Words by Art Jipson
Every month Off Shelf contributor and Your Tuesday Afternoon Alternative host Art Jipson brings you the best singles of the month and puts together a playlist for your enjoyment. Below you’ll find nine highlighted songs that stood above the rest, which is followed by the entire playlist. Please follow our Spotify account so you don’t miss any future playlists!
The latest record from Cornershop – the project led by Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayers – comes after a five-year break. The band known best for their 1997 song ‘Brim full of Asher’ has melded guitar, percussion and an almost Stones like groove that is captivating and compelling. The song pays homage and pokes fun of Tjinder’s birth and childhood where a great deal of heavy metal arose. The dirty swinging groove of this song feels as if it could easily fit on a 70s era Rolling Stones record. The whole record is worth pausing over for a listen or three! Check out the first track ‘St. Marie Under Canon’ which brings keyboards and a driving rat-a-tat drum line and the slinky ‘Slingshot’, which uses a vocal modification to great effect over a lilting, flute, and the funky ‘Cash Money’.
Luke Haines & Peter Buck – Jack Parsons from Beat Poetry for Survivalists (Omnivore Recordings)
Peter Buck continues his musical adventures away from R.E.M. with this latest offering – a partnership with British musician, writer, radio DJ Luke Haines (The Auteurs, Baader Meinhof and Black Box Recorder). The entire album has a clear Robyn Hitchcock vibe with its strange yet enthralling lyrical juxtapositions around a compelling psychedelic rocking musical style. The best song on the record is the strange yet slinky ‘Jack Parsons.’ If you like your rock and roll with odd digressions that include unique perspective on world events, popular culture, the occult and the challenges of being large, than this album and single – ‘Jack Parsons’ – are for you.
The one time leader of Pavement, Malkmus has returned to an almost Byrdsian retro feel with ‘Xian Man.’ This song on a record that signals a folk music introspective that Malkmus is well prepared to engage. The song starts with a stripped down jangly yet funky sound that slowly builds. The Roger McGuinn-like guitar is unmistakable as the song escalates. This song part subdued ‘8-Miles High’, part ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’ neo-folk country captures the cacophony of The Byrds catalog without feeling derivative or fabricated. The song builds to an emotional pay off that is well worth four minutes of time and then some.
It is true that brighter, poppy music can hide a great deal of darkness. As singer-songwriter, Sophie Allison (Soccer Mommy) imagines a driving pop music that tells us sad and difficult truths. Pop-influenced indie does not have to follow the same simple direct pathways. The adventure is in the meandering and unexpected turn. The almost laconic yet earnest delivery of her vocals makes the idea of falling and fruitless fighting against the inevitable make ‘Circle The Drain’ all that more alluring and magnetic.
Sun Harmonic – Coffee Girl from Coffee Girl (Self-Released)
What would you say to the barista that you would believe would change the relationship from customer to well… something more. Do you imagine having the right words, said at the right time in the right way to capture a heart? Or would the words “spilling out of your head” just convince said barista to go out with you? Sun Harmonic’s ‘Coffee Girl’ plays with this John Hughes-esque conceit. The look does not mean what you think it might. You are not really communicating without words. When handed a ‘cup of Joe’ the action probably means far less than you would like to admit. So, you live (or pretend to live) in an illusion that you know full well, is not real. The movement of an arm, a smile, a turn of the head or a look appear to be meaningful. Even when they are truly not anything more than being handed the cup of coffee. Sun Harmonic’s ‘Coffee Girl’ does not resolve this dilemma, it comments without resolution. And for that, I am grateful.
Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott – If You Could See Your Faults from Manchester Calling (Universal Music Group)
The former Beautiful South vocalists continue their duo project with this 16-song album titled as a response to The Clash’s classic album ‘London Calling’. Heaton (formerly of the far too overlooked The Housemartins and Beautiful South) and Abbott (who replaced the original co-vocalist in the Beautiful South, Briana Corrigan) meld their voices effortlessly as they did for several years in The Beautiful South. The driving pop sensibility here is equal parts ‘60s classic keyboard driving pop and a call to reflect on domesticity and foolishness of staying in a relationship that feels unfulfilling. Abbott’s amazing voice shines and glistens in this sweet pop confection that has the feel of classic Motown. Heaton’s songwriting remains as sharp as ever and Abbott’s voice gives life to this song in a way that few could.
The Ray Bradbury Martian Chronicles story of the same name forms the basis for the title of Patterson’s latest album. Her first record in four years moves and shimmies with a sly delivery and melody that often disguises deep existential questions. The second track ‘Out The Door’ leaps into the consciousness of the listener with an energy and a punch that moves with an irresistible syncopation that cannot be ignored. As Patterson opens the song, you are not sure if the door is real or a metaphor: “You see me walking out the door, but we both know there is a window, open… all we really got is our bodies and our friends, because loving will break your heart, again and again and again and again…” Then she begins to sing about how after death her spirit will not be hers, it will become something else. The smooth music covers over a juxtaposition between life and death and with songs as well constructed as ‘Out The Door’ we enjoy the dialectic.
The Nautical Theme – One More Left from Lows & Highs (Self-Released)
Tesia Mallory and Matt Shelter have worked together for several years. The duo were the vocal heart of the criminally overlooked Good Luck Year and when they renewed their musical partnership, they recreated themselves as a duo they dubbed The Nautical Theme. With their first record, they recaptured a musical partnership that eludes most. Lows & Highs is their second full-length album. On this record their voices and vision blend brilliantly, displaying meaningful lyrics, honest vocal arrangements and authentic expression of the challenge of everyday life. As they sing: “Maybe I’ve got one more left in me, where the quitting used to be…” is a sentiment that is not superficial but speaks to the power in refusing to give up hope and instead finding the energy to continue with the challenge. These days we can all use that hopefulness.
The band that sang about T-Shirt weather in 2015 has consistently been releasing records – 2017’s Different Creatures and 2019’s What’s It Like Over There? – and continue to make damn catchy and propelling post-punk indie-based rock and roll that has consistently grown and matured over the past half a decade. Nevertheless, maturity does not have to come at the cost of a loss of groove, crunch and flirtations with pop style. Circa Waves makes melodic and hooky tunes that do not insult the intelligence of the listener but also make you want to dance around the room to choruses that do not spare the hooks. Hasn’t anyone who felt the pangs of infatuation wanted to have that object of your infections need you, want you so badly that it felt like addiction? To that end, Circa Waves have delivered a perfectly enthralling if slightly dark song.
One that got away from us… yeah we know it was not released in March but this song has to be heard!
On their second full-length, the Asheville, NC band channel a rougher version of The Sundays – who originally influenced the name for Wednesday. Whereas The Sundays were quite upbeat and melodic, Wednesday expresses itself as a mirror-image dark indie melody that is inescapable from the start. On the outstanding track ‘Billboard’ co-found, guitarist and lead singer Karly Hartzman sings with remarkable clarity and purity over the discordant guitars. Is the song about a memory, a place, a choice being made or clips of poetry? Is the narrator accurate or reminiscing over a dream landscape? Perhaps the song is about all of these at the same time. This band creates an evocative dark, yet dreamlike feel that is remarkably rich and intoxicating. Highly recommend giving the rest of the record some attention.