7 Best Songs of the Week: Sufjan Stevens, A. Savage, Midlake and John Grant, TORRES, and More | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, February 29th, 2024  

7 Best Songs of the Week: Sufjan Stevens, A. Savage, Midlake and John Grant, TORRES, and More

Plus Empty Country, Wild Nothing, Gruff Rhys, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

Oct 06, 2023
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Welcome to the 32nd Songs of the Week of 2023. This week Caleb Campbell, Mark Moody, Scott Dransfield, and Stephen Humphires all helped me decide what should make the list. It was a quiet week for new tracks, so we settled on a Top 7.

Today we posted a digital cover story interview with Ben Gibbard on the 20th anniversary of Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism and The Postal Service’s Give Up.

In the past week or so we also posted interviews with Pale Blue Eyes, Shakey Graves, Black Belt Eagle Scout, Tiffany Anders and Mato Wayuhi (the music supervisors on Reservation Dogs), W.H. Lung, Gabriels, and others.

In the last week we reviewed some albums.

Remember that we previously 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 10 best the last week had to offer, followed by some honorable mentions. Check out the full list below.

1. Sufjan Stevens: “A Running Start”

Sufjan Stevens released a new album, Javelin, today via Asthmatic Kitty. On Tuesday he shared its third single, “A Running Start,” via a lyric video. It was the album’s final pre-release single.

Today, Stevens posted to Instagram and Tumblr in honor of release day to dedicate Javelin to his late partner Evans Richardson, who died in April.

He wrote: “This album is dedicated to the light of my life, my beloved partner and best friend Evans Richardson, who passed away in April. He was an absolute gem of a person, full of life, love, laughter, curiosity, integrity, and joy. He was one of those rare and beautiful ones you find only once in a lifetime—precious, impeccable, and absolutely exceptional in every way.

“I know relationships can be very difficult sometimes, but it’s always worth it to put in the hard work and care for the ones you love, especially the beautiful ones, who are few and far between. If you happen to find that kind of love, hold it close, hold it tight, savor it, tend to it, and give it everything you’ve got, especially in times of trouble. Be kind, be strong, be patient, be forgiving, be vigorous, be wise, and be yourself. Live every day as if it is your last, with fullness and grace, with reverence and love, with gratitude and joy. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Read our review of Javelin here.

Javelin is being billed as Stevens’ first full on singer/songwriter solo folk album since 2015’s acclaimed Carrie & Lowell. Previously Stevens shared the album’s first single, “So You Are Tired,” via a lyric video. “So You Are Tired” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then he shared its second single, “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?,” via a music video. “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” was also one of our Songs of the Week.

In 2021, Stevens released the five-volume album Convocations, as well as A Beginner’s Mind, a collaborative album with Angelo De Augustine. Read our digital cover story interview with the duo about that album. In 2020 he put out The Ascension. Earlier this year, Stevens released Reflections, his score for the Justin Peck ballet of the same name that was performed by pianists Timo Andres and Conor Hanick.

Adrienne Maree Brown, Hannah Cohen, Pauline Delassus, Megan Lui, and Nedelle Torrisi all provide harmonies on many of Javelin’s songs. Bryce Dessner of The National plays acoustic and electric guitar on “Shit Talk.” Album closer “There’s a World” is a Neil Young cover. Stevens recorded the album himself at home, but a press release points out that Javelin still sometimes has a big sound and that it “pairs musical sweep with emotional breadth.”

A 48-page book of art and essays all created by Stevens accompanies the album. It includes “a series of meticulous collages, cut-up catalog fantasies, puff-paint word clouds, and iterative color fields. The 10 short essays—alternatively funny, tragic, poignant, obtuse, and specific—offer little glimpses into loves and losses that have shaped him, and, in turn, these songs.”

Last month, Stevens posted a troubling update to Instagram to announce that he was recently diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare auto immune disease that has severely affected his mobility, causing him to no longer be able to walk. “Last month I woke up one morning and couldn’t walk. My hands, arms and legs were numb and tingling and I had no strength, no feeling, no mobility,” Stevens wrote. Thankfully he is undergoing rehab and is expected to recover, but it could take some time. “Most people who have GBS learn to walk again on their own within a year, so I am hopeful,” he wrote. By Mark Redfern

2. A. Savage: “David’s Dead”

A. Savage (aka Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts) released a new album, Several Songs About Fire, today via Rough Trade. On Monday he shared the album’s third single, “David’s Dead,” in which he reminisces about an earlier time and his old neighborhood.

Savage had this to say about “David’s Dead” in a press release: “What can I say about the song ‘David’s Dead?’ Well I can tell you that it’s a portrait of the block in New York City that I called home for over a decade, each line sort of a tally of things that had changed in that time. I can tell you that David’s passing made some of those changes much more evident than they were before. I can tell you that the last time I saw David I bought him both a black coffee and a can of Crazy Stallion, and that we drank a coffee together on my stoop, but I said ‘see ya later’ when he cracked open the tallboy.”

Read our review of Several Songs About Fire here.

The album includes “Thanksgiving Prayer,” a new song Savage shared in July via a music video. “Thanksgiving Prayer” was one of our Songs of the Week. When the album was announced, Savage shared its second single, “Elvis in the Army,” via a music video. “Elvis in the Army” was also one of our Songs of the Week.

The album features Jack Cooper (Modern Nature, Ultimate Painting), Cate Le Bon, saxophonist Euan Hinshelwood (Cate Le Bon’s band), drummer Dylan Hadley (Kamikaze Palm Tree, White Fence), and violinist Magdalena McLean (caroline).

Savage had this to say about the new album in a previous press release: “I imagine myself playing these songs in a small club that is slowly burning…. Fire is something you have to escape from, and in a way this album is about escaping from something. This album is a burning building, and these songs are things I’d leave behind to save myself.”

A Savage’s last solo album was 2017’s Thawing Dawn.

Check out our review of Thawing Dawn. By Mark Redfern

3. Midlake and John Grant: “You Don’t Get To”

Midlake and John Grant have teamed up for two new songs: “Roadrunner Blues” and “You Don’t Get To,” which were shared yesterday. The latter is an expansive near-eight-minute song that builds to an extended instrumental jam at its climax and makes our Songs of the Week list. The double AA single is out now via Bella Union, the UK label home to both artists.

The two artists previously collaborated when Midlake was Grant’s backing band on his 2010-released debut album, Queen of Denmark.

Eric Pulido of Midake, who are based in Denton, Texas, had this to say about the new collaboration in a press release: “We loved making Queen of Denmark with John and furthering our love for him musically and personally. It’s been so great to see his star continue to rise and as fans and friends we’ve enjoyed opportunities to connect over the years. When we went on hiatus as Midlake in 2015, we launched a collaborative project called BNQT that was meant to partner with folks we admire in song. John was originally slated to be on the first volume but we were unable to connect at the time. When our schedules eventually aligned we got together in Denton to record these tunes, and the reunion was everything we’d hoped for. We decided to forego using the subsequent collaborations we recorded for BNQT and instead launch a series of collaborations with Midlake. This is the first of hopefully many to come, and who better to introduce our musical love affairs than the GMF, John Grant!”

John Grant, who is from Michigan but lives in Iceland, adds: “Very happy that these songs I did with Midlake are finally seeing the light of day. Eric Pulido asked me a couple of years ago to come to Denton and do a couple of songs for their BNQT project and of course I said yes, because working with Midlake on my first solo album Queen of Denmark was one of the greatest times in my life. We became like brothers during that time. I don’t get to see them often enough. I don’t think I want to live in Texas at this point in my life, but I often think about that time in Denton and the incredible people I know now because of it, and sometimes I am very tempted to go back there just so I can be around them. I had a blast doing these songs with them as I knew I would and I hope we get to do more in the future.”

Midlake’s last album was 2022’s For the Sake of Bethel Woods, which was their first new studio album in over eight years.

Grant’s last album, Boy from Michigan, came out in 2021.

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

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

Plus read our The End interview with John Grant. By Mark Redfern

4. TORRES: “Collect”

On Tuesday, TORRES (aka MacKenzie Scott) announced a new album, What an enormous room, and shared its first single, “Collect,” via a music video. She has also announced some new tour dates. What an enormous room is due out January 24, 2024 via Merge. Dani Okon directed the “Collect” video. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover artwork, as well as TORRES’ upcoming tour dates, here.

“This song is about justice being served. The rage song I’ve been trying to write for years!” says Scott of “Collect” in a press release.

Scott produced the album with Sarah Jaffe, recording it last fall at Durham, North Carolina’s Stadium Heights Sound. Ryan Pickett engineered the album, which was mixed overseas in Bristol by TJ Allen, and mastered by Heba Kadry.

Julien Baker wrote the album’s bio and had this to say: “What I can say about TORRES is I think the music comes from a convicted place…. And I think it’s just incredibly good music to listen to.”

TORRES’ last album, Thirstier, came out in 2021 via Merge.

Read our 2020 interview with TORRES on Silver Tongue.

Read our 2017 interview with TORRES on Three Futures.

Read our 2015 interview with TORRES on Sprinter. By Mark Redfern

5. Empty Country: “Dustine”

Empty Country—the latest project from Cymbals Eat Guitars frontman Joseph D’Agostino—debuted in 2020 with their self-titled record, marking D’Agostino’s first forays into the band’s yearning heartland rock and layered character portraits. Since then, he returned this year with a handful of new singles, “Pearl,” “Erkling,” and “David,” all teasing the band’s new album, Empty Country II.

Fittingly, the band’s sophomore record builds upon the foundation of its predecessor, finding D’Agostino grappling with the imagery of America’s cultural decay. The album’s stories are populated with gun violence, addiction, killers, misfits, and outcasts, exploring the desperation that runs beneath suburban life, yet sifting through it for moments of beauty. On Tuesday, he was back with the album’s fourth and final single, “Dustine,” premiering with Under the Radar.

“Dustine” is another winding sonic sprawl, colored by a pulsing bassline and gauzy guitars. The track begins as a vividly imagined road trip through the decaying suburbs of Virginia, dotted with opiate clinics, dead malls, and existential meditations (“My sister says there is a next life / No one I know will be there”). Interspersed with this imagery, D’Agostino layers in passages of gnarled guitar textures and a gentle piano-led interlude before truly letting loose in the track’s final leg, turning the track into a labyrinthine haze of effects.

Empty Country II is out November 3rd via Get Better Records in the U.S. and Tough Love Records in the UK. You can also read D’Agostino’s brief Q&A on the track here. By Caleb Campbell

6. Wild Nothing: “Dial Tone”

Wild Nothing (aka Jack Tatum) is releasing a new album, Hold, on October 27 via Captured Tracks. On Tuesday, he shared its third single, “Dial Tone,” via a music video. Min Soo Park directed the video (or visualizer as they are calling it), which features two lovers trying to find each other in a city.

Previously Wild Nothing shared the album’s first single, “Headlights On,” which features Hatchie and was shared via a music video. “Headlights On” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then he shared its second single, “Suburban Solutions,” via a music video. “Suburban Solutions” was also one of our Songs of the Week.

Tatum also announced that he is releasing two limited edition wines tied into Hold.

Wild Nothing’s last album, Indigo, his fourth, came out in August 2018 via Captured Tracks. Indigo was our Album of the Week and one of our Top 100 Albums of 2018. In 2020 he released the Laughing Gas EP, also via Captured Tracks.

Jorge Elbrecht (Japanese Breakfast) mixed “Headlights On,” which features drum production by Tommy Davidson of Beach Fossils, and backing vocals from Hatchie’s Harriette Pilbeam. Tatum self-produced Hold and Geoff Swan (Caroline Polachek, Charli XCX) mixed it. The album also features Molly Burch, Becca Mancari, and Tatum’s his wife, Dana.

“I’ve sat with this record for a very long time now, so naturally I’m both excited and apprehensive to let it see the light,” said Tatum of Hold in a previous press release. “It’s my first record as a father. My first self-produced record since my debut. It’s a record that deals in existential themes but doesn’t always take itself too seriously. It’s not afraid of pop but it’s hopefully not afraid to be strange either. It has fun, gets sad, dwells in the quiet moments and embraces the loud ones. It’s me doing what I love and feeling grateful for it.”

Read our 2018 interview with Wild Nothing on Indigo.

Read our 2018 Anatomy of a Song article on Wild Nothing where he detailed Indigo single “Partners in Motion.”

Also read our review of Indigo.

Wild Nothing’s 2012 album, Nocturne, was Under the Radar’s #1 album of that year.

Read our 2016 interview with Wild Nothing. By Mark Redfern

7. Gruff Rhys: “Celestial Candyfloss”

On Tuesday, Gruff Rhys, Welsh frontman of Super Furry Animals, announced a new solo album, Sadness Sets Me Free, and shared its first single, “Celestial Candyfloss,” via a music video. Sadness Sets Me Free is due out January 26, 2024 via Rough Trade. Mark James directed the video for “Celestial Candyfloss.” Check out the album’s tracklist and cover artwork, as well as Rhys’ upcoming tour dates, here.

In a press release, Rhys says the new song “is an attempted pocket symphony about the cosmic lengths that people will travel in the pursuit of love and acceptance. Mark James has brought the Sadness Sets Me Free album cover to life and managed to place me watching TV interference in a shipping container that’s lost in space. For what is apparently the 25th album I’ve had a hand in writing I’ve reverted to a rich seam of inspiration relating to shedding some light on sadness and the general terror of cosmic loneliness.”

Rhys’ backing band on the album features Osian Gwynedd (piano), Huw V Williams (double bass), and former Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock (drums). Sadness Sets Me Free was recorded at La Frette Studios, a studio on the outskirts of Paris in a 19th-century house. The initial recordings were done in only three days. Kate Stables from This is the Kit contributed backing vocals (Rhys produced This is the Kit’s latest album, Careful of Your Keepers, which came out in June). Sadness Sets Me Free is the 25th album Rhys has released, taking into account Super Furry Animals, his solo work, and various side-projects.

“At this point I quite like working with serendipity,” he says. “Not in a cosmic way, [but] I try and leave things open to chance encounters and chance geography. As I’m around 25 albums in I’m always looking for ways to make a different-sounding record.”

Back in February, Rhys released the soundtrack for the film The Almond and the Seahorse via Rough Trade. His last regular solo album was 2021’s Seeking New Gods. It was one of our Top 100 Albums of the 2021. In 2022 he also shared the new songs “People Are Pissed” and “Arogldarth.” “People Are Pissed” was one of our Songs of the Week.

Read our 2015 interview with Gruff Rhys. By Mark Redfern

Honorable Mentions:

These songs almost made the Top 7.

Chromeo: “Personal Effects”

Cory Hanson: “Western Cum”

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: “Theia,” “The Silver Cord,” and “Set”

Sleater-Kinney: “Hell”

Here’s a handy Spotify playlist featuring the Top 10 in order, followed by all the honorable mentions:

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