Every week, there’s a plethora of new music at our fingertips.
Artists on platforms like Spotify and Bandcamp are plentiful, and the radio offers a steady deluge of new singles, but who has time to sort through all that? RIFF does!
We pooled our resources to find some of the best new singles from all genres and backgrounds, so you can find your newest earworm without all the drama. Enjoy this week’s hidden gems.
Arlo Parks, Live performance of “Paperbacks” (and full set) — At the top of the list, this week’s release of a shimmering KEXP live set by West London singer Arlo Parks and company kicks off with a live version of “Paperbacks” that’s arguably better than the studio recording. This young artist has already turned heads and has famous fans like Wyclef Jean and Michelle Obama. The attention is well-deserved, as Arlo Parks is a talented songwriter with a gorgeous voice. Along with collaborators, she’s created an original and eclectic sound synthesizing influences from American soul and R&B and U.K. artists like Massive Attack and Tricky.
This live set opens with exquisite guitar work from Alex Blake, before solid and subtle playing by Sam Harding on bass and James Fernandez on drums flesh out a deep, responsive backdrop for Arlo Parks’ voice, which turns from delicate to strong on a dime. The fresh rendering of 2019’s “Paperbacks” is followed by material largely from last year’s excellent “Collapsed into Sunlight” album, and it’s all worth a listen.
Juan Wauters featuring Mac DeMarco, “Real” — Here’s a sunny, feel-good single made to perk up those quarantine blues. It’s got a self-effacing indie sensibility you expect from Juan Wauters and guest Mac DeMarco. There’s no one out there like Wauters, who for almost a decade has been merging North and South American folk sounds as the backdrop for his sometimes cryptic, sometimes plain, often ironic and playful verses.
On “Real” Wauters contrasts his mellow collaboration with DeMarco—and a truly funny video featuring the two riding around Los Angeles and at least one extreme armpit close-up—with sharp observations (“It’s a dog eat dog wild world/ You’re willing to shoot a brother down/ Just so you can get ahead”). This song starts with Wauters’ usual minimalist acoustic folk sound—think early Dylan, Victor Jara, Elliot Smith—and then introduces rock, electronic and trap elements that pick things up and keep it weird.
Night Beats, “New Day” — The Texas-to-California garage-rock act whose new sound pioneers what it calls “psychedelic R&B” has a new demonstration of the concept: a fuzz-washed piece of atmosphere that sounds (and looks, in the “Django-Unchained”-style video) like something from a Tarantino movie and calls to mind other retro innovators like Lord Huron or Osees. “New Day” lays down a dark, cinematic groove of heavy percussion and guitar and follows it with spacious vistas and mood shifts. It’s a vibe as much as a song, and—along with another strong recent release, “That’s All You Got”—suggests upcoming album Outlaw R&B will be one to look forward to.
Soft Glas, “Prudence and Poise” — This is a song that has a subdued cool and quiet confidence that’s all too hard to find. Soft Glas (the moniker of Joao Gonzalez) merges Cuban and jazz influences with bedroom pop in a way that sounds effortless and entirely his own. “Prudence & Poise” is a highly relatable meditation on plans gone adrift, with a bittersweet sophistication that reminded me of the work of Brazilian rock legend Arnaldo Antunes. Even as it expresses confusion and ambivalence, there’s a clarity here that comforts you. Warm percussion and subtle guitar lead the way into the vibe, which then kicks into the more uptempo chorus with the refrain, “I don’t really know what’s happening.” I know the feeling, and over the past year I think most of us have.
Q, “Garage Rooftop” live performance — Don’t confuse this Q with the conspiracy-minded. This young South Florida artist has a sweet, melodic style that merges throwback R&B with chillwave for a mellow high that delivers feeling without sounding too saccharine. Q has earned comparisons to Childish Gambino, and I’ll add the more melodic and instrumental stylings of Anderson .Paak. The live version of “Garage Rooftop” follows a few weeks after the debut of the studio version of this song, whose well-crafted video brings the film “Moonlight” to mind with a romantic depiction of sun-washed Florida. This rendition is stripped down to the bare essentials: Q’s vulnerable falsetto over electric piano, and very little else. With a lesser song or singer, it might not work, but Q pulls it off.
Michael Feuerstack, “Time to Burn” — If you’ve had the feeling of time slipping away with this pandemic, it could cut you to the quick to hear Michael Feuerstack sing “There’s time to burn/ There’s time to notice anything that won’t return.” If there was ever a heartbreaking anthem to time you’ll never get back, it might be this, and if that sounds like a downer—well, when you’re already down, a song like this can help you get back up.
“Time to Burn” opens with hypnotic strumming, spare backing keys and drums, and adds bluesy guitar that completes the mood. Feuerstack sings with the urgent softness and crafted lyricism of Leonard Cohen, patron art saint of Montreal, the city where he lives. In just a few short minutes, this song speaks volumes: “Tear the pages from the book/ And let them go.”
Justin’s Pick: My favorite track from this week is the live version of “Paperbacks” by Arlo Parks and her band. There’s a spontaneous magic to it, starting from the long instrumental intro and continuing into the bandmates’ communication with each other that reminds me of something I miss: live music. Specifically, seeing that almost telepathic communication between artists happen in real-time.
Follow writer Justin Allen at Twitter.com/_justinallen_.