Each week, our staff consumes a ton of media (like: so much)—everything from the latest Netflix adds to our favorite new indie albums to the game we’ve been meaning to play for a year now. But because we listen and watch so much, we can’t always get to everything. Here, however, editors and writers from across our staff will share their listening recommendations in this column every week. Everything from every era is welcome, be it an album, song, playlist, podcast or some demo tapes your dad’s band recorded in college. This week, our collective playlist features several helpings of indie-pop, some underground Chicago hardcore music and a few tributes to Kraftwerk, following co-founder Florian Schneider’s passing this week. Now, more than ever, it’s important to share, to truly connect with people in a different way, and one way we can do that is through music. Here’s what our staff is listening to this week: May this music bring you a little dose of joy (or whatever it is you need) during another week in this new isolated world.
After four explosive albums in the form of Hop Along, the opening strains of Frances Quinlan’s Likewise play appreciably against expectations. The singer possesses one of the greatest and most unique voices in rock ‘n’ roll today, an instrument of both ragged power and fluttering grace, but here it’s been tamed from the guttural intensity so often heard in classic Hop Along tracks like “Waitress.” Her first solo album is a pristine work of inventive, introspective and sometimes chaotic songwriting, and although I warmed to it quickly when it was released in February, I find myself repeatedly spinning it now at home, especially while I’m working. There isn’t a song that has been more deeply ingrained in my head for the last month than earworm “Your Reply,” to the point that I’m wondering if surgery may be required to dislodge it. Inspired by the notes found within the copy of a dog-eared book, there’s just something mesmerizing about how Quinlan manages to turn real-life horror—“The author I read fell from a window many stories high / stretching out to feed pigeons or a stray cat depending on the website”—into a turn of phrase that would only sound pretty when she’s the one delivering it. —Jim Vorel
I was all set to write about something else entirely until news of Florian Schneider’s death hit the internet yesterday. It’s been an unending tribute show in my office since, celebrating the seismic impact Kraftwerk has had on music and pop culture. One song I keep returning to is “Ohm Sweet Ohm,” the closer from 1975’s Radio-Activity. It has a somber, elegiac quality at the beginning, before it perks up into something more hopeful and aspirational. It beautifully captures the attitude we should hold towards death, making it an ideal way to pay my respects to the co-creator of some of the most important music ever made. —Garrett Martin
After I heard “How to Forgive” and “Need Your Love” from Tennis’ new album Swimmer in February, I went further back in their Spotify discography and found this gem, Yours Conditionally. I’m two years late, but this album rings with a devotion to melodic simplicity that’s classic. The husband-and-wife duo’s carefree songs blend the glittering image of romance (often idealized) with the tangible, sensual nuances that only come after years of communication. Patrick Riley’s riffs and chord progressions wrap their arms around Alaina Moore’s seductive vocals to make an everlasting sound. Each track has depth, but remains committed to staying carefree. “Fields of Blue” is an endless honeymoon phase in 4k, “Matrimony” rings like wedding bells for newlyweds and “Modern Woman” is the feminist melody that professes the emotional independence that keeps two people together. I give it a “<3/10.” —Jarrod Johnson II
Earlier this year, American-born and British-based singer/songwriter Erin Moran released her first album as A Girl Called Eddy in 15 years. Her critically-acclaimed self-titled debut arrived in 2004, which was produced by Richard Hawley and released on ANTI- Records. Per a press release, in the years since then, “she disappeared, procrastinated, did a world of other things then found herself writing again at home in New York’s West Village.” Been Around was released via Elefant Records and co-produced by Daniel Tashian, who also helmed Kacey Musgraves’ Grammy-winning Golden Hour. The album is a rich blend of classic rock, soul and baroque pop, and its warm grace never ceases thanks to Moran’s stunning, nurturing vocals, which will leave you misty-eyed without fail. Carole King is one of those sacred cow comparisons that should only be used sparingly, but this one is absolutely justified. This is one of the most moving releases of 2020 so far and the perfect elegant evening listen. —Lizzie Manno
Chicago punk supergroup CB Radio Gorgeous, which features members of CCTV, Forced into Femininity and Negative Scanner, released a tape a few years ago via Not Normal Records, and last week, they followed it up with their vinyl debut. This four-track, seven-inch release, simply titled EP, is seven-and-a-half minutes of thrashing, take-no-shit punk. With tinges of classic American hardcore and ’70s punk, this EP is a volcano of snotty attitude, but strong pop fundamentals and sharp production underpin it all. In case you didn’t know hardcore punk could sound stylish and spunky, here’s CB Radio Gorgeous. —Lizzie Manno
“Trans-Europe Express” was one of the first songs my boyfriend and I really bonded over. We love to put it on and, embodying this mechanical autocrat while doing so, awkwardly dance wild-eyed around our small apartment like an imposing overlord. With Florian Schneider’s passing, I suspect we’ll be having a renaissance with the track. I never realized until now, but the Trans-Europe Express is sort of another machine correlative for the band itself—they go all around Europe and even rendezvous with Bowie and Iggy Pop, eventually docking back in their hometown of Düsseldorf City. The album’s largely a musing on the unreal nature of their performance, the canvaslike mannequins the group presents to the world when performing, but it also has a purity to it. At the end of the day, they tour the endless expanse of Europe and meet their musical idols. Behind the mirror, Kraftwerk’s a group of friends with humble beginnings, always finding their way back to their own origin. —Austin Jones
I’m finding that the music I need most right now falls into one of two categories: Nostalgia (we’re talking anything pre-2020 that takes me back to louder, busier, less-quarantined times!) or something brand spankin’ new, preferably a newborn that’s also danceable. Canadian indie-pop group TOPS’ newest album I Feel Alive arrived just recently in April—PLUS it’s a prime soundtrack for taking a dance break in your kitchen or going on one of those quick daily jogs/walks we’re all doing now to get fresh air—so it definitely falls into the latter camp. While I Feel Alive may not hit home as rapidly as some of their earlier releases (The tracklist of 2017’s Sugar at the Gate is a toppling of bops), it really feels like they’re more comfortable in their own skin here. The singles (particularly “Direct Sunlight” and the title track) are some of the best, grooviest tunes on the album, but the entire 35 minutes will have you bouncing around the room, dancing for no one but your cat or partner who’s begging you not to play the same album again (If it’s this record on repeat, too bad for them!). This music is comparable to another indie-pop outfit on this list, Tennis, full of retro angles and disco-inspired breakdowns, as well as a few dreamy synth-pop moments, but TOPS are doing their own stylish thing entirely. If you need an album to move to (or just feel something to), look no further than this 2020 bloom. —Ellen Johnson