Have you exhausted your music playlists or record collection during quarantine? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Our staff listens to so much music that we could easily overwhelm you with dozens of recommendations, so instead, we just want to share the few things that are primarily consuming our attention. This week, that means two surprise-releases—one from buzzy soul group Sault that arrived last Friday and another from newly-reunited shoegazers Hum—plus a 2019 pop favorite in Caroline Polachek’s Pang and more. Scroll down for a handful of weekly staff picks.
My first shoegaze phase took place during my late high school and early college years, and, at some point, after working my way through the staple bands (My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive, The Jesus and Mary Chain, etc.), I stumbled upon Hum—possibly through fellow ’90s Chicago bands Pinebender or Lovesliescrushing, but I can’t quite remember. Hum were more aggressive than many of the shoegaze bands I was listening to, thanks to their post-hardcore and metal roots, and their 1998 album, Downward Is Heavenward, left a big impression on me with its scorching riffs and heavy use of phasers. Two years after that album came out, they got dropped by their label and called it quits, but this week, 22 years after the release of that record, they surprise-released a new LP called Inlet. As expected, there are plenty of thick, driving and flat-out thundering guitar passages (“Waves” and “The Summoning” will blow your head off), and their sensitive, mystical sides come out too (“Desert Rambler,” “Shapeshifter”). It’ll take a while to explore all the nuances of their smouldering soundscapes, but this album is an instant winner. —Lizzie Manno
File this one under “albums from last year I didn’t enjoy until it was too late to write about them”—until now! While we named Caroline Polachek’s enchanting (in like a spooky way?) solo debut one of the best pop albums of 2019, this music editor didn’t fall under its spell until late 2019/early 2020—and it’s remained in heavy rotation ever since. It’s easily now one of my most listened to albums from last year. This week it has emerged again, and thanks to the larger-than-life pop songs, grandiose arrangements and cinematic (an overused word—but still) stories, Pang remains as spellbinding as ever. “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” at first sounds like a joke, but it’s actually one of those all-too-rare sincere pop songs that pulls punches with wacky wordplay and juicy sonics. “Door” and the album’s title track are now listed among Perfume Genius’ best songs as some of the most far-reaching, earth-shattering pop tunes of the last few years. I don’t ever want to forget about this album and all its frills, jumps and quirks. If you needed a reminder to give it another try, this is it. —Ellen Johnson
“The revolution has come (out the lies!) / Still won’t put down the gun.” This is the first line of Sault’s new album Untitled (Black Is). It’s time to amend your album-of-the-year lists, because the album of the Movement has arrived—and every second of it is glorious. Last year, a mysterious soul group named Sault arrived out of nowhere with two albums, titled 5 and 7. No one knew the identities of its musicians, and the albums were released on an independent label, but they drew rapturous acclaim. 5 and 7 were feasts of rhythmic and exuberant Afrobeat, soul, funk and R&B—the songs are passionate, radiant, radical and rooted in rich Black musical traditions (which by extension, are the same roots of most popular genres). They were unexpected triumphs, but after releasing two albums in the same year, one might’ve figured they would go silent—at least for a little while. But last week, something incredible happened—they surprise-released another album, Untitled (Black Is). On June 12, they posted a square image of a Black power fist on socials with the caption: “We present our first ‘Untitled’ album to mark a moment in time where we as Black People, and of Black Origin are fighting for our lives. RIP George Floyd and all those who have suffered from police brutality and systemic racism. Change is happening…We are focused.” The languid synthesizers on “Eternal Life,” the fury-filled shared vocals on “Stop Dem,” the jazzy guitars on “This Generation” and the skittering beats on “Black” make up a rich tapestry of soul, funk and gospel music. While there are nods to Motown, these aren’t your parents’ classic soul records—you’re hearing the eccentricities, voices and personalities of today and tomorrow. —Lizzie Manno
Many rock bands make the pivot to synth-pop—with varying degrees of success. Though my perception of them is skewed by their scrappy, rambunctious live shows, Boston indie rockers Vundabar were actually the perfect candidate for this pivot, given that their previous albums had hints of surf, new wave and post-punk—all especially danceable forms of music. The band’s latest album, Either Light, which dropped earlier this year, sees them dive headfirst into the pop world—drum machines, sequencers, layered vocals, synths and all. When the sassy, melodic promo single “Burned Off,” came out a few months ago, I was blown away, but I hadn’t returned to the rest of the album until now. While “Burned Off” offers wonderfully over-the-top new wave vocals—likely Brandon Hagen’s best and most emotive lead vocal performance to date—“Petty Crime” is indie-dance-meets-punk-pop gold and “Never Call” has one of the most earworm-y riffs I’ve heard this year. As playful as it is, it’s also particularly wistful and mature in sound and sentiment, recalling Echo and the Bunnymen, Talk Talk and XTC at times—it’s a slick record, but it also has the girth of catchy, dynamic songwriting behind it. —Lizzie Manno
Somehow, it took me until now to get into The Strokes. Better late than never. After having Is This It on loop for a month, I just picked up 2003’s Room On Fire. I’ve been absolutely binging “Reptilia,” mostly while going 90 mph on the highway and banging my head. It really comes down to one thing…the riffs. The riffs throughout the whole song are ridiculously infectious; I can’t imagine not moving to this song. The recurring guitar solo that first strikes after the chorus might be the best thing to happen in indie music. Then there’s the track before “Reptilia,” the opener “What Ever Happened?,” which is beautiful as well, in a much different way. The riffs are nostalgic and emotive, and the vocals are more poignant than ever. This album shows why The Strokes are such an influential band, with today’s acts still trying to replicate this sound years later. —Danielle Chelosky