Essential Tracks This Week: Sheer Mag, Hurray for the Riff Raff, and more

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Sheer Mag

This week feels like a preview for some of the heavy hitters to come in early 2024. The list of new albums by some of our favorite artists just keeps getting longer, and while we’re not yet done with this year, it’s good to know we have a lot to look forward to soon. This week’s best new songs includes the return of one of the best rock bands in the game right now, a singer/songwriter with a devastating new Americana gem, a prolific psych-rock ringer finding more great avenues to explore, and more.

Sheer Mag – “Playing Favorites”

Sheer Mag’s the kind of band that can deliver both a blazing riff rocker and a reflective, tender pop song, and their new single “Playing Favorites” manages to combine the two in a catchy, urgent standout. Something of an origin story about the band’s own rock ‘n’ roll ambitions, “Playing Favorites” is infectious both for its spectacular swirl of guitar licks and pop hooks as well as for Tina Halladay’s narrative of converting fans across the country, one riff at a time. Like Bon Scott once sneered, they’ve paid their dues in a rockin’ band; as Halladay adds, “if you give us a shot, turn up the music, we’re a sight to see.” I was already a convert, but “Playing Favorites” merely restored my faith.

From Playing Favorites, out March 1 via Third Man

Hurray for the Riff Raff – “Alibi”

After delivering the self-described “nature punk” of last year’s Life on Earth, Alynda Segarra takes a turn toward introspection and meditation on grief and loss with “Alibi,” the first single from their upcoming album The Past Is Still Alive. Produced by Brad Cook (Kevin Morby, Waxahatchee), it’s a gorgeously arranged piece of Americana that wraps Segarra’s aching heart in pristine layers of guitars. Their refrain of “You don’t have to die if you don’t wanna die” is delivered with such melodic sweetness that it takes a moment for the tragedy of it to land, a plea that’s utterly heartbreaking.

From The Past Is Still Alive, out February 23 via Nonesuch

Ty Segall – “My Room”

Ty Segall has a number of different modes of operation: garage rock Ty, psych-rock Ty, glam Ty, folk Ty, and varying shades in between. From one album to the next he never stays in one solitary lane for too long, but his bread and butter is rock ‘n’ roll. Since releasing the stellar “Void” earlier this year, Segall’s been more explicitly exploring a juxtaposition between psychedelia and acoustic music, which on “My Room” brings to mind the legendary Love, or perhaps a juxtaposition of Elliott Smith with T. Rex. It’s an outstanding example of how sophisticated his songwriting’s become, balancing subtlety with grandeur, hypnotically layered arrangements with fiery guitar solos. After releasing around two-dozen albums, it’s still thrilling to hear how his music is evolving.

From Three Bells, out January 26 via Drag City

Julia Holter – “Sun Girl”

Julia Holter hasn’t necessarily been any less busy than usual over the past five years, it’s just been outside the realm of pop music for the most part. She recorded a film score and then released a collaborative modern classical album, as well as a handful of collabs and one offs, but “Sun Girl” is her first real pop song since 2018’s Aviary. It’s expectedly hypnotic and rich, awash in lush layers of synthesizer and sprightly flute, a bright and buoyant song that feels like a necessary source of warmth as winter begins to roll in.

Out now via Domino

Amiture – “Billy’s Dream”

Amiture’s “Billy’s Dream” feels dangerous in a subtle way. The Brooklyn group’s sound isn’t necessarily harsh or bombastic, but its edges are sharper than they look, laced with noise and feedback, and a groove that seems to grow darker and darker the longer you hear it. “Billy’s Dream” rides a curious line between trip-hop and noise rock, its most abrasive moments similar to those of fellow New York provocateurs Model/Actriz. But there’s also a groove to it that’s undeniable, a hypnotic beacon that lures you deeper into their strange underworld—which, based on the song’s video, might include secret gambling clubs and people in dog masks huffing blow. Enter at your own risk, but don’t be surprised if you don’t want to leave.

From Mother Engine, out February 9 via Dots Per Inch

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