Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

Amyl and The Sniffers at Torquay Hotel (left) photo by Joshua Braybrook; Notes from the Archive: Recordings 2011-2016 (right), Debay Sounds (2020)

I’ve loved the singles so far, so I expected to be talking about one of the album cuts from “Friends That Break Your Heart”, James Blake’s upcoming record. But it’s been delayed for the lamest reason ever- a vinyl pressing issue. So instead, I finally took the dive into a band I’ve had recommended to me a lot, Amyl and the Sniffers, and their new record that did drop last Friday “Comfort to Me”. Spoiler: it’s great, but like any good Punk album it’s harsh on the ears. So I needed a squeaky clean palette cleanser, and that’s where my favorite ‘old’ track of the week comes in. Lots of other great singles came out this week though (especially in R&B) so I’ve got quite a few honorable mentions first.

James Blake at least released another single, “Famous Last Words”, in place of the album and it’s keeping up the high quality of its predecessors. It’s another ballad, the most downtrodden and lowkey yet but Blake’s vocals are as good as ever.

The two singles released by Remi Wolf this week were a mixed bag. Manic energy seems to be her thing but “Guerilla” was a bit too all over the place and fell flat for me. “Sexy Villain” on the other hand had a clearer structure and reminds me of something by Benee but with a much stronger R&B influence and groove.

Tems released “If Orange Was A Place” this week, an EP full of afrobeat infused R&B. The highlight of the 5 tracks is “Found” featuring Brent Faiyaz. It’s super smooth, and the two singers sound great over the guitar meandering along with them.

Lana Del Rey is back with “Arcadia”. If you didn’t like Lana before this won’t be the track to change your mind, as it’s a classic Land Del Rey somber piano ballad with plenty of allusions to Americana. She gives a really strong vocal performance though, so if you’re like me and think most of her discography is pretty hit or miss- this is one of the hits.

A mockumentary starring St. Vincent is coming out this weekend called “The Nowhere Inn” and she released a track of the same name this week from the soundtrack. It kind of sounds like a show tune, particularly on the chorus, and I’m still not sure if I mean that in a good way or a bad way. I’m excited to listen to the rest of the soundtrack though, and eventually see the film.

Moses Sumney is one of those artists that at his best sounds like he’s going to make a groundbreaking album one day. His new song “Can’t Believe It” is a perfect example. It’s more accessible than a lot of his past work, but his distinct singing style and ability still shines through a lot of shimmering vocal effects and a chill R&B beat.

Favorite New Track of the Week: “Hertz” by Amyl and The Sniffers

Y’know those artists people always recommend to you, and you say “sounds dope, I’ll give it a shot” and then you never do?

Amyl and The Sniffers have been one of those bands for me the last couple years. I’ll admit, I was music snobbing a little bit because the people who would recommend them were almost always self-proclaimed bogans (Aussie rednecks basically) who only listened to Cold Chisel & INXS. But when James Blake stood me up, I saw “Comfort to Me”- the Melbourne band’s newest record- had just dropped and decided to finally give them a chance.

Well I’m an asshole because this band is awesome. They fit the bill of Aussie pub rockers (the track “Security” is about begging a bouncer to let you into a pub drunk) , but there’s a lot more talent here than the typical AC/DC clone. I’ve always found that the lead singer is usually the biggest detractor or selling point for a punk band, and Amy Taylor is charismatic enough to win you over by the end of the first track. Social & political commentary in punk lyrics often boil down to virtue signaling, but The Sniffers take a personal perspective that leads to some great lines about feminism & classism without trying to prove they’re the smartest kids in class. On top of that guitarist Dec Martens flashes some serious chops across the album, like with his solo on my favorite track “Hertz”.

It’s one of the more rhythmic tracks on “Comfort to Me”, opening with a bouncy guitar riff from Martens and a more prominent bassline. Amy Taylor shouts about being sick of the city, demanding “Take me to the beach, take me to the country” on one of many breakneck choruses on the record. Martens throws in a surprisingly polished solo at the bridge, but it’s not so buttoned up that it takes away from the pace of the song.

“Hertz” is one of the more accessible tracks on a pretty grimy record, so it’s a good introduction point if punk isn’t usually your thing. If it is though, I’m definitely joining the bogans in recommending “Comfort to Me”. Maybe just skip the closer “Snakes” if you’re one of those people afraid to come to Aus because of our poisonous friends.

Favorite ‘Old’ Track of the Week: “Retrograde” by Maggie Rogers

I’m again taking some liberties with the word “old” this week- this song came out in early 2019.

Early this year though, I spent a lot of time listening to Maggie Rogers’ “Notes From the Archive: Recordings 2011-2016”, a compilation album of all of the singer-songwriter’s music released more locally before her overnight virality in late 2016. Like most people, I first became aware of Rogers when a video of Pharrell Williams gushing about her song “Alaska” went viral. A solid EP followed, and eventually her debut album “Heard It In A Past Life” came in 2019.

I thought it was a good, not great pop album. There were no egregiously bad songs, or songs that felt unfinished. It just played things too safe, not really trying anything adventurous anywhere on the record. Despite being 3 years old, “Alaska” was actually on the album and the plunky, quiet production felt out of place alongside the pretty standard pop sound of the rest of the record.

“Notes From the Archive” is a compilation put together to get older songs on streaming, but it’s done with a lot more thought and purpose than something like Drake’s “Care Package”. I don’t just mean that the songs are mostly great- and they are. The record is split into 4 parts arranged in reverse chronological order, starting with an EP Rogers released on BandCamp just before “Alaska”, and finishing with songs she wrote when she was 17. Commentary tracks with Maggie speaking off the cuff about where she was as a musician & in life at the time precede each part, providing some genuinely interesting perspective and context. The music itself is already pretty raw and personal, and adding the candid commentary makes for a really intimate listen.

It seems like Maggie at least somewhat agrees that “Heard It In A Past Life” played it safe. She remarks in her final commentary track that she’s jealous of how daring her younger self was as a songwriter, and she’s only recently getting back to that. “Notes From the Archive” doesn’t feel at any point like it only exists to collect streaming royalties. It may sound naïve, but the compilation genuinely feels like Maggie looking for some truth in her own music for herself. She’s just invited her fans along for the ride. I wouldn’t have counted myself as one of those fans before, but this record gave me a stronger appreciation for her songwriting and changed that.

With this newfound appreciation, I’ve been meaning to circle back to “Heard It In A Past Life” for a while now to see if I like it any better. I finally got around to it this week, using the album as a palette cleanser after “Comfort to Me”. I still don’t think it’s groundbreaking or anything but there are a couple tracks I thought were duds that I like a lot more now. Especially “Retrograde” (I got there eventually), which is one of the better vocal performances on the album. I can’t really point to anything in particular about the songwriting that I’ve changed my mind on- I just feel like I understand Maggie Rogers as a writer more. Your relationship with a song, or an album or an artist can evolve and change in the same way an artist’s creativity can evolve. You have to learn how to listen to some genres of music to enjoy them, and sometimes you have to learn how to listen to an artist.

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