034: Our Favorite Songs, July-September 2020
Tone Glow's writers highlight 25 songs from the year's third quarter
|Oct 6, 2020||6|
Edited still from O menino e o mundo (Alê Abreu, 2013)
When Christo Vladimirov Javacheff—known mononymously as Christo—died earlier this year, I reflected on how I’d never seen any of his works in person. I’d seen documentaries, I’d read a book on his and Jeanne-Claude’s work, but suddenly I had to accept that an artist I’d admired could only ever be understood in the abstract. Speaking about their always-temporary large-scale installations, Christo once said that “Freedom is the enemy of possession, and possession is the equal of permanence. This is why the work cannot stay.”
It was pop music that led me to value ephemerality, and it was my voracious musical appetite that helped me realize a hard truth: to embrace fleeting experiences is to acknowledge the existence of things you’ll never witness or feel or love. There’s too much music in the world for any one lifetime—we all know this—but a list like the one below is nice because it helps quell any fear that there’s music we’ve missed. But more than just Good Songs, these 25 tracks and blurbs capture a specific period in time, a peek into the individual experiences we’re having in a collective moment of stress and isolation.
As Shy Thompson mentions in one of her blurbs here, once our thoughts are out in the open, they no longer belong to us. While we’re still waiting for the world to get better, we can find comfort in this communal freedom, one that’s inherent in public expression and being able to read that of others. Our lives are always-temporary, too—catch a glimpse while you can. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Anohni - “R.N.C. 2020” (Rebis Music)
As the days draw nearer to November, as our plans devolve to pipe dreams, as optimism renders itself outrageous, the inner scream grows in volume. In recent weeks when I have sat in my studio in an attempt to approach commissions, all activity outside the instantaneous has felt futile; for the first time in my life, my default impulse to self-immerse in long-term creative preoccupations has felt beyond me. I can barely recall the last time I let my lungs give out—often, the sounds I have allowed in my ears handle my share of shouting.
In the aftershock of the last presidential election, I spent hours with This Heat’s music, itself the crude collage-craft of improvised exorcisms of imperialist anxieties and the threat of nuclear warfare. In hearing Anohni’s art brut response to this year’s Republican National Convention, ostensibly recorded in a rush and centered around a repetitive sample from a soundboard recording from a gig in her early twenties, I recognize in an instant the same sense of urgency I associate with “24-Track Loop”; a discombobulated panic that also shows its ugly face in Graham Lambkin’s domestic dread or the erstwhile era (long gone) when Kanye’s solipsism still made room for the sociopolitical.
This is hardly the first time the elusive chanteuse has directly addressed our impending doom, but it hits much harder than Hopelessness ever has—while that record created overly patinated pop songs out of drone warfare, surveillance, capital punishment, i.e. all that which has no business being aestheticized for the dance floor despite its intentions, “R.N.C. 2020” places fear and loathing right at the head of the table with a gritty economy of means. This song is as much a mess as our present moment, the reminder that Phil Ochs once gave us that protest music is “a song so specific that you cannot mistake it for bullshit.” —Nick Zanca
Shabason, Krgovich & Harris - “Friday Afternoon” (Idée Fixe)
“I’ve basically just ended up singing about my boring life,” says Nicholas Krgovich midway through his enlightening interview with Emily Wirthlin for Tune Glue. Like his longtime friend and collaborator Phil Elverum, the Vancouver musician has a poet’s ability to magnify the smallest details of the everyday into soaring existential meditations. Yet instead of Elverum’s homespun folk or indie-rock with black metal flourishes, Krgovich’s latest album Philadelphia is painted with the soft pastels of sophisti-pop thanks to his instrumental cohorts Joseph Shabason and Chris Harris. “Friday Afternoon” finds him stuck in traffic, gazing at fellow drivers or the natural world outside his windows. It’s unclear what the final destination might be, but he arrives at a series of realizations early on: “Nothing goes away / nothing’s really solved.” As the song patiently unfolds across seven minutes, its sparse backdrop of chiming synths is joined by twinkling keys, twangy guitars, and the distant sound of children’s voices. Finding acceptance in a world that may never see an end to its mellow chaos, one repeated phrase becomes a helpful mantra: “Wrap your loving arms around it. —Jesse Locke
Purchase Philadelphia at Bandcamp.
Koffee - “Lockdown” (Promised Land Recordings)
Koffee begins “Lockdown” with a question: “Where will we go when di quarantine ting done and everybody touch road?” With a hopeful future looking increasingly distant, it’s nice to hear some optimism. But Koffee doesn’t just spend the song dreaming, she makes use of the now, allowing for a reversal of the song’s title make evident a crucial element to surviving the moment. “I put yuh body pon lockdown” she sings, with vocal filigrees breezing over a slick, featherlight beat. When the song finally slows down in its final seconds, Koffee allows for a moment of secondhand reflection. “Baby are you feeling me? / ’Cause I’m really feeling you” is so simple and direct that it forces an acknowledgement of much-needed affection in times of physical and emotional distancing. My favorite songs of the summer generally allow for immense replayability—innocuity is gold—but despite how easy “Lockdown” goes down, every listen still had me assess: How much am I investing in the relationships I currently have, romantic or not? It’s intimacy-as-survival, both in the long-term and the everyday. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
DJ Autopay - “More Femme, More Masc (It's Pride Black Pride Mix)” (HAUS of ALTR)
This has been a quarter of such astonishing loneliness, of not being able to see loved ones and watching loved ones not be able to see their loved ones one last time; of managing to conquer viral fear and gather in rage, enraged at the stakes of physical affection; of knowing being together is temporary, and knowing the sadness will come soon after, like a burning stomach after another tequila too many. I believe in music of celebration. And I know joy is the most difficult to embody. The constellation of stars variously orbiting around the Towhead Recordings and HAUS of ALTR labels have made lifetimes of records this year, months and months of nights-worth of tracks for clubs that hopefully aren’t open at the moment and parties most don’t feel like having.
The ongoing HAUS of ALTR comps are sonic optimism, proof of the ongoing centrality of Black figures in electronic music, and fucking spiritually invigorating. DJ Autopay’s “More Femme, More Masc (It’s Pride Black Pride Mix)” off HOA011 caught me in its clutches as summer turned to fall. Its simplicity is its strength: bits of “Funky Drummer” bumping around on like a pair of revelers dancing in and out of sync with each other; a deep voice summoning the ghosts of Baltimore and Berliniamsburg with a deep chant of “Sometimes I’m more femme / Sometimes I’m more masc / I got it in my dress / You don’t need to ask.” Whispers and chimes pull up, and the voice murmurs the prayer from Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” And that’s mostly it, and it’s everything. The idea of jumping around in a hot, dark room with “I feel that I can be someone” swishing across this rush of breaks and bells feels almost impossibly hopeful. It’ll come. Until then, this track is a parade of one. —Jesse Dorris
Purchase HOA011 at Bandcamp.
Jayda G - “Both of Us (Jayda G Sunset Bliss Mix)” (Ninja Tune)
For awhile now, DJ and producer Jayda G has been releasing loose, groovy house music with one foot in the past and one in the present; her style is indebted to disco and early ’90s house as much as it is to the dazed and dubby sounds of the ’10s Vancouver dance scene. (If you want to hear these influences meet, check out her remix of Roza Terenzi’s “Yeh, Higher Places.”)
“Both of Us (Jayda G Sunset Bliss Mix)” is probably her most accessible and Ibiza-ready track to date. This would usually be a bad sign, but Jayda pulls it off beautifully; with its repeated “huh,” synth organ, and choppy piano chords, the song harkens back to early ’90s garage without feeling like a cheap facsimile. The would-be summer anthem’s refrain of “I just want to be with you” resonates differently during a global pandemic when many people are stuck inside and disconnected from others. A shot of pure euphoria during a shitty time. —Marina B.
Purchase Both of Us / Are You Down at Bandcamp.
MC Paulin da Capital & MC Neguinho do Kaxeta - “Dona Maria” (LoveFunk)
If we’re trying to ignore the innumerable ways the world is burning around us in the year 2020 then the pleasures of pop music are a beautiful way to distract oneself, and if we’re talking about pop music then it’s hard to think of an artist who is having a better year than MC Paulin Da Capital. Ever since the success of his smash hit “Eu Vachei” early this year, he’s been capitalizing by releasing a deluge of singles and collaborations. Most have followed a similar formula: Paulin sings his heart out over simple baile funk beats, throwing little growls, accents, and AutoTuned flourishes on his voice to complicate both the rhythm and the emotion of the sentimentally-charged melodies he belts out. It’s the same kind of trick Drake pulls, and I’d be very surprised if Paulin wasn’t pulling straight from his playbook—the goofy smile to contrast his gangster image, the nakedly emotional vocals, the endless series of collaborations to keep his name in the spotlight. You can see the contrast with MC Neiguinho Do Kaxeta, a major star in his own right, who favors pure unaccented vocal lines, letting the emotion of the song run straight through him. It’s the perfect combination for “Dona Maria.” They trade the same melodies and verses back and forth throughout the song, the simplicity allowing their passionate energy to echo out clearly within its framework. —Samuel McLemore
Sufjan Stevens - “My Rajneesh” (Asthmatic Kitty)
The new LP from our beloved Sufjan Stevens, The Ascension, seemed to confound a lot of people, who likely weren’t expecting a mean-spirited and almost entirely synthesized record from the guy who used to serenade us with strummy songs about America the Beautiful and Jesus. Yet Stevens offered us a bridge between those two worlds in July with the B-side to “America,” the epic Ascension single that made everyone lose their shit in anticipation of a record that sounds almost nothing like it. Make no mistake, “My Rajneesh” is a completely ridiculous song deserving of its B-side status, but it’s also quite interesting in how it combines Stevens’ old approach to narrative songwriting (which is absent on “America”) with the knob-twiddling-into-eternity, maximalist production choices he made on The Ascension.
Supposedly referencing the Netflix documentary about the Rajneesh movement in Oregon (I don’t know because I don’t watch television because it is stupid), “My Rajneesh” certainly does have a culty vibe to its childlike lyrics about partaking in naturalistic rituals and being blessed by the righteousness of God, although I suppose that’s applicable to many of Stevens’s songs. Yet here there’s no tweeness in his kitchen sink approach, no subtlety in the way it builds to climax after climax. It’s as if Stevens manically threw every sonic idea into the mix to see what stuck and found that everything did, which is how the song manages to have, like, 12 parts incorporating everything from a synth breakdown to vocoder vocals to horns to choirs, and yes even a section with handclaps. But fuck it, who needs an editor when you’re adored by the heavens? Thus there’s a moving and even loving spirituality infusing every part of “My Rajneesh,” even if overall it feels mostly like an experiment. But life is an experiment and, just like life, when the good bits hit on “My Rajneesh,” they feel cosmic and beknighted—a moment of glorious illumination before the ascension that never quite comes. —Mariana Timony
Purchase America at Bandcamp.
Taylor Swift - “Betty” (Republic)
In the rush of critics comparing Taylor Swift to every great musician under the sun as a well-intentioned attempt to get more listeners to take her seriously, an important point has been lost: Taylor Swift’s songs are her own and not other people’s. Seems obvious, right? One would think! Why yes, that harmonica beaming in and fading out immediately in the song’s intro might make one want to invoke Bob Dylan, especially since the song “Betty” comes from an album titled Folklore. But has Dylan ever written a line as charged and simple and primal as “But if I just showed up at your party / Would you have me?” Has Dylan ever documented the high school experience as the quintessential American experience? Has Dylan ever ridden a skateboard, much less lost his breathe when he passed by Alicia Keys’s house? Has Dylan ever been in a homeroom?
That fucking chorus. Suburban distance and silent ache and infinite night-times waiting for your phone to light up. She actually makes you feel like she (you) just showed up at the party; she actually makes you feel like the one she (you) have always wanted (but never wanted you as much) is leading her (you) to the garden. She might only be seventeen and not know anything but she knows as well as anyone that want turns to love. —Marshall Gu
Purchase Folklore at the Taylor Swift website.
Ichiko Aoba - “Seabed Eden” (Hermine)
While Ichiko Aoba prefers an upright piano over her usual, quiet guitar strums for “Seabed Eden,” her music still plays with a delicate stillness that’s familiar to her other records. But before you can fully settle into its intimate solitude, she begins the song with one crushing line carried by an equally defeated melody: “Even if one day I forget you / those eyes that I can’t put into words,” she sings under hushed breath like she knows she’s forever separated from such a beautiful sight; “I’ll cry / about love / and sing,” she later adds. Each successive lyric seems to trail off like Aoba is struggling more and more to sing them, and the music, too, slowly stops budging. “Seabed Eden” lingers with a numbing loss, and how she doesn’t give you a chance to place exactly what she lost makes it more devastating. —Ryo Miyauchi
FRI3NDZONE - “STREETVIEW” (w/ MBBR) (Curiosity Shop)
summers indoors; nights spent alone; nights spent with friends; cool air from windowsill, searching, wanting, scent of petrichor, wet rain-pavement drying, black asphalt that burns our bare soles in the afternoon; rendered naked by the sun, hanging low in the sky; hanging from rope-swings,
i cracked my head again/
woke up don’t understand/
feeling blue, feeling fine, feeling reckless, untethered soul, draped across clotheslines, draped across park benches. voice as instrument: words immaterial. running: grass stains.
you will go a thousand more places, live a thousand more lives, but this one will linger: but this one will linger.
is it fair to tuck your love away in places it can’t escape, in looping fragments of songs that claw at your chest on quiet nights?
you’re making us distant/
i don’t like the difference/
someday, heartbreak will be just another feeling.
Purchase “STREETVIEW” at Bandcamp.
645AR - “Sum Bout U” (feat. FKA Twigs) (Columbia)
“Sum Bout U” is what happens when a perfect concept is executed perfectly by the best people in the world to carry it out. The music video is something Ugly God—the original horny-online, self-effacing rap nerd—would have made four years ago if he’d gotten the breaks 645AR has. He might have played the role of the eager “onlycamzzz” customer just as well as 645 does. But he lacks the key to this track, which lies beyond the sleek, three-monitor set-up AR uses to watch FKA Twigs dance, even beyond Twigs’ show-stopping performance as a cammer, playful but not mean-spirited or reductive. It’s the vocal chemistry between the two artists on the marquee that set this ship on course and sail it across waters that would be too choppy for most boy-girl duets to navigate gracefully. 645 is characteristically incomprehensible and Twigs becomes only slightly less so, molding her chameleonic voice into his aesthetic as easily as she slips into the six different outfits she wears in the video, one of which includes a sickly green, floppy-eared rabbit mask. Their voices squeak together in divine synchronicity, bouncing back and fourth, trading fours and harmonizing in slippery, fluid motions. This is the type of song that deserves a happy ending, which is just what the video gives it. I won’t spoil anything for anyone who somehow still hasn’t seen it, but its resolution could make an evangelical smile. —Raphael Helfand
Shittyboyz x TRL - “Turnt Shit” (TheHipHopLab)
The posse cut has largely been dead in this era of rap, with good reason. Nothing wrong with these current rappers, but are you really trying to hear Gunna or Travis Scott be the middling 4th verse on a boom-bap throwback? The one exception to this right now is Detroit rap’s meteoric rise to prominence over the past few years. Not only does the city have bona fide stars like Sada Baby, 42 Dugg, and Teejayx6, but it is a scene based on collaboration and interest in craft. Duets like Sada Baby and BFB Da Packman’s “Free Joe Exotic” and Teejayx6 and Kasher Quon’s “Dynamic Duo” and “Dynamic Duo 2” showcase the stylistic diversity that gives Detroit its effervescent shine among the cultural rap landscape. Nowhere is this truer than their revilitization of the posse cut: “Turnt Shit.”
“Turnt Shit” is an audacious bit of musicmaking; 12 verses, 6 rappers, just over 3 minutes. Over a bouncy electro beat that’s become a Shittyboyz staple, the charisma oozes through each rapper’s unhinged lines. “Strobe on the Glock, when I point, he gon’ have a seizure”, “Come through, spin, think my AR got a missing tooth,” “Fishy ass pussy, calamari when she squirt”—the bars are signature Detroit absurdity, but like Babytron says at the beginning, they still in the trenches. This is the posse cut as how it’s supposed to be, akin to Golden State Warrior basketball, where everyone gets involved and the teamwork is immaculate. At this rate, these boys might resuscitate the old tradition yet. —Eli Schoop
Blacklisters - “Sports Drinks” (Buzzhowl)
Leeds produces so many quality noise rock bands that I wonder if there’s something in the water over there. What’s more, there’s no identifiable or unifying “sound” in the scene, if it can even be called that, and instead all of these talented acts have carved out their own piece of the pie with consistent but singular approaches: Guttersnipe’s distinct brand of chaotic, howling free-rock; Thank’s irreverent clashes of abrasive synth and delirious ranting; Frisk’s hypnotic mid-pace hardcore hybridization; Hookworms’s brash, blown-out psychedelia. Even though Blacklisters have a much more palpable tie to classic ’90s noise rock in their emphasis on repetitive rhythms and muscular, distorted sludge, their music feels fresher than ever, even after the five years it’s been since Adult.
“Sports Drinks” is the track that opens Fantastic Man, and although hooking people immediately after half a decade is a tall order, the three-and-a-half-minute ripper does that and more (for me, after the song ends it’s always an internal debate whether to continue through the album or just play it over again). Every second is infectious, from the brief stabs of ominous solo guitar at the beginning and constant, hypnotic barrage of dissonant tritone chords in the propulsive verses to the absolutely perfect drum sound that literally makes me jump with joy. Vocalist Billy Mason-Wood has somehow stepped it up even more from the unforgettable performances on Adult’s “Power Ballad” and “Downbeat,” here whiplashing from slurred, apathetic moans and self-hating hedonism to furious yells at the drop of a hat. The addition of USA Nails member Steve Hodson on bass also has a noticeable impact even from within the opaque, distorted chunks of chromatic-shift riffs and growling fuzz.
It’s rare that you, or at least I, come across a song like this, in which it seems that every element is executed in the best possible way. But “Sports Drinks” really has it all. It also somehow feels longer than its actual duration, which just shows how much development and dynamics Blacklisters can pack into such a small space without it feeling overstuffed. The opening track of one of this year’s best albums is a thrill ride that only speeds up more as it approaches the end, and once you’re done, out of breath and red-faced and sweating and on the verge of vomiting, the only thoughts in your head will be of riding again. —Jack Davidson
Purchase Fantastic Man at Bandcamp.
Ganser - “Told You So” (Felte)
Ganser’s sophomore LP Just Look at That Sky is a noticeable step up for the Chicago post-punk band in all ways—songwriting sophistication, fidelity, technical performance. The quartet have amped up their confidence and their ability to craft a hook, and “Told You So” is the one that gets stuck in my head most frequently, featuring Alicia Gaines and Nadia Garofalo trading vocal duties for an unforgettable chorus. Garofalo’s bratty, unimpressed sneer juxtaposes Gaines’s melodic, rich vibrato: a one-two punch covering the bases of good post-punk demeanor.
Behind the vocalists and Charlie Landsman’s chaotic, brash guitar, Brian Cundiff’s steady drumming spurs on the song’s kinetic energy, gently giving the band’s dissonance a sandbox in which to play. This is a story of dissatisfaction—“I’ll wake up tomorrow / I’ll wake up all right,” Garofalo moans with a crooked grin—but despite the disaffected vocal delivery, you’re compelled to bob, sway, and groove along. —Jordan Reyes
Purchase Just Look at That Sky at Bandcamp.
Marcin Pietrusczewski - “tnpgr (shifting(glissement) (f -_ _f_))” (fancyyyyy)
Computer music loves an upwards glissando. Fair enough—it's an inherently dramatic sound: a swarm of bees, a particle accelerator reaching terminal velocity, a tea kettle hitting a boil. One might even call it melodramatic—a device that so obviously induces a sense of tension that it bars any nuance and encourages widespread misuse, overuse, abuse. For a field so swept up in algorithms, data sonification and micro-modulation, its basic compositional ideas often come back to pure, base melodrama: the fine workings of a pulsaret-width modulation technique deployed with the subtlety of a Giant Squeaky Hammer. To be clear, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
“tnpgr (shifting(glissement) (f -_ _f_)),” like many of its lesser contemporaries, starts with an upwards glissando. But—and this is where things start to get interesting—there is a splitting, shifting, refracted, rich quality to the sound here: this is self-consciously digital music, but I hear the screeching and swooping of a string quartet—I almost hear the performers breathing. Everything drops away about a minute in, paving the way for the next glissando—which comes roaring back with even more force than before, an endlessly mutating, shredding turbulence. Here, the algorithm bursts through the rigid, all-too-common shell of formalism, conceptualism, ironic self-abasement—and puts forward a mind-bending, physical experience literally impossible via other means: the formula is a necessity, not just a parlor trick. This is melodrama, but one teeming with an infinite, prismatic swarm of contingencies—in a word, life. —Sunik Kim
Purchase The New Pulsar Generator Recordings Volume 1 at Bandcamp.
DreamedWave - “Speaker Boss” (self-released)
Three years ago, a bizarre video appeared on YouTube. The video, as well as the channel, were simply titled Petscop. It opens with the Sony Computer Entertainment logo in a 4:3 aspect ratio, a sight familiar to anyone that’s played an original PlayStation. Then it kicks to a quaint little title screen with a bouncy logo that reads “Petscop,” with a 1997 copyright at the bottom attributed to a company called Garalina. “So this is to prove to you I’m not lying about this game I found,” a voice can be heard speaking over the footage as a new file is loaded and the name “Paul” is typed into a text box. “This actually is not the interesting part,” Paul says as he walks us through a sparse but colorful area with some rudimentary puzzles and monsters to collect known as pets. He explains that the game came with a vague note that gives instructions to input a code, which he proceeds to execute. The music stops, and then he walks out of the colorful level into a pitch dark open field. After walking around for a while in this creepy, empty expanse he finds a door that he says he didn’t see the last time he played. He’s afraid to turn the console off for fear that he can’t find it again. He ends the recording shortly after, but Petscop truly begins at this moment.
I found this video as it went viral and multiplied across computer screens all over the world—2.1 million of them, by the video’s current count. The next video came 19 days later, simply titled “Petscop 2,” and Paul explains that the door had opened all on its own. He descends into the area behind the door and what follows in the rest of the video series is a complicated story featuring themes of loss and abuse, references to real world events, and a bit of fourth wall breaking with a meta-narrative involving Paul ceding control of the channel to someone else. Petscop is, of course, not a real game, but the visuals are so well constructed and accurate to the period it invokes that many people thought it was real for a significant portion of the two year run of videos. None of the subsequent videos would ever break a million views again, but Petscop cultivated a community of people that obsessed over every detail, shared theories, made memes, drew fanart, and argued in the video comments. Petscop would eventually come to an end, as all things do, and the creator revealed himself, demystifying it a bit. But the community was dying for more. Where would they go next?
Fortunately, they wouldn’t have to wait long. A month after Petscop’s last gasp, a parody called Sheriff Domestic burst onto the scene. There had been several Petscop parodies at this point, but this one was notable not only for being a faithfully impressive pastiche of the source material, but also actually being really funny. It was janky and silly in all the right ways. Petscop’s creator even acknowledged Sheriff Domestic, playfully demanding that its creator “release the .ISO” the way people constantly asked him to do with Petscop. Fans gave Sheriff Domestic a similar love and attention that they gave to Petscop, including providing uploads of the music featured in the videos. But wait a minute, there’s no official soundtrack—how are there clean uploads of the music? Some of those uploads are meticulous edit jobs that try their best to scrub the “game” sound from the audio, and others—such as this track that featured in “Sheriff Domestic 11” that plays during a spontaneous boss fight that resembles something out of Paper Mario—are faithful re-creations of the music made from scratch.
There’s a very real possibility that the currently unknown Sheriff Domestic creator will drop the soundtrack by surprise the same way the Petscop creator did when it ended, but for now the only way to enjoy the music on its own is through fan works. I’ve thought long and hard about how I’m listening to a track that is an amateur re-creation of music from an obscure spinoff of an already relatively obscure horror web series based off a game that’s not even real, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s absurd in the best way. A dedicated community is a truly beautiful thing. —Shy Thompson
Lisa Lerkenfeldt - “The Weight of History” (Shelter Press)
The late-’90s “end of history” phenomenon positioned us at some celestial terminal point, suspended in the ür-moment of forever. Obviously, this was wrong, and the details of exactly how it is wrong have been explicated ad-nauseum from positions high and low throughout the past 20 years, as if it wasn’t already self-evident from a brief glance at the rusted sky. Alas, here we are, still travelling along the long road of history, eyes forward, trudging steadily away from the eternal storm always on our heels, never abating long enough for us to consider where we are heading. Meanwhile, that pesky true picture of the past continually whizzes past us, just out of reach. If only we could grab hold we might have some understanding of how we got here. Instead we are where we are, with no fixed references, no clear direction, and the whole weight of a history we cannot explain threatening to envelop us at any moment.
It has been said the chronicler, who was previously charged with recounting every event without distinguishing between the great and the small, thereby accounting for the truth, that nothing which has ever happened is to be given as lost to history, is undergoing intensive treatment for information overload, and a computer has yet to replace them. So what are we left with? What is the recourse at this moment in that which we call history?
Lisa Lerkenfeldt offers The Drone—that obelisk of sound, tone immortal. Chords stretched taut, wavering in the static current of low hanging feedback clouds. Direct motion unwinds into a lull, calmer than anticipated. Cease movement, suggests The Drone. Stop as an active verb, not a respite from the guideless voyage to nowhere. Perhaps the storm will stop with us, perhaps not. With the chronicler absent nobody is sure if we have ever tried. If one stares at anything for too long, one can perceive small movements that account for all the larger moments cast across an infinite plane. All that is required to achieve this is a willful act of submission. Such was the case when the Whale swallowed Jonah. Recall, he escaped unscathed and Nineveh was spared.
Too often, thinking linearly is a grave mistake. Music comes cloaked in a deceitful veil of temporal velocity, propelling the listener “forward” on an eschatological rollercoaster of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus end. This does not have to be the case. Again, we return to The Drone—that deep rumble of thunder from within. The Drone is not sculpture, as is often suggested. It is music stripped of all its teleological trappings, laid plain, beautiful, and unconcerned with prior, let alone next. While we perceive a statue from an external position, we perceive The Drone from within. Where we see the appearance of a chain of musical events, The Drone sees nothing. It is but one single cacophony pulled into harmony by the deft hands of a multidisciplinary artist; it has no agency. When one submits to The Drone one is enveloped into folds of time rendered visible. Time does not stop. It merely bucks its linear form and presents itself as a simultaneous cohabitation of the here and now, and the back then, open to patient consideration. If one spends enough time in the throes of The Drone, perhaps they will emerge with a clear image of the yet-to-come, and set forth on that long road once more, guided by the divine weight of history. —Ben Shear
Purchase Collagen at Bandcamp.
Angel Olsen - “(Summer Song)” (Jagjaguwar)
On Whole New Mess, Angel Olsen revisits tracks from her 2019 album, All Mirrors, and strips them down, capturing a melancholic undertone that mirrors the atmosphere of disillusionment engendered by the pandemic. Like many of the other songs on the record, “(Summer Song),” which parallels “Summer” on All Mirrors, sheds its orchestral and percussive layers to spotlight Olsen’s haunting vocals. Her voice rings out and echoes against the hollow space where the instrumentation has been laid bare and only an acoustic guitar remains. Here, the listener is a witness to the raw feelings behind Olsen’s evocative lyricism and discovers a more intimate picture of both song and artist. She sings poignantly about the loneliness that characterizes our generation and has been uncomfortably tangible throughout quarantine. “(Summer Song)” brings a day of summer hedonism to a close, jolting you back to reality with its unrefined sound and emotional clarity. —Maia Watanabe
Purchase Whole New Mess at Bandcamp.
Maya Hawke - “Goodbye Rocketship” (Mom+Pop)
Music fans are wary of the children of famous parents and their forays into music. There was a dedicated Reddit community untangling the web of Clairo’s father’s career in marketing in an attempt to debunk her rise to fame. The success of Frankie Cosmos, whose underground art-rock career was undoubtedly helped by her parents, who have been in the entertainment industry for over 35 years apiece, demonstrates that perhaps nepotism is acceptable if the songs are in fact good. Maybe the creative output of the children of famous parents has a justified place in independent music, and perhaps our hearts are softer and more open to it than ever. This brings me to Maya Hawke, the Stranger Things star and daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, and to “Goodbye Rocketship,” a standout track from her debut album, Blush.
The song, a lullaby requiem for her childhood, laments the loss of innocence and imagination. The fantasy of her upbringing is stripped bare, and she is left with only her own capacity for forgiveness. She sings, “You may have more to teach me, but what haven't I heard? / Listening is easy, but learning is earned / I forgive you and I thank you, you know all the reasons why / I'm sorry and I love you, all we can do is try.” The song doesn’t mourn what could have been. Instead, it’s an earnest, heartbreaking, surprisingly mature ballad resigned to the imperfections of parenthood. The emotional depth of a song that could be fodder is instead clemency for both her and her famous parents. Hawke’ssonic palette has touches of Karen Dalton’s musicianship, shades of Norah Jones’s natural rasp, and a glimpse of Joni Mitchell’s storytelling. Her style, a synthesis of a tasteful cool dad record collection, has more in touch with ’70s Austin or ’60s Laurel Canyon than today’s predictable east coast bedroom pop. Hawke opts for a full sound and sensible production instead of fronting a DIY aesthetic. “Goodbye Rocketship” had me typing out apologies to my parents in my notes app and then deleting them in embarrassment the next day. —David Kobe
Purchase Blush at Bandcamp.
Throwing Muses - “Kay Catherine” (Fire Recordings)
After nearly four decades as a band, Throwing Muses remain both correctly rated and criminally underrated in that everyone intellectually understands how sick they are while also failing to offer them the level of widespread cultural worship that their consistently excellent output so richly deserves. Maybe this year’s Sun Racket will rectify this injustice since it’s an absolute baller of a rock record in a world that’s been in dire need of a baller of a rock record, full of songs that crunch, clang, and clamor with all the confidence of a band that’s musical chemistry is so on-point, it nearly explodes on impact. Any song off the record will do you fine, but let’s talk about the particularly lovely “Kay Catherine.” Arriving late on the record, it’s a song that feels as if it were painted in watercolors and swaddled in silk, like a very expensive knife. Lead Muse Kristin Hersh has described her songwriting process as a sort of channeling wherein she is not the author, but the vessel through which music pours out from the source, and there is an otherworldly perspective suffusing “Kay Catherine.” The song seems to flicker in and out of existence, its tone akin to a sunlit nursery rhyme ringed by lengthening shadows, and its ghostly tenor reflected in the guitars that both pluck prettily and slide unnervingly, suspended between beautiful dream and harsh reality. —Mariana Timony
Purchase Sun Racket at Bandcamp.
No Joy - “Nothing Will Hurt” (Joyful Noise Recordings)
No Joy’s latest album Motherhood mines late ’90s and early aughts nostalgia in the same way as a film like Lady Bird or a coming of age comedy series like PEN15—gazing through rose-colored glasses at a time when the Sneaker Pimps, Deftones, and Madonna’s Ray of Light ruled the school. It’s a far cry from the shoegaze sound that the Montreal band emerged with 10 years ago, but everything comes around again, and these once unimaginable influences are now ripe for revisiting. On this album, No Joy’s Jasamine White-Gluz assembled a crack team for her trip back in time including Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla and guitarist Tara McLeod from Canadian nu-metal band Kittie. Fusing drop d riffs onto trance beats doesn’t always work, but when the formula comes together with infectious hooks and a top down cruising vibe like “Nothing Will Hurt,” its appeal is undeniable. In the seconds between the song’s opening lyric (“It’s impossibly saaaaad”) and the introduction of unrelentingly funky slap bass, life becomes painless. —Jesse Locke
Purchase Motherhood at Bandcamp.
Joshua Virtue & Malci - “God Can’t Top the Human Hip” (Why?)
Chicago hip-hop visionaries Davis, Joshua Virtue, Malci, and Ruby Watson have created a true artistic gold mine with their collaborative label/collective Why? Records, based in their hometown of Chicago. So far, all of the releases under the imprint have involved one of the founding members in some capacity, mostly Virtue (Post Faith Dialogues, Jackie’s House, and the just-released Together, with Great Feeling solo, EAT GOOD TAPE and Fast Food with Watson as Free Snacks, and a self-titled EP with Davis as UDABABY) and Watson, so I would assume that Why?’s output is reserved for their work only. A reservation, yes, but far from a limitation; all of these artists are so talented on their own and seemingly more so when they team up that I can’t see that various combinations of the founding four would ever get old.
Virtue and Malci have collaborated on past projects, usually in the form of one rapping over the other’s instrumental, but JV + MALCI EP is the first release credited to them both. In their solo work, both have amply demonstrated their penchants for captivating rhyme schemes and intelligent lyricism that avoids being overbearing, something that definitely surfaces on the EP as well, especially in “God Can’t Top the Human Hip,” on which Virtue directly confesses that he “tend[s] to dabble in abstraction.” His verse is pretty grounded, however, moving through humble musings and fluid stream-of-consciousness with a laid-back, conversational approach. The minimal, looping backing is just one example of the unique production style that both musicians toy with, which often feels both artificially repetitive and musically lush. It’s impossible not to mention all the excellent ad-libs too, which add a memorable dimension to many of the tracks.
After a brief instrumental excursion, the beat sort of “resets” about halfway through the track, at which point Malci gets on the mic and lays down line after dextrous line of both cryptic and direct anger. Back-to-back like this, both the similarities and differences between the two artists become more clear; together, one with an earnestly happy-go-lucky mindset and the other with dark poetic predilections, they are both kindred spirits and foils. “God Can’t Top the Human Hip” doesn’t reach the sublime, grief-tinged bliss of Virtue’s “Fenti Face,” nor does it achieve the captivating off-ness of Malci’s “When They Get Me” or “Broken Social Scene,” but instead falls somewhere between the two, smooth and cerebral and a bit ambiguous yet subtly saturated with warmth and optimism: “I know I talk a lot of shit. I swear I love you all—a lot.” —Jack Davidson
Purchase JV + MALCI EP at Bandcamp.
Valee - “Rice” (self-released)
I’ve often asked myself, “I’m three blocks from home, what can I throw on?” The answer is always Valee. Valee accomplishes more in a minute than most rappers do in their whole careers. Sometimes it’s a marathon instead of a sprint, but Valee’s music temporally blurs the line between those metaphors. Dude has places to be, and this rapping shit is too easy for him to get stuck on. He’s making minute rice in 58 seconds, a Michelin chef with the speed of a McDonald’s. Valee’s proof of a simple axiom to live by: don’t make anything unnecessarily long. —Eli Schoop
Lexa - “Sussu” (Som Livre)
I don’t scrutinize anything as hard as I scrutinize a pop song. Blame it on K-pop for being so maximalist and genre agnostic that it fostered in me a deep enjoyment for second-by-second pop song analyses. The best baile funk forces me to do the same, albeit these songs utilize simpler elements to pack the same intensity in shorter runtimes. When I listen to “Sussu,” the opener on Lexa’s self-titled album, it feels like a shot of adrenaline. It’s got a frenetic chorus complete with tongue-twister vocalizing, but it’s about the smart juxtapositions: relative silence with high BPM instrumentation; hand percussion with blaring, synthesized horns; a trap beat with sputtering vocal edits. It congeals into something monolithic before disappearing in two minutes. It happens so quickly that the only way to approach this is to let every sound’s sonic potential wash over you. It’s so pure: this is music meant to blare in your face, transferring its energy into your body by sheer force. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Prince - “Wally” (Warner)
Being vulnerable is one of the most difficult things in the world for me. I don’t even tell my closest friends how I’m really feeling. If you ever get close to me and you’re worried because I’m acting off, good luck getting me to talk about it; my therapist hasn’t even figured out how to get a millimeter below my cold exterior. If you’re a regular reader of Tone Glow you might recognize me as the writer that always shares a deeply personal anecdote that relates what I’m writing about to how it makes me feel. I imagine it would be easy to have the impression that I’m emotionally honest or open—I’m not. I don’t overshare in my writing because I want to; I have to. No other outlets feel comfortable. No other outlets make sense to me. I often can’t make heads or tails of my own emotions, so putting them in florid prose that I can read again later makes them feel real. Writing makes me feel human in a way that talking to other human beings simply does not. If I thought too hard about how many people will read this I would be mortified. It’s a wonder none of these blurbs go into the recycle bin alongside most of the things I’ve written. Usually, it’s simply enough to get the feelings out and then delete it forever. Lately, I’ve given some long and hard thought to the importance of posterity—keeping a record of how I’ve felt about things so that I have the ability to reflect whenever I’m ready to.
Prince’s “Wally” is perhaps the most validating piece of music that exists for me. One of the most mythologized tracks that is known to exist in The Purple One’s vault of unreleased music, it remained the most elusive for one simple reason: Prince didn’t want anyone to hear it. Ever. The wounds still stinging from his break-up with Susannah Melvoin—sister of The Revolution’s Wendy Melovin—Prince descended to his home studio with his sound engineer Susan Rogers and bodyguard Wally Safford. Prince instructed Rogers to set the studio space up to record a piano ballad with lots of reverb, then began to improvise a melody. He half-sang and half-spoke to Wally Safford, asking if he could try on his “freaky” looking glasses because he wanted to look nice when he went out to meet someone new that night. Firing his feelings off the top, he offered glimpses of his pain and loneliness and quickly papered over them with half-joking dry wit. “My baby don’t love me no more,” he sang, immediately following it up with a high pitched imitation of Susannah’s voice: “Well, maybe I do, just not like I did before.”
Having heard the first emotional ballad of Prince’s career up to that point, Susan Rogers was floored. She recalls being more excited to release this track than anything else she had heard in her five year stint as Prince’s engineer. She cut him a cassette for his own personal use, but was shocked by his next request after the recording was finished: put all 24 tracks into the record function and delete them. Rogers pleaded with him to sleep on it for a night, but he refused. “If you won’t do it I will,” she recalls him saying, and then he deleted the masters. Prince was known for his resistance to showing weakness; very few members of his staff have stories of him showing genuine sadness, despite his massive revolving door of associates. “Wally” was a venting of lament meant for Prince and Prince only—at least at the time of recording.
The version of “Wally” heard on this year’s “super deluxe” reissue of Sign o’ the Times is different from the one heard by Rogers and Safford, with a horn arrangement played by Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss. It’s believed that he took another crack at it a few days later with different staff present, perhaps to tone down the emotion and make it a little more palatable for his vulnerability-averse sensibilities. It’s still dripping with heartache and pain, which is probably why this version wasn’t released either. “Wally” only existed as a folk tale among fans from its recording in 1986 to 2016, when it somehow got into the hands of someone that leaked it to the internet.
As “Wally” is cleaned up and remastered for this landmark reissue that presents us with the largest offering of tracks from Prince’s vault that chronicles the most turbulent transitional period of Prince’s career—personal relationships crumbling, The Revolution disbanding, and Warner ordering Prince to pare down his three-disc Crystal Ball into the more commercial friendly Sign o’ the Times—I feel conflicted. I feel like I’m hearing something I’m not supposed to hear. It’s deeply validating to know that my favorite musician handles his problems being vulnerable the same way that I do, but I can’t help thinking about how upset I would feel if someone did a system restore on my hard drive and read some of the ugly emotional screeds I’ve typed out and deleted. I’m also not sure how I would feel if those things resonated with someone and helped them to feel better. Would I be more okay with it? “Isn’t it funny how the world melody is kind of like the word malady,” Rogers recalls Prince saying to her after the session was over. I think about that quote a lot as I wonder why I’m sometimes praised for writing something that brought me pain to talk about. The conclusion I’ve landed on is this: once it’s out there, it no longer belongs to me. Whoever’s meant to see it, I hope you see it. —Shy Thompson
Purchase Sign o’ the Times (Super Deluxe) at the Prince website.
Still from La casa lobo (Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León, 2018)
Thank you for reading the thirty-fourth issue of Tone Glow. Have a good week :)
If you appreciate what we do, please consider donating via Ko-fi. Tone Glow is dedicated to forever providing its content for free, but please know that all our writers are paid for the work they do. All donations will be used for paying writers, and if we get enough money, Tone Glow will be able to publish issues more frequently.