Saturday, September 25th, 2021
10 Best Songs of Week: Let’s Eat Grandma, alt-J, Penelope Isles, Parquet Courts, and More
Plus Absolutely Free, Bartees Strange, Geese, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks
Sep 24, 2021
By Mark Redfern (with Joey Arnone)
Welcome to the 36th Songs of the Week of 2021. Whereas last week’s list was a supersized Top 14, this week was a bit calmer, with 10 songs we particularly liked.
We also posted the latest episode of the Under the Radar podcast, featuring an interview with Sleaford Mods.
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. Let’s Eat Grandma: “Hall of Mirrors”
On Tuesday British duo Let’s Eat Grandma (Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth) returned with a new song, “Hall of Mirrors,” shared via a video. It’s the band’s first new single in three years, since the 2018 release of their sophomore album, I’m All Ears. El Hardwick directed the disorientating video, which features the band at a fairground at night.
Walton had this to say in a press release: “I wanted to use the setting of a fairground at night to describe the dizziness, intensity, and excitement of being with a woman I had strong feelings for, and the hall of mirrors as a metaphor for discovering and exploring parts of myself that I was bringing to life. In some ways it’s reflective and almost secretive, journeying through confusing and difficult emotions, but I also wanted ‘Hall of Mirrors’ to be a euphoric song that conveys clarity, confidence, and ultimately joy.”
I’m All Ears was the follow-up to their 2016 debut, I, Gemini. The album featured production from David Wrench (The xx, Frank Ocean, Caribou), SOPHIE, and The Horrors’ frontman Faris Badwan and was our Album of the Week.
2. alt-J: “U&ME”
On Wednesday alt-J announced the release of their fourth studio album, The Dream, which will be out on February 11, 2022 via Canvasback/Infectious Music. The band has subsequently shared a Prosper Unger-Hamilton-directed video for a song from the album titled “U&ME” and announced an upcoming tour with Portugal. The Man, which is set to begin later this year. Check out the album’s cover art and list of tour dates here.
“U&ME” was written by the band during various soundchecks across the globe. Frontman Joe Newman explains in a press release: “It gathered momentum on its own, it was best to just get out of its way. We were just there.” Keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton adds: “It’s about being at a festival with your best friends, having a good time, togetherness, and the feeling in life that nothing could be any better than it is right now.
3. Penelope Isles: “Sudoku”
British sibling duo Penelope Isles (Lily and Jack Wolter) are releasing a new album, Which Way to Happy, on November 5 via Bella Union. On Wednesday they shared another new song from it, “Sudoku,” via a video for it.
“‘Sudoku’ is probably the oldest song on the album. We used to play it in our old band, Your Gold Teeth, back on the Isle of Man when Lily and I first started making music,” Jack explains in a press release. “Dad loves a sudoku puzzle whilst he’s sat on the loo. So this one is for him! It’s a special song for us and we wanted to bring it back and play it with Penelope Isles.”
Which Way to Happy is the band’s sophomore album and follows their debut album, Until the Tide Creeps In, released in 2019 also via Bella Union. Jack produced the album, which was mixed by Dave Fridmann. New backing band members Henry Nicholson, Joe Taylor, and Hannah Feenstra all contributed to the recording of Which Way to Happy, as did composer Fiona Brice.
As the pandemic took hold, Jack and Lily decamped to a cottage in Cornwall to begin writing and recording the album.
“We were there for about two or three months,” says Jack in a press release. “It was a tiny cottage and we all went a bit bonkers, and we drank far too much, and it spiraled a bit out of control. There were a lot of emotional evenings and realizations, which I think reflects in the songs. Writing and recording new music was a huge part of the recovery process for all of us.”
The album includes “Sailing Still,” a new song the band shared in July via a video directed by Jack and starring Lily. “Sailing Still” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then when the album was announced they shared its second single, “Iced Gems,” which was also one of our Songs of the Week.
4. Parquet Courts: “Black Widow Spider”
Parquet Courts are releasing a new album, Sympathy for Life, on October 22 via Rough Trade. On Wednesday they shared its next single, “Black Widow Spider,” via an animated claymation video for it. They also announced some new 2022 tour dates. Shayne Ehman directed the video. Check out the tour dates here.
The band’s A Savage had this to say about the song in a press release: “I told [producer] Rodaidh McDonald that I wanted to find a sound that was equal parts Can, Canned Heat, and This Heat. He was really into that and probably took some glee in having such a bizarre challenge.”
Ehman had this to say about directing the video: “We were inspired by the claymation master Art Clokey. I wanted the video to feel like it was shot in the 1950s and so I used very old lenses. One was a brass projection lens from the 1860s and another was radioactive.”
Sympathy for Life follows the band’s acclaimed 2018 album Wide Awake!, also released via Rough Trade. In June the band released a new limited edition 12-inch single, “Plant Life,” that isn’t currently available digitally. “Plant Life” is included on the album.
When Sympathy for Life was announced they shared its next single, “Walking at a Downtown Pace,” via a frantic video for it featuring New York City street life. “Walking at a Downtown Pace” was one of our Songs of the Week.
For Sympathy for Life the band worked with producers Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, Hot Chip, David Byrne) and John Parish (PJ Harvey, Aldous Harding, Dry Cleaning). The album was made mainly from improvised jams and inspired by New York clubs, Primal Scream, and Pink Floyd.
“Wide Awake! was a record you could put on at a party,” said co-frontman Austin Brown in a previous press release. “Sympathy For Life is influenced by the party itself. Historically, some amazing rock records have been made from mingling in dance music culture—from Talking Heads to [Primal Scream’s] Screamadelica. Our goal was to bring that into our own music. Each of us, in our personal lives, has been going to more dance parties. Or rather, we were pre-pandemic, which is when this record was made.”
“Most of the songs were created by taking long improvisations and molding them through our own editing,” Brown added. “The biggest asset we have as artists is the band. After 10 years together, our greatest instrument is each other. The purest expression of Parquet Courts is when we are improvising.”
Feel Free – Sympathy For Life, Visualised will be a livestream of 11 videos, one for each song on the album, each directed by a different visual artist. It will stream on October 20 and is a ticketed event. Tickets cost $15 (or $10 if you buy them in the next three days) and ticket-holders will also get access to exclusive merch. You can buy tickets here.
Parquet Courts also announced The Power of Eleven, which will be 11 global events, or “happenings” as a press release calls them, each in a different city (including London, Tokyo, Paris, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Brooklyn, and Austin) and each tied to a different song on the album and a different piece of exclusive merch. More info on future The Power of Eleven events can also be found on the band’s website.
5. Absolutely Free: “Epilogue (After Touch)”
Toronto’s Absolutely Free released a new album, Aftertouch, today via Boiled Records. This week they shared its third and final pre-release single, “Epilogue (After Touch),” which has a bit of a chillwave vibe. It was shared via a video directed by Rachelle Walkers.
The band collectively had this to say about the new single in a press release: “‘Epilogue (After Touch)’ conjures an existence, where a linear progression of time no longer seems applicable. With reference to cinematic narrative, the lyrics touch upon living in a contemporary culture that seems to be referential and symbolic of what’s already in the past.”
Previously Absolutely Free shared the album’s first single, “How to Paint Clouds,” via a video for it made via an AI system. Then they shared its second single, the Pink Floyd-esque “Remaining Light,” which made our Songs of the Week list.
Aftertouch is the band’s first full-length album in seven years. Jorge Elbrecht produced the album, which a press release describes as such: “Culling from a myriad of influences that span Krautrock, New Wave, the proliferation of international psychedelic and funk compilations, and early forms of electronic dance music, Absolutely Free has created a patina of disparate but harmonic styles distinctly its own.”
Aftertouch follows the band’s excellent 2019 EP, Geneva Freeport. That EP’s first single, “Currency (Extended Mix),” which featured U.S. Girls (aka Meghan Remy), was one of our Songs of the Week. Its title track also made our Songs of the Week list, as did “The Endless Scroll.”
Absolutely Free haven’t released a full-length album since their 2014-released self-titled debut album. The band’s core lineup is Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg, Michael Claxton, and Matt King.
6. Bartees Strange: “Weights”
On Thursday Bartees Strange announced a deluxe edition of his highly-acclaimed debut album, Live Forever, to celebrate its one-year anniversary. It will be out next Friday (Oct. 1) via Memory Music. He has also shared a new song from the expanded album titled “Weights,” which features production from Will Yip. Check out the tracklist for the deluxe version of Live Forever, as well as his upcoming tour dates (in which Strange will be supporting Lucy Dacus and Courtney Barnett), here.
“This is about the ones that got away,” Strange states about “Weights” in a press release. “Going back and forth in my head about relationships that could have happened, missing that it didn’t, and finally realizing I gotta let the weight of it all go.”
7. Geese: “Projector”
Brand new Brooklyn post-punk five-piece Geese are releasing their debut album, Projector, on October 29 via Partisan/Play It Again Sam (with a physical release on December 3). On Wednesday they shared another new song from it, title track “Projector,” and also announced their first ever North American tour dates. Check out the tour dates here. Frontman Cameron Winter had this to say about the song in a press release: “The opening riff on ‘Projector’ was the first thing we ever wrote for the record. When the song was finished, it became a jumping off point for the rest of the album. We liked it because it was something decidedly different from the music we had been writing up to that point. Though we didn’t know it then, it’s fitting that ‘Projector’ became the title track on the record; it’s the song that ushered in the album’s sound.”
Projector includes the band’s auspicious debut single, “Disco,” which came out in June and was #2 on our Songs of the Week list and also garnered acclaim from other outlets. Then they shared their second single, “Low Era,” via a video for it. “Low Era” was also one of our Songs of the Week.
Geese’s members are recently out of high school. The band wrote, produced, and recorded Projector during their junior and senior years of high school at their home studio (which they call The Nest). Singer Cameron Winter wrote each song, which was then fleshed out by guitarist Gus Green, guitarist Foster Hudson, bassist Dom DiGesu, and drummer Max Bassin. Each song had to be recorded between the end of the school day and 10 p.m., which is when they’d start getting noise complaints from the neighbors. Dan Carey (Squid, black midi, Fontaines D.C.) then mixed Projector.
8. Efterklang: “Hold Me Close When You Can”
Danish trio Efterklang are releasing a new album, Windflowers, on October 8 via City Slang. On Monday they shared its third single, “Hold Me Close When You Can,” via a video featuring images submitted by their fans.
Efterklang consists of Casper Clausen (vocals), Mads Brauer (synths, electronics), and Rasmus Stolberg (bass).
A press release describes the creation of the song in more detail: “Vocalist Casper Clausen devised the chords and melody during a radio soundcheck in Brussels in January 2020, where bandmate Rasmus Stolberg immediately heard its potential. The snippet was saved as a voice note, and the band battled with structure and instrumentation in the studio, working with live band member Christian Balvig on the string arrangements, until it all unfolded before them.”
“It’s a really emotional song and it still gets to me,” Brauer simply adds in a press release.
The videos was created via Efterklang Developed, an app “the band built with London creative agency MARRIAGE, with the purpose of bringing listeners closer together in mind.” Fans got a sneak peek of the song and more than 800 people from 49 different countries submitted photos to be used in the video.
“The video is not about presenting our music in the most impressive and flashy way, it is about collaborating,” Efterklang collectively say in a press release. “It’s something we realize has become a center of how we operate as a band. We want to create together with the listeners and concert attendees, and we keep searching for new ways of doing this…. We loved the simplicity and the symmetry of it, and we were excited to see how people interpret the music through their own reality. It was amazing to see what everybody gave to each other.”
Efterklang are doing it again, with fans that sign up next getting to hear the new Windflowers song “Alien Arms” and being able to submit photos for that video from September 22 to 29.
Previously Efterklang shared the album’s first single, “Living Other Lives,” via a video for it. “Living Other Lives” was one of our Songs of the Week. Then they shared its second single, “Dragonfly,” via a video for the song.
Windflowers is the follow-up to 2019’s Altid Sammen, which was their first album in seven years and released via 4AD.
9. Public Service Broadcasting: “Der Rhythmus der Maschinen” (Feat. Blixa Bargeld)
This week London-based band Public Service Broadcasting shared a video for a new song titled “Der Rhythmus der Maschinen,” featuring German artist Blixa Bargeld (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Einstürzende Neubauten). It is the latest single from their fourth studio album, Bright Magic, which came out today via Play it Again Sam. The industrial sounding song was shared via a Jordan Martin-directed video.
10. Chelsea Wolfe: “Green Altar”
On Tuesday Chelsea Wolfe shared two newly released songs, “Green Altar” and a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” The two songs were recorded during the sessions for Wolfe’s previous album, Birth of Violence. Wolfe has also shared a new Bobby Cochran-directed documentary chronicling her 2019 tour for the album, which was cut short due to the pandemic. The haunting “Green Altar” makes the Songs of the Week list.
Wolfe speaks about the songs in a press release: “While preparing for the Birth of Violence tour, I was watching a lot of Joni Mitchell videos. A 1966 Canadian performance that I found of hers ended up inspiring the video for my song ‘Highway.’ One night after working on the live set, Ben [Chisholm] and I were hanging out and I was just letting the Joni videos roll. ‘Woodstock’ came on and I started singing along. After that I simply asked Ben if he’d be into covering it with me for the tour, and we just went back into the studio and started working it out. The cover came together quite naturally and it was a treat to play on stage every night. Joni is obviously such a big inspiration to this side of my music, so it felt right to pay tribute to her.”
“‘Green Altar’ is a cherished song that unfortunately didn’t make it onto the album. It’s a love song I wrote after finding out that my dear friends (artist) Bill Crisafi and (designer) Hogan McLaughlin were engaged. I envisioned them getting married in a lush, green outdoor space outside of some majestic castle ruins.”
She adds, regarding the documentary: “It’s not my natural inclination to want cameras around when I’m in my head or doing vocal warmups before a show, or when I’m with friends or family backstage, but Bobby asked, and in the spirit of pushing myself to document that era of my musical life, I welcomed him along. Then, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit and I had to fly home from the European acoustic tour before I got to play a single show of it, I was so grateful that he had this footage and was putting it together. I wanted to share this documentary for that reason as well, for those who had tickets to cancelled shows (I love you!), and as a sort of wave goodbye to the time I spent focused on Birth of Violence, as I’m now making plans for and in the headspace of the next new album.”
These songs almost made the Top 10.
Aeon Station: “Queens”
Damon Albarn: “Royal Morning Blue”
Deerhoof: “Scarcity is Manufactured”
Julie Doiron: “You Gave Me the Key”
Andy Shauf: “Jaywalker”
Here’s a handy Spotify playlist featuring the Top 10 in order, followed by all the honorable mentions:
Other notable new tracks in the last week include:
Richard Ashcroft: “This Thing Called Life” From New (Acoustic)”
Beach Fossils: “This Year (Piano)”
Black Marble: “Preoccupation”
Boy Scouts: “A Lot to Ask”
Nick Cave: “Shyness”
Coldplay: “My Universe” (Feat. BTS)
Disclosure: “Observer Effect”
Duran Duran: “TONIGHT UNITED” (Produced by Giorgio Moroder)
EELS: “Good Night on Earth”
Explosions in the Sky: “Nightfall”
Guns N’ Roses: “Hard Skool”
Ada Lea: “can’t stop me from dying”
Willie Nelson: “Family Bible”
She & Him: “Holiday” (Madonna Cover)
Hana Vu: “Keeper”
Wiki: “Can’t Do This Alone” (Feat. Navy Blue)
Anand Wilder: “Delirium Passes”
Chelsea Wolfe: “Woodstock” (Joni Mitchell Cover)
Classic Song of the Week:
Rialto: “Monday Morning 5:19”
Rialto formed in 1997 and released their self-titled debut in 1998, just after the mid-’90s Britpop wave had crested. The highlight of their debut, and perhaps their finest ever song, was “Monday Morning 5:19,” in which frontman Louis Eliot sings from the perspective of a man staying up all night wondering where his girlfriend is and who she is with, in an era before everyone had mobile phones. Perhaps if it had come out a couple of years earlier—before Blur embraced American alt-rock influences with their self-titled album, before Pulp’s dark comedown with This Is Hardcore, and before Oasis’ bloated disappointment that was Be Here Now—perhaps Rialto would’ve charted better than #22 in the UK. Still, the band was bigger in Asia, in particularly South Korea, where their debut made it to #1 on the album charts decades before K-pop was a thing. Rialto released their sophomore album, Night on Earth, in 2001 before breaking up the following year. But at least we’ll always have the ornate pop of “Monday Morning 5:19.”