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.
Whenever daylight savings time comes around, I’m reminded that time is a social construct, which means who’s to say what month it is? After all, the Mayan calendar is more precise than the one we use today, so we might as well move to the Chinese zodiac system and just say it’s the year of the ox. But technically, October did just wrap up, so I guess that means it’s time for another monthly show-and-tell of sounds.
Hopefully you’ve already devoured the latest albums from Ducks Ltd., Dummy and W.H. Lung, because although those are October favorites of mine, we’ve already raved about them on this site. (But if you haven’t yet, here’s another nudge to check those out!) Before we get to my six selections for last month, I’ll run through some honorable mentions. Kowloon Walled City released Piecework, their first album in six years, and if you like virtually any guitar genre with the prefix “post,” I recommend it. BLACKSTARKIDS returned with another LP, Puppies Forever, a follow-up to 2020’s Whatever, Man and a reminder that autotuned vocals can sound absolutely incredible when utilized properly. Vanishing Twin’s Ookii Gekkou also deserves a shoutout for its strange, thought-provoking lounge pop, as does Robin Guthrie’s Mockingbird Love EP for its calming instrumental ambient tracks.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming—here are six essential October releases that caught my ear. (And don’t forget: there’s a Spotify playlist that pairs with this column, which you can find right here.)
Although it’s not the central feature of his music, Kiran Leonard has quite a range. The U.K.-based singer/songwriter has been releasing music since his early teens, playing dozens of instruments in the process and boasting a discography that spans art-folk, ambient, prog, jazz, psych-rock, pop and noise music. More than most artists’, his music rests on the nuances of vibrations and tones, and the relationships between chords—you get a sense that he views music as delicate chemical reactions, capable of triggering infinite shades of emotion. Stylistic versatility is not the main attraction, but rather a means to an intangible creative end. His most recent LP, 2018’s Western Culture, is an album I return to frequently. Despite being slightly more conventional by his own left-field standards, the record feels like a boundless sea of inspiration. His lyricism utilizes an old-world, literary lens to diagnose the political and societal failures of today, and his melodies fluctuate in spellbinding fashion. Admittedly, his latest project Trespass on Foot will require more of your attention than Western Culture, but it’s worth the mental and emotional investment. The album consists of two parts, with the first accounting for tracks 1-5, and the second for tracks 6-16. Leonard describes part one as “long droning meandering songs but songs nevertheless,” while part two is marked by a more reined-in, acoustic sound, and was made with friends who lent strings, clarinet and vocals. Both showcase his knack for ambient folk warmth and offbeat art-rock motifs, and his ability to mangle his own songcraft to satisfying effect. As previously mentioned in this column, “Sights Past” is one of the best and most affecting songs I’ve heard this year. Throughout its 17-minute runtime, it traverses a wide array of vague, yet artfully described concepts—shame, vulnerability, identity, belonging and memory—but what’s most impressive is the way it breaks you down with precise, aching melancholia before surrendering to uncontrollably passionate angst, effectively sewing you back together.
Chicago’s Lifeguard play the kind of knotty noise rock that makes you want to instinctively punch the air—which is to say that it’s very good. They self-released their debut album Dive last year, and it draws on everything from math-y post-hardcore and nonchalant no wave to nimble indie rock. It turns out they share more with fellow band FACS than their mind-bending, melodic rock sound or Chicago roots—Lifeguard vocalist and bassist Asher Case is the son of FACS’ Brian Case. You might’ve seen Lifeguard appear on Audiotree earlier this year, or heard one of their recent one-off singles. The young trio’s latest offering is a dual-track release with the first bleeding into the second, and packing an incredible build and payoff. “Taking Radar” kicks things off with overdriven guitars and a downcast, bass-driven sound, and concludes with droning feedback. Then, the feedback resumes on “Loose Cricket,” and they return swinging for the fences—their distorted guitars unfurl with brute force and art-rock finesse, and you can feel the exhilaration crash through the ceiling. Like their LP, this pair of singles shows not only a solid technical ability or interesting blend of influences, but also a keen understanding of how to navigate sonic subtleties like patience and quiet-loud dynamics. If Lifeguard weren’t already on your radar, they should be now.
You may or may not have read some of the buzz around an enigmatic emo-shoegaze artist from Seoul who records under the name Parannoul. He released a tape earlier this year called To See the Next Part of the Dream via Michigan-based label Longinus Recordings, which sold out with impressive speed and also garnered critical acclaim. The record’s starry-eyed, densely packed soundscapes immediately struck a chord—songs bursting with that much rawness and life don’t come around too often. If you’re familiar with Longinus Recordings more broadly, you may also recognize artists like Asian Glow (who also plays in the shoegaze outfit FOG) or sonhos tomam conta. Those musicians, along with Parannoul, have proven themselves individually as skilled songwriters of genre-hopping atmospheres, so the fact that they teamed up for an album is an intriguing prospect. The result of this trio’s collaboration is the 10-track Downfall of the Neon Youth, wherein each song alternates writing credits and arguably bests the immense promise of To See the Next Part of the Dream. Spanning three languages and countless rock, emo and metal reference points, they let ambitious songwriting, detailed production and unbridled emotion carry them, and unsurprisingly, it gets them pretty far. It’s immersive, dynamic and cinematic, and if this is where fifth wave emo is headed, maybe I’ll have to dial back the comments about my general distaste for emo.
Heaven’s Just a Cloud, the new Spirit Was album and solo project from LVL UP’s Nick Corbo, feels like a dream that’s undeniably sinister but oddly warm nonetheless. It’s peppered with doomy folk, ambient clamor and even a brief flash of black metal, but it has a tender charm thanks to Corbo’s slow-crawling vocals and cavernous guitar tones. The album’s melodic rock is surprisingly intimate despite its somber, mythical lyricism and wide array of textures. Corbo’s lyrics suggest an inner turmoil and possess a poetic escapism—throughout his search for rejuvenation and deeper abstract truths, there are frequent references to oblivion, otherworldly beings and the elements. Just like the album as a whole, each of these types of imagery are capable of sparking both fear and wonder—images like shadows, spirits and gardens are as old as time and contain infinite meanings. Boasting both absorbing sonic tones and transportive catharsis, it’s a particularly great album to listen to on headphones from the comfort of one’s own space. If you like twisty or darkly beautiful songcraft, I can’t imagine not falling under this LP’s spell.
As someone who grew up on the mod revivalism of The Jam and has since picked up a bug for independent punk music, Spiritual Cramp seem uniquely positioned to appeal to my tastes. While the Bay Area band’s previous release, 2018’s Television, rests on an antsier, rougher and darker punk sound, their new EP gets a noticeable jolt of playful pop. To open Here Comes More Bad News, they fuse ’60s pop sensibilities with hardcore aggression on “Dog In a Cage,” but that hardcore gives way to pure pop on “Earth To Mike,” and later on “Rattlesnakes In The City.” Plus, for good measure, they throw in a funny, snotty monologue about the punk scene called “Small Man Big House,” as they mock the exhausting, repeated conversations they often find themselves in. But “Earth To Mike” is arguably the EP’s standout—its collision of capital-R rock and danceable retro pop grooves is the sonic equivalent of mods and rockers beating the shit out of each other with adirondack chairs in Brighton. If you enjoy delightful irreverence, throttling hardcore punk or fun-loving guitar-pop, I have a strong suspicion you’ll dig Spiritual Cramp.
Many listeners, including myself, find it overwhelming breaking into an artist’s back catalogue for the first time when they already have over 10 albums to their name. In the case of brother duo Tonstartssbandht, they’ve released nearly 20 projects to date, which is intimidating to say the least, but as soon as I heard their transfixing latest album Petunia, I was actually stoked to start combing through their past output. I’m still working my way through it, but as I’m writing this, I’m a big fan of 2009’s An When, which reminds me of the vaguely folky noise music that characterized early Amen Dunes records—“Black Country” is currently blowing my mind, as is “Turkey Bones” from 2009’s Dick Nights. I guess you could say I went from “Wow, this new album sounds really cool” to “Dang, I think I prefer their early stuff” pretty quickly, but that somewhat undersells how compelling Petunia is. While their earlier works rested on muffled psychedelic noise, they opt for a jammier, more expansive sound this time around. Their cleaner production choices and Byrdsian harmonies result in a more digestible sound, but their guitar noodling is as wonderfully spidery as ever. Pulling from classic jam bands, the sun-drenched folk-rock of the ’60s and ’70s, contemporary left-field psych-folk and much more, Tonstartssbandht achieve pop accessibility without sacrificing their improvisational intrigue. And as someone who’s usually scared away when the “jammy” tag gets placed on an album, I can honestly vouch for Petunia’s irresistible appeal.
Lizzie Manno is a music writer, Coldplay apologist, bread lover and Spongebob memer. She’s a former Paste editor, with bylines at Stereogum, Billboard, FLOOD Magazine, The Recording Academy and Cleveland Scene. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieManno