9 Best Songs of the Week: The Mountain Goats, Mitski, Ratboys, A. Savage, and More | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, July 24th, 2024  

9 Best Songs of the Week: The Mountain Goats, Mitski, Ratboys, A. Savage, and More

Plus L’Rain, Anjimile, GUM, Patio, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

Aug 25, 2023 Bookmark and Share

Welcome to the 26th Songs of the Week of 2023. Last week’s Songs of the Week was our first one after a month-long hiatus and there were a lot of strong choices (plus we put together a playlist of all the great songs we missed while on vacation). This week, the pickings weren’t as plentiful, but there were still some new tracks we liked.

In the past week or so we posted interviews with Ratboys, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Lloyd Cole, Tom A. Smith, Bethany Cosentino, director/actor Amy Redford, Picture Parlour, 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 9 best the last week had to offer, followed by some honorable mentions. Check out the full list below.

1. The Mountain Goats: “Fresh Tattoo”

The Mountain Goats are releasing a new album, Jenny from Thebes, on October 27 via Merge. On Wednesday they shared its second single, “Fresh Tattoo,” and announced some new December tour dates. “Fresh Tattoo” features Alicia Bognanno from Bully on guitar, horns by Matt Douglas and Evan Ringel, and backing vocals from Matt Nathanson. Check out all their upcoming tour dates here.

Frontman John Darnielle had this to say about the song in a press release: “I wrote ‘Fresh Tattoo’ over the course of several sessions at the piano in March of 2022. I felt an affinity for the story in it and for how it developed, and I was proud of the song. In December that year, I sent it to my old friend Matt Nathanson, who hosted the open mic night where The Mountain Goats got their start back in the early ’90s. Come sing on my song, man, I said, I wouldn’t even be here without you. I’ll be there, he said.

“Sometimes when I go into the studio, I fret that we won’t be able to translate my alone-with-an-instrument vision to the big room. But what my band, and Trina Shoemaker, and Alicia Bognanno, and good old Matt Nathanson did with it exceeded even my highest expectations. When Jon breaks into straight 4/4 at the song’s climax it feels like a high-performance car emerging from a turn into a straightaway at 120mph at dawn somewhere on the plains.

“‘Fresh Tattoo’ is the flashpoint in the story of who Jenny is and how she came to leave Texas. In it, she gets a tattoo of a shield on her arm, and, on her way home, sees a guy who needs help. This will be her last lodger, and it’s her first tattoo, and the day will prove to be decisive in her story. Listening to Matt put down the harmonies on it in Tulsa earlier this year was one of the best moments I’ve ever had in my musical life; it meant so much to make something new with him, I wouldn’t even be here without him. I’m very happy to share it with the world today.”

Previously The Mountain Goats shared the album’s first single, “Clean Slate,” which was one of our Songs of the Week.

The title character from Jenny from Thebes prominently appeared in their 2002 album All Hail West Texas, as well as in the albums Jam Eater Blues (2001) and Transcendental Youth (2012).

A press release describes the story and themes of the new album in more detail: “Jenny from Thebes is the story of Jenny, her southwestern ranch style house, the people for whom that house is a place of safety, and the west Texas town that is uncomfortable with its existence. It is a story about the individual and society, about safety and shelter and those who choose to provide care when nobody else will.”

Darnielle regards Jenny from Thebes as a sequel of sorts to All Hail West Texas, which was much more lo-fi in nature. “If we’re going to do a sequel to a record that was recorded almost entirely on a boombox,” Darnielle says, “why not do the opposite and make it as big as possible?”

The Mountain Goats’ last album was 2022’s Bleed Out.

Check out our “Why Not Both” podcast featuring The Mountain Goats. By Mark Redfern

2. Mitski: “Heaven”

Mitski is releasing a new album, The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We, on September 15 via Dead Oceans. On Wednesday she shared two more new songs from it, “Heaven” and “Star.” Our writers collectively gravitated towards “Heaven,” so that makes the main list, with “Star” an honorable mention below.

She also announced some new UK and European tour dates, check those out here.

Mitski worked with arranger/conductor Drew Erickson and a full orchestra at Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles on both songs. A press release mentions Patsy Cline in relation to “Heaven” and compares “Star” to the works of Scott Walker.

The tour dates are described as “intimate acoustic performances” and they have a title: Amateur Mistake.

Mitksi previously shared a music video for the album’s lead single, “Bug Like an Angel,” which was one of our Songs of the Week.

Mitski wrote the songs for The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We in bursts over the years. The LP was mainly recorded at the Bomb Shelter in Nashville and co-produced by Patrick Hyland.

The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We is the follow-up to 2022’s Laurel Hell, which was featured on our Top 100 Albums of 2022 list.

Read our review of Laurel Hell here.

Mitski’s Be the Cowboy was #2 on our Top 100 Albums of 2018 list and landed her on the cover of our print magazine.

Read our cover story interview with Mitski on Be the Cowboy. By Mark Redfern

3. Ratboys: “No Way”

Chicago indie rockers Ratboys released a new album, The Window today via Topshelf. Even though all of its singles made our Songs of the Week lists, now that it’s out we can also highlight an album track we really like, “No Way.”

Plus today we posted our new interview with the band about The Window, as well as our rave review of the album (both written by Mark Moody). Read the interview here and the review 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.

Ratboys previously shared various singles from the album: “It’s Alive” (which was #1 on our Songs of the Week list), “Black Earth, WI” (which also made our Songs of the Week list), “The Window” (also one of our Songs of the Week), and “Morning Zoo” (again a Songs of the Week pick).

Read our 2021 interview with Ratboys. By Mark Redfern

4. A. Savage: “Elvis in the Army”

On Wednesday, A. Savage (aka Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts) announced a new album, Several Songs About Fire, and shared a new song from it, “Elvis in the Army,” via a music video. Several Songs About Fire is due out October 6 via Rough Trade. He’s also announced some tour dates. Emile Moutaud directed the “Elvis in the Army” video. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover artwork, as well as all of Savage’s upcoming tour dates, here.

Savage had this to say about “Elvis in the Army” in a press release: “We often describe ourselves in geographic terms. American, New Yorker—two terms that I’ve used to identify myself that have to do with being from or of a certain place. So ‘Elvis in the Army’ is a bit of an inventory of those labels. They have less to do with geography than we realize. Really we’re just talking about ourselves, then framing certain characteristics geographically. No matter where I live I’ll have an American psyche until the day I die, for better or for worse. I’ll always be of America. And I can’t imagine a time where New York doesn’t feel like home. But despite that, I’d rather not be associated with a place, at least for now.”

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. 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: “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

5. L’Rain: “Pet Rock”

This week, L’Rain (aka multi-instrumentalist Taja Cheek) announced a new album, I Killed Your Dog, and shared its first single, “Pet Rock,” via a music video. She also announced some fall tour dates. I Killed Your Dog is due out October 13 via Mexican Summer. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover artwork, as well as the upcoming tour dates, here.

Cheek says of “Pet Rock” in a press release: “The song is based around an old story I’d been told about a woman who was riding the train but looked strange, and the reader eventually figures out that she’s dead, with glasses on, being propped up by the people that seem to have harmed her. As a lifelong collector of tchotchkes, the music video is based on a concept I came up with featuring miniatures.”

Cheek worked with long-time collaborators Andrew Lappin and Ben Chapoteau-Katz on I Killed Your Dog, which is her third full-length. By Mark Redfern

6. Anjimile: “Animal”

Anjimile (full name Anjimile Chithambo) is releasing a new album, The King, on September 8 via 4AD, his first album for the label. On Wednesday, he shared its third single, “Animal,” via a music video. The protest song was inspired by the death of George Floyd and Anjimile notably sings “If you treat me like an animal/I’ll be an animal.” Robby Operman directed the video.

A press release describes the song in more detail: “‘Animal’ is a protest song about police brutality, written in the summer of 2020 and explicitly references the death of George Floyd. Like the rest of The King, every sound heard on ‘Animal’ comes from two instruments: an acoustic guitar and Anjimile’s own voice. Throughout, Anjimile’s feelings of rage and frustration are tinged with sardonicism.”

Previously Anjimile shared the album’s title track, “The King,” which was one of our Songs of the Week. Then he shared its second single, the short and delicate “Father,” via a lyric video.

The King is the follow-up to 2020’s Giver Taker, Anjimile’s debut album, released via Father/Daughter. Anjimile worked on The King for a year in Los Angeles with Shawn Everett. Most of the songs are based around acoustic guitar and Anjimile’s voice, but the album also features contributions from Justine Bowe, Brad Allen Williams, Sam Gendel, and James Krivchenia (Big Thief).

“If Giver Taker was an album of prayers, The King is an album of curses,” Anjimile said in a previous press release.

In 2021 Anjimile announced that he had signed to 4AD and has shared his debut single for the label, “Stranger,” which is not featured on The King.

Read our interview with Anjimile on Giver Taker, and check out our podcast interview with him, where he discusses the Reunion EP. By Mark Redfern

7. GUM: “Music Is Bigger Than Hair”

GUM is releasing a new album, Saturnia, on September 15 via Spinning Top. Yesterday he shared another new song from it, “Music Is Bigger Than Hair,” via a music video. GUM is the solo project Australian psych-pop musician Jay Watson, who is also a member of both Tame Impala and POND. Check out GUM’s upcoming U.S. tour dates this October here.

Watson had this to say about the song in a press release: “‘Music Is Bigger Than Hair’ is a funny title, I think it’s referring to me getting older and feeling my mortality a little bit more, or at least my worth as a musician being tied up in the way I look. Feeling like it’s affecting my music, as if it has anything to do with it. Musically it’s one of my favorites because of Jesse Kotanskys beautiful string arrangement.”

Saturnia includes “Race to the Air,” a new song GUM shared in May that was one of our Songs of the Week. When the album was announced in July Watson shared its single “Would It Pain You to See?”

Of writing the new album, Watson says: “Because of COVID and because I had a new kid, for the first time ever I would write songs and think about them months on end. I’d always been a bit of a lazy arranger, but this time I was working on different sections in my head for months.”

Of his intentions with Saturnia, Watson says: “My dream was to make one coherent record that sounded the same all the way through, but it’s just so hard when you like so much different stuff! I wanted the whole album to sound like Nick Drake at the very beginning, but it just doesn’t work out like that. I’ve got so much equipment and stuff to play with that even if I start with something that sounds like Nick Drake, I’ll starting adding things and playing with it and it will take it away into somewhere else immediately.”

GUM’s last album was 2020’s Out In the World, released via Spinning Top.

In 2020 we interviewed Watson as part of our COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In series and you can read that interview here. By Mark Redfern

8. Patio: “Relics”

On Wednesday, New York post-punk, trio Patio, released “Relics,” another song from their forthcoming album Collection, which is due out September 22 via Fire Talk.

Bassist Loren DiBlasi’s conversational almost deadpan vocal delivery is juxtaposed with taut, angular post-punk guitars on “Relics.” It’s a track that explores Catholicism and real-life tragic figures like Beatrice Cenci, and the criticism of Anne Carson, with an unmistakable sense of menace.

The band reveals in a press release: “Relics is a dark love song—and cautionary tale—about grief, sacrifice, and generational trauma. How much of yourself do you lose when you fall for someone else? And how much is in your control vs. pre-determined by destiny?” By Andy Von Pip

9. Squirrel Flower: “Alley Light”

On Tuesday, Squirrel Flower—the moniker of Chicago-based musician Ella Williams—released her new single/video, “Alley Light,” from her forthcoming album, Tomorrow’s Fire, out October 13 via Polyvinyl.

Williams cites artists who are adept at weaving narratives such as Bruce Springsteen as fonts of inspiration for Tomorrow’s Fire, and “Alley Light” is a perfect example, a song narrated from the perspective of a down-on-his-luck guy whose car is about to break down as is his relationship with a girl who just wants to escape.

The accompanying “Alley Light” video is helmed by Weird Life Productions and features the artwork and studio of Gwen Yen Chiu.

Of the track, Williams says: “This song is about the man in me, or a man who I love, or a man who is a stranger to me. The video references a neo-noir Chicago heist movie where they use this thermal metal contraption to cut into a safe. They run around the city making sparks fly and getting up to no good. I wanted to do all that.” By Andy Von Pip

Honorable Mentions:

These songs almost made the Top 9.

The Chemical Brothers: “Skipping Like a Stone” (Feat. Beck)

Das Koolies: “Out of This World”

Explosions in the Sky: “Moving On”

Lost Girls: “With the Other Hand”

Mitski: “Star”

Jane Remover: “Lips”

Here’s a handy Spotify playlist featuring the Top 9 in order, followed by all the honorable mentions:

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