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Monday, September 11, 2023

Music Monday: Summer 2023 Playlist

Happy Music Monday! It’s once again time for a playlist!

As I mentioned in my last playlist article back in May, this year I’m splitting my normal massive End-of-Summer Playlist into two smaller ones, with this one roughly covering music I found from May through September… except as I’ve said in the past, I’m also not very timely when it comes to new music anyway, so I guess it’s a little debatable how much those timeframes matter to anyone else. Ah well. I’m also doing my usual write-ups, except I felt less wordy this time, so it probably won’t be as long (although last time was also a little extreme in length, so maybe that’s for the best).

Here are the YouTube and Spotify playlists:

The notes on what’s missing: Mouse removed her music from Spotify, so that’s only on the YouTube playlist. I couldn’t find “Strange Luvv” by King Isis on either platform, so here’s a Bandcamp link. And 7mai doesn’t use either, so here’s a link to their Bandcamp page; the picks on this playlist come from the Gray, Pink, Yellow, and Violet “Colorful Palette” EPs.

And speaking of, as always, a lot of these artists have Bandcamp pages where you can purchase their music directly. So if there’s something that you really like, maybe consider throwing some money their way as well!

Carly Rae Jepsen, The Loveliest Time

Once again, Carly Rae Jepsen followed up an album release with a B-sides collection the following year. I don’t really have a ton to say here; Carly Rae Jepsen released an album of very good pop music? And I liked it a lot? Wow, what a shock, who could have guessed any of this!

It is kind of interesting that this one dropped the “B-Sides” label this time in exchange for its own (derivative) name, although it’s also probably the B-Side album that feels like it most strongly stands on its own, so it makes sense. It does feel like The Loveliest Time dabbles around in styles more than any of her other albums. I wish it had a song I liked as much as “Run Away With Me” or “The Loneliest Time” or “Want You In My Room”, but it’s also not hard to recommend songs like “Shy Boy” and “Psychedelic Switch”. Overall, I’m not sure if it’s my favorite of CRJ’s projects, but that’s a difficult catalog to stand out in, and probably partly personal taste.

PRIZM, All Night

This one was my big, new discovery while browsing Bandcamp over the last few months. I know that I have a thing for those sparkling atmospheric synths and haunting saxes and powerful vocals singing big hooks cutting through it all… but also, this Dallas-based duo makes it so easy to love it. They have the style down pat, writing banger after banger and polishing them to a gem-like gleam, and splashing them across the night sky with a sense of cinematic grandeur. The songs I’ve picked for the list (“All Night”, “Lost You”, and “Can’t Bring Me Down”) were all easy calls, instant classics that I immediately fell in love with, but really, there are no weak links on All Night. I tore through the rest of their releases and can recommend it all, although for the sake of this playlist, I included “Sober” (one of three recent singles, hopefully prelude to a new album?) and cover “Don’t Stop” (one of a trio of Fleetwood Mac covers they released; I like them all, but felt like this one was the most interesting, really putting a unique spin all their own on it).

Recurring Bands with New Music

The Aces, I’ve Loved You For So Long
I’ve featured The Aces on several of these playlists now. My most recent thing was that their sophomore album wasn’t as strong as their debut album or EP, but their third album is a definite improvement. Much tighter, I think the hooks are stronger, and the best songs stand out more (although I’ve included “Always Get This Way” and “Girls Make Me Want To Die” on past playlists as pre-release singles, so I’m branching out for this one).

Alex Lahey, The Answer Is Always Yes
Actually, now that I think about it, those general sentiments also go for Alex Lahey (another recurring top-of-the-alphabet feature on these lists) and her third album. There are some strong guitar riffs and Lahey’s normal introspection and sarcasm in the lyrics. My biggest gripe is if it had some of her strong between-album singles here, it might have been her best release? But maybe that’s just me having a different mindset on building an album’s tracklist.

Janelle Monae, The Age of Pleasure
Janelle Monae’s new album is great! It’s just… I dunno, I loved her last two albums, The Electric Lady and Dirty Computer. The Age of Pleasure, despite being fun and well-made and all that, just… doesn’t line up as perfectly with my personal interests as those two did. That happens sometimes when artists try new things, it’s fine. I kind of just wish it didn’t take five years per album release, so there was less build-up and each album didn’t need to tide you over as long and all that, but I also completely get it, given the current state of the music industry.

MisterWives, Nosebleeds
Again, maybe it was just how much I liked Connect the Dots and SUPERBLOOM, but this one also didn’t grab me. MisterWives definitely changed some things while recording their independent debut, and it’s not bad; I’m curious to see where they go from here, after a decade of following them. But I’ll probably be quicker to revisit those other albums before Nosebleeds.

Mystery Skulls, The Gold Album
7mai, Colorful Palette: Gray

Some more series regulars appear with their new releases. Maybe they aren’t the most adventurous acts, but they both have their niches, and they sure love exploring them fully and excelling at them. I don’t think I’ve been disappointed by either of them in a while, and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect going in. So if you’re also a fan of Mystery Skulls’ funky electronic dance grooves, or 7mai’s hyperactive kawaii bass, I guess just take this as a heads up for their new stuff; and if you haven’t heard them yet, these are as good a place to give them a try as any. (Also, I finally made it back through the earliest volumes of 7mai’s Colorful Palette series over the summer, so I’ve included some picks from Pink, Yellow, and Purple as well).

Tove Lo
Last time, I gave a shout-out to Tove Lo’s newest album Dirt Femme, and since then, she’s released a deluxe version with a few new songs and some remixes and other things. I liked the new songs (and included one of them here, “I like u”), although unusually for these types of things, they’re placed at the start of the album? Seems odd, since I thought the original opening was good, and I think she had a whole visual album thing to go along with it, so it feels like that would mess that up a little? I don’t know, maybe I just need to give the full thing another listen and see if it grows on me.

I’ve written about my love of CHVRCHES in the past, so I’ll take this space to note some developments. Last Playlist, I included their newest single, “Over”, as well as some music from Iain Cook’s side project Protection. In the four months since, the band announced a tenth-anniversary re-release of their first album The Bones of What You Believe (still great!) with unreleased tracks (“Manhattan” is featured here), and Lauren Mayberry announced solo music, including lead single “Are You Awake?”. This feels kind of like the start of a hiatus… maybe I’ll need to do something special, as a sort of retrospective.

(Also, Walk the Moon announced they’d be going on a hiatus recently as well, so maybe if the CHVRCHES idea goes well, I’ll do something for them too. Not to get too far ahead of myself or anything.)

Underscores, Roosevelt, Dirty Nice
And here we have the “End of 2022 Previews”. All of them have announced albums coming out before the end of the year to go with their new singles, so don’t be shocked if they turn up again. I’m especially pumped for Underscores’ Wallsocket, I’ve loved both “Cops and Robbers” and “Locals (Girls Like Us)”, so they both show up on this playlist. KennyHoopla might also be building to something, although maybe that was just his recent 3-song EP. Neon Trees released a new single and started to tour. Bleachers has announced new music coming soon. And the Bad Suns released something while I was finishing this up, but I’m using Labor Day as my cutoff to stop myself from just adding things right up to the moment I publish, so we’ll just deal with that next time.

Panama Wedding, Scavenger Hunt
These groups also released new singles. I don’t know that either is a precursor to new music, though; I’m just a longtime fan, and new music from either of them has become rarer, so I want to call them out anyway.

“New” Things I Want to Discuss

Orla Gartland, Woman on the Internet
I was sure I had included Gartland on a playlist before as a featured artist from “Shapeshifting”, her collaboration with series regulars Great Good Fine Ok, but that one apparently came out when I wasn’t doing playlists, so go check it out now if you haven’t before. So I recognized her name when I saw the Anniversary Edition of her 2021 debut somewhere (like I said, this isn’t always timely), and was very happy with what I heard. It reminds me a lot of Jukebox the Ghost, a sort of songwriter pop-rock with some theatrical flair (although with less complex piano lines). I know that some people find that kind of energy a little overwhelming, but I love it, so if you’re on my side of things, give this a listen.

The Japanese House, In the End It Always Does
I had heard good things about them (or her, I didn’t realize Amber Bain was a solo act and not a band until listening), and gave the new album a listen after its June release. I had a good time with it, just some solid moody, dreamy synthpop. “Touching Yourself” was the one that caught my attention, and it’s just a stellar track, with new tricks at every turn, and one of my favorite songs on the playlist. I’m also a big fan of “Sad to Breathe” and “Friends”, although I wish there were a few more standout songs with them. I had heard some comparisons to The 1975, and I see them; there’s a lot of overlap in style, except that Bain is substantially less overbearing, and while In the End… slows down in parts, she knows how to keep her albums to a reasonable, less self-indulgent length, so it doesn’t wear on you nearly as much.

Oceanator, Nothing’s Ever Fine
I don’t remember how I found this one on Bandcamp, but it was a very pleasant surprise! It’s some solid indie garage rock type stuff, with the album loosely themed around the excitements and anxieties of an aimless summer day, I think? But it goes a lot of fun places around that theme. Lots of good riffs all around, “The Last Sumer” is a great early single, “Bad Brain Daze” is just a stream of fun solos in the backend, and I love the opening instrumental “Summer” recurring as a midpoint and then getting a full performance as album closer “Evening”. Maybe it’s still a little summery where you are; if so, give this one a listen while it still applies for extra effect.

Kicksie, Slouch and All My Friends
I tried Slouch a little after it released, since it popped up on my Bandcamp, and found myself listening to it a lot, to the point where I went out and tried her previous album too (I liked Slouch more, but All My Friends definitely scratches the same itch). It’s just some great indie pop-rock, drawing a lot on ‘90s alternative stuff, so you get some great crunchy guitar bits and shout-sung choruses and lyrics cheekily detailing relationship dramas and all of that, but with a modern indie pop gloss that gives it all a different, interesting feel.

Chris Farren, Doom Singer and Born Hot
The story on Farren is basically inverted, I guess? I saw his last album Born Hot on Bandcamp while browsing power pop stuff, gave it a try, liked it, then got Doom Singer when it released. I’m not sure which I wound up liking more, they’ve both got their moments. If you like jangly, upbeat pop melodies over lyrics about feeling stressed and anxious, with fun ‘70s-inspired arrangements and a touch of melodrama (I think there’s a conceit about Born Hot being the score to a fictional movie, with an early song titled “Love Theme from Born Hot”? Although I couldn’t really follow it.), check it out.

Grace Ives, Janky Star
I don’t really know what keeps drawing me back here. Janky Star is some lo-fi, synthy bedroom pop, a tight just-under-half-an-hour album, and I keep coming back to it. I can’t really put into words why I do, none of the songs immediately jumped out at me in the way they do with some records. But each time, there would just be a melody or synth line or even just a vibe of a song that would catch my ear and draw me out of what I was doing whenever I listened, and I feel like that’s worth calling out!

Midi Matilda, Just a Game EP
SISTIR, touchwood EP

And finally, a quick pair of EPs to polish off this section. I actually included Midi Matilda way back in 2020, but it was just a few singles. They ended up coming to my mind over the summer for some reason (probably remembering “Tidal Wave”, which still slaps), and I looked them up and… learned they had actually released an EP 3 days after I originally wrote about them, I just missed it. Anyway, I ended up thoroughly enjoying it, it feels like a throwback to the type of early-2010s indie synthpop that I would have found back circa 2012 and dug. It’s weird how of-a-time that style feels, just a decade later.

SISTIR also kind of makes me think of that era? Although their release is from this year, and I didn’t see anything they’ve been active before then like Midi Matilda. It’s a slightly different feel too, like someone playing around with lusher pop arrangements and melodies but for songs that have a little more of a singer and songwriter bent? If that makes sense? The EP is just four songs, but it makes me interested to see what comes next.

I Kept Going Through Their Catalogs After Writing About Them Last Time:

The Beths:
I got around to their first album and EP (Future Me Hates Me and Warm Blood), and yep, still good! Less good than their most recent two albums, but solid debuts still! And it's easy to see how they grew into that band.

The Portland group had two EPs before their debut album, Gamma Waves and Snowblind, and I wound up loving them both. They basically had their building, electronic-y synthpop sound of Default Mode Network nailed from the get-go, and songs like “(Don’t) Surrender” stand with their best tracks.

King Isis, Hoity-Toity:
I highlighted scales and As Above as my Promising EPs last time, but neither was a debut. I listened to earlier EPs from both, King Isis’s #1 (plus single “Strange Luvv”) and Hoity-Toity’s Not Your Kind, and they both fall in the same category as The Beths, as less polished but still very recognizable as earlier versions of those artists, so it makes me excited to see where they both go next!

I guess this one isn’t a backlog, but the second-half of Softee’s new album Natural released, and I don’t have much to say other than “Yeah, that’s some good, vibe-y retro-influenced pop”. I think it might make for her strongest overall release yet?

Letting Up Despite Great Faults:
I mentioned their 2022 album IV and 2023 EP Crumble as interesting shoegaze-twee stuff, but I also mentioned that they were the Austin band’s first releases following a hiatus. Well, I went back and tried some of their pre-hiatus stuff (2017’s Alexander Devotion EP, 2014’s Neon, and 2012’s Untogether), and it was also pretty good! I preferred their newer stuff, so maybe try that if you’re totally unfamiliar, but if you tried those and want more, I’d also recommend these (Neon being my personal favorite of the bunch).

Happy Hollows:

This is another band that had just ended a recent hiatus. Last time, I said they were solid indie rock/electro pop, but that their 2023 album Craver was kind of carried by single “Prowler”. Well, I went back and tried their earlier albums (Concordia, 2017 and Amethyst, 2013), and while I don’t know if any of their singles beats “Prowler”, I think both albums are better than Craver. So maybe start with these albums, if you didn’t give them a listen last time.

Other New Things I Want to Give a Shout-out

And finally, I’m going to give a quick rundown of the smaller acts I found while browsing Bandcamp. If any of the

It’s Butter: Some fun jazz-pop; I especially loved “Still in Love”.

Plasma Cutter: If you like Anamanaguchi’s style of chiptune/rock, definitely check out Genesis Dream!

Father Koi: If you like the glistening smooth, plastic-y and surreal type of hyperpop, I enjoyed everything is a dream, but it is your dream. I wouldn’t be shocked if this one grows on me and I revisit it a lot.

Tragic Lovers: Just a few songs rather than a full album here, but I’ve enjoyed their catchy post-punk stuff so far.

Indigo De Souza: This is another singer-songwriter with some ‘90s alternative influences? It kind of makes for an interesting contrast with Kicksie; I know I used some of those same adjectives, but the ends result here (All of This Will End) feels different, maybe a little darker.

Trust Fund Ozu: Tribute Summon is from the crunchier, glitchier end of the hyperpop spectrum. I’m definitely interested in checking out her next album, which comes out later this month.

Sugar Nova: This duo’s debut album Halogen is another lo-fi electropop one, with songs that would sneak up and get stuck in my head.

Crozet: Some more synthwave. I didn’t like them as much as PRIZM, but I still had fun listening to their albums Running Time and Suburbia.

Madebit: Madebit’s EP CMYK caught my eye, so I picked up her full album An Alien Among Us when it released. It’s a quirky dance/edm-pop set, and I don’t know if it’s my favorite thing, but it’s stuck with me.

June Jones: Some more lo-fi electropop. I enjoyed her EP Pop Music for Normal Women, and her new single “Good Girl” is an interesting follow-up, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next.

Color Palette: A DC-based alternative pop-rock artist with a few EPs and singles. “Pacing Like a Lion” is instantly gripping.

Mel Stone: Her album Princess feels like a throwback to ‘70s songwriter rockers, with some heartland rock influences.

Madison McFerrin: I Hope You Can Forgive Me is a quick-and-smooth little alternative/neo-soul record (and from an artist who comes from a family with a notable musical history).

KNOWER: KNOWER FOREVER is a pop-nerd’s pop record, luxuriating in using horns and strings and jazz theory and everything else they can to make complex, dense arrangements. "I'm the President" is a fun example, with just a ton of stuff going on musically.

Moon Palace: Love Lost is a half-dozen funky, psychedelic pop-rock songs.

Wingtips: Cutting Room Floor is just some good old-fashioned gothy, post-punk synthpop.

Stay Lunar: If you need more of your shoegaze/dreampop fix, their EPs Every Cloud and When the Sun Sets are both solid choices.

bash explode: CTF is another fun, very electronic album. I think there’s also some sort of puzzle challenge associated with this one? I didn’t follow it at all, just listened to the music, although it looks like it’s still running.

Star 99: The San Jose-based quartet’s album Bitch Unlimited is a solid, punky power-pop record.

Grand Lilac: Sometimes I’ll just enter random combinations of tags into Bandcamp and check what comes up. I believe that I found Grand Lilac’s self-titled debut with “power pop + chamber pop”, and yep! It sounds like power pop with touches of chamber pop influences! If that sounds like your thing, definitely try them!

CHIZI: Her EP Drive is some nice electropop, and lead track “Bad Habit” feels like a breakout pop song.

City Fathers: And one final one, I liked alt pop act City Fathers’ single “Where Did the Night Go”, and their subsequent EP is also pretty good.

For those interested, the full playlist can be found in text below, after the email sign-up form (and if you would like to get an email when the End of 2023 Playlist goes up in three to four months, consider signing up! I only send emails when there’s a new article at this site, so it’s low commitment! If you want the baseball articles also, that’s a separate list.)

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    The Full Playlist

    Artist(s) Song
    Carly Rae Jepsen Shy Boy
    Carly Rae Jepsen Psychadcelic Switch
    Carly Rae Jepsen Stadium Love
    PRIZM All Night
    PRIZM Lose You
    PRIZM Can't Bring Me Down
    PRIZM Sober
    PRIZM Don't Stop
    The Aces Suburban Blues
    The Aces Person
    Alex Lahey You'll Never Get Your Money Back
    Alex Lahey They Wouldn't Let Me In
    Janelle Monae Champagne Shit
    Janelle Monae Lipstick Lover
    MisterWives Flower Moon
    MisterWives End of My Rope
    Mystery Skulls Dream Come True
    Mystery Skulls Better Than Ever
    7mai Lucky Penguin
    7mai Living Coral
    7mai Lemonade
    7mai CUTE-Distinction
    Tove Lo I like u
    CHVRCHES Manhattan
    Lauren Mayberry Are You Awake?
    WALK THE MOON Win Anyway
    underscores Cops and Robbers
    underscores & Gabby Start Locals (Girls like us)
    Roosevelt & Nile Rogers Passion
    Dirty Nice Shoes
    KennyHoopla YOU NEEDED A HIT//
    Neon Trees Favorite Daze
    Panama Wedding Can't Hold Back
    Scavenger Hunt Diving In
    Orla Garland You're Not Special, Babe
    Orla Garland Zombie!
    Orla Garland Bloodline & Difficult Things
    The Japanese House Touching Yourself
    The Japanese House Sad to Breathe
    The Japanese House Friends
    Oceanator The Last Summer
    Oceanator Bad Brain Daze
    Oceanator Evening
    Kicksie You're On
    Kicksie Go-Getter
    Kicksie BANANA POP!
    Kicksie Ouroboros
    Chris Farren Love Theme from "Born Hot"
    Chris Farren Search 4 Me
    Chris Farren Bluish
    Chris Farren All We Ever
    Grace Ives Burn Bridges
    Grace Ives Lullaby
    Midi Matilda Feel Like That
    Midi Matilda Just a Game
    SISTIR in the eyes
    SISTIR touch wood
    The Beths Uptown Girl
    The Beths Little Death
    The Beths Warm Blood
    DMN (Don't) Surrender
    DMN All The Right Words
    DMN What You Need
    DMN Walking Backwards
    King Isis Strange Luvv
    Hoity-Toity Y'Know
    Hoity-Toity Mykinnacoma (Not Your Kind)
    Softee Isn't Enough
    Softee Natural
    Letting Up Despite Great Faults Gold
    Letting Up Despite Great Faults Bishops
    Letting Up Despite Great Faults Bulletproof Girl
    Letting Up Despite Great Faults Mass
    Happy Hollows On the Wave
    Happy Hollows Meteors
    Happy Hollows Amethyst
    Happy Hollows Hawaii
    Air Apparent (ft. Julia Ross) Tokyo
    ARIZONA Dark Skies
    ARIZONA Pressure
    Dresage Plastique
    Gryff (with YATTE) The Journey
    Knox Hamilton Lost in a Party
    Laveda Troy Creeps
    Megan McDuffee & TELLE Twisted
    Mouse Swarovski
    Noah Kahan Dial Drunk
    Primo the Alien More Love
    saorise dream catherine never broke again
    saorise dream just like you
    Snail's House & Moe Shop Fashionista
    sungazer Electro
    Tomo Nakayama Contigo
    It's Butter Still In Love
    It's Butter Can't Be Too Hard on Myself
    Plasma Cutter Ignition Sequence
    Plasma Cutter Genesis Dream
    Father Koi bittersweet
    Father Koi New Years
    Tragic Lovers Little Rebel
    Tragic Lovers New Fire Ceremony
    Indigo De Souza You Can Be Mean
    Indigo De Souza The Water
    Trust Fund Ozu Succubus
    Sugar Nova Send Me Higher
    Sugar Nova Touch Me I'm Going to Scream, Pt II
    Crozet Summer Nights
    Crozet (feat. Carl Cox) Moment of Nostalgia
    madebit The Mellow
    madebit An Alien Among Us
    madebit Moon Dance
    June Jones Gamer
    June Jones Good Girl
    Color Palette Pacing Like a Lion
    Mel Stone Simone
    Madison McFerrin Utah
    KNOWER I'm the President
    Moon Palace Too Late To Compromise
    Wingtips Minimalistic
    Stay Lunar keeping me up all night
    Stay Lunar i like it when you're around
    bash explode phase cancellation
    bash explode nostalgia per minute
    Star 99 South Second
    Grand Lilac Day Job
    CHIZI Bad Habit
    City Fathers Where Did the Night Go
    Sherry CD-ROM (feat. Heather Harper)
    Hero Garden
    Snail Mail Madonna

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