With most live music still a thing of the past as summer limps into fall, my pre-recorded musical diet continues to expand. So I feel it’s time to take another journey through the melodies bouncing around my headspace lately. Enjoy!
Cayucas, “California Girl”
I’ve loved this Santa Monica duo since I discovered them in 2013, and I find the baked-in nostalgia of the new single “California Girl”—an island-ready, Beck-meets-Beach Boys mutation—to be irresistible. Cayucas have long been proponents of the endless-summer strain of pop music, but they bring year-round satisfaction.
Nina Simone, “Liberian Calypso”
My favorite vinyl reissue so far this year has been Nina Simone’s underrated 1982 release Fodder on My Wings, an eclectic set, recorded in Paris, that spans from aching ballads to song fragments to French chansons. “Liberian Calypso,” which finds the chameleonic vocalist embracing Belafonte-style rhythms, is its pinnacle of unfettered joy, and a great recipe for a home dance party.
Syreeta, “Harmour Love”
Why the great ‘70s soul singer Syreeta Wright never came close the chart success of her onetime husband, Stevie Wonder, is a mystery I’ll never comprehend. Perhaps she needed more collaborations like this one, an expression of ecstatic warmth and tenderness written and produced by Wonder for Syreeta to make her own.
Phoebe Green, “Reinvent”
Phoebe Bridgers isn’t the only magnificent Phoebe to release an indie record in 2020. There’s also this 22-year-old Manchester upstart, whose sound marries Courtney Barnett-style lyrical candor with infectious New Wave synthesizers. The stunning “Reinvent” questions Green’s temptation to do just that—reimagine her personality to please others.
Built to Spill, “Queenie the Dog”
One of the most surprising album drops of 2020 has been Built to Spill Plays the Songs of Daniel Johnston, in which one legendary act honors the legacy of another. Built to Spill, who once served as the backing musicians for the late cult icon Johnston, becomes the most recent band to find new musical avenues of exploration in the songwriter’s spartan tunes. My favorite is “Queenie the Dog,” a touching tribute to a pooch gone to heaven.
Protomartyr, “Tranquilizer/Modern Business Hymns”
This stirring one-two-punch from Detroit post-punks Protomartyr channels Public Image Ltd. at its most apocalyptic and Mission of Burma at its most elegant. But these tracks are as notable for their video as their occasionally punishing music; the accompanying short film’s combination of dark humor, social commentary and science fiction speaks to our crazy times.
FEAR, “New York’s All Right if You Like Saxophones”
I finally snagged an original vinyl copy of this landmark 1982 punk album, and it was well worth the wait. The hardcore band’s gloriously offensive perspectives on everything are a relic of a less politically correct era; in this song, saxophones stand in for everything the band hates about the hedonistic grime of New York City. But in a richly ironic touch, it includes the record’s only usage of the sax, and it shreds.
Tony Williams, “Some Hip Drum Shit”
Virtuoso jazz drummer Williams, who cut his teeth on mellow Miles Davis masterworks like “Seven Steps to Heaven” and “My Funny Valentine,” let his id shine through on solo releases like 1971’s Ego, whose second side opens with a relentlessly imaginative drum solo with one of the most accurate titles I can think of. You might want to consider this track as your wakeup alarm.
Leonard Cohen, “Democracy”
Cohen’s paean to democracy in America was probably the most-played song on my YouTube app this summer, providing with characteristic poetry—and somewhat uncharacteristic danciness—some hope and faith in a terrible year. I can’t imagine its vaulted status in my life diminishing before Nov. 3.