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!
Mike Bankhead – ‘Promise’ from the forthcoming ‘Anxious Inventions & Fictions’ (self released)
Mike Bankhead has made clever rock and roll since 2017’s ‘Echo in the Crevices’. On his latest work, Bankhead brings a clarion call for indie rock and roll that sounds fresh and gripping. On the first single from his forthcoming record, Bankhead brings a guitar, bass, drums attack that wrap the listener in a shield of music while the vocal wonders about the loss of potential, aptitude, opportunity: “Where oh where did my potential go? Or was it ever even here? Used to hang out with my aptitude, Before we saw them disappear.” In the hands of a less creative and clever songwriter this plea would feel maudlin. Bankhead, however, in classic indie rock fashion disguises his serious intent within a sound that delivers a completely different emotion. The juxtaposition of serious reflection in an indie rock musical celebration works delightfully well in ‘Promise.’ Also, recommend the infection ‘I am a Number’, the shimmering ‘Run to You’ and the rocking ‘She Speaks in Metaphor’.
George Huntley – ‘Oughtta Be a Law’ from ‘Unreleased Demos’ (Records DK)
In 1995, Connells guitarist George Huntley released a solo record, Brain Junk, on TVT Records. That record contained several songs that Huntley had worked on with members of The Connells that just did not gel with that band. He quite rightly worked those songs up into a dynamic record that displayed his abilities as a singer, guitarist and excellent songwriter. In 2020, Huntley decided to release different versions of those songs (including work with a choir) and collect them together with other songs that did not make the official release of the ‘Brain Junk’ record. The energetic ‘Oughtta Be a Law’ is one of those stellar songs. The high octave drive of ‘Law’ creates a reckoning for the listener. This is simply a great rock and roll song. The driving beat makes the song feel like an attack. That rhythm coupled with the feedback and riffing of the guitars creates an emotional release. The end of the song has one of those fun moments where the song turns around on you unexpectedly. You will find yourself singing along. Also, recommend the delicate ‘Except Me’ and the swing of ‘Turning the Bed Around.’
The Killers – ‘Caution’ from ‘Imploding the Mirage’ (Island Records)
A song about whether or not to throw caution to the wind while on a search for self-identity may not seem like an obvious choice for a single. Yet it works. The Killers can be a band that raise strong feelings. One either loves them or may be not quite sure what to make of them. The band has itself gone through changes with the departure of founding guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer playing far less than on past albums, singer and keyboardist Brandon Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. recruited several well-known guest musicians who while not remaking the band, make significant contributions. Most notably Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham on the single ‘caution.’ This merger of classic and indie rock works surprisingly well. The slow build of ‘caution’ makes for a very satisfying assembly of sound for the listener. For those who are fans of the band, this will confirm and cement that interest. For those not sure, I recommend giving this song a listen. Also, recommend ‘My Own Soul’s Warning’ and ‘Blowback’.
Kelly Lee Owens – ‘On’ from ‘Inner Song’ (Smalltown Supersound)
On this deeply rewarding soft textured electronic record, Kelly Lee Owen’s follow up to her 2017 debut demonstrates the breadth of her sound while inviting the listener to explore their own ‘Inner Song’ without feeling condescending or artificial. The almost laconic nature of the music invites unwarranted assumptions and that would be a loss. The complex tapestries that Owens weaves are well worth the investment. The pace of this 5+ minute song comes in various electronic noise that resembles a jazzier and softer Yaz. Owen’s ethereal vocals pulls the listener into a singular experience of involvement that is gently propelled by various electronic syncopation that feels comforting and compelling. Also, recommend the gentle bounce of ‘Night’, the collaboration with John Cale in ‘The Corner of My Sky’ and the album closer ‘Wake Up’.
Emma Swift – ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ from ‘Blonde on Blonde’ (Tiny Ghost Records)
This song demonstrates both the power of Bob Dylan’s classic original ‘Blonde’ and the ability of gifted artists to take Dylan’s remarkable skill for description and analysis and make it truly their own. Swift’s ability to pay homage and at the same time to extend the musical and lyrical legacy are nothing short of excellent. The recording of Dylan’s classic becomes reimagined – dare I say updated? – and even more so introduces a new generation of music lovers to the songs. This effort is so much more than an academic exercise of recording a beloved album. As the terrific ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ demonstrates, one can expand on the Dylan pallet and bring out the driving rock and soul that underlies that tune. Swift understands more than most that these songs are not simply pristine perfections to be adored from a distance but recordings that are meant to be imbued with lived experience that Swift and her musical collaborators easily accomplish. Honestly, I recommend the entire album.
Bully – ‘Every Tradition’ from ‘SUGAREGG’ (Sub Pop Records)
Bully has always been a band that felt as if chaos was being channeled and controlled by only the tightest of grips that was slowly failing to hold on. This record, the band’s third album, maintains the beautiful punkish rock and roll cacophony, yet there is a stronger center that holds. After Bully’s main musical force, Alicia Bognanno’s efforts in making a movie’s soundtrack, musical adventures and treatment for Bipolar Disorder, she reunites with Bully’s original bass player, Zach Dawes, and touring drummer, Wesley Mitchell, to create some dynamic songs. As evidence, I present the terrific ‘Every Tradition’ which recognizes that problems are tied to the decisions that we make not the choices of other people around us. Musically the song illustrates more melody and harmonies than Bully has used previously. This is not a condemnation. The song – and the album – shine with excitement and more driving melody than the band has used before in their work. Also recommend the unforgettable ‘You’ and catchy as hell ‘Nothing Like Fire.’
The Brother Kite – ‘Dream To Me’ from ‘Make It Real’ (Light Fighter Records)
Approximately seven years since their last record, Model Rocket, The Brother Kite return with a supremely melodic reminder that indie, dream pop, shoegaze and power pop are all cut from the same cloth. Since the early 2000s, The Brother Kite has made songs with memorable melodies and harmonies. This record continues exploring the song craft that lies at the heart of this band. The entire album is full of hooks that cannot be escaped by the listener. The album’s closer ‘Dream to Me’ links the music and lyrics about what is real to someone (or not) in a convincing way. ‘Make It Real’ is the band’s fifth album and we are hoping that they will continue to find that balance between life and music. Also, recommend the rocking ‘Afraid to Even Try’, melancholy of ‘Don’t Ask Why’ and out right shoegaze of ‘In Love’.
One that got away from us…
Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8 – ‘You & Me, Me & You’ from ‘Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8’ (Beautiful Music)
Pound for pound, this album and especially the sweet ‘You & Me, Me & You’ deliver more harmonic ear candy than you can imagine. The song has an almost classic pop standard feel like it belongs in an age gone by from us. All too often music follows the depressing and sad experiences of life, this song – and the entire record – aims for something quite different. Imagine melodies, harmonies, hooks that put a smile on your face, demands a repeated nod of the head then you have captured some of this fun – that’s right, it’s a fun song from a collaboration that does not take itself too seriously. Yet, that is not to say that there is anything missing or lacking here – just the opposite is true. Part of what gives this song such a shameless pop flair is the skills that Super 8 (Paul Ryan aka Trip aka Super 8) and Lisa Mychols bring to the tune. Just listen to it and try not to smile or hum along. We dare you. Also, recommend ‘What Will Be’ and ‘Honey Bee.’
Jim Soule – ‘A Brand New Fiction’ from ‘Forget The Days’ (self released)
Proof that Midwestern rock and roll is alive and flourishing is demonstrated by far too many bands to list here. We highly recommend Minneapolis’ High on Stress, Dayton’s Shrug, and Chicago’s Wilco… perhaps I should stop this inventory before it starts to feel like a laundry list. Speaking of both Minneapolis and Chicago, Jim Soule connects both of those towns with his work in High on Stress and relocating and recording in Chicago. ‘A Brand New Fiction’ celebrates the best in Midwestern indie rock and roll with a sly joy that shows how much Soule enjoys playing and creating music. The arrangements have a punch that cannot be dismissed or ignored. ‘Fiction’ shimmers with energy and joyfulness that pulls, pushes and carries the listener. The guitar stands out and that riff will stay with you. This song stands as a good illustration for the rest of the album which captures elements of classic Midwestern rock and roll – think Tom Petty with an almost They Might Be Giants sense of fun and absurdity of the things we take for granted. Also, recommend ‘Face’ and ‘Fools Day.’
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.