Another monthly playlist is here! It’s a weird one! A lot of stuff from this year, of course, a few selections from 1980 (the year I’m currently digging into), and a good deal of miscellaneous songs! But they’re all good!
The only band with multiple songs on the playlist this time around is this up-and-coming new group called, uh, Squeeze (although there are also two Bob Mould appearances between multiple projects).
Here is where you can listen to the playlist on various streaming services: Spotify, Tidal, BNDCMPR. Be sure to check out previous playlist posts if you’ve enjoyed this one.
From Love the Stranger (2022, Merge)
I liked “Ugly Little Victory”, the first song from Friendship’s upcoming Merge Records debut, Love the Stranger. Its sped-up tempo combined with the unmistakable voice of lead singer Dan Wriggins made me curious to hear more of where the band is going. However—I love “Hank”, the second single. Wriggins’ voice and lyrics are perfect—it’s far from his most overtly emotional or expressive performance, but his build-up to the song’s simple yet effective refrain (“What an ugly thought / IiiiiI was thinking”) couldn’t fit the song better. And the percolating electric guitar lead that basically runs through the whole song is a nice surprising edition, evoking their new labelmates in Lambchop and even Crooked Fingers (didn’t think you’d read a Crooked Fingers comparison today, did you?).
“I Don’t Want Hope”, Cave People
From Wind Burn (2022, Disposable America)
I’m sure anyone reading this blog is familiar with the concept of a song providing a mirror to something going on with you internally. Unfortunately for me, today that song is “I Don’t Want Hope” by Cave People. “I don’t want hope, I don’t need it in my indecision,” sings the band’s Dave Tomaine over a cheerful country-rock instrumental that pretty much accomplishes everything it needs to in 90 seconds but keeps going for the fun of it. “I was told so many things would come with patience / So I waited like a dog for a bone,” he recalls at another point in the track, tacitly acknowledging the error of his past ways. In the song’s most memorable moment, Tomaine declares “I’m a piece of shit / And you’re an asshole”…maybe that’ll do it. Maybe that’ll make the distance uncrossable.
From World Full of Worry (2022, Totally Snick)
Chester, England indie pop trio Peaness (yeah yeah I know) has been around for a nearly a decade, but World Full of Worry (which they released on their own record label, Totally Snick) is only their debut full-length record. It’s a smooth album with plenty of guitar-pop hooks, but “Irl” in particular is a beast of a single. “Irl” is, I think, about the disconnect between how one can present oneself in a carefully-curated digital environment and What’s Actually Going On, which is probably why it can get away with a joyous, dance-friendly energy while asking “What if I told you lies? … / …. What if I said I’m fine?” in its chorus.
From Melody Maker (2022, Don Giovanni)
A highlight among the supremely solid Melody Maker EP, “Trophy” is a power pop stomper where Supercrush let their Matthew Sweet flag fly proudly. The band say that the song originates from their attempt to conjure up the spirit of 1990s one-hit wonder guitar bands, and they pull out all the stops (crunchy power chords, a cranked-up key change) to get there. Read more about Melody Maker here.
From Managers (2022)
“Coronet” closes Oblivz’s Managers EP, a step forward in their synthpop/post-punk sound in which Andrew Slater’s guitar duels with electronic elements and Charlie Wilmoth unspools opaque but evocative lyrics. The opening guitar riff kicks off an instrumental that feels particularly inspired by escape, of leaving all the garbage behind in the dust. “Made to play make-believe,” Wilmoth declares curiously toward the end of the song. Read more about Managers here.
“Training Montage”, the Mountain Goats
From Bleed Out (2022, Merge)
I don’t want to do the “best album/single since ______” thing, but I will say that “Training Montage” makes me feel how Mountain Goats songs felt when they were my favorite band, something I haven’t been able to say about a lead single from one of their records since the better part of a decade. “Training Montage” and the record from which it comes, Bleed Out, were produced by Bully’s Alicia Bognanno (a name I never thought I’d see associated with the Mountain Goats), and it sounds like what I would’ve initially thought “the Mountain Goats as a quartet” would sound like: an extension of the band’s 2000s 4AD Records output, but fuller-sounding.
“Clean Getaway”, Caroline Spence
From True North (2022, Rounder)
I’ve been aware of Caroline Spence for a while, even as she has traditionally operated in a different sphere of music than the one in which I usually immerse myself. I was somewhat surprised to see True North get some attention in my circles, but after spending some time with it, I’m happy to report that it deserves it. It’s not a showy record overall, but “Clean Getaway” is a killer roots-pop song that pulls out all the stops. Eager to please, easy to grasp with coming off as dumbed-down or sanded-away—there’s always a place for songs like this.
From Human Error / Human Delight (2022, Peculiar Works)
On their fifth album together as a trio, Brooklyn’s SAVAK make music that’s informed by decades of experience and appreciation of underground indie rock, but that doesn’t sound bogged down by all this theoretical weight. The group seem to make music that they would want to hear, and while sometimes this veers into scorching post-punk, they can also turn in something more tender—like “Empathy”, which is catchy in a straight-up power pop fashion. Read more about Human Error / Human Delight here.
“Pulling Muscles (From the Shell)”, Squeeze
From Argybargy (1980, A&M)
I don’t know why I’d never really given Squeeze a shot until last month (probably because there’s just too much music out there?), but Argybargy was easily my favorite older music discovery of May. It’s hard for someone of my cohort to hear a song like “Pulling Muscles (From the Shell)” without thinking man, Ted Leo was heavily influenced by these guys—music writers love to list the “cooler” Pharmacists touchstones like The Clash and Thin Lizzy, but this song sounds more actually like Leo than any in those two bands’ discographies. As for the song itself—Wikipedia says that the title is supposed to be a sexual metaphor, but I like to imagine it’s just about a nice time at the beach.
“Needle Hits E”, Sugar
From Copper Blue: Deluxe Edition (2012, Merge)
Some of you are probably aware that I’ve been on a big Bob Mould kick lately. It’s hard to stay away from any artist who’s capable of making something as singular and towering as Copper Blue is in my estimation. It’s such a great record that Sugar didn’t even have room for “Needle Hits E”, a vintage hard-charging Mould pop song that could only ever really be outshone in the context of an album that also contains “The Act We Act”, “A Good Idea”, “Helpless”, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”, etc. So instead it was sent to B-side-dom, appearing on the “Changes” single (that’s double A-side quality as far as I’m concerned) for people like me to rediscover years after the fact.
“I Just Need a Second”, Cool Original
From Outtakes from “Bad Summer” (2022, Topshelf)
In “I Just Need a Second”, everything swirling around throughout Outtakes from “Bad Summer” comes together to create a dagger of a five-minute pop song. Cool Original is the vehicle of Strange Ranger drummer Nathan Tucker, and his band’s blend of catchy alt-rock with more experimental fare is a good reference point for Cool Original, as is fellow Philly studio projects Russel the Leaf and Thank You Thank You. There are all sorts of touches to “I Just Need a Second” that give it a being-viewed-from-underwater haziness, but Tucker lets the song speak for itself for the most part, lets the melody worm its way into your head on its own.
“Dream City”, Free Energy
From Stuck on Nothing (2010, DFA)
Hey, anyone remember these guys? Free Energy? Anyone? They released their debut album on DFA at the height of LCD Soundsystem’s power, leading to a funny indie music moment where critics were hailing a 70s-worshipping power pop dude band in a way that very rarely happens (the inevitable backlash was quite harsh). Blissfully unaware of who Tim Goldsworthy was, I discovered Free Energy because I heard “Bang Pop” at a Dick’s Sporting Goods once. That’s still one of my go-to pop songs, but the rest of Stuck on Nothing holds up quite well, particularly the swaggering “Dream City”, one of the half-dozen tracks that could’ve been the “Free Energy theme song”.
“Didn’t Come Here to Count ‘Em”, The Best Around
I’ve previously written about The Best Around’s synthpop-influenced cover of Silkworm’s “Young”, but the Austin band’s latest (original) song is perhaps something one might be more inclined to expect from a Texas group. “Didn’t Come Here to Count ‘Em” is a rollicking country-rock tune recounting an alcohol-fueled misadventure (the follow-up to the title line: “I came here to drink ‘em”). Singer Camron Rushin gets plenty of mileage from familiar milestones—mistaking his own wife for another woman through “beer goggles”, tangling with law enforcement, you know—all while the band (aided by trumpet from Jon Merz and a lot of touches from multi-instrumentalist Todd Pruner) adds a lot of depth to the tune.
“Twin Coasts”, No One Sphere
From Isn’t Everything About Something (2022, Too Much Fun)
No One Sphere is the project of Washington, D.C.’s Dave Mann, and he and his group of collaborators (multi-instrumentalist Jarrett Nicolay, violinst/vocalist Emily Chimiak, vocalist Adrienne Kennelly) have put together a frequently rocking but always hooky debut record in Isn’t Everything About Something. “Twin Coasts” kicks off the album with fuzzy power pop, keyboards and guitars punching up Mann’s blatantly catchy chorus and sneakily just-as-catchy verses.
“The Amarillo Kid”, Craig Finn
From A Legacy of Rentals (2022, Positive Jams/Thirty Tigers)
It’s not exactly surprising that Craig Finn’s solo material has been good of late, but the Hold Steady frontman is still surprising me with just how he succeeds on A Legacy of Rentals. Album highlight “The Amarillo Kid” is vintage Finn lyrically—either you’re into it or you’re not, it comes highly recommended from me personally—but, like the best moments from 2019’s I Need a New War, it’s delivered over a spirited instrumental. Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer The Hold Steady musically, but that weird little intro and interlude synth/bass thing is, surprisingly, just as memorable as Finn’s words.
“Around You”, Say Sue Me
From The Last Thing Left (2022, Damnably)
The third album from South Korea’s Say Sue Me is an impeccable indie rock record, in great part due to tracks like “Around You”. It’s not an overly flashy song, but it’s sneakily incredibly-written and executed, and by now it’s maybe one of my favorite songs I’m highlighting in this post. Say Sue Me aren’t really a straight dream pop band, and “Around You” has way too much energy to be mistaken for that genre, but there is an airiness to the song that puts it somewhere other than “retro pop rock run through an indie filter”.
“Chelsea Encounter”, John Jody
From Crooked Star (2022, Ramp Local)
With Crooked Star, New York’s John Jody veers hard into acoustic, singer-songwriter folk music, fairly far removed from the more experimental fare he’d been making under the name Black Nash. Jody is quite good at writing sparse songs, as Crooked Star’s first track and lead single “Chelsea Encounter” reveals. The wide-eyed song features pedal steel flourishes and a siren going off faintly in the background in the midst of a captivating three minutes. Read more about Crooked Star here.
“Happy Woman Blues”, Lucinda Williams
From Happy Woman Blues (1980, Smithsonian Folkways)
Long before Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, there was Happy Woman Blues, released by Smithsonian Folkways nearly two decades before Lucinda Williams’ magnum opus. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s a much more traditional-sounding record than what would come later, but it’s Williams’ first record of all-original material, and she’s already got “it” (it’s already got a version of “I Lost It”, which would become arguably the best song on Car Wheels). The record’s title track is a slide guitar-enhanced blast, and an early peak for Williams in terms of vocal performance.
“I Wanna Hold Your Electric Hand”, Oneida
From Success (2022, Joyful Noise)
You don’t need to be familiar with the wide discography of New York’s Oneida to appreciate “I Wanna Hold Your Electric Hand”, the lead single to the band’s upcoming record Success (I think it’s their thirteenth, but it varies based on what you count). Befitting its simple title, “I Wanna Hold Your Electric Hand” is a euphoric two-chord rocker that’s immediately charming. It reminds me of the more transcendent moments of studious rock bands like Yo La Tengo, Silkworm, and Eleventh Dream Day, and its energy evokes the perpetually underrated Parts & Labor. I’ll have more to say about Oneida in the future.
“Wait in the Car”, The Breeders
From All Nerve (2018, 4AD)
Am I a morning person? Relative to other parts of the day, I suppose I am, but I don’t really fit the bill of how a “morning person” acts. Anyway, I have a job that starts pretty early, and when I find myself interacting with other people at that hour, I find myself thinking of the song which features the most effective use of “good morning!” in music. The first five seconds of “Wait in the Car” feature a brief guitar riff and Kim Deal rather, um, forcefully uttering the aforementioned greeting. It’s up there with the “Cannonball” intro as far as I’m concerned. So, there, [co-worker name redacted], here’s some fucking morning cheer for you.
“Cop Just Out of Frame”, Propagandhi
From Victory Lap (2017, Epitaph)
Oh, goodness. There is a lot I could say about this song, much of which falls outside the direct purview of these (allegedly) brief song entries. Oh, also, suicide content warning for this one. The title of “Cop Just Out of Frame” does not actually refer to the shocking but sadly unsurprising display of pure cowardice we all had the misfortune of witnessing in southern Texas recently, but rather an odd detail about the 1963 self-immolation of Vietnamese monk Thích Quàng Dúc (you know, the one on the Rage album cover). It’s something of a meditation by singer Chris Hannah on the disconnect between his beliefs and his (self-perceived) inaction, but the line that sticks with me is about what would actually happen if he followed in Quàng Dúc’s footsteps (“The only tale that would be told / Would be that it was me, not them, who was insane”).
“Dominoes”, Shoulder Season
From Not the Time (2022)
Not the Time is a nice, solid EP from Nova Scotia’s Shoulder Season. The quartet hits on something right off the bat with the record’s opening track, the anxious 90s alt-rock “Dominoes”. The song zips along to a brisk drumbeat provided by Meg Yoshida (also of Dog Day), while Mel Sturk’s power chords pace back and forth to soundtrack a lyric that features an appropriate amount of trepidation about the state of things and whatnot. The band (also featuring keyboardist/vocalist Karen Foster and bassist Kristina Parlee of Smaller Hearts) gets in and out in under two and a half minutes, as it should be.
“Hawks Don’t Share”, Carson McHone
From Still Life (2022, Merge)
The latest record from Austin-originating singer-songwriter Carson McHone is out on the great Merge Records, and was produced by her husband, Daniel Romano. Still Life is, predictably, a quality album, but it’s still very much McHone’s show, and she supplies the best parts of the record. Opening track and lead single “Hawks Don’t Share” features some very Romano-esque maximalist horn-and-keyboard accents, but the swelling country-rock tune at the heart of it is what pulls everything up with it.
“Look Back”, The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness
From The Third Wave of… (2022, Bobo Integral)
The only fault I could really find with Songs from Another Life, the 2021 sophomore record from The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness, is that it was too short. Thankfully, the duo of Andrew Taylor and Gonzalo Marcos are already rolling out its follow-up, this September’s The Third Wave of…. Single “Look Back”, as its title implies, continues the band’s streak of nostalgia-tinged, bittersweet songwriting from a thematic perspective. Musically, meanwhile, it’s bright, shiny, harmonious jangle pop at its finest, just as we’ve come to expect from TBWTPN.
“Live This Way”, Gorgeous Bully
From Am I Really Going to Die Here (2022)
In what I’ve come to recognize as vintage Gorgeous Bully fashion, “Live This Way” is a catchy, hooky lo-fi indie rock song with unavoidably sad lyrics. “Live This Way” is more subdued than, say, Am I Going to Die Here’s lead-off track “Sick of Everything”, but when it comes down to it, it’s a weary song about Thomas Crang observing to whoever cares to listen that he can’t, in fact, live this way. Read more about Am I Really Going to Die Here here.
“Playing House”, R.E. Seraphin
From Swingshift (2022, Mt. St. Mtn./Dandy Boy/Safe Suburban Home/Tear Jerk)
The Bay Area’s R.E. Seraphin recorded the core of his Swingshift EP in his bedroom, with other musicians’ contributions later overdubbed. Despite these homespun origins, Swingshift reaches for the more spirited, full-band version of power/jangle pop on “Playing House”. The opening track features a thumping drumbeat and a blaring guitar line, and at one point lets loose a triumphant guitar solo that justifies Seraphin’s citing of Cheap Trick as an influence on its own. Read more about Swingshift here.
“My Living Wage”, Tiers La Familia
From Active Cultures/Active Couture (2022, Strategy of Tension)
Tiers La Familia is the project of New York’s Joe Sidney, and Active Cultures/Active Couture finds Sidney exploring a chaotic, frequently abrasive style of electro-punk. The album was released on cassette by Jeff Tobias’ Strategy of Tension label (Tobias himself plays on a few songs), although Sidney’s blend of synths and rock band elements is a world away from Tobias’ pristine Recurring Dream. “My Living Wage”, tucked away near the end of the tape, is the album’s biggest “pop” moment, a blaring fuzz-rock tune that has some beauty buried underneath.
“The Crunch”, Toy Love
From Toy Love (1980, Deluxe)
I’ve been a fan of Tall Dwarfs and Chris Knox’s solo career for quite awhile now, but last month marked the first time I’d really listened to the band that started it all for Knox and Tall Dwarf co-leader Alec Bathgate. The 1980 Toy Love album is mostly what I expected to hear (which is a good thing)— more in line with the then-current wave of punk rock happening in much larger countries than their home of New Zealand, but with Knox’s sharp songwriting already peaking through the snotty cracks. “The Crunch” is a particularly curious one, with hard-charging verses attached to something of a meditative chorus.
“19”, Snow Ellet
From Glory Days (2022, Wax Bodega)
Chicagoland’s Snow Ellet (the solo project of Eric Reyes) is already prepping the follow-up to last year’s Suburban Indie Rock Star (which was one of my favorite EPs of 2021); hell, at the pace I’m doing these, Glory Days might already be out by the time this goes up. Lead single “19” is Snow Ellet’s entry into the world of “songs about being a certain age”, and it immediately goes up there with the best of those—Reyes’ killer vocal hooks, the power-pop-emo sheen, and the budget-but-great-sounding drum machine backing all make it one of their best songs yet.
“Another Nail in My Heart”, Squeeze
From Argybargy (1980, A&M)
Squeeze had already caused some consternation by giving their new record such a British title, and as catchy as “Pulling Muscles (From the Shell)” is, it seems like an odd hit single. There’s no mystery as to why “Another Nail in My Heart” succeeded, though. It feels like an important milestone on the pub rock-punk-new wave continuum: chugging guitar, unrestrained synth coloring, and, I mean, come on: “Here in the bar / The piano man’s found / Another nail for my heart”. That’ll be more than enough.
“Are You Terrified?”, J. Marinelli
From Putting the World to Rights (2022, ORG)
Last month, the Scandinavian-based, Appalachian-originating singer-songwriter James Marinelli announced the follow-up to last year’s Fjorden & Fjellet EP (one of my favorite EPs of 2021). Putting the World to Rights will feature those four songs, as well as “Are You Terrified?”, the record’s “official” lead single. “Are You Terrified?” continues Fjorden & Fjellet’s mission of cleaning up Marinelli’s lo-fi fuzz-folk-punk just enough to not lose its immediacy, and like some of the songs on that EP, it reads like it could be a grand global statement or an inner personal monologue.
“Heartbreak a Stranger”, Bob Mould
From Workbook (1989, Virgin)
Thirty-something years later, Workbook is still a pretty weird and fascinating album in the Bob Mould canon. It’s not my favorite record of his, but it’s really great for what it is, and it reaches successfully for something that Mould generally doesn’t reach for in his music. “Heartbreak a Stranger” is probably my favorite song from Workbook, its six minutes traveling across all sorts of assembled parts (that jangly guitar riff intro, a spare handclap, Mould really pushing himself vocally) to make a unique and memorable whole.
“Lambo”, Teenage Tom Petties
From Teenage Tom Petties (2022, Repeating Cloud/Safe Suburban Home)
Like lead single “Boatyard Winch”, “Lambo” is an absolute blast of lo-fi punk/power pop from Tom Brown’s Teenage Tom Petties project. It rips through two minutes of basically nonstop hooks filtered through a fuzzy roar—the track’s inherent coolness has very little to do with the titular luxury care. I’ll have more to say about Teenage Tom Petties soon.
“Rud Fins”, Robert Pollard
From Our Gaze (2022, GBV, Inc.)
I’m of two minds about Our Gaze, the recent compilation of two Robert Pollard solo records (2007’s Standard Gargoyle Decisions and Coast to Coast Carpet of Love) into one album. On the one hand, both of those albums are good enough to stand on their own, and culling the “best” from both of them leaves out many worthy songs. On the other one, though, both of those albums are underappreciated and largely forgotten, so if this is what it takes for them to get some kind of attention, I’ll take it. “Rud Fins” was never my favorite track on Coast to Coast Carpet of Love, but it shines enthusiastically in Our Gaze (Pollard superfans will also note the reference to a “Captain Hudson Rake” over a decade before said figure gets his own Guided by Voices song).
“Turn My Way”, Jeremy Scott
From Bear Grease (2022, Back to the Light)
Memphis’ Jeremy Scott is most well-known as a part of garage rockers Reigning Sound (he was an original member, left for awhile, and now is back in the band), but it’s his less raucous record under his own name that has caught my attention as of late. Despite being a musician for two decades or so, Bear Grease is Scott’s first solo album, but it’s a good argument for the guy to make a few more of them. Album opener “Turn My Way” is a subtle but really accessible mid-tempo country-rock tune—if you’re a fan of Jeff Tweedy, for instance, you’ll probably like it.
“Tooth & Nail”, Flamingo Rodeo
From Pontoon (2022, Shuga)
The second record from Flamingo Rodeo looks to be some of the finest Midwest country-rock Chicago has to offer. The project is spearheaded by Mikey Wells, best-known to me as a guitarist for the singular and dearly-departed NE-HI, and later as part of Spun Out. Pontoon and its lead single, “Tooth & Nail”, don’t compare neatly to either of those acts, with Wells instead veering much further into Americana and classic rock moves. I’ll have more to say about Pontoon eventually.
“Searching for a Former Clarity”, Against Me!
From Searching for a Former Clarity (2005, Fat Wreck Chords)
I’m too casual of an Against Me! fan to really wade into the very exhausting-seeming debates about when they stopped being good, what still holds up, why they left Fat Wreck Chords, etc. But I do like Searching for a Former Clarity—something I have reaffirmed recently—and the closing title track has been sticking with me as of late. Laura Jane Grace’s recent turn towards Mountain Goats-influenced storytelling in her recent solo work shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who paid attention to early Against Me!, but “Searching for a Former Clarity” in particular is an excellent specimen—as well as previewing another subject that Grace would, famously and historically, tackle with Against Me! a decade later.