Friday, February 26th, 2021
10 Best Songs of the Week: Wolf Alice, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Bachelor, and More
Plus Flock of Dimes, Real Estate, Julien Baker, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks
Feb 26, 2021
By Mark Redfern (with Joey Arnone)
Welcome to the seventh Songs of the Week of 2021. This week’s big music news was probably that Daft Punk had broken up. Although the legendary French electronic duo haven’t released a new studio album in almost eight years, since 2013’s Random Access Memories, so perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. Still, their influence is notable and the Internet was awash with tributes this week. The way band breakups have been going in recent years, get ready for the 30th anniversary reunion tour in 2023? Or a 40th anniversary reunion in 2033? Or maybe this is truly it for Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter. Perhaps it’s time for Bangalter to reunite with Alan Braxe and Benjamin Diamond and record another song as Stardust (the trio only released one song, “Music Sounds Better With You,” in 1998, but it was a hit).
In other news there was a U.S. airstrike in Syria, the Democrats’ pandemic stimulus bill got closer to passage (but without a $15 an hour federal minimum wage hike), Tiger Woods survived a bad car crash, Sasha Calle was cast as the new big screen Supergirl (making her the first Latina actress to play the part) and there is talk of a new Superman movie where the Man of Steel might be Black, Lady Gaga’s dogs were kidnapped and her dog-walker was shot, and Kelsey Grammer will return in a reboot of Frasier.
It was a fantastic week for new songs. Any of the Top 5 could’ve been a #1 song on slower weeks.
In the last week we also reviewed a bunch of albums.
To help you sort through the multitude of fresh songs released in the last week, we have picked the 10 best the last week had to offer, along with highlighting other notable new tracks shared in the last seven days. Check out the full list below.
1. Wolf Alice: “The Last Man on Earth”
On Wednesday, Britain’s Wolf Alice announced a new album, Blue Weekend, and shared a video for its first single, “The Last Man on Earth.” Blue Weekend is due out June 11 via Dirty Hit/RCA. It is the band’s third album and the follow-up to 2017’s Visions of a Life, which won them the coveted Mercury Prize. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.
“The Last Man on Earth” slowly builds from frontwoman Ellie Rowsell mainly being backed by simply a piano to its epic and louder conclusion. Jordan Hemingway directed the black & white video.
“It’s about the arrogance of humans,” Rowsell says of the song in a press release. “I’d just read Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle and I had written the line ‘Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god’ in my notes. But then I thought: ‘Uh, your peculiar travel suggestion isn’t a dancing lesson from god, it’s just a travel suggestion! Why does everything need to mean something more?’”
The band’s full line-up is Rowsell (vocals, guitar), Joff Oddie (guitar, vocals), Theo Ellis (bass), and Joel Amey (drums, vocals). The band stayed in an Airbnb in Somerset, England and worked on some demos in a converted church. Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Björk, Brian Eno, Florence + The Machine) then produced the final album.
Wolf Alice released their debut album, My Love Is Cool, back in 2015. It made it to #3 on Under the Radar’s Top 100 Albums of 2015 list and landed Rowsell on the cover of our Best of 2015 print issue, in a joint cover with Father John Misty.
Read our Best of 2015 article on Wolf Alice. Also read our earlier 2015 print article on Wolf Alice, as well as our 2015 Pleased to Meet You Spotlight article on Wolf Alice. And read our review of My Love Is Cool here.
2. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis: “White Elephant”
On Thursday, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis released a new album titled Carnage. It was somewhat of a surprise release, although Cave had previously hinted at the album on his website. While the album works well as a complete piece, we picked album highlight “White Elephant” for this list. It features Cave tackle somewhat current events with such striking lyrics as “A protester kneels on the neck of a statue/The statue says, ‘I can’t breathe/The protester says, ‘Now you know how it feels’/And he kicks it into the sea.” Cave is backed by an incredibly deep bassline and ominous strings, before a choir erupts midway through the song, singing, “A time is coming/A time is nigh/For the kingdom/In the sky”—and suddenly it’s a Spiritualized song.
Carnage is available now digitally via Goliath, and will be available on CD and vinyl on May 28. You can stream it here.
Cave describes the album in a press release as “a brutal but very beautiful record nested in a communal catastrophe.” Ellis adds: “Making Carnage was an accelerated process of intense creativity. The eight songs were there in one form or another within the first two and a half days.”
In November of last year, Cave put out a solo live concert album, Idiot Prayer – Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace, on Bad Seed Ltd.
3. Bachelor: “Anything at All”
On Thursday, Bachelor (the newly-announced duo between Melina Duterte of Jay Som and Ellen Kempner of Palehound) shared their debut single together, entitled “Anything at All.” It is available now via Polyvinyl.
The duo state in a press release: “We’re so excited to finally share this song with y’all and announce our new band! We’ve been dear friends and huge fans of each other for years and were lucky enough to get to work together in January 2020 before quarantine. We feel that ‘Anything At All’ is an even blend of our tastes and writing styles and to release it feels very hopeful and joyous to us.”
Earlier this month, Kempner shared a new single, “How Long.” Last November, Duterte released an EP with Annie Truscott of Chastity Belt under their Routine moniker titled And Other Things. By Joey Arnone
4. Flock of Dimes: “Price of Blue”
On Thursday, Flock of Dimes (the solo project of Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner) shared a black-and-white video for her new song “Price of Blue.” It will be featured on her upcoming album, Head of Roses, which comes out on April 2 via Sub Pop.
Wasner speaks about the song in a press release, stating: “This song is about trying, and failing, to connect. It’s about the ways in which, despite our best efforts, we misunderstand each other, and become so attached to stories that we’re unable to see the truth that’s right in front of us. And it’s about the invisible mark that another person can leave on your body, heart and mind long after their absence. It can be difficult to make sense of the memory of your experience when the reality on the surface is always shifting—when the story you’re telling, or the story you’ve been told, unravels, leaving you with a handful of pieces and no idea how they used to fit together.”
Wasner previously shared the song “Two” from her upcoming album earlier this month. “Two” was one of our Songs of the Week. Her most recent solo project as Flock of Dimes was the EP Like So Much Desire, which came out last year on Sub Pop. By Joey Arnone
5. Real Estate: “Half a Human”
On Wednesday, Real Estate announced the release of a new EP titled Half a Human, which will be out on March 26 via Domino, subsequently sharing a video for the six-minute long title track, which ends with a wonderful meandering instrumental outro. Check out the tracklist and cover art for the EP here.
Frontman Martin Courtney speaks about the EP in a press release, stating: “Life keeps changing and additional responsibilities and stresses keep being added, but this band is still here. When I was writing a lot of these songs, I was feeling a little weird about being in a band. Like, ‘how is this still a thing?’ I was feeling silly about it and then coming around to it at the same time. This is what we’re good at and it’s what we love to do and want to keep doing. I don’t want to do anything else.”
The band’s most recent album, The Main Thing, came out last year on Domino and made it to #49 on our Top 100 Albums of 2020 list. Real Estate bassist Alex Bleeker shared a solo single, “Reach For My Brain,” last week, where it premiered on Under the Radar.
Check out our interview with Real Estate on The Main Thing. By Joey Arnone
6. Julien Baker: “Heatwave”
Acclaimed singer/songwriter Julien Baker’s new album, Little Oblivions, came out today on Matador. On Wednesday, she shared the album’s fourth single, “Heatwave,” which is about trying not to worry about trivial things. Check out our rave review of the album here.
Baker had this to say about the song in a press release: “Maybe it’s a trite or well-trod topic, but ‘Heatwave’ is really just about being confronted with how much time I spend worrying about things that are trivial. I was stuck in traffic because a car had randomly combusted, and it made me feel so stupid for being concerned with the things I had been anxious about earlier that day. It was just such a poignant thing, an event that communicated a lot of complex things in a single image. So I wrote a song about it. I know I’m not the first person to witness an atrocity and consider my own mortality or life’s fragility because of it, but that truly was my experience. Theoretically the lesson or symbolism to be interpreted there is that life is precious and it’s not worth it to give your time and energy to negative thoughts, but Jesus, how could you be a person alive on earth right now and not have negative thoughts? It’s certainly less romantic to say that the consideration of life’s fragility made me feel relieved at my own inconsequence, but it’s true; it is comforting to think of the minuscule role everyone plays in the human drama, to realize we have more choice about what we give power over us than we maybe thought.”
It was also previously announced that Baker will be launching a new livestream concert to be held at Nashville’s Analog on March 25. The performance will take place via STAGED, a virtual concert series created by Audiotree. It will be aired three separate times, at 8 p.m. AEDT, 7 p.m. GMT, and 9 p.m. EDT. Tickets start at $15 and are available here.
When Little Oblivions was announced in October, Baker shared “Faith Healer” via a video for it. “Faith Healer” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then Baker performed “Faith Healer” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Then she shared another song from the album, “Hardline,” via an animated video for the propulsive single (which made it to #1 on our Songs of the Week list). Baker also did a session for Seattle radio station KEXP. Then she shared the next single from the album, “Favor,” which featured backing vocals from Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, her bandmates in the supergroup boygenius.
Baker released her last album, Turn Out the Lights, back in 2017 via Matador, her first for the label. It was our Album of the Week and more importantly it was #2 on our Top 100 Albums of 2017 list. Little Oblivions is her third studio album (her debut was 2015’s Sprained Ankle). Little Oblivions was recorded in December 2019 and January 2020 in Baker’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Calvin Lauber engineered the album and Craig Silvey mixed it, both of whom worked on Turn Out the Lights. Baker plays most of the instruments on the album, which a press release says fleshes out and expands her previously stripped back sound.
7. Anna Fox Rochinski: “No Better”
On Wednesday, Anna Fox Rochinski (of Quilt) shared a new single titled “No Better.” It is the latest single released from her upcoming debut solo album, Cherry, which will be out on March 26 via Don Giovanni.
Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader (both of Ava Luna) produced Cherry. Previously Rochinski shared a video for the album’s title track.
8. Dinosaur Jr.: “I Ran Away” (Feat. Kurt Vile)
On Tuesday, alt-rock veterans Dinosaur Jr. announced a new album, Sweep It Into Space, and shared its first single, “I Ran Away.” Kurt Vile co-produced the album and plays guitar on “I Ran Away.” The latest from J Mascis and band is due out April 23 via Jagjaguwar. Check out “I Ran Away” below. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.
The album was recorded at the Biquiteen studios in Amherst, Massachusetts, starting in late 2019. The pandemic interrupted recording with Vile and so Mascis says in a press release that he “ended up just mimicking a few things [Vile had] done.”
“I was listening to a lot of Thin Lizzy, so I was trying to get some of that dueling twin lead sound,” Mascis continues. “But the recording session was pretty well finished by the time things really hit the fan. When the lockdown happened in March, that meant I was on my own. But it was cool.”
Longtime band member Lou Barlow also wrote and sang two songs on the album. The band also features drummer Murph (birth name Emmett Jefferson Murphy III).
Vile’s last album, Bottle It In, came out in 2018 via Matador.
9. Kero Kero Bonito: “The Princess and the Clock”
On Wednesday, British trio Kero Kero Bonito announced a new EP, Civilisation II, which will be out on April 21 via Polyvinyl. They have subsequently shared a video for the EP’s first single, “The Princess and the Clock.” Check out the cover art for the EP here.
Kero Kero Bonito explain the song in a press release: “‘The Princess and the Clock’ is the tale of a young explorer who is kidnapped while sailing the world, imprisoned at the top of a tower and worshipped as royalty by an isolated society. Trapped in her chamber, she spends years dreaming of escaping, until one day she disappears. A legend of our own invention, ‘The Princess and the Clock’ was written before COVID emerged, though the long, lonely hours and escapist dreams its protagonist experiences will be relatable to many right now. It’s a song for anyone who has ever felt trapped, lost and alone.”
The trio’s Civilisation I EP came out back in 2019. By Joey Arnone
10. CHAI: “Maybe Chocolate Chips” (Feat. Ric Wilson)
On Wednesday, Japanese rock band CHAI shared a video for their new single, “Maybe Chocolate Chips,” which features Chicago rapper Ric Wilson. The song will be featured on their upcoming album, WINK, set to drop on May 21 via Sub Pop.
Bassist/lyricist Yuuki explains the song in a press release: “Things that we want to hold on to, things that we wished went away. A lot of things happen as we age and with that for me, is new moles! But I love them! My moles are like the chocolate chips on a cookie, the more you have, the happier you become! and before you know it, you’re an original.”
The band further elaborates: “This music video is the perfect visual for ‘Maybe Chocolate Chips.’ It was our first time working with Callum and the result (animation, etc.) was something we’d never tried before! Callum actually reached out to us for this but we loved how his work featured grotesque but cute components and tons of fantasy so our vision for this was in line. Your mole is actually a chocolate chip! But you knew that already, right?!”
The band previously shared the songs “ACTION” and “Donuts Mind If I Do” from their upcoming album.
CHAI’s sophomore album, PUNK, was released in 2019 on Burger. Back in August of last year, CHAI teamed up with Spanish rock band Hinds for the joint single “United Girls Rock‘n’Roll Club.” By Joey Arnone
These seven songs almost made the Top 10.
Brijean: “Wifi Beach”
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis: “Hand of God”
Lost Horizons: “Circle” (Feat. C Duncan)
Becca Mancari: “Annie”
Petey & Miya Folick: “Haircut”
Paul Weller: “Cosmic Fringes”
Other notable new tracks in the last week include:
Adult Mom: “Checking Up”
Bright Eyes: “Flirted With You All My Life” (Vic Chesnutt Cover)
Bill Callahan & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy: “I Want To Go To The Beach” (Iggy Pop Cover) (Feat. Cooper Crain)
Fog Lake: “Jitterbug”
Green Day: “Here Comes the Shock”
Guided By Voices: “Free Agents”
Half Waif: “Party’s Over”
Helado Negro: “Sound and Vision” (David Bowie Cover)
The Horrors: “Lout”
Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble: “Now (Forever Momentary Space)”
Mr Twin Sister: “Diary” and “Expressions”
The Natvral: “New Moon”
Painted Shrines: “Not So Bad”
Pussy Riot: “Toxic” (Feat. Dorian Electra)
Shamir: “Ocean Eyes” (Billie Eilish Cover)
Social Haul: “Wet Eyes”
Spirit of the Beehive: “The Server is Immersed”
Spoon: “Lines in the Suit – 30 Minutes Old (1999 Home Demo)”
Chad VanGaalen: “Nightwaves”
Matthew E. White & Lonnie Holley: “I’m Not Tripping/Composition 8”
(Thanks to Joey Arnone for helping to put this week’s list together.)