It’s been a great week here at Pop Gazing HQ! The new Robyn album is terrific. The new Julia Holter album is incredible. I saw Kali Uchis perform most her delightful debut Isolation, I joyfully witnessed Lil Ugly Mane rock UW-Madison’s The Sett for about 20 minutes, and U.S. Girls proved they’re this year’s best band by cursing out fans who shouted that they deserved to be headlining the Tune-Yards show they opened on Friday: “It’s not a competition! You bought the ticket and you get to hear both bands.” I could say the same about this week’s song picks. Everybody wins!
Jessica Pratt: “This Time Around”
Sung softly over a strum recalling the “King of Pain” metronome, on “This Time Around” L.A. songwriter Jessica Pratt returns to the chilly, cavernous place from where we last heard her. Jessica sings “This Time Around” face-to-face with the listener, washed in the reverb which echoes her own voice as well as the long scroll (that’s parchment, not iPhone) of influences and sonic contemporaries you might read her compared to in Rolling Stone. I found about Jessica via her sophomore release in January 2015, about the same time I first heard Natalie Prass. While these two songwriters, both with output in 2015 and 2018, may share a spot in boomer-era folk influences and alphabetically-arranged record collections, we have yet to see much indication that Pratt’s release will be as much of an M.O. shift from previous work as Prass’s The Future and the Past was. No matter; Jessica’s songs really shine in this dusty room. Quiet Signs is out Feb. 8, and she’ll open for Kurt Vile & the Violators at The Sylvee on Dec. 20.
Thundercat (feat. BADBADNOTGOOD & Flying Lotus): “King of the Hill”
“King of the Hill” is steamrolled cool. Layers from each contributor are given alternating prominence within its churning three-minute run time: First some worn out keys, then some falsetto, then Thundercat’s sung verses on crunchy drums and the kind of live bass playing that’s been a signature of the influential Flying Lotus-helmed electronic/jazz/hip hop label Brainfeeder. This track, from the upcoming decade-in-review retrospective Brainfeeder X, feels too short in its in solo form, but upon the compilation’s release on Nov. 16 it will be make up just a sliver of the full two-disc banquet. Brainfeeder could easily whip up a solid 10-hour compilation given these wide bounds for inclusion, so I can’t wait to hear what makes the cut on X.
Deerhunter: “Death in Midsummer”
Deerhunter, who wrote the best rock song of the past decade, are back. Bandleader Bradford Cox remains one of my favorite mood-setters and vibe-miners in indie rock, certainly one of the most consistent talents from the late ’00s Pitchfork boom. Their new record Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? — to be released in the bright, shiny year of 2019 — was officially announced on Tuesday in combination with its first single, the album-opening “Death in Midsummer.”
Through its runtime, “Death in Midsummer” follows the tracks laid by producer Cate Le Bon’s harpsichord. Its drums are covered with psych-rock distortion until the end of the track, when they’re craftily lifted into clarity for a moment. It’s intricately produced, with sewed-together lead guitars panning in and out of focus. A band lineup shakeup keeps things sounding fresh, but this song is, like a good new novel from a favorite writer, still charmingly evocative of the Deerhunter you’ve missed.