By now, all of 2020’s traits are baked into almost every new song you hear. From hardship to optimism, everything is unsurprisingly emotionally heavy, reflecting on a society that remains ill, and a future that remains uncertain. January is usually a dry month for new music, but here are seven excellent recently-released songs that you need to hear.
Karate, Guns & Tanning — ‘Fire’
Named after a sign at a strip mall in rural Indiana, Karate, Guns & Tanning is new four-piece psychedelic dream-pop band, with members hailing from Indianapolis and Louisville. Their debut album, Concrete Beach, comes out in March, but the now-available lead single “Fire” gives some insight into what to except from them moving forward. The song mixes experimental punk prowess with a gleaming alt-pop heart, resulting in a layered and nuanced sonic palette that dips into several styles, but arrives at something unique and catchy.
Rmllw2llz — ‘Turf Wars’
On last year’s EP, Concerto No.9 Movement II.V, Rmllw2llz explored chilly and stylistic soundscapes that pulled influence from Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak, with lyrics that revolved around personal situations and introspective thoughts. His latest single, ‘Turf Wars’ is a reminder in not only how prolific Rmllw2llz is, but how easily he can morph his sound and subject matter. Here, he leans into a smooth and bright jazz-soul production style that recalls certain eras of MF DOOM, while the lyrics reflect social injustice, systemic corruption, rough streets and perseverance. There’s no chorus, just two verses — one from Rmllw2llz, one from W.I.P. — and that means there’s no filler, only razor-sharp hip-hop poetry.
Mama Said String Band — ‘Peace Of Mind’
The modern bluegrass sensibilities of Mama Said Spring Band blend roots music and jam influences, which, per tradition, speaks heavily to the balance of sorrow and joy. Here, on “Peace Of Mind,” that materializes in how going through the former helped achieve the latter. It’s a happy and optimistic song that zooms into what’s important, and the value of appreciating the small, positive moments. It addresses that while relationships are never perfect, and almost always have boiling points, there are certain people that make life unequivocally better.
The Histronics — ‘Exorcism’
The Histronics, a trio who mix ’60s psychedelia with the bite of ‘90s angst, just released their debut record, Static. One of its strongest tracks, “Exorcism,” is about navigating a path in a world full of lies, while sounding a bit like Jim Morrison rose from the dead circa 1995 and recruited PJ Harvey to build an ominous, bluesy avant-grunge band. It’s plodding and calculated, dragging the listener deeper and deeper into a story of despair. The main character of “Exorcism” and the sound being built around the story match up extremely well, combining for an existential horror hellscape that gets dangerously close to the truth.
Dom B — ‘President Dom’
Last year, with the song “City on Fire,” hip-hop artist Dom B paid tribute to the people marching in the streets of Louisville, those calling for an end to police brutality after officers from the LMPD killed Breonna Taylor. With the single “President Dom,” he jumps back into the sociopolitical landscape, this time delivering his state of the nation, by imagining himself as president. There’s some sharp satire, but there’s also some dead serious moments, tackling social inequity, lack of health care, a corrupt prison system, the tax evasion of the 1% and other major issues. With a golden hook and slick production, it still plays like a party song — it’s just the smartest one you’ll hear all night.
Melanchoir — ‘There’s No Such Thing As Love’
Through swirling shoegaze that shines with beauty and darkness, Melanchoir’s ‘There’s No Such Thing As Love’ uses hushed lyrics and loud instruments to evoke a scene that lives at the edge of dream and nightmare. And, like Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine before them, the goal seems to be to punch you right in the feelings until your ears bleed. It feels cinematic in that way, with every sonic shift feeling dramatic. There’s a lot going on with this track, but there’s a brief, melodic chorus that acts as an anchor, keeping the song grounded. It uses that moment to burn something into your brain, before flying back into the ephemeral distance.
Belushi Speed Ball — ‘We Aren’t Thrashers, We Are Hipster Posers’
Not even a global pandemic could stop the thrash-metal band Belushi Speed Ball’s eccentric theatrics: Last fall, they performed at a drive-in movie theater dressed as Mad Max characters, then they immediately loaded all of their gear into a van and pulled up to local bars and played in front of patios — still inside the vehicle, door open, amps cranked, sometimes still moving. That brings us to Stella 1 and Stella 2, a brand new, full-length album named after the lead singer’s house cats, and the song “We Aren’t Thrashers, We Are Hipster Posers,” a satirical response to a social media comment that made fun of the way the band dresses. In a way, the song reminds me of Jawbreaker’s “Boxcar,” a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the people who try to keep score for how “punk” or “authentic” someone is — the weird and pretentious takes from those who talk about keeping everything weird, but instantly make fun of anyone slightly different than them. The song even goes pop-punk at the end. One last laugh at the wannabe gatekeepers. •