14 Best Songs of the Week: Blonde Redhead, S. Carey & John Raymond, Ratboys, Sampha, and More | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 28th, 2024  

14 Best Songs of the Week: Blonde Redhead, S. Carey & John Raymond, Ratboys, Sampha, and More

Plus Lael Neale, Blur, The Last Dinner Party, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

Jun 30, 2023 Bookmark and Share

Welcome to the 23rd Songs of the Week of 2023. This week our writers and editors Andy Von Pip, Caleb Campbell, Celine Teo-Blockey, Mark Moody, and Scott Dransfield all weighed in which songs were best and we came up with the stacked list below. We settled on a Top 14 this week, with lots of honorable mentions.

In the past week or so we posted interviews with Lanterns on the Lake’s Hazel Wilde, Ben Folds, Geese, Youth Lagoon, Cory Hanson, and others.

In the last week we reviewed some albums.

Remember that we recently announced our new print issue, Issue 71 with Weyes Blood and Black Belt Eagle Scout on the covers.

To help you sort through the multitude of fresh songs released in the last week, we have picked the 14 best the last week had to offer, followed by some honorable mentions. Check out the full list below.

1. Blonde Redhead: “Melody Experiment”

Blonde Redhead are releasing a new album, Sit Down for Dinner, their first new studio album in nine years, on September 29 via section1. On Tuesday, they shared its second single, “Melody Experiment.” Here, check out the band’s upcoming tour dates.

The iconic band features Kazu Makino and Italian twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace.

“This song is a conversational piece between two people,” says Makino of the new song, in a press release. “One is questioning the intentions, integrity, and consequences of one’s emotions and actions. She is hypersensitive. The other keeps things simple, allowing himself to go with the flow. Musically, I was able to find something that is quite true and natural to myself, and now I want to continue on this path.”

Previously the band shared the album’s first single, “Snowman,” which was one of our Songs of the Week.

Sit Down for Dinner was written and recorded over a five-year period in New York City, Upstate New York, Milan, and Tuscany.

Of the album’s title, Simone Pace said in a previous press release: “I know a lot of people eat and run, eat in front of their TV, or don’t care about it too much—and that’s OK—but we really do. It’s a moment for us to sit down and have time with each other.”

For Makino, eating dinner as a family took on new meaning during the pandemic when she couldn’t visit her parents in Japan. She said: “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”

Of Blonde Redhead’s enduring band dynamic, Makino said: “We have a language we have kept. We try to change rhythms, concepts, and sounds. But that harmonic sensibility has stayed the same. It hits the same part of your heart.”

Blonde Redhead’s last full-length album was 2014’s Barragán, although in 2017 they released the 3 O’Clock EP. By Mark Redfern

2. John Raymond & S. Carey: “Calling”

Grammy-nominated trumpeter John Raymond and Bon Iver member S. Carey have teamed up to release a new album, Shadowlands, and on Wednesday, they shared its first single, “Calling.” Shadowlands is due out September 15 via Libellule. The album was produced by Sun Chung. Check out Shadowlands’ tracklist and cover artwork here.

For S. Carey and John Raymond, the opportunity to collaborate has been a long time in the making. They both started off as music students at the University of Wisconsin-Eau but went in different directions. The pair reunited in 2018, and after an initial round of sessions in 2019, the opening two tracks of the album were crafted.

Most of the album was recorded in the woods of Eau-Claire, where they met around 20 years ago. Carey’s vocals combined with Raymond’s lyrical horn creates a duo-symphonic experience, blending acoustics of musical interplay.

“Calling” started as a piano hook that Raymod played one night, but once his flugelhorn and Carey’s voice were added to the mix, this illustrious song was born. The song blossoms as new layers are gradually added including Aaron Parks on acoustic piano, Jeremy Boettcher on bass, Dave Devine on electric guitar, and Chris Thomson on woodwinds.

Check out our interview with S. Carey on fatherhood and his fourth studio album, Break Me Open. By Kat Ramkumar

3. Ratboys: “The Window”

Yesterday, Chicago indie rockers Ratboys shared a music video for their latest song, “The Window,” which is the title track for their upcoming album. The Window is due out August 25 via Topshelf. The music video was directed by John TerEick. Check out the band’s upcoming tour dates here.

Ratboys—composed of members Julia Steiner (guitar, vocals), Dave Sagan (guitar), Marcus Nuccio (drums), and Sean Neumann (bass)—ventured to Seattle to work with producer Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie, Tegan and Sara, Foxing) when making The Window. The album was almost fully crafted before heading into the studio, but Walla pushed the band to expand their vision, adding unexpected instruments such as rototoms, talkboxes, and fiddles.

Of “The Window,” Steiner says in a press release: “ I wrote this song a few days after the death of my grandma in June of 2020. She didn’t have COVID, but because of the pandemic my grandpa wasn’t able to visit her in person at the nursing home to say goodbye. He ended up standing outside her room and saying goodbye through an open window. A lot of the lyrics are direct quotes of things he said to her in those final moments.”

These melancholy themes of grief are present on the track as its wrenching and poignant lyrics are weaved in between lamentful guitar twangs and a stirring percussion.

Ratboys previously shared the song “It’s Alive” (which was #1 on our Songs of the Week list) and “Black Earth, WI” (which also made our Songs of the Week list).

Read our 2021 interview with Ratboys. By Kat Ramkumar

4. Sampha: “Spirit 2.0”

On Wednesday, London singer/songwriter and producer Sampha returned with his first new solo song in six years, “Spirit 2.0.” The song features musical contributions from artists such as Russef Dayes, El Guincho, and Owen Pallet, with backing vocals from Yaeji and Lisa-Kaindé of Ibeyi. “Spirit 2.0” incorporates a multitude of musical directions, peppered with over kicks, snares, and polyrhythmic synths to invoke a feel of west African folk music.

During Sampha’s six year break from solo music, he was contributing vocals to Kendrick Lamar’s Mr Morales & The Big Steppers and Stormzy’s This is What I Mean. Of his own track, he says in a press release: “It’s about the importance of connection to both myself and others, and the beauty and harsh realities of just existing. It’s about acknowledging those moments when you need help - that requires real strength. I hope people can enjoy that feeling of someone being there for you, even if that person doesn’t have the answers. Just calling someone up without overthinking… letting go and just dancing.. wanting to see past the mundanity of things and appreciating the magic of it all, from birds nests to spaceships.”

In 2021, serpantwithfeet shared “Fellowship” featuring Sampha and Lil Silva which made our Songs of the Week.

Sampha’s last solo music project was his 2017 debut album Process, which won the Mercury Prize. By Kat Ramkumar

5. Lael Neale: “White T-Shirt”

Yesterday, Lael Neale shared a brand new song, “White T-Shirt,” via a music video. The song was recorded during the sessions for her recent album, Star Eaters Delight, released in April via Sub Pop, but instead was held back as a standalone single. Check out Neale’s upcoming tour dates here.

Neale’s regular collaborator Guy Blakeslee produced and mixed the song. He had this to say about it in a press release: “‘White T-Shirt’ dates back a number of years to when I used to follow Lael around LA to all of her barely publicized performances. The song never ceased to silence the chatter in the room. There was nothing I could add to this performance, it’s a raw gem that stands alone and cuts through the noise.”

Pick up our current print issue (Issue 71) to read our new interview with Lael Neale on Star Eaters Delight.

Read our rave review of the album here.

Stream the album here.

Previously Neale shared the album’s first single, “I Am the River,” also via a self-directed music video. “I Am the River” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then she shared its second single, the over eight-minute long “In Verona,” via a self-directed video in which Neale plays a newscaster. “In Verona” was #1 on our Songs of the Week list. Then she shared its third single, “Faster Than the Medicine,” also via a self-directed video and also one of our Songs of the Week. Then she shared its fourth single, “Must Be Tears,” via a self-directed video. “Must Be Tears” was also one of our Songs of the Week.

Star Eaters Delight is the follow up to 2021’s Acquainted With Night, which was her debut for Sub Pop and was recorded in 2019. The new album was recorded after Neale moved from Los Angeles to her family’s farm in rural Virginia in April 2020.

Acquainted with Night was a focusing inward amidst the loud and bright Los Angeles surrounding me. It was an attempt to create spaciousness and quiet reverie within. When I moved back to the farm, I found that the unbroken silences compelled me to break them with sound. This album is more external. It is a reaching back out to the world, wanting to feel connected, to wake up, to come together again,” explained Neale in a previous press release.

Guy Blakeslee produced the album with Neale.

Read our 2021 interview with Lael Neale. By Mark Redfern

6. Blur: “St. Charles Square”

Britpop icons Blur are releasing a new album, The Ballad of Darren, on July 21 via Parlophone. Yesterday, they shared its second single, “St. Charles Square,” via a music video. Toby L directed the black & white video, which is made up of live footage.

Frontman Damon Albarn simply had this to say about the song in a press release: “‘St. Charles Square’ is a place where the ghosts of monsters can be found.”

Blur previously shared the album’s first single, “The Narcissist,” which was one of our Songs of the Week, as well as a teaser video for the album.

The Ballad of Darren is the band’s first new album in eight years, since 2015’s The Magic Whip, although the members of Blur have kept plenty busy since then. In the intervening years frontman Damon Albarn has released several albums with Gorillaz (including Cracker Island this past February), as well as the 2021 solo album, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, and the 2019 album with The Good, The Bad, & The Queen, Merrie Land. In January, drummer Dave Rowntree released his debut solo album, Radio Songs, on Cooking Vinyl. In February, guitarist Graham Coxon and Rose Elinor Dougall released their self-titled debut album as The WAEVE (pick up our current print issue to read our interview with Coxon and Dougall about the album). Coxon also recently released a memoir, Verse, Chorus, Monster!. Bassist Alex James, meanwhile, has been running a cheese farm.

James Ford produced The Ballad of Darren, which was recorded in London and Devon. The album’s cover artwork is an image by British photographer Martin Parr. Blur had previously announced some 2023 concerts.

Albarn had this to say about the album in a previous press release: “This is an aftershock record, reflection and comment on where we find ourselves now.”

Coxon said: “The older and madder we get, it becomes more essential that what we play is loaded with the right emotion and intention. Sometimes just a riff doesn’t do the job.”

James said: “For any long term relationship to last with any meaning you have to be able to surprise each other somehow and somehow we all continue to do that.”

Rowntree said: “It always feels very natural to make music together. With every record we do, the process reveals something new and we develop as a band. We don’t take that for granted.” By Mark Redfern

7. The Last Dinner Party: “Sinner”

Today, buzzed about new British five-piece The Last Dinner Party shared their second ever single, “Sinner,” as well as a video of them performing the song live. James Ford produced the song. The Last Dinner Party and Balan Evans directed the live video. Check out the cover artwork for the single here.

Guitarist Lizzie Mayland had this to say about the new single in a press release: “‘Sinner’ is a story of self-acceptance, and the longing for the past and present self to become one. Born from a breakbeat drum sample, ‘Sinner’ is punctuated by ripping guitar lines and harmony-filled vocal breakdowns.”

The Last Dinner Party were getting a considerable amount of buzz in their home country based mainly on their live performances, but in April they released their debut single, “Nothing Matters,” via a music video. “Nothing Matters” was #1 on our Songs of the Week list.

Read our recent interview with The Last Dinner Party, which is likely the band’s first ever interview with an American publication.

The Last Dinner Party are Abigail Morris (vocals), Georgia Davies (bass), Lizzie Mayland (guitar), Aurora Nishevci (keys), and Emily Roberts (lead guitar). James Ford produced both “Nothing Matters” and “Sinner” and not only is he a member of Simian Mobile Disco and The Last Shadow Puppets, but as a producer he has worked with an impressive array of artists, including Depeche Mode, Arctic Monkeys, Jessie Ware, Everything Everything, Gorillaz, HAIM, Florence + The Machine, Foals, and Pet Shop Boys.

The Last Dinner Party had already performed sets ahead of Nick Cave and The Rolling Stones before even releasing a debut single. Their upcoming tour dates include some British summer festivals, as well as some shows opening for First Aid Kit. Check out all their tour dates here, including some newly announced fall shows. By Mark Redfern

8. Olivia Rodrigo: “vampire”

Today, Olivia Rodrigo shared a music video for her song, “vampire,” which is the first new release off of her upcoming album, GUTS, which was announced earlier this week. This LP, which was recorded with producer Daniel Nigro, is due out September 8 via Geffen.

Of the song, Rodrigo says in a press release: “I was upset about a certain situation and went to the studio alone and sat down at the grand piano, and the chords and melody and lyrics just poured out of me—almost like an out-of-body experience. It’s a song about feeling confused and hurt, and at first I thought it was meant to be a piano ballad. But when Dan and I started working on it, we juxtaposed the lyrics with these big drums and crazy tempo changes. So now it’s like a heartbreak song you can dance to.”

The song, which starts off softer, escalates into loud guitar riffs with Rodrigo belting lyrics of betrayal. It was partly written at Electric Lady Studios, but really came to life in Nigro’s garage.

“When I was making SOUR I was so new to the process and also so heartbroken; I’d just sit at the piano for hours and feel overcome with things I needed to express,” Rodrigo says. “But this album was much more about focusing on the craft of songwriting, which sometimes meant not taking myself so seriously and getting a little more tongue-in-cheek with my lyrics. We experimented so much with different approaches to writing and ended up with something that’s much more rock-influenced than anything I’ve done before.”

This song really sets the pace for what’s to come with GUTS. Olivia Rodrigo is angry. And we’re going to hear all about it. Nigro co-wrote the song with Rodrigo.

Rodrigo’s 2021-released debut album, SOUR, scored the most U.S. audio streams for best debut album ever and garnered her multiple Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist. By Kat Ramkumar

9. Modern Nature: “Murmuration”

This Tuesday, Modern Nature (the band led by Jack Cooper) announced the release of their new album, No Fixed Point In Space, and shared a music video for its lead single, the seven-minute “Murmuration.” No Fixed Point in Space, which will be the band’s third LP, is due out September 29 via Bella Union. Swirling with openness and vivid Technicolor, this album branches out from anything Modern Nature has released before. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover artwork here.

Of the album, Cooper says: “I wanted the music to reflect nature: beginnings and endings, arrivals and departures, process and chance. I wanted the music and the words to feel like roots, branches, mycelium, the intricacies of a dawn chorus, neurons firing, the unknown.

“The way you see or hear music in your head is abstract and magic… often more beautiful than what eventually appears on tape. When you sit down with an instrument and begin translating an idea, it quickly conforms. I’ve tried to develop this music without thinking in terms of set rhythms, time signatures, folk or pop structures, syntax; the devices you associate with the music world which I come from. I wanted to make music that was abstract, free and honest, whilst still being predominantly tonal and recognizably song based. It feels like time to make something that no one has heard before.”

It’s an ode to all sounds and music that Cooper hears out in the world. He says: “I think the most important aspect of that idea is collectivism; the rhythm, melody, timbre, dynamics, all the aspects of music are not the responsibility of one instrument, they are the responsibilities of all the instruments. The vocals are no more important than the bass. That makes the music move in an organically unpredictable way. Like a flock of birds or a school of fish, notes breaking the surface and then disappearing. That’s how I want this music to feel.”

The musicians and collaborators for this record include Anton Lukoszevieze, Mira Benjamin and Heather Roche of Apartment House, Alex Ward (This Is Not This Heat / Spiritualized), Dominic Lash, Chris Abrahams of The Necks, and Julie Tippetts (FKA Julie Driscoll), as well as long-term collaborators Jeff Tobias (Sunwatchers) and Jim Wallis.

Read our interview with Cooper, where he discusses his previous album, Island of Noise. By Kat Ramkumar.

10. Bathe Alone: “Missionary Ridge”

Atlanta-based dream pop outfit Bathe Alone most recently last year with their EP, Fall With The Lights Down (Louise), a record dedicated to multi-instrumentalist Bailey Crone’s great-grandmother. Later this year, they’re set to follow with another twin EP written for Crone’s other great-grandmother, Velma. Together, the double EPs make up a meditative reflection on love, loss, and memory, traced via Crone’s hypnotic style.

This year, Crone has already released the record’s lead single, “Awfully Quiet,” and officially announced it with “In Your Wake.” Yesterday, they were back with another new track, “Missionary Ridge,” premiering with Under the Radar.

“Missionary Ridge” is another dreamy and thoughtfully textured effort. Crone’s vocals steadily twist into layered harmonies above ambient guitars, shimmering synths, and forceful drumming. Crone’s punk roots stand out most through her drumwork, with the track’s insistent, heavy pulse anchoring a contrasting swirl of instrumentation. Within this mix, Crone knits together a immersive blend of twinkling effects, only to cut through them in the latter half of the track with blasts of distorted guitar.

The hypnotic soundscape is also meant to be an equally wistful effort, one soaked in the mundane details of childhood memories. Crone says: “This is one of my favorite songs on the record. It’s all total nostalgia, taking me back to my grandparent’s house in Chattanooga. Some of my memories growing up there were of such mundane things, but as I grow older, I’ve realized how important those memories are. My hope with this song was to pay tribute to that place and those times that feel so far away now. I worked with some close friends, Nic Huey and Paula Harding, to create a video that sort of captures the feeling of looking back on those memories as an adult.”

Fall With The Lights Down (Louise) & (Velma) is out everywhere on August 4th via Nettwerk and The Record Machine. By Caleb Campbell

11. Speedy Ortiz: “Plus One”

Speedy Ortiz are releasing a new album, Rabbit Rabbit, which is their first new album in five years, on September 1 via Wax Nine. On Wednesday, they shared its second single, “Plus One,” via a music video in which a giant rabbit attacks the city and the band. Speedy Ortiz have also announced some new tour dates which you can see here. Dylan Mars Greenberg directed the video.

Sadie Dupuis (songwriter, vox, guitar) had this to say about the new song and video in a press release: “I love touring, but the workaholism it encourages has been a convenient way to repress my feelings. In the pandemic, I found myself ruminating on my estrangement from an abusive family member. I’ve used my songwriting to process other experiences of violence, but had not broached these memories until Rabbit Rabbit. Being able to work on old trauma in therapy and in my writing has helped my boundaries elsewhere, and taught me to move on from exploitative relationships.

“That’s what ‘Plus One’ is about, and it came out pretty quickly as a sad acoustic waltz. I was sitting on the floor of an empty living room, mid-move, and the bare surroundings added a liminal starkness, though some of the imagery is inspired by scenes from West Philly that summer. When I went back to do pre-production, Texan post-hardcore was in my head, so I tried to channel At the Drive-In and Trail of Dead, bands that inspired me as a teen.

“We made the video with director Dylan Mars Greenberg, whose campiness and B-movie expertise was a perfect fit for the band’s also very campy videography. We’ve done a ton of horror homages but had never paid tribute to an old school monster movie. Dylan’s pet bunny Voodoo was a perfect Godzilla-sized star—a cuddly rabbit who’s mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

Previously the band shared the album’s first single, “You S02,” via a music video.

Rabbit Rabbit sees Dupuis and Andy Molholt (guitar) be joined by longtime touring members Audrey Zee Whitesides (bass) and Joey Doubek (drums). The album was recorded at Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree, CA and Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX. Illuminati Hotties’ Sarah Tudzin co-produced the album with the band and also mixed it. Emily Lazar and Chris Allgood mastered the album at The Lodge in New York, NY.

A previous press release described the album and the inspiration behind its title in more detail: “Rabbit Rabbit is a nod to the superstitious incantation repeated on the first of each month to bring good fortune. Dupuis adopted this practice as a child coping with OCD and early trauma, so when she began to parse difficult memories for the first time in her songwriting, it felt like kismet to name her band’s fourth record after that expression of luck and repetition. But instead of re-treading old routines, the album finds Speedy Ortiz interrogating conventions, grappling with cycles of violence and destructive power dynamics with singular wit and riffs. The result is Speedy Ortiz at its most potent: melodically fierce, sonically mountainous, scorching the earth and beginning anew.”

“As I was channeling scenes and sentiments from decades past, I wanted to honor the bands I loved when I first learned guitar, ones that taught me to get lost in the possibilities of this instrument,” Dupuis added.

Regarding the themes on Rabbit Rabbit, Dupuis said: “I turned 33 while writing this album, a palindrome birthday and a lucky number associated with knowledge, I wanted to mark how I was making better choices as I got older, letting go of heedless anger even when it’s warranted.”

Speedy Ortiz’ last album, Twerp Verse, came out in 2018 via Carpark. Dupuis’ last solo album under her Sad13 project, Haunted Painting, was released in 2020 via Wax Nine. By Mark Redfern

12. Art Feynman: “All I Can Do”

On Monday, Art Feynman, the moniker of Here We Go Magic frontman Luke Temple, announced the release of his new album, Be Good The Crazy Boys, and shared its lead single, “All I Can Do.” Be Good The Crazy Boys is due out November 10 via Western Vinyl. Check out the upcoming album’s tracklist and cover artwork here.

Feynman branches out with Be Good The Crazy Boys, experimenting with shimmering synths and vivid sonic landscapes. Of “All I Can Do,” he says in a press release: “It’s kind of about the butterfly effect we have on our own lives. What seems like a mistake in the past or present may inform some kind of success in the future. We are moved through life by much more than we are consciously aware of and most often only through making the mistake and suffering the consequence can the unconscious become conscious. Hence hindsight is always 20/20.”

The first two Feynman records were crafted in a rural part of Northern California, but Temple relocated to LA with a live in-studio full band to make Be Good The Crazy Boys. He drew inspiration from records such as Grace Jones’ Private Life, Lizzy Mercier Descolux’s Mambo Nassau, and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light.

“To me,” Temple says, “there was a lot of energy that needed to be released as the result of living in isolation for six years. It also seems to speak to a general anxiety we’re all holding, but it’s expressed in a cathartic way.”

In 2020, Temple shared his second studio album as Art Feynman titled, Half Price at 3:30.

Read our COVID-19 Quarantine Check-In interview with Temple. By Kat Ramkumar

13. Sen Morimoto: “Diagnosis”

On Tuesday, Chicago-based Japanese American multi-instrumentalist Sen Morimoto announced the release of his third studio album, Diagnosis, and shared a music video for its title track. Diagnosis is due out November 3 via City Slang, in partnership with his own Sooper Records. Morimoto co-directed the “Diagnosis” video with New Trash. It features Morimoto experiencing sell-your-soul scenarios complete with references to current exploitation tools. Morimoto also has a handful of tour dates coming up. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover artwork followed by upcoming performances here.

Morimoto previously shared the album’s first single, “If The Answer Isn’t Love,” which was featured on our Songs of the Week.

Of the video for “Diagnosis,” Morimoto says in a press release: “The video for ‘Diagnosis’ is an over the top story about the music industry and an artist who thinks they can fix it from within (he can’t!). I worked with New Trash again to continue the story from ‘If The Answer Isn’t Love’ and they really brought the Faustian nightmare to life. The way the video is edited feels so true to how we experience life now. It’s a hyper-capitalist information overload where every part of your story is happening all at once.”

When explaining this album’s aim, Morimoto says: “I’ve now released a couple of albums in a time when the most commercially exploitable asset an artist has is their social identity and their trauma. Over this time the discussion of this pattern has come up repeatedly with peers who felt similarly tired of being expected to share every private detail of an immigrant household or to romanticize the struggle of their working class upbringing only to find questions on the craft itself reserved for artists without those burdens. While the songs on my third album range in topic from love to radicalization to spirituality and the internal effects of life under capitalism, every song on Diagnosis is, at its core, an attempt to flip the lens around. To hold a magnifying glass over the systems we live in and empower us to investigate them with the same scrutiny.” By Kat Ramkumar

14. Will Butler + Sister Squares: “Long Grass”

On Tuesday, Arcade Fire’s Will Butler announced a new self-titled album with Will Butler + Sister Squares and shared a music video for their new song, “Long Grass.” The group have also announced some fall tour dates in support of their new album. Will Butler + Sister Squares is due out September 22 via Merge. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover artwork, as well as the upcoming performances here.

Butler left Arcade Fire at the end of 2021 and had spent the preceding two years at home with his children. “I was waking up every morning and reading Emily Dickinson, until I had read every Emily Dickinson poem,” says Butler. “I was listening to Morrissey, to Shostakovich, to the Spotify top 50. I had unformed questions with inchoate answers.”

Sister Squares—who are Miles Francis, Julie Shore, Jenny Shore, and Sarah Dobbs—all came together through familial word of mouth. “I met Jenny—my wife!—in college, the year before I joined Arcade Fire. When I needed a band to tour Policy,” says Butler, referring to his 2015-released solo debut album, “I asked [Jenny’s sister] Julie to join because I trusted her musically. And I asked Sara, Jenny and Julie’s childhood friend, because I knew she was super talented.”

“Antibalas (who I was drumming for) opened some Arcade Fire shows,” says Francis, who offered to play drums anytime Will needed. Together, they became Will Butler + Sister Squares. Butler was initially set on making a solo record, ideally alone in the basement, but he found himself relying on the band for feedback on lyrics and song structures. Miles Francis produced the record.

Of the song “Long Grass,” Butler says: “I had read this novella called Jamila by a Soviet/Kyrgyz author named Chingiz Aitmatov from the ’50s. It’s about an artist looking back on his childhood in a small town in Kyrgyzstan in WWII. It’s about love, and becoming an artist, and melancholy, and vast landscapes with a single train track running through them. And it reminded me of young adulthood, of wandering moodily down the train tracks. Maybe the song is also about leaving behind the things that formed us, but trying to remember the world as it used to be?”

Read our 2015 interview with Butler on Policy. By Kat Ramkumar

Honorable Mentions:

These songs almost made the Top 14.

James Blake: “Big Hammer”

Grian Chatten: “All of the People”

The Chemical Brothers: “Live Again”

The Clientele: “Claire’s Not Real”

Das Koolies: “A Ride”

Girl Ray: “Love Is Enough”

High Pulp: “Unified Dakotas” (Feat. Jeff Parker of Tortoise)

Local Natives: “Paradise”

Buck Meek: “Paradise”

Beverly Glenn-Copeland: “Stand Anthem”

Grrrl Gang: “Rude Awakening”

Mac Krol: “For Some Other Reason”

Jeff Rosenstock: “DOUBT”

Slow Pulp: “Slugs”

Sweeping Promises: “Good Living is Coming For You”

Truth Club: “Blue Eternal”

Here’s a handy Spotify playlist featuring the Top 14 in order, followed by all the honorable mentions:

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