SXSW goes down next week and you know what that means: Scott, James, and Gabriela are going to be extremely tired and baking in the Austin sun. Every year at SX there’s a new standout act who ends up making big moves. Last year, those acts were Forth Wanderers, Snail Mail, Melkbelly, and Lomelda, to name a few. Who knows what band will blow our brains this year — you’ll have to check back next week to find out!
In other news, this week’s crop of new songs was extremely stacked and we’ve got nothing but the very, very best on this list. Dive on in.
“Flower Of The Universe,” Sade’s first song in seven years, was written for Ava DuVernay’s new film, A Wrinkle In Time, based on the exceedingly creepy and complex children’s novel written by Madeleine L’Engle. It tells a story that cannot be easily summarized, but it has something to do with kids turning into adults and realizing how infinitely dark and disturbed the universe is, with some casual string theory thrown in. And so, it is appropriate to consider Sade’s contribution to the film to be a deeply comforting balm, an antidote to this poisonous world. On “Flower Of The Universe,” Sade Adu coos and softly intones words of encouragement to a kid. “When you smile the stars align/ Flower of the universe/ And child of mine.” It’s a lullaby for a deep, intimate love, the kind so powerful that it can rarely be described, only felt. Adu knows how to describe those feelings and always has. It’s good to have her back. —Gabriela
The cultural phenomenon known as “cuffing season” involves young single folks coupling off for the cold-weather months, retreating into apartments and rental homes to Netflix-and-chill under blankets until spring. Over the course of “Cuff,” Illuminati Hotties mastermind Sarah Tudzin finds a deeper and more meaningful connection. The song, a masterfully melancholic slow-burn rocker with ambient underpinnings, does not refer to cuffing season. (How could it? Tudzin is from Los Angeles, where the weather makes such social rituals unnecessary.) Instead, it’s about steeling yourself for some kind of life-altering challenge. As the power chords come crunching in to break the verses’ nervous tension, Tudzin confides: “I cuff my T-shirt sleeves/ And grit my teeth/ How else can I tell myself I can do most anything?” Over the course of the tune, she drops hints about finding someone “cool and uncross” who’ll withstand her self-destructive tendencies and empower her to fight life’s battles. And by the time “Cuff” floats and surges its way to conclusion, she’s found just such a partner: “You cuff my T-shirt sleeves/ And kiss my cheeks.” It’s a hopeful ending, one that implies triumph over obstacles and love strong enough to last beyond winter. –Chris
Of all the bands that have mined shoegaze and spaced-out drug rock to formulate their own brand of narcotized haze, Beach House are one that’s truly excelled. This is what they do. They’ve perfected it. Out of their generation, they own “narcotized haze.” At first, “Dive” appears to be another strong entry from that familiar Beach House playbook: It’s a strung-out hymn built on airy organs with Victoria Legrand’s voice floating above like smoke dissipating in the wind.
Then, two and a half minutes in, everything changes. Beach House go someplace new. A dance beat rushes in from the horizon. A propulsive and persistent guitar groove arrives. “So I dive to find it,” Legrand sings right before the track transforms. But the song answers her by going in the opposite direction. There have been plenty of Beach House songs that find something by plunging deeper, embracing the submersion. That isn’t what happens in the second half of “Dive.” Instead, it takes the greyscale reverie of its beginning and pumps it full of color. This time, Beach House shoot outwards, upwards, abandoning the depths to seek the horizon — or the stratosphere. –Ryan
“Parking Lot,” the new song from Liz Harris’ long-running ambient project Grouper, begins with a few seconds of silence. But it’s not actual silence, not really; instead, it’s muffled white noise, the shadowy echo of the particular physical space where it was recorded. It’s fitting. Every Grouper song is transportive, more like an atmosphere than a song, a living, breathing manifestation of a sense of place that seems like it comes from a memory, maybe, or a dream. “Parking Lot” continues the spare approach of 2014’s Ruins, weaving Harris’ breathy multi-tracked vocals into a soft blanket of snow falling atop the gentle drift of sustained piano, and half of her lyrics seem to dissolve into the air on contact. It’s like a winter chill that slowly seeps into your bones, but instead of cold, it’ll leave you misty-eyed yet warm. –Peter
You can always tell when you’re listening to punks, even when the music they’re making isn’t necessarily punk. Flasher come from Washington, DC, and their sound is a sort of dreamy take on early-’80s new wave. They sound a bit like New Order, around the time they were just emerging from Joy Division and hadn’t yet committed themselves to dancey beats and arena-sized hook, or like the New Zealand bands that did their best to sound like that era of New Order.
And yet they’re punks, and you can tell. Singer-guitarist Taylor Mulitz spent years with Priests, one of the greatest bands on the face of the earth. And while Flasher don’t sound anything like Priests, there’s a tension and a ferocity in the way they play that lets you know they’ve all spent time in sweaty basements, dancing to noisy music. “Skim Milk,” the first single from their first full-length, is a song full of breezy melody and deep, interlocking rhythms. But it’s about learning to stop worrying about the future, and an in a town as innately careerist as DC, that’s about the most punk think you can sing about. –Tom