The 15 Best Songs of October 2019

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The 15 Best Songs of October 2019

October delivered a chilli-pot-sized helping of irresistible new music, including the return of indie-folk mastermind Andy Shauf, the solo debut from Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan and the much-anticipated revival of indie-rock force TORRES. We enjoyed songs by all of the aforementioned artists, plus a surprising hit from synth-pop project Black Marble, some deep cuts from Caroline Polachek’s incredible new pop album and a new song from rocker Squirrel Flower. Wrap up the last month before the holidays with all these songs and more, which you can find below in our list of favorites from October.

Listen to our Best Songs of October playlist on Spotify right here.

1. Andy Shauf: “Things I Do”

“Things I Do” opens with a laid-back groove highlighted by a soft chorus of saxophones that give way to Shauf’s anecdote. “Seems like I should have known better / Than to turn my head like it didn’t matter,” he sings at the beginning. Shauf’s self-reflective lyrics lay out the story of a man who wonders why he missed the signs of his failing relationship. Because of his naïveté, he’s shocked when he comes home to find his partner cheating. Each verse is punctuated by a repeated question: “Why do I do the things I do / When I know I am losing you?” —Hayden Goodridge

2. Bambara: “Serafina”

“Serafina” follows a mysterious woman who “smiles with matches in her mouth” and possesses a stare that “burns a solar flare.” The arson-loving title character meets a woman named Sadie, and they get into various outdoor mischief together, always laughing in the face of death’s imminent call. The song’s ominous punk is like a devilish grin in the moonlight with Bambara frontman Reid Bateh as a doomy onlooker, narrating the lives of two partners in crime. —Lizzie Manno

3. Black Marble: “Private Show”

Despite the exclusivity implied by its title, “Private Show” finds Chris Stewart’s synth-pop project Black Marble reaching out in all directions, examining the common links between people—the desires, fears and fantasies that make us who we are. “Everybody’s on their way to heaven / Everybody’s gotta die to get there / Everybody knows the only way to go / is to set up a private show,” muses Stewart over rapid-fire drum machines, the song’s steady stream of bass notes overlaid with flurries of synth and sparing guitars, a torrent of mesmerizing melody. Emily Edrosa lends additional guitar to the track, Stewart’s sole collaboration on Bigger Than Life, the new album out now on Sacred Bones. —Scott Russell

4. Caroline Polachek: “New Normal”

On “I Give Up,” Polachek is leaden and weighed down with a partner who gives her a “list of things about myself to change.” It’s a far cry from “New Normal,” itself a paean to a new spark, which skitters from country steel pedal to dembow to Mustard-esque vocal echoes, as if itself modulating in real time to adjust to the realm of possibilities that could take place that evening, that week, that year. —Joshua Bote

5. Catholic Action: “One Of Us”

“One Of Us” is a fuzzy rock toast to the average Joes and a skewering of the ruling class. Has there ever been a critique of late capitalism with so much bouncy guitar joy? Catholic Action’s ebullient, distorted guitar pop is as snappy as ever. Lead vocalist Chris McCrory is both pointed and charming as he proudly describes himself as “the welfare son of a welfare son.” It’s a call to wake up and smell the roses of deliberate inequality and distraction, and Catholic Action manage this merry ode without trivializing the real-life suffering that’s become rampant. —Lizzie Manno

6. Devon Welsh: “Uniform”

Former Majical Cloudz frontman Devon Welsh achieves an emotionally crushing minimalism on his latest solo effort True Love, demonstrated most fully by his single “Uniform.” The song uses his grandfather’s World War II uniform as a metaphor for the familial longing he feels towards a love interest. His weighty vocals and synth ambiance are all that’s needed to make his quest for companionship feel like you’re right in the middle of a life-or-death situation. —Lizzie Manno

7. Frances Quinlan: “Rare Thing”

Frances Quinlan has one of the most instantly recognizable voices in indie rock. As the lead singer of Philadelphia band Hop Along, she’s been at the front of two of this decade’s best rock albums, 2014’s Painted Shut and 2018’s Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Hop Along originally began as Quinlan’s solo project, but she announced her first-ever solo album under her own name, Likewise (out Jan. 31, 2020, on Saddle Creek). The first single, “Rare Thing,” is a real stunner and surely a harbinger of things to come. “Rare Thing” ropes in a host of new instruments that we maybe haven’t heard previously on a Hop Along release—synths, jammy keyboards, a harp, bouncy electro-beats. The song was written after a dream Quinlan had about her then-infant niece, per a press release, but it could really be about anybody’s journey to letting new love in. —Ellen Johnson

8. Guerilla Toss: “Future Doesn’t Know”

Guerilla Toss are a reminder that art-rock doesn’t need to be pompous to push boundaries. The group’s singles from their forthcoming EP, What Would The Odd Do?, show a danceable inventiveness that’s as fun as it is pensive—even when confronting serious topics like addiction and recovery. Their latest track “Future Doesn’t Know” is a pristine glimpse into existential thought that’s propped up by its energetic instrumentation. —Hayden Goodridge

9. illuminati hotties: “ppl plzr”

Like “I Wanna Keep Yr Dog,” Tudzin’s bubbly, bouncy “ppl plzr” takes up a failed relationship with a sense of humor and eye for detail, even as the rug is pulled out from under her. Tudzin recounts a flood of quotidian romantic moments shared with her partner, movie-montage style—”half-off at a tiki bar / mellow moonlight on the carpet”—in a chipper singsong that only emphasizes the cracks in the surface. As her partner tosses her over for someone new, she’s struck with self-deprecation: “Guess I am the lesser man / Guess I am the drugstore brand.” “How can I prove I’m a keeper?” she laments in the outro, sounding like the sad “womp womp” trombone out of an old-school cartoon. The delightful “ppl plzr” more than proves it. —Amanda Gersten

10. Kelsey Waldon: “Kentucky, 1988”

On her new album, White Noise, White Lines, country singer Kelsey Waldon takes us to a place, specifically Kentucky, where Waldon grew up. She’s no old folktale-teller, but this song is as if Kelsey sat down in a rocking chair to tell us a story. “Before I was alive, unborned and unnamed / Of two imperfect people into this world I came,” she starts. She goes on to describe her childhood as occasionally “rough,” but her family didn’t “complain.” Just like in so many good ol’ fashioned classic country tunes, Waldon cherishes her small hometown over any other place. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s all she needs: “This is my DNA / No matter how far I get away / There’s just some things that will never change / Kentucy, 1988.” —Ellen Johnson

11. Matt Maltese: “Rom-Com Gone Wrong”

A couple weeks after the release of “Curl Up & Die,” Maltese announced the details of his Bad Contestant follow-up, Krystal. Out on Nov. 8 via 7476, Krystal promises to be “ostensibly a breakup record,” something obvious when listening to new single, “Rom-Com Gone Wrong,” a throwback to ’70s piano-based singer/songwriters. It’s not a radical departure from anything on the Jonathan Rado-produced Bad Contestant—though notably it’s self-produced and mixed in Maltese’s bedroom studio in Elephant & Castle—but it’s yet another smooth-as-hell entry in his growing back catalogue. —Steven Edelstone

12. Squirrel Flower: “Red Shoulder”

Squirrel Flower—the musical project of indie-rock songwriter Ella O’Connor Williams—has announced her debut record on Polyvinyl, I Was Born Swimming, out in January of next year. The first single released off the project is “Red Shoulder,” which arrives with a shimmering music video as bright as the song it accompanies. “Red Shoulder” opens with a muddy guitar riff that recedes under Williams’ impassioned voice. “I reach back and fall down,” she sings before the track explodes into a huge, fuzzed-out riff. This cohesive playing comes from Williams’ decision to record these songs live, with few overdubbed elements. The result is a raw sound that avoids the sterility of excessive production techniques. —Hayden Goodridge

13. Torres: “Good Scare”

Like the material on Three Futures, “Good Scare” melds oceanic guitar, percussion and synth, offering a lush and layered complement to Mackenzie Scott’s gravelly lows and tender falsetto. The new track takes up the stops and starts of a budding romance, when the prospect of love feels both terrifying and predestined. Her partner is desperately “eyeing all the exits” to the situation, while Scott believes whole-heartedly in their relationship, no matter the uncertain future. She nods to her Southern origins with a clever queering of the country canon: “You make me want to write the country song folks here in New York get a kick out of / I’d sing about knocking you up under Tennessee stars in the bed of my red Chevrolet pickup.” Give us the song, Mackenzie! —Amanda Gersten

14. W.H. Lung: “Symmetry”

Contrary to its mirrored title, “Symmetry” is indicative of two alternate realities. The band describe their city’s gloried past through regal statues of notable figures like Alan Turing, Friedrich Engels and Queen Victoria, and juxtapose it with the sizable homeless population that now lives in the literal shadows of their towering presence. The near-seven-minute track uncoils with hypnotic dissonance, further underscoring the inconsistencies of a place where impoverished people sleep among grand displays of human achievement. Lead vocalist Joseph E sings with silky intrigue among clamoring guitars, “A body curled around a lamppost like a cigarette in light rain / Something like a question mark is hanging between thumb and forefinger.” —Lizzie Manno

15. Wolf Parade: “Against the Day”

Compared to Wolf Parade’s catalog of music, “Against the Day” marks a shift in the band’s focus to a synthetic, techno-driven approach. The track opens with a deep rhythmic pulse leading to a catchy synth melody that Dan Boeckner mimics in the verse. He reflects on where his life with a lover stands following an unspecified world-ending event. Boeckner shows that even in the apocalypse, their love can continue, singing, “All is gone now / Seconds fade but our hearts will still remain.” —Hayden Goodridge

Listen to our Best Songs of October playlist on Spotify right here.