Tuesday Tracks: Your Weekly New Music Discovery – Sept. 22

Mobley, Makeout, Rexx Life Raj, Sunflower Bean, Juan Wayne, Hot Flash Heat Wave, Andrew St. James

Clockwise from top left: Mobley, Makeout, Rexx Life Raj, Sunflower Bean, Juan Wayne and Hot Flash Heat Wave.

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.


Juan Wayne, “Beverly Hills” — San Francisco musician Andrew St. James is back with a guitar-heavy song with his lifelong pal Cesar Maria. The two harmonize to perfection as they sing, “I miss my baby so much,” leading to some smooth chord changes during the verse. Their voices often seem to blend into one, evidencing the close friendship they developed while growing up in San Francisco. This song doesn’t detract from St. James’ other band, Fast Times, but Juan Wayne is more likely to draw listeners in with its heartfelt melodies.


Makeout, “Home” — Most of us could use some energetic music that makes us want to stand up and rock out with the band. That’s what Makeout delivers on its first song with a new lead singer and bassist. It doesn’t hurt that Travis Barker (yes, the one from Blink-182) helped work with the drummer and on programming. The result is a balanced blend of forceful percussion, energetic guitar and bass riffage, as well as empowering vocals from Chicago native Kyle Dee, who was among 500 people to try out for his newest gig.


Sunflower Bean, “Moment in the Sun” — What happens when a band used to touring worldwide spends the summer quarantining in upstate New York? For Sunflower Bean, the result is a song about spending time with loved ones, complete with a music video filmed in the lush green countryside. Singer-bassist Julia Cumming’s wide-ranging vocals pull on the heartstrings as the beat gets heads nodding. Though Sunflower Bean isn’t touring with the likes of Interpol and Beck right now, they’ll certainly be ready for the task when the time comes. If this first song of the year is any indication, they’ll have a lot to offer when their next album drops.


Mobley, “James Crow” — Is it a movie or a song? In this case, Mobley’s second song from his upcoming album is both. The musician and filmmaker wrote the lyrics and created the video as the second part of what will be an album-turned-film. The song itself has an upbeat feel reminiscent of Pharell’s “Happy,” while the lyrics center on Jim Crow segregation laws. To add activism to narrative, Mobley has joined forces with the Austin Public Library to promote books that can educate people about the song’s heavy theme. It’s a wild ride that makes its message clear, perhaps due to his bright, peppy vocals.


Hot Flash Heat Wave, “Grudge” — How exactly can one describe this genre-switching Bay Area trio? Perhaps their own explanation is best: A combination of The Smiths and Tears For Fears, with some newer influences including Post Malone for good measure. It works way better than it should, but if you live int he Bay Area, you probably know that already. The vocals mix naturally with infectious synths, even when they get raspier. Hot Flash Heat Wave also knows when best to smoothen out for a crystal clear chorus.


Rexx Life Raj, “Optimistic” — Like so many people these days, hip-hop artist Rexx Life Raj has found himself riding out the pandemic hunkered down at his parents’ home. For him, that’s Vallejo. This change of vicinity brought him close to his mother, who has been battling cancer. It’s a long way from his football career at Boise State University, but Raj has kept to his music and leant his talents to a collaborative project called “Voices For Change.” The first volume features hits from musicians around the world, with all proceeds going to the American Civil Liberties Union. Raj’s family has a history of activism, but also of optimism, which rings true in his lyrics: “Everybody worried about the shutdown/ Who wins the next election/ To keep it honest, worrying ain’t part of my tradition/ I was taught to practice/ To understand/ To forever stay optimistic.”


Layla’s Pick: There’s a pandemic, civic unrest, political uncertainty and natural disasters (fires for the RIFF staff in California and for me near Portland, Oregon). Makeout wins the week for me because it takes my mind off things. It’s the type of song that makes me want to turn up the volume until my neighbors are listening, too. The song might center on a breakup—not exactly a new theme—but it’s hard not to empathize with what Kyle Dee has described as the feeling of giving everything to what becomes a dead-end relationship.

Follow writer Layla Bohm at Twitter.com/laylabohm.

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