Essential Tracks This Week: Jamila Woods, Baroness and more

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Jamila Woods

It’s a remarkable day for new albums, but just as outstanding a week for new songs. Inevitably, the problem with only selecting five new songs each week as the best new offerings means that there’s a whole stack of others that we’re not able to highlight, and beyond that, which we haven’t even gotten around to hearing. (Have you heard how much music there is out there?) But we do feel pretty confidently about these five new songs, which will be on repeat for some time for us.

Jamila Woods – “Tiny Garden”

Jamila Woods’ last album was Legacy! Legacy!, an innovative and eclectic homage to historical artists of color that interpreted their work through rich arrangements and incredible songwriting. “Tiny Garden,” Woods’ first new song in three years, is less concerned with more conceptual ideas than a more intimate every day kind of affirmation. Featuring guest vocalist duendita and backed with a buoyant production of pianos, synths and a light-touch electronic pulse, “Tiny Garden” is a reflection of not losing oneself in the moment, and accepting a new and growing love as something to be cultivated rather than ignited: “It’s not gonna be a big production/It’s not butterflies or fireworks/Said it’s gonna be a tiny garden/But I’ll feed it every day.” It’s a warm and nourishing sentiment, a gorgeous song that gently sends an invitation to cast aside those least constructive impulses.

From Water Made Us, out October 13 via Jagjaguwar

Baroness – “Beneath the Rose”

As a band with a well-established melodic approach to heavy metal, coursing with psychedelia and a little classic rock for good measure, Baroness still find ways to surprise us. After juxtaposing some of their most epic moments with more gently melodic songs on 2019’s Gold and Grey, they seem to be embracing weirdness again on “Beneath the Rose.” It features a number of signature moves from the band: soaring dual guitar leads, a heroic chorus, a layer of mist surrounding it all. But the group engineer detours at every turn—syncopated post-hardcore verses, spoken-word passages, even some of John Baizley’s most metal growls in some time. Early indications suggest a passage into heavier terrain on their sixth album STONE, but “Beneath the Rose” suggests that with Baroness, it’s never that simple.

From STONE, out September 15 via Abraxan Hymns

Forest Swords – “Butterfly Effect” (feat. Neneh Cherry)

Forest Swords’ Matthew Barnes has long built fascinating shapes out of abstract sheets of electronic sound, not quite eschewing pop music altogether but not embracing it wholeheartedly either. “Butterfly Effect” doesn’t quite change that, but it does find Barnes seemingly warming up to the idea while retaining an icy chill overall. Featuring Neneh Cherry’s vocals, “Butterfly Effect” is a booming and clattering piece of work, all metallic structures and sharp angles, but there’s a sense of grandeur and majesty in its subtle melodic movements. It’s more accurately art pop through an industrial lens rather than capital-p pop, but it’s closer than Forest Swords has ever been.

Out now via Ninja Tune

Activity – “Where the Art Is Hung”

New York band Activity have the rare ability to make music that’s at once dreamlike and nightmarish, serene and deeply unsettling. “Where the Art is Hung,” the latest single from their upcoming second album Spirit in the Room, is just such a blurring of contrasts, gentle and wispy, creeping with a soft, hushed sensibility. But even at a low simmer, there’s a menace lurking just underneath, the shimmering guitar arpeggios that guide the song suggesting the supernatural soundscapes of Twin Peaks as much as a walk through a foggy cemetery. But over time it continues to build up into something more like shoegaze from the beyond—a concept I don’t think we’ve fully explored as much as we should, and I’m intrigued to hear how far Activity’s trip down this long, dark tunnel goes.

From Spirit in the Room, out August 4 via Western Vinyl

Sprain – “Privilege of Being”

Los Angeles’ Sprain occupy an unusual space, playing a sort of slow-moving form of experimental noise rock that still somehow doesn’t sound like any bands that those stylistic forms might conjure. Their closest contemporaries are bands like FACS or Big|Brave, who have sounds that only suggest familiar genres, though “Privilege of Being” is even farther afield. Something like a horror movie soundtrack with vocals, it finds the band channeling late Scott Walker material through gorgeously harrowing sonics and shrieking sheets of pure noise. Somehow both confrontational and subtle, “Privilege of Being” is masterful in its aversion to expectations.

From The Lamb As Effigy or Three Hundred And Fifty XOXOXOS For A Spark Union With My Darling Divine, out September 1 via The Flenser

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