New Playlist: June 2021

The Rosy Overdrive Monthly Revue is back, with a (somewhat belated) rundown of songs old and (mostly) new that I thoroughly enjoyed in June! Even by the standards of these typically-unwieldy monthly playlist posts, this one feels extra long-winded to me. I took a week off to enjoy life and whatnot, and I had all sorts of things to say about these songs by the time I got back to the grind. So: bookmark it, leave the tab open, save the link in your Notes app…whatever people do these days.

The Glow, Options, and We Are the Union get two songs this time around. ME REX get four, sort of—it’ll make sense when I get to their entry.

You can hear the entire thing on Spotify here, and be sure to check out previous playlist posts if you’ve enjoyed this one.

“Love Only”, The Glow
From Love Only b/w Heavy Glow (2021, Double Double Whammy)

This should’ve been on the May playlist, but somehow I missed it, which is odd because I was a huge LVL UP fan and had up until now done a fairly good job of keeping tabs on the members’ post-breakup endeavors (still eagerly awaiting that Spirit Was album). Of the three LVL UP songwriters, Dave Benton and his Trace Mountains project have created the most (and best) records thus far, but the latest single by Mike Caridi’s The Glow threatens to do something else entirely: create a whole new band that equals the power of his last one. The contributions of his surrounding cast of musicians (guitarist/vocalist Kate Meizner, bassist Nicola Leel, original LVL UP drummer Greg Rutkin) may be more noticeable on B-side “Heavy Glow” (which we will get to later on in the playlist), but “Love Only” is an achievement in its own right. It’s an earnest pop rock song that nearly goes off the rails and in theory sounds like Caridi’s old band, but is too meaty to have been on Hoodwink’d and too sparkly for Return to Love. It’s The Glow, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from them.

“Love Song #7”, Upper Wilds
From Venus (2021, Thrill Jockey)

The hits keep coming from Upper Wilds. I’ve already highlighted a few of the tracks from their upcoming third record, Venus, and the album’s seventh love song (and fifth single) is yet another keeper. “Love Song #7” only slightly cracks the two-minute barrier, and it’s not quite as theatrical as, say Love Songs #2 or #5—it’s perhaps the album’s most straightforward pop offering so far. Bandleader Dan Friel wastes no time in grabbing the listener with the song’s twin hooks: an absolutely joyful opening guitar riff and Friel’s equally-infectious melodic vocal. The energy is appropriate for the song’s subject matter—the wedding between astronauts Jan Davis and Mark C. Lee, done covertly due to NASA’s “camp-counselor-ass” rules against married couples going on space missions together. “Down there they fight like animals, they fight like old friends … / Up here’s above it, and way beyond them” sings Friel, imagining a moment of ecstasy floating above the Earth in the middle of a story that seems tailor-made for Upper Wilds’ space rock tribute to the planet of Love. Read more about Venus here.

“Bitch Store”, Smol Data
From Inconvenience Store (2021, Open Door)

Whenever I’m listening to it, I’m convinced that “Bitch Store” is the greatest song in the world (when I’m not, I just think it might be). Inconvenience Store as a whole is a fascinating album, and while part of that is because of how giddy it is musically, Karah Goldstein’s writing style is a good a reason to return to it as any. Goldstein’s prose is not exactly purple or flowery—each individual line is fairly straightforward and makes sense on its own, but the songs on Inconvenience Store resist being easily strung together to make a linear story. It’s much closer to my experience of “diary entries” than that of most lyrics that get hit with that description—not a neatly generous outpouring of secrets and confessions, but truths and experiences cathartically jotted down in a way that can only be really understood by their creator, but the emotion and meaning therein can readily be grasped by any. “Bitch Store” has this in spades (it starts with an extended metaphor that begins “I am not a piggy bank, however pink, round, and shiny”). Oh, and it’ll also kick your ass. The lyrics contain several (non-transparent, of course) allusions to the internet and Being Online, and musically “Bitch Store” similarly sucks up a bit of everything—dream pop, pop punk, show tunes, ska all wrest for control of the song’s mainframe over three minutes and help make “I won’t play house in a white van, or your sedan, or the police station” some of the hardest-hitting lines of the year.

“Morbid Obsessions”, We Are the Union
From Ordinary Life (2021, Bad Time)

The announcement of ska-punks We Are The Union’s fifth album dovetailed as vocalist Reade Wolcott’s public coming-out as a trans woman, and lead single “Morbid Obsessions” was the song the band chose to soundtrack both. Like most of Ordinary Life, it’s a celebration of a song that flaunts its determination but doesn’t try to pave over Wolcott’s rough path to get to where she is now. Over Brandon Benson’s positively bouncy bass and insistent trombone from Jeremy Hunter (of Skatune Network), Wolcott recounts experiences with self-medication, self-harm, and a transphobic world (“She wanted a dress like all the other girls, a head full of curls / They said ‘Son, you can’t always get what you want in this world’”) before the simple vow of the chorus towers over everything else: “If I get one life, I’m gonna do what I want”.

“Hoper”, Options
From On the Draw (2021)

Options is the solo project of Chicago’s Seth Engel, who has probably engineered a record by your favorite Windy City band, and has somehow found time to build a robust discography of his own at the same time. Last year Options released two records of chilly, slowcore and emo-shaded indie rock (one of which made the Rosy Overdrive Best of 2020 list), but On the Draw is a pretty sharp departure from the sound of Window’s Open and Wind’s Gonna Blow. The project’s eighth (I think?) record was quickly written and recorded at Engel’s home instead of Engel’s recording studio domain, and it embraces a lo-fi pop sound that reminds me of recent work by fellow engineer-songwriter Nate Amos of This Is Lorelei. The songs are short, too—On the Draw speeds through nine songs in under eighteen minutes, and “Hoper” doesn’t cross the 90-second mark. It doesn’t need much more—it’s all zippy power chords and melody, with Engel offering up either a vocal hook or guitar hook for the entire runtime.

“I Get a Strange Kind of Pleasure from Just Holding On”, John Vanderslice
From John, I can’t believe civilization is still going here in 2021! Congratulations to all of us, Love, DCB (2021, Tiny Telephone)

John Vanderslice has been paying tribute to his friend and peer David Berman for over a decade now. His 2004 remix album was titled MGM Endings, a nod to a lyric in “Like Like the the the Death” by the Silver Jews, and Vanderslice sang to him directly in “Song for David Berman” from 2013’s haunting Dagger Beach. The poet and songwriter’s death in 2019 understandably hit Vanderslice hard, and his upcoming EP is his most explicit homage to Berman yet. The EP’s lengthy title is the entirety of a postcard that Berman sent to JV in 2008 with the year changed, and the title of its lead single is a nod to a Berman drawing. Although “I Get a Strange Kind of Pleasure from Just Holding On” isn’t about Berman, it takes what Vanderslice has gathered from him and repurposes it as a survival mantra for the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown. “Just go and walk around the park / And don’t ask me why or where, just do it, just do it until dark” is just one of the many commands Vanderslice gives himself, just to try to keep hanging on to something, anything. Musically, “I Get a Strange Kind of Pleasure from Just Holding On” is another success from Vanderslice’s unexpected second act that began with 2019’s The Cedars, when he returned from an indefinite hiatus with an updated sound that embraced glitchy electronics and experimental hip-hop beats over his formerly relatively austere indie rock. Vanderslice has promised the rest of the upcoming EP to be a “relentless synth assault”, but “I Get a Strange Kind of Pleasure from Just Holding On” is universal indie pop.

“Paladin”, Corvair
From Corvair (2021, Paper Walls/wiaiwya)

Corvair’s self-titled album from February is a relatively recent discovery of mine that snuck its way onto the Rosy Overdrive mid-year best-of list. The Portland husband-and-wife duo of Brian Naubert and Heather Larimer have played in many Pacific Northwest bands over the years, but Corvair is their first album together, and it’s a superb tribute to big hooky guitar-and-synth pop-rock like Electric Light Orchestra and The New Pornographers. Album highlight “Paladin” is unabashedly classic-rock in the way it takes its time cycling through different movements over five and a half minutes—bouncy yet economical pop-rock, guitar heroics, and a long dream-psych outro all give it a memorable progressive pop sheen. It’s also distinctively collaborative, with Larimer taking lead vocals on the verses and bridge, but Naubert’s six-string and chorus vocals fighting for attention prominently throughout the song as well.

“White Lightning”, nasimiYu
From P O T I O N S (2021, Figureight)

New York/New Orleans’ nasimiYu has played in bands you may have heard of if you read this blog, such as Sharkmuffin and Kalbells, and she also releases music under her own name. P O T I O N S, her second full-length and first in seven years, is a warm and bright pop record recorded entirely by nasimiYu herself during lockdown. To a lo-fi Luddite like myself it sounds like an international art pop overthrow, and the record is worth repeat listening to pick up on its various flourishes. The main part of the Wurlitzer-driven “White Lightning” was played directly into laptop speakers, which causes the keys to sound fuzzy and crackly when nasimiYu pounds them at their hardest. The song is titled after hard liquor, and it is about addiction, but in an interpersonal relationship sense (all that dopamine!). “How could I ever go without / If I know how to go within?” is, I think, a fairly universal chemical dependency lyric, whether it’s ingested or originating from chemical reactions in the brain.

“Where You Go, I Go”, Hurry
From Fake Ideas (2021, Lame-O)

I want to talk about Tommy Keene a little bit here. I’ve been thinking about the late singer-songwriter in the context of Hurry’s latest album ever since Hurry bandleader Matt Scottoline mentioned him as an influence on Fake Ideas. Keene was a power pop artist who released his most well-known music in the 80s (but continued to make new material until his death in 2017), and if he’s ever mentioned at all these days it’s usually about how he “should’ve been bigger”. Few talk about the emotion and thematic throughlines that course through Keene’s music—songs like “Places That Are Gone” and “Run Now” grapple with isolation, feeling out of place against the backdrop of rock and roll bombast that exposed Bryan Adams, Rick Springfield, and all those other 80s pop rock hitmakers as two-dimensional in comparison. Those songs believed that if you ran long enough, if you burned bright enough, all your problems could be defeated. I say all this to posit Hurry’s Fake Ideas as an internal counterpoint to all of this. The record is more or less a concept album about Scottoline understanding the effects of mental illness and its accompanying “fake ideas” on his life and health. “Where You Go, I Go” is a wistfully melancholic pop song that plays right in the middle of this particular playground. Its verses almost obscure what’s on Scottoline’s mind with royal we’s and impersonal you’s (“We’ve all been there, life knocking at your door / And we’re not getting up for anyone”), and the wrecking ball of a refrain’s final line (“Where you go, I go / Completely miserable”) could get mistaken for a simple love song sentiment if one is only half-paying attention.

“Jupiter”, “Lead”, “Opus”, and “The Party Eating Its Own Tail”, ME REX
From Megabear (2021, Big Scary Monsters)

So the thing about Megabear is it’s a fifty-two track, thirty-two minute album that’s made up of 30-60 second mini-songs that are designed to all bleed into each other and be listened to in any order. The best place to do this is the website specifically made to do this, but I’ve went and recreated about two-and-a-half minutes’ worth of the Megabear experience in the middle of this playlist (a Minibear, if you will), because Megabear rules and I’m now fully on the ME REX train after hearing but not really retaining a couple of their earlier releases. “Jupiter” introduces the lyrical motif that lead singer Myles McCabe returns to again and again on the album: “I want a river to run through me / Carve out a valley, deep, deep, deep / Make me shallow, make me empty, make me clean,” McCabe sings over simple piano chords, before “Lead” expounds on this personal geographic message over a busier arrangement and a twice-as-long runtime. “Opus” and “The Party Eating Its Own Tail” are also a solo-piano song into indie-pop-banger twosome. “These songs are never really ending / Even when it’s silent they will hang thick in the air,” McCabe sings in the latter, a nice wink at the camera before yet another offering from the deck emerges.

“Love Intervene”, Lou Barlow
From Reason to Live (2021, Joyful Noise)

“Love Intervene” has been around for a while now—Lou Barlow has apparently been playing it live for years, and he released a full-band version of the song as a non-album single in 2018. The recording from May’s Reason to Live is stripped-down, mostly Barlow and his guitar with some backing vocals and quiet strings in the background, and though Lou’s called it the “definitive recording” of the song, he talks about it like he’s still not quite happy with it (“The sentiment seems almost out of my range sometimes”). I understand why Barlow would be so serious about getting this song right; it’s a really potent lyric and melody that builds up to its titular plea. But in this case, he shouldn’t be too hard on himself. His delivery is incredible, and a part of why this take of “Love Intervene” is so powerful. While Barlow spends a good deal of the vocal in his stately-indie-folk-singer modern comfort zone, he sounds reverent for its entirety and even pushes himself in the track’s second half. Between this and his contributions to the excellent new Dinosaur Jr. album, it’s been a banner year for Barlow.

“Savage Good Boy”, Japanese Breakfast
From Jubilee (2021, Dead Oceans)

I know everybody has been waiting with bated breath for my Jubilee take, so without further ado: it’s good! It’s probably my favorite Japanese Breakfast album so far. Soft Sounds from Another Planet was impressive and all, but I never found myself eager to just throw it on and listen to it with the frequency with which I’ve been (virtually) spinning Jubilee since it came out. I am not sure if “Savage Good Boy” is my favorite song on the record, exactly, but for the purposes of playlist punching-up, Michelle Zauner couldn’t have given us anything more appropriate. It hits you immediately with that gleefully absurd opening distorted vocal right into one of the most strategically-deployed piano chords I’ve heard this year, if not ever. Zauner’s lyrics about the titular “good boy”, a billionaire cockroach who’s cheerily explaining how he and his beloved will survive the climate apocalypse together with his capital, do not exactly form the most subtle, nuanced character study—but they don’t need to. Zauner rightly zeroes in on the nihilistic fun of it all, the reason why characters like this populate society both real and imagined, and then lets the paint peel off on its own accord.

“Teenage Situation”, Rodeola
From Arlene (2021)

Rodeola is the folk rock project of Bloomington, Indiana’s Kate Long, whose latest album Arlene features like-minded neighbors like Nathan Salsburg and Joan Shelley (to me, there is little difference between southern Indiana and Kentucky). “Teenage Situation”, the record’s best song, does feature Elephant Micah’s Joseph O’Connell, but it’s Long’s lyrics and vocals that are carrying this track as much as its complementary country-rock background. “Teenage Situation” grabs you from its simple-but-effective ascending chord progression introduction and then offers up Long’s lyrics, which are about just what the song’s title suggests. The song begins by setting up its two characters, Long’s narrator and an unnamed “you” that “anoint[s her] with some kind of queendom”. Long proceeds to swing wildly throughout the remainder of the song—“I feel reckless / I wanna live in this place” in one verse, “You ask me how I’m doing / Now I’m ruined” in the next, but what exactly has happened during and in between these extremes isn’t explained. It’s just a teenage situation.

“Coming to Collect”, Psychic Flowers
From For the Undertow (2021, Living Lost)

Good news, everyone: David Settle is back! Mere months after the release of On and On by another of his bands, The Fragiles (which appeared on Rosy Overdrive’s Mid-Year best-of list) and a year removed from releasing two albums under the Psychic Flowers name (which appeared on the Rosy Overdrive Best of 2020 year-end list), the fourth Psychic Flowers album is slated to drop at the end of this month. For the Undertow is the most polished set of Psychic Flowers songs yet, with drummer Leo Suarez giving these basement recordings a full-band punch. I will have more to say about For the Undertow closer to its release, but for now I’ll leave you with opening track and lead single “Coming to Collect”, a fizzy lo-fi pop punk song that finds Settle in full-on “whoa-oh” vocal hook territory. The song needs to pull out all the stops to distract from the garage rock grim reaper vibe of some of the lyrics: “I am coming to collect / On debts unowed … / Smoke clouds suffocate the West / At best, we’ll cope”. Read more about For the Undertow here.

“Find a Home”, Status / Non Status
From 1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years (2021, You’ve Changed)

Anishinaabe musician Adam Sturgeon and his backing band made a name for themselves across Canada over the past few years as Whoop-Szo, before changing their name to Status / Non Status for their most recent record, May’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years EP. Sturgeon chose the new moniker to draw attention to the Canadian government’s absurd “Status” and “Non-Status Indian” designations—when most bands change their names, it’s either because a Grateful Dead tribute act with a similar moniker sends them a cease and desist, or because their original name was, uh, insensitive in some capacity, so this is already a remarkable decision. The EP itself is all over the place, from the Fucked Up psychedelic hardcore of “Genocidio” to the spoken-word closer “500 Years”, but the warm and meditative album opener “Find a Home” is the strongest moment yet in Status / Non Status’ brief career. Over a rhythm-heavy instrumental that’s not distorted enough to be “shoegaze” but too meaty for “dream pop”, Sturgeon sings a wistful, bittersweet lyric about traveling on a long road and feeling someone “in the stars” that’s “calling [him] home”.

“The Kind of Band That Wears Hats”, Lemon Pitch
From Flat Black Sea (2020, Repeating Cloud)

Here’s what I know about Portland, Maine’s Lemon Pitch: the musicians behind the band really believe in what’s they’ve created thus far. When they couldn’t find a label to release their debut album, last year’s Flat Black Sea, the band’s Galen Richmond started his own important: Repeating Cloud Records, who have put out an impressive amount of music over their relatively short lifespan (Rosy Overdrive wrote about another Repeating Cloud release, That Hideous Sound’s “How Many Times” single, in our April wrap-up entry). When a global pandemic overshadowed the record’s arrival (release date: March 27th, 2020), Lemon Pitch has kept its spirit alive by planning much-belated release shows and submitting it to obscure music bloggers over a year from its release date. The band keeps a stable of three songwriters (Richmond, Brock Ginther, and Alex Merrill) so I’m not sure which of them is responsible for “The Kind of Band That Wears Hats”, but it’s an absolutely unhinged ripper of a song whose lyrics (the ones I can make out, at least) seem to get to the heart of being a completely unknown indie rock band in 2021. I suspect that at least one member of Lemon Pitch was taking heavy notes on the scene-politics diatribes that the likes of Eric Bachmann and Stephen Malkmus would lapse into in the nineties, but the song’s deranged maximalist instrumental is anything but “slacker”.

“Teenage Eyes”, St. Lenox
From Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for Our Tumultuous Times (2021, Don Giovanni/Anyway)

The fourth and final single from St. Lenox’s fourth record finds Andrew Choi in his motor-mouth comfort zone, setting up shop at an open mic night to begin a series of semi-fictional, semi-autobiographic sketches of its patrons. Choi has spent the better part of the past decade balancing his music career as St. Lenox with his day job as an attorney, and “Teenage Eyes” seems to acknowledge those who gave up their youthful pursuits to “grow up”—as well as allowing Choi to imagine if he’d chosen the same path. “Tom laments with a strange expression, says he always wanted to be a rock star,” Choi sings before switching back into the first person, where he’s the one with a journal, a Fender, and dreams of being a writer. The song’s music video is the missing link between the song and the themes on the rest of Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for Our Tumultuous Times, expertly using Dungeons & Dragons to ruminate on death, reincarnation, and the afterlife. Read more about Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for Our Tumultuous Times here.

“Jackie”, Yves Tumor
From The Asymptotical World (2021, Warp)

Usually when I get into a band or artist, they’re “in my wheelhouse” genre-wise and then sometimes I follow them out of my comfort zone with their subsequent releases (see: Low, later on in this post). Yves Tumor seems intent on taking the opposite route—my (and most’s) introduction to them, 2018’s Safe in the Hands of Love, was an intimidating mashup of industrial, noise, melody, electronics and more that nonetheless intrigued me, but then last year’s Heaven to a Tortured Mind (one of Rosy Overdrive’s favorite albums of 2020) surprisingly offered up slinky rock songs like “Kerosene!” and “Gospel for a New Century”. “Jackie”, Yves Tumor’s latest single, goes even further down their guitar-hero rabbit hole, with that fearless opening riff fighting with the synths and drum machine beat for control of the song. The track’s real heart is Tumor’s voice, which is as sweeping and confident as the rest of the project’s best songs, but never to the point of emotionlessness.

“Blue Moon New”, Gnawing
From You Freak Me Out (2021, Refresh)

“Blue Moon New” is both a bit of an outlier on Gnawing’s debut album and also completely in line with their sound. This Richmond-based group of 90s-alt-rock enthusiasts describe themselves as a “loud rock and roll band that wishes they were a country band”, and lead singer John Russell’s J. Mascis drawl lets Gnawing fly close to that particular sun. Nowhere on You Freak Me Out is this more pronounced than on “Blue Moon New”, a jangly country-rock number that breaks out the pedal steel, troubadour acoustic strumming, and the comforting narrative lyrics. Read more about You Freak Me Out here.

“Lost and Found”, Leisure Sport
From Title Card (2021)

Baltimore’s Leisure Sport are helmed by the two singer-songwriters Dana DiGennaro and Kyle Balkin, whose interplay as well as their own distinct voices help the band’s debut EP feel fresh throughout its five-song runtime. “Lost and Found” is a DiGennaro-led number, but the twinkly stately-emo guitar riff that runs throughout the entire song ends up being just as much of a player on the scene as her vocals. The first half of the track is a nice buildup, some uncomfortable power chords soundtracking DiGennaro’s journey to her confident vocal peak in the song’s mid-section. Then there’s the catharsis of the last minute of “Lost and Found”: DiGennaro asserting “You only bring me down!” as the previously-circling instrumental zeroes in on the kill and some Anniversary-esque carnival synths sneak into the fray.

“Only You and Your Ghost Will Know”, Mekons
From Oooh! (2002, Quarterstick)

I’ve been slowly working my way through the Mekons’ vast discography over the past few years, and I’ve finally gotten to the pissed-off folk-post-punk of 2002’s Oooh! (apparently an acronym for “Out of Our Heads”, an apt description for the world at that time). I actually quite like the “elder statesmen” Mekons albums between which Oooh! is sandwiched, so I wouldn’t have minded at all if these songs were kin to the wearily urban melancholy of Journey to the End of the Night or the post-apocalyptic reggae-folk of Natural, and “Only You and Your Ghost Will Know” is not a big a departure from either as one might think. The track’s violin-led instrumental is one of the more anthemic 2000s Mekons moments I’ve heard, which brushes up against the lonely, solitary subject of the song’s lyrics (“The company you’re keeping’s / The same as when you’re sleeping”). “Only You and Your Ghost Will Know”’s refrain quotes one of the few Emily Dickinson poems I know, which seems like an appropriate touchstone for the type of isolation described therein.

“Concrete Jungle”, ODDLY
From Odd Man Out (2021, Damnably)

Kyoto’s ODDLY (a “3 piece rock band with no bassist”) make heavy and dreamy indie rock that recalls 90s shoegaze-adjacent bands like Seam as well as modern acts like Singapore’s Subsonic Eye. Singer Naoko Yutani cites Fazerdaze as an influence, and while Odd Man Out’s six songs are louder than anything on Morningside, Amelia Murray’s knack for unfussy melody shines through in Yutani’s vocals, particularly the highlight “Concrete Jungle”. It’s a propulsive, jangly instrumental, and I love how the two main guitar parts—the woozy, high-on-the-neck main riff and those unpolished power chords that surface underneath the distortion several times throughout the song—compliment each other. If their 90s-influence bona fides weren’t strong enough already, “Concrete Jungle” is apparently a local-music-scene-critique lyric, flipping the song’s title (an allusion to giant urban apartment buildings) into a comment on the homogeneity they see in their hometown’s music.

“Gretchen Took a Ride”, Jack Habegger’s Celebrity Telethon
(2021, Lung)

The latest song from the “quasi-solo” project of Olympia’s Jack Habegger travels somewhere between alt-country and dreamy folk, and also comes off as a full-band, widescreen expansion of the Celebrity Telethon’s debut EP, Oy Vey!. “Gretchen took a ride, she explained upon return with a smile in her eye / She had to clear her mind” begins Habegger’s lyrics, and the breezy instrumental that then kicks in invites the listener to do the same. Both lyrically and musically, “Gretchen Took a Ride” seems to walk the line between familiar intimacy and West Coast cosmic psychedelia. Read more about “Gretchen Took a Ride” here.

“Second That”, Pom Pom Squad
From Death of a Cheerleader (2021, City Slang)

Pom Pom Squad deserve more than lazy Mitski comparisons—Mia Berrin, the artist behind the project, has spent the three years of Pom Pom Squad’s existence building a specific kind of inter-and intra-music world that omnivorously gobbles up David Lynch, John Waters, pre-rock-and-roll pop music, cheerleading and all the cultural baggage inherent therein into a unique presentation. Better writers than I have talked about this. I say all this because the song I’ve chosen from Death of a Cheerleader, the tension-hoarding acoustic-strumming “Second That”, would sound right at home on Bury Me at Makeout Creek-era Mitski. This is a huge compliment from Rosy Overdrive—I mean, that’s the best Mitski album by far (we’re all on the same page with that, right?)! Berrin gives the titular line a perfect amount of weight, but don’t sleep on the refrain’s initial setup-lyric (“She said ‘I can’t have this conversation’” / And now I know exactly what she meant”) because of what that’s able to capture.

“Tugboat”, Meat Wave
From Volcano Park (2021, Many Hats/Big Scary Monsters)

Volcano Park is Meat Wave’s first record in over four years, and the Chicago trio just might be in the best musical shape of their career over the EP’s six songs. As an opening track, “Tugboat” more than does its part of setting the scene for a fiery rock band that’s pressing on through a fog of weariness and paranoia to make something vital.  “You wanted it new / You wanted it back / It couldn’t be had / You’re used to it now,” roars vocalist Chris Sutter over a sharp, punchy post-punk instrumental. Read more about Volcano Park here.

“Palace of Oranges”, Supreme Joy
From Joy (2021)

Supreme Joy’s Ryan Wong makes 60’s Nuggets-influenced garage rock with San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls, and the debut record from his new project Supreme Joy comes off as a casual, basement-recorded extended variation on his signature sound. Although the album starts off with some John Dwyer-esque psych-garage rockers, “Palace of Oranges” is part of Joy’s pleasantly-unexpected acoustic middle section. The languid stroll of “Palace of Oranges” plays in a few of Joy’s most prominent themes—the gardening devoutly practiced by Wong’s late grandmother, and the Japanese homeland from which her family is descended. A country shuffle, “Oranges” features inspired lap steel guitar from Wong and a Beatles-y lively melodic feel. Read more about Joy here.

“Days Like These”, Low
From HEY WHAT (2021, Sub Pop)

I suppose I’m in the right demographic to long for the slowcore Low of the 90s and the lush orchestral Low of the turn of the century, and to bellyache about how they lost me when they started using “loops and shit”. But that hasn’t happened; I was totally down with Double Negative like all the cool kids, and I’m more than happy to keep following the Duluthians if they’re going to throw songs like “Days Like These” at me for my troubles (see the Yves Tumor section of this post for more ruminations on this aspect of my music listening). The lead single from the band’s upcoming 13th album starts off as the two-person Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker Gospel Choir in the first verse before the band and producer BJ Burton unleash their new favorite modes of glitch and distortion over the second go-around. Unlike a lot of Double Negative, though, the digital storm doesn’t deconstruct “Days Like These” so much as obscure it—the full power of the first verse is still there, just mutated. The entire second half of the song is an ambient outro, by the way—some time to reflect and get excited to hear the rest of HEY WHAT.

“Running Back”, Thin Lizzy
From Jailbreak (1976, Vertigo/Mercury)

When Zach Zollo and I were planning the collaborative feature on Osmosis Tones where we talked about bands we thought were underrated, one of his suggestions was Thin Lizzy. I had a strong feeling that Mr. Zollo was onto something, but since I was only really familiar with the “hits” at the time, I demurred on them. And after spending the past month delving into some lesser-appreciated Thin Lizzy material, I can say definitively: yep, they rule. This isn’t to say that “Running Back” is a Thin Lizzy obscurity, exactly. It’s on their most popular album, after all. But it is a Thin Lizzy song I never really appreciated until now. I’d heard Jailbreak before, but that album to me was the title track (the song that best captures the “Thin Lizzy sound” as I understand it), “The Boys Are Back in Town” (a colossus that is completely unmoored from a band, album, era, etc for me), and “Cowboy Song” (secretly the best one). “Running Back” is as good as, if not better, than the singles, however. It’s not exactly a “rocker” in the same way as their signature songs, although it does rock. It’s about the finger-snapping piano motif, the joyous saxophone, and above all, Phil Lynott’s self-effacing, shit-eating grin of a lyric and delivery. It’s the Thin Lizzy song that Bright Eyes can cover and not sound absurd for doing so (well, okay, they sound a little absurd). It’s destined to never bring the house down the same way that the song about the boys being back in down does, but I can imagine it.

“Pasadena”, We Are the Union
From Ordinary Life (2021, Bad Time)

“Pasadena”, the opening track from Ordinary Life, is not the explicit coming-out anthem that lead single “Morbid Obsessions” (discussed earlier) is, but it is an anthem of a sort. What it does is properly kick off We Are the Union’s fifth LP, which details Reade Wolcott’s experience of realizing and coming to terms with being a trans woman, but also deals with romantic uncertainty and doesn’t always follow a direct autobiographical path. Wolcott’s lyrics hop from first- to second- to third- person throughout the record, making it not clear whether or not “Pasadena” is a trans allegory, a romantic breakup, or somewhere in between (which would be where I’d place my money). Lines like “Underwater / You can’t breathe without her” and “It’s a shame, your secret smokes in the alleyway” could be read either way. It also functions as one bookend to the linear narrative that Ordinary Life does follow—to get to the confident, perfunctory resolution of “December” (the “killing” of Wolcott’s old self, the realization that “we are everything but ordinary”), we have to begin with the anxiety, confusion, and “everyday mundane” of “Pasadena”. Oh, and also this song rocks.

“Run Wild”, Options
From On the Draw (2021)

The closing track from On the Draw is yet another short, catchy pop rock burst—not the kind of song I’d peg for a closer on its surface. Options’ Seth Engel might agree with me—on the record’s Bandcamp page, he makes sure to mention that the songs are “sequenced in the order they were made” and refers to the 18-minute collection of songs as a “mixtape”, so I’m not sure if I was accurate earlier when I called it the band’s “eighth album”. Still, it’s at the end of On the Draw, and the song seems to be (at least partially) about the act of songwriting itself  (“Not tryna write nothing / Not tryna not sing in a key … / It’s bad attention now / Have fun just makin’ the track”) which leaves us on a curtain-pulled-back, meta note. More importantly, though, is that “Run Wild” slaps—Engel really runs wild with the auto-tuned vocal harmonies that make it even more susceptible to getting stuck in my head, and despite the mixtape’s overall brevity, Options still finds time for a nice instrumental outro.

“Sometimes”, Flour
From Machinery Hill (1991, Touch and Go)

Flour’s Machinery Hill was a fun recent virtual-crate digging find for me. I mean, it came out on Touch and Go, so it’s not like I was doing some deep-diving excavation job here. But I’d never heard of Flour before, and I like this kind of shit. Anyway, Flour was (is?) Minneapolis’ Pete Conway, who played bass for notable weird underground 80s bands Rifle Sport and Breaking Circus, and Flour was his solo project. Machinery Hill, the only Flour album I’ve heard in full, is a dark industrial-noise rock-punk-drum machine mess of a record that falls somewhere between late 80s-Swans and Big Black (whose Steve Albini played in the live version of Flour along with Shellac’s Todd Trainer). Not exactly the warmest welcome, to be sure, but there’s a pop song buried underneath “Sometimes”. I can’t really make out what Conway is alternatively muttering and singing throughout the track, but I hear the final line of the refrain loud and clear: “She doesn’t listen anymore / Not gonna be somebody’s whore”. Not the worst use of this seething instrumental. The last Flour album came out in 1994; I have no idea what Pete Conway is up to now. I found a forum post from 2004 that claimed he was a carpenter and a chef in Minneapolis (which, I should point out, are two separate jobs with zero overlap) and I’ve heard someone else say he lives in Australia now, but I couldn’t find anything to verify this.

“Way Back to the World”, The Mountain Movers
From World What World (2021, Trouble in Mind)

World What World is a shambling psychedelic guitar-fuzz-rock experience—The Mountain Movers have clearly listened to a lot of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, but perhaps more notably is that they seem to view Weld and Arc on equal footing with one another. Thorny workouts like “Final Sunset” sit on the same shelf as the cosmic rest-stop-Americana of “Haunted Eyes”. And rising above it all is “Way Back to the World”, a gloriously ragged country-rock anthem that’s as inviting as it is world-weary. Kryssi Battalene’s beast of a lead guitar eventually wrests control of the song in its second half, but not before vocalist Dan Greene gets in plenty of airtime for that sing-along of a titular refrain. The whole thing is undergirded by surprisingly melodic bass playing from Rick Omonte, which only adds to the charm of a song that manages to be both understated and in-your-face at the same time.

“Let Me Bathe in Demonic Light”, The Mountain Goats
From Dark in Here (2021, Merge)

Last year’s Songs for Pierre Chuvin cassette notwithstanding, the Mountain Goats don’t really make the kind of albums that end up being my favorites of the year any more. And that’s totally fine. I can listen to Full Force Galesburg and Isopanisad Radio Hour whenever I want. I can appreciate the post-Beat the Champ albums for what they are, and be happy that they still resonate with a lot of people. Also, like I discussed with Okkervil River last month, I still spin every new release because I know there’s a good chance something on there will knock my socks off. Enter “Let Me Bathe in Demonic Light”, the superb closing track from last month’s Dark in Here. John Darnielle’s vocals are as front-and-center and showy as ever, with none of the restraint that plagued 2019’s In League with Dragons. The plodding instrumentals that made 2020’s Getting Into Knives a difficult personal listen are kept to a tasteful flute outro. If I wanted to, I could take my favorite tracks from the recorded-back-to-back Knives and Dark in Here and make a pretty good single album, or take my favorite half of Dark in Here (“Parisian Enclave”, “The Destruction of the Kola Superdeep Borehole Tower”, “The New Hydra Collection”, “The Slow Parts on Death Metal Albums, the long-titled one about David Berman, and this one, for those keeping track) and make a pretty good Mountain Goats EP. But I could also keep listening in full to see if, say, “When a Powerful Animal Comes” ever does anything for me.

“Heavy Glow”, The Glow
From Love Only b/w Heavy Glow (2021, Double Double Whammy)

The song is called “Heavy Glow” by the band The Glow—and that’s exactly what it is. The seven-minute B-side to the band’s excellent new single feels sort of like an extension of the drawn-out, fuzz meditations that guitarist/vocalist Mike Caridi’s previous band, LVL UP, explored on their final album together, Return to Love (the Caridi-written “Pain” is the most obvious touchstone, but Nick Corbo’s “Naked in the River with the Creator” also feels relevant). Of course, one of the biggest departures from LVL UP and from previous output by The Glow is the vocals: instead of Caridi, Kate Meizer takes the lead for the first time in the band’s short history. Meizer’s voice is confident and clear, but she’s not any more of the “star” of the song than Caridi would be if it were him at the helm: “Heavy Glow”, the band’s “first entirely collaborative song”, is about the band’s four members gelling together as an equal-footing unit. This is exemplified best in the song’s back half, where Meizer’s singing drops out entirely and is replaced with what is apparently four different guitar solos contributed by everyone in the band. To me, it just sounds like one beautiful, continuous squall of noise.

“Eyesight”, Downhaul
From PROOF (2021, Refresh)

Although “Dried” was a late addition to the May 2021 Rosy Overdrive playlist, I had a feeling that I wasn’t yet done with PROOF, and here “Eyesight” is to keep Downhaul on all of our minds over a month after the album’s release. The beginning of “Eyesight” eschews the heady emo-rock sound that characterizes most of PROOF, instead building up with some airy synths and a drum machine over which lead singer Gordon Phillips transcends the song. “Maybe all this means is we gave a little more / During the years we fought the sea, just to wash up on the shore,” muses Phillips at the song’s denouement, the message of futility brushing up against the closest the song gets to the summer storms alluded to earlier in the lyrics. Even so, however, “there’s not a second I would change”, says Phillips: “I would love you all the same”. “Eyesight” was originally going to be the closing track of PROOF, and it does have a finality to it, to the point where actual final track “About Leaving” might best be thought of as an epilogue. Something similar happened with its place in this playlist. Read more about PROOF here.

“Henry Needs a New Pair of Shoes”, Lowest of the Low
From Shakespeare My Butt… (1991, Page)

Of all the songs on this playlist, “Henry Needs a New Pair of Shoes” is, by far, the one I’ve listened to the most over the past month. I became obsessed with it over the course of a road trip. My partner and I even came up with a Malcolm in the Middle-esque sitcom intro theme for the song, because it so clearly deserves one (I think it ended with Henry’s shoes somehow being launched into space). So what is this, exactly? Well, Lowest of the Low are a band that has a modest amount of notoriety in their native Canada, and 1991’s hour-long Shakespeare My Butt… seems to have amassed something of a cult following in the thirty years following its release. It’s got a user-friendly folk/college/jangle rock sound that could be described as in the same ballpark as the Spin Doctors (if you wanted to be a snobby music critic), R.E.M. (if you wanted to be respectable), or the Gin Blossoms (because the Gin Blossoms are a good band). Vocalist Ron Hawkins kind of reminds me of Bruce Cockburn, and although I couldn’t find a primary source on this, John K. Samson of The Weakerthans has apparently written about this album’s importance to his writing style. Canadians of a feather, etc etc. “Henry Needs a New Pair of Shoes” is the seventeenth track on an album that stretches over sixty minutes, and it’s the goofy, cathartic, extremely catchy big finish that Shakespeare My Butt… more than earns. And we’ve earned it too! Maybe just one more listen…

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