I don’t want to jinx it or anything, but January 2019 has been a good month for indie music. Not so good, though, that Dawn Richard didn’t elbow her way into this week’s mix.
Vampire Weekend – “Harmony Hall”
What I love about Ezra Koenig is how his songs both demand and frustrate interpretation. He alludes pointedly to “wicked snakes” and corruption in the “halls of power” over a finger-picked flurry, then a jabby house piano pattern descends on the proceedings. But before you can say “Welcome to the Resistance, ‘Freedom! ’90’” Koenig’s waxing characteristically unpindownable: “Anger wants a voice/Voices want to sing/Singers harmonize/Till you can’t hear anything.” Got that? The guitars start like Jorma and end like Jerry, the piano ranges from dance club to concert hall, and holding it all together is that imperturbable, eternally collegiate voice.
Robert Forster – “Inferno (Brisbane in Summer)”
Here’s why they keep the old coots like me around: Not like them there millennial bloggers are gonna tell you when the surviving half of Australia’s greatest ever songwriting duo releases a new single. Serving up a timely reminder that you’ll still be complaining about the weather in six months, Forster stews with plummy paranoia in the rank humidity, tantalizing himself with memories of winter while he bitches about mowing the lawn.
Better Oblivion Community Center – “Dylan Thomas”
Slamming “feral” and “lapels” together like they’re pieces from two separate jigsaw puzzles or mis-accenting “COR-vette” to rhyme with “COR-set,” Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst encourage each other to vent at the all-too-splutterworthy annoyances of everyday life at the expense of their craft, their dignity, their sanity. They’re perfect for each other. Nah, they don’t really want to die like Dylan Thomas. But they don’t want to live like this.
Dawn Richard – “Sauce”
“It's the weekend and I'm looking forward to you coming,” and yes, for once get your mind into the gutter because that’s exactly what she means. The Danity Kane alum turned R&B adventuress starts her track with what sounds like muffled Quiet Storm seeping through an apartment wall, then her simmering dirty talk builds to a skewed soul climax, and yes, that is exactly what I mean.
FIDLAR – “By Myself”
Under the Radar said it best: "As if it was drafted up in a dingy strip-mall marketing office by a pair of washed-out hacks who no longer understand what is relevant." But they say that like it’s a bad thing. Ricky Reed’s shamelessly try-anything production shtick is a perfect match for these self-aware goofballs’ shamelessly try-nothing punk shtick. They’re starting to… well, “mature” seems a little grand, but would you buy “evolve”? OK, how about “change”?
Hand Habits – “Can’t Calm Down”
The latest dispatch from the New Sad America. Floating above a barebones beat as persistent as the drip of a bathroom faucet invading an insomniac’s head space, Meg Duffy’s anxious murmur is the sound of that willed stasis you impose on your dangerously percolating nerves when you need to appear presentable. The splintered panic attack of a guitar solo is how Duffy really feels.
Every week, City Pages music editor Keith Harris scours the vast musicscape for six worthy tracks to include in the Ever-Expanding 2019 Mix, and to add to this 2019 playlist.