It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new year and lots of new music.
As outdoor dining and other businesses finally opens up in California, we’re back to rainy, cold days and somehow still stuck inside. Welcome to the new new. Saturday feels like Tuesday and Netflix’s well of passive entertainment seems all but dry. We’re all over “social distancing,” so it’s time for new music to ease the nerves.
Somehow, it feels like there’s less time in the day. Who really has the time to figure out which new tracks are worth a listen? RIFF still does! We’re happy to bring you the latest, greatest new songs in this weekly segment.
Tim Atlas and honeywhip, “Peace at Last” — The song begins with a distorted, muffled sound, and the video with images of Trump’s America. Eventually keys come alive, accompanied by down-tempo vocals. Images of protests and people with masks fill the screen. Oakland-born, L.A.-based musician and producer Tim Atlas has joined up with duo honeywhip for this shimmery, summery song—which is what it eventually becomes partway through; bouncy, light and fun. “Peace at Last” ends up as a breath of fresh air, with people welcoming a new dawn in the U.S. It’s an invitation for togetherness.
Paul Leary, “What Are You Gonna Do?” — I still have no clue how I got here nor what I just watched. The song is psychedelic, bizarre and feels like you’re having a head-trip. As throbbing guitars enter the mix of industrial synths, it feels like a nightmare from which you can’t wake up. As Leary sings, “what are you gonna do” over and over, the song sounds like it’s from a different dimension. And yet there are moments where gorgeous keys or string melodies kick in. No explanation ever comes. I feel traumatized the more I listen to the song and watch the video, yet I can’t stop. It sucks you in. Let’s be honest, however: No one should expect anything less from the singer-guitarist of the Butthole Surfers. This is his first solo album in 30 years! It’s definitely worth a watch even if you just walk away saying, “WTF did I just watch?”
Thad Cockrell, “Swingin” — Thad Cockrell’s story is one of those that tugs at your heartstrings. Cockrell is a singer-songwriter who’s been making music for the past 20 years. He gave notice to his managers after an abysmal 2020 of no touring. Then Jimmy Fallon hears his song at a hardware store. This song, a mix of alt-country and ’90s Americana is uplifting and empowering. The lyrics are heartfelt, but it’s the chorus that stays with you. In fact, it could be a pretty accurate anthem for 2021. “If I’m gonna go down/ I wanna go down swingin’/ I wanna go down hard.”
Skeggs, “Valhalla” — Australia garage-surf rockers Skeggs released this kick-ass song, in the vein of ’90s ska-core bands, along with a highly historically inaccurate video about vikings and sword fights. It’s slightly ridiculous, but all awesome. You’ll be jumping and skanking along in no time. It’s fast, frenetic and full of energy. The guitar playing is dirty and gritty with a ridiculously catchy, gnarly chorus. Skeggs’ singer-guitarist Ben Reed said this of “Valhalla:” “Sometimes in our life we have moments that are pretty perfect; as perfect as what you’d want the idea of your own nirvana to be… Like when you’re having beers with your friends, having big cook-ups that are real fun to share. We’ve always been lucky enough to have got to do that with [Aussie peers] Dune Rats.” Skeggs deliver and if you need to release some energy, this is the song for you.
Ensemble Mik Nawooj, “Beethoven On Struggle” — It’s hard not to love a large collection of musicians mixing disparate styles. From the opening notes by violin to the sounds of impending doom from the cello, this song gradually brings you in. But once hip-hop MC Sandman’s rapping comes in, the song goes up a notch. You can almost hear Lin-Manuel Miranda singing “My Shot.” Hamilton vibes aside, this ensemble is tight.
JooWan Kim’s composition, which includes a sample from Beethoven’s “Coriolan Overture,” is a masterpiece. From Kim on the piano to the piercing soprano’s vocals infused with tight drumming and a flute that brings out the intensity, this song captures the highs and lows of the drama/tragedy of “Corialanus.” At the four-minute mark, there’s a brief pause, giving you a chance to catch your breath, before coming back to a gorgeous light piano with ethereal vocals—and the strings of dancer Yung Phil. This Oakland ensemble is not to be missed. Its album, Death Become Life, is set to release on March 19.
Pino Palladino and Blake Mills, “Just Wrong” — Bassist Pino Palladino and multi-instrumentalist and producer Blake Mills are releasing their debut album, Notes With Attachments, on March 12. “Just Wrong” is their first track to be released, and is mind-blowing. It definitely gives off the Miles Davis vibes and that feeling of catching an impromptu jazz session in a smoky club. The collaboration with so many talented musicians takes the song in so many directions. “Just Wrong” starts off with a smooth jazz sound, mixed with some sweet funk and saxophones filling the air. It slowly builds and comes to life as two distinct melodies that come together. “Part 2,” as I’ve dubbed it, feels like a transition into a film score. The song spreads out and evolves with more instruments coming into the fold. It’s lush and beautiful as percussion and a viola bring a sunshine-y airy feel.
Lost Horizons featuring Marissa Nadler, “Marie” — Lost Horizons is the project of Cocteau Twins Simon Raymonde and Richie Thomas of Dif Juz. “Marie” is a beautiful, melancholic dream-pop gem. The song features Marissa Nadler‘s haunting, gorgeous vocals adding yet another layer of somberness. There’s a peaceful sereneness brought together with subtle drumbeats and soft guitar playing. The etherealness dreaminess folds into the landscape. Lost Horizons released their album In Quiet Moments as two parts. Their first half arrived in December. “Marie” is from the second half, coming on Feb. 26. This also marks the second time that Nadler has collaborated with Lost Horizons.
Rachel’s Pick: I have always loved modern symphonic compositions. Ensemble Mik Nawooj grabbed me the moment I first heard it. This song recalls the “Hamilton” score yet makes a name for itself. There is so much drama to “Beethoven On Struggle” that I notice new layers each time I listen.