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Saturday, February 4th, 2023  

12 Best Songs of the Week: Black Belt Eagle Scout, Lael Neale, Caroline Polachek, Girl Ray, and More

Plus Wings of Desire, Alex Lahey, The WAEVE, H. Hawkline, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

Feb 03, 2023
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Welcome to the fifth Songs of the Week of 2023. There were lots of strong contenders this week, the Top 7 is especially solid. We settled on a Top 12 this week.

Don’t forget to check out our Top 100 Albums of 2022 list.

In the past week or so we posted interviews with new London-based band Italia 90 and basketball legend Craig Hodges.

In the last week we reviewed some albums.

Remember that our current print issue, the My Favorite Movie Issue, is out now.

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, followed by some honorable mentions. Check out the full list below.

1. Black Belt Eagle Scout: “Spaces”

Black Belt Eagle Scout (aka Swinomish Indian Tribal Community-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Katherine Paul) is releasing a new album, The Land, The Water, The Sky, on February 10 via Saddle Creek. Yesterday, she shared its fourth single, “Spaces,” via a music video. The affecting song features Paul’s parents on backing vocals and the video features her dad. It’s an especially chill-inducing moment when he father’s vocals come in and then the songs builds from there. We’ve had an advance copy of The Land, The Water, The Sky for several months now and this has been one of our favorites from the album ever since we first heard it.

This week Paul also announced some new tour dates for April and May (check them out here). Evan Benally Atwood and Morningstar Angeline directed the video, from a concept by Quinn Christopherson.

Paul had this to say about “Spaces” in a press release: “I wrote ‘Spaces’ for an audience as a way to sing melodies of healing and care for them. Since starting Black Belt Eagle Scout, I have moved through many spaces, playing shows for crowds of people. I can’t always connect one on one with everyone and so this song is an attempt to bring my feelings of appreciation I have for everyone who supports my music to life. My parents lend their voices in the chorus melody, my dad with his strong pow wow voice and my mom with her wholesome tone that sounds so similar to mine you can barely notice the distinction between me and her. I want this song to be an offering for those who need to grasp onto something and feel because through feeling and being together, there is healing.”

Of the video, Paul says: “It was incredible to incorporate my family trade of carving within the music video. My dad has been carving Coast Salish style art for over 50 years. I grew up around it and learned how to carve and paint when I was a teenager. This video shows a creation process and the kind of intimacy we give to our art. In the video, we carve an eagle out of yellow cedar. The eagle is representative of strength and guidance.”

In October Black Belt Eagle Scout shared the album’s closing track, “Don’t Give Up,” which was one of our Songs of the Week. When the album was announced in November, Black Belt Eagle Scout shared its second single, opening track “My Blood Runs Through This Land,” via a music video for the song (which was #1 on our Songs of the Week list). Then she shared the album’s third single, “Nobody,” via a music video. “Nobody” was also #1 on our Songs of the Week list.

The Land, The Water, The Sky is the follow-up to 2019’s At the Party With My Brown Friends, also released via Saddle Creek.

In 2020, Paul returned to her ancestral lands from Portland during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I created The Land, The Water, The Sky to record and reflect upon my journey back to my homelands and the challenges and the happiness it brought,” she said in a previous press release.

Read our interview with Black Belt Eagle Scout on her debut album, Mother of My Children, along with our 2018 politically themed interview with her.

Black Belt Eagle Scout was featured on our Covers of Covers compilation, which came out in 2022 via American Laundromat.

2. Lael Neale: “I Am the River”

On Tuesday, Lael Neale announced a new album, Star Eaters Delight, and shared its first single, “I Am the River,” via a self-directed music video. She has also announced some tour dates. Star Eaters Delight is due out April 21 via Sub Pop. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover artwork, as well as the tour dates, here.

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,” explains Neale in a press release.

Guy Blakeslee produced the album with Neale.

Read our 2021 interview with Lael Neale.

3. Caroline Polachek: “Blood and Butter”

Caroline Polachek (formerly of Chairlift) is releasing a new album, Desire, I Want To Turn Into You, on February 14 via Perpetual Novice. On Tuesday, she shared the album’s newest single, “Blood and Butter,” as well as revealing the album’s tracklist. Polachek co-produced “Blood and Butter” with Danny L. Harle and the song features Scottish bagpipes by Brìghde Chaimbeul. Check out the album’s tracklist, as well as Polachek’s upcoming tour dates (including some newly added shows), here.

Previously she shared the album’s main single, “Welcome to My Island,” which was produced by Polachek alongside Dan Nigro, Dan Harle, and Jim-E Stack. It was shared back in December and was #2 on our Songs of the Week list. In December she also shared a music video for the song. In January she shared two remixes of “Welcome to My Island,” one by Charli XCX (who sings on the rework) and The 1975’s George Daniel, and another by UK dance trio PVA.

Desire, I Want To Turn Into You also features 2022 singles “Bunny is a Rider” and “Billions.”

Polachek’s last album, Pang, came out in 2019.

4. Girl Ray: “Everybody’s Saying That”

On Wednesday, London trio Girl Ray shared a new song, “Everybody’s Saying That,” via a music video. Ben H Allen (Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective, MIA, Belle & Sebastian) produced the song, which finds the band embracing ’70s disco, as filtered through modern indie-pop. Alice Harding directed the video, which fittingly takes place at a club, complete with a rollerskating dancer. The single is out now via Moshi Moshi.

“The lyrics on this single were inspired by the straight-to-the-heart simplicity of the disco greats,” says singer/guitarist Poppy Hankin in a press release. “I wrote it while missing my partner while on tour in 2020, and it plays on themes of new love and self-doubt. Musically we took reference from the nu-disco resurgence that seemed to be taking off in 2020, in particular from the likes of Kylie Minogue (Disco), Jessie Ware (What’s Your Pleasure?), Dua Lipa (Future Nostalgia), and Róisín Murphy (Róisín Machine). We were really inspired by all of these women re-imagining disco.”

Hankin had this to say about the video: “We met Alice, the director, while we were all working in a coffee truck on film sets over the pandemic. Alice is the special kind of person you can put total faith in and know she’ll make something amazing, so when she agreed to direct our video we were beyond excited. We wanted the video to have an emphasis on atmosphere and colour rather than narrative to fit in with the feel of the song, which Alice achieved wonderfully. Lyrically the song is about longing, and even though it was filmed in Slough, the video has pure Hollywood vibes thanks to a hugely talented cast and crew, and countless favours that Alice managed to pull in. We hope you enjoy it.”

Harding adds: “It was such a pleasure to direct this video for Girl Ray. We forayed into the underground to a party harking back to the halcyon days of Studio 54—in a boy-meets-boy story of love, lust, music and pure ’70s disco joy.”

When we last covered Girl Ray, in 2021, they had shared a cover of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s 2001 song “Murder on the Dancefloor,” via a music video.

The trio also took part in our 20th Anniversary Covers of Covers album last year, covering HAIM’s “Another Try.”

In 2021, the trio shared the song “Give Me Your Love,” which was produced by Joe Goddard and Al Doyle from Hot Chip and was one of our Songs of the Week. Their most recent album, Girl, came out in 2019 via Moshi Moshi.

In 2020 we posted a mini-documentary on Girl Ray, where we visited their home studio. Watch the James Loveday-directed film here.

Also read our My Firsts interview with the band from 2019.

Girl was the follow-up to their 2017-released debut album, Earl Grey (it was our Album of the Week and #3 on our Top 15 Debut Albums of 2017 list).

Read our Pleased to Meet You interview with Girl Ray and check out our exclusive photo shoot with the band.

5. Wings of Desire: “Runnin’”

On Monday, British duo Wings of Desire (Chloe Little and James Taylor) shared a new song, “Runnin’,” via a music video. The single is out now via WMD. Check out the band’s upcoming UK tour dates here.

In a press release, the duo collectively had this to say about the new song: “Running endlessly in circles under the tight grip of a culture designed to distract us from ourselves. Do we still believe that the internet knows what’s best for us? Maybe it’s time to get off the wheel and see what’s outside.”

“Runnin’” follows “Choose a Life,” a new song the band shared last year that was one of our Songs of the Week. The press releases promises more new music in 2023 and hints that an album or EP might be on the way.

In 2021, Wings of Desire released the EP Amun-Ra.

6. Alex Lahey: “Good Time”

On Tuesday, Australian singer/songwriter Alex Lahey announced a new album, The Answer Is Always Yes, and shared a new song from it, “Good Time,” via a music video. She has also announced a North American tour. The Answer Is Always Yes is due out May 19 via Liberation. Lahey co-directed the “Good Time” video with Jon Danovic and stars as a standup comic. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art, as well as the tour dates, here.

“This song was inspired by a night out I had at the pub with my friend soon after Melbourne came out of lengthy lockdowns,” says Lahey of “Good Time,” in a press release. “We were watching all these strangers around us have this ‘whatever it takes’ attitude towards making the most of the night (aka getting lit). It was a bit of a shock after being cooped up for so long, but also kind of invigorating.”

Of the new album as a whole, Lahey says: “Living in a world that wasn’t made for you makes you pretty strong and adaptive, and you find the fun in it. It also makes you realize how absurd everything is. With this record, I wanted to get weird because the world is weird, and it’s even weirder when you realize you don’t fit into it all the time.”

The Answer Is Always Yes is the first time Lahey has worked with outside producers and songwriters. Jacknife Lee (U2, Taylor Swift) co-wrote and co-produced “Good Time,” for example.

“I’ve made two records doing it all by myself and now I’ve proved to myself that I can do it,” Lahey says. “But it was also at a point where I was like, ‘If I do that again, I kind of know what it’s gonna sound like’ and I don’t think I’m interested in that right now.”

Of the album’s title, Lahey adds: “I feel like if you’re saying yes and you’re exploring, you’re always moving. That’s the part of life that I’m in right now. I just don’t wanna stop.”

The Answer Is Always Yes is Lahey’s third album and the follow-up to 2019’s The Best of Luck Club. It includes two 2022 singles. In August 2022 Lahey shared the new song, “Congratulations,” via a video where she married herself. “Congratulations” was one of our Songs of the Week. In November 2022 she shared “Shit Talkin’,” which was also one of our Songs of the Week.

In 2021, Lahey shared the song “On My Way” from the animated Netflix film The Mitchells vs. the Machines, and it nabbed a spot on our Songs of the Week list. That was followed by another new song, “Spike the Punch,” shared in October 2021 and also one of our Songs of the Week. Neither song is on The Answer Is Always Yes.

Lahey was also one of the artists on our 20th anniversary Covers of Covers album, where she covered St. Vincent’s “New York.”

Read our 2017 interview with Alex Lahey.

7. The WAEVE: “Undine”

The WAEVE—a new duo consisting of Rose Elinor Dougall and Blur guitarist Graham Coxon—released their self-titled debut album today via Transgressive. All the album’s singles have made our Songs of the Week list, but there’s one album track we really love too, “Undine.” It’s nearly eight-minutes long and the mini-epic starts with Dougall’s solo vocals, before Coxon comes in about halfway through and then their vocals beautifully blend. Coxon’s sax playing adds interesting accents throughout and the swelling strings at the end recall some of Dougall’s previous solo work. It’s a thoroughly enthralling concoction. Hopefully The WAEVE will finally be the project to expose Dougall to a much larger audience and it’s definitely the best thing Coxon has done outside of Blur.

Previously The WAEVE shared the album’s first single, “Can I Call You,” via a video for it. “Can I Call You” was #1 on our Songs of the Week list. Then they shared the album’s second single, the atmospheric and epic slow-burner “Drowning,” which was also #1 on our Songs of the Week list. The album’s third single, “Kill Me Again,” was shared via a music video and also one of our Songs of the Week. The album’s fourth single, “Over and Over,” again landed on our Songs of the Week list.

James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence & The Machine, Foals, HAIM) produced The WAEVE, which was recorded earlier this year. Dougall and Coxon started trading messages during lockdown, around Christmas 2020, and the project grew from there.

Many of the tracks feature Coxon on saxophone, one of the first instruments he picked up when he initially became a musician. Reference points for the album in the press release include: Sandy Denny, John & Beverly Martyn, Kevin Ayers, and Van der Graaf Generator.

A previous press release describes the band’s sound in more detail: “A liquid meeting of musical minds and talents. A powerful elixir of cinematic British folk-rock, post-punk, organic songwriting and freefall jamming. The WAEVE strikes that magical English folk-rock alchemy of earth and ether. Heaviness and weightlessness. Darkness and light.”

The project was announced in April and in May they shared their debut single, “Something Pretty,” which made it to #1 on our Songs of the Week list and actually isn’t featured on the album. Previously they also shared a trailer for the band.

Dougall is one of the artists on the cover of our special 20th Anniversary print issue, where you can read an exclusive interview with her.

Dougall released her last solo album, A New Illusion, in April 2019 via Vermillion (it was our Album of the Week and one of our Top 100 Albums of 2019). In November 2019 she has shared a new song, “How Long,” a non-album track Dougall said was the last song to be shared from the A New Illusion sessions. “How Long” was one of our Songs of the Week.

Read our interview with Dougall on A New Illusion.

Also read our interview with Dougall on her all-time favorite album.

Plus read our review of A New Illusion.

8. H. Hawkline: “Plastic Man”

H. Hawkline (aka Huw Evans) is releasing a new album, Milk For Flowers, which was produced by Cate Le Bon, on March 10 via Heavenly. On Monday, he shared another single from it, “Plastic Man,” via a music video.

Evans had this to say about the song in a press release: “The last song written for the album, need more than must, twirling cane and top hat gliding down a molten stairway in the middle of summer. Tim Presley wrote that opening guitar line—I watched him piece it together like a scribble, animating itself into a Muybridge off-cut.”

Amusingly, the video for “Plastic Man” is almost exactly the same as the one for the album’s title track, “Milk For Flowers,” which was shared last year. If you watch both videos, some of the vocals from “Plastic Man” match up with Evans’ mouth movements and at other parts in the video the vocals are synched to “Milk For Flowers.” Evans explains: “‘I’m going to make one video and just change the music.’ I laughed to myself, thinking about it, and then I thought about it and it made sense. Sometimes your song changes but everything else stays the same; it causes previously dormant plates of emotion to grind against the familiar and mundane, new monuments jut up from your earth, empty buildings, a landscape rearranged.”

Check out the “Milk For Flowers” video here.

In December we posted about the album’s previous single, “Suppression Street,” which was one of our Songs of the Week.

9. Frankie Rose: “Sixteen Ways”

Frankie Rose is releasing her first new album in six years, Love As Projection, on March 10 via Slumberland. On Tuesday, she shared its second single, “Sixteen Ways,” via a music video. Scott Kiernan directed the video, which was choreographed by Neil Schwartz and features dancers Dainique Jones, Misato Obana, Youlmae Kim, and Shion Uesaka.

Rose had this to say in a press release: “I wanted to make a dance video choreographed by 80s Baby (Neil Shwartz) but with the ESPTV (Scott Kiernan) aesthetic. I trusted them completely and just let them create a world for me. The result is a video that feels like a fever dream in the black lodge complete with my very own machine elves.”

Schwartz had this to add: “I wanted to make sure that the movement matched the aesthetic and wanted to create clean lines focusing more toward the upper body. We focused on the arms to create flowing pictures that would match and complement the synths, beats, and Vocals, and overall musicality of the track. I wanted to give individuality movement to each dancer while still including a cohesive sea of flowing colors that complimented each dancer to bring about a visual harmony of pictures and shapes.”

Previously Frankie Rose shared the album’s first single, “Anything,” which was one of our Songs of the Week.

A previous press release described the album in more detail: “Painstakingly written, recorded, and engineered through some of the most tumultuous times in history, this new collection of songs harnesses the power and propulsion of Frankie’s early DIY-centric punk days without losing sight of the immersive, dreamlike world-building she’s been known for in recent years. Her love of new wave hooks and post-punk drive remain omnipresent, elevated by her utilization of modern production and an improved, polished palate of state-of-the-art instrumentation.”

Rose’s last regular album was the sci-fi themed Cage Tropical, released in 2017 via Slumberland/Grey Market. Although in 2019 she did release an album in which she covered The Cure’s 1980-released album Seventeen Seconds in its entirety as part of Turntable Kitchen’s Sounds Delicious series.

10. Whitney: “For a While”

On Tuesday, Chicago duo Whitney (Julien Ehlrich and Max Kakacek) shared a new song, “For a While,” and announced some new U.S. tour dates for March. Check out the tour dates here.

“For a While” is actually an earlier song, a live favorite from the era of their 2016-released debut album, Light Upon the Lake, and was a live favorite back when it was titled “Rolling Blackouts.” The song was finally recorded in 2022. Whitney produced the song with Brad Cook, Jonathan Rado, and Ziyad Asrar, It features contributions from Macie Stewart (violin), Will Miller (horns), Lia Kohl (cello), Malcom Brown (keys), Rado (organ), and Asrar (synth).

Ehrlich had this to say about the song in a press release: “The lyrics of ‘For a While’ were inspired by a time Max and I drove past a burning car on the side of the highway in Northern Illinois. From what we could see everyone made it out safely, but in that moment we were both struck by the ubiquity of anonymous tragedy. Over the course of writing ‘For A While’ that experience evolved into a feeling of gratitude and love for all the people who aren’t able to be with us today. We’ve been working on this song for a few years and a few different phases of our lives. It’s seen some people come and go. We love you all.”

“For a While” follows SPARK, which will be out last September via Secretly Canadian. Their previous album, Forever Turned Around, came out in 2019.

Read our My Favorite Album interview with the band.

11. New German Cinema: “Being Dead”

Today, New German Cinema, the solo project of Fear of Men’s Jessica Weiss, shared a new song, “Being Dead,” via a music video.

Weiss had this to say about the video: “The video is self directed, in the Ossuary of Hythe church, which has the best collection of preserved human skulls and bones in Britain.”

Alex DeGroot, a former Zola Jeus collaborator, produced the song, which is available on Bandcamp. In February 2022 New German Cinema shared the song “I Become Heavy.”

In 2020, Fear of Men shared the track “Into Strangeness,” which was one of our Songs of the Week. Their most recent album, Fall Forever, came out in 2016 via Kanine. Read our interview with the band on Fall Forever. Also check out our The End interview with Weiss.

12. Petite Noir: “Blurry” (Feat. Sampa the Great)

On Wednesday, Petite Noir announced a new album, MotherFather, and shared a new song from it, “Blurry” (which features Sampa the Great), via a music video. MotherFather is due out April 14 via Warp. Hector Aponysus directed the “Blurry” video. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.

Petite Noir is the half-Congolese, half-Angolan, South Africa-raised artist Yannick Ilunga. He’s currently based in Paris and London. MotherFather features “Simple Things,” a new song Petite Noir shared back in November that was one of our Songs of the Week. In 2022 he also shared the album’s “Numbers.”

In 2018, Petite Noir released the mini-album, La Maison Noir / The Black House, via Roya. His last full-length album, La Vie Est Belle / Life Is Beautiful, was also his debut and it came out in 2015 via Domino.

Ilunga had this to say about the single in a press release: “‘Blurry’ is a song about growth in love. Being ready to take that next step whether it means being together or apart. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just move forward with your life solo. Choosing you above all.”

Sampa the Great adds: “I felt so honored to be able to work with Petite Noir. I’ve looked up to him and his music for a while and I’m truly inspired by his courage in paving the way for alternative musicians in Africa who feel like they don’t fit into one genre or one style.”

A press release says that MotherFather has a subtitle: “The darkness is comforting sometimes.”

Ilunga further explains: “It’s about going through the darkness. But it’s also about rebirth. Because the dark times are needed for us to grow.”

Also read our 2015 Pleased to Meet You interview with Petite Noir.

Honorable Mentions:

These songs almost made the Top 12.

The Black Tones: “Blue Matrimony”

Cheekface: “The Fringe”

Death Valley Girls: “Magic Powers”

The Go! Team: “The Me Frequency”

Unknown Mortal Orchestra: “Layla”

Westerman: “CSI: Petralona”

Yves Tumor: “Echolalia”

Here’s a handy Spotify playlist featuring the Top 11 in order, followed by all the honorable mentions:

(Note: The New German Cinema and Black Tones songs aren’t currently on Spotify and so they’re not on the playlist.)

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