Great Records You May Have Missed is a monthly music column highlighting a handful of new releases we really enjoy that you might not have heard about elsewhere. It’s curated and written by former Paste music editor Lizzie Manno, so please tell her if you found something in here that you love. Explore all editions of the column here.
July was weird. It kicked off with a holiday weekend, but anyone with an even modest understanding of our country’s history and current predicament felt discomfort (if not a burning rage) at the idea of collective celebration and patriotism. Then, it was bookended by the Olympics, which still took place even though the world was (and still is) sick and on fire.
Live music felt more tangible than ever this past month, with artists heading back on tour and festival season resuming. By the end of July, the spread of the Delta variant put the possibility of a return to normal touring in jeopardy. Venues and artists are now scrambling to make shows safer and avoid canceling tour dates. So basically, just when things were starting to look up, we got sucker-punched in the face. To me, these are pretty valid reasons to bury yourself in new music, get vaccinated, and encourage friends and family members to do the same.
In an effort to reach even a faint sense of sanity, I listened to a lot of new music in July. Granted, I try to do this every month, but it felt more difficult than usual because the vibes were so supremely off. One of my favorite bands of late, Cafe Racer, teamed up with Mia Joy for a new single called “Touchstone,” and man, if you want to feel more grounded, listening to that track is a great start. And frankly, you should buy Cafe Racer’s Shadow Talk and Mia Joy’s Spirit Tamer, with plenty of gratifying textures and melodies to go around on both albums.
Noun’s new EP In the Shade also made my brain feel pretty good. The band is fronted by one of the most underrated rock vocalists of the past 15 years, Screaming Females’ Marissa Paternoster, and the EP doesn’t disappoint. Beyond that, Chevron, the new album from Chicago’s The Lipschitz, and Marriage License, the new album from Seoul’s Drinking Boys and Girls Choir, deserve mentions for their wonderfully taut punk songs. Plus, if you meet someone cool that you want to impress, you have two good answers for what you’ve been listening to.
Now, to get to the meat of the column, here are six of my favorite releases from last month. They made my July suck slightly less, so that’s definitely something!
New Zealand singer/songwriter Anthonie Tonnon is fascinated by systems. There’s an infinite number of strings being pulled by powerful entities at any given moment, which means, in some respects, our fate is left to the whims of a few. Tonnon’s understanding of this reality is then filtered through clever balladry—an arena often preserved for tales of love and heartbreak. But in many ways, Tonnon’s songs are still about romance. After all, if you think of global capitalism as a strong ocean current, it makes perfect sense that our emotions would ripple in relative unison. Tonnon’s third and latest album Leave Love Out of This perfectly captures this dynamic, but instead of picking the low-hanging fruit of writing love songs about the end of the world, he uses character sketches and historical fiction to illustrate the melodrama of the present mundanity. Once again, Tonnon displays a grasp for the way history actually unfolds. More than likely, we won’t suddenly wake up to the apocalypse—it will be a slow drip towards this scene, so steady, in fact, that it renders the masses virtually unaware of its progress. Tonnon writes with charm about callous corporations, the way our society devours the sacred altruism of the young, and the shifting sands of optimism and pessimism within each generation. At times, these songs evoke a bucolic, quaint landscape, with Tonnon’s slight lilt and bumpy guitar clangs. Then come the stylish synths and drum machines and affecting strings, bolstering a sense of cosmopolitan chic. Tonnon’s meticulous compositions are aided by another pop savant, The Beths’ Jonathan Pearce, who helped produce and record the album.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that Fake Fruit’s self-titled debut is one of the better records from earlier this year. Hannah D’Amato’s snarky vocals have a palpable fervor, and their short bursts of post-punk leave their mark instantly. Each song is a sharp-witted distillation of modern-day communication and relationships, and even within their minimal lyricism, they manage to mix in amusing quips about time wasting, men’s rights and social media mutuals. While most of the LP exudes a moody, anxious cool, there was also a faint beauty buried within these songs, most notably on the melancholy “Swing and a Miss.” The Oakland band brought that sense of longing into full focus on their new one-off single “I Am the Car.” In my mind, not only is it battling it out for the title of my favorite Fake Fruit song (going toe to toe with “No Mutuals”), but also it’s a song of the year contender. Maybe that sounds dramatic for a track this unassuming, but to view this song as anything but a perfect pop song would be absurd. It’s a departure from their bracing post-punk, and instead sounds like the best C86 song you’ve never heard. Its touching chorus and melodic arc are exceptional, and D’Amato’s sweet, humble vocals absolutely ruined me. D’Amato compares her emotional recalibration to a vehicle tune-up, essentially singing from the perspective of a dependable car, and I’ll be damned if this isn’t the prettiest song ever written from that point of view.
I first came across Hussy’s music in 2018 with the single “Slayer.” The shoegaze-adjacent track featured prickly guitars and gorgeous pop melodies, and its confident dynamism caught my ear immediately. Since then, Sophie Nicole Ellison, the London singer/songwriter behind Hussy, released a few more singles and put on an impressive performance at a Paste Magazine showcase in New York City. Now with the release of her self-titled debut EP, it’s clear that Ellison’s early promise has materialized. Across seven tracks, Ellison sprinkles weighty guitar textures, while providing plenty of room for her airy vocals to shine. You can tell by the way these songs were constructed that Ellison trusts her ear, with each melodic fluctuation placed front and center, and they’re all the better for it. She also chooses between pretty subtlety and more ambitious songcraft at all the right moments, resulting in a fascinating combination of mid-tempo pop sounds and lo-fi rock eccentricities. “Lucas” is a perfect example of this, with her satisfyingly naked, hummable pop verses blending into the hushed, off-kilter refrain. Tracks like “Infinite” and “Moths’’ offer inspired moments of discordance, while “I Tried” and “New Fair” lay out bold hooks that never stop giving.
Piroshka, the supergroup fronted by Lush’s Miki Berenyi, and featuring members of Elastica, Modern English and Moose, just released their second album Love Drips and Gathers, and it’s as calming as it is intriguing. While it recalls classic 4AD dream pop, the band also successfully mine bigger, bolder new sounds from the cosmos, which lends the album an exciting, progressive appeal. As expected, they nail the quiet-loud dynamic, and Berenyi’s vocals are so magnetic they could easily command an audience on their own. Piroshka especially impress with the jazzy, percussive sway of “Hastings 1973,” the Stereolab-esque lounge pop of “Wanderlust,” the brooding rock intensity of “V.O.” and the otherworldly ambience of “Familiar.” Bursting with soothing twinkles, glitches and hums, Love Drips and Gathers finds Piroshka always going the extra mile to beautify their songs, and they do so with purpose. The album’s predecessor Brickbat had more of a bite to it, but this new one touts a graceful mystique and an elevated sonic palette.
Smile Machine, the project of Brooklyn musician Jordyn Blakely (Stove, Jackal Onasis, Butter The Children), nails the art of the scratchy pop song. Every song on her five-track EP Bye for Now bares its jagged teeth and delicate sweetness. The EP starts with a bang, kicking off with the face-melting shoegaze of “Bone to Pick,” which features heady guitar leads and a shouted poem about an unnerving dream. “Pretty Today,” in contrast, is speedier, with a driving, staticky rock engine, Blakely’s icy vocals and a sparkling synth detour from Isabella Minigione (Peel Dream Magazine, Baked). While some lo-fi releases leave much to be desired with their tinny soundscapes, Bye for Now is well balanced—you get a real sense of contrast and weight, and her violent cymbal crashes never overshadow the richness of her vocals. “Snail S(h)ell” is a show of pop prowess, with Blakely’s vocals radiating to kaleidoscopic effect, and it also features an appearance from Emma Witmer (gobbinjr) on keys. The EP wraps up on a clamorous note via the gnarled guitars of “Stars” and “Shit Apple,” with the latter’s wailing, curtain-closing riff dealing the satisfying fatal blow.
Cleveland duo Suitor (featuring members of Small Wood House) released their debut EP Communion last October, and this past month, it was re-released with three new tracks. The EP is filled with twisty, synth-laden indie rock and post-punk, pinging between a tightly wound energy and pleasing pop sounds. Chris Corsi’s nimble guitar and synth riffs intermingle with Emma Shepard’s alluring vocal performances, lending a lingering feeling of mystique that’s enhanced even further by their lyrics. Their writing is poetic and fairly cryptic, utilizing grim imagery like a hellish pit of fire, a slaughtered calf and a dream that leaves you motionless, imbuing the record with a feeling of tense, high-stakes drama. These sentiments are paired with indie-pop tunefulness (“Communion,” “Moth”) and spidery punk (“To Water,” “Suitor”), creating these immersive worlds of tantalizing darkness. Their three new songs are placed at the tail end of the tracklist, and each one is a bright spot. “How Do I Know You’re There” offers coarse, doomy punk, while “Dagger” packs a saintly sweetness. The final track “Waitress” may be their best yet, centering on an intoxicating synth rumble and Shepard’s moody incantations. The planet might be spinning out of control and headed off a metaphorical cliff, but strangely enough, the intensity Suitor captures here will make you feel less crazy.
Lizzie Manno is a music writer, Coldplay apologist, bread lover and Spongebob memer. She’s a former Paste editor, with bylines at Billboard, Cleveland Scene and GRAMMY.com. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieManno