Each week we break down our favorite song, highlight our honorable mentions, and wrap them all up with other staff recommendations into a New Sounds playlist just for you. Be sure to subscribe here. This week’s top song is Big Thief’s “Not”.
Big Thief have already graced us with one album in 2019. This past week, however, they announced another to be released before the year is up. Two Hands, the follow-up to May’s U.F.O.F., is due out in October via 4AD. Along with the announcement of a new record, we were made privy to one of its first tracks, “Not”, a song the band have played live on occasion.
The story goes that sometime last summer the quartet, consisting of Adrianne Lenker, Buck Meek, James Krivchenia, and Max Oleartchik, put aside a few weeks in their jam-packed touring schedule to head to the enveloping forest in northern Washington state. It’s there where they recorded their astronomical LP, U.F.O.F.. As it turns out, just days after this recording session in the woods, Two Handswas recorded at the Sonic Ranch studio about 30 miles west of El Paso, Texas.
Two Hands is described by the band as its predecessor’s “earth twin,” seeing as it was recorded in the scorching heat of a Texan desert, and as Lenkner says in a statement: “Two Hands has the songs that I’m the most proud of; I can imagine myself singing them when I’m old. Musically and lyrically, you can’t break it down much further than this. It’s already bare-bones.”
“Not” is our first taste of just that and is a six-minute rush of inescapable emotions. As mentioned before, the band have been playing the song in some variation live in their sets for quite some time, and if you’ve had the chance to hear it, you can probably still feel it tugging your heartstrings. The song begins with rumbling guitar and a guiding bass line that leads you straight into Lenkner’s emotive vocals, which transcend into a powerful squawk that sends chills down your spine. “Not” having a proper recording just gives us a glimpse into how much might could be in this new record and how much mightier the band have become.
It’s quietly becoming Big Thief’s year.
OTHER SONGS WE’RE SPINNING
Ride – “Clouds of Saint Marie”
Shoegaze has had a revival in the last few years, with some sort of return from every major ensemble in the genre, including My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Lush, and, of course, Ride. In 2017, UK shoegaze legends Ride reunited and returned with Weather Diaries, their first album in 21 years. And it wasn’t a one-off. Shortly after the record, we were graced with its companion EP, Tomorrow’s Shore. And now Ride have released their second post-reunion album, This Is Not a Safe Place, and this week we’re gushing over the record’s third single, “Clouds of Saint Marie”, which is, to put simply, so lovely. “Clouds of Saint Marie” delivers a full return to the ethereal and effervescence that makes Ride who they are. It’s a layered wall of sounds with full-on chiming and airy synths bled together through sigh-like vocals. It’s a track that could have easily been released in the midst of the first shoegaze boom in the mid-’90s. –Samantha Lopez
Jenny Hval – “High Alice”
“High Alice” reads like Norwegian musician Jenny Hval’s reinterpretation of Alice in Wonderland. It makes sense that Hval, concerned with sexuality and the loss of boundary between self and other, would be drawn to Lewis Carroll’s 150-year-old children’s classic, whose heavily psychedelic leanings really aren’t appreciated like they should be. “High Alice” is soundtracked front to back by a beat that’s just slightly too abrasive, too jittery for the dance floor, but perfect for Hval’s quietly stated but self-assured reflections. –Sean Lang
(Sandy) Alex G – “Southern Sky”
Alex G has a talent for capturing foreboding melodies that still feel like they could be appropriately described as “rollicking”. Arriving as the third single ahead of House of Sugar, the familiarly nostalgic “Southern Sky” follows suit. Carnivalesque piano opens the track, which also features Emily Yacina on its chorus and on backing vocals throughout. Rounding out “Southern Sky” are strings that will sound familiar to anyone who tuned in for Giannascoli’s 2017 album, Rocket. –Sean Lang
JPEGMAFIA – “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am a Thot”
JPEGMAFIA, born Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, emerged into the mainstream with 2018’s Veteran, his reputation bolstered by unbelievably energetic live performances and several guest features, including on Flume’s “How to Build a Relationship” and Channel Tres’ “Black Moses”. If JPEGMAFIA’s modus operandi could be distilled into a short phrase, it would be something that sounds embarrassingly cliche, like “always be yourself no matter what,” but holds a lot of water if you look at his recent success. This past week, he released “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am a Thot”, whose title makes a lot of sense. Across the track’s two-and-a-half minutes, JPEGMAFIA drops reference after reference over a trippy, always-shifting beat, while he himself also shifts through vocal styles, sometimes rapping, sometimes crooning, sometimes shouting. –Sean Lang
Click ahead for more song picks and our exclusive playlist.
Devon Welsh – “Somebody Loves You”
On “Somebody Loves You”, Devon Welsh tackles big questions with restraint and earnestness. “I can feel the time go/ Looking out the window, thinking/ What am I living for?” sings his thin baritone over sparse synths. Though minimal, Welsh’s production conjures the image of a vast expanse, like he’s reaching for something beyond the physical. He teases us with the possibility, declaring, “Heaven is a place/ I do hope you find,” hesitating after the word “place” for a moment long enough to confuse us about his intentions. –Sean Lang
Bon Iver – “Faith”
Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has grown a lot since the days of For Emma, For Ever Ago. The indie-folk mountain-man began journeying toward a more metaphysical landscape with us to explore. 22, A Million was more concerned with a specific emotional place rather than literal storytelling and the artist’s latest record, i,i, follows in that path. Although the entire album was released three weeks before scheduled, this week we’re highlighting “Faith” to talk about. “Faith”, like the record’s fist single, “Hey, Ma”, trades the storytelling lyrical approach for more of a soft-spoken and plain-word vocal style, which is then washed over with glitching guitar strings, spiraling and pulsing drums, and tied together with a what-seems-foreign-now acoustic guitar sound. Contextually, doubt and insecurity are present in “Faith”, in both its lyrics and dusky electronics. “Faith” showcases Bon Iver charting a deeply thought out intimacy through the sounds of individual words that are meticulously arranged and doused in distortion. –Samantha Lopez
Vivian Girls – “Something to Do”
After splitting up in 2014, New York’s Vivian Girls announced a reunion and new record this year. Memory is due out next month, and this week we were presented with the upcoming album’s second single. “Something to Do” feels like the girls taking care of unfinished business and has the classic Vivian Girls staples: a peppy drumbeat, echo-y harmonies/melodies, scuzzy guitars and hazy reverb. “Something to Do” follows the release of “Sick”, which was the group’s first new track in eight years. Vivian Girls’ last album was 2011’s Share the Joy. Announcing their return last month a full four years after they broke up, Cassie Ramone, Katy Goodman, and Ali Koehler also shared a series of upcoming tour dates: they’ll play shows in LA, Brooklyn, Chicago, and more this fall. –Samantha Lopez
Chris Farren – “Search 4 Me”
If you don’t follow Chris Farren on Twitter, you probably should. For the past week and a half, much of his content has revolved around a billboard that reads “1-810-BORN-HOT” located in Los Angeles where Farren is based. Anyone who actually called the hotline heard a preview of “Search 4 Me”, the leading single ahead of Born Hot, Farren’s solo debut on Polyvinyl. The song is accompanied with a playful but surprisingly sentimental music video in which Farren’s character’s cat goes viral for peeing on a magazine cover bearing Trump’s face. Amid endorsement deals and book signings, #ResistCat chokes on taffy and passes away, bringing his owner’s newly lavish lifestyle to a halting stop. –Sean Lang
Chelsea Wolfe – “Be All Things”
Next month, Chelsea Wolfe will release a new album, Birth of Violence. So far, we’ve been presented with its dark folk-leaning single “The Mother Road” and the bellowing follow-up “American Darkness”. This week, the Los Angeles artist shared “Be All Things”. In a statement, Wolfe goes on to say the song is “navigating the world as a woman: reconciling the soft and the strong, balancing the warrior and the goddess, and wanting to be everything and nothing at the same time.” She continues, “Telling stories through song allows me to explore so many facets of myself; so many lives within. Some days I want to be quiet and reach my roots into the earth, and some days I want to spring up from the ground and be all things.” Along with the new song, a harrowing video accompanies it. The video is compiled footage taken from what Wolfe describes as “a few magical locations” between Iceland and Northern California. –Samantha Lopez
Our New Sounds Playlist