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!
Imagine the inspiration of punk living in the music today. Consider part-Husker Du, Black Flag and hints of melody. On their fifth record (and second for label Drag City), the duo of Dean Spunt and Randy Randall continue to explore the melodic side of punk and post-punk sonic textures. This particular song has a Japandroids feel that is welcome and inviting. The vocals have an Archers of Loaf quality. The direction of No Age continues to evolve with a push and pull of laconic urgency that permeates the entire new record but especially the single ‘Feeler.’ The band manages an almost altruistic balance of exciting experimentation and high-energy song craft. Also, explore the excellent lead track from the album ‘Sandalwood.’
This excellent sophomore record from the Australian Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever puts to rest that idea that jangle pop is dead. ‘Rolling Thunder’ demonstrates that clever arrangements, melodies that just cannot be ignored and overall examples of how to write hooks is alive and well. The quintet demonstrate that jangle did not pass with the loss of R.E.M., this delicious collection of the very best from the marriage of indie and jangle pop will win over any enemy of the jangle. The band captures a sound associated with early db records, Wire Train and Let’s Active. It is fascinating to see an almost American indie south feel from an Australian band. Also recommend ‘She’s There’, ‘Cars in Space’ and ‘The Second of the First.’ Yet to be entirely honest, the whole record is like candy – sweet and hits the spot.
Imagine some of the most charming and energetic garage rock being made today that moves the spirit with a DIY effect and you have Hinds. On their third record, Hinds continues to use their energy in innovative ways yet the song writing is punchier, deeper, and heartfelt without sounding sappy or maudlin. The band clearly displays their penchant for pop melodies filtered through the garage rock ethic that makes the music incredibly fun, accessible and maintaining a distinctive vision and voice. The production on this record is much sharper than on their two previous records which – hold on to your judgement for a moment – serves the band and the songs well. This is not a sudden sheen or coating that makes the songs sound like a different band recorded them. There is still the lo-fi approach that Hinds is known for but an added component of appropriate clarity. Also recommend the infectious ‘Burn’ and the almost Westerbergian “Waiting for You.’
The Sounds – ‘Stay Free’ from The Things We Do For Love (Arnioki Records)
As we enter the summer in a massive pandemic, there is nothing wrong with a simple straightforward rocker that reminds us that there is nothing wrong with wanting to stand up and shout at the top of our lungs until we collapse in tears that we are here and we matter. Now before you say, “hey The Sounds are more dance than rock!” That has changed with this record. While there are several dance heavy tunes here, there are also some unexpected gems. The song ‘Stay Free’ from these Swedish rockers may not change the world tomorrow (no matter how much we wish it would), Stay Free’s cathartic chorus and direct almost Ramones-ian just over two minutes in length captures some emotional release that we all need right now. Hell, we all probably can use the release of singing along to a rock anthem occasionally in the best of times. It is good for the soul. Also, recommend the driving ‘Dim The Lights.’
Cosmic country music did not end with the passing of Graham Parsons or Gene Clark. There are several musicians exploring the terrain where country, rock, folk and self-expression meet. The second album from Poole’s psychedelic cosmic cowpoke seems oddly distorted when you give it a passing glance, however the album and especially the single ‘Los Angeles’ is real, emotional, heartfelt and sincere. This song feels almost like a country song made by The National. Sometimes the odd elements reveal that it was our perceptions that were skewed the entire time. Also, recommend the Backersfield influenced ‘Buddhist for a Couple Days.’
The Rentals – ‘Nowhere Girl’ from Q36 (self-released)
The Rentals return after six years with a lengthy collection ‘Q36’ that includes the ambitious indie operatic sweep of a 16-song collection. One of the standouts on this record is ‘Nowhere Girl’ – a song that builds upon itself until it sounds all encompassing. The song and the entire album itself melds identity, past choices and decisions with science fiction ideas and imagery. Thematic albums are always a tricky endeavor. They can suffer from pretention where reach exceeds grasp. However, while The Rentals may not be releasing music every year, this ambitious work displays the skills of the band and in doing so demonstrates some of The Rentals most captivating music. Also, explore ‘Invasion Night’ and ‘Machine Love.’
The tenth album from American Football’s Mike Kinsella’s is a swirling folk rock affair from start to finish. While exploring choices that can feel more like curses than blessings in not knowing how someone we used to care about is doing. However, in reality, we do want to know. Do they remember us? Do they think about us? Do they sing the same songs we used to sing together? In ‘A New Muse’ the idea that we can simply move from love to love and relationship to relationship as easily as we might put on a change of clothes is an interesting way to explore the challenges of human connection. This would be untenable if it were not for the lovely melodies, patient arrangements and impact as the song slows and speeds up and carries the listener along.
Kailynn West has been making some of the most poppy emo-indie in a project, Tiny Stills, which was as much an accident as a plan. You would not know that listening to Tiny Stills’ records. Since 2014, Tiny Stills have made music that combines ‘90s pop punk with emo rock. The guitar and vocal drives the urgency in her songs. Her almost confessional lyrics lay out a tapestry of pain, emotion and loss without feeling false. In ‘Craigslist Bed’, she sings about wanting to close oneself down and acknowledge that an inexpensive bed is all that you can afford all that you have left after the collapse of a relationship. How do you pick yourself up when you feel isolated, alienated and all alone? Perhaps now more than ever we can relate to those experiences. When West sings: “I am paying the price, of trying to keep our love alive, tell me what went wrong” – you feel like a friend is sharing with you and really wants your perspective to help them figure out what happened. And you know that they will find their path. They just need a sympathetic ear. The also excellent ‘Everything is Going Great’ was self-released by Tiny Stills last year and has the earnest chorus “So hard for me to be honest these days, I tell myself, I am doing OK, I don’t want the world, to think I am weak, So I repeat it, repeat it, until I believe it, everything’s going great.” The sarcasm is obvious and a slight wink to the idea that we tell ourselves may not be the truth. But it’s how we get through the day.
And one we missed that we have to share with you!
Imagine the classic country duos of the past such as Conway Twitty and Loretta Lyn, George Jones and Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. You do not hear those kinds of songs on country radio and that is a damn shame. Integrity and impact should be about more than the latest drink or conquest. Then when all hope seems lost, Charlie and Amanda Jackson come along from Dayton, Ohio with such respect for the country music legends of the past yet incorporating an updated feel and honest lyrics that still captures something true and authentic to the place we call home. In taking an unblinking look at where we are with warts and all, Charlie & Amanda draw from a rich palate. They shake the rust off the classic country duet and reinvigorate that sound with compelling arrangements and heartfelt experience from a couple that is indeed, well… a couple. That meaningful bond shapes the music that they create together. Although the album has not been released yet, you can check Charlie’s other project – Charlie Jackson and the Heartland Railway – and the first single ‘Call This Home’ now.
If you have recommendations for future editions of this column, please contact Dr. J at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember the brief before you contact us, the music either needs to be released in the particular month or is a song that should be celebrated as a “missed” catch.