Great Records You May Have Missed: June 2021
This month’s column features Flight Mode, The Narcotix, Olivia Kaplan and moreMusic Lists Records You May Have Missed
Great Records You May Have Missed is a monthly music column highlighting a handful of new releases we really enjoy that you might not have heard about elsewhere. It’s curated and written by former Paste music editor Lizzie Manno, so please tell her if you found something in here that you love. Explore all editions of the column here.
A lot of good stuff came out in June. Like, a lot. So many good albums were released on June 25, in particular, that I didn’t realize I hadn’t eaten for the better part of that Friday, because I was distracted by my foolish attempt to listen to all of them.
My decision to limit this column to six albums per edition was because it feels like a manageable number of albums for someone to listen to without the tab remaining open on their computer for weeks, taunting them before they inevitably close it in disappointment in themselves. But six is a cruelly low number for this month, so I’ll briefly run through some honorable mentions in this intro.
First up, Superbloom made me realize I like grunge more than I thought with their album Pollen. Tenawai dropped their joyful album LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR, featuring the perfect summer barbecue tune “Sunfall.” Tape Waves made a wonderfully airy shoegaze album in Bright. Meat Wave released the solid Volcano Park, an EP of antsy post-hardcore. Deuce shared a self-titled indie-pop album, which recalls the best of Flying Nun. “Eavesdropper,” the new single from Alexalone (fronted by Alex Peterson, live member of Hovvdy and Lomelda), blew the brain worms out of my head. Militarie Gun put out their EP All Roads Lead to the Gun, reinforcing the scientific truth that hardcore musicians have the best side projects. And finally, Behavior’s artful collaborative record with Mayako XO recalls the intoxicating freedom that arises once people are under the cover of darkness and neon signs—an exciting prospect now that nightlife is slowly creeping back.
Now, for the main event, here are six more June releases worth checking out.
caroline: “Skydiving onto the library roof”
Whenever a band has more than six members, I assume there are either a bunch of brass musicians, or someone must be in the corner frying an egg or playing the scissors. The band caroline has eight members, who play an array of brass, strings, guitars and percussion, so sadly, no one’s blowing into glass jars or preparing a charcuterie board in the background. The London post-rockers have been quiet since they released their debut single “Dark blue” in early 2020 via Rough Trade, but they returned last month with “Skydiving onto the library roof” (which was accompanied by b-side “Everything for everyone”). Equal parts dignified and askew, the single has a pretty impressive arc. Its repetitive string swells and experimental clamor are fascinating and pretty, until they transform into something much more affecting. The rapture gradually becomes a tide of overwhelming beauty, as if you’re being slowly overcome by a powerful movie scene, one that’s not overtly sad but leaves your cheeks streaked with tears anyway. Maybe it’s so potent because it sounds like the nebulous feeling of contentment with simple pleasures in the face of gloom, or maybe it’s their inspired musicianship. Either way, this song deeply moved me.
Flight Mode: TX, ‘98 EP
I’m not the biggest emo fan in the world, but if a band’s vocals aren’t excruciating, and they know their way around a pop song, I’m fully game. Flight Mode split the difference between ‘90s emo and indie rock, and not only does Sjur Lyseid’s charming voice appeal to me, but they can write the hell out of a song. The Oslo group features members of The Little Hands of Asphalt, Dråpe, Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson and more, and their debut EP TX, ‘98 is an ode to Lyseid’s time in Texas as a teenager. It’s melodic, delicate and intensely evocative, teeming with vague memories just strong enough to make you feel the heat of the moment. Lyseid sings of a period when he was fueled by cassette tapes, Spark Notes, basement shows, late-night drives and, most prominently, hope. It handles nostalgia with both love and caution, with Lyseid telling “absent friends’’ on “Fossil Fuel,” “We’ll just wait and see if there’s no more history / And just defend the present tense.” Their endearing hooks and slightly uneven vocals are perfect companions to their earnest lyrics, which aren’t the least bit sickly, as you might expect. Listening to TX ‘98 is like reading a feel-good, well-written memoir, one where even a description of the wallpaper warms your heart.
Lightning Bug: A Color of the Sky
Lightning Bug’s third album was released on June 25, the day the album gods decided to open the floodgates, so there’s a decent chance you missed it. But an album this thoughtfully crafted and soothing is not one you’ll want to miss. A Color of the Sky is an earthy affair—just by soaking up their wispy sounds, you can feel the varying energies of nature, like trees stretching their limbs at dawn or birds gliding past a sunset. Audrey Kang’s voice evokes delicate pastels, painting a gorgeous landscape all on their own, and their caressing instrumentals ground their songs in a subtle vigor. The album is at peace with integral facets of nature, like change and pain, which makes it that much more meaningful. “When you’ve got so much to prove / Doubt ebbs and flows / Well, I’ll let it flow,” Kang sings on “The Right Thing Is Hard To Do.” She’s looking for meaning just like the rest of us, and she captures that search with wonder, patience and, crucially, artfulness, ensuring that their lyrics never sound like empty, vaguely spiritual Instagram quotes. “And as I try to hold the meaning in my hand / It runs like water through the spaces that expand,” Kang sings on “Wings of Desire.” Pulling from folk, pop and shoegaze, A Color of the Sky is simply soul-cleansing. Nature’s hum is a thing of unrivaled beauty, but Lightning Bug’s music is up there.
Mndsgn: Rare Pleasure
Just seconds into the new Mndsgn album, you can tell that the artist behind these songs grew up around a wide array of music. Ringgo Ancheta, the Los Angeles-based artist behind Mndsgn, cites “soundtrack music, samba, exotica and ‘70s/’80s library records” as inspirations for his new LP Rare Pleasure, and the vivid colors start pouring in right away. Not only that, but Ancheta is a celebrated producer and beatmaker, having worked with the likes of Danny Brown, Quelle Chris and Tyler, The Creator, and that experience is glaringly evident, too. The album is marked by dazzling rhythms, which have an elegant, enlivening push and pull. Lounge-y records don’t always sound this bubbly, this alive, but Ancheta knows how to provide magnetism while preserving a slow soulfulness. Songs like “Slowdance’’ and “Hope You’re Doin’ Better” bloom with so many tuneful, carefully balanced ideas, like layers of satiny vocals, sophisticated piano or mellotron noodling. The textures are plentiful, but never overwhelming, so whether it’s a masterful funk bass line or the subtle reverberation of a ride cymbal, it only enhances Mndsgn’s lush garden of sounds. Bursting with the vibrance of a big city and coupled with a relaxed ease, it’s the perfect album to accompany an outdoor evening meal.
The Narcotix: Mommy Issues EP
It’s not easy to parse the disparate influences of Brooklyn-based five-piece The Narcotix. As daughters of West African immigrants, songwriters Esther Quansah and Becky Foinchas have a reverence for traditional African music, and as evidenced by their debut EP Mommy Issues, they’re also interested in folk, psych and experimental pop. A band citing their love of both African wedding music and Grizzly Bear could easily emerge with a head-scratcher of an album, but Mommy Issues is proof that these seemingly divergent sounds can be fused with brilliance. And perhaps even more surprisingly, these songs are accessible, too. The childlike vocal refrain of “Come on to the mountain, come let’s take a swim” on “Lilith” is simple, yet unforgettable, and their spiritual, folky storytelling is captivating. The playfully emphasized vocals on “Adam,” describing a consequential test of will power, are another highlight, as are the circling synths on “Rebecca” and prickly guitars on “John/Joseph.” The EP is a wildly interesting collision of Western and African musical traditions, and it’s something for both pop and experimental fans to enjoy.
Olivia Kaplan: Tonight Turns to Nothing
We are both reliable and unreliable narrators in our own lives, which means our perspective is really just that. But the multiplicity of thoughts in our heads is why every interaction with someone is so interesting, each one underpinned by our sense of self and a whirlwind of unspoken dynamics and narratives. Olivia Kaplan’s debut LP, Tonight Turns to Nothing, examines her relationships with others and herself, and it demonstrates the complexities of each one with care and detail. Her contemplative folk-pop also captures the tension of the present day at large, which can overwhelm without warning and forces everyone to be at their best or crumble. The awe-inspiring vocal takeoff at the end of “Ghosts” is worth a listen of the album alone, harnessing a tidal wave of emotion that cuts deep. “Spill” is another tear-jerker, as Kaplan uses the sea as a symbol of blissful freedom and writes about the urges that prevent us from reaching that state of peace. “Quote me pages from the book / You say defines you but I can tell by the look / On your face you’re still waiting to be saved / I might be good at that, but I’m really trying to change,” she sings. Kaplan’s self-compassion and forgiveness are made even more affecting by her vocals, which flow with serenity and poise. Tonight Turns to Nothing not only captures the candid warmth and timelessness of the singer/songwriter genre, but it also embodies the hopes and fears that are rattling around our brains in 2021.
Lizzie Manno is a music writer, Coldplay apologist, bread lover and Spongebob memer. She’s a former Paste editor, with bylines at Billboard, Cleveland Scene and GRAMMY.com. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieManno