We initially did not intend to do this, but The Matinee ’21 v. 148 has ended up being a pretty spooky edition, featuring songs that either will startle you with its music or with the content of their stories. These nine songs anchor the Songs of October 2021 playlist, which is available on SoundCloud and Spotify. Given today is the final workday of the month, a new playlist will be started next week.
Spoon – “The Hardest Cut” (Austin, USA)
With a title like Lucifer on the Sofa, one would be led to believe that Spoon was releasing their 10th studio album this Halloween weekend. The indie-rock greats instead have opted to release the LP on the next most-suitable date, which is right before Valentine’s Day! We’re not sure if this was intentional, but we wouldn’t put it past them. Or maybe the date was chosen because it would be almost exactly five years between album releases, as Hot Thoughts, which was one of our Favorite LPs was unveiled in March of 2017.
Regardless of the reasons for the release date, the mere fact that Britt Daniel, Jim Eno, Alex Fischel, Gerardo Larios, and Ben Trokan are back following a four-plus year hiatus is cause for celebration. The quintet’s new single only amps up the excitement and anticipation because it is a prototypical Spoon.
As these legends have constantly done, “The Hardest Cut” crisscrosses the rock spectrum. Classic, blues, and indie rock and even a touch of rockabilly converge on this toe-tapping, head-bopping number. Like any song from these genres, there’s a cool, little guitar solo that illuminates the atmosphere and reminds us of how great a rock band Spoon are. We are also reminded of how great a songwriter Daniel is. While the album isn’t dropping today, Daniel’s lyrics capture the spookiness of today’s conflicted world.
“It’s comin’ down, the hardest cut
World wars in your mind
Long day into night, the hardest cut
We live on a knife
Here it come now, here it come now
Here it is, the hardest cut”
Snail Mail – “Madonna” (Baltimore, USA)
RIYL: Soccer Mommy, Waxahatchee, Stef Chura
We’ve long considered Lindsey Jordan one of the most promising young talents,ever since we first heard her debut EP, Habit, as Snail Mail. At the time, Jordan was a teenager, playing guitar and doing covers on YouTube, attending shows, and getting the attention of artists like Priests, Waxahatchee, and Wye Oak. Fast-forward a few years and Jordan had claimed her rightful spot with Snail Mail’s Lush. But with fame and notoriety comes pressure, which led to Jordan entering rehab. Her time in rehab as well as a breakup led to the creation of the upcoming Snail Mail record, Valentine.
In recent weeks, Snail Mail have shared “Valentine” and “Ben Franklin”. As if she’s traveling through time, Jordan and crew arrive at a point where we are introduced to “Madonna”. The song features a lot of the heft of the first two songs. Jordan says the song is about removing the pedestal that one can put a lover on and “you might realize there was never anything there at all.” It’s honest about herself and relatable to those who fall in love with a perfect version of an imperfect person. Musically, it chugs along at a slow pace to start, picking up steam throughout after the guitar kicks in. Jordan’s voice continues to evolve as well, and it’s becoming more confident with each track and the song’s final moments are proof of that.
“Body and blood, lover’s curse
Divine intervention’s too much work
I don’t need absolution, it just hurts
We’re not really talking now”
There’s a fantastic live version available, which posses a slightly different sound that adds even more to what’s already a great track. C
Hana Vu – “Gutter” (Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: Cherry Glazerr, Dilly Dally, Shirley Manson
Can we just say right now that Hana Vu‘s new album, Public Storage, will be awesome? We have yet to hear the entire album, but based on “Maker”, “Everybody’s Birthday”, and “Keeper”, she’s already delivered three outstanding singles. We’re talking year-end type of songs. Well, make that four, which only helps us make this definitive statement.
“Gutter” is simply amazing. It is another Song-of-the-Year candidate, as it is a soaring piece of edgy drama. Nineties-influenced angst-filled tension occupies every gap and reverberates in each note and tone. Between the grizzled guitar, the jarring rhythms, and the soaring strings, every second teeters on the edge. Vu’s voice, likewise, is cripplingly tense, as she seeks to escape from the control of an unknown tormentor. It might be a person, it might be the grips of conformity, or some other entity that exists near to us. The anonymity of our nemesis is the greatest fear, especially if it lives within us and causes us to act in ways we normally would not.
“Sometimes I feel nothing at all
Sometimes I feel that way
Oh my god, knock me off from the cellar to the floor
I want to fall off
I crawl far with anger in my arms
Like you want it, like you want it
I keep score, screaming in the dark
Like you want it, like you want it”
Watch the live performance of “Gutter” and experience the power of this sensational single again and again and again. Vu is at the top of her game, and she’s still just 20/21 years old. Her future should be amazing.
Secret Shame – “Victoria” (Asheville, NC, USA)
RIYL: Ganser, Silverbacks, Bambara
In the midst of the year of post-punk that was 2020, one band that captured our attention were Secret Shame. They had us tantalized and trembling with the Gothic post-punk of “Dissolve” as well as in state of angsty bliss with “Pure”. In a short time, the quintet have become masters of the art of contrast. They can, however, create songs where the music and lyrics form a perfect harmony, and where there is no question about what the song concerns. It all comes down to execution, which is another thing the group has perfected. Case in point: “Victoria”.
This propulsive piece of post-punk is made for Halloween. It is gritty, harrowing, dark, and menacing. The guitars sear, the rhythms pulverize, and Lena Machina’s voice sounds alluringly ghastly, like she’s a phantasm seeking revenge. As great as the arrangement is, Machina’s story is even creepier. They’ve essentially crafted a horror story within a three-minute duration. Instead of us explaining what the song is about, below are the liner notes. We don’t normally do this, but the band’s description is a must read:
As “Tori Piper,” Victoria Leigh was once the darling of mid-to-late eighties low-budget horror—she was the go-to final girl of a dozen or so B-level slashers. Then she filmed the cult classic Sorority Bloodbath, a cinema verité horror film plagued by rumors of sinister occurrences on-set. Then she vanished, fueling a subset of fan conspiracy theories.
In 1999, Victoria Leigh is planning a quiet New Year’s Eve dinner with her girlfriend, but things aren’t working out. People keep showing up at the apartment, and some of them may have sinister intentions. Deadly intentions. Add in a crazed young wanna-be agent and Tori’s former lover / co-star who has hidden motivations of her own, and the pressure and terror mounts quickly for the former scream queen.
But as the night lengthens and the body count grows, more questions arise. Who is really the hunter and who the prey? And what really happened on the set of Sorority Bloodbath all those years ago? To what lengths will a final girl go to survive?
This band – consisting of Lena Machina (vocals), Matthew (bass), Aster (guitar), Lauren (guitar), and Nathan (drums) – is something else.
Creature of Doom – “Dead Ringer” (Los Angeles via New York City, USA)
RIYL: Methyl Ethel, Sleep Party People, The Dig
One of the first bands we covered way back in 2013 were The Dig. The quartet created a vibrant brand of alt-pop and art-rock that could feel like a grand mystery or an extravagant expedition down the River Styx. A few years ago, the band packed up their belongings and went from the right coast to the left coast, where they continue to make music together. They’ve also done other projects, such as scoring soundtracks and doing their own solo work.
For singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist David Baldwin, he launched a new gig as Creature of Doom a few years ago. His music has traces of The Dig with the catchy yet stark tones and inventive stories. At the same time, there’s a bit more cinema, which could be the LA air or a part of Baldwin that he has been waiting to unveil. Regardless of the source, it has allowed Baldwin to craft songs like “Dead Ringer”.
This immersive and bewitching track was made for the final days of October. The combination of the pattering rhythms, shallow keys, and riveting guitar riffs create an urgent, mysterious atmosphere. It leaves us on the edge of our seats, as we anxiously wait to see what lurks behind each note and what Baldwin might say next. Through his shallow vocal and while looking at a corpse staring back at him , he asks immediately, “What have I done? What was I thinking?” But instead of fear or concern overwhelming him, he shrugs off the event. He sounds like he’s adopted the persona of a serial killer. In a near deadpan delivery, he sings:
“I’m going to let it slide
Just going to let it slide
Couldn’t change it if I tried
I know I’d only lose my mind
Not going to run and hide
Just going to let it slide”
Creepy yet catchy. Sounds like the perfect Halloween tune.
Freedom Fry – “Monster” (Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: She & Him doing Halloween songs with a splash of Danny Elfman
For as long as we’ve covered Marie Seyrat and Bruce Driscoll’s project Freedom Fry, they’ve always made us feel good about ourselves. From trippy French disco-pop to gleeful folk-pop, the married couple know how to turn a frown upside down. Even when they write a rare Halloween song, they still make it fun, amusing, and endearing. Not spooky, eerie, or haunting, but endearing. When you listen to “Monster”, you’ll know exactly what we mean.
The song is what we imagine Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward would craft if they opted to do an album full of Halloween songs. The melody has a bit of a haunted house flair to it with the tickling piano keys and the chime of the grandfather clock, but it is mostly playful with the pop ditty flairs. Seyrat’s and Driscoll’s shallow vocals, meanwhile, act like the unseen voices that come from the dark. Their voices are not scary, but instead they sound like the poor, lonely kid seeking companionship. This is exactly the tale the duo tell, assuming the form of poltergeist or some hideous creature that seeks not to fright but to befriend.
“Why’s everybody always picking on me?
I’m not a monster, can’t you see?
Why is everybody screaming at me?
I’m not the monster they all see
Why’s everybody picking on me?
Won’t you be my friend?
Happy Halloween everyone. Make friends with your neighborhood ghoul this weekend.
Lizzy McAlpine – “doomsday” (Philadelphia, USA)
RIYL: Weyes Blood, Phoebe Bridgers, Fiona Apple
Some songs proverbially floor listeners. Then there are some songs that leave your mouth agape, your mind transfixed, and your body completely suspended by their sheer beauty, power, and brilliance. Such numbers are rare, so when they come around they should be stored away in a special playlist that you’ll spin again and again. One such playlist should be Best Songs of 2021, which is where Lizzy McAlpine‘s newest single, “doomsday”, will likely be found.
The 21-year old Philadelphia resident and Berklee College of Music student has a huge online following, and songs like “doomsday” explain why. Musically, the song possesses the stunning and gripping cinema that Weyes Blood has perfected and occasionally filters through Phoebe Bridgers’ most rapturous tunes. At first, every element is delicately executed, creating a calm almost serene mood. By all indication, this song is about hope, love, and the promise of tomorrow. On the contrary, McAlpine’s story is one of fear and murder. Her songwriting is impeccable, as she assumes the role of the victim and how at one point she loved her killer.
“I’d like to plan my part in this
But you’re such a narcissist
You’ll probably do it next week
I don’t get a choice in the matter
Why would I when it’s only the death of me?”
But the line that seals the deal is when she later euphorically sings, “I feel more free than I have in years six feet in the ground”. Simply “WOW!” Simply what a talent.
The single is out on Harbour Artists & Music.
Slow Pulp – “Shadow” (Chicago via Madison, WI, USA)
RIYL: Sad13, Frankie Cosmos, Lily Konigsberg
One of the great stories of 2020 was the rise of Slow Pulp, who went from being an inconspicuous band from Madison, Wisconsin to one of the most acclaimed and sought-after groups – even in the midst of a pandemic. Their album, Moveys, was one of the year’s finest, being listed on various “Best of” and “Favorite” lists, including our own. The quartet are posed to make another leap over the next 12 months now that touring is possible. Speaking of which, Emily Massey (vocals/guitar), Alexander Leeds (bass), Theodore Mathews (drums), and Henry Stoehr (guitar) kick off their long-awaited tour US and Canada tour on Thursday, November 4 (dates are here). To help round out their upcoming setlist, they’ve released an “old” new song.
Written a year ago but not released until this week, “Shadow” is a microcosm as to why tens of thousands of people have gravitated to Slow Pulp. Dreamy melodies collide with gritty guitars to create an atmosphere of conflicting emotions. On the one hand, we feel like we’re floating aimlessly on still waters. On the other hand, the song creates the sensation we’re slowly swirling down a whirlpool and towards our pending doom. Massey’s distorted vocals tell a tale of the latter, where she describes the constant feeling of being stuck and out of control. Whether it is due to burn out, depression, anxiety, or the pressure of the daily grind, she no longer feels like herself and is always looking over her shoulder.
But in reality, Massey and her band mates shouldn’t be checking who is behind them. Rather, more established bands should be checking the rear-view mirror because Slow Pulp is quickly catching up to them and soon will surpass them. If they haven’t already.
Agath Christ – “Phantom Limbs” (Montreal, Canada)
RIYL: Jesse Marchant + The War on Drugs? We honestly have no idea
To end this Halloween edition of The Matinee, we go on a long drive in the wee hours of the morning. Never mind that the night is illuminated by the faint light of the fading crescent moon or that this weekend will be full of suspense and unknown surprises. Never mind the costume parties and trick or treating. Get in your car and drive to nowhere with “Phantom Limbs“, the new single from Agath Christ.
The brainchild of singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and recording engineer, Matthew Hills, the Montreal-based band deliver a stunning and unforgettable epic. It’s also difficult to categorize, as it combines many genres. The one word that comes to mind is noir-gaze, given the song’s dark and foreboding textures, the film-noir suspense that emanates from the shallow synths and Hills’ whispery vocal, and the occasion strikes of the chiming guitar. Regardless of labels, the song is mesmerizing and as close to an out-of-body experience we’ll ever encounter. Hills’ tale is similarly about feeling alive. He assumes a character that has suffered a tragic accident, losing parts of his body and soul. He is no longer physically nor psychologically whole.
“One day I’ll know what I’ve been running from
But I’ll have to wait until the courage comes
And I can fight until they let me go
It can’t be love if it can’t make me whole
Make me whole again
My phantom limb”
In addition to Hills, Agath Christ are Jess Roze (bass, vocals), Liam O’Neill (drums), and Alex Dodier (alto sax).
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