathers is shoegaze! It wasn’t intentional; we just wanted a different focus. I’ve always seen debut albums as capturing a band’s first moments, when you really have momentum, and then the second album is the chance for a more thoughtful approach.”

Conroy added: “Brickbat was a classic first album; noisy and raucous. On Love Drips and Gathers, we’ve calmed down and explored sounds, and space.”

Read our 2019 interview with Piroshka on Brickbat.

Read our My Favorite Album interview with Miki Berenyi.

5. Big Red Machine: “Phoenix” (Feat. Robin Pecknold and Anaïs Mitchell)

Big Red Machine (aka Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner) are releasing a new album, How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?, on August 27 via 37d03d. On Thursday they shared the album’s latest single, “Phoenix,” which features guest vocals Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold and Anaïs Mitchell. It’s a delight to hear the vocals of Vernon and Pecknold effortlessly interact with each other.

“Phoenix” was co-written by Dessner, Pecknold, Vernon, and Mitchell, with a co-production credit for both Pecknold and Dessner.

Dessner had this to say about the song in a press release: “‘Phoenix’ was one of the last songs we wrote for this record. I was thinking about The Band and the Grateful Dead…maybe imagining this Big Red Machine album was some version of The Last Waltz. Justin first heard it while driving and immediately the chorus melody came into his head. I shared the sketch with Robin Pecknold, who I’ve been a fan of forever and who I’d been dreaming would join us on this record. Robin wrote the verses and pre chorus as a kind of dialogue with Justin, recalling a conversation they once had backstage in Phoenix. Later Anaïs wrote words to the chorus and the Westerlies added their magic to the instrumental. JT Bates rumbles around in rare form on the drums on this song. I think it’s what I always imagined Big Red Machine would sound like.”

Pecknold adds: “It was a high, high honor to work on this song, and beyond that it was a really interesting creative challenge. Justin’s vocals and the beautiful chorus were already in place before I got my hands on it, so I felt my job melodically and lyrically was to set his entrance up in the best possible way. I felt like a pilgrim putting questions to an elusive sage, not needing clear answers, but happy for the chance to ask.”

Previously Big Red Machine shared the album’s first single, “Latter Days,” which features guest vocals from Anaïs Mitchell. Then the band shared its second single, “The Ghost of Cincinnati,” which features lead vocals by Dessner. That was followed by “Renegade,” which features guest vocals from Taylor Swift, who also features in the song’s video.

The album also features Sharon Van Etten, This Is the Kit, and others.

How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? is the follow-up to their 2018-released self-titled debut album. Dessner produced the album and it was recorded at his Long Pond studio in Upper Hudson Valley, NY.

Dessner, who sings lead vocals for the first time on three tracks on the album, had this to say about it in a previous press release: “This is all music I initially generated and feel emotionally connected to, but it has been very interesting to hear how different people relate to it and how different voices collide with it. That’s what makes it special. With everyone that’s on this record, there’s an openness, a creative generosity and an emotional quality that connects it all together.”

6. Ora the Molecule: “Souldigging”

Norway’s Ora the Molecule (aka Nora Schjelderup) released her debut album, Human Safari, today via Mute (stream it here). Ever since we were first sent the album several months back we’ve been enamored by album closer “Souldigging” and now that the album is out we can include it on this week’s Songs of the Week list.

In February, Schjelderup shared the song “Creator” upon the album’s announcement, and it was featured on our Songs of the Week. Then she shared its next single, “Die to Be a Butterfly,” which was also one of our Songs of the Week. Then she shared another single from it, “The Ball,” via a video that features lots of slow motion shots of her riding a horse (sometimes in reverse), as well as of her with a dog on a beach. “The Ball” once again landed Ora the Molecule on the Songs of the Week list. The album also features previous single “Sugar.”

A press release for Human Safari says its songs alternate “between joyous, beat-driven avant-pop and slick synthwave.”

“It’s for sure two poles,” Schjelderup agrees. “The speaker is the storyteller and the instrumentals are nature or the way life goes. Sometimes you get scared, sometimes it opens up. It’s life. I wanted to make a landscape where the voice could guide you through and be a safe voice. So even when it’s a little bit darker, you’re still in the story and it continues.”

7. Low: “Disappearing”

Low are releasing a new album, HEY WHAT, on September 10 via Sub Pop. On Tuesday they shared its disorientating second single, “Disappearing,” video a striking video for it. Dorian Wood directed and stars in the video, which offers a glimpse into his pandemic side-gig of posing for art students via virtual classes.

Wood had this to say in a press release: “I am incredibly thrilled to have created this video for Low. I’ve been such a fan for years. I was inspired to offer a personal glimpse of what I’d been up to during the pandemic year. I’ve been doing art modeling on the side for years, mostly for art schools. Once the schools physically shut down due to COVID, I was invited to pose for dozens of virtual classes. I borrowed a friend’s empty guest room and twice a week I would set up my laptop and lights and pose for three hours at a time. During these long stretches of time, I’d lose myself in thought while delivering poses that best showcased all this fat brown beauty. In my mind, I traveled to places and memories, and in the case of ‘Disappearing,’ I not only visited the ocean in my mind, I became it. Even at its most empowering and meditative, a modeling session was often a reminder of how lonely one can feel when the other humans in the room immediately vanish once the laptop shuts down. And still, a semblance of hope always lingered. We shot the video at Human Resources, a performance space in L.A. which also served as a creative sanctuary for me during the pandemic year. There’s a lot of ‘coming home’ love in this video. I’m honored to be able to share this love.”

Previously Low shared HEY WHAT’s first single, “Days Like These,” via a video for it. “Days Like These” was #1 on our Songs of the Week list.

HEY WHAT is the band’s thirteenth album and follows 2018’s acclaimed Double Negative, which was #4 on our Top 100 Albums of 2018 list. For the third time, Low (led by Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker) worked with producer B.J. Burton on HEY WHAT. Steve Garrington, who played bass with the band since 2011’s C’mon, sat this album out.

A previous press release described the vibe of the album: “The new album finds the group focusing on their craft, staying out of the fray, and holding fast their faith to find new ways to express the discord and delight of being alive, to turn the duality of existence into hymns we can share. These 10 pieces—each built around their own instantaneous, undeniable hook—are turbocharged by the vivid textures that surround them. The ineffable, familiar harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker break through the chaos like a life raft. Layers of distorted sound accrete with each new verse—building, breaking, colossal then restrained, a solemn vow only whispered. There will be time to unravel and attribute meaning to the music and art of these times, but the creative moment looks FORWARD, with teeth.”

Read our My First Concert article with Low, where Alan Sparhawk discussed the first concert he ever attended.

Read our 2018 interview with Low on Double Negative.

Double Negative was the follow-up to 2015’s Ones and Sixes. Read our 2015 print magazine interview with Low’s Alan Sparhawk about Ones and Sixes, as well as our 2015 digital magazine bonus Q&A with Sparhawk.

8. illuminati hotties: “u v v p” (Feat. Buck Meek)

Illuminati hotties (the project of singer/songwriter Sarah Tudzin) is releasing a new album, Let Me Do One More, on October 1 via Snack Shack Tracks in Partnership with Hopeless Records. This week she shared another song from it, the country-tinged “u v v p,” which features Buck Meek from Big Thief, whose vocals come in at the end. It was shared via a Mike Barwin-directed lyric video featuring images of a beach.

Tudzin had this to say about the new single in a press release: “The road toward fulfillment is lonesome and dusty for a rambling ranger like yourself. For when you need a deputy’s hand, a sling of something sweet, or just a breather in paradise, there’s ‘u v v p.’ I brought along my pal Buck Meek to remind you to say something about how special your beau may be to you, even if you’re too shy to muster up the courage.”

Let Me Do One More features “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA” (which is just pronounced as “MOO!”), a new song shared in April via a video for it. It was one of our Songs of the Week. Then she shared its second single, “Pool Hopping,” also via a video. It also made our Songs of the Week list.

Of the album as a whole, she says: “The songs tell a story of my gremlin-ass running around LA, sneaking into pools at night, messing up and starting over, begging for attention for one second longer, and asking the audience to let me do one more.”

Tudzin also adds: “I love these songs and they’re a part of me and I’m proud of them.”

9. Darkside: “Inside Is Out There”

Darkside (the duo of electronic artist Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington) released their second studio album, Spiral, today via Matador. Now that the album is out we can sh are on of our favorite album tracks from it, the near-nine-minute-long instrumental “Inside Is Out There.” It’s the kind of track that sounds great driving down a lonely highway or backroad late at night (trust me, I’ve done it).

“From the beginning, Darkside has been our jam band. Something we did on days off. When we reconvened, it was because we really couldn’t wait to jam together again,” said Jaar in a previous press release.

Harrington added: “It felt like it was time again. We do things in this band that we would never do on our own. Darkside is the third being in the room that just kind of occurs when we make music together.”

When the album was announced last December, the duo shared the album’s first single, “Liberty Bell.” Then they shared its second single, “The Limit,” which was one of our Songs of the Week. Then they shared the album’s third single, “Lawmaker.”

Their debut album, Psychic, came out in 2013 via Other People.

10. James Blake: “Say What You Will”

On Thursday James Blake announced a new album, Friends That Break Your Heart, and shared its first single, “Say What You Will,” via an amusing video that guest stars FINNEAS, in which Blake is envious of the producer/musician’s success. Blake has also announced some tour dates. Friends That Break Your Heart is due out September 10 via Republic. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art, as well as the tour dates, here.

Blake had this to say about “Say What You Will” in a press release: “The song is about finding peace with who you are and where you’re at regardless of how well other people seem to be doing. Comparison really is the thief of joy.”

Friends That Break Your Heart follows his 2020 EPs Before and Covers. Blake’s last album, Assume Form, came out back in January 2019 via Republic. Artist Miles Johnston designed the cover art for Friends That Break Your Heart, working closely with Blake to capture the vibe of the album.

Read our review of Assume Form.

11. La Luz: “Watching Cartoons”

This week Los Angeles trio La Luz announced a new self-titled album and shared a new song from it, “Watching Cartoons,” via a video. La Luz is due out October 22 via Hardly Art. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art, as well as the band’s upcoming tour dates, here.

La Luz is guitarist and songwriter Shana Cleveland, bassist Lena Simon, and keyboardist Alice Sandahl. The band’s last album was 2018’s Floating Features. La Luz includes the band’s recent single, “In the Country.”

Adrian Younge—known for his work with hip-hop, soul, and jazz acts—produced La Luz. He had this to say in a press release: “We both create music with the same attitude, and that’s what I love about them. They are never afraid to be risky and their style is captivating. I don’t work with many bands, but I love taking chances on people that share the same vision. We both love to be ourselves, and it was an honor to work with them.”

12. Clinic: “Fantasy Island”

On Thursday Liverpool post-punks Clinic announced a new album, Fantasy Island, and shared its title track via a video for it. Fantasy Island is due out October 22 via their longtime label Domino. Emily Evans directed the “Fantasy Island” video, which is a dizzying collage of vintage stock footage. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.

In a press release the band collectively had this to say about the new single: “Get out of your tree tonight with Clinic’s new electro-rockabilly shebang.”

Fantasy Island includes “Fine Dining,” a new song the band shared in June via a video for it. “Fine Dining” was also one of our Songs of the Week.

Clinic’s last album was 2019’s Wheeltappers and Shunters, which was their first new album in seven years. Since their last album the quartet has become a duo, with Ade Blackburn and Jonathan Hartley listed as members in a press release, but no mention of Brian Campbell or Carl Turney. The lineup had remained the same since the band’s 1997 formation, until now.

Fantasy Island was recorded in the summer of 2019. Claudius Mittendorfer (Parquet Courts, Neon Indian) mixed the album. In the press release the band say they are embracing “the idea of looking at the future and the different ways it can unfold.” The press release calls it “their most electronic and pop record to date” and name drops The Human League, Fun Boy Three, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and early 1980s pop music as influences on the album.

The press release goes into more detail as to the themes of Fantasy Island: “Referencing H.G. Wells’ Things to Come, Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage, and Richard Brautigan’s Sombrero Fallout, the themes Clinic explore on this album are time, music and entertainment. In a (coco) nutshell, Clinic have gone funky disco, broadening their sonic palette with the addition of several new gadgets including an electronic acid bass machine, a 1970s cocktail rhythm unit, a Casio digital horn, and space drum. This gear comes to the fore in the centerpiece of Fantasy Island, the incredible ‘Refractions (In the Rain),’ which nods to The Human League with its strident synthesizer lines, danceable beats, and the groovy, swaggering menace that Clinic always bring to the party.”

Read our 2019 interview with Clinic.

Clinic’s Ade Blackburn recently sang guest vocals on “Illusions,” a new song by electronic rock duo Gone to Color, from their self-titled debut album due on October 25. The song is an honorable mention below.

Honorable Mentions:

These songs almost made the Top 10.

alexalone: “Electric Sickness”

Coldplay: “Coloratura”

Deerhoof: “Department of Corrections”

Gone to Color: “Illusions” (Feat. Ade Blackburn of Clinic)

Colleen Green: “It’s Nice to Be Nice”

Steve Gunn: “Fulton”

The KVB: “World On Fire”

Mac McCaughan: “Dawn Bends”

Piroshka: “Hastings 1973”

Other notable new tracks in the last week include:

The Boy Least Likely To: “Get Into the Summer”

Cheekface: “Next To Me (Yo Guy Version)”

The Chemical Brothers: “Work Energy Principle”

DāM-FunK: “Above the Fray”

Lorde: “Stoned At the Nail Salon”

Nite Jewel: “Before I Go”

Karen Peris: “I Would Sing Along”

Prince: “Hot Summer”

Quicksand: “Brushed”

Samia: “As You Are”

Wednesday: “How Can You Live If You Can’t Love How Can You If You Do”

Matthew E. White: “Electric”

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