Another month of this strange year has come and gone. While it might as well still be March, it is in fact now August, which means the summer is nearly over. This passing of time gives us an excuse to look back at our favorite music from the last month. While we already shared our full list of great music across genres, July was an especially great month for rock music of all types. From punk and indie rock to post-punk and DIY, we received great new albums from New Zealand rock favorites The Beths, Chicago three-piece Dehd and Detroit post-punk veterans Protomartyr. Enjoy all the best rock releases from the month that was below, listed in alphabetical order.
The opening track on The Beths’ sophomore record, Jump Rope Gazers, sounds like a blunt apology from frontwoman Elizabeth Stokes to her listeners: “I’m not getting excited,” she trills over the buzz of up-tempo, cheerful guitar riffs and snappy drumming, “‘Cause the thrill isn’t mine to invite in.” But if it isn’t hers, whose is it? “I’m Not Getting Excited” sets Jump Rope Gazers off on the right note, a tone expected from The Beths’ excellent 2018 debut Future Me Hates Me, before segueing into “Dying to Believe,” another bracing, similarly chirpy pop rock song. Maybe Stokes is apologizing for good reason. Not that Jump Rope Gazers departs altogether from the zippy introductory one-two salvo Stokes launches with cohorts Jonathan Pearce, Benjamin Sinclair and Tristan Deck to kick the album off: The Beths return to that tenor as they go deeper into the tracklisting, picking it back up with “Mars, the God of War.” But as a follow-up to Future Me Hates Me, Jump Rope Gazers reads as introspective verging frequently on melancholic. —Andy Crump
The twin masks of tragedy and comedy peering from the cover of Dehd’s third album are a fitting emblem of the band’s new songs themselves. On Flower of Devotion, the Chicago trio’s second Fire Talk full-length, songwriters Emily Kempf (bass) and Jason Balla (guitar), joined by drummer Eric McGrady, devote themselves to the sort of polarity symbolized by the so-called “sock and buskin”—joy and suffering, coming together and falling apart, bitter ends and new beginnings. They ride these emotional and existential seesaws throughout the record, rendering their efforts to hang on tight with both blunt candor and tongue-in-cheek humor. The result is Dehd’s best album to date, a significant upgrade on their sound that finds their Windy City DIY scene-honed amalgam of surf rock, shoegaze and dream pop at its most melodic and expressive. The trio demonstrate newfound levels of intensity and focus on Flower of Devotion, leaving minimalism behind in favor of glossier compositions. —Scott Russell
Last year, five Irish twenty-somethings became one of the most exciting rock bands on the planet. Their debut album Dogrel opened with a cymbal-clattering tune that repeatedly pontificated, “My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big!” Though rock bands occasionally work their way up the industry ladder in a similar manner, not many also do so with universal critical acclaim. Fontaines D.C. received widespread praise and a Mercury Prize nomination for their gritty-yet-uplifting, literary-inspired rock tunes, which spanned post-punk, surf and classic rock ‘n’ roll. Quickly after Dogrel’s release, they began work on its follow-up A Hero’s Death. It’s hard for rock bands to build up the same amount of attention for their second album, especially with a group that embraces styles of the past, but Fontaines D.C. chose an approach that many artists would find unthinkable—they deliberately attempted to destroy listeners’ original impression of the band. Fontaines D.C. sound far gloomier, both sonically and lyrically, but also more mature and pointed. Their gothic tendencies are heightened, and new reference points are introduced: Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, Scott Walker and Leonard Cohen. You won’t find the giddy clamor of “Boys in the Better Land” or invigorating singalongs like “Sha Sha Sha”—instead, the average song pace is much slower, and they’re not as amused by observational poetry. A Hero’s Death is a reclamation of their identity as a band—after all, the refrain on the opening track is “I don’t belong to anyone.” —Lizzie Manno
Earlier this month, artists like Lucy Dacus, PUP and Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz shared a SoundCloud link to a self-titled album by a band called Occult Classic. With a solid black album cover and no credits to be found, buzz about the album started to swirl on social media—though that probably wouldn’t have happened if the album wasn’t so mind-numbingly good. Fans immediately began to speculate about whether this was a supergroup whose members included the indie artists tweeting the link, but a close ear would tell you that Sarah Tudzin of Illuminati Hotties is indeed on lead vocals, later spelling out her band name several times on track seven “Content / Bedtime.” It was later confirmed as a new Illuminati Hotties mixtape, and it’s a big step up from their 2018 debut Kiss Yr Frenemies. It’s bolder, punkier and has some of the best rock hooks in recent memory. On their 12 songs (with goofy, lowercase track titles) and less than half-hour run time, you’ll hear tinges of phat electro-rock, invigorating riot grrrl and delectable twee-pop. —Lizzie Manno
“Dull ache turned sharp / Short breath, never caught,” Joe Casey repeats through the closing minute of “Day Without End,” his voice turning from detachment to anger, struggling above the hammering drums, guitars and horns as they remain largely unchanged except in their steadily building, brutally indifferent noise. This begins Protomartyr’s fifth album, Ultimate Success Today, and in many respects encapsulates the mission of the Detroit post-punk veterans’ music. From their first LP No Passion All Technique to their latest release especially, Protomartyr have had a preoccupation with failure, the volcanic eruption of small, petty lives confronting the overwhelming forces, both external and internal, that bind them to their insignificance and vise versa. Ultimate Success Today places that theme on an apocalyptic and disturbingly prescient scale. These tracks paint sketches of authoritarianism creeping dully into everyday life, soulless populism rooting its way into confused masses, animals trapped between choosing death or the pain that comes with surviving, and above all, the illusory promise of success in a world collapsing in on itself. It is, to put it lightly, not a happy world for Protomartyr. —Jack Meyer