Early Picks for Top Underrated Albums of 2019

A new kind of alternative.

We are over the halfway mark in 2019 and we’ve already seen a lot of solid albums. So far we got a predictably superb Baroness record, a very impressive new LP from Little Simz, and a rager of a new PUP record just to name a few; and with several notable new releases from artists like TOOL, Wilco, and Hiss Golden Messenger still to come, 2019 will end up another very respectable year for music.

But for every critical darling there are always several great albums that fly under the radar either for lack of name recognition, lack of marketing budget, or for not fitting the sonic mold that every critic, intentionally or not, imposes on their ratings. That’s why we put together this list of ten albums that aren’t getting much critical attention, but we think need to be heard.

Death of the Neon by String Machine

String Machine’s sophomore record is even more breathtaking than their equally underrated debut album Threads From the Youth Fossil. Death of the Neon mixes folk, indie, emo, and post-rock to create a unique atmosphere that defies traditional categories, spearheaded by some of David Beck’s most vulnerable lyrics to date.

The Language of Injury by Ithaca

UK Label Holy Roar continue a recent trend of putting out great metal albums with Ithaca’s bone-crushing debut. This is chaotic hardcore at its finest; a record that is complex and raw both musically and lyrically from a band that should be mentioned in the same breath as greats The Chariot, Every Time I Die, and Norma Jean.

This is Not the End by Spielbergs

After a couple brushes with cult success in prior bands, the members of Norwegian punk outfit Spielbergs have finally done it. This is Not the End is an expansive magnum opus for the scene veterans, filled with anthemic shout-alongs, big fuzz riffs, and successful forays into more cinematic material.

Cause & Affection by Oginalii

The debut from sludgy Nashville rock outfit Oginalii is a genre-bending odyssey taking cues from free-jazz, power pop, progressive rock, and hardcore just to name a few. Cause & Affection is one of the most refreshingly original rock records in recent memory: it’s heavy, it’s catchy, it’s smooth, it’s dark, and it does all of it without calling to mind any comparable band.

Safe and Also No Fear by Slaughter Beach, Dog

After a brief, but intensely popular career as one of the two lead writers and singers of Modern Baseball, Jake Ewald gave up emo for folk. His latest under solo moniker Slaughter Beach, Dog showcases the strength of his trademark storytelling over laid-back folk-rock arrangements more similar to Wilco than his punk roots.

2020 by Shin Guard

Last year Pittsburgh screamo new-comers Shin Guard released one of our underground albums of the year in Cerebral. Not even one year later they returned more experimental, technical, and heavy than ever before with 2020; an artsy post-hardcore masterpiece filled with unpredictable turns, probing lyrics, and uncontrollable frenetic energy.

Pale Cicada by Makeunder

If Oginalii released the most original rock record of the year, Makeunder released the most original record period, regardless of genre. Mixing influences from RnB, to funk, to folk, to art rock the California project put out the densest dance record the world has ever seen, somehow turning songs about wrestling with death and poverty into something you can move your feet to.

The Big Freeze by Laura Stevenson

Laura Stevenson is not getting nearly enough attention. Since leaving the Jeff Rosenstock-led band Bomb the Music Industry! she has consistently proven her chops as a folk writer over the course of several albums. Her newest, The Big Freeze, is arguably her best yet; a diverse and vulnerable offering that should put her in the conversation as one of the most talented lyricists of the decade.

You’re Gonna Miss Everything Cool and Die Angry by Catholic Werewolves

Catholic Werewolves easily have the best album name of 2019 so far, and their concise, 15 minute mini-LP is also one of the best punk records of the year. You’re Gonna Miss Everything Cool and Die Angry is a witty and fun record reminiscent of Jeff Rosenstock about the seemingly systemic angst in American 20-something life.

Princess Diana by The Manana People

2019 is the year of bands with “psyche” in their genre-tags and The Manana People are one of the best of the lot. Their brand of “psyche-country” combines Beach Boys level harmonies with old-timey Western guitars, and quirky theremin and synth parts, wrapped together with a dusty lo-fi production that makes this unique album feel straight out of a Sundance film.

We’ve put all ten of these albums into a playlist for your enjoyment below.

Review: Sparrowfeather by Jay Sunaway

FFO The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, Darlingside

Reveal and conceal, appearance and disappearance, these words are key to the thinking behind this work and link to my fascination with Roland Barthes’ concept of the ‘seam’. Barthes describes the seam as being the site of both loss and of desire. I am interested in playing with the tension of the edge or seam by working with folding to collage” – Rebecca Loweth, collage artist

Outside of collage artists and seamstresses, not many people give much thought to the meaning of seams. But such a seemingly simple thing is pregnant with symbolic meaning. As Loweth points out, as a piece folds it enters a cycle of appearance and disappearance: part of the original disappears behind the crease and what remains visible now appears different. Likewise as two things are sowed together the seam marks both the edges of each original part and also, literally and symbolically, the melding of the two pieces into one new piece. Appearance and disappearance. Loss and desire. The old and the new.

It’s appropriate that Jay Sunaway would take inspiration from Loweth’s approach, in many ways it mirrors their own artistic journey. In 2018 the London space-folk outfit released their debut EP Earth Hum, a mesmerizing album centered on modern life and technology in a present world that seems to thrust itself constantly into the future. Now on their 2019 followup Sparrowfeather, they focus instead on the past, invoking natural images to explore the themes of place, history, and memories. Just like Loweth, Jay Sunaway choose to live their creative lives on the seam, using their music to explore the tensions between a modern, ever-evolving world, and the world of memories and places that gave birth to it.

If this all sounds a bit heady for you, don’t worry, despite it’s wide-reaching and meandering lyrical themes Sparrowfeather is a very accessible EP that any folk fan will love. It’s also simply gorgeous. Behind Joe Woods’ elegant finger picked guitar lines and reflective lyrics is a fully fleshed out world of reverby harmonies, lush string arrangements, and strikingly dynamic bass lines. Jay Sunaway shift effortlessly between hushed “one guitar, one voice” folk and groovy full band alt-folk crescendos, sometimes throwing in key and tempo changes along the way for good measure. In all it sounds vaguely like The Decemberists, but if Sufjan Stevens composed the EP for Colin Meloy and told him to tone down the medieval peasant ramblings. It has the same hyper-literate appeal, but with a more universal message and a much more ethereal soundscape.

Check out this stunning new EP when it releases officially this Fall through Upcycled Sounds, and stream the first two singles Rocks and Kittiwake Cry below.

7.5 (Stand-Out)

Review: Death of the Neon by String Machine

FFO Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, TWIABP

The future is not what it seems. Just down the road from where I am writing this is the Pittsburgh Waterfront, a booming shopping district built over the bones of Andrew Carnegie’s steel dynasty. It’s a scene familiar to those of us who grew up in Pittsburgh, the city that bounced back, one of the few rust-belt towns to find new life once the nation’s mills closed down: what is old is bought out by developers and turned into housing plans and sprawling strip malls, often separate from and inaccessible for those who lived through the changes. In the rural counties just outside the city limits this process is even more exaggerated. Not an hour north from downtown Pittsburgh sits Butler, once a district filled with family farms and the farthest corner of the city’s industrial hub. These days the old manufacturing districts have folded into a post-industrial wasteland and the few farmers remaining are increasingly forced to sell off parcels of their land to the same kinds of developers who gentrified much of the city to their south. For many this is the face of the future; an inescapable wave that leaves the old ways propped up in ruins and the new just out of reach. But some, like Butler’s own progressive folk outfit String Machine, are rejecting the life they’ve inherited; taking the lessons they learned from “the frozen ruins of Western Pennsylvania” and using them to press forward into a future all their own.

String Machine’s music is an ethereal and vulnerable blend of folk, punk, and indie that invites the listener into it’s own sonic world; a nostalgia-laced place that “provides joy while wondering if joy is even possible.” On their sophomore record, The Death of the Neon, the seven piece band have reached a near spiritual point in their creation, blending everyday experiences and esoteric imagery into something that feels potent and transcendent. Nowhere is this better exemplified than on early standout Old Mack, a song that takes the story of being bit by an old dog and spins it into a contemplation on life and death with lines like “not all hounds go to heaven/ but I don’t know where the bad ones go”, “I’ve got it tied tight around my face/ blanket soul keeps the sap in my head”, and “let’s put make-up on my scares today/ and go see Manson at Star Lake/ and hope we wake up the same.” Throughout the record, lead songwriter David Beck uses images like the above to give a sort of surreal feeling to the scene he’s describing. Perhaps the best of these surreal images comes on the second track and lead single Eight Legged Dog where Beck sings an uneasy and slightly disturbing chorus: “the eight legged dog/ is coming along/ to ruin your grain.”

Several of the more vivid images also recur throughout, making Death of the Neon strikingly cohesive. The dog image occurs first in Eight Legged Dog and then again in Old Mack, the first as a personification of some dreadful thing and the second as a literal old hound. Similarly the phrase “soft margins” and the sap image pop up any time vulnerability comes into frame, while the phrase “excite again” first appears in No Holiday/Excite Again to signify doubting the possibility of joy and then appears as an inversion in Comforts From the Cobweb to signify a joy so powerful nothing could excite you beyond it. In the middle of the album the breeze plays a spiritual role in multiple songs, first drawing a comparison to a god and then a sense of calm and belonging with “in the breeze it’s alright to be.”

It’s the attention to such small details that sets The Death of the Neon apart from similar albums, or from most albums in general. This trait carries over into the whole arrangement as well. Every song is painstakingly layered with beautiful harmonies from their second vocalist Laurel Wain, sublime synth and piano lines, acoustic and electric guitars, strings, and even the occasional trumpet. It’s maximalism without the attention-seeking, complexity for the sake of sheer beauty and nothing else, and it’s the prime reason that Death of the Neon remains just as rewarding with each repeat listen as it is on the first play-through.

As with most albums in this vein, the main downside, if you can call it that, is in accessibility. Beck sings his lyrics in a loose, impassioned way that is heavily inspired by midwest “twinkly” emo and other 90s-inspired indie rock. The strength of this approach is that it conveys strong emotions well and has a sort of everyman charm, while the downside is that to the uninitiated it sounds pitchy and unrefined. When juxtaposed with Laurel Wain’s more ethereal voice, however, it reinforces and mirrors the band’s dual imagery: one part earthy, jagged past and one part dreamy, transcendental hope in a possible future.

Overall, Death of the Neon is easily one of the most complete and cohesive records of the year so far, and a shining example of our artistic mission statement at Not a Sound: build a world, not a sound. It’s an album you can dissolve into and explore over and over, unpacking new layers piece by piece with every fresh listen. Whether you’re a fan of psyche folk or if you didn’t know it was a genre until today, there’s a lot to experience, a lot to discover, and a lot to enjoy about String Machine‘s masterfully crafted new full-length, due out this Friday, August 2nd. The future is now, choose today what you will do with it.

8.2 (Best New Music)

Released: August 2nd, 2019
Label: Earthwalk Collective

Review: Electric Lunch by Rick Moon

FFO T. Rex, Grizzly Bear, Electric Light Orchestra

Rick Moon is in a world all his own. The talented Miami power-popper has been quietly putting together his own unique brand of fantastical indie rock since 2012, blending and modernizing sounds inspired by the likes of Harry Nilsson, The Beatles, XTC, and Grizzly Bear to name a few. Over the course of three EPs he’s slowly and steadily made a name for himself in Miami as both a songwriter and a producer, living out a passion for music that led him mainland from his birth home in Ponce, Puerto Rico as a college student. His newest effort, Electric Lunch, is his strongest to date, a surreal seven track EP with a near cinematic scope.

Anyone can make a paltry attempt at atmosphere with a guitar and reverb pedal, but Rick Moon doesn’t take shortcuts. Instead he painstakingly crafts each song to fill space in various inventive ways, using layers of synth, piano, electric and acoustic guitar, understated samples, and most importantly: walls of harmonies. The result is a rich sonic palette that rushes out to immerse the listener like a wave to the shore. It’s almost the musical equivalent to Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, the entire EP exists in it’s own lush, imaginative world of sound. This dreamlike quality is only reinforced by Rick Moon’s voice, which even without bolstering from multiple layers of harmonies has a sort of otherworldly quality to it.

Once you get beyond the atmosphere, a lot of the songs on Electric Lunch are also catchy and fun. Perhaps the best example is the mid-album standout Public Joke, a somewhat self-deprecating song about the spectacle of social media with garage rock riffs that call to mind Beck’s 90s material. Immediately following it is the whimsical Deadline with it’s flowing chorus and vibrant string arrangements; a song that somehow manages to remain a pop song even with loads of tempo, groove, and key changes. Even the much more low-key Goodbye has a recognizable Beatles pop charm to its almost barbershop hook. 

The make or break part of the album for most listeners, however, will probably be the lyrics. Keeping true to the dream-world feel of the album, there is a certain whimsy to Moon’s vocal style that turns even his most direct lines into something that feels imaginary. He also has plenty of lines, especially in Magic Pity and Goodbye, that actually are just in the fantastical realm. While this definitely fits the vibe of his art, there is a certain hokeyness about it that makes it feel a little divorced from reality. For some this will be no issue at all. It certainly doesn’t take away from Moon’s greater artistic vision, but it does require some level of intentional suspension of belief, which unfortunately will make it less palatable to a large group of listeners.

If you are willing to suspend your belief, however, your reward is entry into Rick Moon’s world of imagination, and that is absolutely a reward worth seeking. Electric Lunch is a beautiful escape into something grander, something expansive, something undeniably other. Let your childhood curiosity free and experience it today, you won’t regret it.

7.0 (Stand-Out)

Released: July 23, 2019
Label: Public Works

Sampler: “The Drew Thompson Foundation” Kicks Off This Week in Alternative

The Drew Thomson Foundation, Picsel, Melted, Tummyache

This week we’re bringing you four new Indie Punk tracks straight from the basement show. Enjoy!

Phone Ring by The Drew Thomson Foundation

There seems to be a lack of catchy, hook driven punk music so far in 2019. Luckily Toronto’s The Drew Thomson Foundation has come to our collective rescue with their infectious new single Phone Ring. Phone Ring is power pop gold with itsbouncy verses, sing-along choruses, and immediately relatable lyrics maligning the nightmare that is modern dating. For fans of Jeff Rosenstock’s pre-Worry material and he and Chris Farren’s supergroup Antarctigo Vespucci, The Drew Thomson Foundation may well prove to be the new sensation. Their knack for writing humorous and kind of dorky songs about relationships without being overly self-deprecating (or just plain creepy) is certainly Rosenstock-esque and if Phone Ring is any indication they have a lot of the same unconventional charm that helped turn Rosenstock into the cult icon he is today. Be on the lookout for The Drew Thomson Foundation’s promising debut self-titled LP this September, and until then jam Phone Ring below.

 Fucked Society by Picsel

Sometimes accidents end up turning into huge creative discoveries. For UK alt-pop band Broken Fires one such accident happened during the writing stage for their forthcoming sophomore album when they unintentionally wrote two, completely different albums. The first was the one they set out to write and the second was a collection of rowdier songs that they didn’t think fit the “Frightened Rabbit meets Tall Ships” vibe of the band. The result was Picsel, an indie punk side-project much more akin to Lower Than Atlantis, and their political new single Fucked Society. Despite being a scathing indictment of modern life in Britain, Picsel’s newest is delivered in a smooth and catchy fashion, crooning lines like “licking dirt from the soles of polished shoes/ As they continue to walk all over you,” and turning “There was a time when we were free to love our fucked society” into an almost uplifting sounding chorus. The four-piece’s pop roots seep into Picsel in the best way, allowing them to write big, catchy songs, but not impeding them with tropes like so many artists that make the transition from pop to rock. I personally am very excited to hear the rest of their debut LP Modern Life Discovery when it debuts this Fall.

Bigger Maggots by Melted

There’s thin sliver of sound between the skate-punk end of pop punk and hardcore punk. It’s the bands in this sliver that separate Free Throw from Title Fight or PUP from Drug Church. Melted is one of those rare bands. Hailing from Long Beach, CA, Melted have all the aggression of a band like Drug Church but with just a dash of pop punk sensibility. They’re the kind of band that doubles their guitars to make them punch harder and isn’t afraid to put the snare on the 1, but they’re also the kind of band to use non-shouted backing vocals and actually write choruses. Their most recent single, Bigger Maggots, their first since releasing their 2018 LP Thin Skin, is a fast-paced track about overcoming insecurities and anxiety. Reminiscent of early Posture and the Grizzly, it’s a perfect example of their aggressive brand of punk that defies expectations by also being unconventionally catchy. 

Median by Tummyache

Nashville, aside from Country and CCM, is known for a very specific rock sound, usually involving sleek, polished instrumentals and Ryan Adam’s-style vocalists. Breaking this mold in spectacular fashion is Tummyache, a punky garage rock outfit that pulls more from Mitski and Cherry Glazerr than the refined sounds their home city is famous for. Tummyache is the brainchild of songwriter/producer Soren Bryce as an outlet to explore her own existentialist reflections on meaning and the human condition through the use of absurdism. Median in particular shows Bryce balancing delicately between two extremes: the total dissolution of meaning altogether and the hope she acknowledges to be self-created that she nonetheless needs to survive. It’s hammering guitar sounds add a visceral, anxious subtext to the probing lyrics, creating the sensation of an all-out war in Bryce’s head that she is holding back, if only barely, with remarkable poise. Making a song that is simultaneously aggressively honest and fairly heady that also feels this nuanced is no easy task, but Bryce rises to the challenge with the precision of a veteran. Tummyache’s debut EP, Humpday, is due out later this year.

Review: Pale Cicada by Makeunder

“I want to drift away from this brutal town/ let it sink into the ground with no story to tell/ a dying thunder in the darkness/ rattling in its mouth”

“I want to drift away from this brutal town/ let it sink into the ground with no story to tell/ a dying thunder in the darkness/ rattling in its mouth”

Hamilton Ulmer has felt like a stranger for almost as long as he can remember. The son of two “unorthodox” parents from rural northern California, Ulmer spent most of his childhood in San Antonio, Texas after his family relocated there for work when he was just two years old. Though he lived there for the majority of his formative years, he and his eccentric family struggled to find their place, leaving Ulmer with a nagging sense of alienation that followed him even after he moved back to California in his adulthood. When his father died of lung cancer in 2011, these complex emotions and unanswered questions compounded into something that needed an outlet. The result, for Ulmer, was the 2015 Makeunder EP Great Headless Blank which wrestled not only with the death of his father, but all of the things that went with him: memories, a cohesive narrative of Ulmer’s youth, and the homes their family had inhabited. Great Headless Blank was a series of grief vignettes; potent, melancholy songs that earned the critical praise of NPR’s Bob Boilen among others. Immediate and powerful, those songs were an exercise in grieving and left many questions to be answered later.

Four years after the fact, Ulmer and Makeunder have returned with a true master work, their first proper LP, the three act concept piece Pale Cicada. Thematically, Pale Cicada picks up where Great Headless Blank left off, piecing together what life is for a poor man who has always felt out of step even as he deals with the residual grief of his father’s passing. “I know that I can’t help myself/ how do I live with this sadness?/ Give me something real/ before I sink into the ground/ with no story to tell” goes the hook of the opener and title track Pale Cicada, the closest thing to a mission statement on the album. As he writes he delves succinctly and capably into just about every angle he can find of his situation, dealing with poverty on the psych-funk In Between My Dead End Jobs, taking an esoteric side glance at marriage on Ringing Chord, reclaiming childhood on Ain’t That a Trip, and exploring his father’s death with added perspective on Begin in the Middle. For most of the album Ulmer’s lyrics are sharp and frank in their heaviness, but if you were listening casually you would never know. Each line is delivered in Ulmer’s smooth Soul/RnB voice, through acrobatic runs, complex harmony chords, and often staggered staccato melodies.

Sonically, Pale Cicada also diverts some attention from the weight of the words: it is largely up-tempo from track one and at points even danceable. The second track and first single In Between My Dead End Jobs might even be considered poppy, leaving aside a sudden dark turn into Tom Waits territory for a portion of the bridge. Describing the complex, often dense arrangements as a whole however, feels impossible. One could call it RnB or Funk, but neither term does any justice to the highly creative, genre-bending sounds that Makeunder accomplish on this record. Opening track Pale Cicada veers into art-rock territory with heavy distorted guitars and blaring trumpet sounds before swinging into a soulful, almost anthemic chorus. Begin in the Middle sounds like Prince succumbing to the dark side with its haunting harmonies, vocal slap-back, and heavy drum groove. Ringing Chord seems to reference Justin Vernon with subtle vocoder layering on the lead vocal and an ambient arrangement, while I’m Still Living Wrongly goes from RnB, to folk, to a swelling string crescendo, to a sinister noise rock break, before landing a triumphant guitar solo and going back to folk. Pulling off genre fusion at this level is extremely difficult, but Makeunder make it look easy each and every song, creating one of the most instrumentally interesting albums of the year to date with little real competition in sight.

Inevitably though, not every experiment on such an experiment heavy album can land. Though second single Promothean Heat succeeds in its off-kilter verses and it’s unexpected, Kendrick Lamar-esque harmony walls, it’s ascending refrain feels done just to prove it can be done. It’s nonetheless still incredibly impressive, but doesn’t seem to line up with the line that sits on it, one of the less chaotic lines on the album. In that regard the album’s biggest strength is in one way also its biggest weakness, it’s experimentation at once makes it one of, if not THE most interesting album of the year, but for more casual listeners the sheer amount of things happening at any given time could be easily overwhelming, even despite the clear pop sensibility Ulmer shows throughout with his melodies. 

If you are willing to dive into Pale Cicada though, it is an incredibly rewarding listen; a truly master class album both lyrically and instrumentally. It is definitely dense, however. Even after several repeat listens you will still be picking out things you hadn’t heard before in the mix: overlapping guitar lines, backing vocals, metaphors, and lyrical tie-ins between tracks. For Ulmer it is the culmination of a life of personal struggle, and here he makes his statement emphatically and in the grandest possible fashion. His work of self-processing is complete, but for us listeners the processing has only just begun: it could take a lifetime to milk from this all that it has to offer.

8.5 (Best New Music)

Released: June 28, 2019
Label: Good Eye Records

Sampler: New Of Monsters and Men Leads the Way

New music from Of Monsters & Men kicks off this week’s indie and alternative packed single sampler.

New music from Of Monsters and Men kicks off this week’s indie and alternative packed single sampler.

Alligator by Of Monsters and Men

It’s hard to believe that Of Monsters and Men has already been around for a decade. The Icelandic indie folk/rock/pop act has been making steady waves since 2011, when their first single Little Talks got picked up by then prominent Philadelphia Radio 104.5, a lucky break that propelled the band to international name recognition. Both Little Talks and the album it came from, My Head is an Animal, went number one in Iceland and the latter debuted at number 6 in the U.S. The album has since been certified platinum. Since that fateful debut, they’ve shown no real signs of slowing down. Their sophomore effort Beneath the Skin debuted at number three and earned them their first Grammy nomination, as well as TV appearances, a spot at Coachella, and the honor of being the first Icelandic artist to cross 1 billion streams on Spotify. Now four years later, Of Monsters and Men are back for round three with Fever Dream and its dynamic first single Alligator. Alligator has everything we’ve come to expect from the band: a lush enveloping soundscape, an immediately catchy stadium chorus and a bonus equally catchy bridge all wrapped together with the crisp indie-pop production that has been a staple of their sound since the onset. But this single also veers into some new territory for the band, namely a rhythmic, electric guitar driven “breakdown” in each post-chorus. It’s a choice almost reminiscent of Scottish arena rock icons Biffy Clyro and certainly the most “rock” thing Of Monsters and Men has gone for during their recent slide into more alternative sounds. It will be interesting to see if this new theme carries through the rest of Fever Dream when it officially releases July 26.

Find Me Out by Ronjo V

Austin’s Ronjo V are putting their own spin on a long tradition of meat n’ potatoes alternative in the line of Beck and early Wilco. Their newest single, Find Me Out, is a clinic on dynamic movement and layering; shifting between acoustic led rhythms, creamy leads, punchy electric chords, and tactful blues riffs that are both impressive and purposely understated. In fact “understated” is probably the best descriptor for Ronjo V’s whole operation. Nothing draws undue attention to itself, which often masks the fact that there’s actually a decent bit going on at all times, whether it be overlapping guitar leads in the latter parts of the verses or a subtle tambourine in the chorus. This creates a sensation of movement that is felt without always being heard and it also opens up exactly the amount of space needed to let the listener focus on what lead songwriter Ryan Joseph wants them to hear. And once he has your undivided attention Joseph doesn’t disappoint. A falsetto harmony marks a succinct, ear catching pre-chorus, before hitting an absolutely killer chorus that would have been guaranteed radio fodder ten years ago when alternative radio still played alt-rock. This is broken up by not one, but two guitar instrumentals, the first a plodding riff with vaguely Spanish undertones in the bridge, and the second a bluesy accent solo in the outro that calls to mind The Eagles. All in all, Find Me Out is a must hear for alternative fans as well as indie-rock aficionados looking for a little more rock in their indie; a stand out new single from a promising young project.

Anthem For the Weak by The Harmaleighs

Haley Grant is battling depression her own way. She is the lead songwriter for the emotive Nashville folk duo The Harmaleighs, alongside her compatriot and bassist Kaylee Jasperson, and like many other artists who struggle with depression, she is using her creativity as both a platform of expression and a weapon in the chemical war inside her head. Though many other artists have used creation as an outlet for processing their mental health, the way Grant goes about it is uniquely her own. The Harmaleighs’ new album She Won’t Make Sense, due out on August 2nd, is a conversation between Grant and her personified depression, which she names Susan. As the album goes on, Grant and Susan engage in a struggle for control, culminating in the final song I Don’t Know Myself which begs the question: “do the darkest parts of ourselves make us who we are?” On the opposite end of the album sits the most recent single, opener Anthem For the Weak, a dusty, melancholy folk song with cutting lyricism reminiscent of rising indie star Phoebe Bridgers. The song is a sonic departure for the duo, delving further into full-band soundscapes than their prior brand of sparse pop folk, and it pays off dramatically. The airy synth sounds, subtle organ, delay-heavy drums, and selectively used slide guitar create an atmosphere that captures the emotional unease and distance of depression to a tee, without delving too far into the soul-crushing existentialism typical of the subject matter. Instead Grant’s lyrics dance through light, catchy pop melodies that stick on the first listen, and they do so without compromising any of the desired impact. For these reasons The Harmaleighs’ impending album is one of our most anticipated releases of August.

I Don’t Wanna Take Too Much by The Brazen Youth

I’ve often heard it said, especially of music, that there is nothing new under the sun. The Brazen Youth are simultaneously the biggest proof and the biggest challenge to this notion. Formed in a 300-year-old farmhouse in rural Connecticut by middle school friends Nicholas Lussier and Charlie Dahlke, The Brazen Youth’s earthy, folksy, roots rock is filled with familiar tones, feels, and motifs. There’s the old raggedy piano, the sharp honk of the blues guitar, the shriek of the organ, and the storytelling lyricism, one part personal narrative and one part esoteric wanderings like many of the great songwriters that came before them. But somehow the music that they create is wholly their own, defying any apt comparison and masking any direct influences the songwriting duo may have had. The result is something incredibly rare: a sound that pulls you in with familiarity, but keeps you interested with unpredictable mystique. It’s as if The Brazen Youth have tapped into something beyond themselves, a living history much like their beloved farmhouse, something timeless and packed with nondescript emotional power. This distinct feeling is only hammered home by mystical lyrics like “I’d like to harness the most divine state” and “one collective human body/ 15 billion eyes just belonging to somebody.” It’s the kind of song that puts you in its own state of being, and when it’s over you can’t help but want to experience more. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until September 19 to hear the rest of their new EP 15 Billion Eyes, but in the meantime you can continue to cultivate your longing by playing I Don’t Wanna Take Too Much on repeat.

Just You by Steven Bowers feat. Meaghan Smith

Steven Bowers’ brand of folk music combines the storytelling tradition of writers like Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams, and John K. Samson with a larger than life, cinematic kind of spirit. His latest, Just You, takes on a almost post-apocalyptic type of character, not the violent and future-western apocalypse of Mad Max, but a reflective and emotionally present take on what is lost and the almost spiritual journey to reclaim it. “I wanted you when we were strangers/ then one you were coming over/ suddenly twenty, thirty years are going by.” But as time dissolves and takes with it its victims, Bowers pushes back in a triumphant flourish: “so build a fire from whatever kindling you can find/ when all the world is ending/ and it’s beginning all the time/ no goodbyes, no goodbyes/ polar bear looking for the ice/ Frankenstein waiting for the lightning/ one day your heart will reanimate/ just you wait.” Supporting his vivid images are swelling guitar, lush piano, stadium toms, and layers of harmonies whisping ethereally in the background. The result is a song bursting at the seems with emotion, dramatized enough to draw out a powerful reaction but realistic enough to still be real-world relatable, equally perfect for the climactic ending to an indie film or for listening while staring at the rain out your bedroom window.