After some time off for vacation and sick leave, Essential Tracks is back this week, with some stellar new music from some of our favorites, including a psych band back after a six-year break, an unconventional artist on the verge of a pop breakthrough, and Canada’s reigning dream pop magistrates.
Plus, listen to our ongoing 2022 Essential Tracks playlist.
Dungen – “Nattens Sista Strimma Ijus”
Coincidentally, I’d been revisiting Dungen‘s incredible 2004 album Ta Det Lugnt recently, just before the Swedish psych outfit announced their first new album in six years (the last of which was a new soundtrack to a silent film from the ’20s). The first single from their upcoming En Är För Mycket och Tusen Aldrig Nog features all of the kaleidoscopic swirl of their greatest works with more than a little garage grit to give it some muscle beneath its hypnotic effects. Remarkably, it arrives after songwriter Gustav Estjes has embraced sobriety, making this psychedelic trip one that’s been crafted without chemical additives, which is an interesting thing to note, because this song is still pretty trippy! More importantly, though, it rips, and it’s good to hear a great band return to the fold.
Sudan Archives – “NBPQ (Topless)”
With every new release, Sudan Archives keeps inching closer toward a major breakthrough, and her upcoming album Natural Brown Prom Queen feels like it could be her biggest to date, in large part because of the outsized sound of big pop moments like the kind-of title track “NBPQ (Topless)”. It moves fast, with Brittney Parks’ high-speed rap-sing chants about body types and self-image over handclap beats that sound like the hottest double dutch session of the summer. Though Parks says that the song was written about insecurities and American beauty standards, it’s a powerful self-affirmation that returns to a mantra worth celebrating: “‘Cause I’m not average, average, average…”
From Natural Brown Prom Queen, out September 9 via Stones Throw
Alvvays – “Pharmacist”
If the first new music from Alvvays in five years comprises only two minutes, then I’m going to savor every fleeting moment of it, and the Canadian indie rock group make the most of that brief span in their new single, “Pharmacist.” A quick burst of dreamy pop with big walls of shoegaze guitars and gauzy synthesizers, “Pharmacist” feels like everything Alvvays did great before, but given more potency and rich sonic depth. As ever, Molly Rankin’s vocal melodies drive the song’s big hooks, but it’s such a dense song, with so much happening, that those two minutes just might not be enough to soak it all in.
From Blue Rev, out October 7 via Polyvinyl
Aja Monet – “Give My Regards to Brooklyn”
Poet Aja Monet debuted her poem “Give My Regards to Brooklyn” a few years ago—there’s a video on YouTube of her reading it at a Summit event in 2018. She’s since brought it to life via an incredible jazz backing band that includes musicians such as Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and Marcus Gilmore, and the sounds of Brooklyn itself, specifically the subway train that opens the track. She describes it as a poem “incorporating the magic of Brooklyn as a place of surrealist visions,” which include observations like, “I caught Biggie on the stoop in Bedstuy selling dope to a hipster with ‘Ready to Die’ tatted across his arm.” It’s hypnotic, moving, gorgeous and powerful, bringing to mind the likes of Gil Scott-Heron or Moor Mother’s recent work with Irreversible Entanglements. Jazz and poetry intertwined in a truly stunning whole.
Out now via drink sum wtr
Kokoko! – “Nasali Nini”
One of the greatest surprises from 2019 was the release of Fongola, the debut album by Kinshasa Afro-house group Kokoko! And as we wait for a proper follow-up, the release of new single “Nasali Nini” provides a suitably fiery, pulsing holdover, a big and booming dance track full of call-and-response vocal chants, thumping beats and minimalist synth textures. It captures the curious and captivating space where the band’s music lives, incorporating contemporary electronic sounds with post-punk and Congolese pop, the kind of banger that would get your attention no matter the venue.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.