Welcome to the New(ish) Music Tuesday, our semi-regular column where our writers highlight the songs that they can’t get enough of. For the first installment of 2016, we check out Radiohead’s scrapped Bond theme, new music from Birdy, Bring Me the Horizon and many more.
The 1975 – “UGH!”
The 1975 continue their quest to be the next INXS with the second single from their upcoming album I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it. This sticky sweet, electronically tinged pop rock diddy skips along with a good combo of bright guitars and light electronic drums. Singer Matty Healy (who looks like a white Jayden Smith) uses his falsetto to sing about, of all things, the endless cycle of him quitting and eventually reusing cocaine. (“I know your lungs need filling /Since your gums have lost their feeling /But don’t say that you’re giving it up again.”) Never has a song about blow sounded so lovely.
The Maine feat. Derek Sanders – “Steal My Sunshine” (LEN Cover)
Alt-rock group The Maine has done what few others have successfully accomplished and many others have attempted: revived a ’90s one-hit wonder into something brand new. Off their December 2015 release Covers (Side A), the quintet’s spin on Len’s 1999 “Steal My Sunshine” – you know the one – is textbook infectious with strong and punchy guitars, sour-sweet vocals from both front-man John O’Callaghan and featured artist Derek Sanders of pop-punk band Mayday Parade and a lilt of cheeky confidence. This cover sounds a million miles away from the original’s slightly nonsensical nature; it’s more like what happens when the skater boys crash a party at the biggest frat house on campus.
Oh Wonder – “Without You”
It’s hard to believe this track is from a debut album, one released independently at that. Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West make up the indie-pop duo Oh Wonder, hailing straight from London with a mission to take on the world. And with a song like “Without You,” the third single off their self-titled September 2015 introduction, it’ll be a cakewalk. A bare-bones piano melody purls off the keys and into your heart, pulling you into the gentleness of it all: the steady drum kick, the soft sizzle of the pre-chorus’s hi-hat, the barely-there synth and sax. The pair’s unique voices never falter, and are just as enchanting separate as they are blended together. “Without You” evokes a kind of nostalgia with its lyrics, and is altogether warm, wispy and wonderful.
Gesu no Kiwami Otome – “Watashi Igai Watashi Ja Nai no”
A band consisting of friends who play in other prominent Japanese indie bands, Gesu No Kiwami Otome (the name roughly translates to “The Rudest Girl You’ll Ever Meet”) has become a surprise sensation in their home country. Their success owes to their idiosyncratic brand of jazzy, proggy indie rock that has little in common with anything else going on in the music industry in Japan. An advance single from their forthcoming sophomore album, “Watashi Igai Watashi Ja Nai No” captures the four-piece at their catchy best. The song mixes the kind of mathy, punchy guitar pop that The Dismemberment Plan mastered in the late ’90s with jazz influenced piano that recalls the best moments of Ben Folds Five. Singer Enon Kawatani has a way with sticking a vocal melody in your brain, even with the language barrier. Upon first listen a few weeks ago, this song completely upset my already finalized (or so I thought) year-end singles list and demanded an edit that put it firmly in my top 30. One listen might have you thinking the same.
Radiohead – “Spectre”
There were rumblings last year that Radiohead were in the running to record the theme to the latest James Bond film Spectre, but I imagine most put it off as a joke concocted online. After all, the internet as a collective whole is a bit too obsessed with the English band, and besides what would a Radiohead Bond theme even sound like? So imagine my surprise when Thom Yorke revealed on Christmas Eve that the band had actually been asked to record a theme, but it had been rejected in favor of Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall.” I’m not quite sure how well the minimalist result works as a Bond theme song — I suspect that if it was selected, EON would have added way more strings to the mix — but it’s a massive improvement on Smith’s snoozathon and one of Radiohead’s best songs since In Rainbows.
Birdy – “Keeping Your Head Up”
Birdy has surely made a name for herself with acoustic ballads, distinctive layered choruses and her solid covers. “Keeping Your Head Up” rolls all of her best vocal features into one — with a three tone chorus, acoustic verses and a haunting bridge, this single has every bit of Birdy we love, and then some. I could see this song move up the charts with the right promo and music video to gain attention. It’s the best I’ve heard from Birdy since “Light Me Up,” and I even consider “Keeping Your Head Up” the superior.
Beans on Toast – “The Art of Friendship”
For those who are unfamiliar with Beans on Toast, he’s an English folk singer from Essex who sings about politics, sex and drugs. He is in top form on “The Art of Friendship” off his latest release Rolling up the Hill. With his trademark gravelly vocals he tells a story about his long term friendship with artist Laro Verz. The song’s stripped down guitar and horns are a perfect counterpart to the simplistic but moving lyrics. “The Art of Friendship” is a sweet little track that will tug on your heart strings.
Bring Me the Horizon – “Follow You”
Coming out in September and debuting at number one on the Billboard Top Alternative Chart and number two on the 200, Bring Me the Horizon’s That’s the Spirit is lead by singles “Throne” and “Drown,” but for me its singular masterwork is “Follow You.” From its melancholic build up to its chorus big enough to fill an arena, but intimate enough to bring you to tears, this is an opus. Telling the narrative of a person whose been through it all with their mate, and who in turn will do anything for this person. It’s a love song filtered through the most iridescent of musical lights. “Follow You” is a song that runs the gamut on your emotions. It can be simultaneously gorgeous and poignant and then turn around and break your heart.