The Best Songs of August 2023

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The Best Songs of August 2023

With the summer coming to and end, what a gift it was to see so many great new tracks to come out this month. We had some of our longest Best of the Week lists of the year so far, and narrowing the field down to just 10 was no easy feat. From a sensual, electric stunner from Jamila Woods to a post-punk outfit Slow Pulp taking a turn towards delicate balladry to an album leftover from Superviolet, August wowed us all. As September begins to take shape, let’s take a moment to recap the stirring collection of wonderful tunes that shaped these last 31 days. Here, in alphabetical order, are the best songs of August 2023. —Matt Mitchell, Music Editor

Anjimile: “Animal”
“Is this growing old? / Every day another grief to hold / and I ‘Blue Lives Matter’ from a white liberal.” The latest single from The King, the new album from future pop dynamo Anjimile, is bursting with cutting lines like that. The song is an excoriation of the ongoing physical and psychological cruelty meted out upon Black bodies and minds. It’s a wonder that Anjimile isn’t shouting these words and the repeated phrase “If you treat me like an animal / I’ll be an animal” at the top of their lungs rather than offering up the restraint that they are in this song. The lyrics still seem to be coming out through gritted teeth, however. Don’t get too close or you’re liable to get stung. —Robert Ham

Jamila Woods: “Boomerang”
Co-written with Nao, GRADES and George Moore in London, “Boomerang” is a dazzling foray into dance-pop for Jamila Woods—who released “Tiny Garden,” the lead single from her forthcoming album Water Made Us last month. The track is an incredible, joyous earworm about the, in Woods’ own words, “magnetic attachment you have to someone” who continues to appear in various moments of your life. “If you didn’t like me then, you won’t like me now” is the thesis statement of “Boomerang,” which arrives through backing harmonies and Woods’ own lead verse. At three-minutes, it’s a strong “Song of the Summer” candidate, as its whirlwind of pianos, synths and drums deftly compliment Woods’ sharp vocal and lend to the sensual electricity of the story. “I’m running out of time, you’re taking it all,” she sings. “You made me wanna stay here. When I’m with you, I forget the hours. Every minute is a season changing with you.” —Matt Mitchell

Katy Kirby: “Cubic Zirconia”
Her first single as a part of ANTI-’s label, “Cubic Zirconia” is a swift, dazzling folk-rock emblem that is just pure singer/songwriter bliss. With hints of country balladry and blues-inspired indie, “Cubic Zirconia” builds like a Phoebe Bridgers song until it climaxes like a Katy Kirby number. “Face framed by hoodie like an oyster in a shell and your eyes are rolling at me as a pair of angry pearls,” Kirby waxes poetic in an angelic octave. “You’re the prettiest mermaid in the souvenir shop, but you’re coming home this late, you know you’d better be drunk.” “Cubic Zirconia” is a whole-hearted, visceral take on how displacement and adoration can be juxtaposed in conversations around love, and Kirby’s approach is a particularly striking, rewarding and perfect one. “You look like dollar signs,” she insists. Come to think of it, that sounds quite nice. —MM

MJ Lenderman: “Knockin”
Last month, MJ Lenderman released the song of the summer, “Rudolph.” Cut to a few days ago, and the Asheville singer/songwriter is giving his own accolade a run for its money with “Knockin.” The track is a perennial live show favorite that appeared on his 2021 EP of the same name but, this time around, it’s a hi-fi update of a not-so-new song, and it’s just as good as anything Lenderman has made, maybe better—depending on who you ask. “Knockin” is a blistering country-rock stunner that puts one thing at the center of attention: Lenderman’s uncanny ability to absolutely shred. With Xandy Chelmis’ pedal steel and a mountain of percussion backing him up, “Knockin” takes on a life of its own. Lenderman’s lyricism is at an 11 here, too, as he makes a play on Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” while keeping up his trademark fusion of earnestness and poetic humor. “Loneliness is simple, not much else is,” he waxes. “Her love for me is real, she gives me what she has to give. She gave me wings and I caught blight.” —MM

Slow Pulp: “Broadview”
It has actually been proven scientifically impossible for Slow Pulp to make a bad song—Exhibit A: “Broadview.” The band’s latest tune, from their forthcoming sophomore album Yard, features vocalist Emily Massey’s soulful lilt with quiet, purring instrumentals—whose constant thrum adds a weary, satisfied calm to the song’s full-bodied emotions. Massey describes it as a love tune after a long, dark period of hurt, that first impossible dip back into vulnerability. Steady drums and rich acoustic sound add a gravity that keeps the song’s feet on the ground, even as electric guitars and harmonicas float it into the ether. Massey’s vocals are as impressive as ever, and her charisma and power envelop the song’s lyricism in a soothing, shimmery air. —MW

Ratboys: “Morning Zoo”
“Morning Zoo” is the post-country masterpiece that will surely become a definitive track of 2023 when it’s all said and done. The violin that Abby Gundersen injects into the instrumental is mesmerizing and unreal, and it perfectly compliments vocalist Julia Steiner’s twangy, precise and zoomed-in vocals—as she examines her own anxieties and the weight of being in a band at a time when it’s becoming harder and harder to find successful longevity. “How long does it take to find the peace that I want?” she sings. “And how long must I wait to decide that it’s over? Well, I don’t know.” Though it juxtaposes greatly with the epic, mountainous unfurling of “Black Earth, Wi,” “Morning Zoo” glitters just as brightly, perhaps even more so. —MM

Slaughter Beach, Dog: “Summer Windows”
Slaughter Beach, Dog’s latest single has a perfect twang to it, a sort of open-road, yeehaw sadness. No wonder: Vocalist Jake Ewald nods to legendary folkster Townes Van Zandt in the tune’s first verse. It’s perfect sad-man music, resigned and calm with a razor’s edge of melancholia. It’s grounded and wishful, full of whispy soprano harmonies from Erin Rae and whiskey-drenched guitar riffs. An old feeling pervades it, as though it’s a cover of a song from a long, long time ago. The group’s new LP, Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling is out this fall, and it promises to hold more of the alt-rock bent that Slaughter Beach, Dog has turned towards so far this summer.—Miranda Wollen

Squirrel Flower: “Alley Light”
A cut from Squirrel Flower’s forthcoming album Tomorrow’s Fire, “Alley Light” conjures flickers of Springsteen-like storytelling and Heartland-inspired melodies. “She says she wants to go far, outta town in my beat up car,” vocalist Ella Williams intones, from the POV of an unlucky guy in a near-crumbled relationship. “Will she find another man who can take her there, when my drive burns out?” It’s a huge, exciting turn for Squirrel Flower and is so well-constructed that it quickly expands the band’s own universe. Like some of the best songs that long for healing and ache with fear of change, “Alley Light” is a song that, in Williams’ own words, is about “the man in me, or a man who I love, or a man who is a stranger to me.” That type of curiosity buoys the song into the echelons of cruise-worthy summer gems. —MM

Truth Club ft. Indigo De Souza: “Exit Cycle”
Truth Club’s “Exit Cycle” features Indigo De Souza, and that’s not even the best thing about it. Rhythmically concentric, the song loops in and around itself as world-weary vocals and low-frequency guitars create a sneakily propulsive sonic landscape. The tune is ruminative and exhausted, even funereal at times. It bathes in unanswered questions and uncertain pauses, floating on sweetly haunting backing vocals which hint to set the scene for the band’s second LP, Running From The Chase, which is set to arrive later this fall. —MW

Wilco: “Evicted”
“Evicted,” the lead single from Wilco’s forthcoming album Cousin, is the band at their folksiest and most desperate. In typical fashion, a warm, thrumming guitar underlies his imploring twang, a summoning song for a love that, for the band, seems always just out of reach. Nels Cline’s ever-impeccable guitar sparkles in hypnotic, swaying loops as Tweedy layers familiarly over him, but synths and 12-strings carry the tune in new musical directions. “Am I ever going to see you again?” he croons, the eternal question which promises to encircle Cousin. Instrumental influence from producer Cate Le Bon’s glimmering, electric vault provides a modernist twist for the iconic folk stars. “Evicted” explores the strained, persistent human connections of a fractured world, the ever-intertwining relations we can’t ignore despite our best efforts. —MW

Listen to a playlist of these 10 songs below.

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