By Lindsay Zoladz
Whenever I put together one of these monthly collections of “songs you should hear now,” culled from our weekly new music Playlists, my brain leaps to the “Now That’s What I Call Music!” font. Do you remember those compilations? I’m guessing you do, because a quick scan of the series’ impressively long Wikipedia page tells me they are released all over the world, and that they began in the United Kingdom in 1983. 1983! The “Now” albums didn’t arrive stateside until 1998, but to my surprise they’re still being released, even if the evolution toward streaming means they’ve receded from the album charts. Nevertheless, they persist. “Now That’s What I Call Music! Vol. 86” was released just a few months ago.
Is today’s playlist a kind of “Now That’s What I Call Music! Vol. 87”? Well, no. I don’t think I can call it that legally, and most of these artists — like the indie-rock group Palehound, the Canadian country crooner Colter Wall and the Detroit hard-rock collective the Armed — are a bit too under-the-radar to make a compilation like that. But that also means you’re most likely about to stumble upon at least one artist you’ve never heard before. Now that’s what I call exciting.
Listen along on Spotify as you read.
1. Palehound: “Independence Day”
I nearly put this one on my Fourth of July barbecue playlist, but I decided it wasn’t quite celebratory enough to fit the bill: I was not sure that anyone would want to hear a painfully vivid indie-rock song about an Independence Day breakup while grilling burgers, no matter how excellently written it is. But, to be sure, this song is excellently written, by Palehound’s leader, El Kempner. “Sparkler in my throat, can we just take it all back,” Kempner sings atop a guitar that jangles like loose change. “Join the neighbors and go dancing with a rocket and a six pack?” (Listen on YouTube)
2. Faye Webster: “But Not Kiss”
I will admit that I did not give the Atlanta singer-songwriter Faye Webster’s 2021 breakout album, “I Know I’m Funny Haha,” a fair shake for a very petty reason: The first song I heard from it, “A Dream With a Baseball Player,” is an ode to Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., and as a fan of the team’s division rival New York Mets, I must remain in denial about how good Acuña Jr. is. (He’s so good. It’s annoying!) I do like the push-and-pull rhythms of Webster’s latest single, “But Not Kiss,” and the way the whole thing sounds like a strange, woozy dream. Every time Webster confesses a feeling, she — and the song itself — suddenly retreats: “I want to see you in my dreams,” she sings, “but then forget.” (Listen on YouTube)
3. Sampha: “Spirit 2.0”
I’d been wondering what happened to Sampha, the velvety-voiced British singer-songwriter. Last year he was featured on Kendrick Lamar’s “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” but otherwise he’s been pretty quiet since his lovely 2017 debut album, “Process.” His airy new single “Spirit 2.0” is a promising update, driven by the energy of a skittish beat that is neutralized by Sampha’s soothing vocals. (Listen on YouTube)
4. Little Dragon featuring Damon Albarn: “Glow”
Damon Albarn certainly stays busy. As regular readers of this newsletter know, a new Blur album is on the way, and only about five months after the latest Gorillaz release, the eclectic “Cracker Island.” Albarn blows into this ethereal song by the long-running Swedish electro-pop group Little Dragon with quite a lyric: “By the way, I wish I’d been there for you when the Northern Lights got brighter.” But judging by the twinkling, boreal soundscape Little Dragon creates, it sounds like he didn’t miss a thing. (Listen on YouTube)
5. Fito Páez featuring Mon Laferte, “Sasha, Sissi y el Círculo de Baba”
The influential Argentine rocker Fito Páez, now 60, just released a full reimagining of his hugely successful 1992 album “El Amor Después del Amor.” I will confess that this was news to me, so thank you to Jon Pareles for picking this new version of “Sasha, Sissi y el Círculo de Baba” for last week’s Playlist. I love the updated arrangement’s swooning atmosphere, and the impassioned vocals from the shape-shifting Chilean-Mexican musician Mon Laferte. (Listen on YouTube)
6. The Armed, “Sport of Form”
The Detroit rockers the Armed pack a whole lot of ideas into three-and-a-half minutes on their new single “Sport of Form,” the first taste of the upcoming album “Perfect Saviors.” “Sport of Form” opens with a pummeling electronic blast, pivots to hardcore, and then in its final act becomes an anthemic pop-rock song featuring backing vocals from Julien Baker. Watch the video, too, if you want to see Iggy Pop playing God. (Which, in the context of Michigan rock music? He basically is.) (Listen on YouTube)
7. Colter Wall, “For a Long While”
When I first listened to this song, I thought Colter Wall must be the name of some wizened old country legend I was somehow unfamiliar with. It turns out he’s 28 and has been releasing records since 2017. There’s a genuinely lived-in quality to the Canadian musician’s warm, baritone voice, and a convincing ease to the songwriting on “For a Long While,” from his forthcoming, modestly titled album “Little Songs.” (Listen on YouTube)
Now that’s what I call music!,
The Amplifier Playlist
Listen on Spotify. We update this playlist with each new newsletter.
“7 Songs You Should Hear Now” track list
Track 1: Palehound, “Independence Day”
Track 2: Faye Webster, “But Not Kiss”
Track 3: Sampha, “Spirit 2.0”
Track 4: Little Dragon featuring Damon Albarn, “Glow”
Track 5: Fito Páez featuring Mon Laferte, “Sasha, Sissi y el Círculo de Baba”
Track 6: The Armed, “Sport of Form”
Track 7: Colter Wall, “For a Long While”
Last week, when I shared my playlist of female artists covering Bob Dylan, I asked you to let me know if there were any classics that I missed. As ever, you delivered. Please enjoy Patti LaBelle doing a delightfully funky “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”and Nanci Griffiths’ heartbreaking take on “Boots of Spanish Leather.” (Don’t miss the live version, too.)