The 15 Best Songs of August 2021

Featuring Amber Mark, Magdalena Bay, Big Thief and more

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The 15 Best Songs of August 2021

With August passing us by and the end of the year slowly approaching, compiling these lists every month reminds us over at Paste how wonderful it is to be able to look back on the tracks that accompanied us and soundtracked an exciting month. From the summery vibrance of Good Morning to the raging heartache of Indigo De Souza, August rewarded us with some truly special songs that encapsulate the rollercoaster of a year it has been thus far. Below, see and hear all of Paste Music’s favorite tracks of the month.

Listen to our Best Songs of August 2021 playlist on Spotify here.

Alien Boy: “Dear Nora”

Portland, Oregon, rockers Alien Boy released “Dear Nora” as the third and final single ahead of their new album Don’t Know What I Am, released Aug. 20 on Get Better Records, following “The Way I Feel” and “Nothing’s Enough.” “Dear Nora” finds Alien Boy—i.e., guitarist and songwriter Sonia Weber, drummer Derek McNeil and “a rotating cast of Portland, Oregon scene stalwarts”—looking back on “Somewhere Without Me,” the opening track from their 2018 record Sleeping Lessons, and using an old song to find their way in a new direction. A melodic lead riff surfs waves of whammied shoegaze fuzz, only receding to make space for Weber’s lovesick vocals: “You’re everything, you’re everything,” she sings, gushing, “I adore you so, you adore me in the way I always wanted.” It’s a love song to the core, communicating its larger-than-life feelings and desires via dreamily distorted guitars and punchy low end. —Scott Russell

Amber Mark: “Foreign Things”

Amber Mark has been an underground treasure in R&B, finally preparing to release her debut album. The album’s latest single is a spectacular thesis for Mark’s magnetic sound that effortlessly meshes together dance textures with the unmistakable R&B groove. Her crisp voice bounces into comforting lows and graceful highs as she presents another facet to the larger class of soulful starlets. Mark is simply irresistible, and she’s bringing a new kind of rhythm to a genre she’s reimagining. —Jade Gomez

Big Thief: “Little Things”

Indie folk-rock mainstays Big Thief shared their first proper new songs in two years in August, “Little Things” and “Sparrow.” The tracks follow a big 2019 for the band, which saw the release of their acclaimed third and fourth albums, U.F.O.F. and Two Hands, which both landed among Paste’s favorite records of that year. Produced by Big Thief drummer James Krivchenia, “Little Things” and “Sparrow” were recorded with Shawn Everett at Topanga, California’s Five Star Studios in October 2020 and Sam Evian at Flying Cloud Recordings in the Catskills in July/August 2020, respectively. “Little Things” isn’t quite like anything we’ve heard from the band to date: Bright acoustic-electric strumming and eager bass noodling (plus Buck Meek’s grasping electric guitar riffs) shuffle atop a difficult rhythm to get a handle on, yet Adrianne Lenker’s distinctive vocals ride the lightning as only she can, as she sings to a lover about “the little things I like about you,” admitting, “Maybe I’m a little obsessed / Maybe you do use me.” In the song’s latter half, she yelps as if the instrumental’s livewire energy has literally electrocuted her, and the band jams onward as she murmurs indistinctly, the song stretching breathlessly towards the six-minute mark. —Scott Russell

Denzel Curry: “The Game”

Denzel Curry has no shortage of bangers in his system, so it’s only right that he was asked to contribute to the Madden NFL 2022 soundtrack. The Charlie Heat-produced track is an explosion of Curry’s pointed delivery as he walks us through what it takes to reach his level of success. Taking cues from his Florida hometown’s aggressive rap scene, Curry speaks with a hunger over the clanging maximalist beat as he reminds us year after year that he is one of hip-hop’s brightest stars. —Jade Gomez

Future Islands: “Peach”

Baltimore quartet Future Islands released their first new music of 2021 in August, a one-off single titled “Peach.” The track follows the 2020 release of the synth-pop veterans’ sixth album, As Long As You Are. “Peach” is slick and danceable, upbeat in instrumentation, but far heavier on a lyrical level. Frontman Samuel T. Herring is caught amidst conflicting forces larger than himself, like a man overboard struggling to stay afloat on stormy seas: “Death is in season / And it’s pushing me round,” he sings, evoking Alice in Wonderland (“This one makes you big / In a cruel world / And this one makes you small / In a lonely world”) and ultimately resolving to hold onto hope: “But I’m not giving up / Not today.” —Scott Russell

Geese: “Low Era”

After releasing one of our favorite songs of the summer, buzzy Brooklyn rock outfit Geese detailed their debut album, Projector, set for an Oct. 29 digital release on Partisan/Play It Again Sam. Their second single “Low Era” is a hypnotic combination of post-punk and dance rock, part Wire and part A Certain Ratio, radiating a subtle, but sure psychedelia with its insistent groove and spider-web guitar riffs. Meanwhile, Cameron Winter’s lyrics range from sardonic (“Modern magazines and holy scriptures / My play rehearsals all go unheard”) to downright apocalyptic (“The beginning of the end approaches / You and I, we float up to the top”). Like Geese’s debut single “Disco,” the track’s unpredictable nuances ensure it never stagnates, and an extensive psych-rock outro concludes “Low Era” in particularly mesmerizing fashion, smash-cutting to black just as you feel yourself beginning to ascend. —Scott Russell

Good Morning: “Country”

The Australians are coming out in full force. One of the continent’s finest bands, Good Morning, announced their newest album Barnyard (Oct. 22, Polyvinyl), which arrives two years after their packed 2019 that saw the release of The Option and Basketball Breakups. Alongside the announcement was the duo’s newest single, “Country.” Over an infectious guitar riff that slowly builds into a folky bounce, Liam Parsons sings of wishing to return to a simpler life and younger desires. The entrancing video is set against the backdrop of Parson’s childhood: 1st Eltham Scouts Hall. “I was always too embarrassed to admit that I was a scout to my school friends, the same way I was too embarrassed to admit that I got piano lessons,” Parsons reveals. “Both of those things are ridiculous. Scouts is cool and so are piano lessons.” Ditto “Country.” —Jade Gomez

Gustaf: “Best Behavior”

Brooklyn five-piece Gustaf impressed us again with the second single from their forthcoming debut album Audio Drag For Ego Slobs (Oct. 1, Royal Mountain Records), “Best Behavior.” The seemingly effortless, stylishly oblique art-punk track, which follows standout July single “Book,” arrives ahead of the band’s tour of the U.S., U.K. and E.U. with IDLES, Pillow Queens, Osees and Kills Birds. Lead vocalist Lydia Gammill spends “Best Behavior” claiming kudos for her spotless conduct (“I didn’t lie / It wasn’t you I betrayed”), like someone trying a little too hard to convince someone else—or themselves—that their conscience is clear. Leave it to Gustaf to stage a harrowing one-act morality play in a shout-along dance-rock track, riffing through the cognitive dissonance with a wink. —Scott Russell

Hand Habits: “Aquamarine”

Los Angeles-based musician Meg Duffy recently announced their third album as Hand Habits, Fun House. Lead single “Aquamarine” is an absolute doozy, the kind of song that can break your heart with one hand and piece it back together with the other, fragment by fragment, beat by beat. It’s also unlike anything Hand Habits has ever released: A clattering dance beat and high/low synths create a stark frame around Duffy’s deeply personal vocals, which tell the tale of a drunken father, an estranged mother (“a little bit of her inside / everything I do”) seemingly lost to suicide, and a search for identity: “Who am I? / In the corners of your mind / In the drawers of your mind / Who am I?” Duffy sings as the song’s synths explode like fireworks, with acoustic guitars joining the cathartic chorus. The joyous instrumental and gut-wrenching lyrics each magnify the other’s power, overwhelming your emotions to the point that little details—“A payphone call / Two bloody knees”—land like atom bombs. —Scott Russell

Indigo De Souza: “Real Pain”

What is pain if not the gears of change grinding? You can’t have one without the other, a fact of life Asheville singer/songwriter Indigo De Souza unpacks on “Real Pain,” the stunning centerpiece on her remarkable new record. As on most of Any Shape You Take’s 10 tracks, the title lyric is among its first, as if De Souza refuses to hold back her truth any longer than she must: “When pain is real, you cannot run,” she sings softly over steady guitar strums, before hammered toms, sparing synths and distorted riffs carry her to the spectrum’s other end: “When love is real, you cannot sit.” Along the way, she acknowledges that true connection can persevere through pain—“Love might go, but is not gone / I still know you, I still know you”—but the song’s true purpose is to show that suffering can create that connection. —Scott Russell

Low: “More”

Following the singles “Days Like These” and “Disappearing,” indie and experimental stalwarts Low shared another cut from their forthcoming album HEY WHAT (out Sept. 10 on Sub Pop), the epic and striking “More.” Once again finding the band merging elements of noise, static and sonic decay with bits of melodic simplicity, “More” feels like it’s trying to bear its own weight against increasingly heavy gravity. The noisy, thunderous guitar that serves as the track’s foundation guides the song into almost a distorted take on classical folk. Bolstered by Mimi Parker’s enchanting vocals and a subtle but impactful rhythm, the song is a convincing soundtrack to our current state of entropy. —Jason Friedman

Magdalena Bay: “Secrets (Your Fire)”

When Magdalena Bay—the Los Angeles-based electro-pop duo of Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin—announced their debut album Mercurial World in late June, we were taken aback by lead single “Chaeri,” which we described as “an emotionally charged electro-pop epic,” but also “a seismic shift away from the carefree, retro-electro whimsy of the duo’s previous releases.” So we were gratified to find that their second Mercurial World single, “Secrets (Your Fire),” released this month, expertly straddles the band’s past and future, integrating their children-of-the-internet whimsy with retro synth-funk and pop production so polished, you can see yourself in it. The song is serious in its examination of online overexposure, but conveys those weighty ideas in sleekly weightless electro bounce and G-funk-esque synth whistles. If Magdalena Bay can keep juggling fun and ambition like this, there’s practically no limit to how big they can become. —Scott Russell

Militarie Gun: “Big Disappointment”

Los Angeles-based hardcore group Militarie Gun will release their newest EP All Roads Lead To The Gun II on Sept. 10 via Convulse Records. Fronted by Regional Justice Center’s Ian Shelton and featuring members of Drug Church and Modern Color, Militarie Gun have gained a lot of momentum, in part due to their blend of hardcore and indie rock carried by Shelton’s urgent vocals. The band’s newest single “Big Disappointment” is a soaring, anthemic hardcore banger with a minimalist palette. Shelton’s vocal chops shine, placing him amongst fellow legends such as David Yow from The Jesus Lizard with his emotional delivery. It’s hardcore at some of its most innovative while still staying true to some of the earliest pioneers of their unique, abrasive sound. —Jade Gomez

PIERI: “Quien Paga”

With her distinct voice, frenzied style and a heavy, distorted beat, Philadelphia-based rapper PIERI seems poised for stardom on new single “Quien Paga.” Previous singles such as “Kitican” and “Pa Q Lo Sientas” have showcased the artist’s ability for delivering catchy and dynamic performances over beats that hit like a ton of bricks, but “Quien Paga” ramps up the energy even further, feeling like PIERI is taking the listener on a 1,000 mph joyride. Her fast-paced flow and vocal modulations fit tightly with a beat that sounds as though it’s rapidly degenerating, with sputtering drums and flashes of noise that work to amplify the whole experience of “Quien Paga.” —Jason Friedman

They Hate Change: “Faux Leather”

Allow Jagjaguwar’s newest signing to introduce themselves: Tampa Bay DIY production/rap duo They Hate Change, i.e., Andre and Vonne, shared a new song and video titled “Faux Leather” in August. Directed by Xandra Robyn, the “Faux Leather” video is part lyric video and part A Certain Ratio tribute, while “Faux Leather” itself is a mesmerizing display of They Hate Change’s sound, which “references footwork, drum-n-bass, jungle, and avant-garde through the veil of Tampa Bay originated Jook music—a style melding bounce, bass and dance hall,” as a press release explains. That blend is positively hypnotic here: The duo rap the song’s first verse in unison, their conjoined voices sliding from one side of the mix to the other as the song’s ethereal beat staggers ahead. Their bars about “precious metal” and “stunting in Kerby” give way to pointed commentary on the treacherous, coldly transactional nature of the music industry: “Got the Bandcamp doing handstands, selling tapes like weight, name your price for WAVs,” Vonne raps, with Andre adding, “DSPs they ain’t worth shit, I’m trappin’ like the old days.” —Scott Russell