Here’s Some New Music I Like

Some music releases I’ve been enjoying lately:

Mrs. Piss – Self-Surgery

This is a bite-sized side project of Chelsea Wolfe, who is the reigning queen of hyper-intense, melodramatic rock music. While Wolfe has historically been known for slower, dynamically rich songs, on Self-Surgery she shows a different side of herself by amping up the aggression and tempo with help from drummer Jess Gowrie. It serves as a useful companion to her last solo album, Birth of Violence, which showed the other side of her artistry with a calmer, post-apocalyptic vibe.

Given the band name and imagery, which hints at body horror and trashiness, I actually expected this album to be more transgressive and discomforting than it is. Even when Wolfe is trying her hardest to make her music ugly, she can’t help but let some beauty slip out, and songs like “Downer Surrounded by Uppers” have catchy melodies even while taking on more of a hardcore punk structure. The lyrics of that song are in line with the rest of this album, which is the sound of introverts and weirdos unleashing their inner fury at the world. It’s nice to hear some music that actually reflects the rage that many of us are experiencing right now, and it does it without devolving into performative corniness.

Annie – “American Cars”

Grizzled indie pop veterans will recognize Annie, who turned many jaded indie rock snobs into begrudging pop fans with 2004’s Anniemal and 2009’s Don’t Stop. Those albums are classics in the “pop for music nerds” genre that would later be owned by artists like Carly Rae Jepsen, and now the Norwegian artist is preparing her first full-length album in 11 (!) years. “American Cars” is the first single and shows she still has a mastery of the craft and an ability to add deeper, subtler feeling into her tunes that eludes most of the pop artists you hear on the radio.

Noveller –Arrow

Sarah Lipstate serves as the guitarist for Iggy Pop and also records under the name Noveller. Her new album, Arrow, is a hypnotizing collection of ambient songs that form their own cinematic desert landscapes out of her electric guitar. I often struggle with ambient music because it either feels show-offy or impenetrable; Lipstate’s compositions have thought in every note, and she judiciously uses her considerable skill to make an album that is cohesive and vast. It’s surprisingly thrilling to listen to.

Dummy – Dummy EP

The first release from this band out of Los Angeles is the kind of noisy, motorik psychedelic sound that I’m constantly obsessed with. Over only five tracks, the band shows a lot of different sides of themselves on this promising debut. “Slacker Mask” is one of the bigger jams of the year and recalls mid-90s Stereolab pretty well, as does the opener “Angel’s Gear.” “Touch the Chimes” is a long, meditative droning track at the end that shows the band leaning more into folk. Nothing here is mind-blowingly new, but it’s executed so well that it becomes hard to deny, similar to the Peel Dream Magazine album from earlier in the year.

Bec Plexus – Sticklip

Sticklip is an increasingly rare treat: an album that doesn’t really sound like anything else. Plexus’ glitchy electronic sound and chatty, sometimes spoken vocals are most reminiscent of Laurie Anderson, but the themes and her personality are different enough that this album feels like its in its own world. She has presented this album as a “digital confession booth” with friends apparently writing lyrics about their deepest, darkest feelings, though the lyrics are more abstractions than anything that actually sounds like a straight-forward confession. “Mirror Image” is the major highlight; it’s a completely distinct, avant-garde song that confronts the self in a way that feels like a sci-fi movie.

Annie – “Out of Reach”

Before there was Carly Rae Jepsen and Kristin Kontrol, there was Annie. The Norwegian singer gained some amount of fame over a decade ago with her 2004 album, Anniemal, which was a hit on music blogs back when music blogs were semi-relevant and people read them. I heard the album a few years later, when I was a stereotypical indie snob who looked down on any kind of pop music, and it helped convert me into someone who saw the craft and emotion that good pop can have.

Annie has fallen out of the limelight since, in part due to not being a very prolific artist (she’s released just one full length since Anniemal, 2009’s underrated Don’t Stop) and in part due to music websites turning into PR factories for established pop stars. Once Pitchfork and the others started celebrating celebrity-driven pop made by Beyonce, Drake and Rihanna and covering their every move, there wasn’t room for artists like Annie, who had found her niche as a pop artist for the people who enjoyed a good song but didn’t particularly care about the public lives of famous people.

That’s why I missed Annie’s Endless Vacation EP in 2015; it got some token reviews from websites, but virtually no discussion that could be heard over everyone clamoring for Taylor Swift and others. It turned out to be one of the releases in I listened to the most in 2016, and has a couple perfect Annie songs on it: the opening track, “Kiara Mia,” and “Out of Reach,” which I think is the best song she’s ever recorded.

At its best, Annie’s music combines the blissful feeling of pop with melancholic, wistful lyrics, like on “Heartbeat,” which was the song she was most known for back in 2004. “Out of Reach” is like the platonic ideal of this type of pop song, with a tropical sound, Annie’s light, dreamy vocals and lyrics that I find deeply relatable and poignant. On the surface, it tells the story of a potential lover that got away, but for me it taps into deeper feelings of how I live my life and parts of me I want to change.

I’m a very introverted, passive person, and it leads to me always feeling like I’m missing out on something in the moment because I’m too scared to go out of my comfort zone. Then, like Annie on this song, I spend time in the present dwelling on those mistakes in the past; the possible friends I could have made, the dumb things I said, the various forks in the road where I went down a path I wish I hadn’t. I assume this is a somewhat universal thing, but I am egregiously bad about it, and instead of confronting the issue head-on, I tend to stay to myself and listen to songs like “Out of Reach” while avoiding human contact.

I am not typically a New Year’s resolution type of person (I’m more one of those obnoxious “YEARS ARE JUST CONSTRUCTS THAT MEAN NOTHING” people), but in 2017 one of my hopes is I can be less of a recluse and take some of those chances that I’ve avoided in the past. And I don’t know if I would have been fully motivated to do that if not for “Out of Reach” and how perfectly it articulates that human experience.